Tokyo Olympics: Costs hit almost $25 billion _ may go higher
By STEPHEN WADE and MARI YAMAGUCHI
Tuesday, October 9
TOKYO (AP) — The price tag keeps soaring for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics despite local organizers and the International Olympic Committee saying that spending is being cut.
A report just released by the national government’s Board of Audit shows Japan is likely to spend $25 billion to prepare the games, and the final number could go even higher.
This is nearly a four-fold increase over Tokyo’s winning bid in 2013, which the report said projected costs of 829 billion yen, or $7.3 billion at the current exchange rate of 113 yen to the dollar.
Tracking Tokyo costs is getting more difficult as work speeds up, deadlines near, and disputes arise about what are — and what are not — Olympic expenses. Complicated accounting also makes it difficult to figure out who pays for what, and who profits.
“It’s the most amazing thing that the Olympic games are the only type of megaproject to always exceed their budget,” Bent Flyvberg, an authority on Olympic budgeting, said in explaining his research: “The Oxford Olympics Study 2016.”
Flyvberg said the study failed to “find even one” Olympics that came in on or below budget.
Tokyo is a case study.
In December, the Tokyo organizing committee said the Olympic budget was 1.35 trillion yen, or about $12 billion.
This consisted of equal contributions of 600 billion yen ($5.3 billion) from the organizing committee and the Tokyo metropolitan government, with another 150 billion yen ($1.3 billion) coming from the national government.
But a month later, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the city needed to chip in an added 810 billion yen ($7.2 billion) “for projects directly and indirectly related to the games.” She said this included building barrier-free facilities for Paralympic athletes, training programs for volunteers, and advertising and tourism plans.
This raised the overall costs to 2.16 trillion yen, or about $19.1 billion.
The IOC and local organizers dispute these are Olympic expenses, describing them as “regular administrative costs” that fall “outside the overall games budget.”
Flyvberg credited organizers of recent Olympics with trying to control costs, but tight Olympic deadlines make it difficult. Other large building projects can be pushed back a few months. Not the Olympics.
He also said it was inefficient for different cities to keep organizing the games.
“All you can do when problems begin — and problems always begin on projects of this size — is to throw more money at the project,” Flyvberg said.
Another Tokyo cost increase popped up a few days ago.
A 178-page report by the Board of Audit said the national government’s share of spending had increased to 801 billion yen ($7.1 billion) from the $1.3 billion estimated back in December.
This brings total spending to 2.81 trillion yen, or just under $25 billion, with suggestions it could reach 3 trillion when the games open in just under two years.
The report said “a large amount of spending was expected to continue after 2018 leading up to the event.”
The report urged organizers, the Tokyo city government, central government, and local agencies to increase transparency.
In a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press, local organizers again disputed what should be called Olympic costs.
Spokesman Masa Takaya said expenditures listed such as “inbound tourism, road constructions, subsidy for creating a hydrogen society, and even improving accuracy of weather forecasts with better satellites,” should not be considered Olympic expenses.
The audit report also faulted Tokyo organizers for excluding other expenses from the budget. The report said these came to about 650 billion yen ($5.6 billion) and included things like: repairs to existing buildings; security costs; the cost of running doping facilities.
It said the organizing committee’s December budget did “not reflect all the costs related to the operation of the event.”
About 80 percent of the $25 billion will be taxpayer money. The rest — about $5.3 billion — comes from the privately funded operating budget. This budget receives $1.7 billion from the IOC with the rest coming from sponsors, merchandising and ticket sales.
Tokyo organizers say they have saved billions in the last several years by using existing venues, holding shorter test events and by making other cuts in construction.
IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday the Olympic body had no influence over what audits in Japan defined as games expenses.
“We have to live there with the difference that an accountant may introduce something to the Olympic Games where we say this has nothing to do with the Olympic Games.” Bach told a news conference at the Youth Olympics in Argentina.
The IOC has also tried to promote frugality, aware that hidden and soaring costs have driven away many possible Olympic bidders — particularly for the Winter Olympics.
Three bidders remain for the 2026 Winter Olympics: Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; Milan-Cortina, Italy. Several others dropped out.
Organizers of the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, reported a budget surplus of $55 million this week. Meanwhile, the provincial government is complaining about paying millions for upkeep on empty venues, with the national government unwilling to assume the costs.
There is talk of razing several empty venues.
“Even though people try to bring down costs, it’s very difficult,” Flyvberg said. “But there is some progress. But not nearly as much as for other types of megaprojects.”
Flyvberg added that “for a city and nation to decide to stage the Olympic games is to decide to take on one of the most costly and financially most risky type of megaproject that exists, something that many cities and national have learned too their peril.”
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Opinion: Pompeo-Kim Meeting Fails to Resolve Differences
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has clearly gotten nowhere in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un aimed at setting up a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump while addressing deep differences over denuclearization.
The failure of Pompeo’s mission to Pyongyang, and then his stopover in Beijing on the last leg of his Northeast Asian tour, was evident in the polite double-talk with which they addressed the whole issue of getting North Korea to get rid of its nuclear warheads and long-range missiles as well as the facilities for producing and launching them.
Rather than announce any specific details of the three and one half hours that he spent with Kim, Pompeo said both of them believed they had made “real progress” and that Kim and Trump could make “substantive progress” when they meet again.
Those vague words suggested they had actually gotten nowhere. Indeed, they also failed to agree on a time and place for the next summit, as Pompeo indicated when he said in the same sentence that the summit would occur “at a time that works for each of the two leaders and at a place that works for them.”
The North Koreans appeared equally anxious to put the best face possible on what may be insurmountable differences. The North’s Korean Central News Agency put out a report saying that Kim was confident that he and Trump would meet “sooner or later” and work out all the issues that are still unresolved since they agreed vaguely on “denuclearization” at their summit in Singapore in June.
The KCNA report appeared as an exercise in double talk in which Kim expressed “the belief that the dialogue and negotiations” between the leaders of the two countries “would continue to develop favorably.” Eventually, said KCNA, these two would come up with “a good program.”
In other words, it was obvious Pompeo and Kim had agreed on nothing, including the definition of a “good program.” The assumption, however, is that North Korea is sticking to its demand, supported by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, for a “peace declaration” in place of the truce that ended the Korean War. The North also insists on an end to sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council and the United States in retaliation for a series of nuclear and missile tests.
North Korea has not exploded a nuclear warhead or test-fired a long-range missile since last year, but the United Statres is sticking by its demand for denuclearization before acceding to these demands. Pompeo is assumed, very carefully, to have repeated the U.S. position in his meeting with Kim while leaving the door open to the chance for Kim to talk everything over with Trump.
At the same time, Kim did make a few meaningless concessions, saying the test site at Pungye-ri, which the North blew up last May in the presence of journalistic observers, could be opened to serious inspection by experts. The site is thought to have been virtually destroyed in the North’s last nuclear test last September, in which a number of people also are believed to have been killed.
Kim also reportedly said inspectors could take a look at the site at Tongcghang-ri near the Chinese border where North Korean engineers have been testing the engines that carry the missiles to their targets, according to Pompeo. North Korea claims also to be shutting down that site, though analysts think the missile engines are being tested elsewhere.
A sure sign Pompeo’s talks with Kim got nowhere was that Pompeo said he thought “some good outcomes” will happen not now but in the Trump-Kim summit “where ultimately some of these big difficult issues have to be resolved by the nation’s most senior leaders.”
He hoped, he added, most diplomatically, “to have those presented in a way that the two leaders can resolve them when they get together.”
Pompeo skipped at least two other crucial points that may not have come up at all in his meeting with Kim. What about the idea advanced by South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, of the U.S. forgetting about demanding the North submit a complete list of all its nuclear sites and facilities while shutting down its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon. In return, the United States would go along with that end-of-war “peace declaration” that Kim and Moon keep talking about.
Actually, some analysts fear Trump might just sign that “declaration” simply to say he reached yet another great deal with Kim, but it’s extremely unlikely the North would shut down Yongbyon, where its aging five-megawatt reactor has produced the plutonium for dozens of warheads. Nor is it really likely the United States will stop asking for a list of the North’s nuclear facilities, including storage areas for nukes and missiles.
So what’s next — will Trump and Kim actually meet, and will Kim go to Seoul as Moon’s guest in exchange for the hospitality extended by Kim in Pyongyang when Moon went there for their third summit last month? The answers to all these questions are up in the air.
One mystery surrounds China’s willingness to help. U.S. relations with China appear have hit a low in the midst of acrimonious debate over tariffs imposed by Trump to curb China’s enormous trade surplus with the United States and retaliatory tariffs imposed by China.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Li, warned Pompeo that the United States should “stop such misguided activities” in order “to keep our relationship on the right track,” to which Pompeo cited “fundamental disagreement.”
It did not seem, though, that they were able to overcome their differences even though both agreed on the importance of resolving the North Korean problem. China’s commitment to that goal is far from clear in view of numerous reports of China exporting much goods, including oil, to North Korea in violation of sanctions.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Google’s Waze expands carpooling service throughout US
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE
AP Technology Writer
Wednesday, October 10
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google will begin offering its pay-to-carpool service throughout the U.S., an effort to reduce the commute-time congestion that its popular Waze navigation app is designed to avoid.
The expansion announced Wednesday builds upon a carpooling system that Waze began testing two years ago in northern California and Israel before gradually extending it into Brazil and parts of 12 other states.
Now it will be available to anyone in the U.S.
Drivers willing to give someone a ride for a small fee to cover some of their costs for gas and other expenses need only Waze’s app on their phone. Anyone willing to pay a few bucks to hitch a ride will need to install a different Waze app focused on carpooling.
About 1.3 million drivers and passengers have signed up for Waze’s carpooling service, the company says. About 30 million people in the U.S. currently rely on the Waze app for directions; it has 110 million users worldwide.
Waze’s carpooling effort has been viewed as a potential first step for Google to mount a challenge to the two top ride-hailing services, Uber and Lyft.
But Waze founder and CEO Noam Bardin rejected that notion in an interview with The Associated Press, insisting that the carpooling service is purely an attempt to ease traffic congestion.
“We don’t want to be a professional driving network,” Bardin said. “We see ride sharing as something that needs to become part of the daily commute. If we can’t get people out of their cars, it won’t be solving anything.”
Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey also sees Waze’s service as a bigger threat to other carpooling apps such as Scoop and Carpool Buddy than to Uber and Lyft. “Carpooling is a much different animal,” he said.
It’s a form of transportation that Bardin said Waze had difficulty figuring out. Early on, Waze tried to get more drivers to sign up by emphasizing the economic benefits of having someone help cover gas costs for a trip that they were going to make anyway.
But earlier this year, Waze realized it needed a better formula for connecting strangers willing to ride together in a car. Many women, for instance, only want to ride with other women, Bardin said, while other people enjoy commuting with others who work for the same employer or live in the same neighborhood.
“Carpooling is a more social experience,” Bardin said. “A lot of time those of us working in the digital world forget that social connections are often the most important thing in the real world.”
Waze’s app still sets a price for each carpooling trip and transfers payments without charging a commission. That’s something Waze can afford to do because Google makes so much money from selling digital ads on Waze and its many other services.
The carpooling fees are supposed to be similar to what it would cost to take a train or type of public transportation to work, Bardin said. Drivers and riders can agree to adjust the price upward or downward, but the fees can never exceed the rate the Internal Revenue Service allows for business-related mileage — currently 54.5 cents per mile.
Even though Waze’s carpooling service doesn’t appear to be driven by profit motive, Ramsey isn’t convinced that will always be the case. “I do think Google is realizing that it can’t just keep making all its money from selling ads,” he said.
Opinion: Telepsychiatry — Serving the Underserved
By Robert Graboyes
Telepsychiatry, a subfield of telemedicine, brings counseling and therapy to a patient’s laptop, tablet or smartphone.
David Theobald, senior telepsychiatry partnerships manager at Genoa Telepsychiatry, shared his thoughts with me and described Genoa’s mission as: “To provide psychiatric services to the underserved.” Genoa Telepsychiatry began in 2011 as 1DocWay and was acquired in 2016 by Genoa Healthcare, a pharmacy company focusing on underserved populations.
As frequently happens, the founders were driven by personal history. Genoa Telepsychiatry’s founder came from a family of psychiatrists. David Theobald’s mother suffered from schizophrenia, and he was her guardian for 20 years. A Harvard MBA, Theobald has served on the board of Mental Health America, the largest and oldest advocacy organization in its field.
Theobald described how telepsychiatry provides lifesaving, life-changing care to those poorly served by traditional bricks-and-mortar settings.
With telepsychiatry, the patient and psychiatrist have one-on-one encounters, as usual. But rather than in-person visits to the doctor’s office, the two communicate via Skype-like video, offering multiple advantages:
First, it’s convenient. Patients don’t have to take cars or taxis or buses or sit in waiting rooms. They get care at home, at work or wherever. This is especially valuable for those caring for children, working jobs with inflexible hours, or living with mobility issues.
Convenience also permits flexibility. Sometimes, a patient just needs five or 10 minutes of the doctor’s time. With a video encounter, that’s feasible. It’s far less likely that a patient will carve out several hours for a physical visit, solely for a five-minute session.
Telepsychiatrists don’t have to commute between multiple clinics, eliminating traffic delays as a common source of backups in clinics.
Many rural regions can’t sustain adequate local psychiatric care. Money or amenities may not be sufficient to attract doctors. Theobald notes this problem also exists in urban areas like Trenton, New Jersey, with its weak economy and poor infrastructure. And even in vibrant cities, there are broad slums where doctors are unlikely to settle or work. College campuses, filled with tech-savvy students, are also prime telepsychiatry ground.
The CEO of a different telepsychiatry company and several patients whom I know personally mentioned an advantage of receiving care in a comfortable, familiar setting (like home) and getting care the moment the patient is most ready, rather than during some long-predetermined appointment.
Telepsychiatry can take two forms. With synchronous telepsychiatry, the patient and doctor speak face-to-face in real time. With asynchronous telepsychiatry, the patient instantaneously transmits messages in a manner resembling email, and the doctor responds later. The CEO and patients with whom I spoke said a patient might be ready to express himself fully and honestly at 3 a.m. in the comfort of his own bedroom, but perhaps less so during a scheduled 4 p.m. appointment downtown.
Theobald mentioned a residential shelter in the Bronx filled with HIV/AIDS residents. It’s difficult for them to find shelter or work. Ordinarily, they’d be frequent no-shows at doctors’ appointments. But with Genoa’s remote capability, they pop out of bed, log on, and chat immediately with psychiatrists.
This promotes more consistent treatment and greater success. Theobald mentioned one shelter resident with AIDS who recently bounded into a caseworker’s office and announced he had found a job, thanks to his telepsychiatrist.
Then there are potential cost savings. A telepsychiatrist may shed the high costs of maintaining a physical office. Serving broader geographic areas, telepsychiatrists can achieve economies of scale and smoother demand loads.
The medical community can be squeamish about new technologies. Brick-and-mortar offices and in-person visits have a long tradition and comfortable familiarity. Some doctors and policymakers hesitate to open the gates to telemedicine as widely as some of us might like.
This gives rise to a series of public policy questions: Can a patient in one state use a telepsychiatrist and psychiatric nurse practitioners licensed in other states? If so, which state’s liability laws apply? Should Medicaid reimburse nonphysician services related to telepsychiatry, such as the “facility fee” covering providers who take vital signs before the telepsychiatry visit? What should be the rules for telepsychiatrists prescribing drugs — including opioids?
The answers to these and other policy questions will determine how widely and how beneficially telepsychiatry spreads.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robert Graboyes is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he focuses on technological innovation in health care. He is the author of “Fortress and Frontier in American Health Care” and has taught health economics at five universities. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.