Sunday, February 19, 2017

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The Fakest Fake News Is about Healthcare Costs

If you listen enough to the melodramatic media, you might think that the cost of medical care/insurance has become so expensive for the average family that parents are performing tonsillectomies on their children with a steak knife on the kitchen table.

Judging by how the issue of medical costs is covered by media dramatists, journalism schools are apparently teaching aspiring journalists how to find the worst case and present it in melodramatic fashion as the rule instead of the exception.  It’s a similar melodramatic story with respect to tuition debt.

But what are the facts?  What are the actual medical costs for families, and how do these costs compare to the costs for housing, food, transportation, and other necessities?

Time to interrupt with a pop quiz:  What is the third-biggest expense for middle-class families?  Is it food, transportation, housing, clothes, medical care, education or none of the above?

Answer:  None of the above.  It is taxes.

Try to find that in the news.  Try to find a headline like the following in the New York Times, or CNN, or the Huffington Post:  Families Drowning in Taxes.

Let’s look at the facts about medical costs and how they compare to other household expenses. Averages will be used, with the recognition that averages can be misleading, as there can be considerable variation from the mean.  For sure, there are many actual cases of people with cancer or some other horrible disease who, tragically, can’t afford the six-figure cost of drugs and treatment; just as there are many actual cases of the cost of medical insurance quadrupling under ObamaCare, especially for middle-class families not covered by employer plans.

But averages are a good starting point.  They put the scope and scale of an issue in the context of other issues.  From there, further studies are needed to examine the variations, preferably scholarly studies without biases or a political agenda.  Good luck in finding those.

The annual cost of medical care/insurance for a family of four under a typical employer-provided insurance plan is, on average, $22,000.  The employer picks up nearly $13,000 of this, leaving about $9,000 to be paid by the employee in premiums (payroll deductions) and out-of-pocket costs.  Of course, families without employer-provided medical insurance pick up the full cost.  (Incidentally, what the employer pays in medical benefits and other benefits, as well as FICA taxes, is not counted as employee income in doom-and-gloom stories about declining incomes in America, although what the employer pays has skyrocketed over the last 40 years.)

Let’s compare these numbers with what Americans spend on cars.  The average annual cost of owning and operating a mid-priced sedan, including the amortized purchase price, is $8,876.  There are 2.28 cars, on average, per household, so the total cost of cars per household (or family) is $20,237.

On a related note, the average car loan is nearly $30,000, which is about equal to the average tuition loan.

Funny thing, but there are no sob stories in the melodramatic media about Americans going into hock to buy a car, as there are stories about them going into hock to pay for medical care or college tuition.

How does the cost of housing compare to the cost of medical care?  Well, housing is reported to be the biggest household expense, accounting for about a third of household expenses.  However, housing expenses would be a lot lower if it were not for the fact that the typical house today is about 2.5 times larger than the typical house 60 years ago, and it comes with expensive features not available 60 years ago.  For example, my boyhood home in steamy St. Louis was about 900 sq. ft. and didn’t have air-conditioning until I was a teen.  Today, my wife and I live in 2,018 sq. ft. townhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a pool in the backyard.  We had downsized to this house from a 3,800 sq. ft. detached home when we became empty nesters.  We didn’t need a house that big, but tax law at the time drove us to buy a bigger house to avoid paying a capital gains tax on the sale of our preceding house.

What about food?  The numbers are squishy, but the government reports that the typical family spends about $4,000 a year on groceries and about $2,500 on restaurant meals.  This seems low, given that a person who buys a fat- and sugar-laden latte and sweet roll at Starbucks each day will fork over about $1,825 a year to the hip Seattle company.

Chances are, the person will be overweight, because about 60% of Americans are overweight, with about half of these being obese.  Corpulence is the top driver of medical costs nationally, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.  As such, it is within the control of individuals to save a lot of money and cut their medical costs by simply consuming fewer calories and having a healthier diet.

Where are the sob stories in the melodramatic media about fit people having to subsidize the medical costs of overweight people?  Why doesn’t this count as a social injustice?

Speaking of food, poor people who supposedly can’t afford food are given food stamps to buy food at the store of their choice.  They are not forced to buy food in government commissaries or eat leftover military combat rations.  Nor is the food industry nationalized and socialized for everyone so that the poor can have food.  Yet many on the left (and some on the right) want to nationalize and socialize medical care/insurance so that the uninsured can have medical care.   To be intellectually consistent, advocates of nationalized medical care (aka single payer) also should advocate for the nationalization of food—and for that matter, housing and transportation.

The foregoing numbers suggest that more people could afford medical care by making tradeoffs and setting different priorities, which is what life is about.  They could have more money for medical care by cutting back on cars, housing, food, and Starbucks.  They could even cut back on taxes if they elect politicians who will reduce taxes and government spending.

Granted, such tradeoffs require thoughtfulness, planning, and enough self-control to stop impulsive buying and living for the moment.  However, because the need for medical care/insurance isn’t immediate for most people—unlike the need for food, shelter and transportation—saving for future medical expenses (and retirement) takes a lot of willpower.

Previous generations made such tradeoffs, including my working-class parents and poor immigrant grandparents, who somehow lived below their meager means and could afford medical care, fortunately without having to operate on their offspring on the kitchen table.  This isn’t selective memory on my part.  The personal savings rate when I was a kid was about twice as high as today’s personal savings rate.

What has happened in the intervening decades?  Has there been some sort of environmental damage to the Amygdala, the part of the brain that controls impulsivity? Could Starbucks coffee or Apple phones be causing the damage?  Could an Apple a day be keeping the doctor away due to a lack of savings?

No, but there is a related cause.  The cause is the American culture of mass consumerism, where there are 43 commercials per hour on TV alone to buy stuff, including such commercials as a sleek BMW whipping around mountain curves on snow, a smartphone that will make you look hip for a purchase price of $600 and hundreds of dollars in monthly charges, and magic elixirs that can produce erections, erase wrinkles, cure constipation, diminish diarrhea, and improve bodily functions that I didn’t even know I had and don’t want to know.  Tellingly, there are no commercials (or news coverage for that matter) encouraging people to save for medical expenses and retirement.

Don’t expect the melodramatic media to point this out.  They don’t want to bite the advertising hand that feeds them.

 

News Roundup 2/18/17

  • Robert Harward turns down Trump’s offer to be National Security Advisor. [Link]
  • In Houston Texas, the district attorney announced a program that will allow people caught with under four ounces of pot to take a four-hour decision-making class. The class will cost $150, and anyone who chooses to take the class will not face any criminal prosecution. [Link]
  • ISIS killed 17 Afghani troops by overrunning security posts in the Nangarhar Province. This comes a week after the Afghani government announced it was starting an offensive against ISIS in the Nangarhar Province. [Link]
  • The Pakistan government claims they have killed over 100 terrorists in response to the terrorist attack on a shrine. [Link]
  • Turkey continues to fight against ISIS in al-Bab. The Turkish government reports taking most of the city, while a humanitarian group claims that ISIS still controls 90% of the city. The group also reports that Turkey has killed 45 civilians in the past 48 hours. This brings the total for the two-month offensive to 430 civilians killed. [Link]
  • Doctors Without Borders says it was likely Russia that bombed a hospital in the Idlib Providence last year. 25 people were killed when the hospital was bombed. [Link]

Check out the third episode of my podcast Foreign Policy Focus. I cover the Trump’s talk with Bibi, Russia and US relations, Syria, ISIS, Yemen, and North Korea. LISTEN HERE!

20th Century Fox Apologizes for Purposely Spreading Fake News

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.

 

“In raising awareness for our films, we do our best to push the boundaries of traditional marketing in order to creatively express our message to consumers. In this case, we got it wrong.”

Those words were taken from an email sent to the New York Times by film industry behemoth 20th Century Fox. It was an apology from the corporation for its part in creating a network of “fake news” sites that published false stories as a marketing campaign for one of its films.

“We have reviewed our internal approval process and made appropriate changes,” Dan Berger, 20th Century Fox spokesman, told the Times, “to ensure that every part of a campaign is elevated to and vetted by management in order to avoid this type of mistake in the future.”

On Monday, Fox had attempted to downplay the move. In a joint statement with production partner Regency Enterprises, the corporation justified the campaign by pointing out that the movie in question, A Cure for Wellness, is all about falsehood:

“A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker. As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site, healthandwellness.co, was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”

Unfortunately for Fox, few bought the line the movie giant was selling.

“This absolutely crosses the line,” Bonnie Patten, executive director of consumer watchdog TruthinAdvertising.org, told the Times. “Using a fake news site to lure consumers into buying movie tickets is basically a form of deceptive marketing.”

The five fake news sites created all had legitimate-sounding names: the Houston Leader, the Salt Lake City Guardian, NY Morning Post, the Indianapolis Gazette, and the Sacramento Dispatch. The sites published false stories about issues such as vaccines that vaguely tied in with A Cure for Wellness — but the stories contained real facts and data.

Variety, speaking with movie marketing veterans on the condition of anonymity, covered the story on Tuesday. Calling the campaign “monumentally stupid,” one expert went on to question Fox’s ethics.

“On a moral level, I give it an F,” he said. “On an execution level, I give it an F. We don’t need more fake news stories. We don’t need more lies right now. There is already plenty of that out on the web. It’s already hard enough for people.”

Another expert was similarly unimpressed with the thinking behind the campaign and pointed out that it was rooted in an issue that is, at this moment, fatiguing society:

“We now live in a time where things are really turbulent and movies really are about an escape and that to me is the false, difficult note here. You are trying to relate your movie to a current event — which I get — but it’s a current event that most people are trying to turn away from.”

And therein lies the hypocrisy.

20th Century Fox only apologized because it got caught. Had it not, the corporation surely would’ve moved on to the next project, perhaps even utilizing this same marketing method on other films.

Perhaps, that is, had the strategy not failed — and backfired — so profoundly.

Fox was eager and willing to co-opt the fake news hysteria so long as it brought in the money. And had the film been a success — it tanked, and the reviews weren’t much better than the box office numbers — Fox would’ve sat back silently as the corporate media continues to beat real journalists down with the fake news hammer.

But the blatant hypocrisy on display isn’t even the biggest issue.

The bigger problem, as was highlighted by the New York Times in a follow-up piece on Thursday, is that the public simply isn’t informed enough to tell the difference between truth and falsehood.

“It’s a very kind of perverse use of a genre that is really counterproductive,” said Richard Edelman, owner of a public relations company. “I don’t think fake news is funny in the least. If people want to have stunts, fine, but one of the great dangers it seems to me at the moment is people can’t differentiate between that which is real and that which is a fake story.”

In such an environment, where the people can’t tell north from south or east from west, a person might view 20th Century Fox’s marketing ploy as an attempt to prey on the public. One such person is Susan Credle, chief creative officer at the advertising agency FCB:

“Fake news is not a cute or silly subject. When you start to tear down media and question what’s real and what’s not real, our democracy is threatened. I think this is a hot enough subject that most marketers would understand that taking advantage of a vulnerable public is dangerous.”

Essentially, what she’s saying is that on the whole, society is still too informationally ignorant to discern reality. And that ignorance, as Credle stated, has left us vulnerable to big hungry predators like 20th Century Fox.

Whether this societal obliviousness has come about due to an individual’s willingness to ignore hard truths or simply because he or she doesn’t have the wherewithal for discernment is, at the current stage, irrelevant. The fact remains: the American populace, as this story about Fox clearly proves, has yet to reach a level of awareness in which it can fend for itself in the Digital Age.

And this is precisely what independent, alternative news outlets such as Anti-Media and others are trying to correct — ignorance. The problem, of course, is that ignorance of the truth is what the corporate media is all about.

Indeed, at its core, this is why the “fake news” weapon was invented — to wrap true alternative news stories up in so much false garbage that people would stop trusting legitimate independent media sources.

The fight continues, and the New York Times — the epitome of corporate media in print — was certain to name the enemy on Thursday in the closing of its article. The last quote is from Rob Schwartz, chief executive of TBA\Chiat\Day New York, who says “between the manufacturing of fake news and the alternative news, I’m tired of it.”

Believe this, Rob: alternative media is tired of it, too.

To Protect Rhinos, This National Park Shoots Poachers — 50 People Killed So Far

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.

 

India — “The instruction is whenever you see poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them.”

“You shoot them?”

“Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.”

This exchange took place between journalist Justin Rowlatt and a wildlife preserve guard in India and highlights a practice that’s produced both encouragingly positive and heartbreakingly negative effects — all in the name of conservation.

Last week, BBC detailed a story unfolding at Kaziranga National Park, a wildlife conservation area in east India. Since 2014, the Indian government has granted the power to park guards to shoot and kill any and all suspected poachers with little worry they’ll face legal consequences afterward.

“Kill the unwanted,” M.K. Yadava, then-director of the park — and the man who introduced the controversial policy — recommended in a 2014 report. He also stated his belief that environmental crimes such as poaching are more serious than murder, as “[t]hey erode the very root of existence of all civilizations on this earth silently.”

Kaziranga is home to several endangered species, most notably tigers, rhinos, and elephants. And strictly in terms of conservation, there’s no question the park’s efforts have been effective, as Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent for BBC, points out:

“There were just a handful of Indian one-horned rhinoceros left when the park was set up a century ago in Assam, in India’s far east. Now there are more than 2,400 — two-thirds of the entire world population.”

But the means by which the government has achieved this success have, from time to time, produced tragic results.

The problem, explains Rowlatt, reporting from India, is that “[m]any of the communities here are tribal groups that have lived in or alongside the forest for centuries, collecting firewood as well as herbs and other plants from it.”

And with no fences or clearly defined borders, some villagers who unwittingly crossed over onto parkland have found themselves in the crosshairs of Kaziranga guards.

Rowlatt spoke to one father whose disabled son was shot and killed by guards after he strayed into the park while tending to the family cows.

“He could barely do up his own trousers or his shoes,” Kachu Kealing said. “Everyone knew him in the area because he was so disabled.”

In July of last year, a seven-year-old boy had most of his calf muscle blown away after he was fired by guards while walking along the edge of the park. To this day, the boy can barely walk and is usually carried where he needs to go by his older brother.

Worse, there seems to be little interest on the part of the Indian government to investigate park shootings — or even the illegal poaching itself. Only two people have been prosecuted for poaching in the last three years. During that same period, 50 have been shot dead by guards.

“This kind of impunity is dangerous,” human rights activist and local tribal member Pranab Doley told BBC. “It is creating animosity between the park and people living in the periphery of the park.”

Sophie Grig of the London-based charity group Survival International seems to agree.

“The park is being run with utmost brutality,” she said. “There is no jury, there’s no judge, there’s no questioning. And the terrifying thing is that there are plans to roll [out] the shoot at sight policy across [the] whole of India.”

The hard fact is that, currently, fewer rhinos are being killed by poachers than people being killed by guards. And it’s a fact both the Indian government and local communities are struggling with.

It’s a question of human rights versus environmental conservation, and how to proceed with protecting both at the same time. As Rowlatt concludes for BBC:

“Of course, there’s no arguing that endangered species must be protected and preserved, but the costs of the human community need to be taken into account too.”

Politically-Incorrect Harvard Commencement Address and Other Mind-Boggling Stuff

Unbelievable!

I didn’t know until this week that an African-American student had given a commencement address at Harvard praising former Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  The address had the title, “Jefferson Davis as a Representative of Civilization.”

Why wasn’t there a riot over his comments?

I also didn’t know until this week that the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 was not the first failed attempt by Americans to overturn a Cuban government with mercenaries.

Why didn’t the media point this out after the Bay of Pigs fiasco?

Allow me to give the fascinating details of both stories, starting with the Harvard address.

To understand just how politically-incorrect the address was, let’s compare its theme to what just happened at Yale University.  Yale announced that it was renaming its Calhoun College in order to expunge the memory of South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, because he was a slaveholder.

Using that logic, Yale should shut its doors and sell its land and buildings to the highest bidder, because much of the original funding of Yale came from wealthy New Englanders in the textile industry, which relied on cotton grown by Southern slaves for its profits and international competitive advantage.  Moreover, the tainted money from slave cotton has grown through investments over the years and been passed from one generation to the next of blueblood New Englanders, whose guilt over this probably explains their left-wing politics.

Anyway, the Harvard African-American student, whose name is William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, made the point that Jefferson Davis embodied the idea of “the Strong Man,” a man of “individualism coupled with might.”  Du Bois went on to argue that Davis personified the contemporary world’s obsession with race and thirst for empire.

Even more remarkable, Du Bois gave the address in June of 1890.

Note to millennials who don’t know history:  that was 25 years after the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War, a war that was precipitated when anti-slavery Republicans took control of the federal government from pro-slavery Democrats.  Yes, that would be the same Republican Party that you have been led to believe is comprised of a bunch of redneck racists.

Du Bois was making the brilliant larger point that the antebellum South’s use of slave labor backed up by military might was not that different from the imperialism and colonialism of the late nineteenth century, where Western countries used military might to subdue native populations and rely on extractive labor for economic gain.

The address must have been a shock to the audience, most of whom were former abolitionists, for it went against their self-righteous belief that they were far superior to the South in moral values and racial sensitivities—that the South was a distinct and separate sphere from the North.  In actuality, Du Bois suggested, the North and South had a lot in common.

To put his comments in historical context, the Berlin Conference had taken place just five years previously.  At the conference, the major European powers agreed to carve up most of the African continent.  And as the nineteenth century drew to a close, most of the indigenous peoples from Central Asia to the South Pacific were coming under the military and economic dominion of Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Holland, Japan, and the United States.

This imperial prerogative was expressed by Theodore Roosevelt, of the Harvard class of 1880.  (Note to millennials:  Teddy was a Progressive who became president of the United States and is revered by many Americans, including Senator John McCain.)  Writing in The Winning of the West, Roosevelt said that “It is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.”   He would go on as president to win a Nobel Prize for brokering a peace between Russian and Japan, the terms of which gave Japan control of Korea and Manchuria, thus setting the stage for the war in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Let’s turn now to Cuba.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Cuba ranked third in slave population, behind the USA and Brazil and ahead of the fourth-ranked Republic of Texas.  American slaveholders feared that a slave insurrection might occur in Cuba and spread to the United States, and also feared that Spain, which owned Cuba, might side with abolitionists someday.  They pressured the Polk administration to try to buy the island from Spain, but the American offer of $50 million was rejected by the Spaniards.

After that, from 1849 to 1851, the Venezuelan adventurer Narciso Lopez mounted three private invasions of Cuba, to “liberate” it from Spanish rule.  All three failed, and the third one ended with the execution of Lopez and 50 American mercenaries.  History repeated itself 110 years later with John F. Kennedy’s ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

The 2016 book, The Vast Southern Empire, details the foregoing history and much more.  It is a somewhat ponderous and repetitious read, but like so much history, it is also fascinating.

An aside:  It’s unfathomable to me that many people find history boring.  It’s never boring to me—but is often embarrassing to me—to discover that many of the beliefs I’ve held since childhood based on what I was taught as a kid were counter to historical facts.

Anyway, back to the book.

The book addresses the intellectual contradiction of Southern slaveholders, who were unwavering believers in states’ rights but at the same time wanted a strong central government and navy to keep Britain from using military force to end slavery in the Americas.  (There is a similar contradiction today, whereby many Southerners believe in states’ rights and limited government but also want a strong federal government to project power overseas.)

There was so much interest in a strong, centralized military among the leaders of the antebellum South that for the 14 years between 1847 and 1861, men from the future Confederate states served as Secretary of War for 11 years (including Jefferson Davis) and Secretary of the Navy for nine.  Combined federal expenditures for the War and Navy departments during these years ranged from a whopping 39% of the federal budget to an even larger 53%.

Ironically, federal naval power was used to blockade the Confederacy during the Civil War, and combined with other centralized military capabilities, resulted in the defeat of the South.

It’s time to end the history lesson for the day.  Please send your tuition payment to my attention for what the lesson was worth.  A nickel should cover it.

 

News Roundup 2/17/17

  • The Senate confirms Mike Mulvaney to head the Office of Budget and Management. The vote was close at 51-49. John McCain voted against Mulvaney because of his stance on military spending. [Link]
  • The governor of North Dakota signs an order to evict the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters from their encampment. The protesters are on private land. The governor sites the waste produced by the protesters as a reason he is evicting them. [Link]
  • The governor of Arizona sent a letter to the state’s cosmetology board asking them to stop an investigation into a man who gave free haircuts to the homeless. The man is under investigation because he was giving the free haircuts without a state license to do so. [Link]
  • Customs and Border Patrol agents detained an American citizen and demanded that he give them the password to his phone. The man was traveling back to America from overseas. The agents would not let the man leave until he unlocked his phone. After he unlocked his phone, the agents took his phone for 30 minutes before returning it. [Link]
  • A young illegal immigrant who was protected under Obama’s DACA program has been arrested by immigration enforcement. The immigration enforcement agency has begun the process to deport him. [Link]
  • Rex Tillerson commits the US nuclear arsenal to defend Japan and South Korea. This policy was put in place under Obama. [Link]
  • Secretary of Defense Mattis says the US will not collaborate with Russia in Syria. [Link]
  • Secretary of Defense Mattis says the US and NATO allies are preparing to escalate the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. [Link]
  • US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley says that the US is committed to a two-state solution for Israel. [Link]
  • An ISIS suicide bombing at a shrine in Pakistan kills at least 75 and the death toll is expected to increase. Some reports put the death toll over 100. In response to the bombing, Pakistan has announced it will close the border with Afghanistan. [Link]
  • A car bomb in Baghdad kills at least 55 people. ISIS is responsible for the attack that targeted a Shi’ite area. [Link]
  • A Syrian rebel group that supports ISIS has executed up to 200 prisoners who were fighters in other rebel groups. Most of those executed were fighters for the less extremist Free Syrian Army. Around 40 of those executed were fighters for al-Qaeda-linked groups. [Link]
  • One of the men killed in the botched US raid in Yemen was a Yemeni tribal leader allied to the Hadi government. The US supports the Haid government and the US position in Yemen seems to be to see Hadi resume his role as president of the entire country. [Link]

On this Weekly Freedom File, I discuss Regulations, Taxation, and our Trumpdate segment with the show’s host Kenn. LISTEN HERE!

The Great Hypocrisy of Libertarians and Conservatives

It’s nearly impossible in the modern social-welfare state for a believer in limited government (aka limited coercion and theft) not to be a hypocrite.

Take Social Security and Medicare.  After being forced to pay into the programs over a working life, most people can’t afford to walk away from program benefits upon retirement, even if they disagree with the entitlement programs on principle.  Besides, walking away would not result in the demise of the programs.

Or take taxes.  Even if taxes are used for immoral or nefarious purposes, sticking to principles by not paying taxes would only result in imprisonment.

But there is one arena of big government where it is easy to stick to principles and not be a hypocrite:  the arena of government-subsidized sports arenas.

Government subsidies for stadiums for private professional sporting teams are clearly counter to libertarian and conservative principles.  It’s a black-and-white issue, with no grays about the common good, social justice, public utility, or economic necessity.  Moreover, there would still be sports stadiums and professional sports teams without one cent of government subsidies, as there used to be when stadiums and teams were funded by beer companies and other industries—and when team owners actually had a connection and loyalty to their hometowns.

Yet most libertarians and conservatives patronize pro sports, by either attending games or watching on TV.  Some noted ones, such as conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, wax enthusiastically about pro sports without mentioning that the NFL and Major League baseball are addicted to billions of taxpayer dollars.  Of course, a surefire way of losing audience would be for Rush and others to mention this great hypocrisy of sports fans, who consider themselves conservative or libertarian but don’t stick to principles when it comes to sports.

Why is it a great hypocrisy?  Because, unlike Social Security, Medicare, and taxes, it’s very easy to stick to principles when it comes to pro sports:  just don’t watch or attend.

If enough fans did this and explained why to family, friends, and acquaintances, the subsidies might eventually stop as more people got on the bandwagon.

Granted, it’s not easy to make a point about this with others without coming across as preachy, insulting, obnoxious, or intellectual.  If, for example, someone at work asks on Monday if you saw the XYZ football game over the weekend, it’s not so easy to respond, “No, I used to be a big football fan but stopped watching games when they started to be played in taxpayer-funded stadiums.”  If you want to keep friends and not rain on parades, it’s much easier to say, “No, I was doing something else.”

Still, at least one can stick to principles in private.

Speaking of private actions, most sports columnists keep their views in private about taxpayer-funded stadiums.  To his credit, one that didn’t is Paul Newberry of the Associated Press.  In his wonderful commentary below, he speaks about the great con in Florida with the Florida Marlins.  He also speaks about the even larger con of the Olympics.

Such cons are commonplace throughout the NFL and Major League baseball. That’s because great cons and great hypocrisy go hand in hand.

* * *

Loria tries to finish off great con in South Florida

Updated February 10, 2017 4:46 PM
By The Associated Press  By PAUL NEWBERRY (AP Sports Columnist)

 

The great con in South Florida could be nearing its payoff.

Jeffrey Loria persuaded the city of Miami to use hundreds of millions in taxpayers dollars to build him a glistening new stadium, all while making little effort to put a winning team on the field.

Now, he’s is in talks to sell the Marlins for more than 10 times what he paid for the franchise.

Ain’t America great!

Then again, Loria’s staggering swindle looks like chicken feed compared to what’s happening in Rio de Janeiro just six months after the Olympics.

Crumbling venues. Unpaid bills. No hope of turning the summer of 2016 — and billions of dollars — into any sort of lasting legacy for a city and a country in desperate need of hope.

When it comes to pulling off the big sting, Robert Redford and Paul Newman have nothing on the International Olympic Committee.

Seriously, folks, it’s past time for a reality check.

After seeing how Miami was fleeced by Loria, why would any community possibly consider doling out one penny of public funding for a privately run sports facility?

Yet in metro Atlanta, not one, but two — TWO! — new stadiums are set to open in the next few months, leaving the taxpayers on the hook for at least $600 million, and probably a lot more by the time it’s all said and done.

In Las Vegas, they’ve already committed to dole out $750 million to the Raiders for a new stadium that will lure the NFL team to Sin City. And since owner Mark Davis hasn’t quite figured out how to bridge a $650 million funding shortfall, it’s not beyond the realm that he’ll come slinking back to the public trough looking for a few more hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure he becomes a lot richer than he already is.

On it goes, in one city after another.

“As the ancient Roman lawyers used to say, if you want to know why a law or a policy exists, you need to ask who benefits,” said Marc Poitras, an associate professor of economics at the University of Dayton who has researched taxpayer-funded stadiums. “In this case, it’s the sports industry and the owners who are reaping huge benefits from having taxpayer-subsidized facilities.”

For those who might’ve forgotten how Loria flimflammed the good folks of Miami, a quick recap:

— In 2002, Loria buys the Marlins for $158.5 million while ridding himself of the Montreal Expos, a team he had helped run into the ground and would eventually become the Washington Nationals (where the taxpayers forked over more than $600 million for a new stadium, but let’s not digress).

— After the Marlins win the 2003 World Series with a team largely built before Loria took over, the new owner shows his gratitude by dismantling his championship roster.

— The Marlins have not been back to the playoffs since ’03, but Loria insists he’ll be able to afford better players if Miami will just build him a new stadium. To turn up the heat, he does the familiar dance of flirting with other cities about possible relocation. Miami decides to ante up in a deal that analysts say will eventually cost taxpayers more than $2 billion.

— The Marlins move into their new stadium in 2012, but Loria quickly thumbs his nose at the city and his fans with another fire sale. Miami’s combined record since moving into Marlins Park is 358-451.

— Heading into this season, Loria authorizes his team to increase player payroll. Of course, that almost certainly has nothing to do with his desire to be competitive and everything to do with increasing the attractiveness of the Marlins to potential buyers. Right on cue, he reaches a preliminary agreement to sell the team for $1.6 billion, though much work remains before the deal can go through.

If you’re wondering what Loria might be planning for that huge windfall, we can tell you one thing he won’t do:

Return any of that money to the city of Miami.

Down in Rio, the pride of pulling off South America’s first Olympics barely lasted past the extinguishing of the flame.

The main Olympic park is a ghost town of empty arenas that, quite predictably, had no use beyond the Summer Games. The Olympic village has sold only a handful of apartments used to house some 10,000 athletes. The new $20 million Olympic golf course has few players and little money for upkeep.

Most troubling, the iconic Maracana stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies, has been vandalized as various entities have squabbled over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills. The electric utility reacted by cutting off all power to one of the world’s great sporting venues.

“During the Olympics, the city was really trying hard to keep things together,” Oliver Stuenkel, who teaches international relations at a Brazilian university, told Stephen Wade of The Associated Press. “But the minute the Olympics were over, the whole thing disintegrated.”

In spite of no compelling evidence that the Olympics are worth all the money and effort, Paris and Los Angeles are furiously lobbying to host the 2024 Summer Games.

While they won’t have some of the emerging-world problems that plagued Rio, rest assured the winner of that race — to be announced this year — will wind up being a big loser, at least in terms of dollars and cents.

There’s hope, at least.

“A lot of these stadiums are being voted down by the taxpayers,” Poitras pointed out. “I think resistance is growing to it.”

In San Diego, the people rightly refused to approve a deal that would’ve enriched Chargers owner Dean Spanos.

The Chargers bolted for Los Angeles, but at least the taxpayers got to keep their wallets.

We need more of that.

___

Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

News Roundup 2/16/17

  • Andrew Puzder withdrawals his name from consideration to be Labor Secretary. It’s likely that Puzder withdrew his name because he did not have the votes needed to get confirmed. [Link]
  • Trump tweets that Russia took Crimea by force. However, this statements is incorrect as the population of Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine. [Link]
  • In a joint press conference with the Israeli Prime Minister, Trump said he was perfectly fine with a one state solution in Israel. Trump also suggested that Israel hold back on settlement expansion. [Link]
  • HR 861 has been introduced in the House. If passed, the bill would end the EPA at the end of 2018. [Link]
  • US and Russian military leaders will meet today. This will be the first meeting between US and Russian military leaders since 2014. Rex Tillerson will also be meeting with his Russian counterpart today. [Link]
  • US troops and ground vehicles arrive in Bulgaria to show Russia that the US plans to defend Eastern European countries. [Link]
  • James Mattis tells NATO members they need to increase defense spending by the end of the year or risk the curtailing of US defense support. [Link]
  • At least 15 Iraqis were killed in a suicide truck bombing in a Baghdad Shia majority suburb. It appears ISIS carried out the attack. [Link]
  • Both Syrian Kurds and the Turkish government have plans to liberate Raqqa from ISIS. The Kurds say they will attack Turkish troops who come too close to Raqqa. [Link]
  • In 2015, the US used thousands of depleted uranium rounds to destroy ISIS fuel tankers. These rounds have not been used since 2003 in Iraq. The rounds have not been used due to the fear that they cause birth defects and cancer. The military had said in the past that they would not use these rounds to fight against ISIS. [Link]
  • At least five women have been killed when Saudi Arabia bombed a Yemeni funeral. Aid workers say that number is expected to rise. [Link] Other sources put the death toll at 11. [Link]

In the second Foreign Policy Focus episode, I cover the resignation on General Flynn, Russia and US relations, North Korea, the Iran nuke deal, Israel, Yemen, and Syria. LISTEN HERE

Another Illinois State Income Tax Hike Isn’t Compromise, It’s Suicide

If you want to talk about the dangers of central planning and government intervention in the economy, look no further than Illinois. The state is facing hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded government pension liabilities, billions in debt and unpaid bills, and a fledgling economy, which the politicians are poised to snuff out for good.

The following is my statement on behalf of Taxpayers United of Americaresponding to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s State Budget Address.

Another State Income Tax Hike Isn’t Compromise, It’s Suicide

Chicago, IL – Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) delivered his third budget address to the Illinois General Assembly today, calling on legislators to embrace structural change to the state government and pass a balanced budget.

But taxpayers should prepare for a long fight over the state’s finances, said Jared Labell, executive director of Taxpayers United of America.

“Once again, politicians in Springfield have told taxpayers that they will strike a balance between tax increases and structural reforms to the state government to pass a balanced budget,” said Labell. “But if history is a guide, then taxpayers can bet that in Springfield, the word ‘compromise’ is synonymous with tax hikes.”

Rauner praised Senate President Cullerton (D) and Leader Radogno (R) for working together on the so-called “grand bargain,” which includes a multibillion state income tax increase.

“Senate President Cullerton, Leader Radogno and Senate lawmakers have shown tremendous leadership in bringing all parties together to find common ground on a combination of spending cuts, revenue, and changes that will create jobs and ensure long-term balanced budgets,” said Rauner. “Standing here three weeks ago, I encouraged them to keep working, to never give up. And they have done just that.”

The Senate’s current budget proposal calls for a permanent state income tax hike but only temporary property tax relief. Rauner said he could accept an increase in the state’s income tax rate if a permanent property tax freeze was adopted.

He also said he was open to “expand the state’s sales tax to cover everyday services and raise taxes on food and drugs” to mirror neighboring states, but Rauner cautioned that doing so, or creating a new state income tax on retirement income, would hurt lower-income families and seniors on a fixed income.

“Illinois is losing residents to states without income taxes, without mountains of government debt, and with more prosperous economies,” said Labell. “During the last income tax hike, Illinois lost a quarter of a million people from 2011 through 2014. Those who can afford to move will do so, while the taxpayers who remain in Illinois face steeper challenges.”

“The Civic Federation’s proposed $51 billion tax hike over the next six years is as laughable as Rauner’s comment to the Illinois General Assembly about not pointing fingers or assigning blame,” said Labell. “The legislators laughed, but they are to blame. Both parties. Decades of overspending, lavish government pensions, mounting debt, and burdensome taxes have crippled Illinois. If taxpayers want economic growth to return to the state, the first step is keeping our tax dollars out of the government coffers and in the private sector,” said Labell.

“Rauner was right to argue that change must come to Springfield and the operations of the state government, but compromising on a multibillion-dollar state income tax hike is economic suicide, not a strategy.”

News Roundup 2/15/17

  • Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich believes the intelligence community is behind the leaks that forced Mike Flynn to resign as National Security Advisor. Kucinich said the intelligence community wants to undermine Trump’s desire for a positive relationship with Russia. [Link]
  • Sean Spicer says Trump expects Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine. [Link]
  • The IRS will accept tax returns without line 61 filled out. Line 61 is the Obamacare individual mandate question that asks filers if they had health insurance in the past year. Allowing Americans to leave the line blank effectively ends the enforcement of the individual mandate. The change comes as a result of an executive order Trump signed last month. [Link]
  • Humana is pulling its insurance from the Obamacare marketplace starting January 1, 2018. Humana is one of the five largest health insurers in the US. [Link]
  • Six TSA agents along with some airport employees were arrested for smuggling cocaine into the US from Puerto Rico. The operation was going on for 18 years, and they were able to smuggle about $100 million in cocaine during that time. [Link]
  • 500 US troops and tanks arrive in Romania to bolster the countries defenses and prove our commitment to the NATO ally. [Link]
  • Israel withdrew its Ambassador to Egypt at the end of last year. The move was done quietly and was not reported at that time. Isreal reports the move was made out of safety concerns. [Link]
  • The head of a UN watchdog group says Iran is following the nuclear deal. [Link]
  • A Russian spy ship was spotted off of the coast of the US. The ship was well into international waters, and the US Navy did not seem very concerned about the ship. [Link]
  • Russian planes buzz a US destroyer off the coast of Russia in the Black Sea. US military officials have described the actions as unsafe and unprofessional. [Link]
  • Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was murdered in Malaysia. US officials believe that North Korean agents carried out the murder. [Link]
  • The US provided over 1,000 tanker sorties in support of Saudi’s air war against Yemen in 2016. This is an increase of 50% over the number of tanker sorties in the previous year. The US has provided over 7,500 midair refuelings to the Saudis since the start of their air war against Yemen. [Link]