Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saint Reagan's bloody legacy in Central America

"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. This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here.

As the clowns seeking the Republican presidential nomination fall over themselves to claim to be Ronald Reagan, a couple of articles I read recent cast a different shadow on the late Republican's legacy in Central America.

In The New York Review of Books' blog, the excellent Alma Guilermoprieto ran a chilling piece on the new ganglands of El Salvador. The country was the location of the most bloody of central American wars in the 1980s, as the Reagan administration backed a brutal junta and savage right-wing death squads which murdered tens of thousands of people, including most infamously Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Another mass murderer backed by Saint Reagan was Efrain Rios Montt, the military dictator of Honduras. He has been indicted on charged of genocide for his alleged role in mass war crimes and human rights abuses in the 1980s.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bad News On the Doorstep: Lee’s First Quarter Report

(by contributor Mark Wilson, as part of his series on the troubles at Lee Enterprises and The Post-Star)
In its quarterly SEC filing for the period ending December 25, 2011, released this week, Lee Enterprises announced its intention to seek stockholder approval for a reverse stock split. The annual meeting will be in Davenport, Iowa in March this year. The report did not state the ratio of the reverse split. Lee CFO Carl Schmidt also foreshadowed trouble for Lee’s NYSE listing with the minimum market capitalization standard, the cure period for which expires next month.
Other bad news in the SEC report:
  • Operating revenue declined 3.9% over last year’s first quarter report. This included a 6.1% drop in advertising (digital and print advertising combined). Real estate advertising led the decline, dropping 17.9%.
  • Employee compensation dropped 5.7%. The number of full-time equivalent employees dropped 7.2%.
  • Debt financing and reorganization costs increased 66% to $3,265,000
While visits to Lee’s digital products increased 10.4%, this good news does nothing for the bottom line. In his From the Editor column last week, Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley lamented: “The problem is more and more readers are visiting newspaper websites for free while abandoning their subscriptions to the newspaper. Unfortunately, we don't make money on our websites.”
He also stated, “We have no plans to charge for use of our website right now. . .”
Bear in mind that this reassurance comes from an organization not known for its candor in reporting on itself. Last May in a letter to Lee's investors, CEO Mary Junck wrote, “We are not, as some in the national media have imagined, staving off bankruptcy.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dr. King's real dream: dignity for all

Below is my annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day essay. Those who turn Dr. King into some sort of saccharine saint, as being solely about government equality under law for all skin colors, trivialize his struggle. He was about that, but about much more than that. His struggle was about the dignity of human beings, in the broadest sense. This New York Times essay says it best: Martin Luther King Jr. Would Want a Revolution, Not a Memorial.


Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy against segregation and other forms of state-sponsored racism. On this national holiday honoring him, it's worth remembering that King viewed as more than mere legal racial equality. He viewed the struggle more broadly as one in favor of human dignity. This is why he did not retire from public life following legalistic victories such as Brown vs the Board of Education or the Civil and Voting Rights Acts. Although legal segregation was crumbling in the last years of his life, Dr. King did not diminish his activism in any way. He merely refocused it toward another aspect of human dignity.

At the time of his assassination in 1968, King was in Memphis as part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SLCC) Poor People's Campaign, where the city's garbage workers were protesting against unlivable wages. The SLCC had conceived the campaign as a way to mobilize poor people of all skin colors on behalf of a federal economic plan to rebuild American cities.

King realized that the end of state-imposed segregation would not improve the lives of black people if they remained miserably poor. In much the same way the lives of blacks in the south remained virtually unchanged long after the 'transition' from slavery to sharecropping.

King viewed the campaign part as the second phase of the civil rights' struggle. He viewed endemic poverty as a civil rights' issue.

This commitment to human dignity animated another lesser known aspect of King's work: his opposition to the Vietnam War and to militarism more broadly.

During his Beyond Vietnam speech given exactly one year before his murder, he explained why opposition to the aggression against Vietnam had entered into his activism:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men [in the ghettos of the north], I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Americans were being shipped off to Vietnam to kill, to destroy and to die. Nothing good was happening because of this. And King knew that the war machine specifically sought those with few other economic options to serve as its cannon fodder, a situation that's little different today.

Like many social justice advocates before and since, he deplored how much of our national resources (both financial and human) was wasted on fabricating foreign enemies to obliterate. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom," he warned.

King probably realized that the fact that many young people had few other economic options was no accident, but the result of conscious policy choices made to ensure an insatiable monster created, funded and propped up by your tax dollars always had food.

(It's not the only insatiable monster but the other main one merits an entry of its own)

To restrict Dr. King's legacy to the fight for legal equality for black people is to sell him short. And it's misleads people into believing that his dream has been realized. His true struggle was the quest for human dignity for all people.

He could be no clearer about this when he concluded his Beyond Vietnam speech:

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

If you truly want to honor him, then follow this injunction.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lee Enterprises Inc., with its back to the wall, faces a reverse stock split

(by contributor Mark Wilson, as part of his series on the troubles at Lee Enterprises and The Post-Star)

As a last-ditch effort to raise the price of its stock shares and stave off delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, the Iowa-based owner of the Post-Star has reached the point where it must now seek approval from shareholders for a reverse stock split. The move, if approved at the company’s annual meeting next month, would multiply the share price of Lee stock, automatically raising it above the NYSE’s one dollar delisting threshold, while decreasing each shareholder’s holding by the same multiple.

When the NYSE issued Lee the first of two notices of non-compliance last summer after the company stock’s per share price slipped below one dollar, it gave Lee six months to correct the situation. When that “cure period” expired last week with Lee still trading in the 70¢ range, it became clear that Lee had one remaining avenue to escape being removed from the exchange.

The NYSE’s Listed Company Manual, as provided by Judy Shaw from NYSE’s Media Relations division, allows non-compliant companies one final stockholder-approved remedy if all else fails:

802.01C Price Criteria for Capital or Common Stock

A company will be considered to be below compliance standards if the average closing price of a security as reported on the consolidated tape is less than $1.00 over a consecutive 30 trading-day period.

Once notified, the company must bring its share price and average share price back above $1.00 by six months following receipt of the notification. A company is not eligible to follow the procedures outlined in Paras. 802.02 and 802.03 with respect to this criteria. The company must, however, notify the Exchange, within 10 business days of receipt of the notification, of its intent to cure this deficiency or be subject to suspension and delisting procedures. In addition, a domestic company must disclose receipt of the notification by issuing a press release disclosing the fact that it has fallen below the continued listing standards of the Exchange within the time period allotted by SEC rules for the making of a filing with respect to Exchange notification of that event, but no longer than four business days after notification. A non-U.S. company must issue this press release within 30 days after notification. If the company fails to issue this press release during the allotted time period, the Exchange will issue the requisite press release. The company can regain compliance at any time during the six-month cure period if on the last trading day of any calendar month during the cure period the company has a closing share price of at least $1.00 and an average closing share price of at least $1.00 over the 30 trading-day period ending on the last trading day of that month. In the event that at the expiration of the six-month cure period, both a $1.00 closing share price on the last trading day of the cure period and a $1.00 average closing share price over the 30 trading-day period ending on the last trading day of the cure period are not attained, the Exchange will commence suspension and delisting procedures.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a company determines that, if necessary, it will cure the price condition by taking an action that will require approval of its shareholders, it must so inform the Exchange in the above referenced notification, must obtain the shareholder approval by no later than its next annual meeting, and must implement the action promptly thereafter. The price condition will be deemed cured if the price promptly exceeds $1.00 per share, and the price remains above the level for at least the following 30 trading days.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, if the subject security is not the primary trading common stock of the company (e.g., a tracking stock or a preferred class) or is a stock listed under the Affiliated Company standard where the parent remains in "control" as that term is used in that standard, the Exchange may determine whether to apply the Price Criteria to such security after evaluating the financial status of the company.

At the pit of the recession in June 2009, Lee’s board—faced with a similar non-compliance notice after its stock price slid below fifty cents—opted not to pursue a reverse split when the Exchange issued a general moratorium on delisting. No such amnesty is available to the newspaper publisher this time.

If and when the company brings its stock price back into compliance, Lee still faces a second non-compliance notice issued last August when its market capitalization (the share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares) dropped below $50 million. The reverse stock split will do nothing to improve this number, as the increase in the share price will be balanced by the decrease in the number of outstanding shares.

It is a safe bet that Lee’s financial directors are hard at work on a plan to boost its market capitalization. The company’s first quarter report is due out Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Occupy Wall St. validates Ralph Nader

No man is a prophet in his own land.

Dear Occupy Wall St. Sympathizers,
Occupy's message is virtually identical to that which many (most?) of you have spent the last dozen years smearing Ralph Nader and his supporters for while you've voted for militaristic, anti-civil liberties, corporatist Democrats. Glad you've finally come around. I just hope you don't develop amnesia between now and November.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Obama finishing what Bush started: a 'historic assault on American liberty'

This New Year's, with conveniently little fanfare, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA would allow the president to indefinitely detain American citizens arrested on American soil. This act by our Democratic president was described by the UK Guardian as a 'historic assault on American liberty'.

This is not only a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment but an affront to the most basic value of a free society: the right to not be imprisoned without charge. The right to due process is one of the oldest recognized rights in western civilization, dating back to the 13th century Magna Carta.

It's a good thing we have a Democratic president and Democratic senate protecting Americans from the abominable assaults on civil liberties perpetrated by the much demonized Republicans. At least that's what the Democratic scaremongers would have you believe.

Thanks a lot you donkeys!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Bike friendly in the snow belt

The excellent Yes! magazine has a great piece entitled Lessons From a Surprise Bike Town. The #1 bicycle city in America is not Portland, OR, but snowy Minneapolis. That a city with weather colder that Moscow's can be so bike-friendly is a lesson to towns all across the country. No more excuses!