Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Credit still shorting small biz

Government bank examiners are the real problem for banks that want to loosen up credit, make loans to small businesses, and push America along the road to economic recovery, small business owners and bankers told USA Today recently. Illustration: Queensboro.wordpress.com

I was given a printout of the article by Dan Wiesner, my old boss and CEO of Wiesner Media, as I visited with another old boss, Pat Wiesner, over my business plan for RobertSchwabPoet.com.

The article, printed Monday, reports the comments of several bankers from around the country and several more banking overseers from the government who try to explain the dilemma facing small-business owners who are being turned down for loans. The small businesses are being told by local banks that federal bank examiners are discouraging lending even as President Obama chides the banks to make more loans.

The story mentions that Washington officials are trying to convince examiners in the hinterlands to loosen up a bit, but the officials also concede that examiners' caution has been elevated by bank failures across America because examinations failed to catch poor lending practices in the recent past (remember New Frontier Bank in Greeley).

The story quotes business people who were turned down for loans last summer, which might suggest there has been time for the banks to reverse course and become a little more friendly toward successful business owners' new requests for credit.

But the ship of state takes a long time to turn, and despite the instantaneous nature of the Internet, it still takes bureaucrats a long time to get the message. As I wrote Sunday in this blog, economic recovery in America depends on the prosperity of its small businesses. It shouldn't take bankers and government bureaucrats this long to absorb new information.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cities should press banks to help small business

A city-government tactic to persuade bankers to help struggling homeowners in a down economy could -- and should -- be put to use helping small businesses.

A story in the Denver Post on Saturday suggested that a strategy used by the city of Philadelphia to encourage bankers to go easy on troubled mortgage holders or risk holding on to city-government deposits in their banks could also be used by Denver-area municipal officials to slow the number of Colorado foreclosures.
Illustration: Queensboro.wordpress.com

The Post talked to two Denver city council members who said they had thought about wielding the banking tactic, but neither was very committed to the prospect. As I wrote here Thursday (see below), real estate is a protected industry of the political establishment in Colorado. Banking is not far behind, so putting financial pressure on those industries would not be considered a wise political maneuver.

The money at stake, however, is huge. Christopher N. Osher of the Post reported the city of Denver has about $2.4 billion deposited in local banks and an additional $1.7 billion in pension investments available for such use if Denver city government chose to shift deposits to banks that cared enough about homeowners to help some stay in their houses.

The same could be said of helping small-business owners who are underwater as a result of the recession. Nobody is suggesting bailing out poor managers, but if local city governments could pressure banks to loosen up credit for small businesses that need the money, the governments would be indirectly saving and creating jobs in their communities without spending taxpayer dollars or busting their own municipal treasuries.

Economic power can be wielded in many different ways, and city officials, even if they are Western city officials, should explore whatever ways they have available to them to promote successful small-business operators in their towns. Small business is the source of most jobs in any state. The last national figure I remember seeing was that small businesses are responsible for at least 48 percent of jobs in the U.S.

Helping small businesses helps any region's ecomomy, and all governments have a stake in helping local businesses expand and prosper.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Help poor, or yourself; a media no-brainer

The Denver Post would rather provide 100 million people with broadband access than 32 million Americans with health care.

I guess you can't fault the Post for editorially holding such a puzzling dichotomy of opinion, but the newspaper is a business, and business is business.

Logically, what's at stake, is the newspaper's self-interest. Supporting the federal government's expansion of broadband could benefit the newspaper's online business at little cost, while the expansion of health care to the uninsured might cost it some big money.

At least that's the impression the Post's Sunday and Monday lead editorials could give a reader.

Not surprisingly, Monday's editorial following historic passage of health-care reform denounced the action as a "single-minded quest to notch a political victory" for Democrats. The Post has opposed the health-care reform effort in Congress for most of the last six months while basically echoing facetious Republican arguments against it. It didn't much matter to the newspaper that 32 million more uninsured Americans would get health care they deserve as much as richer folks in the nation.

Yet the newspaper's main Sunday editorial hailed a national expansion of Internet access proposed by the Federal Communications Commission. It, too, will bear a cost to taxpayers including the Post. But the newspaper could conceivably benefit from such a huge market expansion because the FCC proposal -- just as health care reform does for insurance companies -- would increase exponentially the newspaper industry's potential to reach new customers, mostly those with money.

There you have it. Help the poor, or help yourself. It's a choice most businesses consider a no-brainer.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Watch the establishment take its Toll

Erin Toll, a Colorado government official, "was dangerously visible, perhaps overly visible" for the Colorado business community, according to a mortgage broker quoted in the Denver Post this morning.

"Dangerously visible" is especially dangerous in Colorado for anyone who is not part of the state's power elite, meaning the very rich business class, or the highest of elected officials, or the unquestionably successful and usually retired establishment.
Photo credit: Erin Toll, dora.state.co.us

On the high side of that equation, think of Phil Anschutz or Pat Bowlen or Bill Owens. On the opposite side, consider Clinton Portis, Herman Malone or Erin Toll.

When you are "dangerously visible" in Colorado, meaning you probably talk too much, you might as well get out of town because the unquestionably successful establishment has no room for you.

Witness Erin Toll. The Post today tried to explain Toll's unexplained, sudden leave of absence from her job as executive director of the state's Division of Real Estate, where she was given the charge of regulating previously unregulated mortgage brokers.

Mortgage brokers were a high-flying segment of the real estate industry in Colorado five years ago until their nefarious practices brought the real-estate economy low and put Colorado at the top of state rankings for the most home foreclosures.

Toll got her position in the Ritter administration in 2006 because she gained Colorado and herself national recognition for her investigation of title insurers, another segment of the real estate industry.

But real estate is a powerful economic engine in the state of Colorado, and you can bet Toll's enemies have been lying in wait ever since.

A Highlands Ranch Republican state senator, Ted Harvey, thinks he was handed the establishment hammer recently when Toll told the press his company was under investigation for false advertising, one of the tools unregulated mortgage brokers used often to get homeowners into trouble way back when.

The hammer came down when Harvey took after Toll during a legislative committee meeting.

Only the power elite knows why the Ritter administration hasn't backed up their real-estate regulator and told Harvey to go away. A judge has already backed her up, but that may have been an oversight.

The game is still in play, and Toll may still survive the presumed arrogance of doing her job. That would be a healthy sign for Colorado. It might also prevent some future crisis in the real-estate market.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Romanoff pulls off lead in Dem caucuses

Report from the Arapahoe County Democrats 37th House District caucus:

About 200 people showed up, compared with 2,000 in 2008 for the presidential election, and a relieved Ted Fritschel, site coordinator for the district, welcomed the smaller group with the news that party organizers simplified the process in order to avoid hundreds of mistakes that were made during the raucous caucus two years ago.

Fritschel also announced that for the first time in Arapahoe County history -- Arapahoe County was the first county jurisdiction organized in the state 100 years ago -- more Democrats were registered than Republicans, about 119,000 vs. 110,000. He didn't say how many people are now registered as independents.

My caucus of Precinct 227 went smoothly with a straw poll showing four of eight voters going for Romanoff in the U.S. Senate race, three for Bennet, and one uncommitted. By the time we took a formal vote, however, and after a couple speeches, the vote had changed to seven Romanoff, one for Bennet.

Today's news shows that trend held up across the state for Romanoff, who reportedly tallied 50.9 percent of the caucus vote to Bennet's 41.7. That doesn't mean Romanoff wins the nomination, but it should give him a big boost among the state's Dems, and it shows how much the party was divided by Gov. Bill Ritter's appointment of Bennet to the Senate seat.

Go Andrew! I was elected a delegate to the county assembly to cast a vote for him there, too, on April 10 at Hinkley High School in Aurora.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hey, hey! Shout out for the Denver DA

Hey, hey, look at me. Writing a a blog in praise of the Denver District Attorney’s office.

I have never liked district attorneys throughout most of my journalistic carreer.

It goes back to covering some trials in Austin, Texas, where longtime DA Ronnie Earle made it a policy of his office not to prosecute cases he knew he might not win, but only cases that were sure convictions.

Only later did I learn that’s a widespread practice of district attorneys across America.

In fact, that's one bit of early evidence of the corruption of the electoral process in America, which today can be seen in the failure of Congress to pass health-care reform, immigration reform, and financial reform.

Elected officials, from sheriffs to DAs to congressmen/women, do not serve the public interest if their own personal interests – their re-election prospects – are not served by their actions.

That’s a terrible truth about America’s mature democracy. Government officials have learned too well how to game the American peoples’ will. The Tea Party movement, Ross Perot’s presidential campaign as well as Ralph Nader’s multiple presidential fantasies are all driven by that terrible truth.

Everyone in Washington and many, many people outside it (see Buie Seawell's guest commentary in Sunday's Denver Post) realize our democracy has been corrupted by wealth and position, and almost none of the people who know it actually object to it or want to change it.

But I digress.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office worked long and hard with Denver police since Jan. 1. 2007 to solve the Darrent Williams murder case. Yesterday, it came away with a conviction of a gangbanger (he will remain nameless here rather than be historicized for his crime) who apparently immediately realized how badly he messed up when he shot into a limousine that New Year’s morning, killing Williams and wounding two others.

It took Morrissey’s office only four months to get the wheels of justice turning toward a conviction. By April, prosecutors and police got indictments of a huge cache of our town's gangbangers on drug offenses. I would guess now that officials knew then they would find Darrent Williams’ killer among them.

It took three years to convict the killer, but the wait and all the work proved worthy of every moment and every ounce of energy when a jury certain of its findings yesterday announced its verdict: guilty, guilty, guilty.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In the chemo room, III

I'm actually out of the chemo room as I write, but my coming out is one reason for a new chapter in this series.

A week ago, I had my last of 12 treatments in my second round of major chemotherapy, and I will soon be scheduled for another PET scan, an imaging procedure that involves injecting me with radioactive dye that lights up the areas of my organs where cancer cells are being produced at an abnormal rate.

In other words, the scan will show my oncologist, Dr. Thomas Kenney, what effect this second round of therapy has had on my cancer. Kenney and I will then discuss what further treatment I require to keep myself alive.

Kenney is now treating me as if my colorectal cancer is a chronic disease, not curable but treatable, probably a little like Elizabeth Edwards, whose breast cancer has been described the same way.

One PET scan has already shown that cancer producing cells in lymph nodes in my chest and in my lungs were being kept in check during the first three months of this round of treatments. Kenney, however, doesn't really know what to credit that development to. No oncologist can.

My doctor prescribed a combination of Irinotecan, a cancer-killing chemical, and Erbitux, a cell-starving biologic, for this round of treatment; but cancer doctors treat you according to their knowledge of the latest results of clinical testing of all the drugs available to them for specific cancer treatments, and the result is largely as individual and random as a toss of the die at a Central City roulette game.

The only thing predictable about the treatments are their side effects, and since my experience of the side effects of my two infusions followed past patterns for the drugs, the doctor and nurses who treat me guess the treatments are doing what they are supposed to do: reduce the spread and rate of reproduction of cancer cells in my body.

The new PET scan will confirm or deny that assumption.

Other than a sick day or two on the day of the treatment and the day after, I have been feeling pretty good most of the time. I haven't felt some bothersome pains in my chest, especially after hard labor like hauling downed tree limbs around my backyard, since the treatments began; but then I haven't had many tree limbs to haul since then either.

I feel like the treatments are doing some good, but the new PET scan will confirm or deny my self diagnosis.

So I asked my doctor about alternative treatments.

Clinical trials, for instance, if any are being conducted locally, that might lead to a cure of the cancer rather than mere abeyance; or perhaps nutritional therapy, which you frequently hear about saving lives.

"Most doctors won't take on this discussion," says one line in a book I'm reading called "Ultraprevention," by Drs. Mark Hyman and Mark Liponis, proponents of alternative treatments for a variety of ills.

And the authors were right about Kenney. He said he would leave any research of such "cures" up to me because he, himself, has seen no "data" -- and I know he updates himself on the latest data on everything as quickly as it is released -- that suggest proven beneficial effects.

Kenney plays percentages like the general manager of a professional baseball team, and he allows for only scientifically derived percentages of tested treatments to direct his care for patients.

That's more than okay with me, actually, since he made it clear to me at the beginning of my treatment that the cancer-fighting game is largely one of percentages. I figure Kenney's professional transparency is a lot more than you get from a banker nowadays.

So I'm reading this book called "Ultraprevention, The 6-Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy for Life." I have already watched a CD about dietary treatment of cancer, but the CD ranted on and on about why the "cancer industry" was all wrong in the way it treats cancer patients, while it offered little on the diet it suggested might cure you.

Both the book and CD were sent to me a while back by two friends in Chicago, but I largely ignored the advice until it became clear to me that Kenney was probably going to having me on Erbitux for the rest of my days.

The biologic, which attacks a sort of anchor that is characteristic to certain colorectal cancer cells, costs as much as $4,500 per month per treatment according to some of the latest news about it, and my health insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Colorado, so far has sported for the full costs of my chemotherapy minus copays.

I do pay $1,100 monthly premiums for the coverage, however.

I'll write another chapter of this series when I get the results of the PET scan to let you know how I'm doing. I'm also going to back track through my treatments to give you an idea of what it costs to treat colorectal cancer in Colorado, an idea originally conceived as: "What it costs to BEAT colorectal cancer in Colorado."

Developments have augured badly for a cure since that original thought occurred, and the energy robbed from you from cancer treatments also interfered with producing such a series of posts on an appropriately efficient schedule.

I do mean to finish the project. Stay tuned.