Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Rocky Road To Repeal

Republicans have been talking about repealing Obamacare since the day it was signed into law in 2010.

It was a principal reason they gained control of the House and Senate in 2010.

It was a principal reason they dominated Congressional races in 2014.

It was a major reason that Donald Trump won the Presidency.

However, talk is cheap in politics. It is easy to talk about what you are going to do. It is difficult to actually do it.

You begin to understand how rocky the road to repealing and replacing Obamacare is when you consider three facts.

1. Obamacare's dictates touched fully 1/6 of the U.S. economy. Something that touches so much cannot be easily undone without risking turmoil. Can something so intertwined in the American economy be unwound easily?

2. There were 1,380 days between the time Obamacare was signed into law and its effective date of January 1, 2014. To put that in perspective, that is longer than the period from the bombing of Pearl Harbor until the surrender of both Germany and Japan in World War II. Despite this enormous period of time, the implementation of the law was still a disaster. If you recall, many provisions of the law were ignored and extended to later periods. Can something that took that long to implement be repealed and replaced in a few months?

3. In my last post, I quoted Daniel Kahneman on the how the human mind reacts to changes and reforms of the kind involved in repealing and replacing Obamacare. "Reforms always create winners and losers, and the losers will always fight harder than the winners." The losers in a repeal of Obamacare are sure to fight harder and shout louder than the rest of us. That you can count on. Look no further than upcoming GOP town halls if you doubt it.

Does any of this mean that President Trump and the Republican Congress should forget  about repealing and replacing this abominable piece of legislation? Absolutely not. In fact, I would argue that the GOP brand would suffer immense damage if Republicans do not follow through on their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

To navigate the rocky road ahead it is important to first set the stage and remind the American people of just how big an abject failure this legislation has been by explaining how far it has fallen far short of the promises that were made when it was passed.

That begins by repeatedly reminding the American people of the promises that were made that were not fulfilled.
    • It was not true that family health care costs would be reduced by $2,500 per year.
    • It was not true that everyone that liked their doctor could keep their doctor.
    • It was projected that over 20 million people would gain coverage through the healthcare exchanges in 2016. The actual number was half of this.
    • It was projected that Medicaid expansion under the law would cost $42 billion per year in 2015. The actual cost--$68 billion---over 60% above projections.
    • It was stated that insurers would offer multiple plan options because it would provide them with profitable business. A large number of counties across the country have only one health care plan option today. All but five of the large number of non-profits co-ops that were so widely heralded as an alternative to the profit-driven companies have closed and gone out of business. $2.4 billion of taxpayer money was used to fund these start-ups that is now gone. Billions of dollars of losses have piled up for the "for-profit" insurers.  Most are getting out out the Obamacare exchanges leaving no plan options from whihc to choose. United Healthcare exited most of the exchanges this year, Humana stated they will not participate in 2018, Aetna says that Obamacare is in a "death spiral." 
The Republicans should also not get too caught up with establishing an effective date of the repeal that risks creating turmoil. Yes, they should pass the repeal legislation quickly. However, the effective date might be a few years in the future. After all, it took the Democrats almost four years to implement this monstrosity. It may take a few years to totally unwind it. This may not be popular with Obamacare critics but it is the reality of the situation.

The fact that repeal is going to occur does not mean that the replacement plan cannot be implemented earlier. Perhaps the replacement plans compete alongside the Obamacare plans for a couple of years. The reality of the health care plan world is that if you want replacement plans up and running for 2018 the legislation needed to be passed YESTERDAY. I see no way there will be much of a chance to offer anything new for 2018 unless legislation is passed by the end of March. If Congress misses that deadline we are looking at 2019 at the earliest for any replacement plans.

It also has to be taken as a given that anything the GOP does is going to be criticized by the Democrats. They are also going to claim that the fact that the GOP is even talking about repeal is causing the demise of Obamacare. That could not be further from the truth, as the facts above show, but that will be the argument from Democrats.

Undoubtedly, the best strategy for Republicans at this point would be to merely step aside and watch Obamacare implode on its own. Sit on the sidelines until it was clear to everyone that it is irretrievably broken. This is not a viable strategy right now. First, the GOP made repeal the centerpiece of its political strategy the last few years. Second, it would simply be irresponsible from a public policy standpoint to see the havoc and harm that such an implosion would do to our health care system.

It is frustrating that the Republicans are not better organized on a repeal and replace plan. Again, it is much easier to talk than do. However, it is a very rocky road ahead to repeal. On this road it is better to be deliberate than rush down the road where a few bumps along the way could send you over the cliff for good.

The good news is that the Republicans are in the drivers seat on Obamacare. They just have to prove that they know how to drive.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Understanding and Changing Minds

No two people better understood your mind.

Better than your spouse. Better than your mother. At times, even better than yourself.

Who were they?

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

It is doubtful that many have ever heard their names.

These gentlemen changed forever the way that economists and others viewed the human mind and the way we make decisions. Until their groundbreaking studies, it was generally conceded that humans made rational and logical decisions with the brain acting like a sophisticated computer.

Kahneman and Tversky showed just how wrong that is. Their research showed in innumerable studies how the human mind errs in systematic ways leading to poor judgments, especially in uncertain situations.

The collaborative partnership of these Israeli-American psychologists is the newest work of best-selling author Michael Lewis. I just finished reading his account of how Kahneman and Tversky came to create the field of behavioral economics in "The Undoing Project."

I first became aware of the work of Kahneman and Tvesky about 15 years ago when I led the Benefits function of a Fortune 500 company.  In that role, I saw first hand how poorly our minds served us at times.

For example, despite the fact that everyone would probably desire (or be required) to stop working some day, when I assumed the Benefits role with my former company, only 50% or our employees were contributing to our 401(k) plan even though there was a generous company match.

In addition, despite the fact that the average employee had less than $500 in medical claims in a year, almost no one elected our high deductible medical plan in which they could save considerable sums in fixed payroll contributions for their coverage and place those savings in a health savings account.

In looking for ways to make our plans more cost effective for my company, and more valuable to our employees, I started searching for better ways to design our benefit plans. That research led me to the work of Kahneman and Tversky.

Everyone knows they need to save for retirement, but few save enough. Why do people ignore the logical response to save so they have money when they are no longer working? Kahneman and Tversky attributed this to what they called "availability bias". We excessively weigh in our minds those memories that are most easily available to us. We need food today. We need a new TV today. We need to take a vacation next month. These emotions outweigh the real needs we are going to have 10, 20 or 30 years from now.

You can see this for yourself in answering this short question that Kaheman and Tversky used in their research about availability bias.

Consider the letter K. Is K more likely to appear as the first or third letter in a word?

The typical person answered the first letter. In fact, they guessed that K was twice as likely to be the first letter than the third letter in a word. Kangaroo. Kite. Knee. Know. All of these easily came off of the top of my mind while writing this.

However, the fact is that K is actually twice as likely to be the third letter of a word compared to the first letter. Ankle. Take. Cake. Ink.  I had to look all of these up. They just aren't as available in the mind.

That is why when we redesigned our benefit plans so that we automatically enrolled everyone in the 401(k) plan as the default option and allowed employees to opt-out of the retirement contribution if they did not want to participate.

The result--92% participation compared to the prior 50%! We also later raised the contribution each year by 1% automatically unless they opted-out of the increase. Each year only 10% opted out. I wondered in my mind how far we could increase these savings increases before we saw a drop-off in participation. It honestly looked as if we could go on forever without any significant numbers opting-out. It takes effort to change and most of us limit our efforts. We don't like change.

That brings us to another bias in the human mind---the status quo bias.

We are extraordinarily loss averse. In fact, Kahneman and Tversky found that losses generally caused twice as much pain to us as an equivalent amount of gain brought us pleasure.

That is why high-deductible health plans were so difficult to introduce to our employees. A potential $500 out of pocket health care bill was more painful than the pleasure of saving $900 in premium contributions.

This is why reforms and changes are so difficult to implement. Look no further than what has happened with Obamacare. First, in the reaction when it was initially being adopted, and now when there is talk of its repeal.

That is also why the Democrats are taking their defeat to Trump so hard and their reactions are so irrational.

Kahneman explained it this way.

"Reforms always create winners and losers, and the losers will always fight harder than the winners."

We are seeing this play out every day in the news. Only the losers show up at town halls conducted by their Congressman and protest in the streets. The winners stay home content with what they won.

Another insight that Kahneman and Tversky developed was the process by which people make decisions. Decisions are often made by making judgments about similarity and about context. These decisions are often made by comparing features and classifications. Of course, since these are important in how decisions are made, they also can be manipulated to make a classification or feature seem more noticeable.

For instance consider this example from the Lewis book.

"If you wanted two people to think of themselves as more similar to each other than they otherwise might, you might put them in a context that stressed the features they shared. Two American college student in the United States might look at each other and see a total stranger; the same two college students on their junior year abroad in Togo might find that they are surprisingly similar; They're both Americans!

This is an instructive insight, especially as it relates to identity politics, most particularly by the Democrat party. They are very intent on grouping people into classifications for purposes of their political agenda---women, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, etc.

The result of that grouping or classification is to overemphasize differences to the detriment of those similarities that we all share as Americans. It really becomes a divide and conquer strategy.

"Things are grouped together for a reason, but, once they are grouped, their grouping causes them to seem more like each other than they otherwise would. That is, the mere act of classification reinforces stereotypes. If you want to weaken some stereotype, eliminate the classification."

Isn't it interesting that Donald Trump has really focused on one message---"Make America Great Again". He has not focused on any other classification or grouping than that. Trump's issues are not black issues, white issues, women's issues, men's issues or anything else. The issues are those that are shared by all Americans. Jobs. Defense of our country. Crime on our streets. Homeland security.

Perhaps this is the reason he is seen as such a threat by the liberal Democrats. Everything Trump is doing is attempting to eliminate the classification and in so doing also weakening the existing stereotypes that fuel identity politics.

Kahneman and Tversky were psychologists who created an entirely new field of economics. In fact, Kahheman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. Tversky would have likely won his own Nobel Prize in the same field but for his untimely death in 1996.

Is a real estate business mogul doing something similar in creating an entirely new way of looking at politics?

Trump has changed many minds along the way to being elected. However, as we watch the daily news, he has many more minds that need to change to be successful.

My advice to Trump is the same as it is for you. Understand the way your mind works and those of your fellow human beings. To do that, learn more about the research of Kahneman, Tversky and others who have helped us better understand how our minds works, how we make decisions and how we can be misled.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hope and Change is Here

The mainstream media does not like him.

The political establishment does not like him.

The Washington bureaucracy does not like him.

Hollywood does not like him.

It seems that the only people that like Donald Trump are hard working people who pay taxes and make sure that the country works...and the people that provide the jobs and capital to help it grow.

We know it was those hard working people who provided the votes to elect Donald Trump President of the United States.

What about the jobs?

Small businesses are the source for 70% of job growth in the United States.

What do small business owners think about their prospects since Trump has been elected?

Take a look at this chart that graphs optimism by small businesses that is compiled monthly by the National Federation of Independent Business.

What looks like a rocket ship blasting off in the chart above began right after Trump's election. Small business optimism is at its highest reading in 13 years.

Business owners do not expand and add jobs unless they are optimistic about the future. Optimism portends increased hiring just as pessimism predicts job cutbacks.

Optimism is also reflected in stock prices. Capital is also necessary for job growth and expansion. Stock values and business results do not always match up in the short term. However, there is no denying that it is a barometer of economic optimism by investors in the short term.

Here is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the last 6 months. The spike up in early November was the day after Trump was elected. The next significant move up began in late January right after Trump was inaugurated. Coincidence?

Dow Jones Industrial Average
Credit: Google Finance

You see a similar pattern with the S&P 500 Index.

S&P 500
Credit: Google Finance

Barack Obama campaigned on a slogan of "Hope and Change".

Everyone fell in love with the message, most particularly the media.

The irony is that Trump is actually delivering on providing real hope and change and the media wants us to believe that the country is falling apart.

Hope and change is here. When is the media going to start reporting on it?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Notes on NATO

One of the big reasons that Donald Trump was elected President was his willingness to speak about issues that most every other politician was afraid to talk about.

I wrote back in January, 2016 that this was Trump's greatest quality as a candidate. However, in speaking out he also is consistently inviting criticism by the political establishment.

"Trump sees things that others politicians see but they don't want to talk about it. He will talk about it, which is why he is frequently criticized."

The most obvious example was illegal immigration and the need to build a border wall (that Mexico would pay for!)

It is one of the things I liked about Trump from the very beginning even when he was not my preferred candidate for the GOP nomination.

Trump also raised questions about NATO that had many so-called "experts" stating that Trump did not know what he was talking about. His principal arguments have been that NATO is 'obsolete' in an age when terrorism has become such a big threat and that many NATO members are not paying their fair share.

In my view, Trump is exactly right. However, no one else had the courage to speak about it. Many NATO countries are facing enormous challenges from Islamic terrorism but NATO is totally focused on the threat from Russia. The NATO alliance needs to be revamped with this as an additional focus.

In addition, the fact is that most NATO members are taking advantage of the alliance (and in particular, the United States of America) by not paying their fair share of defense expenditures as they are supposed to as members of NATO.

In the late 1980's, NATO members spent, on average, 3.5% of GDP on defense expenditures. Last year, that number had fallen to approximately 1.5%.

The current minimum defense expenditure that a member country is supposed to meet as a percent of GDP is set at 2%.  However, only 5 out of 28 member states are meeting that target. Of course, the United States is doing much more than that meaning that most NATO members are getting a free ride from us.

This inequality is there for all to see but Donald Trump is the only one willing to talk about it?

And he is then criticized for it by those who say he "doesn't understand" and is putting Europe in danger?

The main purpose of NATO from it inception was for the member countries to defend each other from the possibility of the communist Soviet Union taking control of their nation. Who is more at risk of this occurring---the European countries who are NATO members or the United States?

It would seem since the Europeans are the most at risk that they would be more than willing to pay the bill to defend themselves. Why rely so much on the United States? Is that fair? That is the main point that Trump is arguing.

Let's look at the current scorecard of NATO countries and see what each member is contributing to its defense as a percent of its GDP.

Credit: The Daily Shot

The United States is spending 3.61% of GDP on Defense which is well over double what the average NATO member is doing. Poor Greece is next at 2.38% The U.K., Estonia and Poland are the only other countries meeting the 2% target.

France is spending 1.78%. Germany 1.19%. Denmark 1.17%. Italy 1.11%. Canada is not even spending 1% of its GDP on Defense.

The political establishment and mainstream media wants you to believe that Trump is off base in his views about NATO. When you see these facts, what do you believe?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What is a Fascist?

Donald Trump is a fascist.

Steve Bannon is a fascist.

Tea Party Republicans are fascists

I doubt that not one in hundred people can give you a proper definition of "fascism" or "fascist".

Certainly not the people that overuse or misuse the term.

For example, here is what MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said about Trump.

She should know better. Maddow is a graduate of Stanford University and was a Rhodes Scholar. I guess she just can't help herself.

Benito Mussolini is generally credited with developing the fascist ideology in Italy. He ruled Italy under the mantle of the National Fascist Party beginning in 1922 through World War II.

Since Mussolini founded fascism it would seem to make sense to see how he defined it. You can read the complete "Doctrine of Fascism" as written by Mussolini in 1935. It is the most complete articulation of Mussolini's political views and the ideology of fascism.

A few key excerpts so you understand the core concepts of fascism quoted directly from the Mussolini text.

1. "The Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State."

2. "The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value."

3. "Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist  State  - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people."

4."For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative. Individuals and groups are admissible in so far as they come within the State."

5. "The concept of freedom is not absolute because nothing is ever absolute in life. Freedom is not a right, it is a duty. It is not a gift, it is a conquest; it is not equality, it is a privilege.

6. "The Fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. "

You can see from the above that there is not a lot of difference between fascism and communism in their absolute reliance on the State and the severe limitation of any individual rights. In fact, you can argue that fascism and communism are actually subsets of socialism.

The primary distinction is that in communism the state also owns all elements of production and controls the distribution of income whereas fascism is open to private ownership as long as it is subject to total state control. In a fascist regime, "all within the state, nothing outside the state and nothing against the state" is what matters.

We can identify communist regimes fairly easily--the former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela.

When you speak of fascism most think of Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy. However, Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq and many Middle Eastern countries would also seem to meet the definition.

Taking all of that as context, this is how Merriam-Webster defines fascism.

Interestingly, Google defines fascism in a different way.

Google has decided that fascism is only a "right-wing system of government" represented by the "extreme right-wing".

You have to wonder how Google came to that conclusion?

Answer the following questions for me.

Who is most in favor of a large federal government and bureaucracy?

Who is most in favor of federal vs. state and local solutions to problems?

Who is most in favor of extensive economic regulations?

Who is most in favor of pushing government edicts irrespective of religious rights?

Who has been most aggressive in attempting to limit individual rights such as the right to bear arms, freedom of religion and free speech?

Who has proven to be the most militant in attempting to suppress opposing views?

It is not the right-wing.

It is not Donald J. Trump.

It is the liberal left.

I am not saying that liberals Americans are fascists. Far from it. The point is fascism is not an ideology that is left-wing or right-wing. Fortunately, our U.S. Constitution is perfectly constructed to protect us from fascism in all its forms with its separation of powers, Bill of Rights and limits on federal power. There should be no concerns about any fascism taking hold in this country as long as we continue to honor and uphold the Constitution.

What is truly troubling here is that with the power that Google has, its definition of fascism is always going to come up first on any search of the term "fascism".

Google refers to an autocracy as a synonym for fascism. This is how they define that term.

Notice the last bullet point.

  • domineering rule or control

What is Google's power over people using the internet?

Google needs to be much more mindful of its power and influence. It also needs to be more responsible in not letting its political views color the fair dissemination of information without bias.

Is it any wonder we are calling our fellow Americans fascists?

Too many simply do not seem to understand what it means.

Including Google.

(Hat tip to BeeLine reader Ron R. for bringing the Google definition to my attention.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Manipulation Media

It is hard to pick up a newspaper, turn on a radio or watch television and not be bombarded with reports of how unhinged and unpopular President Trump is.

In story after story that is the incessant message from the media. It has been a steady drumbeat since Trump entered the race for President.

In the immediate aftermath of President Trump's executive action to temporarily suspend the granting of visas to enter the United States from seven unstable countries that have terrorism histories I drove 500 miles across the southeastern United States. I heard story after story on the radio as I drove about the numerous protests against this "unprecedented action." However, in all that travel I did not see one protestor or protest sign. I have not seen one in the two weeks since either. I doubt you have either.

If we have learned one thing from the 2016 election it is how deeply invested our media institutions are in promoting the liberal, progressive agenda. Of course, by corollary, that also means doing all they can to destroy any alternative agenda. I knew there was bias. I knew there was an agenda. However, the scope and scale is beyond anything I could have imagined.

It is as we are living in a parallel universe. The universe the media has constructed that they believe we should be living in. And the universe that we know that we are actually living in. Most of media is no longer reporting the news. They are more focused on manipulating the public into believing what the news should be.

You can better appreciate this when you look at this poll that surveys voter opinions on all of the significant executive actions that President Trump has taken in his first two weeks in office.

If you have been paying attention to what the mainstream media is "reporting" you would think that each of these actions is overwhelmingly unpopular with the American people. In fact, you would probably think that you were the only one in America who was supporting what Trump was doing.

However, on every action Trump has taken, a significant majority of Americans support what he has done, according to this Morning Consult/Politico poll that was released today. Sanctuary cities. The terrorist country visa suspension. The border wall. Obamacare. Keystone XL Pipeline. TPP.

Majority public support exists for every Trump action.

It is all the more remarkable when you consider the media manipulation that has attempted to portray all of these actions to be out of the mainstream. Yet, the American people are showing a remarkable ability to see the media manipulation for what it is.

In looking at the temporary suspension from predominant Muslim-terrorist countries, I also found this survey by Chatham House of 10,000 European people in ten European countries on this subject interesting.

It shows that 55% (coincidentally the same percentage approving of the Trump action in the U.S.) believe that "all further migration from Muslim countries should be stopped."

Chatham House called the results as "striking and sobering."

Sobering? Perhaps it is just a sane response to what these people are seeing in their world.

The same could probably be said for the reasons behind the public approval of Trump's actions.

The more the media tries to convince us we are insane, the more we understand that the opposite is what is true reality.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Comeback, Collapse or Choke?

Last night's Super Bowl will be remembered as one the most memorable in history.

Will it be remembered as a comeback for the Patriots or a collapse or choke by the Falcons?

It is never an easy question when sports are involved. Unfortunately, I have too much personal experience myself in what happened to the Falcons last night.

As I saw Matt Ryan get sacked and fumbled the ball as he attempted to throw a deep ball (why was he passing on third and one? if they wanted to pass why not a quick route rather than attempting to throw deep ?) with 8 minutes to go and leading by 16 points I turned to Mrs. BeeLine and said, "The Falcons are going to lose this game."

I knew. I have been there before.

My alma mater, Miami University was up by 2 goals over Boston University in the NCAA National Hockey Championship game with one minute to play in 2009. They gave up 2 goals in that last minute and then lost in overtime.

My son's college lacrosse team was up one goal with less than two minutes to go in their conference championship game his sophomore year and had a two-man advantage due to penalties called on the other team. They lost the ball and the other team scored on a fast break with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. They lost in overtime.

Over 25 years ago I was 1up in a golf match in my club championship (first flight) after birdieing the 17th hole. The 18th hole was a difficult finishing hole that required a 180 yard carry over water and the water also went up the entire left side of the fairway. I split the fairway with my drive and saw my normally steady opponent hook one into the water on the left. He was choking. I thought the match was mine.

My opponent was able to take advantage of a drop area on the other side of the water between the tee and fairway but still had over 200 yards to the green. He got his third shot about 20 yards short of the green and I was sitting in the middle of the fairway with an 8-iron in my hand confident the match was over. I hit a solid shot but it starting drawing to the left of the green dangerously close to the water that bordered the green. It bounced twice and then went dead left into the water.

I am now laying three after the penalty but I am only about 20 feet from the pin compared to my opponent's 20 yards. You can guess where this ended. My opponent gets up and down for a bogey 5. It takes me three shots from 20 feet for a double bogey. You would also be right if you guessed that I lost the match on the first playoff hole. It still hurts after more than 25 years. I am sure it will still hurt after 50 years.

I have no doubt it will be the same for the Falcons who played in that game.

Why do these collapses (or chokes) occur?

It is one of the eternal mysteries of sports. How can someone be breezing along for an entire game, or match, and suddenly lose it?

I have written about Matthew Syed and his book, Bounce, in these pages before. Syed wrote Bounce to explain what he believes to be the science of success.

Syed knows something about success.  He was the top-ranked table tennis player in the UK and is a two-time Olympian as well as a graduate of Oxford University. You might say that he is a talented young man. Syed would say to you that talent is not what you think it is. In fact, he thinks it is highly overrated.

What most people call talent is really just hard work.  It is about toiling and training for long hours. Practice, practice, practice. Nothing more.

Syed became interested in the topic after thinking about his own success...and his failure. In his own words, Syed "choked" in the Olympics.  Those experiences led him to explore the science of success as well as the science of choking.

In his view most success in sports comes from toil and training. Endless hours of developing the right muscle memory. You don't think. You just do it. The training makes it automatic.

Of course, it is automatic until it isn't. And that time usually comes when the stakes are high and the pressure mounts. Instead of doing it, you start to think about it. And when you are thinking, you are not doing it the way it is natural to you. The way your muscle memory remembers it. You start to overwhelm your muscle memory with your brain.

It doesn't have to involve sports either. You walk and talk every day. It is automatic. You don' think about it. However, what if you have to walk down a runway modeling clothes in front of 1,000 people. Or give a speech in front of 10,000?

Thinking too much is inimical to success in many situations.

Through three quarters of the game last night the Atlanta Falcons played their game. They were leading by 19 points with 15 minutes to play.

It is probably fair to say that as the fourth quarter began the Falcons began to first think about what they were on the brink of achieving. It was all downhill from there.

How do you avoid choking?

Don't think about it. "Just do it" as Nike would say.

How do you just do it?

Practice. Practice. And more practice.

Of course, how do you practice leading the Super Bowl?

You don't. It was something that the Falcons simply could not do.

However, the Patriots had been there before. They had the experience of being there and doing it.

Had the roles been reversed, there is no way the Patriots would lose. They had been there before. They would not have been thinking as much about winning as the Falcons.

Experience is worth as much as practice.

That is why the Patriots won and the Falcons lost.

Practice promotes perfect. Experience enhances execution.

A great comeback made possible by a monumental collapse.

May the Falcons be more fortunate in the future.

May I be so fortunate to forget about a shot I missed over 25 years ago.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Worst Is Yet To Come

No matter how heated and hostile the Democrat reaction to the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch may become, it will be nothing compared to what we will see if President Trump has the opportunity to make a second appointment.

It would seem to be better than a 50-50 bet that he will get that chance when you consider the ages of the current Justices on the Court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 84 years of age in a little more than a month.

Anthony Kennedy is almost 81.

Stephen Breyer will be 79 this year.

It is one thing for Gorsuch to fill the seat of Scalia. Other than Clarence Thomas, Scalia was the most ideologically conservative member of the Court as the chart below from FiveThirtyEight demonstrates. It projects that Gorsuch would be roughly similar to Scalia in how he views the law.

In effect, it is more or less a one for one trade for Scalia in the makeup of the Court as it existed before Scalia's death. It really is not a game changer on the makeup of the Court we have seen in recent years.

However, it will be an altogether different situation if Ginsburg, Breyer or Kennedy would need to be replaced.

Just consider the impact on the Court if Ruth Bader Ginsburg could potentially be replaced with another jurist with a similar ideological makeup to Scalia, Thomas or Gorsuch?

Whatever you see playing out over the next couple of months with Gorsuch will be nothing compared to what we will see should Ginsburg's seat open up.

The nomination of Gorsuch by President Trump is already getting liberals concerned about Ginsburg's health.

Consider these comments from several committed leftists in this story from The Washington Post that was picked up by SF Gate, "Can she eat more kale? Hordes of liberals want reassurance of RBG's health"

"I'm very interested in this." says Jeanette Bavwidinski, a community organizer in Pennsylvania. "I'm interested in what her daily regimen is. Like, what are you all feeding RBG? Is she getting enough fresh air? Is she walking? Is she staying low-stress? What is she reading? Is she reading low-stress things?"
"Can she eat more kale?" asks Kim Landsbergen, a forest ecologist in Ohio. "Eat more kale, that's all I can say. We love you. Eat more kale.
Concerns about Ginsburg's health are not unwarranted in that she has already survived both colon and pancreatic cancer.

You may also remember this photo of Justice Ginsburg at President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address. I guess you could say she was not enthralled by what she heard that night.

Credit: YouTube

Many of the left are unhappy with Ginsburg that she did not retire when Obama was President so that he could appoint a successor. However, in her defense, I don't think she ever considered the possibility that Trump would be President.

If you recall, she said this about Trump in an interview with The New York Times that she later recanted and apologized for after receiving strong criticism from all sides.

I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she said. “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.”
It reminded her of something her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, a prominent tax lawyer who died in 2010, would have said.
“Now it’s time for us to move to New Zealand,’” Justice Ginsburg said, smiling ruefully.

Perhaps Ruth Bader Ginsburg could not imagine it but it is the reality now. It also probably explains why Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan all are using a personal trainer according to The Washington Post story. However, it does not tell us whether she is eating kale. 

One more chart is worth looking at for all those who suggested that Merrick Garland was a "centrist" and that Obama went out of his way to nominate a candidate who should have been acceptable to Republicans.


This is how The New York Times assessed each of the justices on the ideological spectrum together with how they saw Garland lining up.

This may be how The Times defines a centrist but it looks nothing like a centrist to me.

Considering all of this, it points to the fact that the Gorsuch nomination is merely the preliminary bout. The main event is yet to come.

I have no doubt that the Democrats will throw everything they can at Gorsuch but are they willing to impede the nomination process such that the GOP will need to employ the so-called "nuclear option"
and force a mere majority vote in the Senate rather than the super-majority 60 votes?

They may be unhinged enough to do it but I don't think it would be smart on this nomination. Doing it now on a pick that doesn't really change the balance on the Court seems short-sighted. It would seem better to wait until the stakes were larger if you were a Democrat.

The worst is yet to come.

For Democrats.

And, unfortunately, for all of us who have to look at these spectacles in Washington.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Supreme Decision

President Trump announced tonight that he has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the United States Supreme Court.

I don't know a lot about Gorsuch but from what I know I like this selection a great deal.

It is difficult to argue with the qualifications of Gorsuch but the Democrats will rant and rave about how terrible he is from this day forward. Count on it. It is what Democrats do.

It is not something that Republicans have historically done. The GOP has generally focused on qualifications and not rejected Supreme Court nominees based on ideology. Take Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a far left ideologue when she was nominated for the Court in 1993. She had been the ACLU's General Counsel. However, like Gorsuch, you could not fault her qualifications. She was confirmed 96-3. The same was also true of Justices Kagan and Sotamayor who were Obama selections. Kagan was confirmed by a vote of 63-37 and Sotamayor by a vote of 68-31. See if Gorsuch gets that kind of support from Democrats even though Gorsuch has a superior legal resume to both.

For Democrats, it is all about ideology. Nothing else matters when it comes to the Supreme Court.

Neil Gorsuch with President Trump
Credit: Business Insider

Gorsuch has impeccable qualifications for the Supreme Court. It would be hard to find a better resume for the job.

Columbia undergraduate degree. Harvard law degree. A Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University in England. Truman scholar. Marshall scholar.

Judicial clerkship for the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Supreme Court clerkship for both Justice White and Justice Kennedy.

A partner in private practice for a D.C law firm.

Service as Principal Deputy to the Associate Attorney General for the United States.

Ten years as a judge on the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver for which he was confirmed without any objection by the United States Senate in 2006.

Why will Democrats put up such a stink about Gorsuch?

He could be the swing vote on the Court which is now divided equally between liberals and conservatives.

He is known be an "originalist" who believes in interpreting the Constitution as the Founding Fathers would have interpreted it.

He is only 49 years of age. He could be on the Court for a long, long time.

The Democrats also know that without the Supreme Court "making law" they have little hope in realizing their progressive ideals. They have generally failed in establishing any of their big ideals through Constitutional means. Most everything they care about did not come from legislation or constitutional amendment but by the opinions of five Supreme Court justices. Look no further than abortion and gay marriage as prime examples. Or the affirmation of the constitutionality of Obamacare.

Gorsuch believes (as did Justice Scalia) that the Constitution is to be interpreted as it was written. It is not to be considered a "living" document that is to be bent to the "current times" by nine justices. This is something only the Congress and the states can do. The Constitution establishes a clear structure to do this through the Amendment process.

There was a time when the Constitution meant something.  It was respected for what it was.  So were the limitations that were carefully crafted into the document by the Framers.  Even when there was pretty compelling language in the Constitution to bend it to the "current times" it was ruled out of bounds. Has something been lost?

Consider a couple of examples in our history.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution provides that Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes. Nevertheless, the income tax law of 1892 was ruled unconstitutional because it was considered outside the power of Congress. The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913 to allow it.

There is also  nothing in the Constitution signed by the Framers that precluded women from voting. All references in the document were to people, not men.  However, the culture and custom was generally for only males to vote. Nevertheless, it took the 19th Amendment in 1920 before it became the law of the land.  Interestingly, 15 states (beginning with Wyoming in 1870) granted women the right to vote before adoption of the 19th Amendment.  Since voter eligibility was an issue left to the states (in that it was not specifically enumerated in the Constitution by the Framers) women in these states voted in both state and federal elections before 1920.

Was the Constitution designed to change with time? Of course. That is what the amendment process is for (Article V).  The Framers in their wisdom also considered this carefully.  They did not want it amended for some passing fancy.  Nor did they want a small majority to change the key foundations of the governing document to the detriment of a significant minority.  Therefore, 2/3 of both the House and Senate can come together and propose any amendment.  They do not even need the President to concur.  Alternatively, 2/3 of the states can come together and call a convention to propose their own amendments and bypass Congress completely.  If the amendment is ratified by 3/4 of the state it is adopted as part of the Constitution.

If the American people want a federal government with expansive power they can have it. They can allow gay marriage.  Or ban it in all 50 states. The same with abortion. They can ban the use of alcohol or repeal the ban and allow it again. They can require everyone to buy health insurance or anything else.

It is simply not within the power of a handful of judges to suddenly discover fundamental rights that have somehow been hidden in the Constitution for over 200 years and start applying them to 310 million citizens by fiat.

That is why there is an amendment process to the Constitution.  It is hard and it was meant to be hard.
However, what Democrats have not been able to gain at the voting booth they have chosen to win at the Supreme Court.

And for that reason Neil Gorsuch is a supreme threat to Democrats. This is not just a confirmation. This puts their entire agenda at risk. They know that they do not have the support of the necessary majorities of American voters to support and extend their progressive agenda. They do not want to follow the Constitution to get there. Our Founders wanted a clear consensus before we made radical changes to the rules that governed us. The Democrats simply don't want to wait and do the heavy lifting necessary to get what they want.

If you want to know a major reason why the country is so divided right now look no further than what the Supreme Court has done to undermine our constitutional principles. It has moved the country before it was ready to move to support that progressive agenda.

Let us hope with the appointment of justices like Gorsuch we are near the end of this misguided experiment where judges legislate from the bench.

Congratulations to President Trump on a supreme decision.

And good luck to Neil Gorsuch.

Let's hope that by the end of the process he will be able to retain some sense of dignity and decorum in the face of what are sure to be relentless Democrat attacks. His life is going to be looked at with a microscope because the life of the Democrat party is at stake. Remember that as this process unfolds.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What A Difference A Week Makes

I often hear people say that it does not make a difference who you vote for.

"All politicians are the same. It doesn't matter who you vote for."

The last week should prove how wrong that view is. In his first week in office, Donald Trump has shown what a difference a week makes.

Perhaps it is because he is not a politician. However, you cannot dispute the fact that he is turning the Washington, D.C. that we knew under Barack Obama on its head.

Consider a sampling of what Trump did in his first week as President.

  • Issued an executive order aimed at rolling back some of the most onerous regulations involving Obamacare. At the same time, he is pushing hard on Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
  • Froze the implementation of all federal regulations currently awaiting approval.
  • Instructed the Department of Homeland Security to commence immediate construction of a border wall with Mexico using existing federal funds to get started.
  • Signed an order abandoning the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership and also stated that he wants to begin renegotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada.
  • Instituted a freeze on the hiring of new federal workers, except for the military and border control agents.
  • Kickstarted the Keystone XL Pipeline that the Obama administration had blocked. He also prioritized the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota that has been the subject of protests.
  • Began the process of withholding federal funding to sanctuary cities.
  • Temporarily halted refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process capped refugee admissions at 50,000 per year. Despite all the outrage from Democrats and the media about how "extreme' this measure is, it should be noted that the countries affected by the refugee ban are the same countries that were designated as terrorist threats in a bill signed by President Obama. The 50,000 number is also about the average number of refugees that have been admitted to the United States since the year 2000 as you can see in the graph below. You do not hear these facts in the media. 

  • Once again made it the policy of the United States (first introduced by President Reagan) to prohibit federal foreign aid to family planning organizations that counsel on or provide abortions.
  • Reportedly is taking steps to cancel President Obama's last minute release of $221 million to the Palestinian Authority and is also reportedly supporting a move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
What is particularly interesting in all these actions is that they are almost all 180 degrees opposite of what President Obama was doing.

They are also significant because each action was something that Trump campaigned on.

What can we take from all of this?

Donald J. Trump is clearly not your average politician and he seems intent on actually doing what he said he was going to do.

It doesn't make any difference on who you vote for?

Get ready for Week 2. 

Are you ready for a Supreme Court nomination?

When I have been asked what kind of President I think Trump will be, my answer has been that he probably has a 20% chance to be great, a 20% chance to be a disaster and a 60% chance to be average. In my opinion, Hillary had a 0% chance to be great and a 20% chance to be a disaster.

Why does Trump have the ability to be great? Quite simply he is willing to go where others won't. He is willing to challenge the status quo. He also does not appear to have the personality to settle. That will either serve him well or be his ultimate undoing in a town where settling is the status quo.

Many, many weeks lie ahead for President Trump.

However, his first week shows us what a difference a week can make.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Never Trump Travel Guide

Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on Friday.

Before the election a large number of celebrities vowed that they would leave the country if Trump won including Barbra Streisand, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie O'Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Miley Cyrus and Barry Diller.

We are still waiting for this happen. Perhaps they are waiting until after the inauguration. It could also be that they were waiting for this Never Trump Travel Guide on the best places in the world to destroy any remaining brain cells that they possess.

I recently came across a Bloomberg article that may help them choose where to live once they leave the United States. It compares the cost of a basket of goods — tobacco, alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine and opioids — in more than 100 countries relative to the U.S.

Let's call it a Vice Index.

If these celebs are so miserable and depressed about Trump perhaps they need something to take their minds off of their misery when they leave the country.

As a reference point, the basket of vice costs $400 in the United States.

This is what Bloomberg put in the vice basket.

a pack of cigarettes, most popular and premium brands; a bottle of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits; a gram of amphetamine-type stimulants, including amphetamine, methamphetamine and/or ecstasy; a gram of cannabis, including marijuana herb, hashish resin and/or cannabis oil; a gram of cocaine, regardless of salts, paste or base forms; a gram of opioids, including heroin and/or opium.

If the celebs take their US dollars with them it will go the furthest in the Congo. What costs $400 for the vice basket in the U.S. will cost them less than $20 in that country in Africa. If they want to stay closer to home, they might want to check out Honduras where the vice basket goes for only about 10% of what it does in the States.

They need to stay away from Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The vice basket is real expensive in those countries--double to triple what it would cost in the States.

I know that these celebrities like to celebrate the socialist ideals of Venezuela. I can't understand why we don't see anyone saying that they want to live there instead of in the United States with Trump. Or in Cuba for that matter.

It must be the cost of the vice basket in Venezuela. I doubt it could be the lack of food, medical services or toilet paper in that socialist paradise.

The vice basket costs $3,645 in Venezuela---almost ten times what it does in the United States.

Life truly is not fair to the Venezuelans. They lack the most basic necessities thanks to their socialist leaders and they can't even do anything to try to ease the pain.

How bad is it?
Rampant inflation means locals would have to spend 17 times their weekly wages for a bottle of beer, a packet of smokes and a gram of cocaine.

That is bad. It is hard to imagine if it is that expensive to have a smoke, get drunk or get stoned how long will it be before political revolution comes to Venezuela?

After all, it was only an increase in the tax on tea that pushed American colonists over the edge.

If the celebrities find that it is not as easy to earn a buck in their new foreign home, and have to find a job in the local economy, this chart might be more instructive. It shows how much the vice basket costs as a percentage of the average weekly wage in the 40 most affordable countries to feed your vices.

Luxembourg and Switzerland are the most affordable countries for citizens with vices. The United States is #17 on the list. However, it still would consume 36% of the average worker's wages.  After you pay that, your Obamacare premiums and your taxes, there would not be much left to live on. Vices are not cheap.

Canada is #23. The Congo which has the lowest absolute cost gets expensive when you have to earn a living there---the vice basket would consume over 50% of the average weekly wage.

Safe travels to all the Never Trumpers. Please protect the brain cells that you have left.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Monumentally Misbegotten

I have written previously about the Obama administration using its last year in office to promulgate thousands of new regulations. All of this regulation ended up adding 97,110 pages to the Federal Register in 2016---the highest number in U.S. history.

A BeeLine reader pointed me to another area where President Obama is going out with a flourish. He is wielding his pen to designate millions of acres of land and sea under federal control as "national monuments" to place them beyond the reach of development and to secure his environmental legacy according to this article in The New York Times.

The latest "national monuments" established by Obama were 1.35 million acres of federal land surrounding the Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and about 300,000 acres around Gold Butte in Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas.

Prior to these designations, during his eight years in office, President Obama had proclaimed 553 million acres of land and sea within the jurisdiction of the United States to be considered as "national monuments" under authority he believes he has under "The Antiquities Act of 1906."

This is how Wikipedia describes the purpose of "The Antiquities Act"

The Act was intended to allow the President to set aside certain valuable public natural areas as park and conservation land. The 1906 act stated that it was intended for: "... the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest." These areas are given the title of "National Monuments." It also allows the President to reserve or accept private lands for that purpose. The aim is to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on United States federal lands and to prohibit excavation or destruction of these antiquities. With this act, this can be done much more quickly than going through the Congressional process of creating a National Park. The Act states that areas of the monuments are to be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.  (my emphasis added).

What is particularly troubling about these actions of President Obama is whether, unlike executive actions and many regulations, it is possible for Donald Trump or another future President to reverse these designations under The Antiquities Act. The statute is silent on that point and no "national monument" designation has been reversed previously. Then again, there also has never been a President who has so monumentally abused his power under the statute.

I often write in BeeLine that context is everything when assessing anything. Let's assess President Obama's actions here in context.

I am a conservationist at heart. Most conservatives I know are. Conserving our history and natural resources is smart and prudent.

I understand the intention of the statute. There are times that Congress may act too slowly in providing protection of objects of historic or scientific interest. Executive action might be desirable in limited situations. However, it should be the exception rather than the norm.

Let's put 553 million acres in context. It is big number but do you realize how big it really is?

President Franklin Roosevelt also used the Antiquities Act to designate some "national monuments." He was in office over 12 years. The total acreage that he took under federal authority was 2.8 million acres. Obama's actions places 200 times more acreage as designated "national monuments" than FDR did. In addition, consider for a moment that those 550+ million acres had been in existence since 1906 and no prior President saw any urgency to act to protect them before.

What is more shocking is realizing how large an area 555 million acres is (the 553 million Obama had previously designated together with the 1.6 million in Utah and Nevada) when you compare it to the acreage in various states.

In fact, 555 million acres is more than the combined acreage of Alaska (375 million acres) and Texas (171 million acres) which are the two largest states we have in land mass.

Does it sound as if the monuments that President Obama has declared are "confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected" as the statute requires?

Does it sound as if this President is faithfully executing the Office of President of the United States when Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that one of his key responsibilities is as follows?

"shall take Care that the Laws are faithfully executed."

This is yet another example of our 44th President who turned out to be "The Constitutional President Who Ignored the Constitution."

Another man is taking the oath of office this week. This is what he will recite with his right hand raised and his left hand on the Bible on Friday.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

He may not be a constitutional lawyer but I am confident he understands the oath and responsibilities of the Office of President of the United States a far sight better than his predecessor.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Nature or Nurture?

I have long been interested in the question of whether nature or nurture is primarily responsible for athletic success.

Are great athletes born or made?

Some of my interest stems from my experiences as an athlete. My father was a very poor athlete. My mother was a good athlete and a physical education major in college.

I was a decent athlete in school. I would probably put myself in the top 5% in athletic ability when growing up against my peers. I played varsity soccer, varsity golf and jv basketball in high school and played on the freshman baseball team before I focused on golf. I was a solid starter in every sport I played except for basketball where I was the 6th or 7th man. However, I was never "the star" on any team I played on.

Did I fail to become a star because I did not have the right genes? Or did I simply not work hard and practice enough? After all, I was spreading myself over three sports my entire time in school. What kept me from getting to the next level? Not having the right parents or not practicing enough?

I recently finished reading the "The Sports Gene" by David Epstein which explores this issue and the current state of research on "how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor's training affects athleticism".

The short answer is that elite athletes are 100 percent nature and 100 percent nurture. Without both genes and the right environment there are no elite outcomes.

One of the fascinating stories in the book is about a boy who tried out for the 9th grade track team. He had failed in previous years in middle school at the high jump, pole vault, hurdles and 50 yard dash but each time he did not have the ability to make the team. He decided to try the longest race offered---the 400 meters---as a last chance.

He started out fast and led the tryout run for the first half of the race but his legs soon turned to jelly and his lungs were burning like they were on fire in the homestretch. He once again failed to make the team.

Nevertheless, he ran a little bit over the summer before entering high school which started in 10th grade in his hometown and decided to go out for the cross country team in the Fall. He had never run five miles without stopping until his first cross country practice. In his first time trial on a mile run he was 14th on the team. In his first cross country meet he had the 21st best time on his team. He was not even good enough to be considered junior varsity after his first competitive race. He was placed on the "C" team.

However, as he trained each day identically alongside his fellow team members, he made massive improvement compared to the others. In six weeks, he was solidly on the jv team. Two months later, he led the varsity to the Kansas state championship.

Although he had massive improvement in a short time he still was not sure running was his thing. He didn't run over the winter and was reluctant to go out for track in the Spring. He ended up running the mile and ran a 4:26 time in March to defeat the defending state champion. That compared to the 5:38 time he ran 6 months before in his first time trial. He ended his sophomore season by running  a 4:08 mile.

In his junior year he became the first high school student in the world to run a sub-4 minute mile in only his second season of running track.

The runner's name was Jim Ryun who set the world record at age 19 in a time of 3:51.3

Jim Ryun in high school
Credit: Runner's World

Jim Ryun did not eventually set that world record without herculean training regimens. However, he clearly had what genetic scientists would refer to as a "high responder" body. He had some natural gifts but when he trained his lungs, hearts and body responded as if on a super charger. The nature was there but he needed to nurture it to reach full potential.

You see this theme over and over in the book.

Certain people have certain innate advantages. It is undeniable.

Africans who have descended from the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya are the world's best distance runners. For example, seventeen American men in history have run a marathon faster than 2:10. Thirty-two Kalenjin men did it in one month---October, 2011.

Why? Researchers point to their high VO2 max capacity living at 7500 feet altitude as well as their long legs that are particularly thin in the lower leg that allow for good running economy. Another factor is that most as young boys run miles to school and back each day. Again nature and nurture in play. It is interesting to note that none of the sons of the great Kenyan runners are following in their footsteps. They are not running to school and are more likely leading a softer life than their fathers. Nature can only take you so far.

A couple of other interesting facts in the book that show how important nature is in some athletic pursuits.

  • Major league position players have an average right eye acuity of 20/11 and left eye acuity of 20/12. You might only find this in a handful of people if you tested a population at large. You see it in very large numbers in major league hitters.

  • The average man generally has an arm span from finger tip to tip when the arms are extended outwards equal to his height--a ratio of 1.0. The average ratio for a white NBA player is 1.035. The average for African American players is 1.071. This works out to be an average height of 6'5-1/2" with a 6'11"wingspan. How important is wingspan in a basketball player. Only two NBA players had ratios below 1.0 when this survey was taken during the 2010-1 season. This may explain my mediocre basketball career. I was just over 6 feet tall but my wingspan is just over an inch short of that. On my best leap in high school I could barely touch the rim. Now I know it was not my leaping ability that was weak, I could not dunk the basketball because my arms were too short.

  • We see tall men in the NBA but we lose perspective on how rare that type of height is. In fact, of American men ages twenty to forty, it is amazing to consider that 17% of them are in the NBA right now. In other words, if you passed six seven-footers on the street, one would be in the NBA. Further, only 5% of American men are 6'3" or taller. Almost every player in the NBA is that height. 

  • The length and stiffness of the achilles tendon seems to help determine leaping ability. For example, kangaroos have very, very long achilles tendons. Length is innate but working out can stiffen the tendon to make it have more spring. Stefan Holm of Sweden who was only 5'11' claims to have done more high jumps than any man in history. The achilles tendon on his left leg (his take off leg) was 4 times stiffer than the average man. This explains why Holm was able to high jump 7'10.5" the highest differential ever between the jumper's height and jump.

I am a big believer in practice, hard work and training being essential building blocks of success. I have written about it before here and here. It is not as if I do not recognize the influence of nature in success. However, I believe we are too quick to use nature as an excuse in not reaching our potential. It is too easy to try something once or twice and say "I am not good at (fill in the blank).

What if Jim Ryun had said that after finishing 14th in his school on his first mile time trial? In fact, Ryun's parents urged him to quit in those early days when he would come home after practice exhausted and hurting. "It is too hard on you. Give it up." However, he persevered and the rest is history. It is interesting to note that nobody else in Ryun's family was a runner. His parents never were athletes and his younger sister never ran. Did they have similar talents that were never realized?

When I picked up this book I wondered how much it would challenge my core beliefs. This book does show there is variability in the potential all of us have in various athletic pursuits. A stocky kid with short legs is not going to be a world class distance runner. A skinny, short kid is not going to become an offensive tackle for the Patriots. A girl is never going to throw the football as far as Ben Roethlisberger. The book points out that the average 18-year old boy can throw a ball three times as far as the average girl. This is why there are separate men's and women's athletic events. It is nature.

However, the reality of the gene pool is that most of us have talents and potential that are little different than almost everyone else on the planet. What differentiates those that succeed versus those that do not is purpose, passion, perseverance...and practice.

As one scientist remarked in the book, when it comes to the gene pool the biggest gift that you can receive is the will to want do something.

I believed that before the book. I believe it more after reading the book.

However, I also realize that alone is not enough to take a 6 foot kid with a below average wingspan and make them an NBA player. Of course, that short wingspan did not prevent me from becoming an above average blogger.

May each of you find your purpose and passion...and persevere in reaching your full potential.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Farewell President Opposite

President Obama gave his farewell address to the nation last night.

I am not sure we have ever had a President where so many people were so happy...and others so see a Presidential term come to an end.

It might have been presented as a farewell address, but if Obama was hoping to be compared with Washington and Eisenhower, he missed the mark. From my perspective, it was emblematic of his entire eight years in office.

This is how Bloomberg political columnist Jonathan Bernstein summarized the speech in an article entitled, "What Went Wrong With Obama's Farewell Speech".

The basic problem was that the event, and the speech, couldn't make up their minds about what they were doing. The core of the speech, as far as I could tell, was a classic farewell address in the spirit of George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower -- serious advice to the nation, distilling something he had learned from the last eight years, meant to be taken seriously and remembered.
Unfortunately, that was mostly lost in the mess of a long, split personality speech. Obama ricocheted back and forth between a campaign rally, a recitation of the administration's greatest hits (bin Laden! jobs! Cuba! marriage!), a SOTU-type of laundry list of future policies he supports, an opportunity to personally give thanks to his family, staff, supporters, and voters, and then back around again. And the setting -- in Chicago, with a large cheering audience -- meant that even the serious parts felt more like a campaign rally than something to think about.
To be fair, President Obama tried to talk about the need in the future to work together and to unite our country in common cause. However, his actions over most of the eight years have been the exact opposite. You have to ask what has he been doing about it? The country is clearly more divided today than when he took office.

What happened to the "Hope and Change" and "Yes, We Can!" that we kept hearing about on the campaign trail eight years ago?

That is why I began to refer to President Obama as President Opposite four years ago.

I wrote the blog post below in September, 2012. I could update it with even more material today (Obamacare is even worse, the rise of ISIS, the Iran deal, the betrayal of Israel, cop killings, Black Lives Matter, the IRS scandal etc) but what point would it serve right now?

President Obama fully earned the title of President Opposite in his first four years and the next four only confirmed how accurate the description is.


President Opposite
(originally published September 30, 2012)

Take a minute and think back to four years ago.

Day after day and in speech after speech we heard about "Hope and Change".

I have come to the conclusion that to understand where we will end up with President Obama is to convert everything he says to the OPPOSITE of what he says he is going to do.

President Opposite

He was going to bring us together.  He has worked primarily at creating divisions with endless class warfare rhetoric.

We heard how we would experience a new tone in Washington that would see hands reaching across the political divide for the good of America. We have never been more divided.

We heard how the federal deficit would be cut in half and we would no longer burden our children's future with the enormous federal debt.  The federal debt has increased from $10.6 trillion to over $16 trillion.

We heard how the United States of America would be respected like never before.  Our enemies have gotten angrier and we have angered some of our closest allies.

We heard how we would extend health care to millions and at the same time the tens of millions who liked their health care could keep it and premiums would be reduced by $2,500 per family as a result of healthcare reform.  A 2,300 page health care reform bill was passed on a strict party line vote that will increase our deficit by $1 trillion over the next 10 years, cut Medicare by $716 billion, force religious organizations to violate the most basic tenets of their faith and turn over many medical decisions to a government bureaucracy.  Health care premiums have not decreased by $2,500=they have increased by $2,500 over the last four years.

We heard how green jobs would be created by the millions to spur a economic revival the likes of what we had not seen in decades.  Solyndra and many other "green" companies were given billions of dollars by the federal government and many went bankrupt without providing anything of value in jobs or economic growth.  At the same time, a project that would have increased our energy security and created thousands of jobs, the Keystone pipeline, was rejected.

We heard how we would lift more people out of poverty with a helping hand that would benefit the entire country at the same time.  More people are on food stamps, Medicaid and disability than at any time in history.

We heard how this would be the most open and transparent federal government in the history of the Republic.  The health care reform was drafted behind closed doors, we still don't know what happened with Fast and Furious and a U.S. Ambassador is dead and we hear a different story every day.

I could go on and on about the promises, propositions and predictions that were made as to how our lives were going to be made better by Barack Obama.  Consider just a few other examples of how we have gotten the OPPOSITE of what we were promised four years ago.

  • We have fewer people working than four years ago.
  • The net worth of American families is lower than it was four years ago.
  • Real incomes are lower than they were four years ago.
  • We have 47 million people on food stamps-a 50% increase from four years ago.
  • We have lost almost 600,000 manufacturing jobs to China and other foreign countries in the last four years.
  • Gas prices at the pump are almost double what they were four years ago.
  • The United States has fewer allies and more enemies than four years ago.
  • We have taken on $3 of federal debt for every $1 in economic growth over the last four years.
  • We lost our nation's AAA credit rating.
  • Most importantly, President Obama has gotten the formula that made America great exactly backward although he talks about going forward.  He seems to think that government creates prosperity.  If that was the case North Korea, Cuba and Greece would be economic giants.  The only way forward is with productivity gains in the private sector.

President Obama's 2012 campaign theme is FORWARD. However, I have not been able to discern one new idea or new policy that he is proposing that is any different than we have heard for the last four years. There is nothing to look FORWARD to as everything that he is proposing we have already seen how it will turn out... all we have to do is look BACKWARD.

The man in office is simply President Opposite.  He has us going in the wrong direction with every step he takes.  If you still have doubts go BACKWARD to the beginning of this post and read it again.

President Opposite leaves office at the end of next week. He will leave one big legacy going FORWARD. The people of the United States looked at the record of the last eight years and have decided they want to go in an OPPOSITE direction for the next four years.

Democrats and the liberal media are in full-fledged panic over that thought. However, Donald J. Trump would never have been elected but for the record of Barack Obama as President Opposite. If they want to blame someone, start with Mr. Obama. As for me, I bid him farewell and thank him for such a wonderful legacy.