Why Leaving Turner Field Is The Right Move for Braves & Fans

I’ll admit; when I first got the news, I thought “that’s absurd.”  The Atlanta Braves announced Monday that they’d be leaving Turner Field to build a new stadium in nearby Cobb County, and my immediate reaction was “that makes no sense.”

Turner Field, current "home of the Braves"

Turner Field, current “home of the Braves”

Turner Field – home to the Braves since the 1997 season – isn’t old enough a ballpark to become an abandoned relic, I thought. It’s so much of an improvement over the old Fulton County (cookie cutter) Stadium that it’s an incredible waste to let the franchise walk away from a facility with plenty of tread still left on her tires, I said.

But the more I dug into this, and the more I read up, and heck, the more I remembered how I, myself, found plenty to “nitpick” about Turner Field, the more it made sense.  And not just for the Braves and their fans, but for the city of Atlanta and the region, too, honestly.

Let’s face it: the Braves will never build a “Camden Yards.”  I’m not even certain their new stadium will be anything of a “lasting treasure,” honestly; I mean, how “classic” can ANYthing be if it’s built in the corner between two interstate highways, after all?  That’s certainly never going to be confused with “Wrigleyville.”  But my point is, Turner Field wasn’t anything close to a “keeper,” either.

It was built for the 1996 Olympic Games, hastily retrofitted for baseball, and in an area of town that had never developed around its predecessor; an area that didn’t develop around it, either.  It wasn’t some gem wedged into a city block with quirky dimensions necessitated by its confines.  It wasn’t near downtown and lacked any “breathtaking” outfield vista.  It was … just a fairly decent baseball stadium.  Unspectacular, but very adequate.  It was, frankly, too big, came with very little “charm” or interesting dynamics to it, and had started to become over-run with corporate logos and statues that didn’t even bother blending in with the ballpark’s aesthetics – such as they blandly were.

The Braves apparently spent a few years complaining about The Ted’s shortcomings (who knew?) and kept pointing out issues I noticed with the park all along.  Where’s the MARTA light rail stop at the stadium?  Why did anyone think a baseball team not in New York or Los Angeles needed 50,000 seats?  And where’s the “neighborhood ambiance” that was supposed to crop up around the park?

The light rail never came; the cavernous upper deck was never trimmed down (a la U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago) and those parking lots around Turner Field weren’t improving any property values in that area of town.

The Braves' new "neighborhood."

The Braves’ new “neighborhood.”

Whereas at first I alarmingly questioned this move, now I get it.  The Braves and neighboring Cobb County have an arrangement to build a new baseball stadium near the I-75/I-285 interchange, with 60 acres of land around the park for the Braves themselves to develop.  Tens of thousands of pre-and-post-game patrons will now have retail and food & beverage options around the park.  The Braves become an entire neighborhood’s “landlord,” and Cobb County gets some sweet tax revenues.

Where the fans are, the Braves are going

Where the fans are, the Braves are going

In their statement, press release and on their “new stadium website,” the Braves even alluded to mass transit: a veritable MUST for this endeavor to succeed.  While the Braves deftly pointed out, via a red-dotted map, where most of their attendees lived in the north metro, what they truly NEEDED to address was bettering accessibility.  Sure, most metro Atlantans have a car, but most metro Atlantans abhor traffic, too.  And after a hard day’s work, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than five or six thousand families, on a weeknight, who cared to get back in their cars and deal with more gridlock to get to the stadium, pay to park, walk to the stadium, and enjoy the game – especially with high definition television plugged into almost every game, in those families’ living rooms.

So while there’s nothing concrete ABOUT light rail to this new stadium, the Braves having wanted it at The Ted before, and mentioning it in their statements now, tells you they know there’s untapped potential within the Atlanta area for more fans to attend games.

The Braves get to rake in extra revenue from their new, wholly-owned “neighborhood,” just when they need it most, too.  Their television contract, compared to many of the newer TV deals, is pitiful.  In the “arms race,” they were losing ground for salary dollars.  This is a game-changer.

For the city of Atlanta, as mayor Kaseem Reed put it, they’ll be off the hook for a $150 to $200 million improvement bill and get to, instead, pivot towards developing a prime piece of real estate along I-75/85 and I-20.  And with a $900 million backlog of infrastructure improvements, $150-200 million can go a long way.

So now we all wait – with baited breath – to see what KIND of stadium the Braves have designed for them.  We know it’ll be an improvement over Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field, and before anyone get dour at the prospects of there being no booming downtown skyline to see from the park, let me remind you of this: one of the better ballparks in the league right now is Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It’s a terrific baseball park, loaded with character and quirks, and it’s nowhere near downtown Philadelphia.

The Braves will definitely not have something like Fenway to call home.

The Braves will definitely not have something like Fenway to call home.

Will we get a Fenway Park?  No, but then who’s gotten one since, anyhow?  Will it be anything like AT&T Park in San Francisco?  No, and mostly because Atlanta lacks such scenic areas to take advantage of.  Can the Braves get a new home more like Citizens Bank Park?  Absolutely.  And if Braves’ fans pack it the way Phillies fans did that gem, the Braves will be major players for the next 10-15 seasons – before a better TV contract is possible.

Debunking the right’s latest Obamacare spin

By Geoffrey Cowley

Geoffre-Cowley-mugshot

Geoffrey Cowley

For a president who has spent five years fighting for health care reform, this should be a blissful moment. Insurance exchanges have opened in all 50 states, more governors are embracing the historic expansion of health care for the poor, and Obamacare’s fiercest congressional opponents have neutered themselves with their government shutdown.

Instead, the administration is slogging through one of the toughest weeks since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law three years ago. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius faces a congressional interrogation Wednesday for the troubled rollout of the government’s online insurance marketplace. And as the president speaks Wednesday at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, he faces yet another political mess, this one over the cancellation of millions of individual insurance plans that don’t meet the ACA’s minimum standards for coverage.

This latest political storm blew in last weekend, when media outlets started reporting that many people who buy their health coverage directly from insurance companies will have to switch plans in 2014. Their old policies don’t cover the essential health benefits the law requires, so they must now shop for new ones that do. Some people will face higher premiums as a result.

The president has never explained this. He persists in claiming the Affordable Care Act won’t force anyone to switch insurance policies. “If you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan,” he says, ignoring the fact that the health care law could invalidate a quarter of the 14 million individual health policies Americans now hold.

But as critics excoriate the administration for misleading the public, here’s a point to bear in mind. The affected consumers aren’t getting ripped off. Most will get more for care their money under the new system than they ever could have hoped for under the old.

The Affordable Care Act was designed not just to expand insurance coverage but to protect consumers who buy it. Compared to people who get group coverage through their jobs, folks seeking individual health policies have long had a raw deal. Those with pre-existing health conditions have either been denied coverage or charged prohibitive rates, and those deemed insurable have gotten plans with high deductibles and limited coverage. On average, plans sold on the individual market covered just 60% of their subscribers’ medical costs in 2010, researchers reported in Health Affairs last year, while group plans covered 83%. In addition to other fees and copays, the average individual subscriber paid a $2,858 annual deductible—nearly four times the $751 that group plans charged.

To correct these distortions, the health care law requires that products sold as health insurance offer the buyer a minimum level of financial protection. Specifically, the law identifies 10 essential health benefits—ranging from maternity care to lab tests and prescription drugs—that all plans must cover as of January 1, 2014. It also limits the sums that insured people can be charged out-of-pocket for their care. Policies sold before March 23, 2010, are exempt from the law, but most of those have been replaced by newer plans that still fall short of the new benchmarks. Studies suggest that half to three-quarters of current individual plans no longer pass muster. Many individual subscribers have switched from one substandard plan to another during the past three years, so their current ones won’t be grandfathered in.

Hence the frustration. “All we’ve been hearing the last three years is, if you like your policy you can keep it,” LA real estate agent Deborah Cavallaro told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m infuriated because I was lied to.”

Cavallaro received a notice from Anthem Blue Cross this month, saying her cut-rate policy was being canceled because it didn’t meet even the lowest of the four coverage levels that insurers can offer in the new health care exchanges (bronze, silver, gold and platinum). The company said she could get a bronze plan for $484 per month—an increase of about $190. “I just won’t have health insurance because I can’t pay this increase,” she told the paper.

But for every Deborah Cavallaro, there is probably at least one Judith Goss. Goss is a Michigan retail worker who got an inexpensive “mini-med” policy while working at Talbots and kept it going for $65 a month after losing her job. “I was aware that it wasn’t a great plan,” she told Consumer Reports last year, “but I wasn’t concerned because I wasn’t sick.”

When she did get sick—with breast cancer—she quickly surpassed her plan’s four-figure annual spending limits and ended up postponing treatment while she scrounged for $30,000 to cover her bills. As White House spokesman Joshua Earnest says, “Those cheap individual policies seem like a great deal until you actually have to use them.”

Real health insurance would have cost Goss more up front. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, that kind of coverage is now available—at subsidized rates—through a health care exchange. The law effectively discounts premium prices for people earning up to four times the federal poverty wage ($45,960 for an individual, $94,200 for a family of four). And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of the 14 million Americans now insured through the individual market will qualify for subsidies when they enroll in qualified plans through the exchanges.

A shift of such magnitude was always bound to make waves. The Obama administration could have smoothed them by explaining—early and often—what consumers stand to gain from higher health care standards. The president’s “keep your plan” promises look misinformed or even dishonest now that the revolution is here. But while Obama may suffer politically, consumers are still getting a good deal. Some may pay more for coverage, but they’ll be buying real security.

Geoffrey Cowley is a veteran journalist and advocate who has spent nearly three decades covering health, science and public policy. He joined MSNBC in January 2013 to report on the politics of health. While closely following the national debate over health care reform, he also writes frequently about the health impact of social inequality—from unintended pregnancy to obesity, chronic disease and early death—and the prospects for easing health disparities.

SC GOV: Is Vincent Sheehan Going To Lose By Losing LGBT Votes?

SheheenTo the surprise of no one, South Carolina state legislator Vincent Sheehen has again mounted a campaign to win the state’s governor’s office, which sets up a rematch between he and incumbent Nikki Haley.  Last go-round, Haley narrowly beat Sheheean with about a 56,800 vote margin; pretty close for such a “red” state, right?

In the wake of the state’s first same-sex marriage legal challenge, Sheheen re-enforced his opposition to gay marriage, as did Haley (no surprise on her part).   The reaction from the LGBT community has been … well, diverse.  There are many (myself included) who are disappointed.

“Maybe one day we’ll actually see a difference between Republican candidates and Democratic candidates on equality in South Carolina,” former Sheheen staffer Laurin Manning posted on Facebook. “Or maybe we’ll have to wait for all of them to come around fifty years after the rest of the country does so.”

There are those, such as South Carolina Equality executive director Ryan Wilson (who I admire from “Facebook-afar”), who’ve vowed to volunteer and campaign for Sheheen anyhow.  Credit where it’s due: Sheheen DID appear at Charleston’s pride event late last month.   The telling part?

Sheheen’s campaign didn’t publicize his speech at the Pride event, and campaign manager Andrew Whalen didn’t respond to e-mailed questions about it Monday. No local press reported it. 

 

Is the LGBT community Sheheena’s “ugly girlfriend?”  You know the type; he doesn’t mind her personally, but is worried his friends will shame him for cozying up with her.

More importantly, if his opposition is a political calculation, isn’t it a bad one? He lost his bid to be governor last time by less than 58,000 votes. If the “10% of the population” adage holds true, that means there’s about 470,000 LGBT residents in the state. If half of them are registered voters, that’s 235,000. If only half of them voted, that’s 117,500. Truthfully, he only needs 25% of the LGBT registered voters to show up for him. That’s 58,750 or so.

If the too-typical southern Democrat thinking here is “look Republican enough to woo some voters,” chances are great that he wouldn’t cull many – if any – of those votes.  No Republican is going to vote for a Democrat in this state.  At least not more than a handful; but it’s my belief he stands to disenfranchise an important voting bloc by standing firm in his opposition to marriage equality.

He needs those voters to be motivated; more importantly, he needs to “evolve” because it’s the right thing to do.  There’s still plenty of time on the clock, but it’s ticking, and his opposition is ticking folks off.

TV Talk: “Glee” tribute to Monteith Disappoints

GleeAlright, I’m ready to talk about ‘Glee’s’ tribute episode. (note: spoilers abound) First off, it WAS difficult and emotional. Nearly lost it when Kurt wrapped himself up in Finn’s letterman jacket and wept. Nearly lost it when Finn’s mother had her meltdown. Nearly lost it when Rachel had to sing. And when Sue finally copped to being so mean to a “really good kid.”

But as touching as all that was, there were some horribly written scenes with some even worse acting to amplify the bad lines. Puck & Coach Beast’s locker room scene was uncomfortable to watch. Dot Jones has been so much better than that. Maybe it was the dialogue. Santana’s involvement, too, was awkward and much of what she said was unnecessary. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if her and Sue’s focus on Finn’s body image may have inadvertently played a role in Monteith’s substance abuse problems. And while we’re on Sue, the scene with her and Santana making nice left too much unsaid, still. Sue believed there were no lessons to learn from her experience with Finn, but there IS! “Don’t be so damned mean to ‘a really good kid’ if he/she doesn’t deserve it” is the lesson. “We aren’t guaranteed any other day but today to better our relationships with those we truly believe are ‘really good’ people” is another.

And the ending … could it have been ANY more “gay” than for Mr. Shue to have all along had Finn’s stolen letterman jacket in his satchel so he could have his own private moment to mourn? The writers should’ve instead focused on the rift between he and Finn, and the regret of not better mending that fence.

Last night’s episode had it’s “highs” and it’s “awfully lows” and I came away feeling that the “awfully lows” robbed “GLee” fans of a proper moment to mourn in earnest.

Your thoughts?

Where’s the “Support The Troops” Crowd on the Right, Now?

By The Blue Dawg himself

BulldogTravel back with me to the year 2003, when most of the war talk from the right consisted of “God Bless the troops! Support the troops!”  And yellow ribbon magnet supporting the troops could be spotted on every gas-guzzling SUV for miles (oh, the irony). Oh, and the “no more ‘Dixie Chicks’ on my radio, damn it” movement.

Fast-forward to 2013: “THEY’RE NOT PROP PIECES, YOU KENYAN S.O.B.!”

I’m paraphrasing (slightly), of course.  Anyhow, the truth is, there’s a LOT of that going around – notably from the right, and I’m calling folks out on it.

Remember when the “weapons of mass destruction” hunt came up empty, in Iraq?  Remember how the validation from the Bush apologist war-hawks fell back on “well Saddam was a bad man who had to go, because he murdered innocent people?”  You remember that?

Anyone care to point out the similarities to that “fall back” and what’s going on in Syria under Bashar al-Assad currently?

And listen: I’m not for a full-scale invasion and I’m not all that certain I’m even big on some distant missile or drone strike. We can’t always BE precise enough to ensure innocents won’t be harmed or killed. But I do know hypocrisy when I smell it, and we’re stepping in a big pile of it, domestically. 

The other part of this equation is that the United Nations is ill-equipped to deal with this because A. Russia and China are on the security council and B. the American conservative movement doesn’t WANT a stronger U.N.

This is PRECISELY the sort of theater for a U.N. peacekeeping force to step in like a referee and throw a flag, putting the game to a halt. Assad should be charged for war crimes IMMEDIATELY upon final inspection results telling us what we clearly already suspect. I say put a massive cash bounty on his head and sit back and wait for one of his own henchmen to do the dirty work for us. But you know the minute Obama declared that, the GOP House would tell him he’s gonna have to back that money out of feeding our poor so it’s budget-neutral.

Reich: Break Up The Big Banks

Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich believes that the nation’s largest banks need to be broken up, and took to his Facebook page today to explain why:

ReichprofileThis week, the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission sued Bank of America Corp., the nation’s second-biggest lender, accusing it of misleading investors in an $850 million mortgage-backed bond. Meanwhile, JP Morgan Chase, the biggest Wall Street bank, is under federal criminal investigation for practices tied to sales of mortgage-backed bonds that the Justice Department has already concluded broke civil laws. 
It doesn’t matter. These banks will continue to flout the law unless the probability of their being found guilty multiplied by the size of the penalty is greater than the profits they make through illegal activities. Which means they’ll continue to break the law because the probability is low — investigative and legal personnel have been cut at the Justice Department and SEC, while the banks have huge legal staffs and access to the best law firms in the nation– and the likely penalties are so small relative to their businesses (JP Morgan, for example, has $2.44 trillion in assets and $1.2 trillion in deposits) they’ll be treated by the banks as the costs of doing business.

The only answer is to break up the biggest banks. They’re too big to fail or jail, and pose an ongoing danger to the economy. We don’t need to wait for Congress to break them up. Both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have the authority to do it under the nation’s antitrust laws. We broke up the oil companies a century ago, and broke up Ma Bell decades ago. It’s now time to take on the biggest banks. (I’d add this to your list of what progressives must fight for.)

Takei: It’s Time To Move The Olympics

By George Takei

GTIt’s been bubbling for some time, but the controversy over Russia’s draconian “gay propaganda” law has now boiled over.Last week, Russia’s Sports Minister confirmed that the country intends to enforce its laws against visiting LGBT athletes, trainers and fans, meaning anyone even so much as waving a rainbow flag (and I presume many men enthusiastically watching and dramatically commenting on figure skating) would be arrested, held for weeks and then deported.Given this position, the IOC must do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia.

The International Olympic Committee’s fundamental principles include an unequivocal statement: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” In specific response to the Russian law, the IOC, in a recent interview, doubled down: “[We] would like to reiterate our long commitment to not discriminate against those taking part in the Olympic Games. The IOC is an open organization and athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games.” It appears Russia isn’t listening, and indeed now has raised the stakes by threatening arrests.

There have been urgent calls for boycotts of the Olympics and of Russian exports like vodka. These are understandable: It just doesn’t seem right to see any of our dollars flowing to that nation. But a boycott of the games would punish athletes who have trained for years to participate, and a boycott of Russian vodka isn’t going to effect the kind of change needed. Besides, with Russia’s confirmation that it will enforce its law, our LGBT athletes are in real danger, and their safety must be paramount.

Many believe that such a call to move the Olympics out of Russia goes too far. Would this be their opinion if the law instead called for the arrest of any Jews, Roman Catholics or Muslims should they display any sign of their religion, such as a wearing a yamaka or praying while facing Mecca? Discrimination in any form is a blight upon the Winter Games, and it must not be tolerated.

NBC and the corporate sponsors of the Olympics should be paying close attention, too, and should get behind the “Move the Olympics” movement now, while there is still time to do so. If the Winter Olympics proceed in Sochi, Russia, all of the goodwill they have spent millions to build will evaporate in noisy protests, boycotts, and terrible publicity. I personally will be beating this particular drum loudly, as will many other LGBT actors, activists and allies. Trust me, if you are a corporate brand, you do not want to be associated with the Sochi Olympics.

Nations are not judged merely on their might, but also by how they treat their most vulnerable. Russia’s cynical and deplorable actions against the LGBT community have given license to hate groups within its borders to act with violence and impunity against a group, based solely on whom they were born to love. It now seeks to spread that hate abroad through its tainted Olympics. If Russia hopes to stand with the International Community, it must accept and adopt international principles of equality and non-discrimination.

There is a petition gathering strength demanding the Olympics be relocated to Vancouver, which played host in 2010. All of the facilities are still in good condition, so this would likely be the easiest of possible alternatives. If you agree, and I hope you do, please take a few moments to sign thepetition here. With enough support, maybe the IOC and the sponsors will realize that this is a disaster in the making, and the best course is to move immediately and decisively to relocate the Winter Games of 2014.