Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rio Olympic Games: "Grande Problema"

The 2016 Summer Olympics kicks off on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro — but with less than seven months until the Opening Ceremony, a slew of problems still show no signs of improvement.

The list of concerns appears to be trending in the wrong direction as the Games draw closer.

-          Questions over Rio's mobility plan
Rio is racing to build a 16 kilometer subway extension from the city's center to the Olympic Park, which will carry some 300,000 fans each day to the game's events during the Olympics. This construction reportedly needs somewhere in the ballpark of $247 million U.S. dollars in federal funds to be completed, but Brasilia, the nation's capital, is currently distracted by corruption scandals and ongoing impeachment proceedings against president Dilma Rousseff.

What's more, the subway extension is set to open on July 1. The Games begin on August 5, leaving a small window of time for the city to smooth out inevitable kinks in the new infrastructure. Worst of all, as a spokeswoman said that if the extension isn't ready, there is "no plan B."

-          Outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases
Multiple diseases are spiraling out of control in Brazil, spreading faster than officials efforts to combat them.  As of early December, a record 1.58 million cases of dengue fever were reported in Brazil in 2015. Chikungunya is mushrooming too. Most worrisome is a relatively new, fast-spreading virus called Zika. Authorities estimate it may have infected as many as 1.5 million people in recent months and has been linked by some health officials to nearly 3,200 cases of infant brain damage. While Zika has hit hardest in the Brazil’s poor northeastern region, it’s spreading quickly in Rio de Janeiro state.

The concerns here are self-explanatory. If dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Zika all continue to spread to Rio, this will only deter more fans from making the pilgrimage to Rio to watch the Games.

-          A ballooning budget in the wake of a national economic crisis
In 2015 the total infrastructure cost for the Games — funded predominately by federal and local governments — rose by more than $5.9 billion U.S. dollars, 25% higher than planned. In a country still grappling with a recent economic crisis, spending public money on a two-week event is certainly not ideal. And, the economic crisis is forcing officials to cut corners.
The committee said in October it would slash expenses by 30% through steps including cutbacks in high-end cuisine for VIPs and a reduction in the number of volunteers trained to assist visitors. Temporary tents will be used at certain sites in lieu of more durable structures. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies are also expected to be less lavish than those of the London and Beijing Summer Olympics.

-          Sewage-infested bodies of water — and no signs of effective clean up
The most talked-about scandal leading up to the Olympics has been the two polluted bodies of water (Guanabara Bay and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon) in which athletes will compete, and they are showing no signs of improvement. Several athletes in Rio training on the waters in preparation for the Games have gotten sick, including a German sailor who contracted MRSA.

Kristina Mena, an expert in waterborne viruses, told the AP in December, "The levels of viruses are so high in these Brazilian waters that if we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches."

Plans for sewage treatment never materialized. Instead the government is using stopgap measures like small “eco-boats” that move around the bay and collect larger pieces of debris.

-          A souring public sentiment
Very few Brazilians appear to have interest in the Olympics, at least according to ticket sales. As of December 31, less than 50% of the 4.5 million domestic-market tickets had been sold. This is especially worrisome because the organizing committee is relying on these domestic ticket sales to meet 17% of its budget needs.

And as a result of all the aforementioned problems, many the result of the economic crisis, Brazilians are growing increasingly fed up with the Games. Small protests have already been held and analysts predict larger demonstrations to be held closer to the Opening Ceremony.

The myriad problems surrounding Rio's preparations for the Olympics will likely bolster the argument that it's simply never worth hosting the Olympics.

RINK RATS MAIL BAG - It has been awhile since we opened up our Rink Rats mail bag, lets’ answer some mail:

Dear Rink Rats –

It is tax time, how can I get my refund as quickly as possible? Also, when is the tax filing deadline this year?

Bebe Rebozo, Key Biscayne, Florida

Dear Mr. Rebozo:

The I.R.S. says the fastest way to get a refund is to check your return carefully for accuracy, file it electronically and have your refund deposited directly into a checking or savings account.
Federal filers will get three extra days to file this year (2016), because of a local holiday in the District of Columbia. Tax filing day this year is April 18, rather than the traditional April 15. Some state deadlines may be even later.

All the best.

Rink Rats

Dear Rink Rats –

A friend at work has complained about her job for as long as I have known her. We have had many discussions about what bothers her, whether it can be fixed (probably not, in her view) and whether she should move on (probably so). But nothing changes. She doesn’t leave; she just keeps complaining. How would you deal with this?

Tired of being Dr. Laura, Redlands, California

Dear Tired of being Dr. Laura:

You were kind to lend your ear and talk through her issues – twice, maybe three times. (Some people have a longer runway to action than others. And this isn’t the easiest economy for switching jobs.)

But when she starts complaining in lieu of action, or to blow off steam, say: “Things don’t seem to be getting better. Any thoughts on how to move forward?” This way, you short-circuit the annoying rehash, while inviting productive conversation. Let her find another audience for the same old moan. Another tactic would be to tell her to “get a freaking life” and leave me alone.

Rink Rats

Dear Rink Rats –

What are your keys to Financial Wellness?

Concerned in Harbor Springs, Michigan

Dear Concerned:

1.       Strive to save ten to twenty percent of your income per year.
2.       Pay your credit card bill in full every month.
3.       Never take on any debt you cannot pay off by retirement.
4.       Max out your 401k and other tax-advantaged savings opportunities.
5.       Never buy or sell individual stocks.
6.       Buy inexpensive, well-diversified indexed mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
7.       Buy a home when you are financially ready.
8.       Insurance – make sure you are protected.
9.       Keep housing, cars, and other fixed living costs to less than 50% of income. That will mean less financial stress.
10.   Design a financial life where you spend your days engaged in fulfilling work – and your evenings with friends and family.

Rink Rats

THE 400 CLUB - Tax rates on the 400 wealthiest Americans rose in 2013 to their highest average since the 1990s, following policy changes that boosted levies on capital gains and dividends. The households had an average payment of $60.8 million in income taxes on earnings of $265 million, bringing their average tax rate up to 22.9%. Over the years, these taxpayers have devised strategies to collect more of their income as capital gains and dividends. But at the start of 2013, the top rate for capital gains rose to 23.8% as part of budget negotiations between Congress and the White House over how to close the nation’s deficit. That capital-gains rate has become a prominent feature of 2016 presidential candidates’ tax proposals, with Democrats proposing measures that would further raise the rate and some leading Republicans proposing reductions.

THE COMING RETIREMENT CRISIS - Starting in 2020, the numbers of very low-income elderly will rise sharply as the retired population soars to almost 56 million. More middle-class working Americans will be poor or near poor after they reach the age of 65. Most currently have inadequate 401(k)-type accounts or no retirement account at all. For good reason, voters tell pollsters that their top economic concern is retirement security.

We need a bolder plan, which we are calling the guaranteed retirement account (G.R.A.). Under our proposal, all workers and employers will have to make regular payments into a G.R.A., which builds until retirement age, then pays out a supplemental stream of income until that person and his or her beneficiary die.

DISNEYLAND FACELIFT - Disneyland getting a facelift and changes to accommodate new "Star Wars" land: What?!!? The Disneyland Railroad, which loops through that part of the park; Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes, the Mark Twain Riverboat, the Sailing Ship Columbia, the Pirates' Lair on Tom Sawyer Island and the Fantasmic! show will all close for at least a year.

CLICKERS - Working the West Wing," by photographer Ben Baker: An inside look at America's most famous, if rarely photographed, office and the wonks who walk its halls." 12 pics

POLITICS 101 - The GOP has awakened with only a few days from the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to find itself in bed between a bombshell and a kamikaze. It's a sobering dawn for a political party that seemed ... just a tweak or two away from glory. Republicans dominate America's state legislatures and governors' mansions. They control both houses of Congress. ...The problem is that the [Republican] party is weak at the national level, deeply divided into hostile camps, while Trump has the strength of a technological epoch at his back. ... They won't stop Trump because they can't stop Trump.

Trump and Cruz send shivers down GOP spines: The prospect of either man as the Republican nominee is setting off alarm bells among officials and operatives: Veteran GOP consultant Alex Castellanos has been meeting with top GOP operatives and donors to gauge interest in launching an anti-Trump vehicle that would pummel the real estate mogul on the television airwaves. ... Castellanos has said that an anti-Trump ad campaign, which would be designed to cast him as a flawed strongman, would cost well into the millions. It was unclear ... whether Castellanos, who did not respond to a request for comment, would ultimately go through with the effort.

One growing worry about Trump or Cruz, top party officials, donors, and operatives ... say, is that nominating either man would imperil lawmakers in down-ballot races ... 'At some point we have to deal with the fact that there are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee,' said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 'We'd be hard pressed to elect a Republican dogcatcher north of the Mason-Dixon or west of the Mississippi.

Cruz will continue to consolidate evangelicals as Ben Carson fades, and someone (probably Marco Rubio) will eventually consolidate the moderate-conservative vote ... At which point ... we'll have a three-way race, one in which the Donald could still win some states ... but would not, could not, emerge as the nominee. ...

It now looks very likely that Cruz will beat Trump in Iowa, at which point Carson's campaign will be pretty much finished, and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum will disappear - and with Cruz suddenly ascendant, he's likely to pick up their supporters, pushing him up to Trump-like levels in the national polls.

Days until the Iowa caucuses: 12. Days until the 2016 election: 293.

LANDLORD - San Francisco office rents pass Manhattan as most expensive in the country: A combination of the booming technology sector and tight supply of commercial real estate propelled average office rents that San Francisco landlords are asking for to $72.26 a square foot in the fourth quarter of last year, edging out the $71.85 a square foot in Manhattan, according to a new report from CBRE Group, a commercial real estate services and investment firm.

HARD DRIVE - NETFLIX EXPANDS GLOBALLY: The online video streaming company announced last week at CES in Las Vegas it's now offering service in 130 countries. A few notable exceptions: China, North Korea and Syria.

COLLEGE CHRONICLES - China's economic slump coupled with aggressive competition for international students bodes poorly for American colleges relying on foreign student tuition.

GOOD READS - "Trivers' Pursuit," by Matthew Hutson in Psychology Today: Renegade scientist Robert Trivers is lauded as one of our greatest thinkers-despite irking academia with blunt talk and bad manners.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to: Kevin Costner (61) Rancho Mirage, CA; Robert MacNeil (85) Boca Raton, FL; Bill Maher (60) Pasadena, CA; Mark Messier (55) Hilton Head, SC; Dolly Parton (70) Memphis, TN.

NFL PICK OF THE WEEK – Sunday 1/24, 12:05 PM ET, CBS: New England Patriots (13-4) at Denver Broncos (13-4), Pats are favored by three, the Brady domination continues, Pats win 24 – 21. Season to date (11-8)

COLLEGE HOCKEY GAME OF THE WEEK – Saturday 1/23, 7:00 PM ET, HGTV: #9 Harvard University Crimson (9-4-3) at #10 Cornell University Big Red (11-3-3); the annual battle at Lynah Rink, Cornell is on a roll 5 – 3. Season to date (3-5).


(NFL Jan. 24) Arizona Cardinals (13-3) at Carolina Panthers (16-1), it is Carolina’s year, on to Santa Clara, 30 – 17.

(NHL, Jan. 23) Tampa Bay Lightning (25-17-4) at Florida Panthers (26-15-5), Tampa Bay in OT 3 – 2.

(NBA, Jan. 23) Chicago Bulls (24-16) at Cleveland Cavaliers (28-11), Cavs 95 – 90.

Season to date (11 -6)

MARKET WEEK - As investors contend with the worst start to a year on record for stocks, Wall Street is trying to work out how rapidly China’s growth is weakening and what the ripples from that country’s troubles mean for the U.S. economy and central-bank policy. China released data showing economic growth slowed to 6.9% last year, its weakest pace in a quarter-century. Few analysts these days place much faith in these official numbers, which always turn out remarkably close to the “forecasts.” (Ever hear of a China GDP “miss”?) But there’s still general consensus that growth is continuing albeit at a relatively tepid pace. These concerns have combined with worries over plunging oil and commodity prices, and the IMF once again cut its global outlook for the world economy. Meanwhile, China shares turned higher earlier today as investors weighed the likelihood of further stimulus from Beijing and global stocks also rallied.

Next week: Jack Ass of the Month and Words of the Month.

Until Next Sunday, Adios.

Claremont, CA
January 20, 2016


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