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:

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.

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.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Remembering what we've already learned

I love it when the Denver Post's news coverage belies its editorial conservatism.

On Tuesday, the Post slapped the headline: "More spending not the answer" atop its main editorial, suggesting President Obama was a little off his rocker for arguing with his European colleagues in the Group of 20 that governments need to spend more now to fuel economic recovery rather than cut back, which the European heads of state want to do.

The Post's editorial writers even referred to "left-leaning" economist Paul Krugman, whose column they published directly below their editorial, to subtly underline their opposite tack and to show readers they can be as conservative as any European social democrat.

Krugman, on the other hand, took on the Europeans and blamed them for an economic orthodoxy of austerity that fueled the Great Depression of the 1930s and what he called a Long Depression of the late 19th century. (He expanded on that column in the Sunday Post's business section. The earlier column is no longer searchable on the Post's website.)

Both times in American history, Krugman said, government officials prescribed economic penance -- high interest rates and low government spending -- and caused both initial recessions to elongate into painful, 10-year or longer depressions and recoveries.

Obama's call for more government spending is a recognition of history, while Republican and conservative Democratic calls for restrained deficit spending -- denying extended unemployment benefits to millions of people across the nation -- forget history and ignore informed policy in favor of knee-jerk reaction.

The old ways, some say, have served us well in the past. Oh yeah? When? While ordinary people lose ten years of prosperity to some kind of reverence to establishment principle?

Meanwhile the Post's business writers continued to report stories that go beyond conventional wisdom. Steve Raabe reported Friday that Creighton University economist Ernie Goss has spotted a robust manufacturing and service-industry recovery underway in Colorado, which often runs countercyclical to the national economy.

And Greg Griffin, in Sunday's business section, reported on the real economic pain already being felt by people whose unemployment checks have stopped.

Austerity boosters are usually people who can sustain their levels of income during a business downturn. The bosses who lay off workers usually keep their jobs; I know, I was one of them.

But the U.S. economy right now needs more spending, both from government and from private businesses, to keep hold of a recovery that has not yet gained momentum. Banks need to lend to small businesses so small businesses can hire workers who become consumers, driving renewed economic growth.

It's all there in the history books. All we have to do is remember what we've already learned.