Archive for February, 2010

Why Healthcare Reform Failed

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Health Care Reform, What About Us?I’ve been wanting to write this post for weeks, but have had little time on my hands. I’ve watched the so-called experts and talking heads spew opinions on why healthcare reform failed, and truthfully, I think most of them have missed the boat.

And I was incredibly shocked to see President Obama unveil his new plan for health care this week just days before the “bipartisan health care summit”. We’ll come back to this.

Failure of a Plan is often a Failure to Plan
It’s easy to look at what transpired the last few months and point to them as reasons why healthcare reform failed. Waning public support. The backroom deals. Artificial time lines. The lack of certain logical solutions in the plan such as tort reform or to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines. The size of the plan. And general mistrust of the process.

But as with most failed plans, it’s best to look at the beginning of the process, not the middle or the end.

Let’s take a college student preparing for a final exam as an example. The day before her test her car breaks down and she’s unable to spend the necessary time to cram for the test. She fails. Did she fail because her car broke down? Probably not. She failed because of the number of times she skipped class and never completed her homework along the way. She didn’t have a plan from the beginning of the class as how to succeed at the end of the class.

I think that President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have much in common with the student who flunked because she failed to execute a well designed plan.

Where President Obama Failed
I have spent a significant amount of time studying leadership and management. I have come to understand that leaders and managers require different skill sets to be successful. And that a president of a company, or a country, needs to have strong leadership and management skills to be successful.

There’s a common scenario described in many of the books about successfully managing people. Here’s the basic example:

A bad sales manager meets with his sales staff and tells them he wants them to increase their sales by 10% and walks out of the room.

A good sales managers meets individually with her sales people and asks them what their goals are for increasing their sales, how they plan to get there, and what assistance she can be along the way.

In the first scenario the staff feels disconnected with the goal. It seems arbitrary. There’s no “buy in” of the goal. There is no clear path to achieve the goal. And no support system in place for success.

In the second scenario the staff feels like they’re able to set their own goals and help to develop the process. They “buy in” to the goals because they’re the ones who set the goals. They are now responsible for meeting these goals. And what good managers often find out is that good employees will often set their goals higher than what the manager would have set them to be in the first place.

So what did the president do? He walked into a room and said “I want healthcare reform on my desk by this date” and he walked out. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were now responsible for getting a bill on the president’s desk. But Congress had no “buy in” to the process. And certainly no clear direction as how to succeed.

What should the president have done? What would a good manager do? I can tell you what the good sales manager would have done. She would have pulled in several members of Congress, from the Senate and the House, and leaders from both parties, sat them all around a table, and said: “We need to fix health care. We need to control costs. We need to find a way to cover the people who cannot buy coverage — either because they can’t afford it, or have a pre-existing condition. And we need to maintain the high-quality of care we enjoy today. How do we accomplish this?” She would ask this group to provide an outline of a plan by a certain date, and ask THEM to set a date for when THEY would get a bill on her desk.

You now have “buy in” from both parties to the process. They have set their own goals and time lines. And now feel responsibility for meeting these goals.

Universal CareWhere Congress Failed
I have always thought of myself as a problem solver. I look at a problem with an open mind. Identify the problem. Set a goal. Accumulate information. Develop different scenarios. And then choose a path that solves the problem and accomplishes the goal.

Does anybody believe that this is how Congress, or more specifically Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, set out to fix health care?

No. They had a pre-determined outcome in mind — a large government solution. And from there they worked backwards to explain how their “solution” would cure the problems we face with health care. (Here’s a link to a previous post as to why the plan in Congress would lead to a single payer, government run system.)

My Advice to the President
I have been in favor of this “bipartisan health care summit”. Get the leaders from both parties, and from both the House and the Senate together. Sit them around a big table. President Obama needs to walk into the room with a large Hefty bag filled with shredded paper, throw it on the table, and say: “We’re starting over. We need to fix health care. We need to control costs. We need to find a way to cover the people who cannot buy coverage — either because they can’t afford it, or have a pre-existing condition. And we need to maintain the high-quality of care we enjoy today. How do we accomplish this?”

The Last Word
Well this would have been my advice. But now the president has unveiled his “new” health care plan just days before the summit. Republicans who had approached the summit with skepticism were right. It was all a ploy.

A Royal Mistake

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Kansas City RoyalsIs that an oxymoron? A Royal Mistake?

Spring training has begun and I’m looking for reasons to be optimistic about the boys in blue. And it’s tough. Not to beat on a dead horse, but the Royals appear to jump from plan to plan every off-season. What was their plan last year? Improve their offense. Didn’t work so well. So what’s their plan this year? Improve their defense.

Which then leaves me baffled as to why Mark Teahen is now with the Chicago White Sox and Jose Guillen is still a Royal.

Jose Guillen is scheduled to make $12 million this year. He’s a liability as an outfielder and has now been relegated to DH. So you’d expect that he must be putting up some strong offensive numbers. Not so. Over the last two years he’s hitting .257 with 29 HRs. His SLG and OPS have been on a steady decline these last three years. (View Guillen’s stats here.)

Mark Teahen is scheduled to make about $3.5 million this year. While struggling at times in the outfield, Teahen showed his fine glove last year while getting extended playing time at third base as the replacement for the injured Alex Gordon. And compare his offensive numbers to Guillen over the last two years — Teahen hit .262 with 27 HRs (though he did have more at bats than Guillen). And his OBP, SLG and OPS are all similar to Guillen over the last three years. (View Teahen’s stats here.)

So let’s see, Teahen’s offensive numbers are very similar to Guillen, he’s significantly better defensively, has about one-fourth the salary, and is a positive presence in the locker room.

Can somebody explain this to me? Is it really a wonder that the Royals continue to struggle? The Royals can either have Jose Guillen on their team, or Mark Teahen and another $8.5 million to improve the club elsewhere.

Former Kansas City Royal Mark TeahenThe mistake with Mark Teahen was made a couple years ago when the Royals moved him to the outfield. Teahen is a good athlete, and the general thought was that he’d convert well to the outfield, while Alex Gordon was projected to be the future at third base. However, Teahen never quite conquered the outfield defensively (partly because the team kept moving him around) which caused him to struggle at the plate. And Gordon has been nothing more than a mediocre third baseman, both offensively and defensively. Gordon still has the potential to be better, but right now it’s still just potential.

I said it at the time — I would have preferred that they left Teahen at third, and put Gordon at first, where he could potentially be a gold glove first baseman. So today you’d be looking at the Royals with a better third basemen (Teahen over Gordon), much improved play at first base (Gordon over Butler), and a better bat at DH (Butler over Guillen). Improves the team significantly defensively without hurting the offense.

There’s also a trickle down effect with this lineup. Alberto Callaspo, one of our only offensive threats, appears to be getting squeezed out of playing time because Chris Getz is a better fielding second baseman than Callaspo. Remember the new plan is to improve the defense. But part of the reason that Callaspo’s defense is a concern is because of Butler’s limited range at first. With Gordon at first, you increase your range from first significantly, and can probably survive with Callaspo at second base. This team needs offense, and last year Callaspo was a doubles machine.

And you’d still have another $8.5 million to improve the club elsewhere.

Chiefs Draft and NFL Free Agency

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

NFL logoNFL free agency begins soon, and the draft is only a couple months away. A difficult time of year for us NFL junkies with little news to read.

Free Agency
With the expiration of the NFL’s labor agreement, free agency takes an interesting turn. Unless a deal is reached soon, which is not anticipated, this year will be an uncapped year. So you might expect a lot of money to get thrown around to free agents. But because of the expiration of the agreement, many players who would have become unrestricted free agents are now restricted free agents. So pickings will be slim. Add to that the uncertainty of the 2011 season and it’s likely now that many teams will refrain from spending much this off-season. There are a few marquee names out there who will sign quickly. But after that expect little action on the free agent market.

I found an interesting website this week: NFL Labor News. Lots of information focused on, well, NFL labor news. And if you’re looking for a site to track available free agents, try KFFL’s Free Agent Tracker.

Offensive Tackle Anthony Davis from RutgersChiefs First Round Draft Pick
Improving the Chiefs’ offensive line remains a priority this off-season. And I still think it’s likely that the Chiefs will take an offensive tackle with their first pick in the draft. Russell Okung from Oklahoma State has consistently been high on most draft boards, but appears to be slipping a bit as other players move up. One name to watch is Anthony Davis, an offensive tackle from Rutgers. Here’s how he’s described by ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who predicts that the Chiefs will pick him in the draft: “Davis has the physical talent to be a Pro Bowl player early in his career, but he’s still developing. Still, given a choice, the Chiefs can’t pass on his upside, which is as high as any player’s in the draft. A potential Walter Jones-like presence, if his development continues. The Chiefs also could move Branden Albert to the right side.”

Is Sherron Collins the Best Point Guard in KU History?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Kansas Jayhawk Sherron CollinsI’ve been watching KU basketball since 1986. I’ve watched a lot of great basketball, and a lot of great players come through Lawrence. The thought crossed my mind this weekend: Is Sherron Collins the best point guard to ever play at Kansas? Collins has everything you’d want in a point guard. He can shoot. He can drive. He can handle the ball. He can dish out assists. He can defend. And he’s clearly the Jayhawk’s leader on and off the court.

Going back to ’86, KU has had some fine point guards. But none were as complete a player as Collins. Aaron Miles, Russell Robinson and Jacque Vaughn had great assist numbers, but weren’t much of a threat to score. Adonis Jordan was a nice all around player, but I don’t remember him as the type of player who could create his own shot like Collins. We’ve had some point guards like Kevin Pritchard, Kirk Hinrich and Mario Chalmers who probably were more typical shooting guards but played the point at Kansas.

If there’s a valid critique in Collins’ game, it’s that he sometimes tries to do too much. He’s often had to put the team on his back and carry them to a victory. And since he’s asked more than most point guards to create his own shots, his turnover to assist ratio is probably not as good as you’d like it to be from your point guard.

So Sherron passes the first hurdle for me. He’s the best point guard to have played for the Jayhawks since 1986. But KU has a long tradition of basketball. So I started poking around through the history of Kansas hoops, and there are two names that rise to the top for point guards: Jo Jo White and Darnell Valentine.

Kansas Jayhawk Jo Jo WhiteJo Jo White played for Kansas from 1965-69. He averaged 15.3 points per game, and made 42% of his shots. White was a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Big Eight member. He also was named KU’s MVP for three straight seasons, and led KU in scoring in 1968.

Valentine played for Kansas from 1978-81. He averaged 15.4 points per game, and made 47.6% of his shots. Valentine left KU as the school’s leader in career steals and free throws. He was the first player to be named a four-time all-Big Eight selection, and also was a member of the 1980 Olympic team.

When I asked around from people who have followed the Hawks longer than myself, the general consensus was that Jo Jo White was the best, but that Sherron is  pushing for that top spot. Another national championship for Collins likely elevates him as the best point guard to ever play at Kansas.

Sports Notes — February 7, 2010

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Kansas City Chief Brian Waters Wins Man of the YearChiefs’ Waters Wins Award
Congratulations to Brian Waters, winner of this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Waters is a leader on and off the field. A very good player, and by all accounts, and even better person. Waters is the fifth Chief to win the award following linebacker Willie Lanier (1972), quarterback Len Dawson (1973), linebacker Derrick Thomas (1993) and guard Will Shields (2003). That’s more than any other team in the league. Here’s the story in the Star.

Super Bowl
I’m looking forward to today’s game more than any other in recent years. We’ll be watching Peyton Manning quarterback in his second Super Bowl. A win today and Manning enters the discussion as possibly the best quarterback to ever play the game. I’d already put him in the top five. But another win or two in a Super Bowl and he probably jumps to number one in my book.

And then there’s the Saints. What a great feelgood story. New Orleans suffered through so many years of really bad teams. I’m happy for the city. Drew Brees is the second best quarterback in the league right now behind Manning. And probably my favorite player who’s not a Chief. The Saints run an offense where they share the ball and make plays all over the field. New Orleans were number one in the league in total offense with more than 400 yards per game. And the Saints had seven players with at least 35 receptions.

You would expect a shootout between these two teams, but I really expect both defenses to make enough plays to keep this interesting. The offenses will keep this game entertaining. I’ve been on the Colts / Saints bandwagon for weeks. Nice to see that I can finally get one right.

Prediction: Colts 31, Saints 28

Collective Bargaining Agreement
The amount of posturing going on right now between the league and the player’s association is amazing. While this is a storyline that should interest all football fans, it’s really too early to take anything they say to heart. People are already predicting a lockout in 2011. That’s NEXT year! Deals never get done till the last minute. Don’t take anything you hear too seriously.

The owners have been unhappy with the last couple of extensions to the existing agreement, and appear ready to take a harder stance. The economics of the game need to be changed for the league to continue to thrive. Believe it or not, many teams are struggling financially under the current system, and need the players to take a smaller piece of the pie. Right now the players make approximately 60% of the revenues.

From a fan’s point of view, I’d really like to see the NFL implement a system like the NBA where the salaries of draft picks are automatically slotted. There’s no reason a player should ever holdout for more money. Or a team should balk at paying a rookie they drafted. Holdouts hurt the player AND the team.

In negotiations, if you want something, you typically have to give something up. And I’d be fine with teams giving up the franchise tag. Players hate it. Good teams should be able to get their players resigned without the threat of the franchise tag. And players hate it. Or possibly the NFL could look into some type of guaranteed contracts for players chosen in the first few rounds.

Budgets, Debts and Deficits — Oh My!

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Uncle Sam is in debt, who will bail him out?People are beginning to think I’m obsessed. “What’s the big deal about these deficits?” they ask. One person mentioned that even though the projected deficit is $1.56 trillion this year, it’s supposed to go down to $1.3 trillion next year. So I guess it’s time to explain why all of this is such a big deal.

Deficits vs Debt
I think this is the primary area where people get confused. People think these two terms mean the same thing. Or accidentally use these words interchangeably. But they are very different. The deficit is the one year snapshot of how much more our government spends than it receives. The converse would be a surplus which doesn’t appear to be a problem in the foreseeable future. The debt is like the ongoing scorecard of our deficits and surpluses.

Example: You make $40,000 this year. You spend $50,000 this year. You have a deficit of $10,000. Doesn’t sound that bad. But do that for ten years straight, and you now have debt of $100,000, plus interest (servicing the debt).

So saying that the deficit next year is going down to $1.3 trillion, still means we’re adding another $1.3 trillion to our debt.

Budgets and Deficits
The president puts together a proposed budget for the federal government, and passes it along to Congress. But it’s really Congress that has the power at this point. The Congress decides how much to spend, and where to spend it. Sometimes they pretty much do what the president has asked. And sometimes they ignore the president’s proposed budget and do what they want. Of course they also typically pass new spending bills throughout the year that were not included in their original budget.

Our government also has to project how much money they will receive through tax revenues — the lifeblood of government. The difference between revenues and expenditures is either a surplus or a deficit. These numbers are still just projections at this point. It’s not until the following year that we know for sure how much was spent, and how much was collected.

Guns and Butter
The old debate in government spending was how much to spend on guns (national defense) and how much to spend on butter (domestic programs). But as our debt grows, so does the amount of money it takes to service the debt. The more money we spend servicing our debt, the less money we have for guns AND butter.

Example: Many of us have gotten over our heads in credit card debt. I’ve done it twice in my life. You think I would have learned the first time. You reach the point where you’re barely able to make the minimum payments, and you realize that all you’re really doing is paying the interest, and not paying down the debt.

The dollars that will soon be required for servicing our national debt are staggering. A significant portion of our tax money is already spent servicing our debt. Not on guns. Not on butter. And not on paying down the debt.

Did You Know?
Did you know that our national debt is more than $12.3 trillion and growing?

Did you know that we have run federal deficits every year since 1969 except for four? See this report from the CBO. The four years of surpluses were from 1998-2001.

Did you know that are government’s “plan” is to grow our debt by another $1.56 trillion this year?

Did you know that in 2009, the Treasury Department spent $383 billion of our money on interest payments on our national debt? Compare that to how much is spent on other items such as NASA ($19 billion), education ($53 billion) and the Department of Transportation ($73 billion).

Large deficits and debts are the enemy to a robust economy. Want to fix the economy? Washington needs to get its own house in order. And economic prosperity has a chance to return.

Haley and Chiefs Finish Staff

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Kansas City Chief Emmitt ThomasThe Kansas City Chiefs announced yesterday the hiring of three more assistant coaches: Bernie Parmalee (tight ends), Otis Smith (defensive quality control) and Emmitt Thomas (defensive backs).

First Charlie Weis. Then Romeo Crennel. And now the Chiefs add Emmitt Thomas to their coaching staff. Quite an off-season for the Chiefs. Todd Haley has assembled a very impressive and accomplished group of assistant coaches.

As a Chiefs fan, I have long admired Emmitt Thomas — both as a player and as a coach. Here’s what the Chiefs had to say about Thomas:

Emmitt Thomas (Defensive Backs): A veteran of 42 NFL seasons as a player and a coach, Thomas joins the Chiefs coaching staff after an eight-year coaching stint with Atlanta (2002-09), where he most recently served as assistant head coach/secondary. He also served as the Falcons interim head coach for the final three games of the 2007 season. Thomas served as an NFL defensive coordinator for seven seasons, working in that role for Minnesota (2000-01), Green Bay (’99) and Philadelphia (’95-98). He also served as an NFL assistant with Washington (’86-94) and St. Louis (’81-85), earning a pair of Super Bowl rings with the Redskins. He began his coaching career at Central Missouri State (’79-80).

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Chiefs Hall of Fame in ‘86, Thomas played cornerback for 13 seasons with Kansas City (’66-78). He is the Chiefs all-time leader with 58 interceptions and 938 INT return yards. In 181 regular season games, he also accumulated five INT return TDs and seven fumble recoveries. He was named to the Pro Bowl or the AFL All-Star Game on five occasions and was a first-team All-Pro selection in ‘74 when he led the NFL with 12 INTs. He won two AFL titles with the Chiefs and was a member of the club’s Super Bowl I squad, as well as the club’s ‘69 team that claimed a victory in Super Bowl IV. The Angleton, Texas native joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent from Bishop College.

Here’s a complete list of the Chiefs coaching staff.

The Real Deficit Numbers

Monday, February 1st, 2010

President Obama during his State of the Union address said that the federal deficit was $1.3 trillion the day he “walked in the door”. This number didn’t make sense to me. It seemed too high. I did a little poking around, and here’s the rest of the story:

“In 2008, Bush ran a deficit of $485 billion. By the time the fiscal year started on October 1, 2008, it had gone up by another $100 billion due to increased recession-related spending and depressed revenues. So it was $600 billion. That was the real Bush deficit.

“But when the fiscal crisis hit, Bush had to pass TARP in the final months of his presidency which cost $700 billion. Under the federal budget rules, a loan and a grant are treated the same. So the $700 billion pushed the deficit — officially — up to $1.3 trillion. But not really. The $700 billion was a short term loan. $500 billion of it has already been repaid.

“So what was the real deficit Obama inherited? The $600 billion deficit Bush was running plus the $200 billion of TARP money that probably won’t be repaid (mainly AIG and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). That totals $800 billion. That was the real deficit Obama inherited.

“Then…he added $300 billion in his stimulus package, bringing the deficit to $1.1 trillion. And falling revenues and other increased welfare spending pushed it up to $1.4 trillion.

“So, effectively, Obama came close to doubling the deficit.”

If anybody has any numbers different than this, I’d like to see them. This quote is from Dick Morris’ website.

And today, the White House unveiled its new budget. According to Yahoo News:

“If Congress goes along with Obama’s election-year plan, the nation would still end the year with unemployment pushing double digits at 9.8 percent and this year’s pool of government red ink deepening to $1.56 trillion — by the administration’s accounting.”

That would basically be a doubling of our federal deficit in just two years. This is not fiscal responsibility. This is out-of-control expansion of our federal government.