Entrepreneurial Rock Stars Making Virtual Things Happen

men in suits with capes on

The Gutsy Guy Going After Google

How would you define “entrepreneur”? Try this: someone who sees an opportunity so clearly — something that everyone else has missed — that it becomes an obsession. Welcome to the world of Tomer Kagan, CEO and co-founder of Quixey, a tech startup that describes its business as “the search engine for apps.”  Sounds modest enough — until you realize what Kagan really has in mind, which is nothing less than going after the search engine behemoth, disrupting its business and breaking its near-monopolistic hold over Internet search. Yes, this guy wants to take Google away from you. Read the story here.

A Relectant Serial Entreprenuer

Wences Casares is understated. “I often feel that being an entrepreneur is a fancy way of saying you are a doer. … Entrepreneurs are really good at getting things done.” And the 39-year-old Argentine has “done” a lot. He’s sold multiple companies for a combined total of more than $1 billion. His first company became Argentina’s first Internet service provider. His second company, Patagon, was an online brokerage firm acquired by Banco Santander, a Spanish bank, for $750 million. He also created Wanako Games, sold in 2007, and Lemon Bank, sold in 2009. But he doesn’t much like all this talk of serial entrepreneurship. Read the story here.

Woman Creating the Tech Industry’s New Pipeline

There’s a fairy godmother up in Harlem named Kathryn Finney. These days, she’s wont to describe herself like this: “Big hair, even bigger ideas.” What’s the big idea? It’s to take on the dirty white secret of a tech industry headquartered in Silicon Valley. It might pretend to be colorblind, gender neutral and meritocratic, but really, it’s very male, very white, rather Asian and hardly at all black or female. Finney’s remedy is to create networks and pathways to guide outsiders, especially women, into tech. You want a pipeline of kickass black female techies? Finney began building one last year. Read the story here.

An African Tech Trailblazer

Addicted to your smartphone? Well, Rapelang Rabana thinks that could be a good thing. The 29-year-old South African entrepreneur is the founder of Rekindle Learning, a company looking to improve education in Africa by turning people’s compulsion to check their phones into an opportunity to learn. Rekindle’s app works on a small screen, both offline and online — to account for unreliable connectivity — and enables users to take short, personalized tests designed to maximize memorization. If Rabana has her way, Rekindle will soon empower the tech-savvy generation by leveraging their mobile addiction and teaching them the skills they’ll need to design their own groundbreaking solutions. Read the story here.

The Hot New Players in Silicon Valley

2 computer engineers in server room

There’s an exciting new set of players in Silicon Valley. Not a new kind of engineer. Not designers. Not Zuckerberg’s sister. It’s a new group of expats flocking in from their home country: the Australians.

These newcomers from the land Down Under, the world’s 12th largest economy, aren’t starting from scratch — they’re arriving with small companies in search of the next big thing.

And bigger is what they get here: bigger markets, bigger investments, more chances at big-time capital.

Australian tech founders are well-educated but under-supported — unlike the ecosystem in Silicon Valley. 

“No one wants to do anything small here,” said Joe Ward, former director of the Australian American Chamber of Commerce and CEO of now-Silicon-Valley-based xTV. “In Australia, it’s very much about: If you can make some money and get some earnings and be profitable, that’s fantastic. Here, it’s: Forget about profit — just grow the revenues.” 

OZY spoke with several Australian entrepreneurs of the roughly 8,000 now operating in the Valley — that number is according to Ward. Those entrepreneurs told us that, while there’s talent in their home country, Aussie investors are risk-averse and the startup ecosystem can’t deliver what’s in Silicon Valley.

James Cattermole, the 36-year-old founder and CEO of a tech startup called Hexigosays Australians are coming around to the fact that they can’t avoid competition by staying in Australia, so they figure they might as well move to the ultimate startup capital and really give it a shot.    

And give it a shot they have. Companies like Atlassian, OzForex and 99designs have reportedly secured huge Silicon Valley investments, bringing in more than $130 million and attracting big-name VC firms like Accel Partners. Valley investors like Bill Tai and Dave McClure have opened their wallets to a dozen Aussie startups through their advising in Blackbird Ventures. Australian entrepreneur Phil Bosua — who had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for his wireless lightbulb company LIFX — traded Melbourne for Silicon Valley in search of bigger opportunities. This month, he raised $12 million for LIFX, led by top-tier VC firm Sequoia Capital.

Headshot of Bill Tai

Bill Tai

Source Corbis

The Aussies have advantages: They already speak English, and their country has a strong engineering education system.

“In Australia, it’s a very bootstrap mentality: You generate revenue early, you have mentality to make money rather than … fund it through capital,” said Jindou Lee, who moved his company Happy Inspector from Adelaide to San Francisco.

The Aussies may be off to a good start, but they have yet to score a huge brand-name win.

Lee has raised over a million dollars (including funding from well-known Dave McClure of 500 Startups) and says there’s a convenient domino effect. Once American investors put money into Aussie startups, it de-risks them in the eyes of Australian investors. 

And the big advantage of the Valley? The network, of course. Australian Paul Naphtali’s fund Rampersand is trying to foster a greater community for mentorship among Aussie entrepreneurs across the world. He told OZY that Australian tech founders are well-educated but under-supported — unlike the ecosystem in Silicon Valley.  

The Aussies may be off to a good start, but they have yet to score a huge brand-name win. Infosys, the company led by Nandan Nilekani, put Indian companies on the map. Swedish-born Spotify successfully crossed the Atlantic to become a digital-service superstar in the Valley. And what’s a key challenge for the Aussies? The traditionally risk-averse mindset that governs Australian investing means we don’t see companies like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram starting there. Such companies began, after all, as startups that made no money for years.

But even if they’re not making a splash with their own companies, Australians have earned the top spots in iconic American tech companies: Andrew Wilson is CEO of Electronic Arts and Jacques Nasser was CEO of Ford Motor Co. And then there’s Rupert Murdoch, one of the world’s richest moguls, who started with a family-run newspaper in Australia before launching his decades-long conquest of the American and British media landscape. Which all explains why today, Australians are among the wealthiest in the world.

But here’s one key fact: Australia survived the 2008 financial crisis better than most of its peer countries. The nation’s GDP growth has been positive throughout the last decade, thanks in no small part to close trading relationships with China. And America’s suffering has been Australia’s gain, making it easier for folks like xTV’s Ward to move to the U.S. You might not think Silicon Valley is affordable — but Ward told us it was cheaper and easier to move in 2009 than when he first considered it during the 2000s dot-com bubble.

Headshot of Paul Naphtali

Paul Naphtali

The truth, though, is probably that American consumers are among the biggest draw. That’s part of what attracted Lee’s Happy Inspector and Anthony Goldbloom’s Kaggle to California.

“I started spending a lot of time in the U.S. and ultimately ended up raising quite a lot of venture capital from American investors,” Goldbloom said — and the rest was history.

Call them the Aussie mafia, sure, but remember that this is all just the overture. As with any hot new group making it big in the Valley, we’re just seeing the seeds. The big booming growth? Look out for it over the next year, as established Australian companies could start buying up Silicon Valley’s hottest homegrown startups. That’s when Down Under would really take center stage.

Ireland’s School Segregation

African boy praying towards camera

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education threw out “separate but equal,” many of America’s schools are de facto segregated. Maybe it’s small consolation, but Americans aren’t the only ones whose national aspirations outstrip our political will. 

In Northern Ireland, torn for centuries over Protestant-Catholic strife, just 7 percent of students attend integrated schools, according to its Department of Education. That means 93 percent of students go either to state schools, where the vast majority of students are Protestant, or to schools maintained by the Catholic Church. School segregation is just one facet of sectarian separation, but it has lifelong effects — intermarriage rates are low — and, integrationists believe, it damages the prospects for long-term peace. 

But attitudes have changed since the Troubles, roughly three decades of intense conflict, ended 25 years ago. A 1989 Education Reform Order charged the Department of Education with fostering integrated schooling, and despite little progress, a poll last year found that two-thirds of Northern Irish wanted more government action toward school integration. Then again, the poll was sponsored by the Integrated Education Fund that — you guessed it! — champions integrated education.

…If we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division.

— President Obama, speaking in Belfast in 2013

Everywhere, schooling, religion and politics are combustible when combined, and each explosion has its own particular alchemy. In the United States, bussing became a focus of anti-desegregation efforts. In Ireland, one of the difficulties of school integration was that it seemed to require the building of wholly new schools: existing schools sometimes resisted becoming integrated ones. Building new schools proved expensive, though, and although the education department eventually allowed state financing for new schools, the 2008 credit crunch made getting financing difficult. 

Today, a third of Northern Ireland’s integrated schools came into being through the transformation of existing schools. But the integration movement still depends on grants. Might the state loosen its purse-strings where integration is concerned? In 2012, the education minister was accused of discriminating against integrated schools when his department rejected a proposal by one to expand, as well as its request for the funding to do so. A May 2014 ruling by the High Court slapped the Department of Education on the wrist, finding that it must do more to “encourage and facilitate integrated education”— including, when necessary, going above and beyond to promote it. 

Even the American president has weighed in. While speaking in Belfast last year, President Obama argued that mixing was essential to peace. “If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division.” His remarks kicked up a fuss among some people back in the States, who perceived the remarks as anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-religion. “Simply insane,” responded William Donohue, the Catholic League president who often criticizes Obama. “Never did Obama say he wants ‘an end to Catholic education.’ Indeed, he never said anything critical about the nature of Catholic schools. It makes me wonder: Have any of his critics bothered to actually read his speech?”

All of which just points up how hard these issues can be everywhere. 

The Golden Age of Trashy TV Dating

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It’s a Monday, which means if you are like me and almost 7 million other Americans, tonight you’re tuning in to watch Andi Dorfman — aka The Bachelorette, a 27-year-old Atlanta assistant district attorney — publicly date 25 (well, by now she’s down to 5) super hunky eligible men. She will do so in glorious pageant style: wearing studded cocktail gowns and giving Barbie-hands-esque waves to the men and the cameras, all while discussing her need for a gentleman who will treat her right, someone like Rhett Butler (before he slaps Scarlett). And I will sigh when I watch — not in sadness at our strange reality-TV world, no, but because I can’t figure out when reality TV decided to get so damn classy.

I miss dating shows that called it like it was. Because if The Bachelorette is the e-Harmony of TV dating — the awkwardness all dressed up in a marriage-friendly tuxedo — well, it just makes me hanker for the Tinder of entertainment dating: something openly superficial. Think about it: Who has better tales at Sunday brunch? Your eHarmony-clambering friends or your Tinder-surfer buddies?

We might as well return to dating shows that actually mimicked teen and 20-something life.

If we’re choosing among what we know are sculpted versions of reality, then we might as well return to the kinds of dating shows that actually mimicked teen and 20-something life. Today they’re in short supply. Recall MTV’s glory days? We had Date My Mom, Room Raiders, Singled Out and Parental Control. And don’t forget Fox’s Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? or the CW’s Beauty and the Geek. That was living.

Or the greatest of all: Next, which should probably sue Tinder for stealing its swipe-right-or-left logic. On Next, five potential dates got off a bus in sequence, while the dater calling the shots yelled “NEXT,” if s/he was unhappy with their appearance. The contestants won as much $$ as the dates lasted in minutes. But if the contestant didn’t get NEXT’ed, they had a choice: pick between the money — usually between $30 and $60 — and a second date. Oh, the camp. The sly show-makers lampooned the genre even as they built it: turning the confessional camera into an absurd confessional bus, turning the emotional montage into a hilarious and awkward collage sequence and, most of all, squeezing five dates into a fifteen-minute circus on your afternoon cable channel. 

Call the whole show a lesson for America’s youth: learn to say what you want, loudly and proudly. So gorge yourself on one of the best episodes of Next that the Internet has seen fit to preserve, and praise the lawd for the 2000s hairstyles and pickup lines.

The Record of the Month Club’s Revival

People listening to records

These days, nights out often involve pulsing house parties or dance venues. But if you long for more sophisticated evenings with friends, cocktails and great tunes, you’re in luck.

Vinyl Me, Please, a Chicago-based record club, aims to deliver a unique listening experience by sending members a new vinyl album every month, along with a cocktail recipe to go with the music.

Founders Tyler Barstow and Matt Fiedler are serious music-lovers who launched the club out of a mix of nostalgia for the days before Spotify and the frustration that comes with the often-overwhelming variety of music on offer today. Audiophiles have also long preferred the rich sound of vinyl records.

“Record stores were stressful because there’s so much to choose from and then we remembered the old school record clubs our dads used to be a part of.” So they created their own 21st century version, which they’ve humbly dubbed: “The best damn record club out there.”

Since launching in January 2013, the Vinyl Me, Please family has grown to more than 1,500 members in more than 15 countries, with most located in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K.

The monthly subscription costs $27 (or $44 for those outside the U.S.). Once every 30 days, members get a record delivered straight to their front door. The monthly picks are chosen by a team of expert music curators working closely with artists and labels to select albums that Fiedler describes as “too good to ignore” — from old gems to new releases. Each package includes a piece of artwork inspired by the album by artists like Alexandra Nelson and Van Holmgren.

Subscribers also receive an existing cocktail recipe chosen to compliment the record’s mood by partner company Vinyl+Cocktails. So you can groove to the post-rock tracks of Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place while enjoying an elderflower “Steam Roller.” Or let a whiskey-based “Ortensia” mellow your senses as you listen to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

Maybe a few caveats are in order. While it sounds charming, drinking designer cocktails, or any kind of alcoholic beverage, isn’t a necessary part of listening to great music. And watch your wallet! It’s not the $27 a month, but the danger of the audiophile bug. There’s practically no limit on how much you can spend on great turntables and system enhancements to keep tweaking out a better sound.

In addition to a monthly record and cocktail recipe, members also have access to “The Standard,” a weekly music digest highlighting up-and-coming artists and noteworthy music products.

“The power of an album extends way beyond the individual tracks and, in some ways, listening to a record becomes a process of self-discovery,” explains Fiedler. “As our world becomes more digitized, those experiences are fewer and farther between.”

Club members seem to agree. “It’s fantastic: They keep it fresh every month and we have been exposed to a lot of great new music of all genres,” says subscriber Doug Carter, adding “The only thing I would want is access to past-month records.”

Barstow and Fiedler say they’ve taken the idea onboard and will soon be launching a store where members can order additional albums with their monthly package.

It may not be an easily scalable model, but mixing cool music and cooler booze might be the recipe for soothing many a nostalgia-prone heart.

Salvadorian Puppet Master

Woman holding Red flag for

The most powerful man in El Salvador is a shadow.

“Comandante Ramiro” was nowhere in the official photos of the June 1 inauguration of El Salvador’s new president, nor did his name appear in any news reports.

“Ramiro” is the nom de guerre of José Luis Merino, a Marxist guerrilla commander turned political mandarin and underworld fixer with the ear of the president and unaccountable control over hundreds of millions of Venezuelan petro-dollars.

Diplomats describe Merino as a ‘shadowy [Marxist] hardliner strongman,’ while political rivals say he’s a ‘gangster.’

That combination makes him kingmaker in San Salvador, and that’s got many people worried. Merino has a web of murky contacts throughout the region, making him the link between corrupt government officials and the Latin American underworld, with the potential to undermine the democratic process in a Central American country with a troubled past.

“It’s one more element that is able to carry out criminal activities under state sponsorship or state control, and I find that very worrisome,” said Douglas Farah, a writer and security analyst who testified on Merino’s activities to a U.S. House Foreign Affairs Sub-committee on Terrorism in February this year.

Short, pudgy and casually dressed in short-sleeved shirts, Merino is an unassuming sight. His party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), insists he’s also an unassuming person, who reactionary forces have falsely made into a communist bogeyman.

Headshot of Jose Merino

El Salvador Civil War

The U.S. Embassy doesn’t agree. Diplomats describe him as a “shadowy [Marxist] hardliner strongman,” while political rivals say he’s a “gangster.”

Merino’s connections to the Venezuelan government — and the access to Venezuela petro-dollars it provides — are the source of much of his power.

He controls a joint FMLN-Venezuelan venture called ALBA Petróleos, which sells Venezuelan oil at discount prices. ALBA’s finances are shrouded in secrecy but the company has control over hundreds of millions of dollars in social and business investments.

He’s probably going to be the most powerful person in the government … because of the economic clout he wields.

– Douglas Farah

In his role as “advisor” to ALBA, Merino has faced accusations of money laundering, corruption and using company profits to buy votes and influence.

“He’s probably going to be the most powerful person in the government, maybe even more than [President] Sánchez Cerén, because of the economic clout he wields,” said Farah.

Will Merino wield this influence to guide the country down the moderate, pluralistic path described in the new president’s election rhetoric? Or use it to secure long-term political and economic power for himself and his allies?

His past might yield clues.

Born into poverty in the town of Santa Tecla in 1953, Merino’s mother was 15, his father an itinerant farm worker. Working as a mechanics assistant, Merino, then 15, joined the Marxist May 9th Revolutionary Party, setting him on a path to lead the armed wing of the Communist Party during El Salvador’s 13-year civil war, which ended in 1992.

Schooled in Soviet Russia and trained in guerrilla warfare in Cuba and Vietnam, Merino became a skilled rebel commander, leading hundreds of rural fighters and an urban guerrilla network that carried out a series of infamous kidnappings and spectacular bomb attacks. Salvadoran intelligence documents finger Merino as the leader, as do militants.

Merino featured prominently in 10 years of communications recovered by the Colombian government in 2008 from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), where he’s a key connection helping to build a network of regional political support and using his web of contacts for million dollar money-laundering deals and to source sopisticated weaponry. 

Democracy, Merino ominously told the news site El Faro in 2005, was but a stepping stone to socialism. The FMLN’s moderate electoral platform — leading to the 2009 election of Sánchez Cerén’s predecessor, the centist Mauricio Funes — was a strategic move.

…Investigations suggest Merino still works closely with the FARC and maintains his network of underworld contacts.

“For us, this program is tactical, the grand wars are made up of a succession of battles, winning the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

Sánchez Cerén and Merino have played down their hardline credentials before and after the election, which the FMLN won by just 0.2 percent of the vote. The president has appointed moderates to the government and reached out to the opposition and the private sector.

“It’s a very pragmatic approach given the narrowness of the electoral margin,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Arnson believes the new government will be wary of maintaining underworld contacts such as their relationship with the FARC. “The Salvadoran government knows it has a lot to lose in running afoul of the U.S. government on this issue,” she said.

Others are not so optimistic. Farah’s investigations suggest Merino still works closely with the FARC and maintains his network of underworld contacts. He also believes that Merino’s wooing of the private sector is part of a plan to neutralize opposition with financial incentives from ALBA funds.

The model, Farah believes, is a local variant on the “21st-century socialism” of Venezuela and Nicaragua, where social reforms and poverty reduction accompanied accusations of creeping authoritarianism, rampant corruption and criminal collusion.

As for democracy? It’s just a path to power.

Track Your Farts With an App

illustration of man letting out gas

Back in 2008, during the early days of the Android mobile operating system, there were only a few hundred apps to choose from in Google’s marketplace. A ton of those apps were variations of fart sound effect generators. Which meant, inevitably, a sh*t ton (pun intended) of fart apps proliferating in both the Android and iOS marketplaces.

But out of the storm came one brave developer, who chose to add purpose to digital pooting: with the Fart Code app.

We knew that wearables could be way more fun.

Fart Code, it turns out, is more of an analyzer than a toy. It uses your iPhone’s camera to scan the barcodes of food products.  It then checks the ingredients and tells the user what kind of fart it will likely produce, and what’s in the food that causes it. Types of farts are ranked on a scale from “Stinky” to “Toxic,” and the ingredients are explained.

We scanned a bottle of hickory-flavored barbecue sauce and were surprised to get a “Gross” fart rating, with the culprit ingredient being fructose.

If that’s not enough to for you, Fart Code also mimics the sound of the fart, and vibrates to match the effect said fart would have on your digestive system. For example, we scanned a bottle of hickory-flavored barbecue sauce and were surprised to get a “Gross” fart rating, with the culprit ingredient being fructose. All this time, we were blaming the pounds of grilled meat.

 

And yeah, maybe the thing is meant for “education,” as the grownups will tell you: so says Margaret Johnson, executive creative director and partner at the GS&P advertising group. “It’s a fun and engaging way to get kids to think about what they are putting in their bodies,” Johnson said in a press release. But we adults are having fun with it, too.

There isn’t a version of Fart Code for Android yet — ironic, given their history of fart apps — so only iOS users will be able to scan and predict what will come out of their can. If you have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, it’s a freebie. Consider it a better time investment than Yo.

The Economies You Didn’t Know About

Money in box with peanuts

New Generation of “Shadow Banks”

The real reason the subprime crisis was so big and so bad has to do with a larger, wilder group of entities collectively (and pejoratively) known as “shadow banks” — companies that offer bank-like functions, such as loaning money, but aren’t subject to standard regulations regarding risk, leverage and depositor insurance. The system collapsed thanks to shady, inscrutable players and opaque processes. Meet Shadow Banking 2.0: Since the crisis, a new (and arguably much more respectable) class of shadow banks has grown up — in both senses of the term. A range of entities, run by smart veterans from traditional banks who favor a downright conservative approach, are providing the financial services the banks are no longer able to offer. But there are still unknown risks.
Read the story here.

The Street-Market Evangelist

Slum, squatter, informal economy: For many, these words summon images of squalid cityscapes, grinding poverty and criminal activity. When journalist Robert Neuwirth learned that the world’s squatter population comprised more than one in 10 of the total global population, he saw a story that needed to be told. Immersing himself in research convinced Neuwirth that the dominant narratives about slums and street markets need changing. “People get pinned with labels based on their material conditions, rather than who they are and what they’re trying to do,” he says. He developed a deep respect for the ingenuity and sheer pluck he’s encountered in the world’s slums and street markets, and he paints a decidedly different portrait of the workers he has met and the system in which they operate.
Read the story here.

 

The Crime-Fighting Philosopher

Like a modern Sherlock Holmes, Eduardo Salcedo uses unconventional techniques to unravel the mysteries of corruption, kidnapping and drug trafficking in Colombia. His methods — a mix of neuroscience, artificial intelligence and social network analysis — may be controversial, but they are trusted by institutions like Transparency International, Global Integrity and Colombia’s government. Salcedo has connected the dots between hundreds of apparently unrelated incidents and come up with an extensive list of suspected dirty politicians and narco-paramilitary members, and uncovered rampant corruption at even the highest levels in Colombia’s intelligence agency. And while many applaud Salcedo’s efforts, not everyone is a fan of his extravagant methods.
Read the story here.

Less Government, Less Leverage Over the Global Economy

Illustration of currencies and hands

What’s the surprising result of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s upset loss in the Virginia primary election? Aerospace giant Boeing Co. saw its stock price tumble sharply

The connection: Cantor has been one of the GOP’s staunchest supporters of a relatively unknown government agency, the Export-Import Bank, that’s suddenly become a political hot potato. And who is the bank’s main beneficiary? None other than Boeing, which estimates the government-run creditor’s loans will help it sell roughly $10 billion worth of airplanes and other gear to foreign countries and companies in 2014.

More and more conservatives in Congress say the government shouldn’t play that role, to the dismay of their more business-friendly Republican brethren and the big business lobby, which argues that the agency plays a critical role in helping U.S. companies that is not easily replicated by the private sector, and costs taxpayers nothing.

Conservatives aren’t stopping there.

planes on field outdoor during the day

Export-Import Bank Holds 2014 Annual Conference

They’ve also got their knives out for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a government financier for U.S. private investment in the developing world, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the body that has played global fireman to shore up the world’s economic stability since World War II.

At the root of the assault is a combination of small-government ideology and an innate distrust for multinational engagement. It’s a mindset that is “part of this trend towards withdrawal to fortress America,” Sen. John McCain told OZY. The Arizona Republican has been one of the loudest voices within his party for more international involvement.

The worry is that conservatives may wipe out some of the U.S. government’s most important tools for promoting American companies and economic priorities around the world, but not gain anything.

Some critics of the organizations say it’s worth it. The Ex-Im Bank, as it is known, and OPIC have been labeled “crony capitalism” or “corporate welfare” by anti-spending groups Club for Growth and Heritage Action. They object to using taxpayer money (even though it’s ultimately paid back to the Treasury) to finance favorable loan rates for foreign buyers of American goods, or to fund insurance or financing for private U.S. companies to invest in emerging markets. As Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Cantor’s replacement as House majority leader, told Fox News earlier this week, “It’s something that the private sector can be able to do.”

It hardly helps that four Ex-Im employees are now being investigated for corruption and kickbacks.

The IMF, meanwhile, has spent too much money bailing out profligate European governments during the Eurozone crisis earlier this decade, the thinking goes. And there are concerns that new IMF governing reforms give too much influence to countries like Russia and China, which have different views on the global financial system. 

An outright elimination [of the Export-Import Bank] leaves U.S. jobs in peril.

But is the answer to simply demolish mechanisms like Ex-Im and OPIC and block reforms to the IMF indefinitely — which is what a block of conservatives in Congress are pursuing?

Plenty of politicians, Republican and Democrat, say that goes too far. 

“An outright elimination [of the Export-Import Bank] leaves U.S. jobs in peril,” warned Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Republican from Illinois, earlier this week. Reform of the bank is a better approach, Hultgren suggested. “I’m committed to working together to put a viable alternative forward.”

Indeed, while boosters point out that Boeing, which earned $87 billion in revenue last year, may have been the top recipient of Ex-Im aid by value, nearly 90 percent of loan transactions (and others, like loan guarantees and insurance) went to small businesses in 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Supporters also warn that giving programs like Ex-Im and OPIC the boot would amount to “unilateral disarmament” in the trade sector, as Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman put it Wednesday, since major exporters like Germany and China have even bigger government agencies to help sell their goods abroad.

“Unilateral disarmament” could also be an apt description for what might happen to U.S. influence at the IMF if Congress fails to act this year, since the U.S. could potentially lose its status as the only country with veto power over IMF decisions.  

The Obama administration has tried and failed several times to win Congressional approval for IMF reforms, arguing, most recently, that it was necessary as the IMF helped bolster Ukraine, which has secured a $7 billion bailout from the fund. U.S. allies like Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan all rely on IMF support to shore up shaky economies.  

The Export-Import Bank has become so politically toxic that even McCain and other Republican internationalists are wary of coming out in support.

So it’s hard to argue that the IMF doesn’t advance U.S. interests. Yet a number of Republicans are wary of signing off on the governing changes (which wouldn’t affect U.S. veto power) and the level of risk involved in investing U.S. tax dollars in the fund.

Other countries are losing patience. After their spring meeting in Washington in April, world powers gave the United States a year-end ultimatum and threatened to find ways to move ahead without the Americans if it isn’t met. That could risk the United States’ singular position in the organization; it’s already hurting its standing and influence in global economic circles.

The U.S. faces even earlier deadlines for the Ex-Im bank and OPIC, whose authorities expire on September 30. Congress is now debating legislation to reauthorize both bodies, and OPIC looks like it may squeak through. The Export-Import Bank, however, has become so politically toxic that even McCain and other Republican internationalists in the Senate like Bob Corker of Tennessee are wary of coming out in support.

So yes, Republicans may have plenty of reason to criticize the White House’s handling of the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. But to suggest Obama is the only reason U.S. influence in the world is on the wane … well, they may want to have a look in the mirro