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The Biz Roundup January 21

The people of the United States get their government back.

Obama signed executive orders and directives to tighten rules on lobbyists, freeze the pay of senior White House staffers, expand release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act and find new ways to tap into the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans.

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” Obama told senior staff members. The orders “will not by themselves make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be,” he said. “And they do not go as far as we need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington. But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country.”

(“Obama’s Agenda: the Middle East, Economy and Ethics,” Washington Post, January 21) I’ve been reasonably aware of my surroundings for six presidential transitions now and I’ve never seen anyone get down to business so effectively. This is a business blog, not a political or ideological one. I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative, neither Democrat nor Republican. But I can state with the firmest conviction that the best news for American business — from the billion-dollar behemoths to the solopreneur sitting in the dining room at a computer making dreams into reality — is the return of democracy and liberty to our executive and legislative governments. It’s not small government, but transparent and accountable government that truly safeguards the freedoms that make business and individual success possible. Finally, the Obama administration reminds every American entrepreneur, manager, worker, and citizen, that America is about courage, fortitude, and strength, not the blind, faceless, nameless fear that crippled Bush, Cheney, and their senior staff over the last eight years and distorted every mad decision they made.

Maybe we should’ve kept the job search open a bit longer.

When President-elect Barack Obama tapped Maine businesswoman Karen Gordon Mills to lead the Small Business Administration, he said she would give America’s small businesses “a partner in Washington.” But the performance of Solera Capital, a private-equity firm where Mills, 55, was managing director from 2000 to 2007, might make some wonder if she’s the partner they need. . . .

A spokeswoman for Obama’s transition team said Mills, currently president of MMP Group, another private equity firm, would not respond to questions until her confirmation hearing, for which no date has been set. The transition team also declined to comment, either about Mills’ work with Solera or more generally about her qualifications to lead the SBA. . . .

The job Mills is slated to take on, leading the SBA, may never have held more importance than it does today. Obama has said that the agency, which makes loans directly to businesses and acts as a guarantor on bank loans, must play a central role in engineering an economic turnaround. The nation’s 26 million small businesses are critical engines of job growth.

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the top Republican on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, has asked Obama to re-elevate the SBA to cabinet status, which it held during the Clinton administration.

(“Obama’s SBA Pick Helped Run Private Equity Fund With Some Less-Than-Stellar Results,” Pro Publica, January 15) I don’t think this investigative piece by Pro Publica is out of line. I agree with Senator Snow that the position is vitally important; in fact, I’d elevate it to one of the four or five most important appointments in this administration. What worries me — and should worry small business owners — is her lack of effective managerial experience. What we need now, more than ever, are senior staff that can light a fire under the poky bureaucracies of the federal government. At the same time, Mills is a woman of some pretty brilliant ideas. But the distance between ideas and execution is a mightly long distance to travel . . .

Is the new motto, “Intel Outside”?

Amid speculation it may be close to reporting its first quarterly loss in 22 years, Santa Clara computer chip maker Intel Wednesday said it will lay off at least 5,000 employees — including an undetermined number in the Bay Area — and shut five manufacturing plants.

(“Intel to lay off 5,000, close five plants,” San Jose Mercury News, January 21) Intel is in much, much better shape than any of its rivals. In fact, it’s in great shape to survive the recession. Of course, if it doesn’t, that means none of its competitors will either. Guess we’re all going to have to start playing Gears of War on an abacus.

What happens when the news goes out of business, part oh-I-forget-which-part-number-we’re-on.

“We are trying to be the first daily newspaper comprised entirely of blogs and other user-generated content,” he said. “There were so many techniques that I’ve seen working online that maybe I could apply to the print industry.”

As pay newspapers lose readers to the Internet, where they can read the same articles without charge, many free papers have held their own.

“The free newspaper business model is still very workable,” said David Cohen, a founder of Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, a group of free weeklies south of San Francisco that was sold to Knight Ridder in 2005 and is now owned by MediaNews. “There’s a huge readership that wants the local news, and local businesses tend to increase their advertising in bad times because they have to capture people’s attention.”

(“Publisher Rethinks the Daily: It’s Free and Printed and Has Blogs All Over,” New York Times, January 21) Has anyone told you guys yet that free newspapers are, well, kind of kooky? Or that blog writers are, well, just a tad untruthful? Okay, I admit it, once every two or three weeks, the LA Weekly scores a magnificent grand slam home run this-is-as-good-as-journalism gets story. Like their recent work on how our fearless LA mayor pretty much spends his day doing everything but his work. Good stuff. But, geez, man, they slime you all the rest of the time.`Now we can have free blog newspapers and you can have your libel, slander, gossip, scandal, bong news, prostitute ads, leather sex club updates, and four-letter free-for-alls as you sip your five dollar latte-a-licious at Starbucks! Makes great family reading with your kids! You betcha, beats Marmaduke any day.

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