Friday, July 31, 2009

The Naked Pandering to the Gun Lobby

HR 3200: the House Health Care Deform bill

by hipparchia

So the House's 815-page draft became a 1018-page bill -- optimistically named ''America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009'' -- , and the process isn't even finished yet. I see that lambert beat me to it, but since his HR 676 link is bad, I'll just point it out again anyway: HR 676, Medicare for All, is 30 pages, which itself looks positively prolix compared to the 13-page Canada Health Act.

So far I've only made it through the first 215 pages -- DIVISION A—AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE CHOICES -- which covers the Health Insurance Exchanges, the plans to be offered therein, "shared responsibility", and modifications to the IRS code to make all this possible.

Some random highlights...

The Public Option for me, but not for thee

As an uninsured person, I will be allowed to shop for my insurance through my local HIE, and one of my options will be the "public plan." Too bad for you though, if you've already got insurance through your employer, you have to keep it. You won't be allowed into the Exchange at all -- which is the only place the public plan will be offered -- and neither will your employer, unless your employer is a small business. And very small that business has to be too, with only 10 employees or fewer, and only if that business has an annual payroll up to $400,000 will they be able to qualify for a break in how much they have to pay into the Exchange.

So, just when are you going to get your new and improved insurance?

page 14:

(25) The terms ''Y1'', ''Y2'', ''Y3'', ''Y4'', ''Y5'', and similar subsequently numbered terms, mean 2013 and subsequent years, respectively.

[And Subtitle B, Public Health Insurance Option, starts in Y1; see Sec. 221 (a), page 16 -- lambert]

Heh, looks like health care deform isn't even going to kick in until after the 2012 Presidential election.

Please run please run please run...

Skype As We Know It May Not Exist Much Longer, eBay Says

EBay is working on software to replace the guts of Skype but is worried that it may not succeed, may lose a court battle with Skype's founders over rights to the core technology and may need to do something drastic in the next few years. The company said in a regulatory filing yesterday that if it fails in both the legal and technical avenues it's pursuing then "continued operation of Skype's business as currently conducted would likely not be possible."

Joltid, a company owned by Skype's founders, merely licensed some of the system's core technology to eBay when it sold Skype to the auction giant in 2005. Joltid now says that the license has been revoked and eBay is infringing on its rights by continuing to use the technology. The case is scheduled to go to court in June of 2010 but eBay is trying to replace the technology in the meantime. It may not succeed.

Joseph Galante at Bloomberg News cites Jayanth Angl, an analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, who argues that replacing the technology will not be easy. "It would be quite difficult to replace what they already have as the underlying component to their service," Angl told Bloomberg. "There are a number of barriers to that, not the least of which are legal barriers." The creation of another global P2P VOIP and video network that doesn't infringe on existing patents is no small task.

Boston cop calls Gates 'banana-eating jungle monkey' in mass e-mail

A Fox affiliate reports that the Massachusetts National Guard began probing the racist email sent by Capt. Justin Barrett, a Boston cop, a week ago.

"After a preliminary investigation, Capt. Barrett was suspended from his military duties on July 25, 2009 pending the outcome of further investigation," Boston's FOX25 reports.

The report adds that the "language contained in the e-mail violates policies of the Massachusetts National Guard and what it stands for in its commitment to uphold and protect the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Constitution of the United States."

The officer apologized last night for the email, claiming, "I am not a racist."

"It was a poor choice of words. I did not mean to offend anyone," Barrett told NewsCenter 5. "The words were being used to characterize behavior not describe anyone."

The officer said that he didn't mean to use words like 'banana eating jungle monkey' "in a racist way."

"It was a poor choice of words," Barrett said. I didn't mean it in a racist way. I treat everyone with dignity and respect.".

More from WCVB's report:

Barrett and his attorney said they will fight the charges brought both by the police department and the National Guard.

"People are making it about race. It is not about race," Barrett claimed.

Barrett will get only pro forma support from the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association which condemned the e-mail, but said it is contractually obligated to protect his rights at a disciplinary hearing.


The Fox affiliate in Boston has published the text of the email Boston police officer Justin Barrett sent in which he referred to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as a "banana-eating jungle monkey."

It now appears Barrett's email was a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe, complaining of the Globe's coverage of the Gates arrest on July 16.

Of Gates, Barrett wrote: "He is a suspect and will always be a suspect."

"If I was the officer [Gates] verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [pepper spray] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance."

Barrett then went on to berate the author of the Globe article to which he objected.

"You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a harsh field," Barrett wrote. "You are a fool. An infidel. You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind detailing and analyzing half-truths."

AP reported that "Barrett was trained in racial profiling prevention and had shown no signs of racial discrimination in the past."

Barrett's tirade has spawned an instant flurry of comments on blogs and talk shows.

"If this is what [police officers are] putting in emails, imagine what they're saying in private," blogged The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan.


The police officer who called Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a "jungle monkey" is a "cancer on the department," Boston Mayor Tom Menino said Wednesday.

A blog posting by Cindy Adams at also says Menino called for the officer to be fired immediately.

The Boston Globe reports that Barrett will be represented by the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, the local police union. The union is expected to make a statement on the case Wednesday evening.

The Health Care Debate

Selling stuff for free is a boom market, but at what cost?

By Scott Canon

First, a little confession.

While this story pretends to be about things becoming free, that's only in the sense of free samples; buy one, get one free; bare bones for free in hopes of selling the deluxe version; free but with advertising. You know the drill.

But now free is the new black — chic, essential, even sexy.

A few years into this young century, every mouse click makes clearer that some things will be free whether the folks who produce them want to give them away or not.

Music. Software. Books. Or, for instance, this article (at least on the Web).

Some marketplace analysts — most prominently

Chris Anderson
in his latest book, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" — suggest that even as digital technology and the Internet shrink the price of many forms of work to free, free can also offer a new way to turn a buck.

"People are making lots of money charging nothing. Not nothing for everything, but nothing for enough that we have essentially created an economy as big as a good-sized country around the concept of $0.00," writes Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine.

"It's driven by an extraordinary new ability to lower the costs of goods and services close to zero," he writes. (The digital version of his book is free. The bound version will set you back $26.99.) "This new form of free is based on the economics of bits, not atoms. ... The bits economy is deflationary."

At the heart of his argument is one of the most reliable adages of the Digital Age: The time-tested Moore's Law that accurately predicted that the cost of computer processing will drop by half at least every two years.

That means computer processing, bandwidth, data storage and, Anderson argues, anything "made of ideas" becomes ever cheaper. So inexpensive—a single transistor in 1961 cost $10, enough to buy almost 2 million transistors today—that he thinks we might as well "round down to zero." Or free.

Google and Microsoft, the rival giants birthed by the computer processor, seem at war over who can give away the most: operating systems, Web browsers, office software, e-mail, Internet searches. The one that gets people to take the most freebies could dominate your desktop.

To be sure, free is to the digital universe what water is to restaurants.

The posting and viewing of YouTube videos. The operating system on your Android-based cell phone. Scores of apps for your iPhone. Software programs for slide shows, for your taxes, for your games, for Internet phone calls. Almost endless storage space for digital photographs, text documents or self-referential minutiae on Facebook.

"The notion behind free is that companies can create a demand for their product by giving it away," said Chris Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence in Kansas City, Kan.

Kuehl's business has done just that recently, giving away three market analyses it values at $5,000 to the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association.

"We'll do work for clients gratis on the assumption that they'll find it so helpful that they can't live without it," he said. And, in fact, he said the strategy landed Armada paying work with the association.

Anderson's book argues that free is rapidly becoming the default price of virtually anything that can be reduced to 1s and 0s in a computer and replicated endlessly on the Internet.

Old-school folks talk derisively of a mostly younger set that insists, in the words of "Whole Earth Catalog" creator Stewart Brand, "information wants to be free."

The right-to-free argument sometimes boils down to two points.

First, it would be undemocratic to let money determine who can read or listen to or play with the products of the mind.

Second, people are bound to pirate digital goods and services anyway, so better to use free to lure customers to things that you can coax them to pay for.

Green me up, Scotty: William Shatner targets Hewlett-Packard for toxic waste

Hewlett-Packard pledged to stop using dangerous plastics in its computers by 2009. It broke that promise. Will a company-wide voicemail from William Shatner make it change its mind?

William Shatner in Star TrekWilliam Shatner in Star TrekWhen the employees of Hewlett-Packard checked their messages yesterday, they got a bit of a shock. William Shatner (or Captain Kirk as most of us still like to call him) had left each and everyone of them a pre-recorded message, politely expressing his regret that the company had failed to keep its eco-promises.

"This is William Shatner speaking," he begins, with all the brisk efficiency that led us to follow him through galaxy after galaxy on the USS Enterprise. "You, HP, promised me a toxic-free computer by 2009. Now my friends at Greenpeace tell me that I'll have to wait till 2011. What's up with that?" He goes on, in his masterful yet diplomatic way, to suggest they ask their "leader" to make computers that are free of brominated flame retardants and PVC plastic, (as they promised) and gently reminds them that Apple seem to have managed it. He winds up, as polite and simultaneously authoritative as ever, by wishing them all "an enjoyable day". It is a bloomin' masterpiece.

The whole thing was set up by Greenpeace, which also climbed up onto the roof of the HP building and painted – in absolutely enormous writing which could certainly be read from the Enterprise – the words "Hazardous Products". Brominated flame retardants are chemicals added to products to stop them bursting into flame. Once in the waste stream they are potentially toxic for humans and animals, and are banned in some European countries. Alternatives are available and used by other computer manufacturers. PVC meanwhile has long been an environmental sore point and campaign issue for Greenpeace in particular.

Sketches of the Drug Czars

The United States spends nearly $50 billion each year on the war on drugs, to little avail: illegal drugs remain prevalent, and drug-funded groups continue to spread violence from Mexico to Afghanistan. The new White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, says he wants to end the drug war, but other men in his position have tried and failed to do just that. In this illustrated history, Ricardo Cortes shows how science, politics, ego, and scandal transformed a public-health initiative into a century-long military campaign.
Written and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes
President Richard Nixon took on drugs as part of his anti-crime platform. But even as he pushed through such tough measures as mandatory sentencing and "no-knock warrants," he also poured resources into drug-abuse prevention and treatment, which were funded at twice the level of law-enforcement efforts. In 1970, Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act, creating the U.S. drug-scheduling system. Marijuana was temporarily placed in Schedule I, the most restrictive, pending review by a commission to study its effects. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse consisted of 13 men—9 appointed by the president and 4 by Congress. In 1972, they offered their unanimous conclusion: "We believe that experimental or intermittent use of this drug carries minimal risk to the public health, and should not be given overzealous attention in terms of a public health response." The panel, along with the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Mental Health, recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use, and the American Bar Association called for reduced penalties. Nixon responded by rejecting the report, declaring "an all-out global war on the drug menace," and creating the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) by executive order in 1973.

44 Years Of Medicare Success

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, and Nate Carlile

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Social Security Act, part of which included Medicare, a measure to provide low-cost health insurance for elderly Americans. At the time, Johnson called the bill "the most revolutionary and most beneficial measure for older Americans since we passed Social Security itself back in 1935." "They will no longer have to suffer from misery and neglect and depend upon their relatives because they themselves cannot afford the cost of modern treatment," Johnson said. He inaugurated the "Great Society" program at the White House signing ceremony by enrolling former President Harry Truman as the first beneficiary and presenting him with the first Medicare card. "I predict that 30 years from today, this bill will be a welcome and permanent part of our nation's heritage that no representative would ever dare repeal," Johnson said. "Why? Because it represents the moral principle that we just must not neglect in their age those who have given a lifetime of service to their country." Johnson was right. Forty-four years later, Medicare has dramatically improved access to quality health care for the nation's seniors, allowed them to live longer and healthier lives, and has become one of the country's most popular government programs.

MEDICARE'S SUCCESS: Since the advent of Medicare, "the health of the elderly population has improved, as measured by both longevity and functional status," said one study published in the journal Health Affairs. In fact, according to the study, "life expectancy at age 65 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 17.8 years in 1998 and the chronically disabled elderly population declined from 24.9 percent in 1982 to 21.3 percent in 1994." Leaders of the Commonwealth Fund wrote in May that, "compared to people with private insurance, Medicare enrollees have greater access to care [and] fewer problems with medical bills." The report added that this finding is significant when considering that those Americans on Medicare represent a demographic that is more likely to be in poor health and to have lower incomes. Prior to Medicare, "about one-half of America's seniors did not have hospital insurance," more than 25 percent "were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns," and one in three were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION: A recent Commonwealth Fund survey found that "elderly Medicare beneficiaries reported greater overall satisfaction with their health coverage." Medicare is so popular that most Americans support expanding its coverage to Americans aged 55 to 64. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, "over half of Americans (53 percent) 'strongly' support such a proposal and an additional 26 percent say they support it somewhat, totaling 79 percent backing." Similarly, a Health and Human Services Department-commissioned study released in June found that "56 percent of enrollees in traditional fee-for-service Medicare give Medicare a rating of 9 or 10 on a 0-10 scale," while "only 40 percent of Americans enrolled in private health insurance gave their plans a 9 or 10 rating." "The higher scores for Medicare are based on perceptions of better access to care," the National Journal noted, commenting on the surveys, adding that "[m]ore than two thirds (70 percent) of traditional Medicare enrollees say they 'always' get access to needed care (appointments with specialists or other necessary tests and treatment), compared with 63 percent in Medicare managed care plans and only 51 percent of those with private insurance."

Why Obamacare Is Sinking

By Charles Krauthammer

What happened to Obamacare? Rhetoric met reality. As both candidate and president, the master rhetorician could conjure a world in which he bestows upon you health-care nirvana: more coverage, less cost.

But you can't fake it in legislation. Once you commit your fantasies to words and numbers, the Congressional Budget Office comes along and declares that the emperor has no clothes.

President Obama premised the need for reform on the claim that medical costs are destroying the economy. True. But now we learn -- surprise! -- that universal coverage increases costs. The congressional Democrats' health-care plans, says the CBO, increase costs on the order of $1 trillion plus.

In response, the president retreated to a demand that any bill he sign be revenue-neutral. But that's classic misdirection: If the fierce urgency of health-care reform is to radically reduce costs that are producing budget-destroying deficits, revenue neutrality (by definition) leaves us on precisely the same path to insolvency that Obama himself declares unsustainable.

The Democratic proposals are worse still. Because they do increase costs, revenue neutrality means countervailing tax increases. It's not just that it is crazily anti-stimulatory to saddle a deeply depressed economy with an income tax surcharge that falls squarely on small business and the investor class. It's that health-care reform ends up diverting for its own purposes a source of revenue that might otherwise be used to close the yawning structural budget deficit that is such a threat to the economy and to the dollar.

These blindingly obvious contradictions are why the Democratic health plans are collapsing under their own weight -- at the hands of Democrats. It's Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who called Obama unhelpful for ruling out taxing employer-provided health insurance as a way to pay for expanded coverage. It's the Blue Dog Democrats in the House who wince at skyrocketing health-reform costs just weeks after having swallowed hemlock for Obama on a ruinous cap-and-trade carbon tax.

The president is therefore understandably eager to make this a contest between progressive Democrats and reactionary Republicans. He seized on Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's comment that stopping Obama on health care would break his presidency to protest, with perfect disingenuousness, that "this isn't about me. This isn't about politics."

It's all about him. Health care is his signature reform. And he knows that if he produces nothing, he forfeits the mystique that both propelled him to the presidency and has sustained him through a difficult first six months. Which is why Obama's red lines are constantly shifting. Universal coverage? Maybe not. No middle-class tax hit? Well, perhaps, but only if they don't "primarily" bear the burden. Because it's about him, Obama is quite prepared to sign anything as long as it is titled "health-care reform."

This is not about politics? Then why is it, to take but the most egregious example, that in this grand health-care debate we hear not a word about one of the worst sources of waste in American medicine: the insane cost and arbitrary rewards of our malpractice system?

When a neurosurgeon pays $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance before he even turns on the light in his office or hires his first nurse, who do you think pays? Patients, in higher doctor fees to cover the insurance.

And with jackpot justice that awards one claimant zillions while others get nothing -- and one-third of everything goes to the lawyers -- where do you think that money comes from? The insurance companies, which then pass it on to you in higher premiums.

But the greatest waste is the hidden cost of defensive medicine: tests and procedures that doctors order for no good reason other than to protect themselves from lawsuits. Every doctor knows, as I did when I practiced years ago, how much unnecessary medical cost is incurred with an eye not on medicine but on the law.

Tort reform would yield tens of billions in savings. Yet you cannot find it in the Democratic bills. And Obama breathed not a word about it in the full hour of his health-care news conference. Why? No mystery. The Democrats are parasitically dependent on huge donations from trial lawyers.


Eat your heart out, Godzilla. A massive menace from the sea seems poised to invade Japan anew this summer, experts predict.

In 2005 Japanese waters were inundated with swarms of Nomura's jellyfish--like the pair seen above cruising off the coast of Fukui Prefecture in November 2007. The giants clogged fishing nets and poisoned potential catches with their toxic stings, costing coastal fishers billions of yen.

Scientists have since been racing to unlock the mysteries of this giant jellyfish species in an attempt to forecast invasions and prevent damages.

Electric Vehicle Roundup: Best Buy and McDonald's


Pakistan in tree planting record

By Riaz Sohail
BBC Urdu service, Thatta

The trees were planted in a swampy mangrove region

A team of volunteers in Pakistan has set a new world record by planting more than half a million trees in one day.

Guinness World Records confirmed that 541,176 trees had been planted in the southern province of Sindh on 15 July.

Some 300 volunteers, working in groups, planted mangrove saplings in the 750 acres of the Indus river delta region.

They beat the previous team record for tree planting which was set in India just last month when 447,874 saplings were planted in Assam state.

Pakistan's tree-planting marathon was witnessed by representatives of Guinness World Records and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

We ain't stupid