Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AG targets 'economic development' slush fund corruption

A preliminary investigation by New York attorney general's office uncovered the potential for self-dealing, nepotism, improper loans and exorbitant expenses at some, reported The Associated Press.

These non-profit, taxpayer-supported rackets do government business but have little oversight and are exempt from being audited by the state comptroller's office.

Such findings echo an earlier assessment from this writer.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Non-ethics in NYS: more of the same

New York state’s new ethics panel has already destroyed its own credibility after a mere two meetings. I reported here about its first introductory meeting, held behind closed doors.

Earlier this week, it had its first working meeting. The Associated Press reported that members of the panel receive $300 for each day they attend meetings, members will be asked to sign non-disclosure' agreements barring public comment, and that its secretive practices will continue.

Then, the board went behind closed doors. The reason? None was given.

This is how ethics oversight works in New York... even under a 'reform' minded governor. Secret meetings with no public announcements. Going behind closed doors without even contriving an excuse. The fact that all this is legal, that this body charged with regulating ethics and transparency is exempt from the Open Meetings Law in the first place, is a damning indictment of what passes for ethics in state government.

Bob over at Planet Albany doesn't appear to be impressed. He quotes someone named David Grandeau: the state ethics body "doesn’t have to abide by Open Meetings Law. Nor does it have to abide by the Freedom of Information Laws... Those laws apply to every other government body, but not the state ethics panel... Tell me again why that is? Tell me how that inspires confidence in government? Tell me how it sets a standard for others to live up to? Tell me how it represents good government?"

The answer is simple. It doesn't.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How ethics and transparency work in NYS

The new panel charged with regulating ethics in state government met late last week.

It met in secret.

It met with no public notice.

A spokesman for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics defended the move, citing the board’s exemption from the state’s Open Meetings Law.

That’s right: a committee set up to regulate public ethics and transparency is legally allowed to meet in complete secrecy.

Is it any wonder why New York state government has such an abysmal reputation for good governance?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Down by the Levy: the Sinking of Lee

(a continuing series by contributor Mark Wilson on the troubles at Lee Enterprises, Inc. and the Post-Star)

On April 22nd of this year, the Mississippi River, nearing historic levels, jumped its banks and rose to within a city block of Lee Enterprises’ Davenport, Iowa headquarters.

Inside, financial and executive officers for Lee—the corporate owner of the Glens Falls Post-Star—were planning a junk bond issue large enough to pay off nearly a billion dollars in debt that was coming due within a year’s time. The subsequent failure of the junk bond issue ten days later set off a slide in the company’s stock price, as well as its fortunes, that came to a head last week when Lee sought Chapter 11 protection in a Delaware bankruptcy court. Court papers tabulated by Bloomberg News revealed that Lee and its subsidiary companies had—in the vernacular of real estate bank foreclosures—been under water all along.

Total assets: $1.2 billion
Total debts: $1.3 billion
Net worth: minus $100,000,000

In the initial stage of the bankruptcy case, Lee was granted permission to borrow $40 million more to pay bills, meet payroll and keep its presses rolling. The rest of the bankruptcy proceeding will determine whether or not Lee can extend the due dates on its outstanding debts from 2012 to 2015 and 2017, in exchange for double-digit interest rates. Most of Lee’s creditors have already signed on to the refinancing plan, and it is widely seen that the bankruptcy court will play along. The hope underlying the new debt timeline is that within three years the economy will recover enough to rescue the paper with real estate, automobile and jobs advertising revenue, and that by 2017 news publishers will have figured out how to better monetize their internet traffic and stem the collapse of their print audience.

While the courts sort out the longterm picture for Lee, it might be well to consider a more immediate threat in the company’s path. Back in July, the New York Stock Exchange issued a compliance warning to Lee when the price of its stock slipped below one dollar. The warning stated that if the share price did not regain the dollar mark within a six month “cure period,” the exchange would remove Lee from its trading list.

A useful primer on the significance of a stock delisting can be found online at Investopedia.com. The NYSE Listed Company Manual, Section 802.01 C addresses the delisting timeline for companies whose stock price drops below one dollar.

In short, Lee’s one remaining hope to avoid delisting would be if its stock were to close over one dollar per share on January 6th 2012, having sustained an average closing price of one dollar or more over the previous 30-trading-day period.

Fifteen of those thirty trading days have already elapsed with Lee’s daily closing share price averaging only 65 cents. So starting Monday, Lee’s share price must close at or above $1.35, and keep that price (on average) for three straight weeks. This at a time of year when many portfolio managers are tidying up client accounts by killing off their biggest turkeys. To put it bluntly, Lee’s thirty-three-and-a-half year association with the New York Stock Exchange is over.

Apart from the general stigma of joining the ranks of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Bros. and MF Global, perhaps the most troubling consequence of delisting is that it may well trigger the automatic sell-off of stock holdings by many of Lee’s institutional investors (many pension funds restrict their investments to listed stocks). This in turn could set off a chain reaction run of individual stockholders, driving the share price—and any chances of eventually paying off its debts—to historic, even unsalvageable depths.

Quotes of the week

"So weird to go into journalism to completely obsess on the horserace of who might get power-& be totally indifferent to what they do with it." -Glenn Greenwald, via Twitter, on how 'analysis' has increasingly replaced real journalism.

"Maybe police who stop and ticket people for use of cell phones while driving should be required to confiscate the phones until they show up in court to answer charges." -Commenter Pete Klein on NCPR's In Box blog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

The prolific and controversial polemicist Christopher Hitchens died yesterday at 62. Although he alienated many on the left with his full-throated support of the Iraq aggression and alliance with Bush-Cheney militarism, his essays were always incisive and relentlessly thought-provoking. This blog is titled as a tribute to his book Letters to a Young Contrarian. NPR has a nice remembrance of The Hitch.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The lobbyists of Gov. One Percent

The New York Public Interest Research Group (via the Albany Times-Union) has revealed the 100 top spending special interest groups in New York. Who was the most free spending group? The health care workers union? The evil teachers union? Supporters of civil rights for gays? Opponents thereof? Nope. #1 slot goes to the misnamed Committee to Save New York. This is an organizing comprising the top "donors" to the campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and is dedicated to lobbying on behalf of the agenda of the One Percent.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When did Republicans start hating the rich?

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

I've been a bit bemused by the latest irrelevant kerfuffle obsessing the chattering classes: about Mitt Romney's $10,000 bet gaffe. When a self-entitled multimillionaire wants to dodge taxes, he's an "job creator." But when that self-entitled multimillionaire is a political enemy, he's an "out of touch elitist." Funny how that works.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

That saintly bipartisanship in action (or: it's not just the 1st Amendment they're trying to invalidate)

It's not just the 1st Amendment they want to get rid of. Federal senators have put rancor aside and are working tireless lyto destroy the American way of life before al-Qaeda gets the chance to. They inserted language into a defense budget bill (a way of essentially blackmailing legislators into a yes vote) which would allow American citizens arrested on American soil to be detained indefinitely in military custody. In other words, it would essentially invalidate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.

As one commentator put it: People in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria have engaged in revolutions to replace these undemocratic and unjust practices.

There's one other country that engaged in a revolution to get rid of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial or charge: the United States of America.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Fracking companies lie about leases: homeowners

The excellent non-profit journalism site Pro Publica has done some fantastic journalism about hydrofracking, the hugely controversial natural gas extraction process that is being hotly debated in New York state. Proponents say that it will be a jobs boom in a region that badly needs it. Opponents offer many criticisms, including that the process poisons drinking water. Another site offering good information on fracking is The Rural Blog of the University of Kentucky.

The blog offers statistics that amplify a fear of fracking opponents. Drilling is regulated by many states, but very ineffectively. It notes that in Texas, 96 percent of the tens of thousands of regulatory violations in 2009 resulted in no enforcement action. West Virginia, Wyoming and fracking hotbed Pennsylvania were also cited for their uselessness in protecting citizens from drilling pollution.

The blog also links to a New York Times article which cites the negative experience of homeowners who signed leases with gas companies.

The NYT added that disappointed landowners in Pennsylvania, Colorado and West Virginia have spent hundreds of dollars monthly on bottled water or maintaining large tanks of drinking water in their front lawns. Thousands of landowners in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas, who claim "they were paid less than they expected because gas companies deducted costs like hauling chemicals to the well site or transporting gas to market," have responded by joining a class action lawsuit.

The site also offered some useful advice to Republicans in southern New York like powerful state Sen. Tom Libous who are enamored with drilling, regardless of the consequences: sustainable agriculture could improve health, economy for rural areas... presumably without poisoned drinking water.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Lipstick on a Pig: Lee Enterprises Declares a “Favorable” Bankruptcy

(a continuing series by contributor Mark Wilson on the troubles at Lee Enterprises, Inc. and the Post-Star)

Despite efforts to spin the news favorably, Lee Enterprises, Inc, the deeply-indebted corporate owner of the Glens FallsPost-Star, announced late Friday afternoon that it had failed to reach a refinancing agreement with at least 95% of its lenders. It will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection later this month. 
The move is an effort by the Iowa-based news publisher to coerce a reluctant six percent of the banks who have lent it money to extend the maturity date of roughly one billion dollars in loans. The loans are currently due to be paid in full this coming April.
The refinancing plan, crafted by Lee earlier this year—after it failed to find backing to pay off the banks by issuing junk bonds—divides its current debt load into three parts:
  • a $689.5 million term loan with an additional $40 million revolving credit, both due in December 2015. The interest on this debt will be a minimum of 7.5%.
  • a $175 million second-tier loan with a 15% interest rate due in April 2017.
  • an unspecified $175 million refinancing deal for the balance of the debt the company incurred when it bought newspapers from Pulitzer, Inc. in 2005.
Lee’s failure to find backing to restructure the remaining Pulitzer debt was the deal breaker for the more cautious lenders who must now be forced by the Delaware bankruptcy courts to accept the pre-packaged bankruptcy plan. In place of a new financing to cover the since-adjusted $138 Pulitzer balance, the bankruptcy will extend the maturity of $126 million of the existing notes to December 2015 at an interest rate that starts at 10.55% and increases by .75% annually.
One other significant condition of the bankruptcy plan is the issuance of 6.7 million shares (roughly 13% of outstanding shares) of stock to be divided among second-tier lenders. 
Diluting stock to this degree will depress the share value of Lee stock. Apart from the impact this will have on individual and institutional stock holders (including any Post-Star employees who hold stock and stock and options as part of their compensation packages), the move means Lee’s stock most certainly will be removed from the New York Stock Exchange listings in the new year. As a condition of continued listing, the NYSE requires a company stock to hold a minimum share price of $1.00 and not drop below that threshold for more than 30 days. Lee’s share price dropped below the threshold in mid-July this year and has not risen above it since. In an official delisting warning issued in August, the NYSE compliance board gave Lee until January to correct the situation. 
A share of Lee traded at 53¢ at Friday’s closing bell—shortly before news of the impending bankruptcy filing was released.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Quote of the week

From a piece on Yahoo! News:

"I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I'm frightened to death. They're having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.” –Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Bits and pieces

Albany (NY) County’s district attorney David Soares has admitted that he and his office has received death threats in response to his refusal to prosecute participants of the Occupy Albany movement for non-violent activities like violating curfew. From the infamous pepper spray police thug in Davis, CA to the violent crackdown against peaceful Occupy movements in places like Oakland and Denver to the above death threats, you’ve seen remarkably little violence from those protesting in the name of democracy with most of the violence being committed by people doing so in the name of ‘respect for law and order.’ Quite a different reality to the one intoned by the yapping heads.

Bravo to the Burlington, mayored by a Progressive Party mayor not coincidentally, for lowering the speed limiton the Vermont city’s streets. The Burlington Free Press reports that it was done to enhance the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. Yet another reason Burlington is probably the coolest city in the northeastern US.

Recent stories in the soccer world a very troubling, from the attempted suicide of two referees, to the apparent suicide of Wales national team manager Gary Speed to the suicide not that long ago of German goalkeeper Robert Enke. It should serve as a wake-up call reminding soccer fans that a little re-humanization is long past due. There is so much vitriol and nastiness in soccer fandom that it’s easy to forget that the targets are all human beings, with families and emotions. Passion should never be used as an excuse to act like barbarians.

Economic inequality, unemployment, massive corporate welfare, institutionalized anti-democracy... the country is facing so many problems and what is the latest meaninglessness that Theocrats want us to freak out about? The president’s failure to mention God in his Thanksgiving address (only the spoken one; he did include it in the written one). You can just call it The Great Distraction.

I saw this great graphic on Facebook, which showed the covers of TIME magazines editions for other parts of the world compared to its US edition. Gives you an insight into the editorial judgment [sic] of their vaunted professional editors.

I was gobsmacked to read a newspaper article with this headline: "The other student loan problem: too little debt." Only a bank-obsessed culture would look at this issue and wonder if the problem is students with too *little* debt rather than taking a hard look at whether a university education, whether the cost of a fancy piece of paper is massively overpriced. Investigative journalism at its finest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Radical moderation is no virtue

A follow up to the previous entry...

I believe that consensus is the preferred route for society and government. In fact, I'm fairly uncomfortable with conflict, at least face to face. I think civility should be the default pathway for society. I simply don’t believe we should be a slave to it merely for its own sake. In fact, we mustn’t. Radical moderation can be just as dangerous as radical extremism. It seems counterintuitive but it’s true.

I believe that consensus is the preferred route for society and government. It should be the default route. I simply don’t believe we should be a slave to it. In fact, we mustn’t. Radical moderation can be just as dangerous as radical extremism. It seems counterintuitive but it’s true.

Without agitation and contestation, we would not have had great social advances like: women’s voting, the end of slavery, the end of segregation/apartheid, consumer protection laws, health and safety laws, worker protection laws, unemployment insurance, the 40 hour work week and many other things that make America a first world country.

Warm and fuzzy bipartisanship has led to many abominations including: the Patriot Act and the war on civil liberties, the deregulation of the financial industry that led to recent economic meltdown, the aggression against Iraq, the Vietnam War, the internment of American citizens of Japanese origin in the 1940s, the genocide against Native Americans, to name but a few.

Yes, the ultimate purpose of agitation is to form a newer, better consensus. But neither is of any value in and of itself. The objective is that which is better. Not only can you not make omelettes without breaking eggs, but even after you break the eggs, you still have to stir things up to get something useful.

Think of it this way. Pick any despotic regime in history. It was no doubt led by extremists. But the extremist regime could not have survived without the active cooperation and acquiescence of moderates. Of people who maybe didn’t agree with the regime but didn’t want to shake things up or were afraid to make waves. Sometimes extremism is actually principle. Sometimes moderation is complicity. Not always but at times. Neither is a virtue in and of itself. The key is know when which is appropriate.

Instead of radical moderation, how about moderation in moderation.

Maybe we need a little *more* incivility

Civility and consensus are my default preferences, but boy, they make it hard sometime. In mainstream political analysis, the description 'bipartisan' is designed to make us turn our brains off, clap our hands like robots, squeal in joy like school girls and sing Kumbayah about 'cooperation,' 'civility' and the like. So imagine my reaction I read about this Congressional effort to invalidate the 5th Amendment by allowing the head of state to detain his nation's citizens indefinitely and without charge. Initially, I was outraged. This isn't possible. After all, wasn't such an abomination one of the main grievances in America's Declaration of Independence? But then, I just numbed my mind and intoned warm-over nothings about this joyous effort at bipartisanship and that made it all better.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The class warfare against the Occupy movement

The UK Guardian has a great op-ed about the well-coordinated police crackdown on the Occupy movement. 

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class's venality, it notes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Where liberals go to feel good

This wonderful column entitled Where Liberals Go to Feel Good by Chris Hedges (one of most astute observers of contemporary society and politics) should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the complete impotence of the liberal class and the death of the Democratic Party as an instrument for progressive change.

Friday, November 18, 2011

'More equal economies grow faster'

Even the very establishment journal Foreign Policy ran a piece conceding that international evidence suggests that more equal economies grow faster.

It notes that equality of opportunity and the famed pursuit of the American dream are not quite what they are advertised to be. According to an analysis by economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis at the Santa Fe Institute, of children born to the poorest 10 percent of parents in the United States, more than half remain in the bottom fifth of incomes as adults.

In other words, socialism (to employ the most grotesquely misused word in American politics) is good for everyone.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Want smaller government? You got it!

One of the easiest ways to get elected is to promise smaller government and lower taxes. It sounds great as rhetoric because it's removed from context. In first world countries, there is an equation, a link between taxes paid and services to citizens provided. Different countries define that equation in different ways but it's there in every developed country. One of the most brilliant things strategically the American far right has done is to break that link, to focus only on the undesirable part (taxes) without discussing their relationship to the desirable part (services).

I'd have less problem with the smaller government/lower taxes rhetoric if its espousers were honest about the consequences. Yeah, they sometimes use rhetoric like "We all have to make sacrifices" (all usually meaning the 99%) or "tough choices have to be made. But it's all passive tense stuff, vague, nebulous and deliberately evasive. Just once, I'd like someone to have the guts to run for office on the platform of "crappier roads" or "higher crime."

Here are a few examples I've heard in the media recently about people who got their desire for smaller government...

-School districts across Indiana are getting rid of busing;

-Some municipalities are dealing with budget shortfalls by turning off streetlights;

-Warren County (NY) tried to seriously scale back its meals for seniors program until town supervisors (all conservatives) in the municipalities affected revolted.

It's funny how everyone loves smaller government and lower taxes when it's a theory but a bit less so when it actually affects them (THEM!). No wonder conservatives typically avoid being completely honest about the *full* consequences of their rhetoric.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy vs the Tea Party

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

The American political system pretty much boils down to the craven and corrupted Democratic Party, the venal and corrupted Republican Party and smaller parties who are mostly well-intentioned but don’t show the tiniest desire to become remotely electable (bearing in mind there are thousands of public offices below the presidency). What a depressing state of affairs. No wonder there’s so much frustration and anger that’s been expressed via the non-partisan Occupy movement and the formerly non-partisan Tea Party.

The Tea Party has been taken over by the Republican Party (the Dems would love to co-opt Occupy but they haven't succeeded yet), but there are still strains within it that remain independent and certainly the anger that originally animated it was organic; most of them are part of The 99 Percent too. The left likes to look down their noses at the Tea Party as comprising The Other, ignorant, racist rubes, but this ignores what the two movements share.

Both the Tea Party and Occupy reflect the anger of ordinary people against a corrupt system that serves the elites and not the people... or rather, at the expense of the people. The main difference lies in the response. The objective of the Tea Party is to starve government of money, since cash is what feeds the beast of corruption. Occupy's is to re-direct that money so it's used in a more humane manner. Both want to blow it up. One wants to replace it with something better; the other believes that something better is not possible so replace it with nothing.

Both really diagnosis the same problem, but offer different prescriptions.

Friday, November 11, 2011

APA critic pleads guilty to pollution charges

Last year, the Post-Star published a controversial story on Adirondack Park Agency critic Leroy Douglas and his battles with the agency. A follow up: Adirondack Almanack reports that Douglas recently plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of pollution.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Occupy is not about more handouts, but fewer

"If money is constitutionally protected 'speech,' then so are tents." -seen on Twitter

NPR's All Things Considered did a piece on Wall St. profits. It noted that Wall St. has made more money during under 3 years of the Obama administration than it did during all 8 years of the Bush administration. A Washington Post reporter pointed out that these profits were the direct result of government policies -- across two administrations -- in response to the financial crisis.

THIS is what Occupy is all about. It's not hostility toward people for having money or at corporations for existing. It's an anger at public policy that represents taking money from working people to hand out to corporations making record profits. It's an anger at the most grotesque form of of wealth redistribution.

Occupy is based not on a demand for more handouts, but for fewer.

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Help Occupy Glens Falls

If you're following the global Occupy movement and would like to participate, Occupy Glens Falls has twice weekly general assemblies at the Civil War monument downtown (across from the library). They are typically held Saturdays at noon and Wednesdays at 5:30 pm. You can also follow their Facebook page or Twitter feed for further updates.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Latest Circulation Numbers for Lee Enterprises, Inc. and the Post-Star

14th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)

The semi-annual report of American newspaper paid circulation was released this week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Readership of Lee Enterprises, Inc. daily newspapers continues to drop, with total circulation loss from a year ago at 41,298 (or 2.99 percent).

The Post-Star, which in recent years has suffered some of the worst percentage circulation losses of all Lee newspapers, improved its standing among its peers in the latest filing. The paper—still fourteenth largest in Lee’s stable with average daily circulation of 26,113—lost 665 paying readers since last year. That loss amounted to less than 2.5% of its circulation, which is better than Lee’s average percentage loss since last year, and better than the numbers the Post-Star posted six months ago. A complete breakdown of the latest circulation figures can be found here.
Since the last circulation numbers came out, Lee has combined two Illinois dailies—the Journal Gazette of Mattoon and the Times Courier of Charleston — reducing to 52 the number of daily newspapers owned or partially owned by the company. Since 2008 Lee has shuttered two papers and merged two others. The Davenport, Iowa-based company is still looking to restructure a roughly one billion dollar debt that comes due in just over five months.
On a personal note: Friday, November 4th was Mark Mahoney’s last day as the Post-Star’s Editorial Page Editor, and chief editorial opinion writer. He will soon put his legendary reasoning and writing skills to work for the New York State Bar Association in Albany. As a onetime contributor to Mark’s pages (and who, on at least one occasion, caused him all sorts of grief), I wish him all the best in his new career.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No wonder old media is dying

And media pooh-bahs wonder why people are increasingly unwilling to pay money for work which fails to meet their most basic expectations for the profession.

I recently sent an email to a senior figure at a local news media outlet complaining about a shoddy piece of reporting. In it, the journalist reported claims that were obviously untrue... to the point where if the reporter had paid attention to another part of his own story, he ought to have figured this out.

The response began, "While the reporting [sic] is not responsible for inaccurate conclusions from someone he has quoted, I would agree that the reporter did a poor job..."

So a professional reporter is not responsible for checking the veracity of claims made by someone he interviews. 

Wait, WHAT?!

Call me old school but isn't verification the fundamental difference between journalism and transcription?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy America

Last Sunday, I took a day trip to Vermont's largest city. While there, I attended a bit of the Occupy Burlington general assembly. There were probably 100 people gathered in front of City Hall. It was an interesting gathering and process. Facilitators observed a loose agenda. Speakers used a "human microphone" in which their words were essentially repeated by the crowd to ensure everyone heard. There were a diversity of topics raised but they all revolved around the themes of abuses of power and the diminishing influence of citizens in American democracy.

The event was complete with a heckler (singular), who was largely ignored. He was a bit amusing though, berating protesters for not being as 'patriotic' as he. However, I noticed he didn't dare address his nastiness toward the elderly gentleman standing next to me wearing a Veterans for Peace hat.

While I've always supported its ideals, I was initially skeptical that the Occupy movement would actually influence anything. But clearly, it has the political elite nervous.

In New York state's capital, Gov. Andrew Cuomo put heavy pressure on Mayor Jerry Jennings to crack down on the Occupy Albany gathering.

As Gotham Gazette reported:Cuomo is concerned that protests could linger and add momentum to the push to renew the millionaires tax.

Jennings was rumored to be under consideration for a position in the Cuomo administration and at even one point rumored to be a choice for lieutenant governor. Jennings, according to the Times Union directed the police to make arrests but they didn’t.

The piece also quoted Albany County District Attorney David Soares as not wanting to waste scare resources on peaceful protesters.

Cuomo is now described by the protesters as "Governor One Percent," which has really been accurate since his election anyways.

Similarly, Long Island Congressman Peter King expressed his fear that the Occupy movement might change things. King told a radio shock job that he remembers a 1960s left-wing movement that took to the streets and caused policy changes... [and that] He hopes that the Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't re-creating the spirit and influence of that historical protest movement.

Inadvertently, the control freak governor and the neo-McCarthyite Congressman have conferred great legitimacy on the Occupy movement. If these erstwhile shills for The One Percent elite are this nervous, then clearly the movement is on to something.

Note: This site has information on Occupy events near you. There are events throughout not only the country but the world... in 2144 cities on all six inhabited continents.

From Occupy Burlington - 23 Oct. '11 - (c) MOFYC

Video from Occupy Burlington general assembly - 23 Oct. '11 - (c) MOFYC

They may be loathe to admit it, but deep down, liberal Democrats know this guy has always been right.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Like any other drug, hydrofracking has serious side effects

As if poisoned drinking water isn't enough, the controversial natural gas extraction process known as hydrofracking has another serious side effect. Although backers pass it off as an economic panacea, WAMC is reporting that fracking lowers property values and, in the event you want to move away to a place with clean drinking water. it can make it almost impossible to sell your house.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New hires, a significant departure and a welcome return at The Post-Star

13th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)
The human resources department at the Post-Star is busy. News today that Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney is leaving the newspaper to take a job with the New York State Bar Association is only the latest in a list of recent personnel changes.
Post-Star Managing Editor Ken Tingley announced in a blog post last week that the newspaper recently filled three editorial positions that have been vacant since last summer. The three new writers are Mary Albl and Michael Bonner in sports and Jamie Munks in news, covering Washington County.
As well, in the past week, two other names have been added to PostStar.com’s contact page. They are Danielle Johnson, who will write obituaries, and former Post-Star Assistant Features Editor Rhonda Triller.
Triller returns to the paper's staff after a four-year stint at the Albany Times-Union. In 2007 Triller accepted a copy editing post at the Albany paper. In May 2009 she started a TimesUnion.com blog focused on her newborn triplets. She signed off from the blog (and the Times-Union) this past Monday. Triller’s new role at the Post-Star will be as copy editor.
[The hiring of quality control is long overdue at the Post-StarIn a recent post on his blog, The Front Page, Editor Ken Tingley thoroughly trashed the English language in defense of an editorial which some readers saw as critical of South Glens Falls High School. Unless his ten paragraph post was a deliberate attempt to lend the offended educators some consolation in the knowledge of their comparative literacy, uploading the scolding copy without first vetting it with a proofreader was ill-advised. Welcome back, Rhonda!]
For those keeping score, the recent hires brings to 60 Post-Star employees listed on the paper’s web site. This is four more than last month's low of 56, but one fewer than the names listed on August 2nd. The organization must hire eight more staffers to return to its June 2nd staffing level.
A comparison of the executive and editorial positions listed at PostStar.com to its nearest-sized sister publication in the Lee Enterprises barn shows a sizable staffing gap: The Lacrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune contact page lists 24 employees in these positions while the Post-Star has over forty percent more at 34.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hydofracking worse for environment than coal?

Hydraulic fracturing (know as 'fracking') is the controversial natural gas extraction process that's being proposed for much of central and southern New York. It's been controversial because the fracking represents a serious threat to safe drinking water

However, The Cornell Daily Sun reports on other major side effects of the extraction process. A university study concluded that hydrofracking may harm the environment even more than the mining of coal and will exacerbate the effects of climate change. This is significant because natural gas has long been touted as the cleanest fossil fuel.

“We looked at the greenhouse gas in comparison to conventional natural gas,” [Cornell Prof. Robert] Howarth said. “Our research showed that carbon dioxide is only part of the problem, and natural gas, which is mostly methane, is far more potent. Even small leakages have a large footprint, leading to our conclusion that natural gas actually has a bigger impact on global warming.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Further Reduction at Lee Newspapers

12th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)
In a move yet to be officially announced, Post-Star owner Lee Enterprises, Inc. of Davenport Iowa merged two of its central Illinois newspapers on September 26th. 
The move combined the Journal Gazette of Mattoon and the Times Courier of Charleston into a single publication now called (unsurprisingly) the Journal Gazette & Times Courier.
The neighboring communities of Mattoon and Charleston,12 miles apart, are located in southern Illinois, about 130 miles northeast of St. Louis, Mo. The combined average daily circulation of the papers is roughly 13,000. Since 2006 the Charleston Times Courier has lost over one quarter of its average daily circulation, placing it ninth on the list of Lee Enterprises’ worst performing newspapers.
The move by Lee to merge an underperforming publication with a nearby neighbor may foretell the fortunes of other newspapers in the Lee portfolio. The Lompoc (CA) Record with a daily circulation of 3,874, and the Beatrice (NE) Daily Sun with a circulation of 5,321 have lost even more readers than the Times Courier over the past half decade.  Both may well be merged with larger nearby publications: In the case of Lompoc, the Santa Maria (CA) Times is forty miles away, and the Lincoln (NE) Journal Star is only 43 miles from Beatrice. By comparison, the Auburn (NY) Citizen—whose size and recent circulation losses are in the same ballpark—is over 150 miles from its nearest merger candidate, the Post-Star. This summer Lee placed the staffs of the Helena (MT) Independent Record and the (Butte)Montana Standard (a distance of 68 miles) under a single editor, though the offices of each paper were not combined.
Lee Enterprises, Inc., which is experiencing financial difficulty, has not yet officially acknowledged the merger of the two Illinois papers. However, a press release dated October 10, announcing the appointment of a new publisher at the Carlisle (PA) Sentinel, did mention that Lee wholly owns 48 daily newspapers. Last month the number stood at 49. Lee has yet to report how many staffers were laid off in the most recent consolidation.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The 20 year war in Afghanistan and the failure of regime change

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the start of the American invasion of Afghanistan. A decade into what's already this country's longest war, former US commander of NATO forces in the country (retired) Gen. Stanley McChrystal says that the mission in Afghanistan is only half done

The Guardian article added: McChrystal said the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq less than two years after entering Afghanistan made the Afghan effort more difficult. "I think they were made more difficult, clearly," he said, because the Iraq invasion "changed the Muslim world's view of America's effort..."

He pointed out that, as is so often the case in the United States' clumsy foreign policy decisions, everyone involved "had a very superficial understanding of the situation and [Afghan] history" and culture and that US forces did not make an attempt to learn the country's languages -- not a task one would normally expect of soldiers but critical to any successful nation building.

The morass in Afghanistan is so deep that the country's president Hamid Karzai, took a (very brief) break from blaming Pakistan, to admit his own government's miserable failure in the security realm.

Speaking of the topic, this essay in The Boston Review points out that, despite supposedly altruistic reasons and despite widespread bipartisan support most of the time, US-imposed regime change simply doesn't work... at least not for the people of the 'helped' country in question.

Americans tend to personalize their conflicts. Almost every target of U.S. intervention in the post-Cold War world has been labeled another Hitler... Since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the United States has become the world’s foremost practitioner of regime change... 

Friday, October 07, 2011

More on the Occupy Wall St. movement

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

A follow-up to my post on the Occupy Wall St. movement...

The excellent and highly recommended Yes! magazine has a good piece on Where the 99 Percent Get Their Power. The biggest single factor: it embodies real democracy.

Economic injustice in America is so obvious that even the very establishment Foreign Affairs journal explored Why the Rich Are Getting Richer... subtitle: American Politics and the Second Gilded Age.

It notes that: [Economists Jacob] Hacker and [Paul] Pierson refreshingly break free from the conceit that skyrocketing inequality is a natural consequence of market forces and argue instead that it is the result of public policies that have concentrated and amplified the effects of the economic transformation and directed its gains exclusively toward the wealthy. 

It's amusing to hear clever politicians like Pres. Obama and NY Gov. Cuomo express a certain degree of sympathy for the Movement, considering they represent the One Percent. I just hope that corporate Democrat organizations like MoveOn and Democracy for America don't co-opt (neuter) this populist movement.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Occupy Wall St.

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

 I am remiss for not having yet mentioned the growing Occupy Wall St. movement that is holding marches on in New York City and many other cities around the country protesting greed, excess and corporate domination of American government and society.

 A few good websites about and covering the movement...

 -Occupy Wall St. website

 -Occupy Wall St. Facebook page

 -Democracy Now

 Readers are free to leave other suggesting in the comments field and I will add them.

Commenter John Warren adds: The Village Voice.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Moneyball: Lee Enterprises and the Post-Star by the numbers

Eleventh in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)

With the end of September comes the end of another semi-annual survey of the number of newspaper readers conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The results of the latest audit will not be released until the first week in November.

While the ABC’s last audit showed the Glens Falls Post-Star in the middle of a haggard pack of regional newspapers when ranked by percentage of lost circulation, it might be useful to assess the recent performance of The Post-Star in context of the 53 daily newspapers owned by its parent company, Lee Enterprises, Inc. of Davenport, Iowa. After all, for as much as the Post-Star wants readers to see it as a paragon of small-town local journalism, it is ultimately just another property in a corporate portfolio—a corporation under the shadow of overwhelming debt, impending stock exchange delisting and possible bankruptcy.

Lee Enterprises operates 53 newspapers and their satellite publications in 23 states, with heavy concentration in the country’s northern midwest region. As of a year ago, the audited daily circulation of Lee’s properties ranged from 207,145 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) to 3,821 (Baraboo [Wisconsin] News Republic). With its circulation of 26,798, the Post-Star reached the 14th largest audience in the Lee stable. A year ago the paper accounted for 1.94% of Lee’s entire weekday paid circulation.

Over the five-year span bracketed by the 2006 and 2010 annual reports, while every Lee paper but one posted losses in circulation (combined, Lee papers lost 256,338 paying readers or 15.66%), the Post-Star lost readers (6,473—or 19.46%) at a pace well above the average. In percentage of circulation losses, the Post-Star ranked fifteenth worst of the 56 Lee papers that were extant in 2006.

Perhaps of greater concern to Lee management, the Post-Star appears to be shedding its print audience at an increasing rate compared to the rest of the field. Between 2008 and 2010 the Post Star ranked tenth worst in Lee circulation losses; between 2009 and 2010—a year after winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing—the Post-Star moved to fourth place among Lee’s biggest losers.

While no two newspapers are alike, and the regional forces influencing circulation figures vary from year to year, finding yourself routinely on the list of under-performers (and sinking) in a corporate portfolio is not good. Particularly when the corporation is under tremendous pressure from creditors to increase its liquidity.

All the grim statistics might yet point up an opportunity—both for the Post-Star and its sister newspaper the (even worse-performing) Auburn [NY] Citizen. Should the time come when Lee is forced to divest its geographical or financial outliers, perhaps a local (or at least regional) interest will step forward to buy the undervalued properties. Should that happen the Post-Star will be able to stake a valid claim (for the first time in four decades) of being a genuinely local newspaper.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The fiction of the big-time student-athlete

The Atlantic has a good piece exploring "The Shame of College Sports." Big time college athletics (by this, I mean Division I men’s football and basketball) is the biggest sham this side of that other so-called non-profit: the Olympic “movement.” No one believes the purity the NCAA tries to peddle.

What should happen is that the NFL and NBA should create minor leagues and return college athletics to their original intent as extracurricular activites rather than replacing-curricular activities. But absent that, these athletes are earning mega bucks for the universities' coffers and deserve to be paid for it.

And don’t give me that nonsense about how they get a college education. Even those big time football and basketball players who actually do want a good education aren’t really permitted to maximize it due to the exigencies of travel. For example, just ask how many gridiron and hoops games are available on your TV screen during mid-week and ask how many classes the away team's players are attending that week. Give these athletes the equivalent of four years tuition and see how many of them actually spend it on a degree.

Yes, I do enjoy watching big college football games and March Madness, but I do so eyes wide open, fully aware that it's minor league sports. I'm under no illusion that the participants in this meat market bear any resemblance to the typical college student or even the true student-athlete, far more prevalent in Division III. Yet the NCAA insists on maintaining the fantasy pretense that no one buys anyway.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

70% of Israelis want Palestinian statehood: poll

This week, Israel's lawyer Barack Obama made the case before the United Nations that the UN should not recognize Palestinian statehood and that negotiations should allowed to drag on for however long the Netanyahu government wishes to stall. This is the same United Nations that, in 1947, recognized Israeli statehood.

However, an interesting poll was conducted by the Hebrew University and published in the Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post: 70% of Israelis say their government should accept the UN decision on the question, even if it results in Palestinian independence.

That's 70% of Israelis. So whose interests is lawyer Obama representing: the Israeli government's or the Israeli people's?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Republicans’ class warfare

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

It’s a brilliant perversion of language to hear Republicans complaining that President Obama’s jobs plan constitutes class warfare. I make no commentary about Obama’s plan, though, as with most of what the president has done, it’s probably too little to matter and I’m sure he’ll end up capitulating on whatever minor improvements the plan may contain anyways.

However, GOP complaints are the height of hypocrisy. From demanding cuts to Medicare and Social Security in order to extend tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires (who already pay lower tax rates than the working class) to taking money away from ordinary working Americans to subsidize the recklessness of bankers and other financial institutions, the entire Republican economic agenda is based on class warfare. Privatize corporate profits, socialize the losses.

A result of Republican warfare against people who work for a living? The Census Bureau reported that more Americans are living in poverty than in any time in the 52 years they’ve been keeping such statistics.

It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period [since 1999].

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tips for driving like a non-crazy person

As many of you know, bicycling is my primary form of transportation. To my amazement, I was once told that some people thought I didn’t drive because maybe I’d been convicted of DWI (not correct, for the record). Around here, like most of America, biking as a form of transportation is as incomprehensible as the notion of reading a book for enjoyment.

For the second time in eight days, I came within less than a yard of being hit on my bicycle by a clueless driver, so it’s unfortunately time for a bit of a rant on the topic.

I’ll say this as clearly as I can.


I don’t care if you like it. I don’t care if you resent it. My taxes help pay for that road too so deal with it.

Being impatient and self-absorbed are qualities we easily slap on teenagers, but the truth is that adults in today’s society are just as guilty of this. In fact, their careless self-absorption is often more harmful because they have more means to inflict harm, however inadvertently.

Some argue that senior citizens should be subjected to regular re-testing to maintain their driver’s licenses. I’m starting to believe that all drivers should be subjected to this. I’ve been nearly hit many times over the years and while sometimes it’s been a younger driver and sometimes an older driver at fault, most often it’s been middle aged people. And contrary to popular belief, males tend to be worse drivers than females. Sorry guys, it’s true. If you don’t believe me, ask an actuary.

So here are a few tips I have for how not to be a complete twit while driving...

-Realize that you do not have the right of way while turning over a biker who’s going straight. You may, with every bone in your body, want to run him over so you can get to the next stop sign two seconds faster, but you really shouldn’t. The Big Mac you're so eager to scarf down will still be there.

-You are legally obligated to use your turn signal every time you turn, even when (you think) there is no one behind you. I will signal to help you out; you can do the same.

-Just as turn signals on your car are not merely decorative, neither are mirrors. You can look at them for reasons other than just fixing your hair. I'm told some drivers actually check mirrors to see if anybody's behind them.

-Even in supermarket/big box store parking lots, stop signs are not suggestions.

-If there is a car stopped and waiting to turn left and you want to go right into the shoulder to go around him, actually look before you do so.

-If you are yacking on your cell phone or texting while driving, I hope you get a ticket every single time. Truth is, you’re not nearly as good doing those two things at once as you think.

Until drivers start doing these things and actually respecting the rules of the road, I think I should start carrying a paintball gun while I’m biking.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on 9/12

On this eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, The New York Review of Books re-ran an excellent essay (from 2003) by Joan Didion. In it, she explores the ways in which Americans did far more damage to our own society in the post-9/11 period than al-Qaeda ever could.

Friday, September 02, 2011

What if a corporate party threw a bash and nobody came? The paper would still report on it

Today’s Post-Star had a story about a Democrat running against Congressman Chris Gibson. The Democrat held an ‘event’ at the Washington County Municipal Center... except the only person he apparently talked to was an aide to his opponent, who happened to be there on other business.

So an event held by a corporate party candidate where nobody shows up merits a story (with photo!) on the front page of the local section. But when it comes to an event by smaller party candidate (Howie Hawkins) held at a local cafe jam packed with dozens of people in which the candidate gave detailed answers to dozens of intelligent and pertinent questions from ordinary citizens? It gets only a cursory mention buried in the newspaper’s blog.

Maybe next time, Greens should hold a flash mob doing Zumba and then maybe the local ‘news’ organization would notice.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cuomo's cowardly tax cap

I was reading an article in the Adirondack Journal on the cowardly, undemocratic property tax cap pushed through by NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It's undemocratic because school budgets are voted upon by residents so the grand pooh-bah is saying that the unwashed masses are too stupid to be trusted with running their own affairs without conditions from the overlords; now school tax increases above 2% are invalid unless approved by a supermajority of the peons.

It's cowardly because he's imposing legal restrictions on how OTHER government bodies spend money, but not on the one he himself runs. Further, he's taking credit for the lower property tax but washes his hands of any anger at the accompanying cuts in services. Tell other people what to do. Don't tell them how to do but tie their hands (see below). That's cowardice.

But the biggest problem with Cuomo's cowardly property tax cap was summed up quite nicely in the Adirondack Journal piece.

Keene town supervisor William Ferebee, a Republican, stated: "I’m opposed to the cap. If there was a cap on state mandates, that would be a different story."

And the Keene supervisor had his comment before his town was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.

The Minerva supervisor [Sue Corey] said she thought the idea of managing costs was a good one, but living with a cap without mandate relief is "going to be tough."

Lake George Mayor Robert Blais, another Republican, said he was opposed to the tax cap so long as it was not balanced with mandate relief.

Sensing a trend?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene: much ado about a lot in the Adirondacks

There were a lot of snarky comments on Facebook and Twitter by people who expressed disappointment in Irene, even boredom. They seemed to think that more should’ve happened given all the media coverage. ‘Witty’ comments like ‘hurri-lame’ were prolific. Even the normally reliable Howard Kurtz expressed his “great relief that the prophets of doom were wrong about Hurricane Irene.”

This may be true of those cocooned in comfortable offices in Manhattan or DC but I don’t think anyone living in upstate New York’s Adirondack region, an area more used to heavy precipitation of the colder variety, would agree with these clueless assessments

Those ignorant enough to still think Irene was much ado about nothing ought to visit North Country Public Radio’s website. Their news page and news blog both have extensive coverage and photos of the massive devastation caused by this ‘non-event.’ Adirondack Almanack also has a good report and a compelling first-hand account.