Saturday, February 8, 2014

Putin's $51 billion gamble

Vladmir Putin is gambling $49 billion of Russian taxpayers' money (plus $2 billion more from private investors) on impressing the world and raising Russia's standing.   If everything works and there are no terrorist attacks or excessive anti-gay incidents, it may just be worth it.  The gain would not only be improved world opinionit would also lift the spirits of the Russian people.  

But there are some very big IF's here:   lack of readiness, construction failures, inadequate hotels, terrorism fears, and denial of the anti-gay ugliness -- for example, the mayor of Sochi saying "there are no gay people in Sochi."  

I hear that it will also be crucial whether the Russian men's hockey team wins the gold.   Some say: if they do win, nothing else will matter;   and if they don't, nothing else will matter.

Tonight we see the Opening Ceremonies (which of course happened 9 hours ago, but NBC saved the broadcast for prime time in the U.S.)

We've already seen some wonderful performances Thursday in qualifying rounds of snowboarding and team figure skating.  So -- let's hope all does go well.


PS:  The NBC broadcast of the Opening Ceremony in Sochi has just ended.   If everything else goes as well (only one small glitch, as far as I could tell), Putin might win his gamble.  The technology and coordination were awesome -- with seamless images from 60 projectors on either side of the stadium, projecting images sometimes on the floor, sometimes on the vaulted ceiling, of the vast stadium to portray 1000 years of Russian history.   The coordination of hundreds of live people on the floor with images transforming the floor into a fantasy world was impressive.

As the NBC commentators said, this was all about Russian pride and wanting to show the world that Russia has entered the modern world of technology to match its vaunted history in the arts and literature, which were also in display with performances by one of their premier ballerinas and by world-renowned opera singer Anna Netrebko.

Another nice touch:   at least for the tv broadcast, the music that was playing as the torch was brought in to light the cauldron was Stravinsky's "Fire Bird Suite."  It was perfectly coordinated so that the musical finale was reached just as the cauldron burst into flames.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Obamacare . . . again.

What am I missing?    This latest distortion/correction is centered on the CBO report about people voluntarily leaving jobs because they can afford to now that they can get health insurance through Obamacare exchanges.

Republicans claim this as "jobs lost."   Democrats counter that these are voluntary decisions to stop working.   Both sides are referring to it as "reduction in the work force, and neither side is saying what to me seems so obvious:
With unemployment still high, won't these now-open jobs simply be filled by people looking for jobs?   And won't that decrease the unemployment?
People can afford to stop working at jobs they don't want to keep (for various reasons);  people needing jobs will take their places.

Even our most stalwart progressives at MSNBC aren't making this argument.  What am I missing?   This should be the lead story here.


IOC president doesn't get it

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach delivered a stinging rebuke to the national leaders who are not coming to the Olympics in reaction to the anti-gay law enacted by the Russian duma last year.   The law makes it illegal to "promote" homosexuality -- and it makes clear that even identifying yourself as gay in public or advertising gay events constitute "promoting."

Russia has said that the law will not be used against Olympic athletes, but it has set itself up for protests -- at least in subtle ways, like simply wearing rainbow colors.   What about athletes' families and others attending the games?   Will they also be exempt from arrest?  What about the license for anti-gay violence that this law unleashes?

Bach declared that there is no place for politics in the Olympiad and that everyone should refrain from any sort of political statements or protest demonstrations.    It seemed clear that he was referring, among other things, to the fact that President Obama has chosen three openly gay/lesbian athletes and former Olympians to lead the official U. S. observer delegation.

Bach's statement itself is offensive.   Reducing what is a moral issue of equal rights and free speech to "political statements" is, at best, ignorant;  at worst, it is pandering to the power-hungry Putin.

Putin and his cohorts are the ones who injected politics by passing this offensive law just before hosting the Olympics.   It was a bald power-display to show he could thumb his nose at more progressive nations.  Did he think the world would just fall in line and comply with his suppressive tactics?    

Well, apparently, the IOC has fallen in line.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

He said WHAT ???

Televangelist Pat Robertson has made some nutty statements himself (like the forest fires in middle Florida were God's punishment for the city of Orlando flying banners to commemorate Gay Day at DisneyWorld).

But now he's made news from the other side.    Responding to fellow creationist Ken Ham, who recently debated the t.v. Science Guy Bill Nye, Robertson debunked Ham's claim that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

"There ain't no way that's possible," he said.  "We have skeletons of dinosaurs that go back 65 million years.  To say it all dates back to 6,000 years is just nonsense."

Robertson clarified that he accepts the concept of evolution;  he just thinks that God set it up and controls it.   And then he added:   "Let's be real.  Let's not make a joke of ourselves."


And if that distortion doesn't kill Obamacare, try this one . . .

I suppose you could call it the shotgun approach.   Shoot at everything and hope something hits the target.  House Republicans have voted 47 times to repeal or defund or otherwise kill Obamacare.   It never works. 

Then they keep trying one after another distortions as scare tactics . . . remember "death panels?"   And dozens of subsequent flailings against what they've convinced themselves is evil personified.

Yesterday it was "bailouts for insurance companies."   Today, it's:  "job killer" -- an out and out lie, a patent, deliberate distortion of a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

The report predicts that as many a 2 million people may exit the work force over the next 10 years as a result of the benefits of Obamacare.   It goes on to explain that this is not due to businesses deciding to employ fewer people because of the cost of health care  -  which is another issue Republicans falsely claimed in the past, and since debunked.
No.   The report makes clear that the prediction has to do "almost entirely" with people who have jobs but who decide to give them up for various reasons.
One example is jobs people have held on to simply because they would lose health care insurance if they quit, because a family member has pre-existing conditions.   Obamacare removes that threat.   So you don't have to stay in a terrible job for that reason.

Some people decide to take early retirement -- or decide for one spouse to stay at home with the kids -- now that they can get affordable, private health insurance.   Another factor for some is that they would lose federal subsidies for their health insurance if their income goes just a little higher, so that the net is a financial loss to them.  But this is true of any means-tested assistance program.
These are rational reasons for making decisions to leave existing jobs voluntarilyThe ACA does not kill jobs or eliminate jobs. 
But Republican House Majority Leader Erik Cantor falsely claims that the report says "millions of hard-working Americans will lose their jobs."    That is simply, patently false -- just read the report.  Cantor should be ashamed of himself.
No.  The report says that it may reduce the number of people in the work force who make voluntary decisions not to continue working.  But they will not then enter the ranks of "unemployed."
In fact. those jobs will now be available to others who need jobs, which will actually reduce unemployment a bit. 
One more time, to be perfectly clear:   This is about workers' voluntary choices, It has nothing whatsoever to do with losing jobs.


PS:   Good news about the ACA:  Thus far, premiums for insurance exchange plans are coming in at about 15% less than predicted.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Bailout for insurance companies !!!" -- the latest battle cry against Obamacare

Marco Rubio started it last fall with his bill to prohibit bailouts for insurance companies in Obamacare.   Now the Republicans -- including Michele Bachmann -- are in full-throated yelp about this latest (false) claim that the Affordable Care Act is a "bailout" for insurance companies.  What are the facts?  

My source is Chris Hayes on MSNBC last night, and here's what I learned.  Obamacare has a provision called "risk corridors," which acknowledges that the ACA is creating huge new insurance markets and no one knows exactly how to predict what the costs will be, because costs depend on who signs up.   More younger, healthy people = costs go down.

If insurance companies set their rates too low, they would lose money.  So to offset that, chances are, they would set rates higher than they might need to be -- and that would be bad for the people and for the success of the plan.

So the ACA includes a provision that tells insurance companies:  if your costs exceed a certain amount over the estimate, the government will provide some compensation for youBUT it also says that if your profits exceed a certain amount, you will pay into the fund.   Quite simply, it's re-insurance for a start-up program, not a bailout.

AND it's limited to three years, after which insurance companies will be able to make their own predictions and assume all the risk themselves.

So, once again, Michele and Marco have got their knickers in a knot over nothing.

Moveover, the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug bill, that was signed into law by Republican President Georgie W. Bush, also had a risk corridors provision, which came closer to a bailout, because (1) it's permanent and (2) it's applies only one-way.   It pays insurance companies for excess losses, but it does not require them to contribute excess profits into the fund.

Just like they bleat and bloviate about the food stamps in the farm bill but want to continue the big subsidies to millionaire agribusiness farmers.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Slippery language

Embattled N. J. Gov. Chris Christie gave a radio interview yesterday.   The first question was about David Wildstein's claim that "there is evidence that Gov. Christie knew about the lane closings while they were going on."

Christie proffered his reply with all his usual articulate-sounding, self-righteous, "just doing my job" rhetoric that we've come to expect.   He creates an effect of a sincere, dedicated, determined -- and not to be pushed around -- public servantConfident, saddened that "this has happened," and "determined to get to the bottom of it."

But what he slips by with, blurred by all that rhetoric, is his careful choice of words.  In what sounded like an absolute refutation of Wildstein's claim, that he knew about it while it was going on, what Christie actually said was:
"I had no knowledge, did not participate in the planning of itI was unaware of it . . . "before it happened."  
Two or three times he repeated phrases such as "before it happened" or "in the beginning," but never Wildstein's "while it was going on."   

Then later in the interview, he talked about the news reports about the traffic backup during the time.   He said that there is always a problem about traffic;   and, if he heard about that at the time, he wouldn't have paid attention to it.  He repeated that, if he heard news reports about traffic backups, "I wouldn't have paid any attention to it, because traffic "doesn't rise to the gubernatorial level" of concerns.

As a former prosecutor, Christie is highly skilled in close reading of testimony or transcripts.   This is unlikely to be sloppy use of language;   it is much more likely to be slippery use of language to deny one thing while giving the impression of denying something else.

Even the seemingly astute interviewer, and even the ever-sharp-to-details Laurence O'Donnell, reporting it later, did not seem to catch the difference.

What difference it will make in the long run remains to be seen.   At this point in time, Christie is playing for public opinion, keeping his options open, and trying not to paint himself into a corner without wiggle room.   He probably thinks he got away with this one -- denying y to give the impression he is denying x.

Not really


Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy February

A month without reading newspapers, without constantly scanning the internet, without doing New York Times crosswords or playing online solitaire Mahjong -- and without working -- so what did I do?

I read a lot, wrote a little, walked on the beach, listened to all ten Mahler symphonies in order, and tried to think about the next phase of my life.

Alas, I didn't leave it all behind as much as I had meant to.   I did take my computer so I could write;  and the Wi-Fi connection was so enticing that I wound up hooking up -- and managed to keep up with the headline news, without over-doing the expanded reading and surfing.   So perhaps I learned a little restraint.

But my real trap was Chris Christie's Bridgegate and the bright young news anchors on MSBNC who wrung every ounce out of the story, every night.   Rachel Maddow first reported the story about the suspicious bridge closings last fall.  Then Steve Kornacki broke the developing story of Mayor Dawn Zimmer's accusations.  And every night, Chris Hayes did his usual enthusiastic dissection of the details, followed by Rachel Maddow and then Laurence O'Donnell exploring slightly different slants and wrapping it up.

For a progressive, political newshound like me, it was catnip (except that's mixing animal metaphors, isn't it?  Catnip for a hound??).   Anyway, it was irresistible watching, night after night.

It took restraint to keep from cranking up ShrinkRap to have my say about it too.   But enough time for that.   This story is going to be around for a while.

Glad to be back.