Saturday, October 13, 2007

Heathcare in Independence

Heathcare in Independence

My mother was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital. This incident resulted in my first visit to the new Centerpoint hospital in Independence. Here are a few of my initial observations.

1) I've always been amused by the hospital name. At one point they were going to call it the "Independence Regional Medical Center" to combine the names of Medical Center of Independence and Independence Regional Hospital (the two facilities that were closed to make room for the new facility). Instead, they named it Centerpoint. Obviously, some marketing or P.R. whiz-kid came up with this name. Since the hospital is about as far south and as far east as one can get and still remain in Independence, "Centerpoint" makes about as much sense as naming a community college "Blue River" when it is about 20 miles east of the Blue River. But I digress. Clearly, those who make such decisions heard the complaints and concerns of people in north and west Independence about the closing of their two hospitals. Rather than establishing urgent care at the old IRH or MCI, they just decided to give the new hospital a name that might suggest that is was "in the middle." Good work, folks!

2) Okay, most Americans (including me) are technically obese by medical standards. With more and more people overweight and in need of exercise, healthcare costs continue to explode. So, how does the new hospital address this development? First, they have valet parking so people visiting the hospital don't have to walk from the parking lot. Second, they have several menu options for patients, including fried chicken fingers, cheesecake, and the like. And, you can call down to have food sent to your room any time. Frankly, this seemed more like a cruise ship than a wellness center.

3) I always thought it was funny on the television show, "Scrubs" when Dr. Kelso installed a Starbucks-like coffee bar in their hospital to maximize profits. Should I have been surprised to see a full line, Starbucks-like coffee bar right inside the front door? I guess I shouldn't have, but I was! Isn't it funny how art imitates life? I've always said that Scrubs didn't gain the popular acceptance it should have because you just aren't allowed to poke fun at doctors and hospitals. Those "ER" and "Grey's Anatomy" supporters just didn't get the joke. Clearly, the people at Centerpoint didn't get it either!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Petitions in Missouri

Petitions in Missouri

I just got back from the Missouri Library Association annual meeting. The Legislative Committee sponsored a program on TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) initiatives in Missouri. I've written about TABOR before. My personal feeling is that TABOR, as a legislative issue, is likely dead. While the Missouri House passed TABOR in the 2007 session, there doesn't seem to be any interest in taking it up in the Senate. As long as the Senate doesn't take up TABOR, that avenue is dead. The real potential problem is with citizen petitions to create TABOR as a constitutional amendment. Here's the problem.

The initiative petition process in Missouri (and maybe everyplace) is broken. Petitions are being collected, not by engaged citizens, but by people who are paid to collect signatures. These collectors may come from other states and may not be fully informed on the topic. Since they are paid by the signature, the petitioners will say anything to collect one more name. I've been told stories about petitioners harassing signers. In fact, our library had to have a petitioner arrested at one of our branches for her aggressive collection of signatures in violation of library policy.

My favorite story is a situation that occurred in Columbia, Missouri. Several people were being paid by the signature to gain signatures for two separate issues. The petitioners would ask people to sign the front of the clipboard to put a popular issue on the ballot. Then, the petitioner would flip the clipboard and ask for a second signature to "verify" the other signature. The problem? The "verification" signature was actually for the other petition and was for a less well accepted issue. People are being mislead about what they are signing. Mostly because the people who are collecting the signatures are doing so for money, not due to a dedication to the issue.

When people tried to put TABOR on the ballot in Missouri, petition signature collectors frequently told people that TABOR would allow people to vote on tax increases. One problem. The Missouri Constitution, through the Hancock Amendment (I and II) already assure that people are to vote on tax increases. Whether the collectors don't understand Missouri's constitution, or whether they are just saying something popular to gain more signatures is irrelevant. The point is that the process has been corrupted.

Something has to be done to put the initiative petition back in the hands of the people.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

School District Shifting

School District Shifting

I grew up in Independence, Missouri. Even though our home was about as far east as you could get, our family was always connected with the western part of town. Part of this was because we attended church in western Independence, just north of Van Horn High School. From the time my Aunt moved off the Independence Square, she lived in Fairmount and then near Hill Park. My family's pharmacy was BB Super Drug in Maywood. My doctor's office was in Englewood, as was my dentist's office. You really aren't aware of such things when you're growing up, but I did notice several things. First, my family and one other was the only family at our church with young children. And, more to the point, my family didn't live near the church. I also noticed the stores in Fairmount, Maywood and Englewood lost long-time tenants like the Chevy dealer, the bowling alley, and even Jerry's Restaurant. What I didn't realize when I was growing up was that I was seeing the economic impact of home-owner's perception of the Kansas City School District.

So, am I surprised that the people of Sugar Creek, Maywood, Englewood, and people all up and down the Sterling Road corridor are fighting to leave the Kansas City School District? Absolutely not. I'd guess the majority of the people living in this area didn't live there when the community was vital. They likely didn't live there before busing changed the dynamics of the neighborhood. I think many people who support the move understand that Independence School District students performs much, much better than Kansas City students. Although it is a simple and false argument for some to say "Independence schools should be in Independence." If people really though that was the true point, then Independence needs to get to work and deannex parts of the Blue Springs, Fort Osage and Raytown school districts. That's not the point at all. These other school districts that serve Independence graduate students who perform.

I think the combination of poor school and student performance, poor home resale values, imploding commercial districts, and finally, the Hancock circuit breaker assured this issue would come to the forefront. The Hancock Amendment requires all other taxing districts to roll back tax levies so that revenues don't grow faster than inflation. The KC Desegregation case said that the District was exempt from Hancock roll backs, unlike the Independence, Raytown or Fort Osage school districts. This means that the tax rate in the Kansas City School District increases faster than inflation. This isn't about keeping all Independence in one school district. It is about everything else.

What I'd suggest is that the KC School District should be concerned about south Kansas City and the areas bounding the Raytown, Grandview and Center school districts. I see the start of the same types of declines that I saw as a boy around my church. If Independence is successful, I think the Kansas City School District could become much smaller on all sides. And, frankly that's exactly what may be needed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Drivin' Me Crazy

I've been on the road a lot this past week. I have to say that I really love driving my car. It is a very smooth ride and it certainly makes the KC to St. Louis trip very, very easy. But I've got to tell you something. Things get a little different once you get east of Kingdom City. I seemed to see more accidents and more erratic driving. One thing I certainly noticed was that I was frequently driving below the speed limit in the left lane. In fact, in the area between Warrenton and Lambert Field it seemed that any time I was switching to the right lane to pass.

Yes, traffic is too heavy on I-70. Yes, I have a personal bias against "St. Louis." But, I don't know if adding an additional lane on I-70 will help the issue as long as self-centered idiots are driving on the interstate.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Minor Thoughts

Minor Thoughts

I think I have a new movie in my top-10. I finally got to watch Idiocracy this weekend. I always knew I would love it. I mean, you're talking about the creator of Office Space, Beavis & Butthead, and King of the Hill. I don't think I've laughed so hard as when they explained how "natural selection" worked in reverse. Namely, that smarter people were concerned about bringing children into the world, given the state of things. While, not-so-smart people had all sorts of trouble curbing the number of children that they were having. Eventually, the smarter people selected themselves out! Between that explanation and the sign for "St. God's Hospital" (where the lettering was too long, and so they just ran it down the side of the building) I don't think I've laughed so hard in several days.

Keeping with the complete idiot theme...

Let's move to the KC Chiefs roster. We are keeping two quarterbacks, neither were really deserving of being named a starter in the NFL. Think of it this way. If this season were to start out like last season (with the starter being injured in the first game) we'd be stuck with Croyle and a guy who hasn't run one play in our system. We are relying on a 4-3 defense with a heavy rotation on the defensive line, so they can stay fresh and allow the linebackers to make plays. But, the Chiefs only have 7 active defensive linemen on the roster since one is suspended for the first two games of the season. This means that there is really only one backup DE starting the season. And then, let me make sure I have this right...there are four tight ends and five wide receivers. I know that Kris Wilson is "supposed" to be a full back...but I think he's out of position there. He's an H-Back. That seems like a lot of pass catchers for a running offense. And then there are 11 defensive backs (6 corners and five safeties).

Still on the roster (clearly because they must have naked pictures of Carl Peterson or something) are Kendrell Bell and Sammy Parker. Missing from the practice squad Brad Ekwerekwu, Bobby Sippio, and Casey Printers. Listed on the practice squad, I'm sorry, but players I just barely recognize from the preseason. You want to know the real difference between an offensive minded head coach and a defensive one? The practice squad. Dick Vermeil kept people like Dante Hall around until he could develop. Herm Edwards should keep some skill players to develop. Instead, he has 5 linemen (offense and defense) and one fullback. I'm still certain this is going to be a long season.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Activist Judges

Activist Judges

Missouri is on the brink of insanity (once again). A few years back, social conservatives worked to get the gay-marriage ban on the ballot so it could be there the same time as the governor's election. What they discovered was these key issues would help pull more social conservatives to the poll to vote against gay marriage, and ALSO to vote for the social conservative candidates. So, with the governor up against it, and several Republicans reeling from defeats in 2006, Missouri social conservatives are taking on "judicial activism."

What is judicial activism? Basically, when you disagree with a judge's decision, that judge is an activist. So, stick with me on this, if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v Wade (for right or wrong, IS the law) wouldn't those judges be activists? What if judges find that teacher lead prayer in public schools is alright? That would overturn several court decisions. Okay, you can say the Roe and school prayer decisions are based on opinion, not law. Fine. Then, when the 1954 Supreme Court overturned several laws based on the Plessy decision, and overturning legal segregation, wasn't that activism?

I've heard people suggest that judges need to follow the will of the people. I disagree. This is how it works. The people create a constitution. The legislature passes bills and crafts constitutional amendments and governors or presidents sign those bills into law. Those bodies are elected by the people and beholden to the people. In the case of constitutional amendments (at the state level) the people get to directly vote on the issue. So, there's you're public check. I'll come back to that. When it is time to interpret the law, or interpret a dispute when people have different points of view about an issue, the judiciary decides those issues. That is, based on the laws and constitution that the people have passed. NOT the laws that people hope were on the books. NOT the constitutional amendments that SHOULD be there. The legislators and the executive are beholden to the public. Legislators and executives can be swayed by the whim of the public or the money that comes with strong special interest. I think that goes without saying. What the judiciary does is check the "flavor of the month" approach to public policy that you find among the elected officials. You must have an independent judiciary to check this.

So, how do you get judges to find "your" way? Change the constitution. The problem? It is a lot more difficult to change the constitution and to get the broad support required to change the constitution than it is to make a law.

This leads to social conservatives attempts to overturn the "Missouri Plan." This would be a huge mistake. More on that to follow.

There you go, Tom.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Topic Updates

I just wanted to take a few seconds to update some previous entries.

A venture capital firm is financing the reacquisition of Midwest Airlines stock. This means that AirTran will no longer be a suitor for my favorite airline. As the media so quickly pointed out...the cookie has been saved. As I previously mentioned. Midwest can keep the cookies. I really don't care about that. What I care about is the four across leather seats, the 24 rows per plane, the frequent non-stops from Kansas City to several of my favorite locations. What the airline industry needs is not another Southwest Airlines. That's what a combined AirTran/Midwest would become. The airline industry needs differentiation. I don't mind flying in the cattle-cars know as Southwest Airlines to get to St. Louis quickly or to get to a specific airport. However, I don't think I'll ever forget how nice and how relaxing it was to fly non-stop KC to LA on Midwest on the first day of my vacation last January. I will always fly Midwest when possible. And yes...they CAN keep the cookie, they can charge a premium for the better service and the better experience. Whenever I can, I will fly Midwest and you should too!

TIFs and personal property tax. I took a little heat recently for being on a TIF commission in Liberty. We approved a $70,000,000 TIF for a development in Liberty. Previously, the overlay had been for much less and the plan had always been to create a TIF district, and then to create a replacement once the developer was in place. What made a huge difference in this case was that the TIF was on land that was in part a junk yard (requiring remediation) and another part that was fields that required massive infrastructure improvement. There was practically no personal property that was taxable on those parcels. Now there will be...a lot of personal property...all of which is taxable. So, even though the schools and libraries are giving up the increment, the personal property tax benefit is going to be many, many times more than if there was no development. Sometimes TIF is a good thing.

Sometime, I'll write about the party switching and Chris Koster. However, suffice to say, this doesn't surprise me. At this point, Missouri, Kansas, and the U.S. at large is very sharply divided. The Goldwater Republicans, the same people who created the Reagan Revolution, have discovered that there is no place for them in the Republican party. And, I really don't blame these people for not flocking to the Democratic party as it stands today. Something is bound to change. I can't believe that this will mean that good financial conservatives will flock to the Democratic party. These folks can't stand for the loony left of the party, and I can't say that I blame them. So, I see a split sometime soon. My hope is that the far left will split off and the Democrats will move to the center.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fairness Doctrine

Fairness Doctrine

There has been a call from some asking for a restoration of the fairness doctrine. I really support this idea. The Fairness Doctrine was a standard put in place by the FCC to assure that the public airwaves wouldn't be used to advocated a specific political agenda. There was a fear that those in power, or those with enough money could limit free speech. Oddly, in the 1980's it was decided that the fairness doctrine (basically saying that if you give 1 hour of air time to the democrats, you have to give 1 hour of air time to the republicans) potentially could, somehow, limit free speech. Frankly, I don't get it. How does removing the assurance that both sides of an issue are presented assure free speech? I think we've discovered that the opposite is true.

Shortly after the fairness doctrine was lifted, radio stations filled their programming with republican apologists like Rush Limbaugh and people who take their show daily from the republican party talking points, like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Station programmers claim that all this is appropriate because they can sell the ads and the ratings show that the programs are popular. All this may be true. But isn't dialog on the important issues of the day worth an examination of all sides of an issue?

Why are people so much against the fairness doctrine? It is pretty simple. If the fairness doctrine is back in place, Rush, Sean, Bill, Michael and all the other republican apologists either have to stop speaking directly for the republicans, or the stations will have to put on an equal amount of programming that comes straight from the democratic party headquarters. My bet is that the current talk stars would scale it back. Radio wouldn't be able to afford the dip in revenue. Here's the deal. The public good is frequently not cost effective. It is in the public good to provide national defense. No one person can afford a standing army. So we pool resources for the public good. It is also in the public good to assure that the public has access to good, information, showing as many sides of the story as possible. However, people don't like to be challenged. So, good information, fair treatment of issues, is in the public good. Reaffirming your audience's beliefs is very profitable, but doesn't really help with grow informed educated citizens.

I say, bring back the fairness doctrine. It may make afternoon drive-time a little less explosive. But we may become better citizens for it.

Sunday, July 08, 2007



It has been a little while since my last post. Frankly, nothing was inspiring me to write. Although I visited several inspirational venues. I visited Washington, D.C. and took a cruise on the Potomac. I visited the Truman Library for the first time in many years. I went to the newly remodeled and renovated WWI National Museum at the Liberty Memorial. I saw The Police live in concert (a personal quest since 1984). All of this was fun, inspirational, but none of these events inspired me write.

What finally got me excited about writing was a story that I saw on Real Sports on HBO. I really enjoy Real Sports. Frequently, people say sports are just games and are just entertainment or diversion. Real Sports frequently looks at issues social and societal issues that occur in sport, but have much wider impact and ramification. Most recently, Real Sports did a story on Boomeritis. The report was focusing on the aging baby-boom population and how many are obsessed with fitness and exercise. So much so that many of that generation are having sports related surgeries and operations frequently reserved for professional athletes. Here's the kick. Not only are the boomers having these procedures, some of them are having them multiple times in their fifties and sixties.

It's good to be active. It is good to exercise. However, these boomers are refusing to acknowledge that they are getting old. They refuse to slow down. No one is suggesting that the boomers should pull up a rocking chair the first time they have a twinge or pain. People should be active. One point that they made in the story was about the "greatest generation" and activity. Frankly, when they exercised, and they hurt the next day, they would relax the next day, and take it easier next time. Boomers ignore their body, get an operation, and try to run another marathon.

What's the problem, and why should I care? The
boomers are screwing us again. There is a group of boomers who are over eating and becoming diabetic and dying from heart problems simply because they won't modify their behavior. Then, there are other boomers who are going under the knife six or seven times so they can run marathons into their 80s. Both groups have common characteristics. They both refuse to listen to their bodies. They both want a pill or an external fix so they don't have to modify their behavior. They both are undertaking expensive medical procedures and taxing U.S. health care. As such, both are driving my insurance rates up. Again, it is all about the boomers (the most self-centered generation) and refusing to acknowledge that their choices impact others.

Thanks a lot baby boomers.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Midwest Airlines

Midwest Airlines

I'm not real happy about the pending hostile takeover of Midwest Airline by AirTran. Midwest Airlines has a very interesting business model. In essence, they have developed a business model that differentiates themselves from other air carriers. It isn't about cheap tickets. It is about comfort and service. In fact, some Midwest customers have said that they would gladly pay a premium for the better service and better travel experience. Count me among those customers. Given the choice, I will always fly Midwest.

What bothers me about AirTran's bid for Midwest is that they have made it clear that, if they are successful with their takeover, that they will eliminate Midwest's business model, cram as many seats on the planes as possible, and kill a once great airline and magnificent civic partner. Oh, they have promised to keep Midwest's chocolate chip cookies! That's a nice tradeoff. Tell you what AirTran, you can keep the cookies, if you retain the Midwest's seating configuration.

It seems very clear to me that AirTran's strategy is just to get Midwest's gates and routes. They don't care about the service or the traveler's experience. Remember, despite the name change, AirTran is the same airline (called ValueJet at that point) that blew up an airplane full of travelers by dangerously transporting oxygen tanks as a way to squeeze more profit from the company.

Please sign the "Save The Cookie" petition and try to save Midwest Air.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Crazies to the left of me, wimps to the right

Crazies to the left of me, wimps to the right.

Okay, this is probably a mistake. I haven't finished reading "Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right" by Bernard Goldberg, but I'm writing my opinions on it anyway. Naturally, as what Goldberg would consider a liberal, I am a little critical of some of his key points. But I am surprised on how much I agree with his contentions.

Goldberg on Fox News: why liberals hate it so passionately - and why it's the fairest of the networks. There are tons of reasons why someone should have trouble with Fox News, and it isn't merely because it is run by Roger Ailes as Goldberg suggests. What it comes down to is that Goldberg suggests that Fox is fair because they SAY that they are fair. Fox likes to take a topic, and find people with opposing views and have them thrash it out. Here's the rub. Not every story has two equally valid sides. Do we REALLY need to have a pro and a con on the topic of child abuse? Fox treats every subject as equal and that all topics have equal merit pro and con. This isn't and shouldn't be the case. Sometimes editorial boards dismiss one side of the story because it is with minimal merit. That's what editorial boards are supposed to do. When Fox gives equal merit to the guy who thinks the holocaust never happened, that's a problem.

Goldberg on George W. Bush: why he has become for the Left the very personification of evil. Perhaps...but isn't Bill Clinton still the personification of evil for the right? I guess my problem is that Goldberg is treating the "Bush Boogie Man" argument as unique to liberals. The "Clinton Boogie Man" seems to be alive and well on the right. Secondly, conservatives miss the argument sometimes. People were critical of the post Katrina clean up due to how Bush and his appointees ran FEMA. However, several conservatives boiled down the criticism to liberals blaming Bush for the weather. No. That wasn't the argument. The point was that if FEMA was being run correctly the response would have been better. Liberals didn't blame Bush for the hurricane. They blame Bush for the failures related to the cleanup.

Goldberg on Conservative ideas: alive and well, even though Republicans are on the ropes. I agree. In fact, I'm still taken by how much I agree with Barry Goldwater's ideas, although I really think he missed the boat on the civil rights act. But is this because I'm becoming more conservative or because the political landscape has shifted so far to the right that a conservative now looks liberal. This really isn't my point. Goldberg suggests that liberals are just plain crazy and always have been. He suggests that he is still conservative, but the republicans have lost their way. My argument is that conservatives may have lost their way, but so have liberals. I don't think that you can say that a 2000s "liberal" is the same as a democrat or is the same as a Truman liberal, New-Dealer, or even a New-Frontier liberal. The vanguard of both sides aren't very representative of the rank and file. And this is why no one votes in elections (imho).

Sunday, May 20, 2007



As part of my Masters in Public Administration degree, I took a course on "Economics for Administrators." One interesting fact that the professor made in the class was that fuel costs, especially, gasoline costs generally have not kept pace with inflation. So, while people were complaining about $2 and $3 per gallon gas prices that summer (two years ago) the truth was that, adjusted for inflation, gas prices were still lower than they were at almost any time.

The Kansas City Star reaffirmed this point. The article actually reported, "When adjusted for inflation, monthly average U.S. pump prices have hit that level ($3.22 per gallon) only once in the last eight decades. That was in March 1981, according to the American Petroleum Institute. (The actual cost back then was $1.42 a gallon, if you can imagine. Kansas Citians haven’t been used to that in seven years.)"

What does this mean? It isn't very sympathetic, but honestly, the cost of gas has had the same affordability or been a bargain in recent years. What's the difference? Inflation. While people enjoy railing against $3.00 gas prices and recalling $0.20 gas. However, those folks rarely consider income, or the cost of other consumer goods and services at the same time. I was thinking about this recently. My Dad used to take home about $200 a week in the late 1970s (with double digit yearly inflation). Gas was about $0.75 per gallon. So, given the size of a gas tank, it would cost about $10 to fill a tank, or 5% of his take home pay. I really don't know that current pricing is setting at much more than 5% of take home pay to fill a gas tank. Again, consider that other times with "gas crisises" in the U.S. also involved recession, stagflation, heavy unemployment, and other conditions that exacerbated the problem.

When people wax poetic about inexpensive gas, they rarely discuss about how other goods and services have increased. People also rarely talk about how other "necessities" take pieces of our income. Cell phone, cable/satellite TV, personal computers and internet service, are all new bills that people routinely pay today as opposed to 1980. And, with that money going out for these staples, it will impact the money available to pay for a tank of gas.

Then, there is the cultural issues. We live further from our jobs. In the 1980s, Greater KC stretched to about south 110th street. It's now pushing south 225th St. in Johnson/Miami county. We have to drive a very long way to get anywhere. Or, we have to rebuild a new "city center" as we move further and further from the established areas (e.g. Town Center Plaza, Zona Rosa, etc.). We don't have walkable conditions anyplace...from shopping centers to housing editions, to schools. Due to safety concerns, children don't even walk to neighborhood schools. And, let's not forget about the fuel economy of our vehicles.

Conservatives like to point out the lack of refineries in the U.S. I agree that this is an issue. However, I also think that the lack of new refineries has been much less about ecology and more about economy. If prices had been high enough to justify new refineries, they would have been built and no amount of tree-huggers or Greenpeace protesters would have stopped big oil. It is simple supply and demand.

Don't get me wrong. I really don't like paying for expensive gas. However, I really don't know that gas prices are actually higher than today than they've ever been.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The National Guard

The National Guard

It was interesting to see the White House go after Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius this week over her comments about the tornado damage. The President's use of the National Guard in the war on Iraq has been very questionable. Frankly, I believe that this is all personal. Most understand that serving in the National Guard during the Vietnam era (as George Bush sort of did) was akin to draft dodging. My feeling has always been that Bush's over use and activation of the National Guard for duty in Iraq was to give National Guard service a "makeover" to make his service appear more legitimate and sacrificing.

Okay, that may be a bit too much. But it is very interesting to me that what Kathleen Sebelius said was the truth. The reason that recovery efforts were slower in Kansas was because the needed labor and equipment was in Iraq...not in Kansas. Is it possible that the Katrina fiasco was also slowed and ineffective because the needed Guard troops weren't available? The Republican spin likes to point at events like Katrina and the Kansas tornado and say, "sure, NOW the Democrats blame the President for the weather!" That's not what's happening. No one can control the weather, I agree. However, the ability to react and to respond to disasters can be affected by policy decisions.

Here's my ultimate point. Sebelius said something that was factually true and not a political jab. The National Guard couldn't be in Kansas and Iraq at the same time. Her comments didn't come from opportunism. She's said this long before the tornado. Since the decommissioning of the state militias, the role of the National Guard has been chartered with help during local crisis as first responders. However, they can't help locally and serve on the front line, twelve time zones away at the same time. First responders need to be close. Even if you accept the White House comments that the National Guard could called in from other states, that's not the answer. First, all other states are undermanned, too. Second, bringing the National Guard from another state isn't really first response. That takes time. Which is EXACTLY what Sebelius said.

Did Sebelius belittle the sacrifice of the Guardsmen? No. Did she insult the troops or set out to undermine morale? No. All she did was question the White House policy at a time when resources were needed in her home state. This is what a good leader should do. It amazes me how easily the White House discredits anyone who questions their policies. Asking questions of your leaders is central to democracy.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Age Warfare

Age Warfare

For several years, I've heard people talk about political parties pitting class against class, sometimes called "class warfare." What's interesting to me is that we seem to be lining up for age warfare.

I'm not a baby-boomer. I was born in 1966. Typically a "baby-boomer" is defined as someone born between 1946 and 1964. All my life, I've had a slight disdain for the baby-boom generation. Following in the wake of a great social tidal wave has made my life pretty interesting. My music was always seen as being less important than the music of the previous generation. Schools were always a little more aged as enrollments decreased and people started to question school taxes (since their kids were no longer in school). Requirements and regulations on student financial aid became very strict since so many baby-boomer defaulted on student loans. And, the list goes on.

Over the past decade, I've believed that the government really needed to do something effective about Social Security and the social programs that focus on the aged. My concern was that if something important wasn't done before the baby-boomer hit retirement age, then the political will would go away. I think in Missouri, we've seen evidence that this is exactly what's going to happen.

The Missouri Legislature has passed legislation that exempts social security benefits from taxes. Sounds like a great idea. Help the elderly, on fixed incomes. Here's the rub. In Missouri, social security benefits aren't taxable at all unless an individual has a benefit of $25,000 or more. Combined with a lower taxable rate (seniors pay a lower percentage) property tax exemptions, and combined with pensions, IRAs, 401ks and the like, does the tax break for people receiving OVER $25,000 really make a difference? It does. But it may not make a difference to the seniors. It makes a difference to those who have to make up the difference in state revenues...namely the members of Generation X.

Just as all this was playing out in Jefferson City, I finished reading Boomsday by Christopher Buckley. It's a nice piece of fiction. However, I feel that it may be closer to reality than anyone cares to admit. I believe in the social contract. However, I also believe that baby-boomers, as a generation, have proven that they are so self-absorbed and self-centered and so unwilling to sacrifice (compared to the WWII/Great Depression Generation) that this is just the first round. Be on the lookout for monster mausoleums and tax breaks for segways!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some new thoughts on Tax Increment Financing

Some new thoughts on Tax Increment Financing.

People who know me know that I'm not a great TIF supporter. Perhaps the greatest irony about me is that I have sat on the TIF commission for three cities and in every case, I ultimately voted for the TIF proposal before the committee (surprise!). I believe that there are good TIFs and that there are bad TIFs. There were several interesting developments in the TIF world this week.

First, the Kansas City Star reported that Kansas City's TIF practices are questionable. The article reported that an independent agency suggested that, at this point, developers see TIF as an entitlement and it is a "given." For many years, I've said that you can't build an outhouse without getting TIF funds. I always exaggerated this issue to make the point. The Kansas City Star article now suggests that my exaggeration is now the norm. Several other recommendations from the report suggest the following.

  • The city should immediately stop using its general fund to back bonds issued for tax-incentive projects. This practice is not done anyplace else in the country and places much more risk to the city than it should.
  • The Economic Development Corp., the city’s umbrella entity for its development agencies, should receive all of its funding directly from City Hall “to assure that their interests are aligned with those of the city. Having the EDC be partially funded by the developers is like the fox guarding the chicken house.
  • Stop using Super TIF incentives — when 100 percent of the city sales, earnings and other activity taxes generated by a project are diverted to assist that project. What's now happened (IMHO) is that TIF is a given...SuperTIF is what's used to address real blight. Give it 6 more years and SuperTIF will be the entitlement!
  • The report also recommended that all city incentives should produce at least a 33 percent return to the general fund.

Perhaps the most interesting point is that it is not clear whether the TIF districts will actually reach the return on investment for six years or more. Why does this matter? Simply, more TIFs are being approved, and we don't know if the existing TIFs are paying off. Consider the worst case. Downtown KC's entertainment district tanks. Zona Rosa stops growing, etc. More money from the General Fund go to pay the TIF bonds and are diverted from basic services. Not only are more funds diverted, but the need to address real blight (e.g., Antioch Shopping Center) are delayed. This study was long, long overdue.

Second, the city of Blue Springs is calling for a TIF district to help redevelop the old Wal-Mart site. While this makes sense in one way (e.g. developing a site that is "prime" but has sat empty for several years) it is very interesting in another. What makes this interesting to me is that this may be the first TIF that is established to redevelop something that was originally created as a TIF!

Finally, I've been watching SB20 in Jefferson City very closely. I hope and hope every day that this passes. This law would tighten the some of the loopholes in the TIF law in Missouri. For instance, one point that SB20 would address is that TIF identifies several reasons that property can be considered blighted. While SB20 doesn't change the definition of TIF, it does require that a piece of property match up with more than one blight standard. Good move! SB20 also requires that if a city council over-rides the TIF commission's recommendation, the city council must vote unanimously and likely will have to take the override directly to the people. Another good move.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Don Imus and Liberal Media Bias

Don Imus and Liberal Media Bias

The number one news story, by far, this week was the fallout from the Don Imus comment. The story was on every news outlet. It even made it to sports talk with significant discussion on the Jim Rome Show. Don't get me wrong. Imus was wrong. He is mean spirited and divisive. He has always personified what's wrong with AM radio. Frankly, I was always certain that he was half-dead, or at least a vampire. He gives Keith Richard a very close run for the longest living walking corpse. But, here's my point. The Imus story illustrates that there is no liberal media. Let me illustrate the point.

The Green Zone bombed was in Baghdad. This is the area where everything is supposed to be as safe as Mayberry. This is the home of the Iraqi Parliament. We've been told that Bush's troop increase followed by the troop surge was making Iraq safer. We've been told that Iraq is safer. We've been told that we've turned the corner. However, downtown Baghdad was bombed this week. Did anyone notice, or did the news outlet just assure that we understood EVERYTHING about Don Imus.

This week, the Department of Defense announced that they will be increasing the tours of duty in Iraq. Clearly, the standing army isn't able to accomplish the mission. The same mission that I think Bush told us we "accomplished" five years ago. Clearly, this is foreshadowing to a draft. Other than making tours of duty two years, how else to do solve this issue? How do you get a troop surge without more troops?

On the Bill Maher show, he stated that "The Ready Brigade" is now deployed. This was the one brigade that we held in reserve for the unseen emergency. We now can't react to a crisis. What if there is another Katrina? What if we are attacked here..since attacking them over there doesn't seem to be working? We don't have a brigade to call into action. This is very newsworthy. But somehow, I didn't see this story on any outlet I follow.

In fact, if I'd guess, the second most noticed story this week, after Imus, was the finalization of the Anna Nicole Smith paternity test. So, now we know who the biological father. But was this more important than the Green Zone story? More to the point, how did the top two news stories harm the administration? They didn't. How might the three stories I mentioned harm the administration? They would harm the administration significantly. What did the Imus story do to the Attorney scandal? It pushed it completely off the table.

Here's the point. If we truly had a liberal media that was out to get the President, the bombing, the increased tour time, the call up of the Ready Brigade, and even the attorney stories would have buried Imus and Anna Nicole. The media is out for ratings and bad news that makes the US look bad or that is complex doesn't sell. The media isn't liberal. The media isn't conservative. The media really only cares about what sells.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is it really THAT hard?

This post may not be very inspired or inspiring. However, I've noticed something recently that is just absolutely driving me nuts.

There is a retirement community in Independence with a flag pole out front. I drive by the place (The Fountains) nearly every day. What's driving me nuts is that they have been flying their Missouri State flag upside down for several weeks now. While I thought this was just an isolated situation, I noticed today that a maintenance department building in Kearney, Missouri was ALSO flying their Missouri State flag upside down.

You isn't hard to determine which side is up when flying a Missouri flag. On the flag, two bears are holding the seal. If they bears are upside down, guess what?!? The flag is UPSIDE DOWN!!! This isn't rocket science, people!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Springtime in Kansas City

The main thing that I’m thinking about this week is opening day at Kauffman Stadium. Okay, let’s be honest. The Royals are no place close to contending for the playoffs. Think about this for a moment. The Royals could improve their wins by 34% (or 20 more wins) and would STILL just be pushing a .500 winning percentage.

Now, with that said, I have listened to a couple of innings of spring training games. They Royals sound like they can play. But will they win more than their share against the Indians (my favorite in the AL Central) or the last two AL champions (Chicago and Detroit)? It doesn’t seem likely, to me. Of course, this could just mean that whatever doesn’t kill the Royals in 2007 will only make them stronger in 2008 and 2009.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You don't know what you don't know

I’ve lived in the heartland the vast majority of my life and I fully understand the importance of agribusiness to my home. Growing up when I did, I vividly remember the OPEC embargo of the 1973 and when the United States first became aware how dependent we had become on foreign oil. I fully understand why a decrease in the dependence on imported oil is important (whether through economy or increased production). In my neck of the woods, a lot of hope is being placed in ethanol since it has the potential to address both issues in one program. However, like anything else, I think it is important to consider the impact when you change direction.

As I was driving to Columbia last week, I was listening to Audible Technology Review. One article from February suggested that ethanol production could have significant negative impact on other areas. In other words, we may decrease our gas prices, but we could increase costs elsewhere. One example that they mentioned in the article is that corn tortillas have doubled in price in Mexico City. The article suggests that increase in corn prices (up from $1.84 to $4.00 per bushel) combined with a decrease in exports (since corn is worth more in the domestic market) it is driving up the price of tortillas in Mexico. I think everyone understands how ethanol could increase corn prices. However, affecting the balance of trade with Mexico is not on most people’s radar.

Another example is the price ripple corn has on other foodstuffs. Since corn is a primary ingredient in livestock feed, some have reported a 15 percent increase in beef, chicken and egg prices. So, increased use of ethanol may cost us less to fill up at the pump, but all savings may be absorbed by increased food costs, or an increase in the price of imported goods since we have a growing trade imbalance.

Just to backtrack for a second, I don’t know that anyone is saying that ethanol will decrease fuel costs. Now that I think about it, all anyone has said is that the use of ethanol will decrease our dependence on foreign oil. So, even though people expect “cheap gas” to result from ethanol production, that may not be an actual benefit.

About a year ago, someone told me that it was important to know what you know, to know what you don’t know, but also to understand that frequently, don’t know what you don’t know. My concern about jumping head first into ethanol production is that we really don’t know how this will affect food costs, increases in feed costs, effects on soil nutrition and crop rotation, for instance. Personally, I think those points may all be manageable. However, not knowing how ethanol production will affect unknown issues is my greater concern.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Hypocrisy has always been something that would upset me more quickly than just about anything else. However, as I age, I become more aware that hypocrisy is everywhere. No one political system or political party has cornered the market on hypocrisy. In reality, hypocrisy is more about the lies we tell so we can get through our own self made inconsistencies.

What’s set me off about hypocrisy recently is the recent passing of a law by the Missouri House of Representatives that revokes Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law. Several people contend that this is merely about personal freedom. Anyone should be able to choose whether to wear a motorcycle helmet. And if that person chooses not to wear a helmet and that person is injured while riding a motorcycle, then that person is responsible for making that decision and living with the consequences. Some beg to differ. See this tear sheet on the true fiscal impact on a motorcycle rider's "personal" choice.

I think that is an interesting argument. Frankly, it is one that I agree with. However, this same body, the Missouri House of Representatives in recent years has passed or is currently considering legislation that dictates individual behavior modification to increase safety. The argument is that when someone is injured, it drives up the costs of health care, increases lawsuits because injuries are greater and ultimately could cost taxpayers. This last part comes because a personal choice may result in increased injury, resulting in police, fire and ambulance visits to what would otherwise be a routine accident. Or, compounded injuries eventually work their way through private insurance, and a person’s choice results in that individual’s medical treatments being covered by Medicaid.

Based on the argument above, in 1988 the Missouri General Assembly has passed a mandatory seat belt law and are now considering a bill to require all people to wear seat belts at all times. Failure to wear a seat belt would be breaking the law…even if you are obeying all other traffic rules and regulations.

So let me see if I have this right? Driving 25 miles per hour down a residential street in a crash tested automobile with six airbags, steel reinforcements on all sides of the passenger cabin is just too dangerous without also wearing a seat belt. In fact, doing so is so dangerous that you have no choice BUT to wear a seat belt. But, driving 75 miles an hour on I-70 with nothing between you and pavement is just fine and completely safe and just a matter of personal choice?

Hypocrisy…thy name is the Missouri House of Representatives.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Master of the "Domain"

Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice of eminent domain as an economic development tool, people have been simultaneously outraged and confused. Eminent domain is an important process governments can use to assure that the public good is pursued.

In its basic way, eminent domain is what allows a city to purchase the needed land for a new and needed freeway. Instead of a landowner holding the city hostage by refusing to sell the final piece of land, the city can purchase the property owner’s property at fair market value. There are lots of advantages to this system. It saves taxpayer’s money in assuring that the city acquires land at a fair price. Fair market value is frequently reflected in the taxes the property owner paid. In other words, the property was assessed and valued at $50,000. Property taxes to support the schools, county, and other governments, were paid based on the property being worth $50,000. So, now that the city needs to acquire the land, why shouldn’t it be purchased for $50,000? Isn’t that fair?

The problem with eminent domain is that its use has been distorted. Cities frequently invoke eminent domain to put together pieces of land that will then be turned over to a private developer. The logic is that certain economic activities will generate more taxes and will be a greater benefit to the whole. Frankly, if the purpose of an eminent domain action is to provide property to a private developer, it should not be allowed. Eminent domain should only be used as a direct public good (like a school, a road or a park).

I agree that eminent domain should not be used as an economic development tool. It is wrong and people should not stand for it. Of course, as conservatives are prone to do, they have framed the eminent domain issue as one of government “taking” people’s property. This is a gross overstatement. Government cannot take a person’s property without compensation. The Constitution assures this point.

My plea to my conservative friends is to stop overstating your case. Abuse of eminent domain is wrong. However government CANNOT take property without compensating the property owner. Eminent domain is a vital process in the acquisition of land to create a public good and must be maintained. Do we really want a school district to NOT be able to acquire the needed property for a new school? Or do we only want a system that would require the district to acquire the land if it pays well above market value? That’s not a wise use of taxpayer money.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Truman Liberal

I’ve always viewed myself as a “Truman Liberal.” I really don’t know that there is such a thing, but I believe that Harry Truman was fiscally conservative but socially progressive or liberal. The Truman Committee identified war profiteers was not only patriotic, but a fiscally conservative – assuring that taxes were properly spent. Likewise, Truman was very socially progressive, with programs like integration of the armed forces.

Sometimes I wonder about the political spectrum today. It seems to me that if Truman were here today, he would not be very popular. First, it seems that the best qualification to be a "hawk" these days is having NOT served in the military. Strike one against Truman. Questioning the government in today’s climate has become tantamount to treason. Merely asking whether defense expenditures were appropriate, whether the funding levels are right, is considered unpatriotic. Strike two. I was really surprised recently when I heard conservative commentators suggesting during the debate on a non-binding resolution concerning Iraq that the “Commander in Chief” should have the right to run any war, any way he wants, and Congress should step aside.

Actually, these entertainers who masquerade as journalists need to read the Constitution that they so reverently defend. The constitution says, while the President is the commander in chief of the armed forces, congress has the authority to declare war and to fund government programs, including that little skirmish in Iraq.

Considering his common sense approach to things, I feel confident that Senator Truman would ask the President for a measurable, objective military strategy for Iraq and without one, he likely wouldn’t want to increase funding for the war.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Why would anyone be againt a "Bill of Rights?"

Nothing resonates better among Americans than to frame issues around one’s rights. If people feel that their rights are being curtailed, they well turn out in numbers and in voice to keep “their rights.” What’s troubling is when people fear that their rights are being curtailed, when, in truth, they aren’t. This is what’s happening right now with the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) movements in several states, and likely why several legislators in Missouri recently introducted a TABOR as HJR 20.

There are lots of reasons why someone would want to vote down TABOR. But, on the surface, why would you? Why would you NOT want a bill of rights? While such movements may be needed in some states, frankly, in Missouri, TABOR isn’t necessary. The Missouri Budget Project has put together a very nice article and video on TABOR and why it isn’t a good idea.

TABOR sets ceilings on spending. A government can’t spend more than certain levels, set by formula. This sounds positive. Governments in Missouri are obligated to create a balanced budget. So, by law, they can’t budget to spend more money than they have. Second, Missouri has a revenue circuit breaker called “The Hancock Amendment.” This requires that all tax increases go before the people. It also requires that revenues can’t grow beyond a certain level…even if there is a natural increase in property values. Frequently, this will require taxing jurisdictions to LOWER taxes to keep below the mandated maximum growth. So, the revenue side is pretty firmly fixed.

So, why would anyone want to also clamp down on the spending side? Your guess is as good as mine. What might happen in a growth economy is that Hancock mandated revenue levels may generate more taxes than the TABOR ceiling. So, that creates a surplus. When this happens in our current environment, those funds are frequently used on one-time capital improvements, like a new parking lot or other put-off projects from when times were lean. However, with TABOR in place, the government agency would’t be able to spend the money above the expenses ceiling. So, the money would be collected…but just sit there, unable to be spent.

Since all tax votes have to go before the voters, and because all tax revenue can’t grow beyond a certain level, there is no real reason to have a control on the expenses side, too. Don’t be fooled by TABOR, it only gives you the right to be taxed and to receive nothing in return.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Long December

A Long December

It’s been a long time since my last post.  In the time since the posting, I’ve been thinking about what to do with this site.  While it was fun to “journal” in the past, I really didn’t find it very fulfilling.  I’m am thinking about changing the direction of the blog to be more opinion driven, and to open it up to comments and dialog.