Thursday, December 17, 2009

Herman Malone, an evolving provocateur

Herman Malone is a provocateur. He wants to incite the Colorado business community to eliminate racism from its ranks.

Al Lewis, who writes in the Denver Post for Dow Jones Newswires, once turned down an opportunity to write about Malone's book (and mine), "Lynched by Corporate America," because he decided the word "lynched" in the book title was too provocative to be used atop Malone's story.

Yet over the years of a sometimes controversial and always entrepreneurial career, Malone has made it his business to be provocative, and it would be unlike him to give up his principles in the face of press criticism. (Or even the absence of it, since Lewis essentially kept a review of Malone's book -- and mine -- out of the pages of the Post.)

But I write here now about Malone's business for the same reason I co-wrote our book with him.

Black-owned businesses in Colorado are being discriminated against now; they were discriminated against when Malone's story of discrimination by U.S. West started in 1992; and they probably will continue to be discriminated against in the future, at least by the state of Colorado, because Colorado has taken no steps to eliminate discrimination in the state purchasing process.

And there is a documented history of discrimination against minority-owned and women-owned businesses by state purchasers.

Malone's primary business, RMES Communications Inc., self-described on its website as "Your Interactive Multimedia Solutions Provider," sells Internet-based business and entertainment services through kiosks at Denver International Airport.

It used to provide pay phones at DIA, and still owns a few there, using the most advanced model of public pay-phone available, but pay-phones are a dying business now, eliminated largely, but not entirely, by the ubiquitous use of private cell phones.

Malone said RMES posted more than $2 million in revenue in 2008, although 2009 sales have been hit hard by the tough economic and travelling environments caused by the recession.

"We continue to evolve," he said, describing how he has moved the company into digital signage, music downloads, and social-networking applications for travellers as well. He's also hoping to expand RMES kiosks into public-transportation facilities, perhaps into future Fastracks stations for example.

But all that work of RMES is largely being delegated nowadays to employee family members.

Malone is concentrating now on a public-speaking career, taking the message of his book and a personal message about contracting and surviving prostate cancer on the road to businesses and business-student audiences.

"I will be talking about two things that stop people in their tracks," he said. "Racism and cancer."

He has found that race infects the treatment of cancers for both black men and black women, just as it has infected business conducted across America, which is basically what his story is about in "Lynched by Corporate America." The book is the first and only one ever written about discrimination in contracting against minority-owned businesses.

The former U.S. West, now Qwest, has taken steps to eliminate the discrimination against black contractors that is documented in Malone's (and my) book. But the recent $9 million local settlement of an employee-discrimination lawsuit filed against Idaho-based grocer Albertsons, over allegations of ethnic slurs, graffiti and abuse of African-American and immigrant employees at a distribution center in Aurora, illustrates one of Malone's primary speaking-tour messages:

Racism is still alive in Corporate America, and it eats away at the nation's business community just as cancer devours its victims of all races -- from the inside out.

"And I have a solution," says Malone. "The solution I am talking about is a very simple one. We've got to talk.... We gotta' talk about our differences."

Citing President Barack Obama's "teachable moment" of having a beer at the White House with Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley over differences roused by the policeman's arrest of African-American Harvard scholar Henry Lewis Gates Jr., Malone said the only way to end racism in America is by talking about it. The only way to eliminate discriminatory treatment of cancers is by talking about how that discrimination occurs and what treatments work best, he says.

"So I'm going to be talking about all the things you see every day in the news," Malone said. "We've been afraid to have those kinds of discussions.... I want to be part of that dialog."

Yet, for Malone, his speaking tour is really just an extension of the provocative business career he started when he opened Rocky Mountain Electrical Supply (the previous name of RMES) back in 1976. Marketing remains a key ingredient.

Malone says candidly that sales of "Lynched by Corporate America" are not what he had anticipated when he paid for publication of 3,000 copies.

But during the three years since the book was published, Malone has studied the book-publishing trade. "Ninety-nine percent of all authors' sales are less than 5,000 copies," he's learned. "The problem is you need to have more promotional dollars.

"You've got to have that -- or a publishing company that is willing to invest those dollars.... The other way you [can market the book] ... is that you do public speaking, which is what I'm embarking on right now."

Marketing. It's an essential business ingredient Malone has been teaching me ever since we first sat down together to begin writing "Lynched."

As for myself, I'm only beginning to learn the lessons he teaches.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Small business catches the president's eye

"Obama Offers Help for Small Businesses," shouts the headline atop The New York Times story that inspired me to get back to business with this blog.

I've been covering small business for most of the last third of my nearly 40-year journalism career, and I have to wonder how much national resolve is actually behind the words atop Jackie Calmes' story. If the president is serious, small business could show the nation the way out of the economic quagmire we are in.

Calmes covered President Barack Obama's speech at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday about job creation. Obama suggested eliminating capital gains taxes on small business investment -- as if many small businesses have money lying around to invest or still have it invested after the two-year stock-market crash; extending a stimulus-bill tax break through 2010 that allows small firms to write off $250,000 in qualified investments; and providing increased tax deductions of capital expenses.

My experience with small businesses suggests that no small-business owner worth his or her salt would turn down any kind of tax break made available to them; but that most owners would also view proposed tax incentives to increase hiring a kind of a "cart-before-the-horse" proposition.

Many owners, too, would simply complain that the paper work necessary and accounting expense of filing for the tax breaks eliminates the true incentive to taking advantage of them.

What small businesses need in terms of relief from this recession is lots of cash and a stimulated consumer and business marketplace for their goods and services.

Obama said his Treasury Department would step up loans to small businesses using unspent TARP funds. The assurance of such loans might indeed incent a small business owner to add an employee or two to his or her workforce.

But credit relief for consumers and existing small businesses -- how about a reinstatement of the credit-card-interest tax deduction? --might open more wallets more quickly to increased consumer and business-to-business buying and spending in 2010.

And more buying and spending, after all, is the best kind of economic stimulus a country can enjoy. Even, I might add, if it's government doing the spending.

My point, here, however, was not to suggest ways to extricate the economy from its worst recession in 50 years. It was to point out that Obama has small business on his mind.

The president never made small business much of an issue during his campaign, but since taking office, it seems, he has drunk the potion that opens one's eyes to the value of the job-creation engine that the nation's small firms have always been.

If more liberal lawmakers would taste the potion, too, this country might just pick itself up fast enough to keep from crying about a continuing economic downturn next Christmas.

And conservatives, by then, might be joyfully aghast at how fast Obama's administration is making progress at cutting into the huge deficits inherited from the last president's reign.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back to a capitalist future

"In American history, fundamental shifts in the economic orthodoxy usually did not occur until after there was a large and painful calamity.... The awful consequences from such an experience discredited the prevailing wisdom and suddenly opened the way for new thinking."

-- William Greider, "Secrets of the Temple" (1987)

Yes, I'm still reading Greider's book, and it still keeps telling me the lessons learned during the 1982-1984 recession are being used by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to solve the nation's current economic crisis.

Ronald Reagan was president during that time, and Paul Volcker, now a financial advisor to President Obama, was Fed chairman. Volcker had squeezed the economy so tight that interest rates as well as unemployment rates had reached double digits. The quote atop this blogspot represents Grieder's conclusion that even that stiff a punishment for the American economy was not enough to convince politicians to regulate Wall Street strongly enough to prevent another financial collapse.

That recession, by the way, was the worst then since the Great Depression, just as the Great Recession now that we are all living through has topped that harsh mid-80s downturn.

And once again experts are begging Congress to rein in Wall Street traders, to reform the national financial regulatory system, to protect consumers and Main Street business from the ravages and risks of an unfettered market, and to eliminate taxpayers as the default bailout for failed money managers.

And once again lobbyists are hissing and pissing away at any congressional resolve to prevent a "next time" from happening again.

Greider's opened door for "new thinking," in fact, is closing fast. The monied establishment that increased it's wealth so greatly during the Bush administration -- to the great expense of the poor and middle class -- will try to convince Obama's experts that Wall Street itself is smart enough to heal itself. Don't let your congressmen and women buy into that argument.

Wall Street for the sake of Main Street needs to be put on a short leash. No talent needs to be paid so much that it forgets the greater good. Capitalists in America should be required to have a conscience.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bill Ritter for governor in 2010

Right here, right now, I'm endorsing Bill Ritter for re-election as governor.

The Republicans made me do it.

The news today, according to the banner headline across the front page of the Denver Post, is "United GOP targets Ritter."

And right below that headline the Post encapsulates the Colorado Republican Party's 2010 "Contract for Colorado," which leads off with the promise (I would call it a threat) to "Limit taxes and state spending."

As if the perennially Republican-defended Taxpayers Bill of Rights didn't already prohibitively limit Colorado's business growth and progress.

As if the perennial Republican criticism of Amendment 23, the only bulwark against legislative raids on public-school funding for the state, were not promise enough from their party that the children of Colorado can be ignored in order to uphold the wealth of the establishment.

No, none of that has been enough for Republicans in Colorado.

Now, they want to re-impose a "limited-government, no-government" regime on the state, apparently not satisfied with the deep hole the former Owens administration dug for Colorado through its frivolus spending on inefficient computers, its promotion of an Internet network that failed to deliver on its promises, its complete abrogation of public health programs and higher-education funding, and its total disregard for racial discrimination in state contracting.

That was once Colorado's contract with Republicans.

I, for one, would rather see Democrats in charge of making government mistakes.

At least they err on the side of ordinary people.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Government at work for its people

Budget-strapped Colorado government worked behind the scenes to protect the state's drinking water over the past year, demonstrating why Colorado citizens pay taxes and what kind of valuable regulation they get for their money.

On Wednesday, the state's Department of Public Health and Environment reported it has withdrawn disinfection waivers for 72 public drinking water systems around Colorado in the wake of its investigation of the 2008 Salmonella outbreak in Alamosa. That outbreak claimed one life and sickened an estimated 1,300 of Alamosa's 8,900 residents that spring.

Gov. Bill Ritter can claim the subsequent health department action as a victory for his administration.

But if Ritter faces a "limited-government" Republican opponent come the fall 2010 campaign, the incumbent governor may be reluctant to speak up for his regulators because such government services cost money, and "limited-government" candidates never advocate raising the taxes needed to pay for them.

Yet those are the services Colorado taxpayers expect of its government. Just like they expect affordable in-state tuitition for its college students, mosquito-abatement in West Nile virus season, and sufficient state support for primary and secondary public-school education.

The state's voters elected Ritter in 2006 to make sure Colorado's government apparatus would be used for such purposes, and most of what Ritter has been criticized for by Republican opponents during his first term has been aimed at his efforts to fulfill that broad, generalized 2006 election promise.

You can bet whoever may be Ritter's Republican opponent in 2010 will try to label him as an overspender of what money the state was able to collect during the 18-month economic downturn that has caused drastic revenue shortfalls.

But don't forget that the "limited-government" Owens administration was responsible for the state's not jumping on programs that might have prevented or reduced the many deaths and hundreds of serious illnesses suffered in Colorado as the initial epidemic of West Nile virus swept east to west across the nation earlier this decade.

Regulators are employed by a state to protect its citizens from failures of business and industry that can affect large parts of the population. When regulators don't do their jobs, people often get hurt, and taxpayers don't get what they pay for.

Let's hope Colorado's current budget cutting doesn't set us up for more West Nile or Alamosa-style public-health failures. The health department's withdrawal of disinfection waivers, forcing public water systems to purify their drinking water, represents taxpayer money well spent.

Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Business needs a Broncos win

Colorado's business community needs a Broncos' win against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

I have learned since arriving in the state in 1988, the morale of Colorado business takes a cue from the success of the Denver Broncos, and I have come to believe that the success of all the state's professional sports teams seems to set a tone for the success of the entire state.

I know that sounds crazy, but give me a listen.

When I was the night city editor of the Denver Post, I would drive to work on Sundays at a time when those lucky enough to attend Broncos games had already found their parking spots at Mile High Stadium, and the rest of the city was already positioned in front of its TV sets.

Central Denver was hushed and quiet in the middle of the day, waiting the kickoff.

After a loss, on Monday's in the middle of the day, the city was almost as quiet and palpably depressed.

Then the Avalanche came to town and promptly won the city's first national professional sports title. The Broncos followed with two consecutive Super Bowl championships (it should have been three, but the Broncs were beaten by Jacksonville in the first year they also should have won the championship, which, with the next two wins, would have made history).

The Rockies made the playoffs early on and two years ago went to the World Series. The Nuggets made the playoffs several times since I have been in Colorado, but never with as strong a team as they have now, one with a realistic opportunity to take an NBA championship.

Yet it's the Broncos that still set the tone, and you could feel that already this year when they surprisingly won six games in a row as Colorado was feeling the first little urges of a national business recovery. Once again, the state was leading the nation and gathering praise for its growing alternative energy industry, school reform and even health-care delivery on the Western Slope.

Then the Broncos lost to Baltimore. Winter had come early. National unemployment hit 10 percent. Stimulus dollars were being reported to have hired way too many people than seemed realistic.

And the Broncos dropped two more, while the Chargers kept winning.

For some reason, the Broncos and other winning sports franchises in Colorado seem to inspire business and political leadership in the state. There's no objective proof for that, but the winning lifts a burden that winter's snow and cold often impose.

Colorado needs the Broncos to beat the Chargers at home to show the state's business and political communities that the team's improvement over the off-season wasn't just a mirage. And that the inklings of economic improvement in Colorado weren't just false positives.

When the state's professional sports teams are winning, Coloradans, their business leaders and their political leaders are energized. And right now, Colorado cannot afford to let its energy and leadership slip.

Business needs a Broncos win on Sunday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where's the path to stimulus dollars?

On Monday, I ducked my croquet game to attend a presentation on the Auraria campus about "How Your Business Can Benefit from Federal Stimulus Money." I was hoping to see for myself what advice was being given to small business owners by a state official, Maranda Pleau, who has been touring the state to speak on the topic. (Photo: Mark Martinez; Credit:

You might remember that on Aug. 14 I posted a blogspot on the distribution of $87 million from a state/federal capital construction program for San Luis Valley schools, and I connected the funding to Pleau's tour, assuming that her presentation would tell small business owners in the Valley how they might get a piece of that action.

I was wrong, and I was told I was wrong by Pleau's communications manager Myung Oak Kim, who read the blog and told me I should attend one of Pleau's presentations to find out what she was saying in them.

So I did. And frankly, I was disappointed.

Pleau, who is formally called the Director of Small Business and Minority Outreach for the Governor's Economic Recovery Team, told an audience of about 60 people, some of whom were minority business owners or women business owners, that her team's tasks so far had been difficult, especially the "very arduous" process of tracking stimulus dollars. That is one of her missions: to tell the people of Colorado how stimulus dollars are being spent.

The problem with her presentation, however, is that mission seems to be her only mission. She does not offer specific advice, other than recommending business owners check out the recovery team's website,, that might land a small business a grant or a contract to keep they're business going.

In fact, one business owner at the Nov. 9 presentation complained that she had run through all the traps on the website, searched out grants and contracts that might get her new business, but that all the material she searched seemed to suffer a basic "disconnect" from the information she really needed. She needed direct paths to bidding for work, and she wasn't finding them.

Mark Martinez, regional president of Solera National Bank, which has capital available to lend to qualified business borrowers, helped sponsor Pleau's presentation but came away from it as disappointed as I was.
"It's total spin," said Martinez. "All I was told was here's all these millions of dollars and here's how they're being allocated, by category, but there's no discussion as far as ... where those dollars are landing and how those dollars are ending up in the pockets, or potentially in the pockets, of small business or business in general."

"You sit through the presentation, and at the end of the day you're sitting there thinking: I didn't learn anything."

Martinez, who has served on the board of trustees of Metro State College, where Pleau gave her talk, said he knows that education stimulus dollars have been used to "backfill" against budget cuts, a strategy school administrators claim is the only way to protect current programs and jobs.

But the banker asks: "Where's the stimulus in that?"

And he's right. He said he has no clients who have reported to him that they have been able to tap into stimulus dollars, and he said SBA loans cited by Pleau in her talk would have been been made to qualifying businesses despite the stimulus effort. Martinez did acknowledge, however, the federal government has made it easier for banks to make some SBA-guaranteed loans.

Small, $35,000 loans being made available through SBA to small businesses as emergency funding are not profitable to banks and are designed to go to businesses who are poor loan prospects, Martinez said. You can read more about the limited success of that SBA emergency loan-program in today's Denver Post,
Banks across the country have been reluctant to loan money through the program. "We're not a charitable organization," Martinez he added. "We're a financial institution."

But to get back to Pleau's small-business coaching, or lack of it, there are some legitimate reasons for state government to not hold hands with businesses seeking federal money to fund new growth. The press and political critics could perceive the help as favored treatment.

But Pleau's "outreach" efforts need to go beyond talking about where the stimulus money is being spent.

Minority-owned businesses have historically been left out of Colorado's procurement process, and true "outreach" will help small businesses directly connect with state agencies and other organizations distributing stimulus dollars through grants and contracts.

There's no sense in talking to small businesses about $87 million to be spent on school construction work in the San Luis Valley unless small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses can share a piece of the $87 million pie.

The state, so far, has failed to open up a direct path for small business to such work.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Small-business developer: David Laverty

Last week, President Obama reminded banks who receive bailout funds that they should be lending to small businesses, because small businesses are among the taxpayers who helped bail them out.

Small firms, the president said in his weekly radio address, "must be at the forefront of our recovery."

Obama ought to recruit David Laverty to his cause.

Laverty is one of those entrepreneurs who believes the marketplace, no matter how distressed by slowdown or recession, still has room for him, and that his business-development skills can make a successful entrepreneur out of anyone with a good business idea.

Laverty is a business consultant. He advises prospective owners of small businesses on the basics of starting out: how to create a business plan that plots the way to bring a product to market; how to create a marketing plan that will sell the business; and how to design a website to help carry out a marketing plan.

He's learned over the last 24 months -- the months it has taken him to bring his own business to the stage where it can support him -- that a business consultant nowadays must also be ready to do the work required to back up his advice.

And so Laverty winds up writing much of the content for a new business's website, working with website-design specialists to produce a site worthy of his client-business's product or service, and actually writing the business plans and marketing plans the client has signed him up to devise.

That effectively is a redefinition of a business consultant. Often in the past, the consultant merely provided his or her expert advice to a new company, leaving the business owners to put the expert advice into play.

But the last 24 months haven't been easy for Laverty. He has been forced to use the tools he is urging on other small-business operators to create his own firm, which he calls Marketplace (the logo shown above).

Laverty says the economic downturn has had its impact on his own firm.

"Whenever there is kind of a national news story that casts doubt about the overall economy," he said, "I notice a tapering off in business-plan activity."

"I think the entrepreneurial dream is always there," he said. "It's just a lot harder to get money. It's almost impossible to get money through traditional lending unless you can back every red cent of it up with real-estate collateral."

Obama last week not only urged bailed-out banks to increase their lending to small businesses, but he announced a program to allow small, community banks to borrow TARP funds to lend to small-business customers, and he raised borrowing limits for U.S. Small Business Administration loans.

"Now it's time for our banks to stand by creditworthy small businesses and make the loans they need to open their doors, grow their operations and create new jobs," Obama said in his Saturday radio/Internet address Oct. 24.

Small businesses have often been cited as the nation's primary driver of job creation following an economic downturn. Downturns are also famous in Colorado for driving employees of down-sized companies into business for themselves.

Laverty hosts seminars for current and prospective business owners, gathering a mix of consultants together to share startup expertise with small audiences, almost creating one-on-one counseling. He earned his stripes for conducting such group sessions as a volunteer with the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and as an employee of American Business Advisors, an established south Denver business consultancy.

Since then, he has taken on dozens of clients, many of whom are just starting out. Jess Tarin, for example, along with his partner Steve Niemczura, next week will officially launch, a website that matches service providers -- from home-repair contractors to lawyers -- with consumers who post projects for the vendors to make bids on.

Tarin said Laverty's help and advice was essential to the project. "He did good work for us," he said. The website firm is already registering vendors. Tarin said BidPuppy will go live signing up consumers' jobs on Wednesday.

For the first year Laverty worked on his own, he generated only about $30,000 in revenue and had to supplement his cost of living with other means, help from friends and family. In 2009, however, he is turning over about $70,000, which represents for him "a huge breakthrough. It means I'm viable," he said, "and paying my bills and paying my mortgage."

That's the way most entrepreneurs start out. With a dream and prayer. And often times, too, with a new product they can make or sell, or a service they are good at performing. But starting a business is much more complicated.

"The diversity of skills [required] to run your own business is huge," Laverty said. The entrepreneur's core strength is the making of their product or provision of their service, he says. "It's not a wise use of their time" to spend weeks and weeks on the minutia of business development. That's where the business consultant comes in.

Because of the Internet, Laverty works with both local and out-of-state clients. He recently wrote business plans for two separate customers in Kansas City, visiting each customer face-to-face over the past few weeks. He's also helping a Denver-area woman launch a dog-rehabilitation shelter, and he has written a business plan for presentation to an investor by another client who seeks funding to launch a smokeless, "nicotine-delivery" product.

And business has picked up with this fall, Laverty said. He still uses Craig's List and other free listing services to promote his firm, and recently took out an ad in Yellow Book -- marketing techniques he also advises clients to use.

That's what Marketplace is all about. Making a market and reaching a market for new businesses.

In his Saturday address, the president also repeated the assertion that small business has created nearly two-thirds of new jobs over the past 15 years. David Laverty's Marketplace is just trying to do its part.

1601 S. Carr St.
Lakewood, CO 80232
David Laverty, owner

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To be ethical, think about it

About 200 people from a mix of 29 Denver-area companies and government agencies heard a talk on business ethics this morning from Marianne Jennings, a professor at Arizona State University.

No, the managers from the 29 organizations sent to listen to the lecture weren't being put in time-out by their employers. But as Jennings listed the drivers of a series of ethics lapses that have occurred across the nation in business over the past decade and more, the audience was peculiarly quiet.

As if the subject of broken consciences was somehow familiar.

Jennings cited a survey done periodically by KPMG, the audit firm, that found 74 percent of respondents in 2008 reporting they feel pressure at work "to do whatever it takes" to get their job done. Ethics or no.

Another survey found only 9 percent of employees reporting they enjoyed an "ethical culture at work"; and 99 percent of respondents in another survey judged their own ethics to be higher or equal to their peers in the workplace.

At the outset, Jennings showed a list of 50 companies that made national headlines for ethics scandals stretching backward over the past 15 years: Adelphia, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Enron, Qwest, Bank of America, "KPMG (twice)."

Margie Mauldin, whose Executive Forum hosted Jennings' appearance, said she put "ethics" on her nine-month agenda for the Forum's leadership series because of the financial industry crisis of the past 18 months and the Great Recession that it caused.

Mauldin has been a friend for years, and her picture appears at the left in my list of followers. She invited me to sit in on the high-dollar leadership-training session on ethics because she knows I have always been interested in the subject.

Pressure at work, Jennings indicated, is the #1 driver of "ethical and legal debacles." Pressure to perform, pressure to conform, pressure to keep quiet when speaking up will cut across the company grain. The pressure starts in high school and grows through college and graduate school until it reaches the workplace, Jennings said.

She offered several strategies to relieve pressure and encourage an ethical performance:
  • Think long term within the company, rather than only about short-term results.
  • Develop a company creed, and practice it, especially within executive ranks.
  • Solve ethical dilemmas by devising alternative solutions; talk about the alternatives among colleagues.

"We are all going to hit walls in our jobs and in our careers," Jennings told the group. "There's no perfect organization because human beings run them."

Jennings also advised asking questions. And yet, following her presentation, less than a dozen members of the audience had any questions to ask. "You're all ethical-ed up?" she asked rhetorically?

But even I stayed silent. The question hanging in the air between members of the silent audience was still: Why? Why did two decades of business misbehavior only get worse as time went on? Why were every five years of scandal followed by another five years of new scandal?

Jennings said most people realize when they are stepping outside the bounds of their own professional or personal ethics, but many will do what they do anyway. They rationalize their action with some self-styled "noble" purpose: You do it for your kids; to survive; just this once; or because the end is justifiable.

Wrong! she said. Look for an alternative that preserves your standards. "It's possible to be ethical in business and be very successful," she said. All you have to do is think about it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Going to the brink and back, and not learning the lesson

Tuesday morning I posted to my Facebook friends a link to an excerpt from Andrew Ross Sorkin's new book "Too Big to Fail: How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System -- and Themselves." I hadn't yet read the piece, but judging from an interview Sorkin gave to Charlie Rose on Monday night about his book, I had thought the excerpt might shed some light on the recent attacks of Big Business on the Obama administration.
(Photo credit:

Rose mentioned the assault himself. Big-bank lobbyists are teaming up to oppose new regulations for the financial industry that Obama has proposed to reduce the chances our nation might once again step to the brink of a Great Depression 2.0, as it did a year ago.

Also, last week, the health-insurance industry finally let drop it's opposition to any health-care reform by lying about the prospect for higher health-insurance premiums if currently proposed reforms go through. To my mind, the industry's contention only strengthens the argument that a public option must be included in any health-reform package. The insurance companies, after all, would be the people raising the rates!

A public option, offering lower rates, would compete against those very companies, and keep them from raising the rates if they wanted to keep their current customers.

Then on Tuesday, too, The Wasington Post, reported the White House was trying to sidestep opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, big businesses' highest paid lobbyist. The U.S. Chamber is bucking up against the administration on several fronts: health care, global warming and financial regulation.

To get around them, administration officials are visiting with individual CEOs over their company's positions on such issues; and several big firms, Apple Inc. in particular, have dropped out of the chamber because of its harsh opposition to administrative iniatives.

Did anyone really believe big business would turn the other cheek in these battles with a centrist/liberal administration that still holds majority support among voters?

"People" are beneficiaries of all the Obama initiatives, and that's what big business and some small businesses are opposed to.

You cannot save the middle class and the poor in this country, without taking something from the establishment and the rich. It's time the rich gave back what they, in cahoots with a free-market government, have slowly, inexorably taken away.

Sorkin's excerpt doesn't give much of a clue to any of this, but he indicated to Rose that the word "Themselves," in his subtitle suggests one of the most disturbing things he found in writing the tome. Wall Street is a club of rich people who also serve in government, and their actions in both arenas are taken with their own self-interest top of mind -- or at least as top-of-mind as the greater good of all Americans, which undeniably also remains one of their motives.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Low-down on Byte Technology

Clarence Low brought his family and his website-development company to metro Denver without much of a clue about the tech market here in 2003. The move, in fact, was primarily driven by a desire to join family already living in Evergreen.

But Low knew the Denver Tech Center was a big draw for tech workers, and he realized the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce was much larger than the Monterey, Calif., chamber, which he and his brother Terry used as a source for leads when they founded their business in California in 2001.

From the start, "community involvement" was a staple of Byte Technology, the Lows' company.

So getting involved in the Denver chamber was a no-brainer for Low. He knew he could leverage his active participation in chamber programs into a list of customers -- even in a market thick with rival web developers.

"We have donated our time, money and services to local nonprofits, whether it's helping them with their online marketing strategies, or helping them build websites, or whatever," Low said in an interview. "We have worked with childrens' services, childrens' museums, foundations, philanthropic efforts or organizations, things like that."

"Through ... working with some of the executives in those organizations, we have been able to gather referrals," he said. It was the formula Low and his brother used to found their company, so here, he said, "We're leveraging that formula."

"It's not rocket science," said Clarence Low, who is a trained marine scientist.

He and his brother both rode the tech wave that blew up the bubble in Silicon Valley, and when it burst, in 2001, and each found themselves dripping wet and without a job, they decided to stake out their own niche in the tech market -- on the shores of Monterey Bay.

Literally. Byte Technology started in a storefront shop in downtown Monterey, and offered tourists to the nearby Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row computer stations to log on to the Internet. "It was actually really cool," Low remembers now. Tourists from overseas would come in to download photographs or to send e-mails back home. Then the visitors would ask what the brothers did to make a profit from the enterprise.

"So we actually got a couple clients that way," Low said. At the time, the company was setting up and servicing computer stations in small businesses and nonprofits, doing network support and designing websites as well. When Clarence Low moved to Denver in 2003, Byte sold off the network business and focused on website development.

Today, Byte Technology still has only three employees in both its location, although it supplements its workforce with contract workers. Clarence Low said each customer's project is tailored to the company's or organization's specific needs. Byte's prices are competitive but also tailored to each customer's needs, Low said. In 2008, which included a good chunk of the nation's economic downturn, Byte turned about $300,000 to $500,000 in revenues, he said, being purposely vague.

"Yesterday, I gave a presentation to a nonprofit in Aurora that specializes in providing services to refugees and recent Asian immigrants," said Low whose parents emigrated to San Francisco from Southern China. "They were interested in a multi-lingual component to their website," he said, so within his 45-minue presentation Low showed the group how to upload Korean on the site with ease. That, too, is one of Byte Technology's product offerings. It can show an organization how to self-maintain the sites it creates, adding to a group's or a small business's longterm savings even as it upgrades to the latest in doing business on the web.

Clarence Low's goals for the company are reaching $2 million in annual revenues and, perhaps, 10 employees in both the California and Colorado offices over the next five to seven years. "I give myself that timeframe," he said, because both he and his brother are committed to not growing so fast they begin to shirk ongoing services they provide to their oldest clients.

Check out Byte Technology's website here, and you'll find the kind of "strong, effective, refreshing" design Byte can provide, along with a row of fruit splashing into some clear water that is also emblematic of the company's work. Clarence Low said each employee adopts one of the fruit images to include on the back of a business card, and his is the kiwi. It's a good way for people to recognize him once they've seen the card or one of his business presentations, Low said.

"Hey, you're the kiwi guy!" he said one potential customer greeted him in an airport one day. "Yes, I am," Low said he responded. "You can call me the kiwi guy, as long as you know who I am," he said.

His brother, Terry, is the orange.

Byte Technology: a brand that refreshes your digital presence. Try a bite.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chicago woman's slave ancestry traced

Michelle Obama's ancestral line from a six-year-old, South Carolina slave girl to the halls of a White House built by slaves is the subject of a fascinating story in the New York Times today.

It's tragic, as all slave tales are, and yet inspiring (were it not for more than 150 years between start to finish). And it shows how America's bloodlines are inevitably diverse, and today's acknowledgement and celebration of diversity has been a natural outgrowth of our immigrant roots.

It shows, too, why immigration perfects the bloodlines of America's civil rights heritage, and ought to be encouraged rather than disparaged, for the betterment of the nation as a whole.

Photo credit:

Monday, September 21, 2009

In the chemo room, Chapter II

Getting out of bed to start another day becomes one of the more difficult chores of the patient under chemotherapy.

I say that not to garner sympathy, but merely to report a fact. I’ve felt like that, in fact, at other times in my life when I have not been under the influence of chemo, and I’m sure others have, too. It's like waking up with a hangover, or just facing another day of monotony in your job or even among your family.
(Photo credit: Cancer cell,

So, I think I can safely say just about anybody can identify with the experience even if you don’t have cancer (and I pray you never will).

But the right thing to do -- always -- is to get up and get started. Get going. Make a move. Take a risk and make some money!

You have to think hustlers for survival have made that decision endless numbers of times on endless numbers of mornings throughout history.

It’s a life-generating decision. Just deciding to get busy again makes you part of the world you live in. The Broncos have won! The Rockies, too! The heat’s coming on in the house even on the last day of summer. It’s Monday. Another miserable Monday, and yet you are glad to face it, glad to be alive another day.

Actually glad to have bills to pay, and a dog to feed. A lawn to cut, and a book to finish. A batch of pals to play poker with, or croquet!

Glad for the challenge to figure out your finances for the next two years, and yes, even glad to still be facing your taxes! Life isn’t always filled with beautiful sunsets and close companions near at hand.

Sometimes it’s only you facing the morning and another day of work.

But that’s okay. The Broncos have won! The Rockies, too! Life is good and getting better.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the chemo room

I smell like chemotherapy now, having finished my first session of my second major round of chemo yesterday (Sept. 17) with about eight to a dozen other patients at Cypress Hematology & Oncology who, like I, it seems, are going mano a mano with death.

It was a good group, and two women who are fighting breast cancer (one of whom has already done battle with lung cancer as well) had a frank discussion with me about our treatments so far and how we cope with the prospect of not surviving. A fourth patient listened pretty intently during the five hours I was there at the Porter Cancer Care Center in South Denver since I think it was his first ever session in the chemo room.

I entered the building a little leery of what the day would hold.

The major side effect of both the chemicals they pumped into my body yesterday, Irinotecan and Erbitux, is diarrhea, and since the same symptom proved a problem for me during my first major round of chemo, I walked through the automatic sliding doors of the center with a sense of foreboding bordering on doom. The foreboding was for the reaction to the drugs; the doom because the chances of surviving my metastatic colo-rectal cancer for up to or more than five years are pretty slim -- five percent.

But my oncologist, Dr. Thomas Kenney, said the treatments might give me two to three years, and I told the two women in the room with me I wanted the time to finish a book I'm writing about a Denver oilman, Tim Marquez, as well as my own novel, which is up to five completed chapters so far.

As for the rest of the day, it wasn't so bad. I had a 90-minute interview with Kenney's nurse practitioner who went over the treatment, the symptoms of the side effects, and what current medicines and supplements I'm taking that she said I should curtail or continue. She wasn't at all surprised -- except by the little information about the topic in the materials she was giving me -- when I asked her the effects of the chemicals on my sexuality.

I think women, who have grown up with menstrual issues and the prospect of pregnancy, have a better handle on the sexual reactions of the body and its parts acting sexually than do men. We men usually do not like to talk about it. Unless it is with a woman.

The materials the nurse gave me mentioned that sexual intercourse should be performed with a condom since chemo chemicals can be transferred in bodily fluids, which also rules out oral sex while one party is in chemotherapy.

What the materials didn't talk about was passionate kissing, nor a man's arousal to erection and ejaculation, nor a woman's arousal. My nurse told me the chemicals I'm receiving shouldn't have much effect along the latter lines, and I didn't ask about the kissing but assume that should be limited to closed-mouth as well.

My nurse did admit she and her fellow nurses are not often asked those questions. Sex is still a dirty word in America.

Then came the five-hour infusion session, meeting and talking with my two new women friends, and the relief of leaving the center knowing the first chemo session was done, and I didn't have to take another for two weeks. Of course, then the steroid they give you to boost the effects of the chemicals, kicked in and kept me awake past three o'clock this morning. And by six, the diarrhea.

That's why I'm not getting to this blog until now to write and post what I actually wrote in longhand in my bedside journal between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. this morning.

I still smell like chemo, but at least I'm alive to write about it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Doing 'right' by the nation

"I think we misinterpreted what the markets wanted," [Federal Reserve Board Gov. Emmett] Rice said. "I thought they wanted us to stay tight. After the ease, I was concerned about how the financial markets would react. When they reacted positively, I was surprised."

Rice was a governor on the Fed when Ronald Reagan was president and the nation was suffering through the longest recession since the Great Depression until now. His words then, quoted by William Greider, in his 1987 book "Secrets of the Temple," sound a familiar ring for today.

Here's more of Greider's quote of Rice, along with a paragraph in Greider's own words about that time in 1981 and 1982:

"Market participants talk tough as individuals and they're hard-liners [Emmett Ricce said], but they wanted to see interest rates come down and they welcomed it. When they saw rates come down, they were very quick to jump on the bandwagon and benefit from it. If you talk to individuals in the market -- dealers, bond salesmen, investment bankers, commericial bankers -- they will say: 'Stay tight.' Yet they welcomed the lower interest rates. It was the same with the Federal Advisory Council, advising us to stay tight. Then we ease and the markets rally and the same advisory council says to us: 'You did the right thing.'"

Greider continues in his book:

"For months, the Federal Reserve had held tight, insisting that this was what the financial markets demanded. The politicians from Congress and the White House, pleading for lower interest rates, were dismissed as mere politicians. Governor Nancy Teeters was ignored, too. The economy was driven deeper and deeper into contraction. In effect, the national government's management of the economy was being guided by the self-interested commentaries from a few hundred thousand financial experts in Wall Street. The Fed was steering -- or was being steered -- by the opinions of bondholders and their representatives and what they alone thought would be good for the nation. Only, in this case, the investors and investment experts from Wall Street were mistaken. Because they were wrong, the Federal Reserve was wrong, too."

Ben Bernanke, current chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury, were determined not to get it wrong again in 2008 and 2009, and that's why anyone who wants to understand how the 2009-2010 economic recovery is occurring should consult Greider's book as a blue print.

Their mentor, and one of the chief architects of this slow recovery, is Paul Volcker, who was the Fed chairman during the early Reagan years, and who joined in making the mistakes Rice was quoted as admitting. Volcker, like Bernanke and Geithner, also doesn't want to see the same mistakes made now that were made then.

And to ensure that, the 21st century architects of recovery are following a precept intimated in Rice's comments from "Secrets of the Temple." He admits the Federal Reserve Board was trying to do back in 1981 what it thought Wall Street wanted it to do.

The Fed was not trying to "do the right thing" for the nation.

The Obama administration has made it quite clear to Wall Street this time around that it will being doing the right thing by the nation, rather than cater to the financial industry's traditional beliefs.

And if it steps on some peoples' toes, Obama is a guy with big feet and so far has shown he doesn't mind appearing politically awkward in public. Lets hope the same goes for his health-care reform.

In the meantime, Greider's book remains an outline for financial-industry reform. It's long and I'm still reading it, but I plan to write more about about it here in the future.

You can order it for $16.38 on Amazon here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Getting old too fast

Do you think someone is right now launching a website to instruct people who have abducted children in the "best practices" for keeping kids hidden inside the house or in the backyard?

Sunday's newspaper story of a seven-year-old who was abducted from the custody of his father by his mother two years ago, and apparently hidden since then in a specially built room at his grandma's house, suggests a website could be a hit.

The seven-year-old's rescue by Illinois state troopers on Friday follows last month's rescue of Jaycee Dugard, allegedly abducted 20 years ago by Phillip Garrido in California and hidden in his backyard while she grew up and bore him two children, who also were kept in the yard.

Seems like abductors need a little online help in how to successfully hide their prey more effectively.

Grandmas, in the meantime, are also getting a bad name. Maybe to the point that "death panels" embedded in the propsosed health-care reform bills can finally serve a proper purpose.

The seven-year-old's grandma hid him in her modified house. On the same day the missing kid was discovered there, another grandma in San Antonio was reported to have called in a bomb threat on an elementary school, just so she could see her grandkids when the school population fled the building.

All these abductors and bomb-callers happen to be baby-boomers, you'll notice. It's tough getting old and keeping your sense about you, but then it's been tough for most of us baby-boomers to keep much sense about us even when we were young.

Unfortunately, it's our children who know that best about us.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ritter campaigns on too many fronts

Gov. Bill Ritter campaigned all over the Denver Post on Thursday, from a piece he and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien planted on the op-ed page defending their proposed cuts to public school funding, to a news story at the top of the Denver & The West cover reporting Ritter backed down from taking drunk-driving crackdown funds away from local police departments.

Campaigns were waged against the governor, too. His name was mentioned on the front page of the newspaper as the villain of budget cutbacks to state-funded health clinics, and on page 4B for being the architect of the $260 million batch of cuts overall in order to backfill a $320 million shortfall of revenues in the current fiscal year.

He was praised by the Post's editorial page for both regulating (read: limiting) and promoting the natural-gas industry in the state, and in Susan Greene's column he was the wizard behind the curtain drawn over tragic cost cutting at the state's Fort Logan mental health facility.

One thing you have to say about the governor in all those situations is that he has chosen to govern the people of his state, making tough decisions required of him by state law.

The move to restore funds to pay for drunk-driving arrests was something you might have expected from a former prosecutor once people complained that it would leave more drunks on the road and more victims of drunks in hospitals.

But the Ritter also has stayed firm on cuts that go against his law-and-order grain by releasing some convicts early in order to save prison money, and allowing other convicts shortened parole supervision, also to reduce state spending.

The general impression of Ritter I got after writing a piece in the current ColoradoBiz magazine was that he is doing his job. The report focused on the governor's political prospects for keeping votes in the Colorado business community during his 2010 re-election campaign, specifically by promoting the growth of clean/green industry in the state.

When I briefly interviewed Ritter for the article last July, I asked him if he was already campaigning for re-election given harsh reactions to some of his decisions among his natural supporters. He unabashedly responded that he has been campaigning for re-election ever since his inauguration.

That's the nature of politics today. Campaigns are always on, 24-7.

It's also the nature of being a governor in a state that is divided somewhat evenly between liberal and conservative voters, although large margins of those voting concentrations hone to the moderate center of their groups rather than the outer fringes.

Ritter campaigned as a somewhat undefined moderate and won the day in 2006, but the intervening three years have been hard on his continued efforts not to be pinned down.

He doesn't seem to be brave enough to decide against conservative factions in the state, and yet not liberal enough to provoke them and take his chances. Under that cover, he can claim to be serving the largest number of Colorado citizens, and he's basically right.

But serving a crowd often creates new enemies.

Voters will be making hard decisions for and against him in polling places across Colorado come November 2010. And while pissing off both sides of an argument might be appreciated in a news reporter, it usually doesn't work for an elected official.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Self-interest on parade

If you want to see how self interest is ruling the public health-care reform debate, take a look at two stories in the Denver Post today, one on the front page, and the other on the "Health Reform" page, which today is 15A.

The Page One lead story, by Allison Sherry, reports how Patti Gabow, CEO of the Denver Health Medical Center, has written metro-Denver counties asking for millions of dollars worth of compensation for care Denver Health has provided for citizens of those counties in 2008.

The self-interest of Denver Health is obvious. The health system, described by the Post in a story earlier this week as one of the best in the country, is going uncompensated for those same millions of dollars worth of care, and it wants money to cover the costs from counties where the patients live.

Sherry's story said Denver Health is asking Jefferson County for $9.8 million, Arapahoe County, $12 million, and Adams County, $11.3 million.

That's a lot of money, but only fractions of $318 million in uncompensated care Denver Health offered patients in 2008, yet Sherry reports that officials in Jefferson and Adams counties don't seem too interested in paying their fair share.

"We don't believe it's a responsibility for county government to compensate hospitals for uninsured care," Sherry quoted Mark Tandberg, a division director in Adams County, saying in response to Gabow's letter posting the bill.

That response, of course, is in Adams County's self interest. Tandberg, serving his taxpayers, takes the conservative stand in the health-care debate: Government shouldn't subsidize universal health care.

Sherry reports that Kathryn Heider, a spokesman for conservative Jefferson County, also blew off Gabow's request. "I think we probably won't be pursuing it," she told Sherry.

Sherry, in the meantime, has a little self interest in writing the story itself since she is the writer of the earlier story that lauded Gabow's operation as one of the most efficient providing uninsured health care in the nation.

Reporters live and die (literally, since their jobs are at stake) by the give-and-take of story for story with sources. Sherry writes a well-reported story about Gabow's good standing in the national debate over health-care reform, and is then given access to the more powerful story about Gabow's demand for repayment from local governments.

The second story that puts self-interest on parade in the Post's coverage of health-care reform is the story on 15A about certain Catholic bishops in America, including Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, turning against the Obama reform plans, none of which is certain as yet.

That story, by David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times , connects the relatively new opposition of the bishops to old and long-held Catholic opposition to use of federal funds to pay for abortions.

Chaput is a vehement abortion critic and during the election campaign last year anti-abortion campaign flyers targeting Obama were passed around the parking lots of Catholic churchs on Sundays. Chaput's book, "Render Unto Caesar," goes somewhat lightly on the issue of abortion while urging strongly that Catholics stand up in the public square and marketplace to denounce political positions that run contrary to church doctrine.

I'm going to review the book soon on where I write about literature, so you might look for the review there when I finally get it done. Consider that last sentence to be promotion of my own self interest.

The New York Times story quotes Chaput as writing in a diocesan newspaper column that Obama's health-reform plan is "not only imprudent; it's also dangerous."

The Times story immediately adds, "The bishops' opposition ... is another setback for Obama's health care efforts."

The opposition also, however, serves the bishops' self interest by not only boosting the church's anti-abortion stance, but also by trying to boost the bishops' personal political credibility within their own congregations.

You could say anything anyone writes boosts someone's self interest, and that probably would not be too far from the truth.

But when self-interest powers a national debate that is supposed to target a common good, specific arguments that benefit one interest over another ought to be pointed out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cancer's back!

I've got cancer -- again.

The colorectal cancer I was diagnosed with on June 5, 2007, and that for the past year or so I thought I might have beaten, has shown up again in my latest PET scan Aug. 4.

And this time, like a good reporter, I figure I'll write about my renewed go-round with the disease, since it could well be my last.

In fact, it probably will be my last. I just looked up the survival stats for Stage 4 colorectal cancer, the last stage of the disease, and found only 5 percent of patients diagnosed at that stage in the United States survive the disease for more than five years.

Back in the summer of 2007 (the 40-year anniversary of the "Summer of Love, when I joined the throngs of baby boomers who trekked to San Francisco), Dr. Thomas Kenney, my oncologist, told me I had about a 50 percent chance of surviving the disease for that long, and about a 20 percent chance of being cured. But he also warned there was a high recurrence rate for colorectal cancer, and for that reason he would treat mine aggressively.

I underwent radiation, surgery (actually four surgeries within fourteen months), and six months of intense chemotherapy that deadened the nerves in my hands and feet (neuropathy, which continues today), and was cleared of cancer cells last summer or so. Probably.

They don't tell you much definitively when you are being treated for cancer, the argument being every individual is individual, and no one can predict beyond the average how your body will respond to treatment.

I wanted to write about my treatment this time around because I want the cancer to work for me instead of against me, as it has done so far. The last time around, I considered writing a longer, magazine-style journalistic piece about what it cost to be treated for cancer in Denver. But I never did it.

I admit my own laziness in putting off that attempt, but I also felt like my treatment never really ended while the neuropathy continued and the management of my own re-sectioned bowel continues to give me problems. It's also why I never seriously looked for a public-relations job following the initial diagnosis and surgery since I had left my job at ColoradoBiz magazine in February 2007.

Instead, I took the two years of treatment to decide I wanted to make a business of my own out of my writing: poems, short stories, a novel that has been started, a non-fiction book I'm writing for Denver oil man Tim Marquez, and perhaps some specialized small-business media consulting I would do if I could find the work. And this blog.

And now the cancer has come back, threatening to cut short those efforts -- but not really, at least for as long as I can continue them. So I'll continue to write about small businesses here. About politics, and anything else that comes to mind. I'll keep writing poems to post on my website,, and I'll keep writing about literature at Keep reading.

This story is "probably" going to be the best one I've ever written.
(Photo credit: Cancer Cell,

Monday, August 24, 2009

Watch Democrats 'just do it'

Over the weekend, Democrats gathered around a bunch of spades to dig the first shovels-full of dirt marking the rise of a new $300 million Veterans hospital in Aurora.

It took ten years to get there, eight of them during the Republican George W. Bush administration, but only eight months since the election of Barack Obama.

According to the Denver Post, actual construction on the project won't start until June, which may be a better time to celebrate the decision of the federal government to build the hospital, given the history of the project.

Before I left ColoradoBiz (in 2007), I had a writer do a profile of then Veteran's Administration head Jim Nicholson who was one of the several VA secretaries to go round and round on the project, but Nicholson did his job for local vets by getting it back on track.

Unfortunately, Nicholson's successor put it off track again, and Saturday's groundbreaking was the closest point yet veterans from the region have come to being assured the new hospital will be there for them if they live long enough to be served in it.

The federal commitment is an example of how Democrats just do it, rather than yak, yak, yak about it, like Republicans want to do on health-care reform, in order to keep the federal government from spending money.

Building a state-of-the-art hospital for vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as vets from the first Iraq war, the Korean War, Vietnam, and many of the conflicts in between, helps fulfill one of Obama's campaign promises: To get Iraq and Afghanistan wounded proper and on-going treatment. But you won't hear many bipartisans making that point.

Still, it is what Democrats do, besides tax and spend, as they are constantly accused of doing. They tax, yes. But they also spend tax money on government service to its people. Even when they have to borrow billions of dollars to do it.

Democrats believe the people they serve are worth government support. It's time Republican elected officials begin to do the same.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time to call a Constitutional Convention

Gov. Bill Ritter let his old prosecutor's guard down by calling for the early release of some convicts and shortened paroles for others to help balance the state's budget.

I didn't think he had it in him, but it seems that governing for all the people finally took precedence in a politician's set of values rather than old, staid biases.

Gov. Bill Ritter, like President Barack Obama, has proven himself an agent of change.

Now, he should call the General Assembly into special session to approve the fee hikes he has proposed to improve gun control in Colorado, and have the legislature call a Constitutional Convention so the state can offer voters a permanent fix to its budget mess while the cost cuts are still fresh and stinging, and more than Band-aids are top of peoples' minds.

At a convention, conservatives will finally have to face the issue that state government costs big money, and that taxpayers who are privileged enough to live and grow old in this state, ought to be responsible for the costs of running a top-notch government operation.

The governor's criminal cutbacks will save the state just $19 million this fiscal year, but they had to be one of the more bitter pills Ritter was forced to swallow, given his background as former Denver district attorney. He said during his press conference that he didn't like having to make some of the cuts, but that he had no choice.

Neither do Colorado voters.

They must soon vote to approve a modern method of financing state government at a level everyone in the state can afford. And yet at a level that will ensure Colorado's national leadership toward energy independence, superior health and prosperity for all its citizens, and a style of living to match the natural beauty that surrounds us.

It's time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

South Colo. schools first piece of recovery pie

San Luis Valley schools are to get the first $87 million from a state/federal capital construction program that could help put Southern Colorado small businesses to work.

No one has said anything yet, but it's no coincidence that the governor's "economic recovery team" kicked off a statewide tour in Trinidad, San Luis, Walsenburg and Pueblo to promote small-business and minority-business involvement in contracts that are being cut with stimulus funds coming from the Obama administration.

"Leveraging the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds is one way to help Colorado emerge from this economic downturn faster and stronger," Gov. Bill Ritter said in a statement announcing the tour, led earlier this week by Maranda Pleau, the governor's director of Minority and Small Business Outreach for the state's recovery team.

On Thursday, two days after Pleau first met with small business people on the tour, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy announced the $87 million in financing for school construction between the towns of Hooper and Mosca in Alamosa County, in Alamosa itself, and outside Monte Vista in Rio Grande County.

Pleau answered her own phone when I called her Friday morning shortly before a scheduled staff meeting, but she begged off talking to me about the relationship between the tour and the school-construction funding, saying she had the staff meeting to go to, but also that whatever she had to say had to be cleared through her communications director.

As I said, I have not talked with the outreach director yet, but she said she would be happy to share her thoughts on the subject. I sent her an e-mail asking what she is telling small business owners in the region where the funds are being spent, especially since it's known that few minority-owned businesses have in the past enjoyed participation in large state contracts for capital construction, road building and the like.

Pleau's appointment, in some ways, was a response to complaints from some leaders of the minority business community in metro Denver that minority-owned businesses weren't getting many state contracts, or even encouragement, after two years of Gov. Ritter's adminstration.

Specifically, the Colorado Black Roundtable met with Ritter in February to share concerns that the state was effectively "missing in action" for the first two years of Ritter government when it came to economic development of African-American owned businesses in Colorado, according to Herman Malone, a Republican who attended the session with the Democratic governor.

"He was telling us what he couldn't do," said Malone, who also is my co-author in writing the book "Lynched by Corporate America," which was published in 2006.

Andre Pettigrew, executive director of the city of Denver's Office of Economic Development, told me he hoped Pleau's appointment to the economic recovery team was partly a response to that meeting, although the appointment didn't come until mid-summer.

"I'd like to think the governor, Don Elliman [former state economic development director and now chief operating officer of the state] and that team," Pettigrew said, "that they went out and listened to businesses in our community, that they knew there was an opportunity and an expectation that those communities were going to contribute" to the state's economic recovery.

" ... Our success is going to be measured on whether or not these businesses, these contractors are growing, that they are a vital part of it," Pettigrew said.

Elliman also is chair of the Colorado Economic Recovery Accountability Board, which Ritter appointed to oversee the spending of federal stimulus money. Pettigrew is a member of the board, too, and he told me he has addressed the board on the issue of minority-business participation in spending the government funds.

Pleau's responsibility is to see that minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and other small businesses are included. Let's hope the small business owners she meets with on the recovery team's tour around the state listen up and make sure they get a piece of the action.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Built to Fall"

That headline should be the title of the the next business book I want to write, with one of those long, long subtitles:

"The story of how two books, William Greider's 'Secrets of the Temple, and Kurt Eichenwald's 'Conspiracy of Fools' foretold the U.S. and global financial crisis of 2009, and offered solutions long ago that could have saved us from the bother."

Eichenwald's book is about the fall of Enron, and I just finished reading in it about how a woman Enron executive's failure to read an e-mail, and one in-house attorney's failure to read Sherron Watkins' memos on mismanagement at upper levels of Enron may have helped bring the company down.

It's a fault I have identified as chronic among executives throughout America. People no longer read the materials they are provided that could make a critical difference to the profitability of their companies and the success of their own careers.

I have already started a series of blogs on this site that I call "Traitor to Myself," and this could stand for another chapter, for I am as guilty of the corporate fault as the two Enron execs, Jim Derrick and Cindy Olson, according to Eichenwald.

But so are Ben Bernanke and George W. Bush.

Both of the books have been sitting on my shelf for at least a year, and I have not brought myself to read them thoroughly until now. I'm sure Bernanke is aware of Greider's book on the history of the Federal Reserve following the 1981-82 recession. He probably read it long ago.

Since George W. openly boasted he did not read, I am just as sure he did not read Eichenwald's tome on Enron even if he did call the company's late chairman "Kenny Boy."

Greider's book, read now, tells more about what the Obama administration is doing to rectify the wrongheaded financial industry than anything else I have read during the past 18 months.

Reading the Enron book for background to a book I'm writing now about Tim Marquez, a Denver oil man, has been a lesson for me in the necessity of doing proper background reading before you launch the writing of anything, from a blog posting to a magazine story.

Yet, you learn, too, that it's never too late to do the right thing. Or start doing it.

Life is an education in everything we do, and our schooling lasts from the day we are born until the day we die. If only we could all appreciate that; and not assume what we don't know.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don't be idiots, America

Schwab on health-care reform: Don't be idiots, America. This is why you elected Barack Obama.

Don't let insurance companies, the special interests in health care, Republicans, who always defend the establishment because they always serve the monied interests of the nation, or whackos on the Internet (me excluded, of course) convince you that health-care reform is not in your best (self) interests.

I listened to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, last night on public television. He sounded like one of the nuts. He said a public-option health insurance plan was just a first step in the government plot to take over the entire health-care system in America. The first step toward a single-payer system.

That conclusion is not logical.

It is the Republican Party's national spin for senators and representatives to take back to the heartland to try to talk the U.S. population out of insisting that Congress change health care for the betterment of most people in America.

How can starting a cheaper-than-current-costs, government-run health-insurance plan, to compete against more expensive private insurers, be a step into the hospitals and doctors offices that deliver health care now -- unless you think the private health-care insurers are already there, dictating what health care to give at prices high enough to make the insurers, doctors and hospitals a profit?

Grassley and others say we already have a health-care system that works just fine. How crazy is that?

Even if you think the movie "Sicko" was all wrong, anybody with any common sense, from doctors and nurses, to hospital administrators and even insurance executives, have known and have said publicly for years that our health-care system is on its own way toward bankruptcy if something isn't changed soon. And perhaps the nation with it.

Yet Republicans are now telling the country: It works just fine.

How crazy is that?

Don't be fooled.

If you attend public meetings of Colorado senators and representatives this month you'll no doubt hear the shouts of anti-reform activists who will describe any shouts you hear from pro-reform activists as the shouts of the looney fringe.

Right now, a guy named Jeff Crank, who is described in today's Denver Post as the head of the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity (meaning the rich), is launching a 13-day bus tour around the state to repeat what he told the Post:

"We're headed right now to this thing being a fringe group of people demanding that there be some kind of 'public option' versus real America that is saying we're not going to throw out a health care system that delivers fine care but is expensive and maybe has to be refined."

Don't be fooled, real America. Those last nine words are Crank's attempt to sound not crazy. And in the earlier part of his quote, you see how he's trying to define other people who support reform as "a fringe group."

But who drives a bus around the state to harangue people about crazies in government besides a crazy, himself (although you wonder what's he's getting paid to make the pitch in this otherwise era of joblessness).

Don't be fooled, Colorado. Don't be fooled America. Health-care reform is one reason why a large majority of people in this country voted for the nation's first African-American president. We voted for change, and we could feel in our bones that Obama was the political athlete who could score for us.

Don't listen to shouts on either side of the argument.

Just quietly tell your congressmen and congresswomen to "stay the course," as George W. Bush's father used to say. But make sure they realize you mean the course toward reform.

Get health care reformed in this country by the end of the year, and let it start having its beneficial effect in 2010 and beyond, if we all live that long. Too many have passed without the benefit of the best care our country can offer its citizens.

You won't hear an anti-reformer shouting out about that outrage.

You can bet on that.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bye Energy, a leader of the "new energy economy"

Bye Energy, a new firm based in Greenwood Village, is the first client of a new cleantech incubator started last month, the CleanLaunch Technology Incubator, which promises to "stimulate the development and success of early-stage companies who will provide the next generation of clean, renewable, and efficient energy technologies" to the nation.

The quote is from the CleanLaunch website, which you can reach by clicking on its title in this text. At the site, you will find the rest of CleanLaunch's mission statement: "CleanLaunch helps companies assemble solid management teams, secure adequate funding, and accelerate the commercialization of sound product ideas into the market."

You are going to hear a lot about cleantech companies in the next few years if you haven't already heard the drumbeat coming from the Obama and Ritter administrations and Congress, which is working on a bill to fight global warming. For those readers who might not be familiar with Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado, that's who he is, our governor.

I'm going to be one of the writers in the media who is beating the clean-energy drum.

I'm writing a story for ColoradoBiz magazine's September issue on Gov. Ritter's record trying to create what he calls a "new energy economy," and the political fallout from that effort, especially in the Colorado business community, which was a critical supporter of the governor during his 2006 eelection.

Clean, "green" energy production is a key element of both Ritter's "new energy economy," and President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan for America. I've found out a lot about the industry while working the ColoradoBiz story, and hope to bring you several pieces here in the next few months that emanate from that reporting.

A front-page story by Peter Jones in the July 31 Centennial Citizen, is an example of the drumbeat, too. "Flying nose first into the emerging world of clean aviation technology can be a bumpy and unpredictable ride," Jones wrote about Bye Energy, which is developing a hybrid electric engine for small airplanes as well as a biofuel to run the engine on.

I talked to George Bye, founder of the company, on Thursday, while he was attending the annual air show for small-plane manufacturers and consumers in Oshkosh, Wisc., to ask him what he planned to get out of joining CleanLaunch. Essentially, he said: Marketing.

Bye said partners in the incubator will help Bye "get our message out better than we can do ourselves." The partners in CleanLaunch are Burt Automotive, the South Denver auto dealer, the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, Clifton Gunderson, an accounting firm, and Fairfield and Woods, a law firm.

Bye said his Bye Energy is an outgrowth of its two-year old parent company, Bye Aerospace, which he founded after developing the ATG Javelin, a private-size, twin-engine jet aircraft put together at Centennial Airport. Both Bye Energy and Bye Aerospace share about a dozen full-time employees whose work is augmented by part-time and contract workers, interns and volunteers who are interested in seeing Bye's groundbreaking, clean-aviation technology brought to market.

Bye said joining the incubator allows his people to connect with other "great folk with like minds" to further develop all kinds of new, clean, green energy.

I plan to write more about that kind of product development here as my blog develops into a source for news and comment on small business, minority business, women-in-business and other topics as well.

The Centennial Citizen, by the way, is one newspaper -- albeit a small, free one -- that seems to be making it in the harsh business environment all newspapers have been thrown into of late, as I wrote about in the post below this one.

I will also use this space to promote the reading of all newspapers, and intend to quote freely from them, with proper attribution, as a bow to paid journalism, which I think is an important protector of all Americans' First Amendment constitutional rights. I hope you'll continue to read them and me for the same reason.