Friday, August 28, 2009

Self-interest on parade

If you want to see how self interest is ruling the public health-care reform debate, take a look at two stories in the Denver Post today, one on the front page, and the other on the "Health Reform" page, which today is 15A.

The Page One lead story, by Allison Sherry, reports how Patti Gabow, CEO of the Denver Health Medical Center, has written metro-Denver counties asking for millions of dollars worth of compensation for care Denver Health has provided for citizens of those counties in 2008.

The self-interest of Denver Health is obvious. The health system, described by the Post in a story earlier this week as one of the best in the country, is going uncompensated for those same millions of dollars worth of care, and it wants money to cover the costs from counties where the patients live.

Sherry's story said Denver Health is asking Jefferson County for $9.8 million, Arapahoe County, $12 million, and Adams County, $11.3 million.

That's a lot of money, but only fractions of $318 million in uncompensated care Denver Health offered patients in 2008, yet Sherry reports that officials in Jefferson and Adams counties don't seem too interested in paying their fair share.

"We don't believe it's a responsibility for county government to compensate hospitals for uninsured care," Sherry quoted Mark Tandberg, a division director in Adams County, saying in response to Gabow's letter posting the bill.

That response, of course, is in Adams County's self interest. Tandberg, serving his taxpayers, takes the conservative stand in the health-care debate: Government shouldn't subsidize universal health care.

Sherry reports that Kathryn Heider, a spokesman for conservative Jefferson County, also blew off Gabow's request. "I think we probably won't be pursuing it," she told Sherry.

Sherry, in the meantime, has a little self interest in writing the story itself since she is the writer of the earlier story that lauded Gabow's operation as one of the most efficient providing uninsured health care in the nation.

Reporters live and die (literally, since their jobs are at stake) by the give-and-take of story for story with sources. Sherry writes a well-reported story about Gabow's good standing in the national debate over health-care reform, and is then given access to the more powerful story about Gabow's demand for repayment from local governments.

The second story that puts self-interest on parade in the Post's coverage of health-care reform is the story on 15A about certain Catholic bishops in America, including Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, turning against the Obama reform plans, none of which is certain as yet.

That story, by David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times , connects the relatively new opposition of the bishops to old and long-held Catholic opposition to use of federal funds to pay for abortions.

Chaput is a vehement abortion critic and during the election campaign last year anti-abortion campaign flyers targeting Obama were passed around the parking lots of Catholic churchs on Sundays. Chaput's book, "Render Unto Caesar," goes somewhat lightly on the issue of abortion while urging strongly that Catholics stand up in the public square and marketplace to denounce political positions that run contrary to church doctrine.

I'm going to review the book soon on where I write about literature, so you might look for the review there when I finally get it done. Consider that last sentence to be promotion of my own self interest.

The New York Times story quotes Chaput as writing in a diocesan newspaper column that Obama's health-reform plan is "not only imprudent; it's also dangerous."

The Times story immediately adds, "The bishops' opposition ... is another setback for Obama's health care efforts."

The opposition also, however, serves the bishops' self interest by not only boosting the church's anti-abortion stance, but also by trying to boost the bishops' personal political credibility within their own congregations.

You could say anything anyone writes boosts someone's self interest, and that probably would not be too far from the truth.

But when self-interest powers a national debate that is supposed to target a common good, specific arguments that benefit one interest over another ought to be pointed out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cancer's back!

I've got cancer -- again.

The colorectal cancer I was diagnosed with on June 5, 2007, and that for the past year or so I thought I might have beaten, has shown up again in my latest PET scan Aug. 4.

And this time, like a good reporter, I figure I'll write about my renewed go-round with the disease, since it could well be my last.

In fact, it probably will be my last. I just looked up the survival stats for Stage 4 colorectal cancer, the last stage of the disease, and found only 5 percent of patients diagnosed at that stage in the United States survive the disease for more than five years.

Back in the summer of 2007 (the 40-year anniversary of the "Summer of Love, when I joined the throngs of baby boomers who trekked to San Francisco), Dr. Thomas Kenney, my oncologist, told me I had about a 50 percent chance of surviving the disease for that long, and about a 20 percent chance of being cured. But he also warned there was a high recurrence rate for colorectal cancer, and for that reason he would treat mine aggressively.

I underwent radiation, surgery (actually four surgeries within fourteen months), and six months of intense chemotherapy that deadened the nerves in my hands and feet (neuropathy, which continues today), and was cleared of cancer cells last summer or so. Probably.

They don't tell you much definitively when you are being treated for cancer, the argument being every individual is individual, and no one can predict beyond the average how your body will respond to treatment.

I wanted to write about my treatment this time around because I want the cancer to work for me instead of against me, as it has done so far. The last time around, I considered writing a longer, magazine-style journalistic piece about what it cost to be treated for cancer in Denver. But I never did it.

I admit my own laziness in putting off that attempt, but I also felt like my treatment never really ended while the neuropathy continued and the management of my own re-sectioned bowel continues to give me problems. It's also why I never seriously looked for a public-relations job following the initial diagnosis and surgery since I had left my job at ColoradoBiz magazine in February 2007.

Instead, I took the two years of treatment to decide I wanted to make a business of my own out of my writing: poems, short stories, a novel that has been started, a non-fiction book I'm writing for Denver oil man Tim Marquez, and perhaps some specialized small-business media consulting I would do if I could find the work. And this blog.

And now the cancer has come back, threatening to cut short those efforts -- but not really, at least for as long as I can continue them. So I'll continue to write about small businesses here. About politics, and anything else that comes to mind. I'll keep writing poems to post on my website,, and I'll keep writing about literature at Keep reading.

This story is "probably" going to be the best one I've ever written.
(Photo credit: Cancer Cell,

Monday, August 24, 2009

Watch Democrats 'just do it'

Over the weekend, Democrats gathered around a bunch of spades to dig the first shovels-full of dirt marking the rise of a new $300 million Veterans hospital in Aurora.

It took ten years to get there, eight of them during the Republican George W. Bush administration, but only eight months since the election of Barack Obama.

According to the Denver Post, actual construction on the project won't start until June, which may be a better time to celebrate the decision of the federal government to build the hospital, given the history of the project.

Before I left ColoradoBiz (in 2007), I had a writer do a profile of then Veteran's Administration head Jim Nicholson who was one of the several VA secretaries to go round and round on the project, but Nicholson did his job for local vets by getting it back on track.

Unfortunately, Nicholson's successor put it off track again, and Saturday's groundbreaking was the closest point yet veterans from the region have come to being assured the new hospital will be there for them if they live long enough to be served in it.

The federal commitment is an example of how Democrats just do it, rather than yak, yak, yak about it, like Republicans want to do on health-care reform, in order to keep the federal government from spending money.

Building a state-of-the-art hospital for vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as vets from the first Iraq war, the Korean War, Vietnam, and many of the conflicts in between, helps fulfill one of Obama's campaign promises: To get Iraq and Afghanistan wounded proper and on-going treatment. But you won't hear many bipartisans making that point.

Still, it is what Democrats do, besides tax and spend, as they are constantly accused of doing. They tax, yes. But they also spend tax money on government service to its people. Even when they have to borrow billions of dollars to do it.

Democrats believe the people they serve are worth government support. It's time Republican elected officials begin to do the same.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time to call a Constitutional Convention

Gov. Bill Ritter let his old prosecutor's guard down by calling for the early release of some convicts and shortened paroles for others to help balance the state's budget.

I didn't think he had it in him, but it seems that governing for all the people finally took precedence in a politician's set of values rather than old, staid biases.

Gov. Bill Ritter, like President Barack Obama, has proven himself an agent of change.

Now, he should call the General Assembly into special session to approve the fee hikes he has proposed to improve gun control in Colorado, and have the legislature call a Constitutional Convention so the state can offer voters a permanent fix to its budget mess while the cost cuts are still fresh and stinging, and more than Band-aids are top of peoples' minds.

At a convention, conservatives will finally have to face the issue that state government costs big money, and that taxpayers who are privileged enough to live and grow old in this state, ought to be responsible for the costs of running a top-notch government operation.

The governor's criminal cutbacks will save the state just $19 million this fiscal year, but they had to be one of the more bitter pills Ritter was forced to swallow, given his background as former Denver district attorney. He said during his press conference that he didn't like having to make some of the cuts, but that he had no choice.

Neither do Colorado voters.

They must soon vote to approve a modern method of financing state government at a level everyone in the state can afford. And yet at a level that will ensure Colorado's national leadership toward energy independence, superior health and prosperity for all its citizens, and a style of living to match the natural beauty that surrounds us.

It's time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

South Colo. schools first piece of recovery pie

San Luis Valley schools are to get the first $87 million from a state/federal capital construction program that could help put Southern Colorado small businesses to work.

No one has said anything yet, but it's no coincidence that the governor's "economic recovery team" kicked off a statewide tour in Trinidad, San Luis, Walsenburg and Pueblo to promote small-business and minority-business involvement in contracts that are being cut with stimulus funds coming from the Obama administration.

"Leveraging the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds is one way to help Colorado emerge from this economic downturn faster and stronger," Gov. Bill Ritter said in a statement announcing the tour, led earlier this week by Maranda Pleau, the governor's director of Minority and Small Business Outreach for the state's recovery team.

On Thursday, two days after Pleau first met with small business people on the tour, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy announced the $87 million in financing for school construction between the towns of Hooper and Mosca in Alamosa County, in Alamosa itself, and outside Monte Vista in Rio Grande County.

Pleau answered her own phone when I called her Friday morning shortly before a scheduled staff meeting, but she begged off talking to me about the relationship between the tour and the school-construction funding, saying she had the staff meeting to go to, but also that whatever she had to say had to be cleared through her communications director.

As I said, I have not talked with the outreach director yet, but she said she would be happy to share her thoughts on the subject. I sent her an e-mail asking what she is telling small business owners in the region where the funds are being spent, especially since it's known that few minority-owned businesses have in the past enjoyed participation in large state contracts for capital construction, road building and the like.

Pleau's appointment, in some ways, was a response to complaints from some leaders of the minority business community in metro Denver that minority-owned businesses weren't getting many state contracts, or even encouragement, after two years of Gov. Ritter's adminstration.

Specifically, the Colorado Black Roundtable met with Ritter in February to share concerns that the state was effectively "missing in action" for the first two years of Ritter government when it came to economic development of African-American owned businesses in Colorado, according to Herman Malone, a Republican who attended the session with the Democratic governor.

"He was telling us what he couldn't do," said Malone, who also is my co-author in writing the book "Lynched by Corporate America," which was published in 2006.

Andre Pettigrew, executive director of the city of Denver's Office of Economic Development, told me he hoped Pleau's appointment to the economic recovery team was partly a response to that meeting, although the appointment didn't come until mid-summer.

"I'd like to think the governor, Don Elliman [former state economic development director and now chief operating officer of the state] and that team," Pettigrew said, "that they went out and listened to businesses in our community, that they knew there was an opportunity and an expectation that those communities were going to contribute" to the state's economic recovery.

" ... Our success is going to be measured on whether or not these businesses, these contractors are growing, that they are a vital part of it," Pettigrew said.

Elliman also is chair of the Colorado Economic Recovery Accountability Board, which Ritter appointed to oversee the spending of federal stimulus money. Pettigrew is a member of the board, too, and he told me he has addressed the board on the issue of minority-business participation in spending the government funds.

Pleau's responsibility is to see that minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and other small businesses are included. Let's hope the small business owners she meets with on the recovery team's tour around the state listen up and make sure they get a piece of the action.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Built to Fall"

That headline should be the title of the the next business book I want to write, with one of those long, long subtitles:

"The story of how two books, William Greider's 'Secrets of the Temple, and Kurt Eichenwald's 'Conspiracy of Fools' foretold the U.S. and global financial crisis of 2009, and offered solutions long ago that could have saved us from the bother."

Eichenwald's book is about the fall of Enron, and I just finished reading in it about how a woman Enron executive's failure to read an e-mail, and one in-house attorney's failure to read Sherron Watkins' memos on mismanagement at upper levels of Enron may have helped bring the company down.

It's a fault I have identified as chronic among executives throughout America. People no longer read the materials they are provided that could make a critical difference to the profitability of their companies and the success of their own careers.

I have already started a series of blogs on this site that I call "Traitor to Myself," and this could stand for another chapter, for I am as guilty of the corporate fault as the two Enron execs, Jim Derrick and Cindy Olson, according to Eichenwald.

But so are Ben Bernanke and George W. Bush.

Both of the books have been sitting on my shelf for at least a year, and I have not brought myself to read them thoroughly until now. I'm sure Bernanke is aware of Greider's book on the history of the Federal Reserve following the 1981-82 recession. He probably read it long ago.

Since George W. openly boasted he did not read, I am just as sure he did not read Eichenwald's tome on Enron even if he did call the company's late chairman "Kenny Boy."

Greider's book, read now, tells more about what the Obama administration is doing to rectify the wrongheaded financial industry than anything else I have read during the past 18 months.

Reading the Enron book for background to a book I'm writing now about Tim Marquez, a Denver oil man, has been a lesson for me in the necessity of doing proper background reading before you launch the writing of anything, from a blog posting to a magazine story.

Yet, you learn, too, that it's never too late to do the right thing. Or start doing it.

Life is an education in everything we do, and our schooling lasts from the day we are born until the day we die. If only we could all appreciate that; and not assume what we don't know.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don't be idiots, America

Schwab on health-care reform: Don't be idiots, America. This is why you elected Barack Obama.

Don't let insurance companies, the special interests in health care, Republicans, who always defend the establishment because they always serve the monied interests of the nation, or whackos on the Internet (me excluded, of course) convince you that health-care reform is not in your best (self) interests.

I listened to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, last night on public television. He sounded like one of the nuts. He said a public-option health insurance plan was just a first step in the government plot to take over the entire health-care system in America. The first step toward a single-payer system.

That conclusion is not logical.

It is the Republican Party's national spin for senators and representatives to take back to the heartland to try to talk the U.S. population out of insisting that Congress change health care for the betterment of most people in America.

How can starting a cheaper-than-current-costs, government-run health-insurance plan, to compete against more expensive private insurers, be a step into the hospitals and doctors offices that deliver health care now -- unless you think the private health-care insurers are already there, dictating what health care to give at prices high enough to make the insurers, doctors and hospitals a profit?

Grassley and others say we already have a health-care system that works just fine. How crazy is that?

Even if you think the movie "Sicko" was all wrong, anybody with any common sense, from doctors and nurses, to hospital administrators and even insurance executives, have known and have said publicly for years that our health-care system is on its own way toward bankruptcy if something isn't changed soon. And perhaps the nation with it.

Yet Republicans are now telling the country: It works just fine.

How crazy is that?

Don't be fooled.

If you attend public meetings of Colorado senators and representatives this month you'll no doubt hear the shouts of anti-reform activists who will describe any shouts you hear from pro-reform activists as the shouts of the looney fringe.

Right now, a guy named Jeff Crank, who is described in today's Denver Post as the head of the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity (meaning the rich), is launching a 13-day bus tour around the state to repeat what he told the Post:

"We're headed right now to this thing being a fringe group of people demanding that there be some kind of 'public option' versus real America that is saying we're not going to throw out a health care system that delivers fine care but is expensive and maybe has to be refined."

Don't be fooled, real America. Those last nine words are Crank's attempt to sound not crazy. And in the earlier part of his quote, you see how he's trying to define other people who support reform as "a fringe group."

But who drives a bus around the state to harangue people about crazies in government besides a crazy, himself (although you wonder what's he's getting paid to make the pitch in this otherwise era of joblessness).

Don't be fooled, Colorado. Don't be fooled America. Health-care reform is one reason why a large majority of people in this country voted for the nation's first African-American president. We voted for change, and we could feel in our bones that Obama was the political athlete who could score for us.

Don't listen to shouts on either side of the argument.

Just quietly tell your congressmen and congresswomen to "stay the course," as George W. Bush's father used to say. But make sure they realize you mean the course toward reform.

Get health care reformed in this country by the end of the year, and let it start having its beneficial effect in 2010 and beyond, if we all live that long. Too many have passed without the benefit of the best care our country can offer its citizens.

You won't hear an anti-reformer shouting out about that outrage.

You can bet on that.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bye Energy, a leader of the "new energy economy"

Bye Energy, a new firm based in Greenwood Village, is the first client of a new cleantech incubator started last month, the CleanLaunch Technology Incubator, which promises to "stimulate the development and success of early-stage companies who will provide the next generation of clean, renewable, and efficient energy technologies" to the nation.

The quote is from the CleanLaunch website, which you can reach by clicking on its title in this text. At the site, you will find the rest of CleanLaunch's mission statement: "CleanLaunch helps companies assemble solid management teams, secure adequate funding, and accelerate the commercialization of sound product ideas into the market."

You are going to hear a lot about cleantech companies in the next few years if you haven't already heard the drumbeat coming from the Obama and Ritter administrations and Congress, which is working on a bill to fight global warming. For those readers who might not be familiar with Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado, that's who he is, our governor.

I'm going to be one of the writers in the media who is beating the clean-energy drum.

I'm writing a story for ColoradoBiz magazine's September issue on Gov. Ritter's record trying to create what he calls a "new energy economy," and the political fallout from that effort, especially in the Colorado business community, which was a critical supporter of the governor during his 2006 eelection.

Clean, "green" energy production is a key element of both Ritter's "new energy economy," and President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan for America. I've found out a lot about the industry while working the ColoradoBiz story, and hope to bring you several pieces here in the next few months that emanate from that reporting.

A front-page story by Peter Jones in the July 31 Centennial Citizen, is an example of the drumbeat, too. "Flying nose first into the emerging world of clean aviation technology can be a bumpy and unpredictable ride," Jones wrote about Bye Energy, which is developing a hybrid electric engine for small airplanes as well as a biofuel to run the engine on.

I talked to George Bye, founder of the company, on Thursday, while he was attending the annual air show for small-plane manufacturers and consumers in Oshkosh, Wisc., to ask him what he planned to get out of joining CleanLaunch. Essentially, he said: Marketing.

Bye said partners in the incubator will help Bye "get our message out better than we can do ourselves." The partners in CleanLaunch are Burt Automotive, the South Denver auto dealer, the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, Clifton Gunderson, an accounting firm, and Fairfield and Woods, a law firm.

Bye said his Bye Energy is an outgrowth of its two-year old parent company, Bye Aerospace, which he founded after developing the ATG Javelin, a private-size, twin-engine jet aircraft put together at Centennial Airport. Both Bye Energy and Bye Aerospace share about a dozen full-time employees whose work is augmented by part-time and contract workers, interns and volunteers who are interested in seeing Bye's groundbreaking, clean-aviation technology brought to market.

Bye said joining the incubator allows his people to connect with other "great folk with like minds" to further develop all kinds of new, clean, green energy.

I plan to write more about that kind of product development here as my blog develops into a source for news and comment on small business, minority business, women-in-business and other topics as well.

The Centennial Citizen, by the way, is one newspaper -- albeit a small, free one -- that seems to be making it in the harsh business environment all newspapers have been thrown into of late, as I wrote about in the post below this one.

I will also use this space to promote the reading of all newspapers, and intend to quote freely from them, with proper attribution, as a bow to paid journalism, which I think is an important protector of all Americans' First Amendment constitutional rights. I hope you'll continue to read them and me for the same reason.