An insider-turned-critic’s view of health insurance, COVID-19, and the fate of the Affordable Care Act

A don’t miss event is coming up on Thursday evening from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists and you can join us via this Zoom link.

Wendell Potter, a former journalist turned health industry spokesperson turned industry whistleblower, will share some of his insights in an East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists program on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Potter has strong ties to the region. He was born in the mountains of North Carolina, but grew up in upper East Tennessee and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee.

After a very successful career covering news as a reporter, he became a health insurance company spokesman for more than two decades. In a “crisis in conscience,” he left his executive position with Cigna Insurance in 2008 and became a “reformed insurance propagandist.”

Knoxville-based Remote Area Medical and a clinic it held deep in rural Appalachia in the Southwestern Virginia county of Wise played a key role in his transformation.

He has evolved into a leading critic of the health care and insurance system in the United States and an advocate of “Medicare for All,” writing books and opinion pieces, being quoted by journalists, and testifying before Congress.

He recently launched what he calls “a first-of-its-kind project to battle greedy corporations, lobbyists & politicians who fight to preserve our deadly health care system.”

It’s called the Center for Health & Democracy.

His session with the East Tennessee and University of Tennessee student SPJ chapters comes just weeks before the Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments in a challenge to overturn the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.”

It also comes as the Senate moves to confirm the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a conservative jurist who has written critically of the court’s previous decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

“There could be great harm to many millions of Americans if the law is declared entirely unconstitutional,” Potter was recently quoted as saying in an article by The American Independent.

He made news mid-summer during the pandemic when he tweeted: “Amid America’s #COVID19 disaster, I must come clean about a lie I spread as a health insurance exec: We spent big $$ to push the idea that Canada’s single-payer system was awful & the U.S. system much better. It was a lie & the nations’ COVID responses prove it.”

The pandemic, the nomination to the Supreme Court of Barrett, and the Affordable Care Act challenge before the high court have focused attention even more intensely on the debate over health care in America.

Join us Thursday to get a unique insider’s view of the debate.


Create video slideshows with ImageMagick and FFmpeg in minutes

I’ve been using a Pixelbook, a Chromebook from Google, for the past two and a half years.

Chromebooks are not known as great for photo and video editing, but I have found it’s an excellent platform for my needs. It does nearly all of the photo and video editing I need to do — and usually quicker.

The trick is to enable Linux on your Chromebook and use some very well-known command-line tools: youtube-dl, FFmpeg, ImageMagick, and MediaInfo.

Here is how I created a video slideshow in just a few minutes using ImageMagick and FFmpeg.

I had a series of photos taken with my Fujifilm X20 point-and-shoot camera of our dogs. Winston and Charley.

They were 4000 x 3000 pixels, a 4:3 aspect ratio. I wanted to create a video of those photos in a 16:9 aspect ratio (the aspect ratio of your HD TV) with as little “black frame” as possible and add background music.

Charley photo in a 4:3 aspect ratio

Here is what I did.

I put all the photos in a folder under Linux on the Pixelbook and then I ran this ImageMagick script on the files in the folder:

for i in *JPG;do convert "$i" 
-gravity center -crop 16:9
+repage 16x9-"$i";done

This converted all the “.JPG” files to 4000×2250, or a 16:9 aspect ratio with the center as the most important part to keep in the crop. Yes, I could have resized them as well to 1920×1080, but in this case, FFmpeg handles that.

Also, it’s Linux, case matters for JPG vs jpg.

Then I deleted the 4:3 aspect ratio versions, leaving only the new 16:9 aspect ratio ones so I could run this FFmpeg command to combine the photos as a video.

ffmpeg -framerate 1/5 -pattern_type glob -i '.JPG' 
-vf "scale=iwmin(1920/iw\,1080/ih):ihmin(1920/iw\,1080/ih),
fps=8,format=yuv420p" -crf 20 output-video-name.mp4

This command says to create a video showing each photo for 5 seconds (-framerate 1/5). The order of the photos wasn’t important.

Disclosure: I found the above script somewhere on the internet, but I don’t remember where. You might want to change the output framerate to 25 or 30 … change fps=8 to fps=25 or 30 … but fps=8 worked for me and all that happens in the photos are duplicated to get the frames per second.

There also are other ways to combine a series of photos, particularly ones with sequentially numbered filenames.

I downloaded some royalty-free music from YouTube and ran another FFmpeg command. (These two steps probably could be combined.)

ffmpeg -i video-name.mp4 -i background-music.mp3 
-c copy -map 0:v:0 -map 1:a:0 -shortest

Here is the result:

If you have vertical photos, they might come in sideways. I was able to fix that with ImageMagick using this command:

mogrify -auto-orient image-name.JPG

You might not want to change the aspect of vertical photos to 16:9. Run a few test files to see what you like.

There are tons of resources out there, but one of the best for FFmpeg is on Reddit. Some of the users in that subreddit are truly FFmpeg power users (which I am not).

If you wanted to take it further, it would be possible to add a watermark or “bug” to the video and to have narration as well as background audio — and a long list of other command-line options, enhancements, and tweaks.

Also, MediaInfo will also give you detailed information on a video/audio/image file.

The command is really simple:

mediainfo filename

There are versions of these command-line tools for Windows and the MacOS, but it seems the Linux versions are more actively updated. Also, you can run a Linux terminal on a Windows 10 PC now.

If your slideshows are pretty standardized, this is a very fast way to create them.

Suggestions or comments? Hit me up on Twitter at @jacklail

Note: If you copy any of the code snippets above, remove any returns.

ETSPJ Open Meetings/Open Records

TCOG Director leads session on access in a pandemic

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

Join us on Wednesday for “Access in a pandemic – what journalists need to know!”

From the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists newsletter:

When: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, noon-1 p.m.
What: Zoom discussion with Deborah Fisher, executive director of TCOG
Where: (Zoom)

Tennessee open meetings/open records expert Deborah Fisher will discuss access during a pandemic, which is changing what “public access” is for courts, government meetings and even press conferences. Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG), will bring us up to speed on what is happening across the state and what journalists should watch out for now.

This event is presented by the East Tennessee and University of Tennessee Student chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists.

ETSPJ Uncategorized

Poynter’s Al Tompkins coming to Knoxville

If you’re a journalist in East Tennessee, this is a “can’t miss” event, a chance to attend a workshop led by Al Tompkins for free! (Make sure to RSVP.)

There is also a community event featuring Tompkins on Friday evening, Nov. 8. This will be another great event.

Al Tompkins in Knoxville on Nov. 8 and 9.

Sugar Daddy Google

Google is funding news projects with up to $300,000 per grant.

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It’s about distribution, stupid

While everyone agrees media is being disrupted, it’s the distribution model, rather than the content itself, that’s changed. 

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