From the archives: How the Affordable Care Act will help people with disabilities

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act. Photo is in the public domain.
President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act. Photo is in the public domain.

Now that congressional Republicans are shamefully dismantling the Affordable Care Act, I thought I would reprise this 2010 piece that I wrote for The Guardian shortly after President Obama signed the bill into law. (I have left the Britishisms intact.) The death of Obamacare is going to have a huge, negative effect on millions, including people with disabilities.

Previously published by The Guardian.

It was some years ago that my wife and I learned a crucial fact about living in America with a disability.

Our daughter, Rebecca, now 17, had been diagnosed at birth with achondroplasia, a genetic condition that is the most common form of dwarfism. At five months she ran into dwarfism-related breathing complications that required a tracheostomy, oxygen and home nurses for a good part of the day and night. It was a harrowing time in our lives — not to mention hers. But by the time she was three years old she was fully recovered.

One day when Becky was still a baby we found ourselves at a gathering of Little People of America, an organisation akin to Britain’s Restricted Growth Association. We were looking down — way, way down — at our soon-to-be-friend Ruth, the local LPA director. Ruth told us that Becky should focus on a career at either a large corporation or the federal government. That way, she said, Becky would never have to worry about having health insurance.

We were appalled. It’s not that working for a big company or a government agency is such a terrible fate. Ruth herself is a federal bureaucrat, and a good one. So, for that matter, was my father. But the idea that our daughter should shy away from launching a business or joining a small start-up company lest she lose her health coverage was offensive to us.

Those days are now behind us — and her. After Sunday night’s historic vote in the House of Representatives, we count Becky among the tens of millions of Americans who have been liberated. It’s long overdue.

Much of the attention over the past few days has rightly focused on the 32 million uninsured Americans who will be covered, and on new regulations that will prohibit insurance companies from denying benefits to people with pre-existing conditions.

What hasn’t been emphasised enough is that many of those folks with pre-existing conditions, like Ruth, have good jobs and great coverage — but that some of them might like to do something else with their lives. Maybe an accountant who’s recovered from cancer wants to try his hand at consulting. Maybe a mother with an autistic child has a killer idea for a restaurant. Maybe a wheelchair-using lawyer at a large firm would like to hang out her own shingle. Now there’s nothing to stop them.

It is the release of this pent-up entrepreneurialism that is among the most exciting aspects of healthcare reform. When Barack Obama has spoken about healthcare in the context of the economy, he has stressed the high cost of insuring employees. For instance, in the president’s address to a joint session of Congress last September, he described cost as the reason that “so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place”. Obama was right, but he overlooked what happens when entrepreneurs themselves have medical conditions that prevent them from taking risks that could benefit society as a whole.

There are other reasons, of course, to get excited about healthcare reform, even if you’re a middle-class family with good coverage and no health issues. For many families, the ability to insure your adult children under your own plan until they are 26 is a change of enormous importance. Sticking with the personal theme of this commentary, our 19-year-old son, Tim, plans to spend the next several years establishing himself as a commercial photographer. Now he – and we – have one less thing to worry about.

We are hardly unusual. Across the country, in red states and blue, in households that voted for Obama and those who think he’s a “socialist”, folks are going to discover their lives have been made better in measurable ways. The idea that Republicans will repeal the healthcare law is laughable. Instead, as Republican strategist David Frum, a speechwriter for the second president Bush, wrote on Sunday, the GOP’s just-say-no strategy has led to a “disaster” for the party’s prospects.

What happened on Sunday restored some faith that our political leaders can work on behalf of the people who elected them. It was a great moment for Obama and House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who overcame odds that seemed insurmountable following Republican Scott Brown’s surprise election to the US Senate in January.

It was also a great moment for all of us.

Talk about this article on Facebook.

Obama’s farewell address runs afoul of the first rule of Trump

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-10-16-00-am
Carl Bernstein on CNN Tuesday.

The first rule of Trump: It’s always about Trump.

Thus it was that even on the night of President Barack Obama’s farewell address, the big story was CNN’s report — co-bylined by Watergate legend Carl Bernstein, no less — about compromising (and unverified) personal and financial information gathered by the Russians that could be used to blackmail the president-elect.

On our screens, a popular, largely successful, and thoroughly reassuring president was preparing to leave the White House. Behind the scenes, all was trouble and turmoil.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

My 1996 interview with the late Nat Hentoff about his years at Down Beat magazine

Nat Hentoff. Photo (cc) 2004 by K.G. Schneider.
Nat Hentoff. Photo (cc) 2004 by K.G. Schneider.

The great journalist and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff died on Saturday at the age of 91. In 1996 I had the privilege of interviewing Hentoff and his former colleague Dom Cerulli for Northeastern University’s alumni magazine. Hentoff and Cerulli, who died in 2013, were both Northeastern alumni, and both served as the editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat in the 1950s. I can’t find the clip, but I did manage to dig up my last rewrite before I turned the article in to my editor. I cannot defend the way the piece opens; all I can say is that I’m glad I’ve continued to improve as a writer. Hentoff was a giant. His death creates a deep void, especially at this moment of crisis.

It was the 1950s, Manhattan, 52nd Street. And it seemed like the whole world was in a groove.

Check it out—over there, at the Five Spot. It’s Thelonious Monk, plunking out the chords to “ ’Round Midnight” on the house piano.

Charlie Parker’s seen better days. You know how it is: sometimes he shows up, sometimes he doesn’t. But he’s still Bird, and if he can borrow an alto sax he’s supposed to be playing tonight at Birdland, the club they named after him.

Dizzy Gillespie’s around, of course, only now he’s not playing much bop. He’s got himself this new trumpet that’s bent up toward the ceiling, and he’s doing some Afro-Cuban thing.

Like the old guys? Well, they’re still holding forth. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, you name it.

Miles Davis, that skinny kid trumpet player who used to be in Bird’s band, is starting to turn heads. And Charles Mingus has a band that’s making the biggest, wildest noise you’ve ever heard.

“It was magical. It was incredible,” says Barry Kernfeld, editor of “The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz” (St. Martin’s, 1994).

It was also a hell of a lot to keep track of.

And from 1952 to ’59, two of the most important witnesses to this musical revolution were a couple of Northeastern guys, Nat Hentoff (Class of 1944) and Dom Cerulli (Class of 1951). They were the New York eyes and ears of Down Beat, a Chicago-based magazine that was—and still is—the most authoritative publication covering jazz.

Continue reading “My 1996 interview with the late Nat Hentoff about his years at Down Beat magazine”

Middlesex Fells by moonlight

img_0856

I took this shot toward the end of a hike through the Middlesex Fells around Winchester’s North Reservoir. If you’d like to see more, please click here.

Making sense of the intelligence agencies’ report on Russia and the election

Vladimir Putin. Photo (cc) by xx.
Vladimir Putin. 2015 photo via Kremlin.ru.

Like all of us, I am trying to make sense of the intelligence agencies’ report in which they found that the Russian government, going right up to the Shirtless Horseman himself, interfered in the 2016 election on Donald Trump’s behalf.

I have read all of it. And it is hard to overlook the lack of any actual evidence, which is apparently laid out in classified versions of the report. As a result, a number of observers are erecting “caution” signs to guard against anyone drawing a definitive conclusion. Scott Shane writes in The New York Times:

What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey.

On Twitter, too, I’m seeing skepticism from the right and, of course, from the ubiquitous Glenn Greenwald, who’s been going off on it for hours. Here’s one example:

But I think focusing on the lack of evidence overlooks the central reality: Reams of evidence were put before us over the course of many months during the presidential campaign. Consider what we know for a fact:

  • Emails were stolen from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
  • Those emails landed at WikiLeaks, whose leader, Julian Assange, is clearly (and at the very least) a Russian ally.
  • WikiLeaks published multiple emails that were embarrassing to the Clinton campaign and none that reflected badly on Trump.

So yes, in one sense the intelligence agencies offered no evidence for their assertions. But in another, more important sense, we’ve already seen the evidence. The main role of the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA was to tell us that they agree, that we’re not crazy, and what we all saw play out was exactly what it appeared to be.

Did Russian interference cost Clinton the election? As Sam Wang has written at the Princeton Election Consortium, FBI Director James Comey’s horrendously misguided last-minute decision to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s private email server almost certainly put Trump over the top. Wang writes:

Opinion swung toward Trump by 4 percentage points, and about half of this was a lasting change. This was larger than the victory margin in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin. Many factors went into this year’s Presidental race, but on the home stretch, Comey’s letter appears to have been a critical factor in the home stretch.

Russian interference was less of a factor than Comey’s letter. But it nevertheless kept the media’s and the public’s attention on Clinton and emails, even though questions about her server and hacking by the Russians had nothing to do with each other. We can’t know for sure, but my sense is that Comey’s actions by themselves elected Trump, and that Russian subterfuge added to the damage.

What happens now? If it could somehow be shown that Trump himself had colluded with the Russians, he might face impeachment and even prosecution on espionage charges. The word treason tends to get thrown around way too lightly, but a Trump-Putin alliance to steal the election might very well qualify.

Such actions would require not just persuasive evidence that Trump was involved but also principled members of the Republican Congress and of Trump’s Justice Department. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

The M-word, the C-word (no, not that C-word), and The Boston Globe

Update. From Ellen Clegg, the ever-responsive editor of The Boston Globe’s opinion pages:

You would think that, somewhere along the way, the climate activist Bill McKibben would have learned that the word midget is incredibly offensive to people in the dwarfism community—along the lines of the N-word among African-Americans. Or you’d think someone working for The Boston Globe’s opinion pages would know it.

Apparently not. Because here are the first two sentences of McKibben’s commentary in today’s Globe: “The Democrats were given one great gift last year. Even as they lost state legislatures and control of the Senate, even as they surrendered governors’ mansions and somehow turned over the White House to a moral midget, one thing broke their way.”

Here is some background on the M-word from Little People of America. I wrote about how the word came into existence in my 2003 book, “Little People.” In 2009 Clark Hoyt, then the public editor of The New York Times, wrote that the term would henceforth be banished.

And before you ask, “Well, how is the M-word offensive when it’s not referring to people with dwarfism?,” ask yourself what contexts would be acceptable for using the N-word. None, right? There you go.

So if the M-word doesn’t already have an entry in the Globe’s stylebook, I hope that’s rectified. And that an email reminder goes out to everyone.

Now that that’s settled, shall I point out that the Globe’s opinion pages also allowed the alt-right insult cuckold to sneak into today’s edition? It’s normally rendered as cuck, but I heard the dog whistle. Woof! If the term is new to you, GQ has an explainer about the term’s pornographic, racist origins.

Style note: Given that I do most of my writing these days for Peter Kadzis and company at WGBHNews.org, I try to stick with their house style at Media Nation, which makes it easier for us to share content. I am told we’re going to go all-in with AP style, with a few exceptions. (We’re keeping serial commas! Yay!) So if you’re wondering why newspaper, magazine, and book titles are not in italics today, that’s the reason. And if you didn’t notice, then you lead a healthier, more balanced life than I do.

No more ‘paper of record’: McGrory offers more details on the Globe’s reinvention

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Earlier this week Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory promised his staff that he’d soon be offering more details about the paper’s reinvention effort. Well, a little while ago his latest memo came floating in through my open window.

If you are interested in the future of the Globe then you should read it in full; it defies summary. My instant takeaway, though, is that there are three points that deserve special attention:

  • The Globe is moving away from the idea that it needs to be a paper of record in the old-fashioned sense. Rather, McGrory wants it to be “an organization of interest.” In other words, no more obligatory process stories about things that few readers care about.
  • The news cycle will be reorganized to move further away from the deadlines demanded by the print schedule. Instead, stories will be published online throughout the day and night, with an “Express Desk” playing a key role in that.
  • The old barriers separating the newsroom and business sides will be rethought. There is an industry-wide view that at a time when revenues are shrinking, new working relationships need to be defined as long as they don’t compromise the integrity of the journalism. Easier said than done, of course.

The full text of McGrory’s memo follows.

Hey all,

I wanted to give you an update on where we are with the reinvention initiative. The intention was to be brief. The reality is that it’s not. My apologies in advance.

The presentations by the four sets of working group chairs in late November went incredibly well. I hope everyone agrees. The pitches were strong, the questions and comments were smart, and there seemed to be an unmistakable consensus around the need for change. Following those meetings, I’ve sat with a decent swath of the newsroom in one-on-one and small group meetings to get a sense of your thoughts and concerns. I’ve found it truly helpful, to say the least. Your sheer brains and commitment all but guarantee our success in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Separately, we’ve put together a core reinvention committee, composed of the eight working group chairs, and the deputy managing editors, managing editors, and the editorial page editor. We’ve met several times to begin mapping out initiatives that we can roll out as soon as this month. We’re making good progress, but we need to step it up.

Indulge me while I repeat some of the principles behind a reinvention:

  • We need to be still more interesting, relentlessly interesting, every hour of the day. To this end, we need to jettison any sense of being the paper of record. We are the organization of interest. If something feels obligatory to write, it’s an obligation for someone to read. The problem is, readers don’t feel that obligation any more.
  • We need to focus on what readers truly value, understanding that we can’t be all things to everyone. The great news is that Globe subscribers most want to read the kinds of stories that we most like to produce. Think accountability journalism, colorful and contextual breaking news reporting, lyrical narrative, smart enterprise reporting, and provocative commentary.
  • We need to focus not on platforms, but on journalism. We must redouble all efforts to demolish the stubborn rhythms of a legacy news operation and get our work in front of people when they are most likely to read it.
  • We need to make sure that the boundaries that served us well in better financial times don’t become obstacles to our success. Put more bluntly, we need to work with the other departments to make sure we have enough revenue to support our journalism.
  • We always need to hold true to our journalistic values, because without them, we lose our credibility. Repeat this last one again.

So here’s a rough map of where we go from here, understanding that this remains very much a work in progress, and there will be bumps—really mountains—to traverse along the way.

1. You’ll receive a questionnaire via email soon, prepared by Jen Peter [senior deputy managing editor for local news] and Anica Butler [assistant metro editor], asking, among other things, what beats you’ve dreamed of covering or what jobs you’d most like to have. It could be the one you have now, it could be something else, it could be a role that we haven’t thought about but will want to have when we hear it. Please respond to this questionnaire. We need to hear from you.

2. We’re planning to set up a room-wide Express Desk as soon as possible. This is designed to get news in front of the eyes of our readers quickly, and to have a fascinating diversity of news. It could be a water main break in the Financial District one moment, a passenger handing out Christmas gifts on an arriving JetBlue flight the next. This desk needs to not only be urgent, but smart and clever, and it will be powered by some of the most talented people in this room. I’ve asked Katie Kingsbury [managing editor for digital] to lead a small group in mapping out an Express Desk in terms of size and positions, and she’ll have something back to us very soon.

3. We’re planning to set up a Print Desk, congruent with the Express Desk. While the larger room focuses on journalism, the print desk will focus on how that journalism comes together in paper form every day. Let me be absolutely clear here: The physical newspaper will not be an afterthought at the Globe. It is of vital importance to us, a huge—albeit, declining—source of our revenue, and the most valued product to our most loyal readers. But it cannot continue to needlessly dominate our thinking and resources in the way it currently does. I asked Chris Chinlund [managing editor for news] to lead a small group in determining the size and components of this operation, and she, too, will have something back in early January.

4. We’ll expand on our excellence in projects, with an eye toward even more, with a greater range of ambition and length (some even shorter than this memo).

5. We’ll set up an Audience Engagement team under Jason Tuohey [deputy managing editor for audience engagement] designed to make sure we are better connecting to existing audiences, and seeking new audiences, in every way possible, through our journalism and the way we present it. We are swimming in metrics. The goal now is to refine, interpret, and apply them. We will offer whatever training is necessary to work on the team.

6. We will reimagine our beats with the same eye toward becoming relentlessly interesting. I don’t know that we’ve done a major refresh of our beats in decades. It’s time. So the reinvention group, or some subset of it, will outline new beats and recalibrate the resources we have on our coverage areas. The broader room needs to play a major role in this with your ideas, whether through the questionnaire or in conversations with me and others. Please express your creativity and passions, and do it soon.

In determining what we want to cover, it will become clearer to all of us what we should forego, or at least what we can cover less of. As part of this, we’ll look at presenting news in different formats, to cut down our overuse of the incremental 700-word story.

7. We will refine and then refine again the Hubs system that was proposed by the Mission working group, but it’s not quite ready to be implemented yet—or maybe we as a room are not quite ready to accept it. There are many intriguing, even brilliant, aspects to the Hubs concept, which would push us to be far more nimble, provocative, and—this word, again—interesting But there needs to be more clarity in how it would work day to day. My sense is that we’re getting snagged up on Hubs as the infrastructure of the room. If we create Hubs within the infrastructure, we will get a better sense of how they’ll work and how effective they can be. So that’s exactly how we’ll start. Hub ideas are welcome.

8. We are planning to appoint a small, tech-savvy group that will devote itself to making Methode more user-friendly and an overall better communications tool for the entire room. [Methode is the Globe’s content-management system.]

9. We are setting up groups to further engage Advertising and Circulation, hoping to involve the newsroom deeper in both areas. On Circulation, we will focus on subscriber retention, with some acquisition, working with our colleagues there to do direct outreach to subscribers. On Advertising, we are putting together a newsroom-based advisory group to offer input on all forms of sponsored and native campaigns, with the intention to ratchet up the creativity that goes into these campaigns. David Dahl [deputy managing editor for operations] is currently drawing up rules of the road to make sure that we don’t put ourselves in a compromising position.

10. We’ll be looking, soon, to get much of the room started earlier in the day, and impose rolling deadlines on enterprise stories through the day, to assure that we have a flow of fresh stories when people are most likely to read them. Still too many stories are posted on the site in the evening, because we’ve followed old-school print deadlines. That’s got to stop. The news meetings will be pushed up soon, probably to 9 a.m. The morning meeting will focus on brainstorming ideas, and the specifics of when stories will be posted. The afternoon will include the timing of web stories, but focus too on the print paper.

Key point: As part of this, we have to fulfill the promise to everyone in the room that as you get here earlier, you leave earlier. Foreign as this might seem, it is very doable.

Over the next few weeks, a dedicated group will basically create a blueprint for a reimagined newsroom, carving out the new desks mentioned above, prescribing headcounts to each of these areas, and getting right down to specific beats, possible Hubs, and reconfigured departments. You aren’t just invited to be a part of it, you need to be a part of it. Offer up your thoughts. We’ll come back to the room soon with what we have.

There’s more, especially in terms of communications and the culture of the room. And please keep in mind that this is not a one-and-done project, but a constant evolution; some of the things we change will need to be changed again.

In sum, picture a newsroom that kicks to life before dawn, as members of an Express Desk arrive and continue to flow in through the morning, ready to post breaking news, fashion clever ideas, and find the wryest stories trending on social media. Picture the larger room starting their jobs by 9 in most instances, ready to publish at peak times. Picture a round-the-clock multiplatform desk ready to give stories an expert workover regardless of the hour they are submitted.

Picture a wider range of fresher beats to produce a steady stream of fascinating stories. Picture a story-telling team from product and development working on hubs to create extraordinary presentations. Picture respected and experienced “priority editors”—what one working group described as “air traffic controllers” and another as “traffic cops”—making the best use of our journalism across the day, the week, and the platform. In this scenario, the print desk begins arriving in the early afternoon, working with a team of talented designers to produce a stunning newspaper for the following morning.

Lift the lens a bit and see an even broader picture, of a room more inclined to pursue risks and more accepting of the inevitable failures. It is an enterprise more crusading in our approach, an organization that not only covers the region, but regularly provokes it—by holding the powerful accountable, giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one, advocating for what works, and being our readers’ best ally. All the while, we will be working closely with the business side to drive digital subscriptions, keep our existing subscribers happy, and offer our creativity to native content.

Easy, right?

Probably not, but we will accomplish this in the coming months, your help very much required. Please continue to speak up. We need to hear from you.

Brian

Talk about this post on Facebook.