Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nate On Sports: The 2010 MLB Preview that YOU Demand (Part I)

For me, the beginning of the baseball season means more than six sure-fire months of disappointment (to clarify further, I'm a Cubs fan.) But I still look forward to it more than the beginning of any other professional sports season, despite the constant signals of impending doom coming from Chicago. I don't know, I think it's more than just baseball - it means that spring is here, thunderstorms replace snowstorms, the trees leaf out, and you can grill outside without getting frostbite. But now I'm sounding too philosophical. There's just something about baseball season, however, and with that in mind, here is the 2010 AL preview, brought to you by yours truly. (Note: Part II - the National League, will be composed next week.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Financial Schizophrenia

Now that we are all done with health care reform and there is no more controversy on the matter........well perhaps not. There is of course, more business to attend to in our democracy. For the consideration of the Senate of the United States, we have financial reform! The all-encompassing amoeba of politics, finance reform is an issue that everyone seems to be interested in, and no one seems to be able to define.

For the last 18 months, the universal signs of evil were the denizens of Wall Street demanding and receiving bailouts, then giving themselves bonuses of staggering proportion. For the last 18 months, the idea that something had to be done about the greed, hubris, and audacity of the captains of finance has been embedded in the conscious of Democrats, Republicans, and Tea-Partiers alike. Surely this is an issue for which our democracy could find quick consensus and decisive action. Yeah, right!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Small Business 101: Profitable Sustainability

Sustainability is one of those "of the moment" catchphrases that tends to mean radically different things to different people. To old school environmental warriors, sustainability is watered down environmentalism for wimps; for many pro-business types, the concept is an insidious "fifth column" of environmental activism. My take on the idea is somewhat different; as someone who grew up with National Geographic and Carl Sagan as guides, but matured as an adult in the business school of hard knocks, sustainability is environmentalism all grown up.

The basic idea of sustainability applies to businesses at every level; handle operations, marketing, and human resources in a manner which ensures the greatest sustainable benefit to your business, your customers, and your community. To all businesses, the simple approach involves looking at everything you do over the long term. The challenge for small businesses, in the minds of many, is the scale of short term costs relative to the business. In reality the fear of the costs relating to sustainability has almost no basis in fact; it is change that small business owners really fear, change in a model that has served them well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thank You Rep. Boehner

The House Minority Leader, John Boehner, issued a message today that underlined the American process. While acknowledging the anger over the law, Rep. Boehner reminded Americans that violence and intimidation are not the tools of our democracy. He encouraged those that were most angry to register to vote and lead others to do the same. The House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor, also condemmed the violence while making the claim that Democrats are at fault. The reporting of his press conference is understandably mixed, depending on who is doing the reporting.

The Rational Middle feels that Rep. Cantor may have a point about the Democratic Party's response to the ugly displays outside the capitol over the weekend. While it is the opinion of this site that reckless and baseless accusations about the plan by Republicans are the source of the problem, the use of the attacks in fund-raising material by the Democratic National Committee is both crass and irresponsible. Acknowledge the attacks and talk about the causes, then leave the issue alone. Dwelling on the ignorance and hatred of a few does the many a disservice.

As my last two posts have (I hope) communicated, it is the hyperbole and breathless rejection of fact-based debate that are the hallmarks of this troubled time in our history. The ad hominem attacks that have become common in our political debate are the reason that so many of our fellow citizens are tired of politics, and ignore the very concept of citizen governance. I am profoundly opposed to the politics and political strategies of Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Boehner, but I am positive that they both love their country and their families with the same passion that I do mine. This fact alone should be verification enough that we all share common ground. Let us use the framework provided by the Founding Fathers to deal with those areas that we lack agreement on.

The Rational Middle is listening...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Liberals Have Guns Too

Across the nation tonight, millions of armed Liberals lurk in the shadows, waiting for unwary Tea-Partiers to cross their path. Their Socialist agenda advanced, the liberal hordes look next to the guns and values of American Conservative families. Glenn Beck's doomsday is upon us all!

What the heck is going on with our nation? For the last nine months, a series of bills have been debated that would attempt to resolve a problem that better than 75% of the citizens believe needs to be solved. The bill signed into law was consistently opposed by 45%-50% of the nation that hated it, and the 10%-15% of the nation that felt it wasn't LIBERAL enough. Do not take my word for it; go to this poll, and this poll. A majority of your neighbors wanted something to be done along the lines of what was signed into law by the President. If you are one of the many who believe that this bill is wrong, for any reason, then you can be thankful that you live in the United States. There are a number of democratic avenues for redress of grievances available to the citizens of this proud nation; many of which I will cover below. I would also note that most of the items in the bill that anger folks the most, don't take effect until 2014.

Nate On Sports: Megabucks for Mauer - A Must for Minnesota

There go those damn Yankees again, spending $184 million on a baseball player.
Oh, what’s that? It wasn’t the Yankees? Well, it had to have been the Red Sox then, right? No? Wait, you’re telling me it was the Minnesota Twins? The MINNESOTA TWINS?!?!
Yes, the Minnesota Twins. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the economics of baseball, this is an unprecedented move for the Twins. If the numbers I have researched are correct, the Twins have committed to pay Joe Mauer nearly as much as they paid their entire big league roster in 2007, 2008, and 2009 combined. If, for a second, you assume that Mauer’s contract starts this year (when in actuality it starts next year), you would find that about one-third of the team’s 2010 payroll would be dedicated to Mr. Mauer.
And you know what? I think it’s a great move for the Twins. Now, the completely rational, baseball-minded individual in me doesn’t fully agree, but in this case, he gets overruled.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Whateverisms, Whoeverists, And The Strawman

Do you ever get the feeling that we have gone right off the deep end? Our conversations in this country, if we are to believe the nonsense on ANY cable channel, have devolved into shouting matches where the winner is who can call their opponent the crummiest name. Political opponents are radical practitioners of "Whateverism" and their supporters are "Whoeverists"; it makes no difference what "side" you are on. The notion that bloggers and a 24 hour news cycle would reveal the name callers for their cynicism and lack of substance has been revealed as fallacy, largely because those two forces have become accomplished practitioners of the labeling that drives the machine.

The (finally) concluding health care debate provides a textbook worth of examples of this phenomenon, beginning with the idea of the strawman. The concept of the strawman in a debate is to create a false enemy that can be systematically pulled apart, without the mess of having to argue your real enemy. "They don't love their children the way we do..." is a classic strawman. It has proven to be a common tactic in war, where getting humans motivated to kill before they are shot it is tricky business. In politics, it is a tactic used often when one party or group believes that it can't win arguing the facts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Small Business 101: Identity Crisis

The $100 college title for what a business does is "core competency". Every business that gets off the ground has one or more competencies that are at the heart of what they do. Most businesses that fail forget what those competencies are. What we are talking about is an identity crisis in your business. The rules are simple; know your business, know your customer, know your people.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Procedural Hysteria

Impeach Pelosi! Bury Harry! Down with Obama! Ok, I get that many people are opposed to the reform bill now in the end-game in Congress. Despite not seeing the dramatic changes in our nation since Obama took over, I understand that people are upset. What I would like to see the end of, however, is this notion of attacking a "problem" that does not exist.

Please feel free to debate the place of the citizen government in the marketplace. By all means argue against deficit spending. Go to the mat fighting the notion of a tax increase on anyone; these are all worthy arguments....just dispense with the bullshit! I know it is crude, and I do apologize; there is simply no better way to describe the arguments of the Boehners and Bachmanns of the world lately. My problem is not their policy issues but rather their procedural "issues".

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nate On Sports: NCAA Tournament Preview Extravaganza!

If you happened to read my post last week, you are aware that the NCAA Tournament is, bar none, my favorite sporting event of the year. With that said, here’s my own personal preview of what to expect over the course of the next few weeks. (As a disclaimer, I should note that I’ve won only one bracket pool in my life, so you might not want to take what I say too seriously.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greece, America, And The Budget Panic

Greece is begging for money. The home of the world's original democracy is essentially bankrupt and is now forced to ask the rest of Europe for a bailout. Many of our nations's newspapers, along with Conservative commentators and dim bulbs like Dana Milbank, are suggesting that the United States will take its turn if nothing is done with our fiscal crisis. Folks, we are spending a great deal of money at the moment trying to dig out from the collapse of the $8 trillion housing bubble. As a nation, we are also facing unprecedented inflation in the health care sector. We are not however, on the road to bankruptcy...period.

Please put politics aside on this issue, as it is about basic macroeconomic realities and not the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Greece finds itself in desperate straights because they are in the Eurozone (yes, it is a real place and not a bad joke); they no longer have a currency that adjusts to regional economic realities. We have the U.S. dollar and a central bank (The Fed) that can influence the supply of money. In other words, we have the flexibility to meet our challenges whereas Greece does not.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is Obama A Failure?

Has President Obama failed? Many Liberals and Independents have wished, for all of his talents, that the President had “a little Bush in him”. I have held that same feeling for parts of the last two years now, but I always come back to his basic maturity; he has a vision for how he wants to govern, and he is sticking to it. He doesn’t pull the hair trigger and fire people in the tradition of Washington scapegoating, and he isn’t interested in being pulled into the behavior of his opposition.

Mr. Obama made tactical errors in the stimulus bill (giving tax cuts before they were demanded), he made a strategic mistake in not pushing for financial reform last year (when he could have harnessed the populist anger to his cause), and he made an error (I believe) in not challenging the GOP leadership to write their own version of Health Care Reform last May.

Small Business 101: Inventory Management

While it seems simple, the idea that a business should have the products their customers want, when they want them, and in whatever quantity they desire is often lost in the swirl of running your own company. Many of us were raised  with an ethic that waste is bad, while some of us were raised with the notion that plenty is a sign of success. When I walk into many small businesses today, I am most often confronted by a massive assortment of goods that don't sell (recognized by the dust they accrue), in combination with empty shelves were the store's best items live.

 There are two simple laws that must be recognized when managing your inventory; inventory costs money over an above what you buy it for, and being out of stock on items in your firm's top 20% is a sin of the highest order. This two laws may seem to be contradictory, but an owner or manager can use them to his/her advantage by following a few simple guidelines. What I call the seven secrets of inventory management are posted after the break.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Osama Bin Earmarks?

The Congress of the United States of America, both Democrats and Republicans, have taken up a holy quest of sorts this week; the mission to be the heroes who vanquish that eternal enemy, the earmark! This week the Democrats in the House proposed outlawing "for profit earmarks", measures where a lawmaker inserts an appropriation into a bill that specifically benefits a for profit firm. Not to be outdone, the Republicans in the House passed a resolution in their caucus swearing off all earmarks for this year.

Wow! We are really getting somewhere now, aren't we? Well, not really. The 2008 budget proposed by President Bush and passed by the Congress totalled $2.9 trillion. Included in that measure was a grand total of $18 billion in earmarks, or just a little more than the budget of NASA. In fact, earmarks rarely total more than 1.5% of all federal spending. Attacking earmarks in the government is the same as a homeowner who can't pay their mortgage stressing out over whether they should cancel their newspaper subscription.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nate On Sports: 2010: The Perfect Argument Against NCAA Tournament Expansion

By now, you have probably heard of the proposal to expand the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams. While this proposal is not “official” as of this time, by all accounts, it has been agreed upon and is a done deal. This doesn’t sit too well with yours truly.The NCAA Tournament, in its current form, is about as good as it gets in sports.   

The NCAA Tournament, in and of itself, is the single greatest argument for the college football playoff and the abolition of the horrid Bowl Championship Series. That is, teams actually settle it on the court (or field, if you want to look at it from a football perspective) rather than in computers and the Interwebs. There is drama, there are underdogs, and most importantly, there is always an undisputed national champion. Now, to be fair, none of this would change as the result of a 96 tournament. In my opinion however, the spectacle that is the NCAA tournament would get watered down. Upsets and Cinderellas, under this new plan, would likely become less and less frequent, a troubling fact to a fan like me. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Financial Madness

Perhaps the most perplexing issue in politics today is financial reform. On its face, "reforming" our nation's financial markets is as close to a universally popular measure as any domestic item gets. Democrats, Libertarians, and Tea Party Conservatives all want to see something done. All of the above were/are outraged by the bailouts, and all, for the most part, agree that greed and corruption are the roots of the problem.

The difficulty for we the people lies in the following fact; Democrats, Libertarians, and Tea Party Conservatives hate to agree on anything. We have come to a point in our democracy where the notion of acknowledging and building on common ground is considered to be akin to a sin. Compromise has become a dirty word, compared to appeasement with the Nazis and negotiating with terrorists. We Americans, all of us (including yours truly), are guilty of turning our back on well made points for the sake of winning an argument. I propose that we adopt this issue as the fulcrum for changing the paradigm.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Selected Writings From Better Authors

Small Business 101: The Cash Budget

Most folks thinking about starting a business have heard that a third of all new ventures fail inside of two years. The conventional wisdom includes the advice that prospective entrapreneurs have two to three years worth of operational cash on hand prior to taking the plunge. What is not often discussed is the concept of the cash budget; this failure to discuss is a primary mover behind business failures.

Relevant Wishes: A Health Care Plan

The first half of this Friday double feature is a "for what its worth moment". For what it is worth, here is my version of a health care reform bill with brief explanations for each of the provisions. Many of these provisions can be found in the bills that passed the House and the Senate, but there are some major differences. Before moving through the plan proper, I will lay out a brief case for change.

Health care accounts for about 16% of all economic activity in the United States today. That number, which is health care's contribution to our country's gross domestic product, has risen from 7% (1970), to 8.8% (1980), to 11.9% (1990). Currently, the number is projected to be 17% in 2015. In the period of 2000-2007, health care inflation was 80%, versus overall inflation of 20%. The inflation facts account for a bit of dark humor, as I recall objections to the first House bill because CBO predicted it would lead to an annual 8% inflation rate for health care. Unfortunately, that it is a decrease over what we have now. We pay all this despite receiving care that is only equivalent to the rest of the world. Oh, if you or a loved one needs exotic or advanced treatment, the U.S. is the place to be. For established procedures, it just costs more without being better. The analogy would be going to Neiman Marcus to buy a pack of Hanes underwear.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Nate On Sports: From Lackluster to Spectacular - Vancouver Edition

I don’t know about all of you, but as I was watching the instant-classic U.S. versus Canada gold medal hockey clash on Sunday, a question occurred: was I watching the same Olympic games that I had previously started watching two weeks ago, or was I stuck somewhere in time like those dudes in that ridiculous-but-it’s-so-ridiculous-it-looks-funny movie Hot Tub Time Machine?

Well fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), it was the former. The 2010 edition of the Winter Olympics, which opened with bad weather, Opening Ceremony gaffes, and the tragic death of a young Georgian luger, transformed itself into a decidedly memorable version of the Games during those two weeks in Vancouver. While the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili will always be associated with these Games, the transformation of these Games from lackluster to spectacular ensures that this version of the Winter Olympics will not be defined by that one horrific incident.

Health Care Redux

In the summer of 2008, better than 75% of Americans wanted something done about the medical marketplace in our country. By overwhelming margins, Americans believed it an embarrassment that this country lacked the capacity to care for its citizens. The explosion in costs for average working Americans was also a driver in public opinion, as well as the knowledge that our country ranked behind most of the industrialized world in most key health statistics.

The winter of 2009/2010 has not seen a change in public opinion on the keys for health care reform, but it has seen the success of the most ambitious and well orchestrated branding campaign in political history. In poll after poll, Americans say that they favor a repeal of the anti-trust exemption for insurance carriers, some form of publicly administered plan to provide low cost competition, and the prohibition of pre-existing conditions and rescission. All of the plans proposed, including the two that passed the House and Senate, contain these remedies in some degree. All of the plans proposed have also become universally unpopular.