Bad news for Lee Enterprises, common sense on Iran deal


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

This prime piece of downtown real estate could be available soon. Maybe.

More bad news for Lee Enterprises, the Iowa-based newspaper chain that owns the Billings Gazette and papers in Missoula, Butte, Helena and Hamilton. is reporting that Lee has sold a newspaper building in Napa, Calif., for $5 million, which it planned to use to pay down part of its enormous debt.

A Lee executive quoted in the story said the sale of the building was part of the company’s “ongoing real estate monetization program.” I don’t know how Lee manages to be so consistent, but every time there is a story on the company, it finds someone to utter a sentence churned out by a business-jargon machine.

At any rate, the article goes on to say that despite this recent sale of the Napa property, “Lee stock price fell to a new 52-week low Thursday (9/10), closing at $1.47 per share.” And company debt is now listed at $770 million.

I have had occasion in the past to mention the analyst who said Lee was “burning the furniture to heat the house,” and this sell-off of property certainly fits that pattern. The good news, if there is any, for now, is that no Montana properties are being sold by Lee. The story says other Lee properties are for sale in Provo, Utah; Bloomington, Illinois; Portage, Wisconsin; and St. Louis.

But I have heard rumors that parts of some of Lee’s Montana properties might be leased out. Given the steady reductions in staff over the past few years, it makes sense that the Lee papers in Montana will soon have some space to rent.

These drop-in-the-bucket cash deals, though, do not seem to be part of any long-term strategy or any larger plan to strengthen the company. They seem like desperate, stopgap measures meant to give the next quarterly report a slight boost, or at least to provide some slender bit of justification for the next, inevitable round of executive bonuses.

Meanwhile, in Iran…

While we’re on the subject of newspapers, I have been waiting in vain to read in any Montana paper one key fact about the nuclear deal with Iran. There have been countless news stories, editorials, guest columns and letters to the editor on this subject, but unless I missed something, none of them has mentioned this key fact.

It is this, as reported on Sept. 2 by the New York Times: the ship has already sailed. What clinched the support of the last group of Democratic senators needed to protect the deal from legislative defeat was a meeting with senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

These diplomats informed the senators that they believed no better deal with Iran was possible and that they would under no circumstances go back to the negotiating table. Even more crucial was the blunt message that if the United States backed out and decided not to lift sanctions against Iran, the other major countries would lift their own sanctions anyway.

In other words, even if Sen. Marco Rubio were elected president and re-imposed sanctions against in Iran on his first day in office, as he has promised to do, it would have almost no effect on Iran. The other major powers are proceeding on the basis of what was agreed to in the long negotiations with Iran, with or without us.

This simple fact should also raise a question: If the deal with Iran is, as the Republican presidential candidates assert at every opportunity, a big step on the road to doomsday, why are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia behind it?

Do the leaders of these countries have some kind of death wish? Have all of them been sold a bill of goods? Are the collective leaders and senior diplomats of those five nations utterly stupid, and are the Republican presidential candidates, by contrast, far-seeing and wise?

You don’t suppose, do you, that this is just another opportunity to attack President Obama? No, couldn’t be. Who would inject the lowest kinds of partisan politics into a matter of international importance?

I’m sure it is just a coincidence that the Republican leadership’s ringing pronouncements about their willingness to fight against the Iran deal with every available weapon at every opportunity sound exactly like their pronouncements about the fight to the finish against Obamacare.

There will be more calls for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to change course and vote against the Iran deal. Let’s hope he stands firm, and let’s hope that Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., explain why their decision to vote against the deal would do the least bit of good.


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