Thursday, February 11, 2010

Voters mad about something

The trouble with polls is they lump everyone's individual opinion into clumps and ascribe the results as indicative of what all Americans think.

But whenever I read a news story about poll results, I remember what my first wife told me: Opinions are like assholes, everybody has got one.

That's why when I heard Charlie Rose and David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, agree the other day that the Obama administration didn't seem to fathom the angry wind sweeping the country over health-care reform and deficit spending, I shouted at my television that the pair's conclusion was wrong, wrong, wrong. I had seen no polls to support the breadth of the anger with government.

Now I have. The Washington Post reported today that their Post-ABC News poll of 1,004 randomly selected adults taken from Feb. 4-8, showed two-thirds of Americans were dissatisfied or outright angry at the way Washington works nowadays, one year after Barack Obama's inauguration. The headline over the Denver Post's story read: "Poll: Americans unhappy with government's tack." And the implication, amidst all the newstalk of the so-called "Tea Party movement," was that most of the anger being generated is a result of Obama's attempts to reform health care.

I submit much of the anger is also generated as a result of Obama's and Congress's failure to reform health care in America.

In fact, the Washington Post poll found more of those polled viewed "Tea Party" views unfavorably (40 percent) than those polled who found those views favorable (35 percent), and a full quarter of those polled (25 percent) offered no opinion at all when asked that question.

Which means the angry "wind" Rose and Brooks were describing Monday night is mostly huff and puff. Brooks noted that the president's personal popularity still out scores any dissatisfaction with his policies, and the Washington Post admits in its story that what "Tea Party" advocates advocate is almost unfathomable because the "movement" is so disorganized and disparate.

So come November, if the winds keep on a blowin', incumbents of every stripe are going to be at risk of voters' wrath. The American people want to see results out of Washington; not bipartisan incompatibility.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New journalism: partisan but professional

My headline ought to get some of my journalistic colleagues' juices flowing, but according to a writer in The Atlantic's January/February issue, American journalists are going to have to make some accommodation with the concept.

In fact, I'm making an accommodation to the notion with this ongoing blog. I'm writing about small business and politics from a very liberal perspective. And I hope to attract advertisers to my readership.

Paul Starr, a professor at Princeton, wrote the Atlantic piece. In "Governing in the Age of Fox News," Starr states toward the end: "Although most American journalists assume that professionalism and partisanship are inherently incompatible, that is not necessarily so. Partisan media can, and in some countries do, observe professional standards in their presentation of the news."

I have always questioned the journalistic principle of so-called "objectivity" in news coverage because I know as a writer the way you put words to paper (or on a screen) is inherently subjective. What nouns you use, what adjectives are colored by the writer's choice of words.

There's no escaping the tinge except by the samurai editor's butchering sword.

Unfortunately, quality of writing often slides away with the fat of a trim; occassionally, however, the cuts can actually make the writing better.

I take my journalistic principles and professionalism to the writing of this blog. I mean for my profiles of small businesses to carry the good and the bad about a firm, although my advocacy for small business will emphasize the good over the bad in most cases. And I will always give a business owner the benefit of the doubt.

I will not, however, give business as a community a pass when it comes to the harsher side of issues. Colorado's current debate over the elimination of tax exemptions for business is an example.

The tax exemptions should be removed in an attempt to balance two state budgets (fiscal 2010 and 2011) despite any damage to the state's reputation as "business friendly." A "people friendly" business community will recognize it must contribute to fiscal austerity that requires Colorado to reduce services to all its citizens.

At the same time, legislators should not forget that business owners are citizens, too, and already share as much as anyone else in the general pain.

Tax exemptions can be restored as well as removed.

If the state would correct its budgeting problems, if it can regain some economic steam, and refuel its revenue streams, exemptions and incentives can be given back as easily as they can be taken away.

Business and the business lobby knows that. They should begin working for the common good rather than their own self-interest.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Looking for a few good small businesses

Tom Mauro is looking for a few good small businesses that want to make themselves better.

Mauro, a retired banker, is CEO of Colorado Performance Excellence, a largely volunteer organization celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year, an anniversary marking a decade-long effort to improve other Colorado business organizations.

Make them better.

The tool CPEx uses for improving both nonprofit and for-profit business organizations is the criteria for winning a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which for me has always been a mouthful.

After 10 years, the award remains a mouthful, but for two Colorado business organizations, the award is a mark of national recognition and source of pride.

Poudre Valley Health Systems in Fort Collins won the national award for health in 2008 and the Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley won the award for education in 2004.

The Monfort school, with a staff of about 50 people when it won, was the smallest organization to ever win the award from Colorado, Mauro said, but he is looking for small businesses to hook up with his program so he can improve on that record.

"Job growth is going to come from small businesses," Mauro said, "and if we're going to be a service to the State of Colorado, we really need to focus on figuring out how to get them involved" in Colorado Performance Excellence.

But Mauro knows getting involved in a Baldrige application, either for a state or a national award, or, more simply, merely for the feedback on your organization's performance, requires a small-business owner's significant investment of time and money, and that the prospect of making that investment is a disincentive to the owner.

"It's more or less: 'We just don't have the resources to take the time to do this,'" Mauro said, describing the typical small-business owner's response to the CPEx pitch. "I mean, they may not say that to us directly," he said, "but we know that's why they don't get involved."

Yet Mauro will also willingly tell you how to get a free copy of the Baldrige criteria from either his own CPEx website or the Baldrige award site,

"As a small-business owner, you're the one that has to think about all these things, and when you're trying to meet the payroll and do whatever it is that you do, either run a small fast-food organization or a small manufacturing firm doing biotech, you have to think about all these things. One of the best uses of this criteria is for small business to use it as a business plan."

The criteria, for example, ask you a series of questions about how you engage your customers with your product or service: "How do you identify and innovate product offerings to meet the requirements and exceed the expectations of your customer groups and market segments?" By answering the question, a business owner gains a perspective on how well his or her organization is performing, and at the same time, automatically compares the organization with national standards because the question is derived from Baldrige national standards of performance.

It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to prepare truthful answers to such rigorous self-examination. But if you sign up for Mauro's program (fees for a small business can range from about $1,000 to $3,000), a batch of volunteer examiners will go over the answers and visit your business to provide "feedback" on how to make your business better.

Mauro admits that CPEx and the national Baldrige awards have a reputation for serving large businesses with the resources to spend on such self-improvement, even when an award can provide an almost immeasurable amount of prestige as a return on an applicant's investment.

But an economic recession can bother even national "quality" programs, and Mauro's statewide board recently agreed that the group had to figure out how to deliver its products to small businesses in order to keep its own operations sustainable.

If you are interested, call or e-mail him at 303-893-2739 or