The future of the Olympic Games: a permanent site needed

The United States Olympic Committee decided for some reason to pick Boston as the site for their bid.  Boston was a bad idea from the beginning.  Geographically too small, it would have destroyed neighborhoods even if some venues went to other parts of Massachusetts and New England.  From the beginning, it was promised that no taxpayer money would be spent on the Games.  How could that have been?  The Boston public transit system needs desperate upgrades already, and the crush of visitors would have overwhelmed it.  There would have to be investment in commuter rail upgrades to get people to out of town venues.  The final straw was, so it seems, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh refusing to sign a taxpayer guarantee.  Combined with strong opposition it spelled the end.

Hosting the Games has become expensive and disruptive.  Yes, I know there are countries that want the Games, but I worry about Brazil and how they can afford the games.  They will likely end up razing huge swaths of housing, as Boston probably would have done.  Actually, I worry about any place that wants the Games.

So I have a proposal.  Move the Summer Games permanently to Athens.  The facilities there are unused and deteriorating.

IN AN obscure corner of a park sits a forlorn reminder that, 10 years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The crumbling miniature theatre is inscribed with the words “glory, wealth, wisdom, victory, triumph, hero, labour” — and it is where visiting Olympic officials planted an olive sapling that would bear their names for posterity.

Once a symbol of pomp, the marble theatre is now an emblem of pointless waste in a venture that left a mixed legacy: a brand-new subway, airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in a city of 4 million, set against scores of decrepit sports venues built in a mad rush to meet deadlines — with little thought for post-Olympic use.

This story is from last year.  And while no one blames the Olympics for the current meltdown of the Greek economy, it couldn’t have helped.

As Greece groans under a cruel economic depression, questions linger as to whether the Athens Games were too ambitious an undertaking for a weak economy. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame Greece’s meltdown on the 17-day Games, the post-Olympic era is seen as a decade of lost opportunities — including failure to significantly boost the country’s sporting culture. It’s a lesson to which Brazil may pay heed, as it races to complete projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“We didn’t take advantage of this dynamic that we got in 2004,” said former Olympic weightlifting champion Pyrros Dimas, a Greek sporting hero-turned-Socialist member of Parliament.

“We simply made the biggest mistake in our history: We switched off, locked up the stadiums, let them fall to pieces, and everything finished there.”

“We spent a lot of money for some projects (that) are shut and rotting,” said Dimas, who won his last Olympic medal in an Athens arena now reinvented as a lecture and conference venue. “There were projects that should have cost 2 and 3 million (euros) and suddenly became so big that they cost 13 and 14 million. There was no control.”

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros ($12.2 billion), double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent 320 billion-euro ($460 billion) debt, which spun out of control after 2008.

Instead of picking still another host city, pick Athens.  Make it the permanent home of the Summer Games. Greece is, after all, the birthplace of the Olympics.  The countries and cities that would normally spent millions of dollars just preparing a bid could pool that money to fix all the Greek venues.  They can start work anytime.  In fact, maybe the 2020 games (I’m assuming the Brazilians are too far along to cancel now, but maybe not.) scheduled for Tokyo could be moved.  The Japanese probably could use the money for something else – and maybe they could contribute a restoration/redesign to a venue in Athens.  In fact, various countries could take different venues in Greece.  I think that would be real Olympic spirit.  And it couldn’t hurt Greece.

Meanwhile the Boston Games are down the drain.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

 

As the dust settles

on the first enrollment period of the new Affordable Care Act, we are learning that a lot more people than a lot of people predicted have signed up for insurance.  President Obama is claiming 7.1 million people signed up on the health insurance exchanges – along with unknown numbers of others who signed up directly with insurance companies.  There was a claim yesterday that 90% of the enrollees had actually paid a first premium, a crucial step to being able to actually use the insurance.  We all know that there will be hassles when people go to their medical provider, when insurance cards don’t arrive in the mail, when someone with expanded Medicaid goes to a doctor who doesn’t accept that plan, but then, there have always been hassles with health insurance.  This will be nothing new.  What will be new is the massive number of new people suddenly looking for a provider.  Adjustments will have to be made all around.

But the biggest losers as of this morning would seem to be the opponents of the ACA or Obamacare as they call it.  Here is Dan Wasserman’s cartoon from this morning’s Boston Globe.

obamacare wasserman

 

And then there is this story from Politico.

Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.

Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong — but they’ve lost the best evidence they had.

On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago.

That’s left the critics questioning the early numbers or changing the subject. It’s a reminder that the attacks on the website were more than complaints about technology, but a proxy for a much deeper argument about what government should do and what it can’t do

But the Republicans do seem to be suffering from a compulsion disorder.  Here is Representative Paul Ryan quoted in the Politico story

And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who on the same day released a budget plan that would repeal the law, wasn’t fazed by the enrollment news.

“I think Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory,” the Wisconsin lawmaker said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, at the same time that Obama was giving his victory speech in the Rose Garden.

But it was so much easier when they could just say the federal government can’t tie its own shoelaces. Now, they have to acknowledge that the government fixed the problem — and enrollment came roaring back.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is set to release his health care plan – I guess he is running for President.  According to the Washington Post

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will announce Wednesday a plan to repeal and replace President Obama’s health-care law, an effort by the Republican to insert himself into the increasingly competitive early maneuvering for his party’s presidential nomination.

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

These themes appear to include giving those on Medicare a subsidy to buy private insurance and giving Medicaid money to the states to provide whatever care they decide on.  I have a feeling that this every-state-for-itself  idea will be proven to be a real problem as people in states that didn’t accept the expanded Medicare under the ACA are faced with citizens who won’t understand why Uncle Charlie can get health insurance subsidies and they can’t.  I don’t think this is a plan people will go for – especially after they get a feel for what is covered under ACA – but at least Jindal has something.

President Obama’s poll numbers are creeping up.  Democrats running for re-election would do well to be cautious about running away from the ACA, and optimistic me says that Nate Silver might just be wrong this time with is prediction that the Republicans have the edge in the mid-terms.  It won’t be easy for the Democrats:  They have to turn out their base in larger numbers than is usual for a mid-term, but it can be done.  Nate did favor Duke which lost in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

About those bitcoins…

Toothfairy

Is this the future?  And what are bitcoins anyway?

According to an article in the Washington Post

Bitcoin is an online currency that allows people to make one-to-one transactions, buy goods and services and exchange money across borders without involving banks, credit card issuers or other third parties. As a result, this exotic new form of money has become popular with libertarians as well as tech enthusiasts, speculators — and criminals. Bitcoins are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they travel from one owner to the next.

One has only to look how money has changed over time: wampum, coins, precious metals, paper and electronic transactions to name of few of the forms, to realize that a bitcoin or something like it would be the next evolution.  The bitcoin has been hovering around the edges of my consciousness for a while, but then I read about Hiawatha Bray’s using the new bitcoin ATM at Boston’s South Station.

The ATM at Boston’s South Station snatched the money from my hand and didn’t even give me a receipt. But my smartphone’s green glow let me know I had just invested $5 in the world’s most controversial, questionable, and exciting new currency, the bitcoin.

The machine, which is the first of its kind in Boston, was officially plugged in Wednesday morning — right next to Pinkberry — and began spewing bitcoins, virtually.

“You can think of it as Internet cash,” said Chris Yim, cofounder of Liberty Teller, the Boston company that operates the new bitcoin ATM. “This is just a more secure way of buying things online.”

The five-year-old currency is not backed by any central government, but can be spent just like dollars in a small but increasing number of places, including some local restaurants and the popular online retailer Overstock.com.

Bitcoins are stored by users in so-called digital wallets, and each coin has a unique online address. Transactions are managed by thousands of computers linked in a worldwide network, helping to ensure their integrity.

There is also the benefit of privacy. While purchases are shared with the entire network, creating a permanent record, users don’t have to personally identify themselves — the same way someone handing over cash at a register doesn’t have to provide the clerk with a name. The hackers who stole millions of credit card numbers from Target during the holiday season would have a much tougher time cracking the bitcoin code.

OK.  Sounds interesting.  If you are worried about your credit card information being stolen at Target, while making an online purchase, or even buying fries at McDonalds you might want to switch to cash for face to face transactions.  But then you can get your pocketpicked, your purse stolen or left behind and you can’t cancel cash as you can a credit card.  Bitcoins may be the future answer.

Bitcoin’s promise of anonymity has proved attractive to criminals. It was the favorite currency of the now defunct outlaw website Silk Road, a global trading post for illegal drugs and worse. But now much of the bitcoin action comes from legitimate — and greedy — financial speculators. They have helped drive the value of a single bitcoin from a few dollars in 2011 to as high as $1,242 in November. Since then, it has plummeted, and as of Wednesday the price was about $630.

Unfortunately, your new currency may be worth less than you thought, thanks to the rapidly shifting value of bitcoin. Last week I spent $100  for 144 millibits. Ten minutes later it was worth only $97.61.

Kind of like stocks which fluctuate in value.  But since it is like cash, it would be difficult to know exactly how much money you have to spend.

And then this happened.  Mt. Gox, one of the big names in the bitcoin world collapsed and filed for bankruptcy.  The Washington Post explains

It’s not entirely clear what happened to the Tokyo-based exchange, which has sometimes been criticized for poor security. It suffered a crippling theft in 2011, and several experts have since accused the exchange of ignoring warnings about a software glitch which could enable hackers to silently drain the business of its bitcoins. The glitch was recently fixed, but not before Mt. Gox imposed a ban on bitcoin withdrawals, feeding speculation that the exchange was out of money.

Those fears appear to have been confirmed late Monday when bitcoin enthusiast Ryan Selkis posted an 11-page-long “Crisis Strategy Draft” allegedly leaked by a Mt. Gox insider. The draft appeared to show the exchange secretly trying to grapple with the loss of more than 740,000 bitcoins over several years — a titanic sum several times the value of its assets.

Some people are said to have lost all their money.  American prosecutors are looking into the bitcoin world.  According to the New York Times

…American prosecutors are stepping up their inquiries. Prosecutors in the United States have issued subpoenas to several other digital currency companies, including Mt. Gox and the Internet Credit Union, based in New Brunswick, N.J., and one in Japan, said several other people briefed on the matter.

Prosecutors hope to better understand how money is transferred in the digital realm and converted from dollars to Bitcoin. The people briefed on the matter said they would not be surprised if authorities subpoena other companies and institutions involved in money transfers.

It remains to be seen if all of this will mean the end to the bitcoin or if it is just a hiccup.  One thing is pretty certain however – eventually there will be an electronic currency.  Which bring us back to the little girl who got bitcoins from the toothfairy and Hiawatha Bray who are both still looking for someplace to spend them.

But most consumers aren’t ready for bitcoin. They’re frightened by a currency whose value can fluctuate wildly from hour to hour. Besides, what can they buy with it? Few retailers accept bitcoins, even though they could save a fortune on credit and debit card fees and offer customers greater security.

South Station’s ATM will certainly thrill passing geeks, but it’s the nearby merchants who will really decide the fate of virtual money. When I can spend my freshly purchased bitcoins at the yogurt stand next door, I’ll become a true believer.

Cartoon:  Dan Wasserman for the Boston Globe

Cartoonists view the government shutdown

We need to keep a sense of humor about things so we can survive this Republican tantrum.  Here is my contribution.

Dan Wasserman from the Boston Glove.

101toon_wasserman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick Anderson on Ted Cruz.

Anderson on Cruz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlson on Infant nutrition.

Carlson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new axis of evil?

luckovich

Boston’s men in the news

No, I am not talking about the mayoral candidates all but one of whom is a man.  And I’m not talking about Alex Rodriquez and the Yankee who beat the Sox last night. (Maybe we shouldn’t have taunted him so much?)  I’m speaking of James “Whitey” Bulger, recently convicted felon and Larry Summers who thinks he should run the Federal Reserve.  Here is a great take on the two from cartoonist Dan Wasserman.

wise guys

Maybe I’ll go for a walk at Castle Island this week in memory of Whitey.  While I’m walking, I can send negative thought waves to President Obama about Larry.

Putting the minimum wage in persective

Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe explains why we need an increase in the minimum wage.

Wasserman 6-5

This needs to be a national increase.  Yes, I know.  When businesses have to pay more, they won’t hire.  But there is another side to their objection.  If they pay people more, then there will be more spending and more business and they can hire.  Plus there will be more payroll taxes paid on the larger salaries.  And more state and local taxes.  Conservatives would be happy because some folks wouldn’t need food stamps as a lot of working people do now.  Seems like a winner.

I know that some economists argue that increases always lead to higher unemployment, but a large number of small businesses already pay wages higher than the legal minimum.

Put simply, small businesses are our economy. Given that it’s still recovering, the economy needs all the help it can get to make it over the proverbial hump and flourish. Small businesses will play a key part in that journey.

Given their importance, politicians should stand up and take notice when small business owners say they strongly support a policy that has and will continue to elicit political fights of the knockdown drag-out variety, such as increasing the minimum wage. The minimum wage is a business issue that impacts a wide swath of small firms, and according to scientific opinion polling Small Business Majority released this week, two-thirds of them support increasing it and adjusting it annually to keep up with the cost of inflation.

Some have claimed that raising the minimum wage would put small firms out of business because they won’t be able to afford to pay their workers more. Our polling found a whopping 85 percent of small businesses across the country already pay their workers more than the minimum wage, though.

“You need to pay workers enough to survive. It’s in your best interest as a company because if you don’t there is nothing tying them to you.” That’s Clifton Broumand, the president of Man and Machine, a specialty computer product business in Landover, Md., who pays his workers more than the minimum wage and supports increasing it. “I want my employees to have the chance to grow and improve here. I want them to want to stay so we don’t have a lot of turnover. And I pay over minimum wage because it’s the right thing to do.”

The President proposed an increase to $9 in his State of the Union Address:  Let’s just do it.