Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lump of coal

The Denver Post delivered a lump of coal in its editorial pages on Sunday, an op-ed piece by Daniel Firger who gave "Colorado citizens" some bad advice.

"What can be done?" Firger asks rhetorically about improving Colorado's already limited dependence on coal as an energy source. "Colorado citizens can push to phase out dirty coal, not just in the state's power plants but also in its mines and transmission lines. ... No state is better suited to lead this charge."


Colorado ought to be leading the charge to use every energy source available to it not only to wean the United States off foreign sources of energy, but also to solve the world's climate problems by cleaning up its continued use of all fossil fuels.

Firger, associate director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York, offers faint praise to the state for its efforts to clean up its energy markets, but suggests it go further to eliminate "dirty coal" from its industry mix.


Firger evidently missed James Fallows' article in the December Atlantic Monthly that recognizes "dirty coal" will continue to be a worldwide source of energy and should be as long as efforts continue to clean up its dump of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It's cheap and provides jobs worldwide, including in Colorado.

Colorado Public Utilities Commissioners also must have missed the article before voting earlier this month to force Xcel Energy to reduce its use of coal to fire up six metro-area power plants. Not that the vote isn't healthy for the state; it just seemed uninformed.

Colorado coal miners would argue that technology is catching up to a sustainable use of coal to produce electricity -- adding that jobs and wages could be preserved if state officials would take cognizance of such developments.

Environmentalists in Colorado tend to be all-or-nothing types, and their influence on state government has been overwrought for the past four years. For the new Hickenlooper administration, it's time to balance that act.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Starting up a small-business chamber

Chaos. That's how John Wren, a long-time small-business advocate in metro Denver, describes his recent attempts to start a new group, a Small Business Chamber of Commerce. It could eventually go statewide.

Wren obtained the registered name for the Small Business Chamber of Commerce recently, and wanted to add the new group to the collection of entities he uses to help small business owners talk out their problems and processes. So far, those groups include regular sessions of the Idea Cafe, when speakers share their startup experiences, and Franklin Circles, named after Ben, which gather active entrepreneurs together.

So he started a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=145283622175466&ref=ts, and put a meeting notice in the Denver Post that quickly gathered more than 700 prospective chamber members, and called down the Facebook security gods in the process to slow down his explosive recruitment.

Wren called it "Facebook crankiness," but his formation of the chamber goes on, and the quick response he has received suggests the hunger in Colorado for some kind of effective small-business leadership. 

There's no telling how it will all work out for Wren. He is hyper-active promoting his meetings on Facebook, Twitter, in the newspaper, and any other venue he can reach; but he told me he has "some people" working on taming the Internet glut he has going currently. That might also hone the mission of the new chamber as well as the services it might be able to offer small businesses.

He said the ultimate goal of the chamber is to lower Colorado's unemployment rate through small-buisness hiring. If you want to join the crowd, go to the URL shown above and sign up.

If you want to go to a meeting, attend the gathering at Panera Bread, East 13th Avenue and Grant Street, near downtown, at 2 p.m. Friday.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pike Research, a worldwide toddler

In less than two years, Pike Research in Boulder has grown legs in the clean-tech analyst industry, and toddled off to Washington D.C., London, South Korea and other parts of the Asia/Pacific.

Clint Wheelock, founder and the sole principal of the firm, says the company is doing that with about 40 people, 25 full-time employees and another 15 contractors. That's a small business that the new governor's economic-development administration should keep an eye on.

"Things have really been moving quickly," said Wheelock, after announcing the opening of the Washington office last week. "Faster than I orginally thought," and despite the national and global recessions.

But clean-tech, a worldwide industry that itself is in its infancy, is like that. Reaching out, growing fast, and learning quickly, without much help from any particular mentor, unless the Chinese government can be considered some kind of rich uncle.

Pike Research, according to its own press releases, "is a market research and consulting firm that provides in-depth analysis of global clean technology markets ... [including the] Smart Energy, Clean Transportation, Clean Industry and Building Efficiency sectors."

Wheelock said the opening of offices in Washington and London adds the fuel-cells sector to the firm's expertise. It's "a big new focus for us, and although fuel cells have been around for a long time, we really think the industry is on the cusp of some real growth -- for probably the first time, despite a lot of (earlier)talk."

"We have specialists in smart-grid and renewable energy, and in energy-efficient buildings and in clean transportation, including electric vehicles and other alternate-fuel vehicles," Wheelock said.

The analysts write research reports that include market size for a particular area of clean-tech operations, like software for smart-grid electricity distribution, Pike's latest research report. The reports estimate current and future market size and segmentation. That latest report, for example, predicts software and services for smart-grid technology will increase from a "relatively small" $356 million annual market in 2010 to $4.2 billion in annual revenue by 2015.

Pike sells that kind of advice in a single report -- "What we call a basic license and which is essentially one to five users within an organization," Wheelock said -- for $3,500. "There's also an enterprise license for large companies that want to post it on their corporate intranet, and that's typically 1.5 times the basic license, so in a typical case it would be $5,250" for an enterprise.

Pike sells its large clients subsciptions that allow access to its analysts for consulting and custom research. Wheelock said the "bulk" of the firm's revenue comes from subscription sales.

"A lot of the larger clients," he said, "are the large multi-national technology and energy companies that have an ongoing need for this, and so they'll sign up for a subscription or multiple subscriptions."

Opening the Washington office has been on Wheelock's radar since he started the company with his own savings. A London office is also in the future, and probably South Korea, Wheelock said.

Big market-research firms have retrenched during the economic downturn, he noted, but that has given Pike an opportunity to establish itself as a brand name for clean-tech analysis.

"The level of competitive intensity is very low, and much lower than I expected," he said. "One of the key things that we're trying to do is take advantage of that competitive vacuum and really assert ourselves as the authority on several of these key emerging areas....

"I absolutely anticipate that there will be a lot more intense competition in a couple of years, and I think we're just trying to get ourselves in a good position as the leader in the States before that happens," Wheelock said.

"It seems to be working very well."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Eco-devo transition to start in mid-December

Colorado small businesses are being hit with unemployment-insurance rate hikes that sometimes quadruple their quarterly payments, according to Steve Raabe, writing today in the Denver Post. "Our hands effectively are tied," Don Mares told Raabe.

Mares is executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the agency notifying business owners of the higher insurance premiums. He has called together a task force to suggest reforms for the Colorado Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, according to Raabe's story. The fund is the state's pool of money to pay unemployment-benefit checks. Colorado is already on the hook to the federal government for $368.5 million borrowed this year to pay benefits.

One of the members of that task force should be Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper's new director of the state's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, if Hickenlooper decides to appoint a new one.

Hickenlooper's transition team will begin rolling out a shape for his new administration about mid-month, spokesman Eric Brown said this week. What shape that takes around economic development is probably the top concern of the Colorado business community.

I once had hoped to join Gov. Bill Ritter's economic-development team. I can't say I'm glad I did not, but the four years I've had to think about it certainly fed my fantasies about what an effective economic-development team should be doing:

Like finding a way -- and the money -- for the state and its local governments to offer incentives to businesses to locate here. Big business fosters the growth of small businesses in a regional economy, and small businesses provide any economy the most jobs.

Or like being an advocate for the nearly 500,000 small businesses in the state, including more than 350,000 sole proprietors if they have survived the last two years of national recession.

Or like promoting the use of instate small-business vendors to do much of the work the state contracts out to private business. That work in the past has been valued at  more than $4 billion annually. So there's a lot of job creation built into that money.

Or like advocating the growth of women-owned and minority-owned businesses in order to correct a lopsided disparity of such firms among the state's contractor corps. Facilitating the use of such firms by large businesses in Colorado as well as by state and local government units would help strengthen the state's economy at the core of its small-business community.

Or like acting as a mediator for small businesses among state agencies like the labor department when decisions are made that affect a small-business owner's livelihood. The OEDIT director or his representative could ensure that small-business owners are given some consideration prior to boosting fees and raising premiums.

Or like advocating for the general business position among state agencies, boards and commissions when other special interests like labor unions and environmentalists try to influence regulatory decisions.

Last summer, the Denver Post published a story that suggested economic-development efforts in Colorado needed an overhaul.  Over the last four years, the state's economic-development office has seemed almost dormant. And advocating for anything through a state agency is often viewed in Colorado as some sort of blasphemy.

But the time is right for allowing such intra-government lobbying. Ritter got in trouble with the state's business community almost as quickly as he took office, and then spent the rest of his four years trying to make up for it -- only to offend the labor community as he did so.

Today's Post also carried an item that said Pamela Reichert, director of the trade office within OEDIT, was taking a position with the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., signalling the exodus of state officials that usually follows a change of administration. Hickenlooper would be wise to consider some holdovers, but not necessarily in the OEDIT. 

Appointments in that office will signal to the business community what kind of governor the people of Colorado traded for Ritter. Business friendly but also a friend to working men and women? Over the past four years those two positions were made to look antithetical. They are not.

All the people of Colorado ought to benefit from electing a new governor.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be thankful for advertising

Remember Black Friday 2010. It marks the beginning of the nation's recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2010.

The mighty American consumer, taught the harsh lesson of credit-card debt, is back in the market, but this time buying with cash in the bank.

Online shoppers boosted online retailers' revenue by 16 percent on the Friday after Thanksgiving, according to the Associated Press, while long lines in the dark hours before dawn Friday proved before doors even opened that brick-and-mortar shops were going to have a good day.

Locally, you could tell that advertisers were back in force in the Denver Post.The Post has been selling the bottom of its Sunday front page for more than a year now, it seems. Since summer, the newspaper has sold the top-right corner of the page, labeled "Today's Daily Deal," to a variety of advertisers. And now the newspaper is selling off the bottom of page 2 as well, depriving readers of the interesting short items it has regularly showcased in that space but driving up ad-sales revenue that much more.

After all, what's a newspaper for? To share the news and serve the public interest? Not necessarily.

Newspapers survive today by selling space to advertisers; and the Great Recession for Newspapers, which began even before the nation's latest financial crisis, has proved unarguably that business survival is the ultimate goal of any newspaper, just as it is for any business.

In fact, newspapers, today, are not much different from any retailer; the ad sale is king, and not much will get in its way. Walmart, for example, long prided itself on not having to advertise in media because its low prices would lead consumers to its aisles simply by word-of-mouth. Today, however, Walmart is inserting ads in the Post like any other big-box seller.

I no longer argue with newspapers on that score. My profession as a journalist is dependent on the ad sale, and plenty of jobs collapsed when advertisers moved from newspapers to other venues to deliver their messages.

And if Today's Daily Deal for pole-dancing lessons, symphony performances and home-security packages do the trick (pun intended), then I'm all for using the deals to give working journalists some white space to fill with news.

And you can't argue with the results. If ads spur consumer spending, and consumer spending creates jobs and jobs create more spending, then an economy that is sputtering back to life is what every American, even the underemployed and unemployed, can genuinely be thankful for on this holiday weekend.

I am.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Health reform taking root

Forget repeal. Health reform is taking root in Colorado and forcing doctors and insurers to face the facts of their new existence. 

Take, for example, the complaint of nurse practitioner Mary Lou Hendrix in yesterday's Denver Post. In a story by Nancy Lofholm, Hendrix described the difficulties she has encountered trying to be "credentialed" by health insurers whose pregnant customers want to use Hendrix's skills without her being supervised by a doctor.

"Credentialed" means the insurer agrees to pay Hendrix for her services when their customers make a claim through her for payment. According to Lofholm, a 2008 state law allows Hendrix to operate without supervision, at the same rates as physicians. After working for doctors for years,  Hendrix opened her own practice last spring.

In late September, Gov. Bill Ritter officially notified Medicare that Colorado is opting out of a federal rule that nurse anesthetists also must be supervised by a doctor, a full-fledged anesthesiologist. The next day, the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists and the Colorado Medical Society, representing doctors, sued the state to block Ritter's decision. The lawsuit is pending.

Both developments reflect progress and resistance toward enactment of health reform meant to improve the lives of Coloradans. Nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists can make competent health care available to more people across the state, expanding the market for their services and providing a measure of competition to doctors. Perhaps even driving down some prices.

For nurse anesthetists, the argument for their not needing a doctor's supervision is more than two decades old. I dated a nurse anesthetist in Texas, before coming to Colorado, who had to leave Austin for Idaho in order to practice her skill in a market unfettered by rules protecting the livelihood and wealth of doctors.

But when Ritter opted Colorado out of the Medicare rule this year, only 15 other states had done the same, showing how long it takes some reforms to take root. Hendrix's continuing problems with insurers illustrates the same slow creep of progress.

Following Ritter's decision and the filing of the lawsuit, the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists posted on its website a call for members to register their displeasure with Ritter by calling or e-mailing his office. Lorez Meinhold said the office has received one complaint since the Sept. 28 announcement; that e-mail came in on Nov. 1. 

Health care in these United States can hardly be called a revolution, despite the Tea Party's Revolutionary War custumes during the last election campaign. Evolution occurs with each dying dinosaur's extinction. One day in Colorado, the evolution of a 21st century health-care system will be complete.

Monday, November 15, 2010

In the Chemo Room: I'm back ... !

Yes, I'm back in the Chemo Room, just as my oncologist suspected I would be, and I had hoped I would not.

But the only way to keep cancer from killing you is to keep fighting it.

So I am back in the Chemo Room fighting my cancer with the same two chemicals that got a "profound"  response from my body during my last round of chemo: Erbitux, that expensive cell-starving biologic, and Ironotecan, a cell-killing juice you really don't want to try.

My latest treatment was last week on Thursday, and I spent most of Friday and part of Saturday and Sunday trying to get over the hump of it. Sunday's Broncos' thumping of Kansas City helped.

I feel better now, so I'm back at my computer to tell you again about where I've been in my fight against this disease.

Before the latest treatment, I was telling people I felt I had come back to nearly 100 percent of my work energy before ever being diagnosed. That was the result of a seven-month break from the chemicals: my hair grew back; the neuropathy in my hands, feet and legs continued to dissipate, making me feel like my nerves were growing back; I was writing and posting these blogs (about other subjects) more frequently, writing on http://www.examiner.com/ about Colorado poetry more often, finishing my book about Denver oil man Timothy Marquez, and even writing about other literary topics on my poetry website, http://www.robertschwabpoet.com/.

I also underwent six weeks of radiation therapy trying to kill the one cancer-cell production center -- a lymph gland in my chest -- spotted in the March 17, 2010 pet scan I received following the end of the first Erbitux round of chemo.

The side effects of that treatment were minimal except for the fact that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield initially denied paying for the treatment and sent me a statement indicating a debt of more than $70,000. I believe that claim is now being worked out. When you don't make much money, you have to treat such claims casually and just seek to have them resolved between your doctors, the hospital and your insurer.

Five-year survival rates for colo-rectal cancer starting with a tumor in the rectum are about 59 percent, according to a 2006 post on About.com.

My doctor, Thomas Kenney, believes my cancer had already metastasized to my lung before the September 2007 surgery to remove my tumor, so my odds of living with the disease for five years probably have been considerably lower, but my luck on the Erbitux and Irinotecan gives me a chance to boost my odds of survival even past the five-year mark.

I was taking flax-seed oil during the whole last round, and I believe (with no proof) it might have helped me, too, since long-ago research that was ignored by the medical community claimed flax oil acted as an anti-cancer agent. The latest anti-cancer agent to acquire blooming Internet demand is something called Lypo-Spheric Vicamin C, but you won't find many doctors swearing by it (again no proof).

My docs don't like me taking extra Vitamin C because they claim it interferes with the chemo. Kenney has told me to investigate my own alternative treatments to the cancer, and during the seven months I have been off his chemicals I have found that diet is probably the most logical alternative or supplemental treatment besides flax that I might undetake.

That's a difficult choice. You pretty much have to stop eating red meat, and if you don't eat vegetables raw, you should cook them from a raw state to have the most impact. The idea is the foods naturally boost your immune system, and your immune system is the best cancer-fighting agent there is. Chemo essentially destroys your immune system.

But with a new Whole Foods store and a Vitamin Cottage nearby, I might just give the food route a try. Many of you who know me well, know that I have never lost my appetite during this fight. Not for the fight, nor for a good dinner, cocktail and dessert on most evenings.    

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fees Colorado Republicans won't oppose

The most interesting story in Sunday's Denver Post was given banner (top-headline), front-page treatment and it concerned the real attack against the middle class: increased prices charged by utilities and other public agencies that provide necessary services to the rich, the poor, and the middle class.

These are price leaders -- for water, sewage, electricity, public transportation, telephone, postage, and you could even include Internet connections -- that drive up costs for small businesses, drive down consumer spending on products and services that small businesses provide, drive up shipping costs for both employers and all consumers who still use the mails, and the cost of holding a job (by adding to the cost of getting to work) or sending your kid to school (also because of higher fuel costs).

The Post's Colleen O'Connor quoted Ethan Pollack, from the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, who said such price increases act the same as taxes on the middle class and the poor, holding back both consumer spending and economic recovery.

Yet you won't hear Republicans, Tea Party activists, the business community including some Democrats, even Tom Tancredo or John Andrews going after these price hikes like they rail against taxes.

These price hikes have the cover of supposed good business practice. They may drive more people into poverty, but the authors of such cost-of-living increases bear no responsibility to the public. You could say they are the inevitable result of free markets and unrestrained capitalism.

Or you could hold their authors accountable. Admit such business practice is just as accountable for the destruction of the middle class as Wall Street shenanagans, the marginalizing of labor unions and outsourcing. 

That's my kind of accountability. Happy Monday!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Post-election: Optimism vs. cynicism

Following all the hoopla of the campaign, the vote on Election Day and the delayed declarations of winners in Colorado and elsewhere, perhaps a new bipartisan spirit is abroad in the land, despite Mitch McConnell.

God knows we need some, even if McConnell doesn't seem to get it.

Republicans across the land staged a comeback in Congress, but the wave splashed pretty harmlessly across Colorado. Michael Bennet beat Ken Buck and will take his business-friendly Democratic philosophy back to the state's junior Senate seat for the next six years.

Gov. Hick promises a new attitude from a different Democratic administration at the statehouse.

A one-vote majority of Republicans in the state House isn't promising to restore all the business tax exemptions Gov. Ritter took from them in 2010, but Hickenlooper is willing, like Obama, to give a listen.

The Denver mayor also is probably smart enough to try to restore a state helping hand to the natural-gas industry to get it off Colorado government's back. Gas is a clean fuel after all; and although it's available enmasse all over the country right now (keeping its price low), perhaps incenting local drilling to serve local natural-gas powered electric plants will actually revive Colorado's gas-producers.

Hick's probably smart enough to ensure a continued coal-producing industry as well. Our coal is cleaner-burning than most coal dug farther east, and there will be no wholesale conversion of old plants across the Mississippi, so despite transportation costs, that market will remain available to Colorado for years to come.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our new governor also will be smart enough to get the railroads to join a venture to improve transportation lanes in and out of the state, reducing shipping costs for coal and other products made here. There's lots a smart governor can do.  

And there's certainly lots to do. On the Sunday before the election, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., which is the jobs-recruiting arm of the local Chamber of Commerce, weighed in on the challenges Hickenlooper will face as the new governor.

In the metro chamber's 2010 study, "Toward a More Competitive Colorado," education funding, multimodal transportation and health care for all Coloradans are cited as eroding pillars of the state's economy that must be fixed NOW!

Colorado labor has already been whipped into shape by Ritter to not expect much from a state leadership that is required to appease every whine that emanates from the business community.

And what labor really wants most right now is a job -- almost on any terms.

So what's left to be cynical about?

Only, perhaps, that even Republican victories, a restoration of balance to our legislatures both in Washingon and Denver, will not be able to insure that our political machinery is now well-oiled enough to actually produce something for its people.

Gridlock still threatens, and only politicians with "the People" truly in their hearts will make things happen in this the greatest democracy, the greatest model of capitalism, on the planet.

Friday, October 29, 2010

First, inspired business performance; then, Obama fires up Dems for Bennet

Tom Mauro's big splash for Colorado Performance Excellence is next week. He hands out 2010 Timberline Awards to Elevations Credit Union in Boulder and the VA Health Administration Center, Denver, for continous performance improvement in 2010.

Also four Foothills-level awards for beginners in the CPEx program to AlloSource in Centennial, Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, the Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins, and the S.M. Stoller Legacy Management Program in Broomfield.

The awards mark the work done by participants in the statewide CPEx program which uses Baldrige National Quality Award criteria to improve business performance of an organization.

The all-day program at the Marriott South at Park Meadows, just west of Interstate 25 and Lincoln Avenue in South metro Denver, costs $275 per person for attendees from profit-making firms, and $250 per person for nonprofits. The speeches and seminar tracks explain how Baldrige criteria measure business excellence  and improvement.

Mauro's organziation has been spending the year trying to develop ways for more Colorado small businesses to become a part of the Baldrige Quality Award competition. He will announce the results of that effort during this ninth annual CPEx Quest for Excellence event.


President Barack Obama fired up Sen. Michael Bennet's troops in a telephone town hall Thursday night, telling Bennet volunteers: "There couldn't be a better cause right now because obviously this is a tough election.

"We've got a lot of headwinds ... the economy is still tough in Colorado and around the country.... We inherited, both Michael and me, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

But working together, you know we have been able to stop the size of job losses, stabilize the economy, get small bsuiness its financing, get our economy growing again.

"And Michael has been a critical part of that work in the Senate each and every day.!"

I was invited to listen because I contributed a small amount to Bennet's campaign. It was fascinating hearing the president of the United States speak over the phone. And Obama spoke with the same cadence and pronunciation that are mimicked so well on Saturday Night Live each week. You had to laugh.

Of course, you could push a button on your phone to volunteer your own boots on the ground during these last few days of Bennet's close race. I pushed the button, but am still waiting a call from the campaign to get my own feet out there walking for him.

Its hard to run a government or a campaign like a Baldrige-quality business.

But I think at least this government keeps trying.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stop the pain at 8.5 percent unemployed

I read in the news today that charitable giving was down nationwide by 11 percent in 2009 compared with 2008, and that the lingering end of the Great Recession might have had something to do with the decline.

The recession officially ended during the early part of last year, and yet most news stories that mentioned it also point out a stubbornly high, 9.5 percent national unemployment rate and anecdotal evidence from most everyone that they don't feel like they've recovered from the economic shock of the past three years.

Maybe we should redefine a recession, which currently is described by sustained negative economic growth over a period of time. Any sustained positive growth, no matter how small, officially ends the recession.

Maybe we should automatically consider the United States in recession as long as the national unemployment rate is at or above 8.5 percent. That way public pressure could be maintained on both business and government leaders to create jobs that increase consumer spending.

Consumer spending has been regarded as the only true savior of American workers and owners during all of the recessions and near recessions during my life.

When consumers spend their money, workers and owners, managers and employees, even government officials prosper. Fewer children remain in poverty. Fewer food stamps are distributed to feed the hungry.

Some might say 8.5 percent is a bit high. But during my lifetime, full-employment for the nation was once described at a 5 percent unemployment rate, until, during boom years and after welfare mothers were forced to go to work, even lower unemployment rates were accomplished in many states of the union.

Lots of people are working and tons of money is being made when the national unemployment rate dips below 5 percent. But real pain starts to be felt among middle- and lower-income people at around a 6 percent rate.

Yet pain has never been a signal to the rich in this country that middle- and lower-income people deserve some economic relief. When someone else is feeling economic pain, our American-Calvinistic work ethic kicks in, and we blame joblessness on a lack of character among the poor and uneducated.

So 8.5 percent, though high, seems an appropriate level to consider the workforce automatically worthy of a little bit of aid from the nation's pool of wealth.

It doesn't seem unreasonable at that point to increase taxes on the top 1 percent of earners in the country, as well as on those who earn money purely from their invested assets. We could hold those taxes in place at least until enough jobs are created to allow the middle class and working-class poor to regain the economic footing necessary to boost consumer spending again.

Middle-class spending will, as usual, give the economic engine of the country enough momentum to warrant pulling back again on any extraordinanry taxing of the rich.

That's a 63-three-year-old non-economist's perspective of the world on this Monday morning.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Middle-class consultant, worthy of a tax break

Eric Marburger is one of my croquet buddies, a part-time human resources expert working with the Mountain States Employers Council, and an entrepreneur HR consultant with private clients.

Marburger started his business, ESM Consulting Services, twelve years ago to supplement his and his wife Helen's income after the couple arrived in Colorado in 1998.

It was a good gig. Helen's position came with medical-insurance benefits, so Eric's tiny business and the Mountain States part-time work gave him the schedule flexibility he wanted in his work life. Together the couple made a good middle-class living.

"I don't want to work 60 hours a week," Marburger told me. Or "try to make as much money as possible."

Then came the Great Recession. Helen lost her job in February, but the couple continued their health-insurance through COBRA, the safety net that allows you to keep coverage provided by your employer's health plan as long as you can pay the full premium for the insurance.

As a human-resources expert for hire, Eric has had to know the ins and outs of health-insurance coverage, employee compensation, employee retention and terminations, other benefits and the whole range of HR chores within a company. His specific expertise is compensation, and you can tell he knows the subject well when he discusses problems employers regularly encounter in a down economy:

"There's only so much money organizations have for their employees," he said. "I tend to work with firms and organizations where personnel services might be 80- to 85 percent of the total expenditures for the company. Well, if health insurance is going up, let's say 12 percent, which is probably what it's averaged over the last few years, there's not a lot of money left over for pay increases or for any other additional benefits that might be wanted by the employees or even by the management of the company."

In other words, Eric Marburger knows the crossroads of operating a business profitably where rising health-insurance costs, declining sales, employee demands amid reduced numbers of workers (layoffs), and government regulation pull a business owner in multiple directions. As a sole-proprietor of his own consulting service, Marburger also makes a good example of a businessman dealing with all the push-and-pull that 21st century business entails nowadays. And this is a man who doesn't want to work 60 hours a week.

But Eric has been busy lately. We don't see him on the croquet court as often as we once did. His part-time work as a business consultant for Mountain States (about 20 hours a week or more) and the revenue he generates from his small consulting business (about $30,000 a year) is far more important to his family income now than it was before the recession. And like any good entrepreneur he is broadening the spectrum of services he can offer a client.

"I've tried to diversify my areas of expertise a little bit," he said, "just kind of make myself a little more valuable generally."

Making himself more valuable to the family, as well. For example, with Helen's layoff after 12 years at her employer, Marburger knew his family could qualify for a reduced health-insurance premium through a subsidy created by the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009.

"We're paying $460 a month for probably a $1,400 insurance plan," he said, but the subsidy runs out next spring, as does his wife's COBRA coverage, so the couple is going to have to figure out a way to pick up new health insurance on their own, perhaps with a new insurer.

That's why learning the changes businesses face with the onset of national health-care reform becomes a large part of Eric's effort to make himself more valuable. He can help himself, his clients and his family all at the same time. And maybe even make more money.

Nevertheless, Marburger never expects to be one of those small-business owners with family incomes above $250,000 who might be taxed more heavily if Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy are allowed to expire in December. Republicans and some Democrats (I betcha they're the wealthy ones!) want to renew the tax cuts for the rich, but the Obama administration wants to limit the renewals to the middle classs.

President Obama's opponents on the issue argue that small-business owners who pay taxes on their profits through their personal income-tax filing will bear the brunt of the increased taxes on the wealthy, and, therefore, limit their ability to hire new workers at their small businesses.

To be quite frank, and since I'm a blogger and can use more colorful language than I could in a newspaper or a magazine, that argument is pure bullshit.

Small-business owners who include business profits on their personal-income tax forms are more often sole-proprietors like Eric Marburger, and they fall far short of the $250,000 income level that would be subject to restored higher taxes.

Marburger is a compensation expert. He agrees with me that the small-business owner who makes enough money to be be placed in the $250,000-or-higher tax bracket is a rare bird, indeed.

"I've certainly worked with folks that earn $250,000, but they're not small-business owners," Marburger told me. "They're executives of larger organizations. I've worked with a lot of health-care companies, hospitals and corporations, ... [and] the executives are the ones earning over $250,000 a year. I don't know that I've worked with any small-business owners that would fall into that category."

He also said his own income from private clients for the past few years amounts to about 30 percent of his annual take-home pay, which falls far below the $250,000 level. "Not even close," Eric said and laughs. "Not even close."

While I was a full-time business reporter and writer, I avoided doing profiles of business consultants because I considered them less than substantive parts of Colorado's economy. Self-employed contractors who don't employ others usually have little influence on the economy and, therefore, are often ignored by business journalists.

Now that I'm a self-employed journalist and wannabe consultant, I have a different perspective.

It's still true that small businesses with employees are the job-creators national, state and local governments are trying to stimulate nowadays to hurry up the nation's economic recovery.

But it is also true that the self-employed contractor -- a carpenter, electrician, even a business consultant -- is among those who suffer the effects of a business downturn, much like the unemployed who get laid off from small companies and larger ones as well.

The self-employed also add to the recovery when they get work as an economy improves. As Obama says over and over, we're all in this together. The rich people who made money during most of the Bush era leading up to the nation's latest economic downturn may have to give back a little of it to put a bunch of middle-class business consultants, construction workers and professionals back on the job.

Furthermore, if you've been making $250,000 a year through the downturn, it seems like a small price to pay for the privilege.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pledge to the same ole

Did it look to you -- like it did to me -- in  the pictures of John Boehner giving his "Pledge to America" that the goof ball may be losing a little of his oft-mentioned tan?

I looked for a picture of Boehner to illustrate this contention, but found only that I am not the only one who writes about his tan. There's a whole page of references on Google to "John Boehner tan," so you can look it up yourself if you don't believe me.

To me, though, it looks like Boehner's work on the empty pledge took a little color out of him.

According to the New York Times version of Boehner's presentation yesterday, the pledge is about as empty-headed as the Republicans' two years of opposition to anything Democratic that has been introduced in Congress, or anything at all Obama, for that matter.

So, this from the Times' David M. Herszenhorn: "The approach Boehner set out is based on a belief that smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation will fuel economic growth, create jobs and ultimately lead to a more prosperous nation. It deviated little from the tenets of mainstream conservatism over the last generation."

Now, for a minute here, I'm going to sound like a Democratic politician facing a tough mid-term election battle or a lot like other Democrats including former President Bill Clinton who are taking up this cudgel in response to Tea Party invective: Were not the "tenets of mainstream conservatism over the last generation" what got us into this whole mess in the first place?

Free-market capitalism and less regulation led to greedy real-estate mortgage brokers and exceedingly rich Wall Street bankers.

Lower taxes led to a let-the-rich-get-richer recovery from the Internet recession of 2000-2001 that, if you recall, remained remarkably "jobless," resulting in more jobs lost during the first four years of George W. Bush's reign than his second-term administration was ever able to regain.

In effect, the 2001-2008 recovery showed only that a president could allow an economic downturn to have its way with the American middle class while he also waged two wars and turned a national budget surplus into a withering record deficit. And don't let it be forgotten that it was George W. Bush and the Republican majority in Congress who grew the government to the size that now Republicans want to butcher.

Herszenhorn also quotes conservative analysts as saying the $100 billion Boehner promises to cut from federal spending would hardly make a dent in the current $1.3 trillion deficit. 

So a much paler-than-normal Boehner made a pretty pale pledge to America. He was promising more of the same ole, same ole Reagan/Bush conservatism that history has shown does no favors for America's middle incomes.

The sooner Americans -- and perhaps even Ohioans -- reject John Boehner's empty promises, the sooner  the good-ole-boy congressman can get back on the golf course to burnish up that trademark tan.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baby Boom bust II

When you write as one of the many bloggers few people read, you are encouraged when a national writer addresses the same topic you've already taken up, confirming your instincts about what's happening in the world around you.

Take Michael Kinsley, for instance, writing in The Atlantic magazine about the bust of the Baby Boom.

Look down this page, and you'll see that in my last piece, written over Labor Day weekend, I took a slightly different and much shorter tact than Kinsley.

We both generally conclude that until now Baby Boomers, that great generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964, have blown it.

Kinsley suggests in his article that our generation has 19 years to save its reputation, by allowing ourselves to be taxed to the point that we pay back all the money we and our parents borrowed to finance the society we have enjoyed over the past half century in America.

My suggestion was there was no way to make repairs.

But Kinsley has a point, and people who read me know I am all for making amends for our sins while we can.

Check out Michael Kinsley's piece. It's politically impossible, but at least he offers a solution.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Baby Boom a bust

I come here on Labor Day Weekend 2010 to declare the Baby Boom generation a failure.

I'm part of the failure. In fact, all my life I liked to tell people I was born at the cusp of the wave of the boomers. Born in 1947, the official second year of the boom, I have turned 63 and am still trying to make a success of myself.

Reading the business section of the Denver Post today, pushed me to the conclusion that I am not alone. All my fellow baby boomers have, as Peter Fonda said in "Easy Rider," blown it.

Here's a little inventory of the stories and comment you'll find in the Post that back me up.

"Unions facing tough times," by Steve Raabe tells the story of a decades-long decline in union membership in Colorado and nationally, which coincides with the devastation of the nation's middle class in America.

Most of us baby boomers came from the loins of the blue-collar generation that organized America after World War II, although even that great generation never reached more than a 34 percent share of the workforce as union members.

That means, too, we baby boomers were young witnesses to the worst of union abuses: Jimmy Hoffa, wages paid for work not done, false claims of on-the-job-injuries, and a cycle of wage increases that made the work not worth the price.

So most of us chose the white-collar way, and found ourselves going to work, and teaching our children to go to work, in what is now parodied on TV as "The Office." The idiots are real; the trouble is they are us.

All the while the old wealthy and the new wealthy, the very establishment we rebelled against as hippies, made sure that,along with unions, the entire middle class in America was drained of power and influence, reduced to a status just above poverty line.

But let me continue my inventory.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, offers a piece in favor of a second round of stimulus measures for the economy, arguing that the unemployed and underemployed in America will never get back to work without one.

It's hard for me to even mention the idiocy of the article paired with Weisbrot's, by William F. Shughart II, a senior fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland,Calif., who argues against a second stimulus package because: "The only sure way to perk up the job market is to cut taxes permanently and rein in public spending and excessive regulation."

Which, by the way, is also the establishment's sure formula to push what's left of the lower middle class below that poverty line, and to ensure future opportunities for the wealthy to become more and more -- even exceedingly -- rich.

But then there is the column by Robert J. Samuelson that provides the real indictment of an entire generation.

Samuelson gets to the failure of baby boomers to provide their children and their children's children a proper education, which was the real route baby boomers took to whatever prosperity they have gained.

Samuelson catalogs the failure of parents and education reformers in America to improve learning for large swaths of U.S. students over the years. "Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don't like school, don't work hard and don't do well."

That's where we blew it. Unfortunately, there's no way to go back and make repairs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Small-business finance in small chunks

Small business in Colorado has someone coming to its rescue: Christopher A. Smith, right, the CEO and founder of new commercial lender CSI Holdings LLC, which is ready to fill a crying demand for small-business-sized loans.

The credit crunch that started in 2008 has lasted for almost two years now, despite a stimulus bill that was partly aimed to goose small-business lending and hiring, and despite later unsuccessful Obama administration attempts to use bank-bailout money to revive small-business operators.

"I saw it first hand," says Smith, who for two years before opening his own firm was executive vice president of Hillcrest Bank's expansion into Colorado. "I couldn't lend," Smith said of those first years when banks refused to let go of bailout money.

On Wednesday, Smith announced the opening of CSI Financial's Denver corporate office at 999 18th St., Suite 2700, Denver, 80202, and at http://www.csifinancial.net/. He said his experience in Colorado, where the firm will kickoff its lending, showed him "there was immense demand out there" for loans that were small enough for small firms to handle.

"That's why we specifically picked the niche," Smith said, reiterating what the company said in a press release: "CSI will differentiate itself by servicing small and lower-middle market companies with financing needs ranging from $50,000 to $1 million."

I know from covering Denver and Colorado's small business community for about 20 years that there are no lenders who market themselves as providers of that sized loan.

But Mr. Smith is coming to the rescue, and he doesn't even have to go through Washington to do it. Maybe you should check him out!

CSI also offers factoring services which is an alternative method of financing your business.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Calling out the wealthy

It's time for wealthy patriots to step up and put America back to work. Buy GM's new stock. In fact, buy any American company's stock.

Remember all that blather back in 2002 and 2003, after the 9/11 attacks, about how not supporting President Bush was unpatriotic?

Of course that was nonsense, but now I'm not kidding. The patriotic thing for wealthy Americans to do now, even Republicans, is to support the American economy by buying anything.

It will bring down the deficit. Invest in America, it's the patriotic thing do do.

And I'm not talking Tea Party here. Most tea-party advocates are middle-class Americans who wrongly think the Obama administration's efforts to stimulate the economy are surreptitious attacks on the nation's core beliefs of self-reliance and individualism.

But the news of the day suggests otherwise. Unemployment claims are going up again, meaning private business hasn't started hiring again, just as banks have refused to lend to small business.

So we call on all patriots who make more than $250,000 a year, either in investment income or from the great private treasuries of Corporate America. Step up and invest that cash you put away during the Bush years.

Buy America and help restore and preserve its position as the greatest economy on the planet!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Democrats' lesson from Dan Maes

"I'm voting against every incumbent; that's my theory."

Denver Post writer Christopher N. Osher quoted that little bit of wisdom from an unnamed Dan Maes supporter in a story on the front page of the Sunday Post about Maes' remarkable Republican primary victory. Photo credit: Boulder County Democrats

Democrats should learn a lesson from the story. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet beat former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in Tuesday's Democratic senatorial primary.

If you've read my blog before, you know I would have liked to see Romanoff win, reflecting the same anti-incumbent sentiment in my Democratic choice as was expressed in the Republicans' gubernatorial primary race, where Maes claimed his victory.

On Wednesday, I contributed $25 to Bennet's general-election campaign, and offered to work for him. If my offer is accepted, I'll have to stop writing about him on this blog, so maybe the Bennet campaign will accept the offer just to shut me up.

The contribution, however, won't silence me on the issue because I believe bloggers, as long as they disclose their leanings to readers, have just as much right to write about politics as anyone else protected by the First Amendment. Working for the guy goes beyond a mere contribution, however, so I'll quit writing about that particular race if I actually do some work for Bennet's campaign.

But until then, I suggest the Democratic establishment, who were the real winners in the Bennet nomination, beware of the anti-incumbent sentiment expressed by the Maes supporter.

Many traditional Democratic voters feel the same antipathy toward the ongoing partisanship of Congress, and don't have much sympathy for Democrats who can't use the legislative majorities given them along with a Democratic president in 2008 to affect the "change" in government they had hoped to see come out of Washington over the past two years.

A public option among health-care reforms is just one of those disappointments.

So Michael Bennet had better keep his campaign rhetoric tilting toward the populist view that Washington remains broke, despite his nomination, and he still needs to help fix it. Making up to his establishment mentors and contributors is no task to be undertaken now -- nor ever for that matter.

Ken Buck is going to be coming after Bennet with the Tea Party in tow. Bennet needs independent thinking Democrats and independents in his camp if he expects to overcome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hire Bruce Willis, save the world!

Here's a great idea Jay Leno and David Letterman can promote in their nightly comedy routines.

You know that huge ice island that just broke off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland? The Associated Press reported today that the fresh water contained in the ice could keep the Hudson River flowing for two years. Image credit: fandango.com

Why not muster an international team of construction workers and miners led by Bruce Willis, of course, to break up the island four times the size of Manhattan and ship the pieces to the world's worst areas of drought.

Willis can attack the ice island like he did the asteroid in "Armageddon" and save the world from global warming. The ice chunks will melt and restart streams and rivers flowing in the drought regions and the new humidity generated from those regions will create their own rain storms and eventually the planet will start to cool again.

More importantly, Willis will survive this movie and still be available to save the world again when the time comes. It's just a thought.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Keep the kids out of it

Call me an odd blogger, but what struck me most jarringly in the coverage of Sen. Michael Bennet's defense of himself over the Denver Public Schools pension refinancing, was his bringing kids into the political battle.

The Denver Post quoted Bennet as accusing the Andrew Romanoff campaign of "repeatedly trying to score points at the expense of kids...."

Bennet ought to be careful about such a kid-centered accusation while his own campaign is blatantly using his own children to win support for the appointed senator, their Dad.

A Bennet ad currently running on television has each of his three beautiful daughters saying something nice about their Dad's cleaning up of messes created by other politicians.

The mess their Dad has gotten himself into with a high-finance bond scheme meant to reduce DPS debt but which has been turned around on the district during the collapse of the nation's credit markets is a fine mess for sure, Ollie.

Bennet, who gained a business reputation as an inovative financial turnaround artist, used some fancy footwork to conceivably get his district out of a crippling pension burden, but was treated to a little bait-and-switch by the very markets he was so adept at playing.

The deal so far has cost DPS more money than anticipated and now has it entangled in expensive "wind-down" penalties if it decides to back track on the action. The figures being thrown around here range from $25 million to $400 million to $750 million, perhaps small change to Bennet's mentor, Phil Anschutz, but nothing to sneeze at for an inner-city school district.

Bennet also said the New York Times, which reported on the collapse of the DPS deal while Democratic voters are still filling out ballots that will decide whether Bennet gets to stay a U.S. senator, "got it wrong." Yet when you read the story, its details are pretty convincing that "wrong" was the word Bennet should have considered more carefully when the deal was cut back in high-flying 2008.

The Times sometimes gets things wrong, but their authority is a hard wall to breach. Romanoff is right in calling this one a "bet gone bad." Time to close the casino to Wall Street playing with public money. Kids, even bright-eyed neat ones, have no recourse.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bennet's business record at issue

The most important story in the Denver Post this morning did not appear on the front page, but was placed in the lead, left-hand column of the newspaper's Denver & The West, B-section cover.

It was about Michael Bennet's work for conservative billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Photo credit: BoulderCountyDems.com

In the news story, Post writer Michael Booth dissected incumbent Sen. Bennet's business career with Anschutz, which Bennet's rival in the Democratic primary, Andrew Romanoff, has made an issue of in campaign advertisements now running on local television.

The ads try to link Bennet to the Wall Street practices of high finance that helped bring the nation to its financial knees in 2008, and Booth's story tries to explain those practices as undertaken by Bennet during an early part of his professional career when he made millions of dollars for himself and his family.

It was a time, too, when Bennet made many of the contacts he has used to finance a multi-million-dollar campaign for election to the U.S. Senate seat Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to about a year ago.

It's Bennet's first attempt to be elected to any office, and Romanoff, a former elected state representative and speaker of the Colorado House, has been right to challenge the incumbent senator in the Aug. 10 Democratic primary election.

The ads Romanoff is running are decidedly negative. They accuse Bennet of being a henchman of Anschutz in looting failing movie-theater companies during the early 2000s, when many movie chains were suffering from investing too much in bigger, fancier theaters at a time when movie audiences were actually growing smaller.

I have been a delegate for Romanoff at the state Democratic convention, and I'm going to vote for him when I fill out my mail primary ballot in a few days.

But Booth's story shows that Bennet, as a private businessman, did nothing more than be the kind of predatory private businessman he was supposed to be when he worked for Anschutz. Bennet helped Denver's local billionaire assemble the nation's largest movie-theater chain by buying up chains that were making less money than their previous owners had hoped to make.

Bennet became pretty good at the task, and made himself millions as well as hundreds of millions for Anschutz. In other words, Bennet did a good job.

He did, however, use big-business finance techniques that created wealth on the order of Wall Street leveraged transactions that finally brought down some of the nation's most prestigious financial firms. And he did that in the same decade the Wall Street firms did it.

So you might say Michael Bennet and Philip Anschutz helped lead the way for Wall Street's most infamous financial schemes.

Then again, you might not say that.

Nothing Bennet did was illegal, and nothing he did ought to besmirch his reputation as a successful, high-dollar money maker. He was ethical all the way, and he left Anschutz's employ to become the first chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is now running for governor.

When I interviewed Hickenlooper shortly after he took office as mayor, Hick cited Anschutz's takeover of Regal Cinemas as a pretty admirable accomplishment. I didn't know then that it also happened to be his chief of staff's admirable accomplishment.

If Bennet beats Romanoff in the primary, I'll vote for him in the general election.

He will make Colorado a fine elected U.S. senator.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Self-interest, a Republican earmark

Dick Wadhams, Colorado's cutthroat Republican chairman, says Tom Tancredo's third-party bid for governor is based in his own self-interest.

So what's new about that?

All Republican Party politics in Colorado is driven by the self-interests of its rich, establishmentarian membership. Conservative or not, Republicans in the state consistently argue for the least amount of government in order to preserve their privileged existence. Most of Colorado's executive business community also subscribes to that party line.

Check out the rising percentage of poor children in Colorado: 15 percent of all children in Colorado lived in poverty in 2008 compared with 10 percent in 2000. In 2008, they numbered about 179, 000 kids, said Lisa Piscopo of the Colorado Children's Campaign.

Guess who was in power for most of that time: a Republican governor who did nothing for Colorado's poor through 2006, and diminishing Republican majorities in the legislature, although a quartet of Democratic millionaires started to chip away at that power base late in 2004.

Limited government, which Republicans in Colorado hold up as one of their highest values, naturally limits the ability of the state to care for its poorest citizens, and naturally leads to lower and lower taxes that eventually starve the government of any sustenance at all.

That's the philosophy Republican Party leaders are trying to take to Colorado voters in November, and only the financially struggling Republican middle class are politically blind enough not to see that's what their party stands for.

Tancredo's run for governor will not only split the Republican vote in Colorado, it will cut down statewide voter turnout. Self-interested people don't go to the polls when they know there will be no victor to throw them their rightful share of the spoils.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gambling for governor

Can a poor man run for governor of Colorado? Can we trust him?

Essentially, that's the thrust of the Denver Post's front-page story today about Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dan Maes.

Maes finally released limited information about his family income on Tuesday, after refusing to release income-tax returns to the Post, as the newspaper had asked, for the past several months.

The information released Tuesday shows why. Maes and his wife are poor people despite Maes' business having had one good $300,000 year.

Again, the thrust of the Post's coverage is: Can Colorado trust a small-business owner who has barely been able to cover the costs of his family's survival for the past 10 years as a governor responsible for maintaining and managing a multi-billion-dollar state budget.

It's a somewhat legitimate question, but it belies the Post's prejudice in favor of the rich and obviously successful. Presuming, of course, that only the rich are successful.

Most small-business owners struggle to make a living; that's why help for small business is a middle-income issue that gets to the heart of an economic recovery. That's why banks resist government calls to increase lending to small businesses. The risks are high.

Maes doesn't have to be ashamed of his small-business record of not-so-great revenue growth. But he shouldn't hide it from voters. Republican money men may not vote for it; even Democrats will not look favorably upon it. But voters should know how much of a bluff his lifestyle has been.

It's the only way for voters to make the safest bet on a future leader.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bring it on! Make retirement age 70, now!

"For our children and our childrens' children."

You hear that invocation from every politician who opens his or her mouth nowadays: about government spending (whether to add or subtract to it); deficit spending (no one wants to add to it); Social Security; Medicare and Medicaid; and government services in general, from national-parks admissions and upkeep, to food stamps.
(Ilustration: commons.wikipedia.org)

I've always thought the invocation somewhat hypocritical, primarily because I myself don't anticipate meeting my children's children, and I certainly don't think I'll be around to see how any of them will handle the big national debt we baby boomers are going to hand them upon our deaths.

I have always thought many politicians -- from the many, many establishment Republicans who mouth the invocation, to such Democrats as Bill Ritter and even Andrew Romanoff -- were more than a little hypocritical when they use the phrase to further their own political interests. Most of them, too, know they aren't going to be around when the debt finally gets paid.

And then this morning, in the Denver Post, I saw a front-page story headlined: "A shift toward payout at 70," a McClatchy Newspapers story about a bipartisan movement among senior members of Congress to move receipt of the primary Social Security benefit up to age 70. I immediately started calculating what that might mean for me since I am now 63, and have already filed for the 63-year-old primary benefit.

But then I began reading deeper into the story. It said those old-fogey congressmen and women had no intention of boosting the filing status of people my age or theirs, but planned to start enforcing the age-hike fifteen years from now when most of them, too, will be dead.

That would, however, put my children and my childrens' children right smack in the middle of the people who would have to work longer and harder before they died to get a Social Security benefit at all.

I thought: What hypocrisy! The height of cynicism! I was outraged, and even before church! The bastards simply have no conscience.

Then, of course, I read further and absorbed some reasonable arguments for setting the full-benefit age at 70, yet none that really overcame the hurdle in my mind that the change should come immediately -- baby boomers be damned! -- out of a sense of fairness to those future generations.

After all, I had already been calculating how I would survive financially if the age were moved and I did live that long.

It would be retribution, I thought, for my having thought so little of future generations during my lifetime. And, for that matter, a just retribution for all baby boomers who cannot, as a generation, claim they have been thinking much about their children and their childrens' children -- until now.

So I say to Obama: Change now! Make good on your promise to change Washington and tell the old geezers to flip the switch on 70 now!

That's the real way to save Social Security and bring the nation more quickly out of debt. I'm willing. Give it a shot! Our children and our childrens' childrens' futures are at stake!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Holly Square could be a symbol

Ever since President Obama won his election in 2008 after being ridiculed by Repubicans as a mere community organizer, community development has become an "in" thing.

A story in Wednesday's Denver Post suggests, however, inner-city redevelopment also can be a long haul.

A worthwhile long haul, but not something that can be treated as a fad.

The front-page news story, headlined: "Holly Square hopes," was illustrated with two pictures: one of Brother Jeff Fard laying a kiss on the forehead of Nobel Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum at a ceremony on the site of the Holly Square redevelopment project, and a second photo of the Family Dollar store burning down at the site two years ago.

The redevelopment represents an opportunity for small business owners.

Retail and office space is expected to be available on the site when final redevelopment plans are approved and funding is found.

On public television you can see and hear stories about redevelopment in Chile, South Africa or Brazil, but Holly Square is smack dab in the middle of Denver. It needs community interest from the entire metro area if it is to pull off its resurrection free of gang influence, poverty, violence and despair.

Redevelopment for the blighted site has been a long time coming. The fire that cleared the land followed a long, inexorable decline driven by the poverty of area residents, and despite past attempts at neighborhood revival. The Denver Office of Economic Development has been involved for several years.

Terrance Roberts, founder of an anti-gang group he calls the Prodigal Son, told Colleen O'Connor of the Post: "This community has been hit hard with a lot of youth violence. But we also have the most community organizing efforts in northeast Denver right here in Park Hill."

The development is between 33rd and 35th avenues, Hudson and Holly streets in northeast Denver.

New minority-owned businesses should consider such projects natural -- and usually cheap --start-up locations because a built-in customer base can be expected to grow with the redevelopment; established small businesses can look at such projects as opportunities for expansion without adding steep costs to their balance sheets.

It is appropriate for Holly Square to be revived during the administration of the nation's first African-American chief exeutive, not only because Obama is president, but also to illustrate what community organizing can do for a nation that desperately needs renewal.