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 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,

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

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.