Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sam Zell, Just Another Lewd, Obscene Con Man after all.

When Sam Zell bought the Tribune Corporation, I thought the Contra Costa Times would be saved, as well as the Los Angeles Times. I read both of these newspapers and they were good newspapers back then. Man, was I mistaken, and naive. Sam Zell, it turned out, was just another con man out to make a bundle on the backs of the employees and the bankruptcy of a company. He was just another Private Equity firm that typically uses other people's money to make millions and ruins the companies they buy by putting it deeply in debt to pay themselves. Go look at the Simons Mattress Company as a good example. It's a miracle we have jobs in this country at all. The article, At Sam Zell’s Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture -, says a lot. Back then, the details of the deal were not known to the general public. I thought that Zell had put up "all" of the money. It turns out that he used the employees' pension fund to pay for the greater majority of the cost of the Tribune leaving the employees with nothing. What a sleaze bag.

But, the Contra Costa Times continued to be a good newspaper for several months, then it was sold to the Bay Area News Group, a group of Sam Zell's buddies and part of the scam in the whole transaction, and the newspaper changed. You wouldn't have noticed the change, though, if you were not following the right-wing movement and didn't know the right-wing language. I noticed it. I knew the language and the antics they pull. The first thing I noticed was the advertisements in the form of fake news and the change in opinion columnists. The new columnists were decidedly right-wing. It came to a head for me in August 2009 and I sent this letter to Contra Costa Times warning them (as if I have any influence - laugh out loud!). The final straw prompted me to write this, because of a blatant lie printed in the Contra Costa Times as a pseudo-ad/news item. I cancelled my subscription. "It's only an ad," they editor said. "Why would you cancel because of an ad?" She asked. "Because it's a lie," I said. "If you can't write the truth, what good are you." I was pissed. "We present both sides," she said. "Bullshit isn't the side of anything," I said. Maybe I busted her eardrum when I slammed the phone down. But, I'm sure she went on oblivious to what she'd done and without the slightest tinge of regret, just another airhead.

At the same time I stopped reading the Los Angeles Times for the same reason. By that time, the editor at the L.A. Times had been fired because he refused to fire a few journalists. Zell, it was reported, wanted them fired because he was going to replace them with so-called "other" journalists who did nothing more than Google searches for the latest news, very similar to what I (and CNN) do, and are no better than news junkies and not real journalists at all. I began to have a different opinion of Zell and I began to search out news articles on Zell and learned that he's just another greedy, obscene con man.

There were a lot of articles about his con jobs, but two stand out as pure greed. The first was a report on his and Stewart Resnick's Kern County Water Bank, a huge man-made lake. While Resnick is the majority owner, Zell keeps his involvement hidden in the back rooms of Sacramento politicians. The big deal about the "Water Bank" is that California pays it to store water from the Sacramento Delta, a major habitat for every fresh-salt water fish that spawns in California rivers, so that water from the delta can be used for Southern California's population, primarily Los Angeles. The Bank is supposed to be managed to save both the delta and provide drinking water in an arid region. But, Resnick, and Zell, of course, don't do that. They are killing the delta. They are paid by the State of California to store the water, then they charge water utility companies in the south outrageous prices for the water, which, of course, are passed on to customers. They manage the water to keep prices high, you can bet on that. They could care less about the delta, or even if the delta is able to supply water to south in twenty years. They're happy if they get their short-term profit. It's all a sleazy water con job.

Zell's other con job had to do with rent controls in Contra Costa County. The county set limits on a number of mobile home parks to keep the rent low for low income, mostly elderly on Social Security, renters. The low rents, however, keep the property value low. Zell bought a number of those properties, about ten acres each, for less than $5 million each. That's an outrageously low price for California property! He then sic'd his 20-plus lawyer legal team on Contra Costa County to eliminate the rent controls, which, if eliminated, would cause the property values to raise to market value, $20 million or more for each property. When that didn't work, his legal team put a voter proposition on the county ballot to eliminate the controls by voter approval. I don't know whether that worked or not, but I hope it didn't.

Zell is a con man. There's no doubt about it. I see that Resnick is funding Jerry Brown's run for governor. I'm sorry to see that, if it's true. I'm sure Zell is in the mix as well. And, I'm sure that both are deeply involved with Meg Whitman, too, although maybe not with direct contributions to her campaign. She doesn't need outside donations. Wonder what would happen if everyone voted "None of the Above?" Would we get better choices on the ballot? Probably not. Is there an honest businessman or politician out there?


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