Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oakland voters approve a tax on medical marijuana,0,7339976.story

Oakland voters approve a tax on medical marijuana
Shops selling pot in the cash-strapped city will pay $18 on each $1,000 in sales. The city administrator estimates that it could raise $300,000 in annual revenue.
By Julie Strack
July 22, 2009

Reporting from San Francisco -- Oakland voters resoundingly approved a tax increase on medical marijuana Tuesday evening, the first such tax of its kind in the nation.

The measure will levy an $18 tax for every $1,000 in gross marijuana sales. Firms in the city now pay a $1.20 business tax on each $1,000 in sales. Other cities may soon follow suit. Voters approved the measure by a margin of 80%, according to preliminary results released by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who co-sponsored the measure, said it could generate $1 million in annual revenue.

The city administrator places the estimate at about $300,000.

The Los Angeles City Council proposed a medical marijuana tax July 15, and Kaplan said Berkeley and San Francisco may consider similar legislation.

"Oakland will show that this can work if it's done right," said Keith Stephenson, executive director of the Purple Heart Patient Center.

"There will be some cash-strapped areas that will use this to balance their budgets."

The legislation was backed by Oakland's four medical marijuana dispensaries. There was no organized opposition.

The city's four dispensaries reported revenue of $19.7 million in the last fiscal year. Kaplan said budget gaps and a pledge by the Obama administration to stop prosecution of dispensaries that adhere to state laws have spurred officials to consider marijuana as a revenue source. The legislation was one of four mail-in ballot measures passed to help close the city's $83-million shortfall.

"It was the perfect moment," Kaplan said. "We had a horrible budget crisis in the city, and we were looking for revenue. . . . But it would hardly make sense for us to tax a business that might be shut down by the federal government."

Legislation is also being considered on a statewide level. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill earlier this year to legalize and tax marijuana.

The Pirate Bay

Thanks to Richard Metzger & for the following...

Written by Janko Roettgers
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Pirate Bay: Distributing the World’s Entertainment for $3,000 a Month

Much has been written in recent weeks about the future of The Pirate Bay, as well as about BitTorrent piracy in general. The sale of the site spooked some, while others are hoping to transform the new Pirate Bay into a legitimate, multimillion-dollar business. One aspect that has been largely overlooked is that the current Pirate Bay, due to the nature of P2P, is actually a relatively small and cost-efficient operation. The site’s trackers facilitate countless downloads of Hollywood blockbusters and music albums, but according to an insider, running these trackers could cost as little as $3,000 per month.

The implications of a number like that are huge. Not only does it mean that anyone with a medium-sized checkbook could replicate The Pirate Bay’s infrastructure in a heartbeat, but it also casts shadows over the hopes of anyone thinking about selling digital content online. Music fans were not longer willing to pay $20 for audio CDs once they noticed that blank CDs only cost a dime. How are they going to feel about download stores knowing that running the world’s biggest download service is that dirt cheap?

Earlier this week, when I was researching my story about federated tracker networks I had the chance to talk to some insiders close to The Pirate Bay as well as some folks working on newer projects aimed at picking up where it is leaving off. During one of these conversations, a person with inside knowledge of The Pirate Bay’s infrastructure estimated the total monthly costs of running the site’s trackers to be around $3,000. Compare that with recent reports that put YouTube’s bandwidth costs anywhere between $130,000 and a million dollar per day, and you’ll understand why I haven’t been able to get that number out of my head. : $3,000. What a steal. Literally.

Of course, that number doesn’t actually reflect all the costs associated with running The Pirate Bay in its current form. The site itself clocks more than a billion page views per month, according to statements from the prospective new owners, which should amount to a whole lot of additional bandwidth. The complete Pirate Bay set-up consists of a little more than 30 servers, of which less than a third are dedicated to tracking torrents.

Still, the impact of The Pirate Bay’s trackers are enormous. It tracks up to 2 million torrents and connects around 20 millions peers at any given time. Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the world’s publicly available torrents are tracked through The Pirate Bay. So how can just a massive system be so cheap?

The answer lies in the way the BitTorrent protocol work. Tracker servers never actually touch the files that are exchanged between users, and don’t compile huge lists of file names to query, either. Instead, these machines just collect the hash value of each torrent tracked. Users’ clients then query a tracker with these hash values, asking them for the IP addresses of others sharing the file associated with a particular hash value. So the whole message flow between client and server consists of just a few bytes, even if the files exchanged are massive Blu-ray videos.

I finished Chris Anderson’s new book “Free” this week, and I couldn’t help but think about The Pirate Bay’s $3,000 tracker while I was reading his theory of how the ever-decreasing costs of processing power, bandwidth and storage inevitably bring down the prices of digital goods as well. In the book, Anderson writes:

“In a competitive market, price falls to the marginal cost. The Internet is the most competitive market the world has ever seen, and the marginal costs of the technologies on which it runs – processing, bandwidth and storage – get closer and closer to zero every year. Free becomes not just an option but an inevitability.”

Of course, content owners would rightfully argue that the cost of producing a Hollywood movie or a TV show is not zero. But that’s beside the point. If all it takes to distribute Hollywood’s entire creative output online is $3,000 a month, then there’s always gonna be someone who will offer this stuff for free — and you’d better find a really good way to compete with that.

Bolivia holds key to electric car future

Bolivia holds key to electric car future
By Damian Kahya
BBC News, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sunday, 9 November 2008
Bolivia's lithium reserves could bring wealth to the country

High in the Andes, in a remote corner of Bolivia, lies more than half the world's reserves of a mineral that could radically reduce our reliance on dwindling fossil fuels.

Lithium carries a great promise. It could help power the fuel efficient electric or petrol-electric hybrid vehicles of the future.

But, as is the case with fossil fuels, it is a limited resource.

Lithium carbonate is already in the batteries of laptop computers and mobile phones.

It is used because it allows more energy to be stored in a lighter, smaller space than most alternatives.

And as the auto industry rushes to produce new fuel efficient and electric cars, it too is turning to lithium batteries as its first choice to boost the power of their new models.

GM has one in its new hybrid Volt, Toyota is testing one in its next generation hybrid Prius. Mercedes is testing an electric version of its Smart, while BMW is doing the same with its Mini.

And Nissan-Renault, Mitsubishi and VW are all rushing to buy or produce enough of the batteries to power their future models.

The best of the pure electric cars can reach ranges of more than 150 kilometres per charge.

More is needed

But there is a problem.

Mitsubishi, which plans to release its own electric car soon, estimates that the demand for lithium will outstrip supply in less than 10 years unless new sources are found.

And they have ended up in Bolivia.

"The demand for lithium won't double but increase by five times," according to Eichi Maeyama Mitsubishi's general manager in La Paz.

"We will need more lithium sources - and 50% of the world's reserves of lithium exist in Bolivia, in the Salar de Uyuni," he adds, pointing out that without new production, the price of lithium will rise prohibitively.

Locals fear the benefits will not be passed on

But almost all the commercially exploitable reserves are found in the brine under salt flats.

The world's largest reserves lie in Bolivia at the Salar de Uyuni - in the remote southern Andean plane.

But Bolivia is not a country known to be friendly to foreign industry.

Its socialist president, Evo Morales, is keen to expand state control over its natural resources, a task carried out by Bolivia's minister for mining, Luis Alberto Echazu.

"We want to send a message to the industrialized countries and their companies," Mr Echazu says.

"We will not repeat the historical experience since the fifteenth century: raw materials exported for the industrialisation of the west that has left us poor."

Modest ambitions

Gold, silver, tin, oil and gas have all been found and exported from here whilst the country remains the poorest in the region.

For President Morales' supporters, that is reason enough not to allow in foreign mining companies to extract the lithium.

Across the flats, freelance miners work to break up the surface salt selling it to passing trucks for just a few dollars.

Indigenous and poor, they are core supporters of the president.

A grizzled old miner, giving his name only as Alfredo, says he does not believe that lithium will ever be extracted.

"We don't want to see foreign companies here," he says.

"It would be very bad, as the government says."

Alfredo's hopes for the future are modest.

"I just want to work until I die" he says, a smile across his face. It is not an uncommon sentiment here.

Sharing the benefits

In spite of the grinding poverty here, attempts in the 1980's and 1990's by foreign companies to extract the lithium met with resistance from the community.

They say the money would go elsewhere.

Francisco Quisbert is a local activist with President Morales' party who took part in the resistance.

Now he is working with the president to hammer out a new plan for a state-owned pilot plant on the flats.

"We don't want international involvement," he says.

"This plan has raised the hopes of the region.

"Before our grandparents lived on the salt. They arrived from the valleys in caravans of llamas, but the market forced them to leave.

"We want to return to live on the salar [and] improve our living conditions and to participate in the project."

To begin with the pilot plant will produce no more than 1.2 kilotonnes a year.

If an industrial plant is then built it may increase to around 30 kilotonnes by 2012, - thats just under a third of current production.

But most lithium now goes to small batteries for electronic goods.

Car batteries are far larger and Mitsubishi estimates the world will need 500 kilotonnes a year just to service a niche market. For electric cars to become the norm, it could need far more.

Mitsubishi predicts that there will be a supply shortage by 2015.

Pollution nevertheless

Analysts suspect that Bolivia's government can produce this much.

"Governments in South America have had a very successful history of mining," explains Charles Kernot, a mining analyst at Evolution Securities.

But the question is how fast.

"They probably don't have a lot of experience of doing this sort of thing themselves so they'll have to bring in expertise and technology," Mr Kernot adds.

"That whole process may take a lot longer than people are anticipating."

Consequently, he continues, "the car manufacturers will have to strike a balance between how quickly they manufacture with the supply of metal because they don't want to drive the price up to such an extent that the cars get priced out of the market".

Long-term, Bolivia's government is wary of the environmental damage mass extraction could cause.

The mining minister, Mr Eschazu, has a stark message for Western firms.

"The capitalist leaders have to change," he says.

"If all the world had consumers like North America, everyone with a car, it would grind to a halt.

"It is also going to generate pollution, not just from fossil fuels but also from lithium plants, which produce sulphur dioxide. This isn't a magic solution."

It is not a view likely to go down well in the offices of Toyota and General Motors.

Nikola Tesla still alive after death

Nikola Tesla still alive after death
July 15, 2009

Nikola Tesla is the man responsible for every form of modern technology we have available to us today. There would be no Twittering, Googling, BlackBerrys, cell phones, satellites in space, airplanes, x-rays, or physics as we know it.

Did anyone remember Nikola Tesla on his birthday?

Nicolas Tesla was born on July 9th, 1856 at Midnight.

One man certainly remembered Nikola Tesla this week, Dr. Ljubo Vujovic. Dr. Vujovic is nominated this year to receive the American Biographical Institute, Inc. Award: "2009 Man Of The Year in Education" for his work as President and Editor of the Tesla Memorial Society of New York Website which is the main source of information about the famous inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla and other world figures in history.

It’s fascinating that Tesla has more notoriety for the lack of attribution given him than all his works combined. Though great efforts have been made by scholars all over the world, to finally recognize the genius and contributions of this great man, there still remains an air of mystery surrounding his life and works.

Many consider it was the most obvious of reasons: that his inventions were too progressive for the technical resources available and also too far advanced for humanity’s collective psyche at the time. Most theories point to his lack of business sense and a combination of his failed project with J.P. Morgan while building the "The Tower of Dreams,” a World Broadcasting Tower in Long Island that would have broadcast telephone messages across the ocean; broadcast news, music, stock market reports, private messages, secure military communications, and even pictures to any part of the world, had funding not ran out or other more insidious circumstances prevailed at the end.

Tesla told Morgan, "When wireless is fully applied, the earth will be converted into a huge brain, capable of response in every one of its parts."

Tesla obviously predicted the WWW and our computers. In 1937, he said, “At this very moment scientists working in the laboratories of American universities are attempting to create what has been described as a "thinking machine." I anticipated this development.”

He also invented our wireless boxes at the turn of the century.


The Teleautomaton, was a device Tesla invented in the 1890’s. It has a spooky resemblance to our wireless boxes atop our cable connections that make it possible for us to sit in Starbucks and drink coffee, type on our laptops, talk on our cell phones, fly our airplanes, watch our reality TV, and listen to our radios while waiting in traffic.

The Teleautomaton was simply an apparatus with Tesla coils. These coils, in the initial experiment were inserted into a boat and tuned to resonate with other coils located on shore. By tuning the coils, an operator on shore could remotely control the boat.

His resonance experiments at one point got a little out of hand even here in New York.

"In his lab at 46 E. Houston Street, while conducting mechanical resonance experiments with electro-mechanical oscillators, he generated a resonance of several surrounding buildings but, due to the frequencies involved, not his own building, causing complaints to the police. As the speed grew he hit the resonant frequency of his own building and, belatedly realizing the danger, he was forced to apply a sledgehammer to terminate the experiment, just as the astonished police arrived. (Wikipedia: O'Neill, "Prodigal Genius" pp 162-164).

It was probably experiments like those that got Tesla branded as a mad scientist. He has been accredited with experiments in time-travel, alien communication, and machines that record thought among many others. His later experiments, accessing “free energy” most likely got him in even more disfavor. Generally, not being able to “bill” energy, doesn’t go over too well with the “the powers that be.”

We tend to attribute “genius” to spiritual force or a gift from the Divine Spirit. Though Tesla had no gripe with religion; he said, “Religion gave man “ideals” that give significance to his life and most importantly promoted “good conduct,” he surprisingly (though associated with occult activities and so forth), had purely mechanistic views of mankind.

“To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end. The human being is no exception to the natural order. Man, like the universe, is a machine. Nothing enters our minds or determines our actions which is not directly or indirectly a response to stimuli beating upon our sense organs from without. Owing to the similarity of our construction and the sameness of our environment, we respond in like manner to similar stimuli, and from the concordance of our reactions, understanding is barn. In the course of ages, mechanisms of infinite complexity are developed, but what we call "soul” or "spirit," is nothing more than the sum of the functionings of the body. When this functioning ceases, the "soul" or the "spirit" ceases likewise.” (Source)

Most of us consider Tesla a visionary before his time; but surprisingly Tesla says in his own words:

“My enemies have been so successful in portraying me as a poet and a visionary," said Tesla, "that I must put out something commercial without delay." (Source)

Was he joking? Was he truly a pure scientist? Would his experiments eventually lead him to harnessing spiritual force? Would Tesla have found the “God” particle?

The bottom-line is Tesla certainly bridged the gap between science and spirit; whether he acknowledged this or not.

Maybe he didn’t believe in life-after-death, but his inventions surely have kept him very much alive-after-death.

2009 UFO Crash Retrieval Conference

2009 UFO Crash Retrieval Conference
7th Annual
November 6th-8th, 2009


Registration for the UFO Conference is $189.

The price of the banquet is $69.

Last year's banquet sold out so please register early.

The first 50 people to register for both days of the UFO Conference will receive a free copy of the conference proceeding ($35 value).

It happened before Roswell. It happened before Mount Rainier. There was hard evidence obtained. And it relates to John F. Kennedy. Do you know the story of the Maury Island crash retrieval?

The Maury Island Crash Retrieval: The JFK/UFO Connection

The Maury Island incident involved the sighting of a circle of UFOs and the retrieval of material from the central craft in 1947. It preceded the Roswell event by a month and Kenneth Arnold's Mount Rainier sightings by three days. One of its principle witnesses, Fred Crisman, was subpoenaed in 1968 as part of New Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison's investigation of the JFK assassination. Crisman had retained what was recovered from the Maury Island UFO ostensibly until he turned it over to Air Force investigators, who subsequently died in a plane crash attempting to return it to Hamilton Air Force base on San Francisco bay. The UFO material was never recovered from the plane crash site and investigators recommended that any future such retrievals be processed through the Army's Foreign Technologies division, where Phil Corso later said the Roswell debris had been processed.

Questions arise as to whether Crisman gave the Maury Island material to the investigators in the first place and/or whether he had a hand in sabotaging their plane. Further questions remain about whether his continued possession of the crash debris gave him an opportunity, via threat of disclosure, to operate in intelligence circles, perhaps leading up to the JFK assassination. Garrison suspected Crisman as the infamous grassy knoll assassin. Crisman's name as such a suspect came up independently in a famous samizdat document of the assassination entitled the Torbitt Document, as one of the well-known tramps arrested in the railyard at Dealey Plaza.

This talk reviews various aspects of the case, including presentation of the Zapruder film (demonstrating where Crisman may have shot from) and Garrison's appearance on the Tonight Show with the tramps photo, discussing also more surprising aspects, including Garrison's contention that Crisman worked as an assassin for elements of the aerospace industry distraught over JFK's defense contract awards. It reviews JFK's last speech, on the TFX tactical fighter, the controversy of its contracting and how it subsequently lead to secret military development in Pine gap, Australia. The talk also looks at Lee Oswald's role as an agent connected to the U2 program and Area 51. And it reviews Crisman's life as a right wing radio talk show host in Tacoma, plus his contention that the TV show The Invaders was based on his life. For this conference, the talk would emphasize the crash debris retrieval and its role in known but only dimly understood aspects of covert government operation.

Kenn Thomas is a university archivist, researcher and author of over a dozen books on various conspiracy topics, including NASA, Nazis & JFK; Maury Island UFO, about possible John F. Kennedyassassination-connected personality Fred Crisman; and The Octopus: Secret Government and the Death of Danny Casolaro, about the Inslaw affair. Thomas calls his research interest "parapolitics," the study of conspiracies of all colors -- from alien abductions and the Illuminati, to the John F. Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attacks. New Yorker called his work "on the cutting edge" of conspiracy. His work has become proverbial enough that Baseball Prospectus described conspiratorial activity in that sport as having "enough fishy behavior to keep Kenn Thomas swarming for years." Thomas latest book, co-edited with Adam Parfrey, entitled Secret and Suppressed II: Banned Ideas and Hidden History into the 21st Century, is available from the publisher, Feral House, online at Thomas' web site appears at and he can be reached for lecture appearances at

Did you miss last year's conference? Would you like to see it in the comfort of your own home? Visit our Online Store now to order Proceedings, DVDs, and Documentaries affiliated with all six previous conferences!

An Imperfect Pitcher’s Perfect Game

The Daily Fix
The Journal's all-purpose sports report.
July 23, 2009
The Count: An Imperfect Pitcher’s Perfect Game
By Carl Bialik

Mark Buehrle was a very unlikely candidate to throw a perfect game Thursday.

That’s no knock against Buehrle, a fine pitcher who threw a no-hitter two years ago and twice took a no-hitter into the seventh inning only to see it broken up. (The other five pitchers to throw a perfect game and at least one other no-hitter are all either in the Hall of Fame or, in the case of Randy Johnson, going to be.) In seven of the last nine seasons his earned-run average has been more than 20% better than the league average, after adjusting for ballparks. He also has more wins than any other active pitcher under age 31.

But Buehrle on Thursday was facing the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that ranks second in the majors in on-base percentage. Suppose each Ray batter in the lineup had his team’s overall OBP for each at bat against Buehrle — 0.353. Then the chance a league-average pitcher would retire all 27 of them was about one in 130,000.

Buehrle is better than league-average in many categories, but he hardly excelled in those that are strong indicators of pitchers most likely to throw no-hitters. Before Thursday, he’d given up 8.8 hits in every nine innings, compared to a majors-average of 8.9. He ranked 19th among 87 qualifying starters in walks plus hits per innings pitched. Just 64% of his pitches were strikes — good for 29th among starters. (In the perfect game, that edged up to just 66% of his pitches.) And he ranked 70th out of 87 in strikeouts per nine innings, with 5.03. He had six against the Rays, meaning Tampa Bay was 0 for 21 on balls they hit into play. In the ninth inning, one of those was converted into an out thanks to an amazing catch. All perfect games require some luck and great fielding; this one seems to have required more than most.

Henderson and Rice together forever

Thursday July 23, 2009
Henderson and Rice together forever

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) - Rickey Henderson knew what was expected every time he batted. So, too, did Jim Rice.

"Some way, I was going to scratch to get on base to steal that base,'' Henderson said. "I steal that base, my day was good. My pride and joy was coming across the plate.''

Said Rice: "Believe me, I wasn't paid to walk. I was paid to try to do some damage.''

Each player - Henderson, the quintessential leadoff man with an infectious smile, and Rice, the consummate power hitter with an icy glare - inflicted more than his share of damage on opponents, and they will be duly recognized for their considerable career accomplishments Sunday when they are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The pair will be the first inductees to primarily play left field since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski went into the Hall in 1989.

Former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, elected posthumously by the Veterans Committee, also will be inducted, while former Yankees star and longtime broadcaster Tony Kubek and writer Nick Peters will be honored as winners of the Frick and Spink awards, respectively.

"As a kid, you grow up playing the game, and you never really know what you can achieve,'' Henderson said.

A member of nine teams during his 25-year career, the fun-loving Henderson achieved more than most. He holds the all-time records for stolen bases in a season (130) and career (1,406), for runs scored (2,295) and for leading off a game with a home run (81).

"Competing against myself - I think that's what made me the player that I became,'' Henderson said. "I had a lot of desire to be a winner and play the game to the fullest.''

Born in Chicago on Christmas Day 1958, Henderson moved with his family to California when he was 7 and became a three-sport star at Oakland Technical High School. Football was his forte and he received numerous scholarship offers to play college ball, turning them down for a shot at baseball.

Henderson was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the fourth round in 1976. After excelling in the minors for three seasons (at Modesto, in 1977, he led the California League with a then-record 95 steals and became just the fourth professional player to steal seven bases in one game), Henderson made his major league debut with Oakland in late June 1979. He still led the club that season with 33 steals.

When Oakland owner Charlie Finley hired Billy Martin as manager in 1980, Henderson had the perfect partner in crime. "Billyball'' - the aggressive attack Martin relished - helped catapult Henderson to stardom.

The speedy Henderson set the American League season steals record with 100 in only his second year, joining Maury Wills and Lou Brock as the only major league players of the modern era to steal 100 or more bases a season.

"I went out there and put it together, but it wasn't just me,'' said Henderson, who eclipsed the AL record of 96 set by Ty Cobb in 1915. "Billy helped teach me how to win. He had a strategy and we worked together and achieved that. There was no doubt I was gone when you told me to go.''

Henderson quickly evolved into perhaps the most dangerous player in baseball, seemingly always able to make something from nothing. After leading the AL in hits during the strike-shortened 1981 season, the "Man of Steal'' used his trademark headfirst slides to break Brock's single-season steals record with 130 in 1982.

After the 1984 season, Henderson was traded to the New York Yankees and soon was reunited with Martin after Yogi Berra was fired as manager.

Henderson hit 24 homers and batted .314 with a league-leading 80 stolen bases in 1985, and his 146 runs scored were the most since Ted Williams had 150 in 1949.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Henderson gained at the plate by shrinking into a tight crouch, dramatically cutting his strike zone and confounding pitchers like no other player.

"Rickey just made it impossible not to be distracted by him,'' said Tony La Russa, who managed Henderson at Oakland and dreaded managing against him.

Just the 44th player elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility, Henderson retired with 2,190 career walks (128 more than Babe Ruth), and although Barry Bonds has since eclipsed that total, Henderson still holds the record for most unintentional walks with 2,129. What is most amazing is that 796 of those free passes - or 37 percent - came while leading off an inning, something every opposing pitcher and catcher desperately wanted to avoid.

"I had a strategy of my strike zone and how can I beat a pitcher, and I think I was more patient,'' said Henderson, who broke Cobb's record of 2,246 career runs and Zack Wheat's record of 2,328 career games in left field. "I loved battling against a pitcher.''

The flamboyant Henderson, who during his career frequently referred to himself in the third person and often was accused of showboating on the field with his trash talk and snatch catch - he said it was simply "Rickey being Rickey'' - also liked being paid well for his services. That led him to develop another of his fortes - leading off games with a home run.

"I'm killing myself. I was stealing all the bases, and when you had to go to arbitration they said, 'You know, only the big boys make the money,''' Henderson said. "So I got to try and figure out how to hit a home run, too.''

He learned. In 1990, Henderson matched his career high with 28 homers. He also stole 65 bases and led the majors with a .439 on-base percentage, winning AL MVP honors.

Hitting homers was second nature to Rice, who played his entire career for the Boston Red Sox. Playing at a time when offensive numbers paled in comparison to the past two decades, the so-called steroid era, Rice batted .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs from 1974-89. He was voted to eight All-Star teams and finished in the top five in AL MVP voting six times, winning the award in 1978 when he batted .315 with 213 hits, 46 home runs, 139 RBIs and a .600 slugging percentage.

The numbers get even more impressive.

Rice drove in 100 or more runs eight times, batted over .300 seven times, and topped 200 hits four times. And he's the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).

That it took until his final year of eligibility probably rankled every time a new class was announced. If there ever was any bitterness, though, it has long since vanished.

"You let bygones be bygones,'' the 56-year-old Rice said. "Yeah, I wish I could have gone in on the first ballot or the second, not the last. But I'm in and some guys are still out. You cherish what you have. You cherish that you're in an elite category of guys that played the game one way - hard.

"There are a lot of guys that I started with my first year in rookie ball - about 60 guys - and only one made it to the big leagues.''

Henderson says he has one regret - that he didn't retire sooner.

"You got to wait five years to go into the Hall of Fame,'' he said. "If I would have thought about it, and just went on and got them five years up early, then I'd been a little younger. Then I could have came back after I went into the Hall of Fame, but I waited too long.''

LeBron's attempt to hide college kid's dunk

LeBron's attempt to hide college kid's dunk disturbingly revealing
Phil Taylor
Story Highlights
Nike officials confiscated tape of college player's dunk on LeBron James
Videos of the summer camp dunk revealed a fairly ordinary basketball play
LeBron's ungracious playoff exit and effort to hide tape may reveal growing ego

That was it? Seriously?

Given all the hype and secrecy and video-snatching tactics that surrounded it, you expected the world premiere of LeBron James Getting Dunked On to be something truly amazing, the type of vicious throwdown that makes you bug your eyes out and grab the person next to you in that All-Star weekend, you-better-hold-me-up-'cause-that-slam-was-so-nasty-I-just-might-pass-out kind of way. If the video of a little-known college player, Jordan Crawford of Xavier, jamming over James earlier this month was so embarrassing that LBJ or his Nike minions or both felt the need to confiscate the footage from one of the fans who happened to record it, surely this must have been a dunk for the ages.

The kid must have really posterized the King, you were thinking. He must have tied James' headband in a knot with the force of it. He must have finished a Sudoku as he soared over LeBron's head. He must have dissed LBJ's puppet commercials on the way to the rim. Something. Why else would they have gone to such trouble to try to ensure that the evidence would never leave the gym?

But no, it was just a run-of-the-mill dunk, the kind you might see in any high-level pick-up game. Crawford drove the middle and took off, with James leaving his man along the baseline to come and help. The King got there a split second too late to make the block, with Crawford finishing the flush just beyond his outstretched hand. There was some hooting and hollering from the handful of fans in the stands, but it died down soon enough.

And that's what would have happened with the public reaction if James and/or Nike hadn't tried to keep the footage from getting out -- it would have died down just as quickly. It's not completely clear whether James directed the Nike reps to confiscate the video or whether the idea came from the company, but in any case, he certainly made no objection. However it came about, they were dead wrong in their handling of it; they should have been shrewd enough to let matters play out naturally. Instead, they made everyone so curious that when footage finally hit the Internet on Wednesday -- apparently the Nike reps didn't realize that the fan they strong-armed wasn't the only one recording the play for posterity -- the entire basketball world was eager to take a look.

So the attempt to suppress the evidence was a miscalculation by James, which wouldn't be a big deal if it weren't his second misstep in recent weeks. The great dunk cover-up comes on the heels of his rather ungracious exit from the playoffs in late May, when he drew criticism for leaving the court after the Cavs' elimination without bothering to shake a single Orlando player's hand. Neither of these is a major offense, of course, but taken together, they do point to a troubling possibility. Could it be that LBJ, who had until now shown such unerring public relations instincts, is beginning to take himself too seriously?

Some diva tendencies are starting to show, first pouting after a big loss and now trying to suppress video that shows him as something less than a superman for about five seconds. It's a little like an actress who won't allow herself to be photographed unless her makeup is on and the lighting is perfect. It would be a shame to see James, who has been so appealing in part because he has seemed so natural and down-to-earth, turn into the kind of celebrity athlete who becomes so self-absorbed he can't handle defeat with grace or so image conscious he tries to micro-manage the flow of information about him that reaches the public.

As unfair as it may be to LBJ, we can't help think about what Michael Jordan would have done in the same situation. His Airness wouldn't have destroyed the dunking footage, he would have destroyed the dunker. He would have focused on outplaying Crawford so mercilessly for the rest of the game, and every game the youngster had the misfortune to play against him thereafter, that Crawford would rue the day he ever learned to dunk. Jordan's legacy was not that he never came up short, it was how ruthlessly he exacted revenge on those rare occasions that someone did get the better of him.

James would be wise to follow Jordan's lead -- among MJ's many talents, after all, was the ability to remain utterly likable without appearing to try too hard. It appeared that James had figured out how to do the same, but he seems to be in need of a refresher course, or at least a reminder that presenting yourself as a sore loser or a thin-skinned star is no way to keep the public on your side.

The occasional embarrassing moment on the court can't damage LeBron's reputation, but his own overreaction can. That much, James needs to realize, is a slam dunk.

A fun trip to Seattle's Lebowski Fest

July 22, 2009
A fun trip to Seattle's Lebowski Fest
By Jim Caple
Page 2
I'm sorry to disappoint fans of the film "The Big Lebowski," but the real Dude was never that much into bowling. His sport of choice, which he revealed to me in an interview earlier this week, was running. Yes, the man who was the inspiration for "quite possibly the laziest [man] in Los Angeles County" and in whom "casualness runs deep" was a dedicated runner, who said he often did six miles a day over regular routes throughout Seattle's northern neighborhoods.

"Well," Jeff (The Dude) Dowd said in his defense, "you had to be in shape to drink all those White Russians and make love to all those women."

Another disappointment -- The Dude didn't drink White Russians. Well, Dowd did, but only briefly -- he said it was more like a flavor of the month. But he really is called The Dude, and has been since the sixth grade.

The Dude was part of the Seattle Seven -- a group of people from the University of Washington charged with conspiring to incite a riot during a 1970 Vietnam War protest. But the marmot, the scissors-wielding nihilists, the iron lung, the faked kidnapping, the bowling, and the smart, incredibly funny script? That's all a product of the writing/directing team of Ethan and Joel Coen. (Although Dowd said he did provide some inspiration for The Dude's dialogue by saying the expletive starting with an "F" a lot.)

A writer, producer and movie rep, Dowd said he met the Coens when the brothers were fighting to get their first movie, "Blood Simple," released in 1984. Taken with his colorful personality, they later used him as the basis for the lead role in "The Big Lebowski," arguably one of the funniest comedies of the past 20 years. The film revolves around mistaken identity, a million-dollar ransom, hired thugs, a conniving businessman, an Oriental rug, nihilists, pornographers, a paranoid Vietnam vet, friendship and, of course, bowling.

''Those two guys make movies that are an homage to genres and 'Lebowski' obviously is very much a Raymond Chandler, classic L.A. crime story put together with a buddy movie and injected with lots of nitrous oxide and acid," Dowd said. "They called me up and said they were doing this movie and had cast it with Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. And I'm like 'Uh oh,' worried because I'm on the cusp, and it could go either way, with Jeff Bridges or Goodman [playing me]."

Not to worry. Goodman played Walter Sobchak, while Bridges played The Dude -- the bathrobe and pajama-wearing, White Russian-drinking "hero," who wants nothing more than to drive around, bowl, experience the occasional acid flashback and get back his living room rug ("It really tied the room together'') amid a chaos of outrageous characters and plot lines. The movie flopped commercially when it opened in 1998, though it did pick up the coveted Russian Board of Film Critics award for ''Best Foreign Film." As with "It's a Wonderful Life," however, audiences came to embrace it in ensuing years, turning it into a cult classic that spawned a book ("I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski") and a nationwide Lebowski Fest. Fans pay up to $20 a head to watch the movie, enter trivia and costume contests, and bowl while wearing pajamas and robes.

At the Seattle fest this week, hundreds of fans filled a bowling alley near a suburban shopping mall. Every lane and lounge area was packed with people dressed as characters from "Lebowski." There were dozens of guys dressed as The Dude in bathrobes, just as many dressed as Walter in khaki hunting vests and shorts, guys in outrageous velvet jumpsuits, large-busted women in Valkyrien helmets, and even a guy in a homemade marmot costume. It was like a "Star Trek" convention, but instead of slightly pathetic Trekkies speaking in Romulan, you had guys laughing, drinking White Russians and spouting movie lines ("This isn't 'Nam, Smokey. This is bowling. There are rules.") while bowling.

It's a little frightening how much this guy looks like Walter.In other words, it was like most nights in a bowling alley, but also with nihilists in red skinsuits.

Not counting the person who brought the iron lung, no one topped Scott Glancy, who was a dead ringer for Walter, complete with the shorts, vest, stylized crew cut, dog tags and yellow-tinted shooting glasses. Aside from the glasses and dog tags, it wasn't really a costume. "This is how I dress," he said. "My mother called me after the movie came out and asked, 'Why do they have John Goodman dressed like you?'"

Glancy, 43, calls bowling "shockingly important" to "Lebowski," but Dowd said the bowling scenes were merely meant to provide a location where you could have the characters talk with the illusion of action. "Not only does The Dude not bowl in the movie, bowling is just a background," Dowd said. "There's no tournament. There's a big scene about the tournament coming up where Jesus is warning them about what he's going to do in the tournament, but there's no payoff. We never see the tournament. Walter talks about how important the tournament is but we never see a big-game 'Hoosiers' type moment."

Whatever the importance of bowling to "Lebowski," it's a movie that rewards with repeat viewings. I found it mildly amusing when it first came out, but uncontrollably funny during a midnight showing at a local art house a few months ago. And no, no substances, controlled or otherwise, influenced my second reaction. That is how a lot of people react to a second viewing, including Dowd and, he says, Jeff Bridges.

Dowd believes this is because people went with initial expectations of what the movie would be like, and were slightly put off by what it was. "It's much more of a Ethan and Joel mosaic than a traditional narrative plot movie, though there is some of that in there," he said. "Then we go in there with a different expectation the second time and we realize it's really a brilliant satirical movie you can see many, many times."

Of course, that's just like, his opinion, man.

"This is not some little 'Lebowski 'cult," Dowd insisted. "There are a million people watching the movie right now in the United States. Well, tons of them. It plays across demographic and age lines. It plays Democrat and Republican. It plays young and old. It plays pretty much [to] all races, men and women and obviously stoners and college kids. This is the most popular movie in the U.S. Army. It's not 'Top Gun' or 'The Green Berets.' If you go over and poll guys in Iraq, I guarantee you the top movie is 'The Big Lebowski.' They may have the big movie of the moment, but the movie they watch most? 'The Big Lebowski.' You ask any sports team? 'Big Lebowski.' Any band? 'Big Lebowski.'"

There he is, Jeff Dowd himself, surrounded by Jesus lookalikes from the film.I don't know if I've seen too many baseball teams watching "Lebowski" in the clubhouse (their loss), but to call Dowd on this would be very un-Dude.

Besides, he's right. The movie is very popular and touches everyone, usually in the funny bone. Joe Germano, a marine biologist from Bellevue who attended the bowling party dressed as the white-suited pornographer Jackie Treehorn, says he brings the movie with him on his frequent assignments at sea. "It keeps the guys from going crazy," he said. "It's become a philosophy of life. Not to take things too seriously."

Dowd told me stories about Republican families that watch the movie together every Christmas to prevent old wounds from being ripped open after dinner, and of the Wall Street-area paramedic who told him at the New York Lebowski Fest that the movie saved his life after 9/11 because it allowed him to laugh again.

"It's pretty hard to watch 'Lebowski' without feeling better than when you went in," Dowd said. "It might be like freebase [cocaine] and the feeling runs out in 10 minutes, or it may last for a few hours or a day. But it's also a bonding thing as you can see in there.

"And that's a wonderful thing to be in some way part of -- to bring a little bit of joy into people's lives for a few hours."

The Dude abides, and I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.

With the recession, the deficit, the mess in Afghanistan and the Middle East, terrorism, global warming and the spiraling cost of health care, it's good knowing "The Big Lebowski" is out there, via Netflix and available on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

How the "Public Option" Was Sold

Bait and Switch: How the "Public Option" Was Sold
Monday 20 July 2009
Kip Sullivan, Physicians for a National Health Program

Political science Professor Jacob Hacker, who first dreamed up the "public option" health plan, originally envisioned a much more expansive program than the one being debated currently in Congress.

The people who brought us the "public option" began their campaign promising one thing but now promote something entirely different. To make matters worse, they have not told the public they have backpedalled. The campaign for the "public option" resembles the classic bait-and-switch scam: tell your customers you've got one thing for sale when in fact you're selling something very different.

When the "public option" campaign began, its leaders promoted a huge "Medicare-like" program that would enroll about 130 million people. Such a program would dwarf even Medicare, which, with its 45 million enrollees, is the nation's largest health insurer, public or private. But today "public option" advocates sing the praises of tiny "public options" contained in congressional legislation sponsored by leading Democrats that bear no resemblance to the original model.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the "public options" described in the Democrats' legislation might enroll 10 million people and will have virtually no effect on health care costs, which means the "public options" cannot, by themselves, have any effect on the number of uninsured. But the leaders of the "public option" movement haven't told the public they have abandoned their original vision. It's high time they did.

The Bait

"Public option" refers to a proposal, as Timothy Noah put it, "dreamed up" by Jacob Hacker when Hacker was still a graduate student working on a degree in political science. In two papers, one published in 2001 and the second in 2007, Hacker, now a professor of political science at Berkeley, proposed that Congress create an enormous "Medicare-like" program that would sell health insurance to the non-elderly in competition with the 1,000 to 1,500 health insurance companies that sell insurance today.

Hacker claimed the program, which he called "Medicare Plus" in 2001 and "Health Care for America Plan" in 2007, would enjoy the advantages that make Medicare so efficient - large size, low provider payment rates and low overhead. (Medicare is the nation's largest health insurance program, public or private. It pays doctors and hospitals about 20 percent less than the insurance industry does, and its administrative costs account for only 2 percent of its expenditures compared with 20 percent for the insurance industry.)

Hacker predicted that his proposed public program would so closely resemble Medicare that it would be able to set its premiums far below those of other insurance companies and enroll at least half the non-elderly population. These predictions were confirmed by the Lewin Group, a very mainstream consulting firm. In its report on Hacker's 2001 paper, Lewin concluded Hacker's "Medicare Plus" program would enroll 113 million people (46 percent of the non-elderly) and cut the number of uninsured to 5 million. In its report on Hacker's 2007 paper, Lewin concluded Hacker's "Health Care for America Plan" would enroll 129 million people (50 percent of the nonelderly population) and cut the uninsured to 2 million.

Until last year, Hacker and his allies were not the least bit shy about highlighting the enormous size of Hacker's proposed public program. For example, in his 2001 paper Hacker stated:

[A]pproximately 50 to 70 percent of the non-elderly population would be enrolled in Medicare Plus.... Put more simply, the plan would be very large.... [C]ritics will resurface whatever the size of the public plan. But this is an area where an intuitive and widely held notion - that displacement of employment-based coverage should be avoided at all costs - is fundamentally at odds with good public policy. A large public plan should be embraced, not avoided. It is, in fact, key to fulfilling the goals of this proposal. (page 17)

In his 2007 paper, Hacker stated:

For millions of Americans who are now uninsured or lack ... affordable work place coverage, the Health Care for America Plan would be an extremely attractive option. Through it, roughly half of non-elderly Americans would have access to a good public insurance plan.... A single national insurance pool covering nearly half the population would create huge administrative efficiencies. (page 5)

Hacker's papers and the Lewin Group's analyses of them have been cited by numerous "public option" advocates. For example, when Hacker released his 2007 paper, Campaign for America's Future (CAF) published a press release praising it and drawing attention to the large size of Hacker's proposed public program. The release, entitled "Activists and experts hail Health Care for America plan," stated:

Detailed micro-simulation estimates suggest that roughly half of non-elderly Americans would remain in workplace health insurance, with the other half enrolled in Health Care for America.... A single national insurance pool covering nearly half the population would create huge administrative efficiencies.... Because Medicare and Health Care for America would bargain jointly for lower prices ..., they would have enormous combined leverage to hold down costs.

When the Lewin Group released its 2008 analysis of Hacker's 2007 paper, CAF's Roger Hickey wrote in the Huffington Post, "efficiencies achievable ... through Hacker's public health insurance program" would save so much money that the US could "cover everyone" for no more than we spend now.

The Switch

Now let's compare the "single national health insurance pool covering nearly half the population" that Hacker and other "public option" advocates enthusiastically championed with the "public option" proposed by Democrats in Congress, and then let's inquire what Hacker and company said about it.

As readers of this blog no doubt know, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and three House committee chairman working jointly, published draft health care "reform" bills in June. (The third committee with bill-writing authority, the Senate Finance Committee, has yet to produce a bill.) According to the Congressional Budget Office, the "public option" proposed in the House "tri-committee" bill might insure 10 million people and would leave 16 to 17 million people uninsured. The "public option" proposed by the Senate HELP committee, again according to the Congressional Budget Office, is unlikely to insure anyone and would hence leave 33 to 34 million uninsured. The CBO said its estimate of 10 million for the House bill was highly uncertain, which is not surprising given how vaguely the House legislation describes the "public option."

Here is what the CBO had to say about the HELP committee bill:

The new draft also includes provisions regarding a "public plan," but those provisions did not have a substantial effect on the cost or enrollment projections, largely because the public plan would pay providers of health care at rates comparable to privately negotiated rates - and thus was not projected to have premiums lower than those charged by private insurance plans. (page 3)

Obviously the "public option" in the Senate HELP committee bill (zero enrollees; 17 million people left uninsured) and the "public option" in the House bill (10 million enrollees (maybe!); 34 million people left uninsured) are a far cry from the "public option" originally proposed by Professor Hacker (129 million enrollees; 2 million people left uninsured). Have we heard the Democrats in Congress who drafted these provisions utter a word about how different their "public options" are from the large Medicare-like program that Hacker proposed and his allies publicized? What have Professor Hacker and his allies had to say?

In public comments about the Democrats' "public option" provisions, the leading lights of the "public option" movement imply that Hacker's model is what Congress is debating. Sometimes they come right out and praise the Democrats' version as "robust" and "strong." But I cannot find a single example of a a statement by a "public option" advocate warning the public of the vast difference between Hacker's original elephantine, "Medicare-like" program and the Democrats' mouse version.

For example, on June 23, Hacker testified before the House Education and Labor Committee that "the draft legislation prepared by [the] special tri-committee promises enormous progress." He went on to enumerate all the benefits of a "public option." Yet the House tri-committee proposal bore no resemblance to the public plan he described in his papers and that the Lewin Group analyzed. Later, when Kaiser Health News asked Hacker in a July 6 interview why "your signature idea - a public plan - has become central to the health care reform debate," Hacker again praised his "public plan" proposal and offered no hint that the "public option" so "central to the debate" was very different from the one he originally proposed.

Ditto for Hacker's allies. Representatives of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the organization most responsible for popularizing the "public option," repeatedly describe the House and Senate HELP committee bills as "strong" or "robust," always without any justification for this claim, and have repeatedly failed to warn the public that the "public options" they promote today are mere shadows of the "public options" they endorsed in the past. On July 15, the day the HELP committee passed its bill, Jason Rosenbaum blogged for HCAN:

The Senate HELP Committee has just referred a bill to the floor of the Senate with a strong public option.

Searching the websites of the organizations that serve on HCAN's steering committee - AFSCME, Democracy for America, and SEIU, for example - one will find not a shred of information that would help the reader comprehend how small and ineffective the "public options" proposed in the Democrats' bills are, nor how different these are from the one Hacker originally proposed. Yet these groups continue to urge their members and the public to "tell Congress to support a public option."

Hacker's Original Model Compared With the Democrats' Mouse Model

It has become fashionable among advocates of a "public option" to trash the expertise and the motives of the Congressional Budget Office. But the CBO's characterization of the "public option" proposed in the Democrats' legislation is entirely reasonable. This becomes apparent the moment we compare Hacker's blueprint for his original "Medicare Plus" and "Health Care for America" programs with the "blueprints" (if tabula rasas can be called "blueprints") contained in the Senate HELP Committee and House bills.

Hacker's papers laid out these five criteria that he and the Lewin Group said were critical to the success of the "public option":

The PO had to be pre-populated with tens of millions of people, that is, it had to begin like Medicare did representing a large pool of people the day it commenced operations (Hacker proposed shifting all or most uninsured people as well as Medicaid and SCHIP enrollees into his public program);

Subsidies to individuals to buy insurance would be substantial, and only PO enrollees could get subsidies (people who chose to buy insurance from insurance companies could not get subsidies);

The PO and its subsidies had to be available to all nonelderly Americans (not just the uninsured and employees of small employers);

The PO had to be given authority to use Medicare's provider reimbursement rates; and

The insurance industry had to be required to offer the same minimum level of benefits the PO had to offer.

Hacker predicted, and both of the Lewin Group reports concluded, that if these specifications were met Hacker's plan would enjoy all three of Medicare's advantages - it would be huge, it would have low overhead costs, and it would pay providers less than the insurance industry did. As a result, the "public option" would be able to set its premiums below those of the insurance industry and seize nearly half the non-elderly market from the insurance industry. According to the Lewin Group's 2008 report, Hacker's version of the "public option" would, as of 2007:

Enroll 129 million enrollees (or 50 percent of the non-elderly);

Have overhead costs equal to 3 percent of expenditures;

Pay hospitals 26 percent less and doctors 17 percent less than the insurance industry (but these discounts would be offset to some degree by increases in payments to providers treating former Medicaid enrollees); and,

Set its premiums 23 below those of the average insurance company.

I question some of Hacker's and the Lewin Group's assumptions, including their assumption that any public program that has to sell health insurance in competition with insurance companies could keep its overhead costs anywhere near those of Medicare (Medicare is a single-payer program that has no competition), especially during the early years when the public program will be scrambling to sign up enrollees. A public program will have to hire a sales force and advertise. It will have to open offices. It will have to negotiate rates, and perhaps contracts, with thousands of hospitals and hundreds of thousands of clinics, chemical treatment facilities, rehab units, home health agencies, etc. Or it will have to contract with someone to do all that. But I have little doubt that if a public program were to open with a large enough customer base, and it had the advantage of a law requiring that only its customers receive substantial subsidies, it could do what the Lewin Group said it could do.

Now let us compare Hacker's original model with the mousey "public options" proposed by the Senate HELP Committee and the House. Of Hacker's five criteria, only one is met by these bills! Both proposals require the insurance industry to cover the same benefits the "public option" must cover. None of the other four criteria are met. The "public option" is not pre-populated, the subsidies to employers and to individuals go to the "public option" and the insurance industry, employees of large employers cannot buy insurance from the "public option" in the first few years after the plan opens for business and maybe never (that decision will be made by whoever is President around 2015), and the "public option" is not authorized to use Medicare's provider payment rates. (The House bill comes the closest to authorizing use of Medicare's rates; it authorizes Medicare's rates plus 5 percent).

Is it any wonder the CBO concluded the Democrats' "public option" will be a tiny little creature incapable of doing much of anything? More curious is that CBO gave the House "public option" any credit at all (you will recall CBO said it would enroll maybe 10 million people). The CBO should have asked, Can the "public option" - as presented in either bill - survive?

Put Yourself in the "Public Option" Director's Shoes

To see why the "public option" proposed by congressional Democrats remains at great risk of stillbirth, let's engage in a frustrating thought experiment. Let's imagine Congress has enacted the House version (it is not quite as weak as the HELP Committee model and thus gives us the greatest opportunity in our thought experiment to imagine a scenario in which the "public option" actually survives its start-up phase). Let us imagine furthermore that you have been foolish enough to apply for the job of executive director of the new "public option," and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (the federal agency within which the program will be housed) decided to hire you. It's your first day on the job.

You know the House bill did not create a ready-made pool of enrollees for you to work with the way the 1965 Medicare law created a ready-made pool of seniors prior to the day Medicare commenced operations. You realize, in other words, that you represent not a single soul, much less tens of millions of enrollees. You will have to build a pool of enrollees from scratch. You also know the House bill authorized some start-up money for you, so you'll be able to hire some staff, including sales people if you choose. You can also open offices around the country, and advertise if you think it necessary. But you know you can't pay out too much money getting the "public option" started because the House bill requires that you pay back whatever start-up costs you incur within ten years. In other words, you may hire enough people and open enough offices and buy enough advertising to create a critical mass of enrollees nationwide, but you must do it quickly so that your start-up costs don't sink the "public option" during its first decade.

The only other feature in the House bill that appears to give you any advantage over the insurance industry is the provision requiring you to use Medicare's rates plus 5 percent, which essentially means you are authorized to pay providers 15 percent less than the insurance industry pays on average. But the House bill also says providers are free to refuse to participate in the plan you run.

So what do you do? Let's say you open offices in dozens or hundreds of cities, you hire a sales force to fan out across the country to sign up customers, you advertise on radio and TV to get potential customers (employers and individuals) to call your new sales force to inquire about the new "public option" insurance policy. What happens when potential customers ask your salespeople two obvious questions: what will the premium be and which doctors they can see? What do your employees say? They can't say anything. They haven't talked to any clinics or hospitals about participating at the 15-percent-below-industry-average payment rate, so they have no idea which providers if any will agree to participate. They also have no idea what the "public option" premium will be because they don't know whether providers will accept the low rates the plan is authorized to pay. And they have no idea about several other factors that will affect the premiums, including how much overhead the "public option" will rack up before it reaches a state of viability, or who the "public option" will be insuring - healthy people, sick people, or people of average health status.

So, let's say you redeploy your sales force. Now instead of talking to potential customers, you direct them to focus on providers first. But when your salespeople call on doctors and hospital administrators and ask them if they'll agree to take enrollees at below-average payment rates, providers ask how many people the "public option" will enroll in their area. Providers explain to your salespeople that they are already giving huge discounts, some as high as 30 to 40 percent off their customary charge, to the largest insurers in their area and they are not eager to do that for the "public option" unless the plan will have such a large share of the market in their area that it will deliver many patients to them. If the "public option" cannot do that, providers tell your salespeople, they will not agree to accept below-average payment rates.

In other words, you find that the "public option" is at the mercy of the private insurance market, not the other way around.

This thought experiment illustrates for you the mind-numbing chicken-and-egg problem created by any "public option" project that does not meet Hacker's criteria, most notably, the criterion requiring pre-population of the "public option." If the pre-population criterion isn't met, the poor chump who has to create the "public option" is essentially being asked to solve a problem that is as difficult as describing the sound of one hand clapping. You need both hands to clap.

How Did the Mouse Replace the Elephant?

How did the "Medicare Plus" proposal of 2001 (when Hacker first proposed it) get transformed into the tiny "public options" contained in the Democrats' 2009 legislation? The answer is that somewhere along the line it became obvious that the Hacker model was too difficult to enact and had to be stripped down to something more mouse-like in order to pass. Did the leading "public option" advocates realize this early in the campaign? Or midway through the campaign when the insurance industry began to attack the "public option"? Or late in the campaign when they found it difficult to persuade members of Congress to support Hacker's original model? Whatever the answer, will they find it in their hearts to tell their followers their original strategy was wrong?

I suspect the answer is different for different actors within the "public option" movement. Hacker surely knew what was in his original proposal and surely knows now that the Democrats' bills don't reflect his original proposal. Hacker and others familiar with his original proposal were probably betrayed by the process. As the "public option" concept became famous and edged its way toward the centers of power, they couldn't find the courage to resist the transformation of the original proposal into the mouse model.

For other actors within the "public option" movement, ignorance of Hacker's original proposal and of health policy in general may have led them to rely on more knowledgeable leaders in the movement. Their error, in other words, was to trust the wrong people and, as the "public option" came under attack, to cave in to group think. This error was facilitated by the "public option" movement's decision to avoid mentioning any details of the "public option" whenever possible.

What Next?

Those of us in the American single-payer movement must continue to educate Congress and the public on the need for a single-payer system. We must also convince advocates of the "public option" that they have made two serious mistakes and, if they learn quickly from these mistakes, that real reform is still possible.

The first mistake was to think that a "public option" that merely took over a large chunk of the non-elderly market (as opposed to one that took over the entire market) could substantially reduce health care costs and thereby make universal coverage politically feasible. Any proposal that leaves in place a multiple-payer system - even a multiple-payer system with a large government-run program in the middle of it - is going to save very little money. Even if Hacker's original Health Care for America Plan had taken over half the non-elderly market and then reached homeostasis (something Hacker swore up and down it would do), the savings would have been relatively small. The reason for that is twofold. First, any insurance program, public or private, that has to compete with other insurers is going to have overhead costs substantially higher than Medicare's. (It is precisely because Medicare is a single-payer program that its overhead costs are low.) Second, the multiple-payer system Hacker would leave in place would continue to impose unnecessarily large overhead costs on providers.

The second mistake the "public option" movement made was to think the insurance industry and the right wing would treat a "public option" more gently than a single-payer. Conservatives have a long history of treating small incremental proposals such as "comparative effectiveness research" as the equivalent of "a government takeover of the health care system." It should have been no surprise to anyone that conservatives would shriek "socialism!" at the sight of the "public option," even the mouse model proposed by the Democrats.

The bait-and-switch strategy adopted by the "public option" movement has put the Democrats in a terrible quandary. Seduced by the false advertising about the potency of the "public option" to lower costs, Democrats have raised public expectations for reform to unprecedented levels. Failing to meet those expectations during the 2009 session of Congress, which is inevitable if the Democrats continue to promote legislation like the bills released in June, is going to have unpleasant consequences. Is there no way out of this quandary?

Conventional wisdom holds that if the Democrats don't pass a health care reform bill by December, they will have to wait till 2013 to try again. But if the "public option" movement were to join forces with the single-payer movement, the two movements could prove the conventional wisdom wrong. This won't happen, obviously, if the "public option" movement fails to perceive the reasons it failed.

It is conceivable the "public option" movement could decide the bait-and-switch strategy was wrong and that their only error was not to stick with Hacker's original model. It should be obvious now that that would also be a tactical blunder. We have plenty of evidence now that conservatives will react to the mousey version of the "public option" as if it were "a stalking horse for single-payer." We can predict with complete certainty they will treat Hacker's original version as something even closer to single-payer. If a proposal is going to be abused as if it were single-payer, why not actually propose a single-payer? At least then, when a particular session of Congress comes and goes and we haven't enacted a single-payer system, we will have educated the public about the benefits of a single-payer and have further strengthened the single-payer movement.

To sum up, "public option" advocates must choose between continuing to promote the "public option" and seeing their hopes for cost containment and universal coverage go up in smoke for another four years, and throwing their considerable influence behind single-payer legislation. At this late date in the 2009 session, it is unlikely that a single-payer bill could be passed even if unity within the universal coverage movement could be achieved. But if the "public option" wing and the single-payer wing join together to demand that Congress enact a single-payer system, December 2009 need not constitute a deadline.
Kip Sullivan belongs to the steering committee of the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Is Obama Health Care Plan Better Than Nothing?

Is the Obama Health Care Plan Really Better Than Nothing?
Candidate Barack Obama told us to judge his first term by whether he delivers quality affordable health care for all Americans, including nearly fifty million uninsured. So why does his proposal not cover the uninsured till 2013, after the next presidential election when Medicare took only 11 months to cover its first 40million seniors? Why are corporate media pretending that no opinions exist to Obama's left? And why has the public option part of the Obama health care plan shrunk from covering 130 million to only 10 million, with 16 million left uninsured altogether?
Wed, 07/22/2009
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Like just about everything else, your take on the national health care debate depends on whether you're inside or outside the matrix.

Within the bubble of fake reality blown by corporate media and bipartisan political establishment, the health care news is that the Obama Plan is at last making its way through Congress. It's being fought by greedy private insurance companies, by chambers of commerce, by Republican and some Democratic lawmakers.

Under the Obama plan, we're told, employers will have to insure their employees or pay into a fund that does it for them. Individuals will be required under penalty of law to buy private insurance policies and for those that can't afford it or prefer not to use a private insurer there will be something called a “public option.” This “public option, the story goes, is bitterly fought by the bad guys because it will make private insurers accountable by competing with them, forcing them to lower their costs. Both the president's backers and opponents agree that the whole thing will be fantastically expensive, and the president proposes to fund it with cuts in existing programs like Medicaid which pay for the care of the poorest Americans and a tax on those making more than $300,000 a year.

The “public option” has that magic word “public” in it, and that's reassuring to progressives and to most of the American people. Taxing the rich is a popular idea too. So if you rely on corporate media, the administration, or some of the so-called progressive blogs to identify the players and keep the score, it seems a pretty clear case of President Obama on the side of the angels, battling the greedy insurance companies, Republicans and blue dog Democrats to bring us universal, affordable health care.

That whole picture has about as much reality as the ones the same corporate media and most of the same politicians drew for us about Iraq, 9-11, weapons of mass destruction and some people over there who wanted us to free them. Iraq and the White House were and remain actual places, and there really is a problem called health care. But the places, problems and solutions are very different from the bubble of fake reality blown around them.

What sustains this fake reality is the diligent suppression from public space of any viewpoints, observations or proposals to Obama's left. As long as the illusion that nobody has a better idea, that the only choice we have is Obama's way or the Republicans' way can be maintained, the crooked game can go on.

But bubbles are delicate things. Keeping this one intact requires so many vital topics to be avoided, so many inquiring eyes to be averted, so many fruitful conversations to be squelched that it's hard to see how the president, the bipartisan establishment and the corporate media can pull it all off.

The real Obama Plan: doesn't cover the uninsured till 2013, if then.

The first clue that something is deeply wrong with the Obama health care proposal is its timeline. According to a copyrighted July 21 AP story by Ricardo Alfonso-Zaldivar,

“President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare law on July 30, 1965, and 11 months later seniors were receiving coverage. But if President Barack Obama gets to sign a health care overhaul this fall, the uninsured won't be covered until 2013 — after the next presidential election.

“In fact, a timeline of the 1,000-page health care bill crafted by House Democrats shows it would take the better part of a decade — from 2010-2018 — to get all the components of the far-reaching proposal up and running.”

According to a peer reviewed 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine, 62% of the nation's 727,167 non-business bankruptcies were triggered by unpayable medical bills in 2007. Most of these had health insurance when they fell ill or were injured, but with loopholes, exclusions, high deductibles and co-payments, or were simply dropped when they got sick. In 2008 that figure was 66% of 934,000 personal bankruptcies and in 2009 it could approach 70% of 1.1 million bankruptcies. And 18,000 Americans die each year because medical care is unaffordable or unavailable. Waiting till 2013 means millions of families will be financially ruined and tens of thousands will die unnecessarily.

If the Johnson administration with no computers back in the sixties could implement Medicare for 45 million seniors in under a year, why does it take three and a half years in the 21st century to cover some, but not all, of America's fifty million uninsured? And why does the Obama Plan make us wait till after the next presidential election? Politicians usually do popular things and run for election on the resulting wave of approval. Delaying what ought to be the good news of universal and affordable health care for all Americans till two elections down the road is a strong indication that they know the good news really ain't all that good. And it's not.

Inside the matrix of TV, the corporate media and on much of the internet, discussion of the Obama plan's timeline, the human cost of another three years delay, and the comparison with Medicare’s 11 month rollout back in the days before computers are almost impossible to find. We can only wonder why.

The Obama plan is about health insurance, not health care.

As BAR has been reporting since January 2007, the Obama plan is not a health care plan at all, it is a health insurance plan. Based largely upon the failed model in place in Massachusetts since 2006, the Obama plan will require employers to provide coverage or pay a special tax. Everybody not covered by an employer will be required to purchase insurance under penalty of law, in much the same manner as you're currently required to buy car insurance.

“In my state,” testified Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of the Harvard Medical School last month before Congress, “beating your wife, communicating a terrorist threat and being uninsured all carry $1,000 fines.”

As in Massachusetts, the health insurance plans people are forced to buy will cost a lot and won't cover much. In a July 20 National Journal article Dr. David Himmelstein says,

“Nearly every day that he is in the clinic, Himmelstein says, he sees a patient who has problems paying for care "despite this reform.' Some of them had free care before the 2006 law took effect but are now expected to handle co-payments. If you're not poor enough to get a subsidy, say you're making $30,000 a year, you're required to buy a policy that costs about $5,000 a year for the premium and has a $2,000 deductible before it pays for anything. For substantial numbers of people, it's effectively not coverage,' Himmelstein said. The policy he described is about the cheapest Massachusetts plan available, according to the Physicians for a National Health Program report, which Himmelstein co-wrote.”

A family of four making under $24,000 a year in Massachusetts gets its insurance premium free, but is still expected to cough up deductibles and co-payments and live with loopholes and exclusions that often deny care to those who need it. And in both the Massachusetts and Obama plans, funds to pay those premiums come out of the budgets of programs like Medicaid that already pay for care for the poorest Ameicans.

The Obama plan's “public option” is a bait-and-switch scam

A July 21 article titled “Bait and Switch: How the Public Option Was Sold” outlines how the public option is neither public, nor an option.

“Public option” refers to a proposal... that Congress create an enormous “Medicare-like” program that would sell health insurance to the non-elderly in competition with the 1,000 to 1,500 health insurance companies that sell insurance today...

“Hacker (its author) claimed the program, which he called “Medicare Plus” in 2001 and “Health Care for America Plan” in 2007, would enjoy the advantages that make Medicare so efficient – large size, low provider payment rates and low overhead...

“Hacker predicted that his proposed public program would so closely resemble Medicare that it would be able to set its premiums far below those of other insurance companies and enroll at least half the non-elderly population.”

The White House is committed to twisting arms in the both houses of Congress and reconciling the two versions of Democratic bills to emerge from the House and Senate. What emerges will be the Obama plan. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate version of the Democrats' pending health care legislation leaves 33 million uninsured and omits the public option altogether. The House version includes a “public option” estimated to cover only 10-12 million people, a number far too small for it to create price pressure on private insurance companies, while leaving 16 or 17 million uninsured. Instead of setting prices for health care, it will be forced to pay whatever tthe private insurers already pay, and perhaps more.

As private insurers use their marketing muscle to recruit younger, healthier people who'll pay for but not use their benefits, the public option will be a dumping ground for the customers they don't want... the middle-aged, the poor, those with pre-existing conditions. And of course the Obama plan's “public option' will be managed by contractors from the private insurance industry.

Private insurers spend a third of every health care dollar on non-health related things like bonuses, denial machinery, advertising, lobbying and bad investments. Medicare spends 2 or 3% on administrative overhead. Bush's “enhanced Medicare” administered by private insurance contractors, spends about 11% on overhead. That's about what we should expect from the Obama public option. So much for change.

So far, discipline is holding. Nobody in corporate media, the administration, or among Democrats in Washington has gotten round to telling us that the public option has been eviscerated. But its powerful appeal and the awesome power of the word “public” are offered by Obama supporters as the central reasons to shut up, clap harder, and get behind the president on this.

Taxing the rich, paying for health care. How the Obama Plan stacks up against single payer.

Along with being funded by cuts in Medicaid, the Obama plan is supposed to be funded by taxing those who make $300,000 or more per year. That's not a bad thing. The wealthy don't pay nearly enough taxes. But the US already spends more on health care than anyplace else on the planet while leaving a greater portion of its population uninsured than anybody.

The Obama plan will not contain costs. It will subsidize the insurance vampires well into the next decade. On the other hand, single payer would eliminate the private insurance industry altogether. In many advanced industrial countries, most of the practices private insurers follow here, such as cherry picking healthy patients while dumping and denying sick ones, are illegal. Why can we do that?

Single payer, according to a study by the California Nurses Association would eliminate 550,000 jobs in private insurance while creating 3.2 million new ones in actual health care. It would be responsible for $100 billion in wages annually and a source of immense tax revenues for local governments.

So is the Obama plan really better than nothing?

The Obama plan seems calculated to buy time for private insurers, to end the health care discussion for a decade or more without solving the health care problem, do so in a way that discredits the very idea of everybody in- nobody out health care. It will leave tens of millions uninsured, a hundred million or more underinsured, and the same parasitic private interests in charge of the American health care system that run it now.

The Obama plan as it now stands requires us to let another 18,000 die for each of the next three years and allow more than a million additional families to be bankrupted by medical expenses before we can judge whether or not the plan is working. It's easy to imagine Obama partisans telling us in mid 2013 that it's still too early to be sure.

The Kucinich amendment, which allows the few states wealthy enough to try it the liberty to fashion their own single payer regimes is intended to attract progressives and single payer votes in Congress without breaking the bubble. By itself, it should not be a reason to support this bill.. The wealthiest state in the union is probably California, and it's handing out IOUs instead of salaries this month. It's hard to see what would be lost if this health care bill went down in flames, and we started over again next year.

Can he get away with it?

Maybe. Maybe not. If the corporate media and the president can keep discussion of the devilish details to a minimum, if they can silence, co-opt and intimidate the forces to Obama's left --- if they can keep most of the public inside their bubble of fake reality, Barack Obama may achieve his goal of thwarting the reform that most of the American people want --- an everybody in, nobody out single payer health care system on the model of Canada or Australia, or Medicare for All. It won't be close, it won't be easy, and with nothing to be gained, progressives shouldn't make it any easier.

Since the president's success depends mostly on keeping people silent and in the dark, he will probably be unable to mobilize the 13 million phone numbers and email addresses collected during the recent presidential campaign, and now held by OFA, his campaign arm. If an organizing call went out to them, too many would try to read the bill and discuss the options, and such a discussion could easily get out of hand. When OFA called house meetings on health care last December, the most frequently advanced question was why we couldn't or shouldn't get a single payer health care system.

Single payer isn't dead yet. It's very much alive among Barack Obama's own supporters. To succeed, he has to bury it alive, to keep them in the bubble, in the dark and quiet, or clapping so loudly they cannot hear themselves or each other think. It's not over.

Bruce Dixon is managing editor at BAR, and can be reached at

Secret Identity

Secret Identity:
The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-creator Joe Shuster
On Sale April 1, 2009. Hardcover. 160 pages.

CRAIG YOE has been called "the freaking Indiana Jones of comics" and a "twisted archivist of the ridiculous and the sublime." Publishers Weekly, while they call his work "brilliant" and Yoe "a madman/ visionary," say he is "ruining America's youth."

Secret Identity showcases rare and recently discovered erotic artwork by the most seminal artist in comics—Superman's co-creator Joe Shuster. Created in the early 1950s when Shuster was down on his luck after trying to reclaim the copyright for Superman, he illustrated these images for an obscure series of magazines called Nights of Horror, sold under the counter until they were banned by the U.S. Supreme Court. A murder trial, juvenile delinquency, anti-comics crusader Dr. Fredric Wertham, and the neo-Nazi Brooklyn Thrill Killers gang all figure into this sensational story.

The discovery of this artwork and the story behind it by historian Craig Yoe reveals the "secret identity" of this revered comics creator, and is sure to change the way we look at Shuster and his creations—Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Jimmy Olsen—forever.