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University of Nevada Journalism Prof. Emeritus and longtime Sparks Tribune columnist Jake Highton passed away of a heart attack on 7 Aug. 2017. More information as it develops. May the great teacher rest in peace from work well done and a life well-lived.

Single-Payer Health Care Essential for America
Government allows unwarranted corporate profits from taxpayer-developed medicines
By Jake Highton

From the 10-25-2016 Sparks Tribune

The United States is the only industrialized nation that allows for-profit corporations to offer primary care health-care insurance. Other developed countries consider health care an absolute right, not a privilege as in the U.S.T.R. Reid in his 2008 documentary film Sick Around the World.

All the fuss and furor over the Affordable Care Act is a waste of money and time. Moreover, it causes confusion and frustration.

The solution is easy if Congress has the guts to enact it: federal single-payer health care. It would take the profit out of something essential for America.

Figures filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that the CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, reaped a $27.9 million salary last year. He garnered $24.8 million of that in stock options. In 2014, UnitedHealthcare CEO Stephen Hemsley made $66 million in salary. He gained $45.5 of that in stock options.

Those salaries are criminal.

As an online Internet op-edit phrased it: “while CEOs get tremendous salaries, consumers get stiffed by inflated insurance rates.”

“In contrast, last year the administrative overhead for Medicare was just 2 percent of the program’s operating costs,” The Daily Take Team in the Thom Hartmann Program editorialized. “And nobody working for Medicare becomes a millionaire.”

The area where Obamacare has been most successful is among the poor and minorities.

Economist David Cutler told the New York Times: “The law has reduced inequality, particularly among people who tend to blend into the background of the economy. These people are cleaning hotel rooms and making sandwiches in stores and restaurants.”

It certainly helps that 20 million Americans have insurance under Obamacare.

A Times analysis reported: “The law has reduced inequality, particularly among part-time workers who gained insurance at a higher rate than full-time workers. People with high school degrees gained at a higher rate too.”

Communities report big gains under Obamacare. A federally-funded health clinic in South Los Angeles enrolled 18,000 new patients, had a 44 percent increase in cervical-cancer screenings and a showed a 25 percent increase in stop-smoking therapy.

On the down side, many Southern states have refused federal funds to expand Medicare while passing oppressive health-care laws such as anti-abortion and anti-abortion clinics.


The U.S government invests $32 billion a year in drug and biomedical research to make drugs affordable. In return, “drug companies price critical drugs at staggeringly high prices,” Peter Arno points outs in an article.

“Yet the government never uses its authority under the 1980 Bayh-Hatch Act to require reasonable prices for drugs developed with public funds,” Arno adds.

Birch Bayh, former Democratic senator from Indiana, said when introducing the bill that the goal was for the U.S. “to use for the public good inventions arising out of research the government helps support.”

Unfortunately, the government badly misconstrues the Bayh-Hatch law requiring “reasonable terms.” It blindly refuses to have that mean “reasonable prices.”

Both Democratic and Republican administrations for 30 years have refused to enforce this provision of the law.

Arno concluded: “Counting on the lack of government interest in enforcement, many companies have been cavalier about setting prices—to say the least.”


An exhibit of photographs from the travels of Martin and Osa Johnson at the Wilbur May Museum in (Reno's) Rancho San Rafael is a must-see. But hurray! The last day of the exhibit is Sunday.
The Johnsons were filmmakers, photographers and explorers. They brought the excitement and fascination of “darkest Africa” to millions of Americans in the 1920s to 1940s. About 100 reproductions of the original Johnson photographs, movie posters and artifacts from their Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, are exhibited. It’s an excellent exhibit that must have been awfully costly with room after room filled with photos: Pictures of lions, elephants, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, leopards and camels. Photos of pygmies smoking cigars. Pictures of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. A rare proboscis monkey from Borneo is pictured. A huge wall photo is displayed of Lake Paradise in Kenya. There the Johnsons lived on the Serengeti four years with native tribes. Shown are the Johnson’s two Sikorsky amphibian aircraft, zebra-striped with twin engines, needed to explore inaccessible interior lands. One of my heroes, Jack London, is also pictured traveling through the South Seas with Martin Johnson. ( is LondonThe Iron Heel’s plea for socialism. His The Call of the Wild urges humane treatment of sled dogs.)
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor from the University of Nevada-Reno. (

Jake Highton column archives

College athletes need unions, pay
By Jake Highton
Expanded from the 4-17-2014 Sparks Tribune

One fact alone settles the argument about unionism and pay for college basketball and football athletes: John Calipari got a $150,000 bonus because Kentucky reached the Final Four of the March Madness basketball tournament.

Aaron Harrison calmly made the crucial three-point shot with 2.6 seconds left that won for Kentucky. His performance earned him a hero’s plaudits but no money. Calipari, who scored no points, merely coaches the Wildcats. He is paid an obscene $5.2 million to do so.

Players win games and pack field houses and stadiums, earning millions for their universities. Yet their coaches reap the rewards for shouting wildly, gyrating courtside, gesticulating frantically, abusing referees and diagramming obvious plays.

So obviously it is necessary for athletes playing major sports at universities and colleges to unionize and be paid. Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said that doing so would “throw away the entire collegiate model for athletics.”

That is precisely what needs to be done. The existing exploitation is gross. Playing major college sports is a job. Football players spend 50 or 60 hours a week at training camp. During the four-month regular season they spend 50 hours a week on the practice field.

Student-athlete is an oxymoron. The guise of amateurism is a farce. That’s why Peter Ohr, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, ruled last month that football players should be able to unionize and bargain collectively. They should be university employees, as he rightly said.

It is absurd to argue that big-time football and basketball players are students first and athletes second. The big-time sports graduation rate at the University of Connecticut, where men and women basketball teams were national champions this year? According to Juliet Macur, New York Times sports writer,
8 percent!

Time and time again we hear from universities about the “purity” of student athletes, about the hallowed tradition of amateurism, about playing “for the love of the sport,” about the priority of learning in colleges. All nonsense for athletes.

Athletes in college, whose playing days can be agonizingly short, have a right to bargain for better medical protections for concussions and other injuries. They have a right, as the New York Times editorialized, to bargain for “guaranteed scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college and the establishment of a trust fund that players can use to finish their schooling after their NCAA eligibility expires.”

Major sports in colleges are commercial enterprises. No one is fooled by Gothic campus buildings covered by ivy signifying higher learning. The March Madness basketball tournament netted universities $800 million this year. As the Times reported, football and basketball teams make gobs of money, primarily from TV revenue. It added: the money generated “would be staggering for a Fortune 500 company.”

The NCAA and the five “power conferences” make millions of dollars by denying pay to athletes.

In a separate action, former college basketball player Ed O’Bannon is seeking compensation for college athletes whose images and pictures are used in video games and broadcasts. They too deserve compensation.

Northwestern University argues that college players, as students, are not in the same category as factory workers and truck drivers. No, but they entertain millions of fans across the nation. They should be paid for it.

Ohr of the NLRB also rightly notes that college football and basketball players are recruited “because of their athletic prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school.”

As Kain Colter, a former Northwestern quarterback, testified at the NLRB hearing that he was steered away from tough science classes and told to abandon his dream of becoming a doctor.

A damning report issued recently by the American Association of University Professors declared: “Increasingly, institutions of higher education have lost their focus on the academic activities at the core of their mission.

“The spending priority accorded to competitive athletics too easily diverts our institutions from teaching and learning to scandal and excess. Even as spending on instruction, research and public service declines, most colleges and universities increase their spending on sports.”

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group of academic leaders, has long deplored “the race in sports expenditures at the most competitive level, Division I.”

Sadly, the American culture is so much in love with college sports that universities vie to satisfy that love.

And let’s face another fact: college football and basketball athletes are playing in the “minor leagues” of the National Football League the National Basketball Association — for free.

Banqueters cry: Hail, César
By Jake Highton
Expanded from the 4-10-2014 Sparks Tribune

Dennis Myers, news editor of the Reno News & Review, rightly calls César Chávez one of history’s “great apostles of nonviolence.”

He met him in Reno during a visit in 1986, writing that it was one of “the privileged moments” of his life.

The reason is obvious: Chávez brought greater pay, better working conditions and greater dignity to campesinos. He played a key role in the everlasting fight for justice and equality.

Myers’ glowing tribute was reprinted in the program for the 12th Reno César Chávez Day held recently at the Circus Circus in Reno. About 215 attended.

Andy Barbano, labor organizer and columnist for the Sparks Tribune, was the emcee of this annual homage to a great freedom fighter.

Chávez, who died in 1993, organized farm laborers in California to form the United Farm Workers. He called for a national boycott of the “grapes of wrath. “ (I was one of 17 million who refused to buy grapes.)

Despite the boycott’s popularity, President Reagan called it immoral (a judgment reflecting badly on the American people who elected him twice).

Chávez led a 215-mile march from Delano, the center of the grape harvest, to the state capital in Sacramento in 1966. He went on Gandhian fasts three times, the one in 1968 lasting 36 days.

The César Chávez Long March
by Reno artist Erik Holland

The original watercolor was displayed for several years in the Nevada Legislature offices of Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, prime sponsor of the 2009 César Chávez Day bill.

Copyright © 2009 Erik Holland. All rights reserved.

What is truly sad today is that the beloved unionism of Chávez is constantly losing ground nationally, its downfall hastened by state governors who favor the One Percent and are either ignorant of or uncaring about labor’s long and painful struggle for solidarity.

Alas, the motto of the UFW, “Sí, se puede” (Yes, we can), is obsolete. Farm workers are underpaid, overworked and threatened with deportation.

One glimmer of hope in Nevada: Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, Las Vegas Democrat, keynote speaker at the banquet. Impresario Barbano, introducing her, declared: “Ladies and gentleman, the next lieutenant governor of Nevada.”

The crowd shouted approval of the excellent idea. Flores is a high school dropout who became an attorney. That will make a heart-warming story on the campaign trail.

But she faces many obstacles. Namely:

• Flores first must be elected lieutenant governor, a position she seeks in the fall election.
• If she succeeds in that, Flores then must be elected governor in a subsequent election.
• The third obstacle: the macho electorate of Nevada.

But Flores struck an optimistic note in her talk when she quoted Chávez: “Once social change begins it cannot be reversed.”

After a dreary series of third-rate male Nevada governors, the state is long overdue for social change: a woman governor.

      Refutation of columnist

Dennis Myers, astute Nevada political observer, offers this counter to my harsh assessment of the chances of Assemblywoman Flores to become the state’s first woman governor: “The state has been evolving into a very Democratic state notwithstanding the appalling inability of the Democrats to field a candidate against Governor Brian Sandoval in his re-election bid this fall.

“While there will always be exceptions like that, political analyst Fred Lokken said the state’s changing demographics are making this ‘one of the states the Democrats can almost always count on.’ Among those demographics are Latinos, who now make up one-fifth of the Nevada electorate.

“In addition, there is always the chance that Sandoval will leave office before his second term ends, elevating Flores to acting governor.”                                         
      GM backs lemon

The investigative reporting of the New York Times is matchless at home and abroad. Here’s a recent example by Danielle Ivory and Rebecca Ruiz: “Long before the Chevrolet Cobalt became known for having a deadly ignition defect, it was seen as a lemon. Owners complained about power-steering failures, locks inexplicably opening and closing, door jamming shut in the rain and windows falling out.”

A day earlier, Matthew Wald of the Times reported four fatal crashes caused by defective Cobalts. That doesn’t sound like a big number. But what makes it worse than it sounds is that GM ignored the warning by Delphi, the parts maker, that the ignition switch did not meet specifications.

Still worse, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ignored numerous warnings for 10 years about an ignition switch that when bumped could turn off, shutting down the engine and disabling the airbags.

One Cobalt owner complained: “The engine stops while I am driving. I cannot steer nor brake so controlling the car is dangerous.”

Yet the safety agency said it reviewed the database of complaints and found “insufficient evidence to warrant opening a safety defect investigation.”

The watchdog did not bark.

America’s standards anti-family
By Jake Highton
Expanded from the 2-6-2014 Sparks Tribune

Time and time again America boasts of the nation’s exceptionalism and time and time again the dreadful truth intrudes.

National columnist David Sirota gloomily notes:

• “America is the world’s only industrialized nation that does not require employers to provide any paid vacation days.”
• “It is the only industrialized nation that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave.”
• “It is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid sick days.”

These standards are anti-family, anti-human rights and immoral.

College values twisted

The amateur tag in college football has long been a farce. The Reno Gazette-Journal proved it one again without saying so.

The newspaper reported recently that the University of Nevada-Reno football team had nine assistant coaches. Each one has a special responsibility: offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, offensive line, defensive line, running backs and special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, cornerbacks and safeties. Expenditure: $1,127,282.

This is the mid-range of salaries for assistant coaches in the Mountain West Conference. Boise State is the most “professional” of the teams in the league with its assistant coaches earning $2,436,390.

UNR’s head coach Brian Polian makes $525,000 a year, excessive when student fees at UNR are constantly rising. The university could hire five good professors for that kind of money. Yet his salary pales in comparison with some head coaches in the Southeastern Conference who make $4 million a year.

Football aside, college education should be free to all who meet the entrance requirements. College graduates are vital to the nation’s future.

About 70 percent of college students are now burdened with tremendous loan debt. The average is $29,400 and rising.

Richard Long of the Campaign for America’s Future in a Truthout column noted: “It would cost less for the government to make all public universities free than what the government already spends for higher education.”


• The government spends $69 billion a year on aid for the neediest college students.
• It spends $36 billion on annual higher education grants like Pell.
• $32 billion of potential revenue is lost each year through tax credits, exemptions and deductions.
• $1 billion is spent annually on federal work-study programs.

Richard Long concludes: “It costs the government more to help students than it would to make college tuition free.”

Unionize college athletes

The quarterback of Northwestern University’s football team has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for the right to form a union.

May a mighty sequoia grow from that NLRB seed.

Walter Byers, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the 1950s, coined the term “student athlete” to combat fears that injured athletes might get workers compensation from the states they play in.

The phrase obfuscated a growing commercial enterprise. The fiction has prevailed ever since. College football has become a vast commercial enterprise of billions of dollars.

The quarterback is Kain Colter. Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, is his “co-conspirator.”

They want a powerful voice where they have none.

One of their key goals is guaranteed medical care, including compensation for incapacitating injuries.

The next step college athletes need to take: demand pay for entertaining multitudes across the land. They did not ask for player salaries in their petition to the NLRB. But they did take an extremely important first step.

‘New’ tennis star

I have a new favorite in the tennis world: Li Na of China.

• Blessedly, after she won the women’s singles championship at the Australian Open recently she did not flop on her back as other titlists are wont to   do. She simply walked to the net with a smile to shake the hands of her opponent.
• Blessedly, she did not shriek, scream or grunt when she hit the ball.
• Blessedly, she did not pump her fists during the match.

Li Na: classy, no theatrics, understated. She played the game the way it used to be played.

Jake Highton is a longtime journalism professor and professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Nevada-Reno. He is the author of Nevada Newspaper Days — A History of Journalism in the Silver State (Heritage West Books, 1990) and of numerous books republishing his commentaries from various venues.

Jake Highton column archives

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