Author Archives

Automattic, WordPress.com / Founder, Longreads

Please Watch This Video Showing the Unfathomable Cruelty of U.S. Immigration Policy

I’ve been obsessed with systems in government, and in business, that completely erase our humanity. That could mean an algorithm on Facebook that’s designed to prevent nudity but unwittingly bans one of those most powerful images from the Vietnam War. It means the lengths we’ll go to pretend that our phones are not built from slave labor. Or it could mean the layers of bureaucracy built into a company that allows its owner, now one of the President’s top advisers, to target and harass low-income tenants without sullying his own hands in the process. Read more…

Garrett Graff Joins Longreads to Cover Border Patrol and Government Policy

Arizona border

We’re excited to announce that journalist Garrett M. Graff is joining Longreads as a contributing writer covering border security and immigration, federal law enforcement, and the mechanics of how government works. Read more…

Betsy DeVos’s Cynical Defense of the Trump Education Budget Cuts

Betsy DeVos

Early in Betsy DeVos’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday we got to see how the Education Secretary can magically turn less money into “more latitude.”

In her opening remarks to a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos, argued that the budget — which proposes cutting Department of Education programs by more than $10 billion — represents a rethinking of the role of the federal government in education, giving states and communities greater control and freedom in how they serve students and families. DeVos’s “control and freedom” narrative includes a proposed $250 million for school vouchers, which diverts money to private and religious schools.  Read more…

‘Just Pure Greed’: A Journalist Exposes Jared Kushner’s Baltimore Housing History

Jared, meet Kamiia Warren. Your company nearly ruined her life.

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis has an infuriating new story in The New York Times Magazine on a company called JK2 Westminster L.L.C., which for years relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent. In Warren’s case, the single mother of three had received written permission to break her lease early, and she owed no rent, but Westminster sued her anyway — for $3,014.08. She ended up losing on a series of technicalities — she did not have a lawyer — and the company went so far as to garnish her wages from her in-home elder-care job.

The company, meanwhile, ignored multiple complaints about poor upkeep and disrepair in its housing developments. Read more…

Longreads Just Turned 8 Years Old. Here’s What the Next Eight Years Look Like.

This month, Longreads turns eight years old. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site over the years — from the Longreads Members who fund our story budget, to my colleagues past and present at our parent company Automattic/WordPress.com, and to editor in chief Mike Dang and our growing team of editors, writers, and journalists who are producing outstanding essays and reporting every day.

I’ve often used these anniversary posts to look back, but we’re undergoing some big changes this year — not just publishing more original and exclusive stories, but also funding more serious reporting from around the world. It’s time to look ahead.
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When Does a Company Decide You Are Human?

Here are two stories to read in the wake of the horrific behavior of both United Airlines and law enforcement agents who bloodied and dragged a passenger off of a flight in Chicago on Sunday. Read more…

Why ESPN Still Can’t Quit Cable

As a casual sports fan, I periodically check in with myself: Do I enjoy watching live sports enough to pay for cable?

The answer for the last few years has been: No thanks, I’ll just check out these GIFs on Twitter.

ESPN is having the exact opposite problem, as Ira Boudway and Max Chafkin explain in their latest Bloomberg Businessweek cover story. No matter how innovative or cutting-edge the sports giant makes itself, the cable money is just too lucrative, and the costs of licensing live sports are just too great, to finally cut the cord and offer itself as a standalone internet subscription service the way HBO did with HBO NOW. Boudway and Chafkin do the math:

Other media companies, most notably HBO, have confronted cord cutting by offering their programming “over the top,” which is TV-speak for “on the internet.” More than 2 million people pay $15 a month for access to the HBO Now app, but that strategy doesn’t translate to ESPN. The network’s programming costs are far greater than those of HBO—the budget for an entire season of Game of Thrones costs around $100 million, or less than what ESPN pays for the rights to air a single Monday Night Football game—and ESPN’s customers are accustomed to getting the network at no additional charge as part of their cable package. If ESPN were to charge $15 a month for a standalone streaming channel, it would need more than 43 million subscribers to match the money it collects from cable carriers. HBO has about 35 million total subscribers in the U.S., including cable and over the top.

Now, I’m obviously just one person, but I’m pretty sure I would subscribe to a service that just offers an endless loop of Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. Just a thought for the folks over in Bristol.

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The Greatest Trick the Government Ever Pulled Was Convincing Us We Aren’t Already on Welfare

Paul Ryan

With the prospect of 24 million Americans losing health care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, the question of the year is shaping up to be: “Why did so many Trump supporters vote against their own self-interest?”

At Forbes,  self-described former Republican Chris Ladd comes up with a credible answer — and at the center of it lies race, class, and a flawed perception of who gets or deserves “government assistance.” For generations, white middle-class Americans were taught to believe they “earned” everything given to them — and that by having a job, they were entitled to it. Meanwhile behind the scenes, the government used tax credits at the individual and employer level to hand over billions in subsidies for their health care, their housing, their public education, and their infrastructure:

My family’s generous health insurance costs about $20,000 a year, of which we pay only $4,000 in premiums. The rest is subsidized by taxpayers. You read that right. Like virtually everyone else on my block who isn’t old enough for Medicare or employed by the government, my family is covered by private health insurance subsidized by taxpayers at a stupendous public cost. Well over 90% of white households earning over the white median income (about $75,000) carried health insurance even before the Affordable Care Act. White socialism is nice if you can get it.

Companies can deduct the cost of their employees’ health insurance while employees are not required to report that benefit as income. That results in roughly a $400 billion annual transfer of funds from state and federal treasuries to insurers to provide coverage for the Americans least in need of assistance. This is one of the defining features of white socialism, the most generous benefits go to those who are best suited to provide for themselves. Those benefits are not limited to health care.

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Robert B. Silvers, Editor of The New York Review of Books: 1929-2017

Robert Silvers

I believe in the writer—the writer, above all. That’s how we started off: admiring the writer. We organized the New York Review according to the writers we admired most: Edmund Wilson, Wystan Auden, Fred Dupee, Norman, Bill, Lizzie, Mary among them. Each of them had a confident sense of their own prose, and it meant a great deal to them—the matter of a comma, a semicolon, a word—and it does to our writers today. And so, when it comes to making a change, we should not do it without their permission. If a moment comes at some point where we see something should be improved, we don’t just scribble it in but call them up wherever they are. And that is, I think, crucial.

—Robert Silvers, co-founding editor of The New York Review of Books with Barbara Epstein, speaking with New York magazine’s Mark Danner in 2013, on the publication’s 50th anniversary. Silvers died March 20 after an illness. He was 87 years old.

NYRB announced the news on their Twitter feed today:

Shortly after I started Longreads, I was invited to visit the offices of the NYRB to meet their digital editor Matthew Howard. A man was walking toward the front of the office so I stopped him and asked if he knew where Matthew might be. He politely responded that he did know, then turned and walked back through the office to track him down. Matthew met me with a handshake, laughed, and then asked me, “You realize you just sent Robert Silvers to fetch me, right?”

From a grateful reader, thank you, Robert.

See more stories from The New York Review of Books in the Longreads archive.

Alexandra Petri Is The Only Op-Ed Columnist America Needs Right Now

Hamilton Nolan at Deadspin destroyed the entire New York Times opinion page this week after the paper published a limp musing by Frank Bruni on Trump’s well-done steaks. (“When did we turn into such food snobs here in America, land of the free and home of the Bloomin’ Onion?”) Nolan concludes that more than 80 percent of Times columnists aren’t equipped to properly respond to the sheer brokenness of America. I won’t quibble over who Nolan likes and dislikes, as this is not just a problem with the New York Times. I spend many mornings screaming at my radio while NPR tries to lull me back into business as usual with its warm and soothing commuter-friendly tones. I don’t want All Things Considered, I want Some Things Rejected Outright. Read more…