Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Press Club Awards' Joyous and Defiant Celebration of American Journalism; Reno Dispatch Wins Four More Awards

The San Diego Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Awards gala, an annual event put on by one of the largest and most respected Press Clubs in the nation, is always a fun and fine time to celebrate the work of so many of my gifted journalism colleagues.
But last night's event took on a different tone and feel. It was in a very real sense a celebration, and a call to arms. 
In a moment in time when journalism and freedom of the press are under siege, the collective resolve among my fellow journalists last night to fight back against those who would abolish the First Amendment was not only palpable, it was profound.
The pride we take in our profession, and our united determination to protect it from corrupt, narcissistic scoundrels and fake patriots, were the evening's resounding themes.
No names were mentioned. But it was painfully obvious who was on the minds of just about everyone in attendance. Fake news, my foot. 
Awards were handed enthusiastically to a long and impressive list of professional print and broadcast reporters and editors here in San Diego. These are my co-workers and friends, and none of them has ever written a fake news story in his or her life.
These are men and women with integrity, courage, compassion, righteous anger and a ton of talent. And I was proud to be among the winners.
We took home 13 writing awards last night, including five first-place awards and the “Wildcard" nod for my San Diego Magazine story on San Diego veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. These veterans have been unable to get their disability benefits from San Diego Veterans Affairs (VA). 
I told the audience gathered at the gala that I've been proudly covering veterans for 25 years, and said my story led to one veteran getting his disability benefits after years of trying. 
I added that while reporters are generally not supposed to call themselves “advocates,” I said, “Screw it. I’m proud to be an advocate for our veterans.”
It was just that kind of night. A night when we said how we really feel. A night that reminded us why we became journalists in the first place.
I was rewarded for my work in Healthline (four awards), Yahoo News (two awards), Yahoo Finance (one award), San Diego Magazine (two awards), and this national news blog, The Reno Dispatch (four awards).
It was a celebration of a noble profession that has been slammed of late by ignorant, anti-American reactionaries who wouldn't know a fact if it bit them in the ass.
Sure, there are sleazy tabloid journalists out there, and there is indeed fake news and there are too many bogus news sources. But  not the kind of fake news we hear about from leaders who just can;t take the criticism. Most reporters and editors working in the United States in 2017 remain hard-working, ethical, responsible journalists.
I proudly spent the evening with hundreds of them. 
The gala was a nice opportunity for all of us to speak out against the madness of those who would take away America's press freedoms, which are the cornerstone of this democracy.

Here's some of my work that the Press Club judges last night deemed worthy of merit:

First Place Awards

"Wildcard" Category 

Impact Reporting: Investigative, Enterprise, or Public Service/Community Advocacy reporting that resulted in a demonstrable, measurable, effect or result:
How Agent Orange is Still Devastating San Diegans
San Diego Magazine

Magazine Category

Best Column
Bi-monthly column about and for San Diego's veterans
San Diego Magazine

Online and Daily Newspapers Category

Jamie Reno and Michael Isikoff
Trump U. lawsuit trails the president-elect right to the White House door
Yahoo News

General News
How Deep Do the Medicaid Cuts Go in Republican Health Plan?

Rock star cancer treatment is being scrutinized after clinical trial deaths
Yahoo Finance

A cancer patient wonders: “Will the government still have my back?”
Yahoo News

Second Place Awards

Online and Daily Newspapers Category

Feature Story, Serious Subject
Cancer Clinical Trial Does Wonders for Ground Zero Rescue Worker

President Trump’s Policies Could Harm Your Healt

Election Coverage
Sure Takes a Lot to Offend Mike Pence
The Reno Dispatch

Reviews, Live Performance
David Crosby Inspires, Disappoints, at Humphrey’s by the Bay
The Reno Dispatch

Who’s Better, Philip Rivers or Dan Fouts? Finally, We Have the Answer
The Reno Dispatch

Third Place Awards

Online and Daily Newspapers Category

American Heroes: Women Veterans Face Mental Health Crisis (three-part series)

Travel - Domestic
After the Flowers? The Stunning Anza-Borrego Desert is Actually Best Enjoyed After the Wildflowers Are Gone

The Reno Dispatch

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trump's Executive Order Today Will Leave Millions of Cancer Patients in America Without Access To Decent Coverage

Donald Trump's executive order today, which purports to expand access to quality healthcare for Americans, is in reality a cruel joke that proves once again that this President could not care less about the health and well being of the American people.

Trump’s executive order allows for the expansion of association health plans and changes the rules governing the length and renewability of short-term catastrophic insurance plans.

While pretending to want to give Americans more and better care, Trump, whose multiple efforts to get a healthcare bill have failed in Congress, has cynically and systematically worked these past several months to severely limit healthcare access and kill Obamacare, no matter the human consequences.

His executive order signed today will do further harm to millions of Americans, including cancer patients like me. According to the American Cancer Society, which is hardly a radical, left-wing operation, the order will leave millions of patients who are currently fighting cancer as well as survivors unable to access meaningful coverage.

“Today’s executive order jeopardizes the ability of millions of cancer patients, survivors and those at risk for the disease from being able to access or afford meaningful health insurance," Chris Hansen, President of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), said today.

Hansen explained that the devil is in the details of this order, which exempts an entire set of health plans from covering essential health benefits like prescription drugs and specialty care, and allows expansion of "bare-bones short-term plans" that will split the insurance market. 

"If younger and healthier people leave the market, people with serious illnesses like cancer will be left facing higher and higher premiums with few, if any, insurance choices," Hansen said. 

"Moreover, those who purchase cheap plans are likely to discover their coverage is inadequate when an unexpected health crisis happens, leaving them financially devastated and costing the health care system more overall."

Speaking as a three-time cancer survivor, current cancer patient and global advocate for cancer patients and their families, I can tell you without reservation that Trump is demonstrably the worst enemy cancer patients have ever had in the Oval Office.

Patients and survivors in this great country deserve high-quality, affordable and comprehensive insurance, and have repeatedly made it clear that we do not support the weakening of patient protections which this executive order allows and encourages.

“As the process moves forward," Hansen said today, "we will work as much as possible with the appropriate agencies to implement rules and regulations that protect patients and their access to meaningful health care.”

If you are a cancer patient or care about one, please join me in fighting Trump's executive order and in supporting America's cancer patients and their families. 

Please contact me directly at 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

SDSU Hoops Preview: This Team Is Devin Watson's If He Wants It

Brian Dutcher has some big shoes to fill. The new San Diego State University basketball coach replaces Steve Fisher, the legendary and beloved coach and mentor who retired in April after a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career at SDSU and Michigan.

After serving for decades under his longtime boss and friend, Dutcher finally gets the keys to the car. And he’s got some horsepower to help him get San Diego State back where it belongs: the NCAA Tournament.

The Aztecs have been disappointing, to say the least, these last three years. Last year they didn't make it to the postseason at all for the first time since 2005. The year before last, SDSU made it to the semi-finals of the NIT. The year before that, the third round of the NCAA Tournament. And the year before that, the Sweet Sixteen.

You see a pattern here?

Dutcher, however, should have the engine this year to motor this team back to March Madness, with the three top scorers returning and an impressive stable of talented and hungry transfers and freshmen recruits.

This is a far more talented team than last year’s squad, which finished 19-14 and just 9-9 in the Mountain West Conference. Granted, some of the talent is young, and others are transfers, but this 2017-18 model has fewer missing parts.

The Aztecs now have two much-needed bigs, including a legit seven-footer with Pac 12 experience and a 6”10’ power forward, as well as a natural point guard, and more and better shooters.

Devon Watson (right)
Devin Watson Primed to Lead

Can Dutcher really put all these pieces together and return this team to glory? Yes, very possibly. The key will be leadership. And not just that of Dutcher. 

What this team needs is new energy and urgency on the court, especially on offense. There has not been any strong, vocal, in-your-teammate's-face leadership from the players to speak of in several years. 

Senior guard Trey Kell? Too ethereal, too cerebral. He's by all accounts a good, conscientious, hard-working kid. And at times he's a very good player. But if you stick with him as the leader, things won't likely change much. 

He managed to get a third team all-Mountain West selection by coaches and the media last season. That isn't good enough for the guy who is allegedly leading this squad.

The Aztecs need new blood on offense. The last few seasons, when they had the ball, they scared no one. They impressed no one. They intimidated no one. The shooting has been at times pathetic.

SDSU was still tops in defense in the conference last year, but was dead last in the MWC in scoring and 3-point shooting and second-to-last in field goal percentage. What more do you need to hear? Someone needs to step up, speak up, take the ball and run with it. Literally.  

To break this team out of its offensive (pun intended) funk, new leaders must emerge, and USF junior transfer Devin Watson and/or freshman recruit Matt Mitchell appear primed to fill that bill.

Jeremy Hemsley and Kell, the two talented but at times underachieving guards, are both back. But they both need to improve. They can both be terrific one night and weak the next. They need to be more consistent.  

Hemsley, especially, has undeniable hoops prowess but lost confidence last year.

Having more size in the middle should help Trey and Jeremy immensely. But arguably the most important edition to this team is Watson. He’s a legit point guard who was first team all-WCC.
He can light it up. As a sophomore at USF he averaged 20.3 per game, which was was third in the WCC and 27th nationally. With Watson, SDSU now has a legitimate scoring threat to complement Pope and the other guards. Dutcher needs to use Watson wisely, and often.

I expect Devin will have an immediate and significant impact on this team’s attitude, performance and win-loss record. He should establish himself as A if not THE new leader. That may be met with some resistance by Kell, Hemsley and Pope. But it needs to happen. 

Watson's walked the walk, the others really have not. But will he have good chemistry with the existing guards? We shall see. That chemistry will tell the tale of the SDSU season.

Matt Mitchell Could Also Be A Factor

The other player who could have the biggest and quickest impact is freshman forward Matt Mitchell, who was courted by such other A-list programs as Oregon and Gonzaga. Although he apparently showed up on campus a bit overweight, Matt could eventually become the best player on this basketball team. It could happen sooner than later. 

Clayton Williams, the vaunted coach of the AAU Dream Vision squad, told the Union-Tribune that Mitchell, who some schools shied away from because of academic issues that he has since addressed, could be an "immediate impact player" in college. 

"I would go as far to say that I would not be surprised if he’s freshman of the year in whatever conference he plays in,” Williams said.

 Others Who'll Contribute

Kameron Rooks is also a key add. The senior transfer from Cal gives the Aztecs the size and experience in the paint to enable this offense to do much more than it could the last few seasons. Rooks is not a superstar, and not a natural shot blocker like Skylar Spencer, but he is solid. 

His biggest problem has been staying healthy. I’d he happily surprised if he stays on the court all season.

Redshirt freshman Jalen McDaniels could also be an instant factor, a big one. The frenetic 6’10” power forward apparently has a high basketball IQ, but needs to improve his strength. But he has limitless potential.

Jordan Schakel is another freshman who can bust three-pointers and was a straight A student who was also recruited by Cal, Stanford and USC. He could become very valuable on a team that has lacked pure shooters.

We’ll see if Dutcher can find a spot for him and the other frosh on the floor. 

Adam Seiko is yet another freshman guard who apparently is deadly from three-point range, and that is something this team also needs. Josh Gershon, the recruiting ace, calls Adam "one of So-Cal's top shooters" in the 2017 class.

 Malik Pope - Talented But Enigmatic

And last but not least, Malik Pope, the sometimes brilliant but mercurial anomaly, is back for his senior year. No one thought he'd still be around, since the NBA hype surrounding this kid has been gong on seemingly forever.

I’m hopeful Pope will finally fulfill his promise this year. He seems like a very nice kid, and he obviously has a boatload of athletic talent. But he’s not really a basketball player yet. Not my kind of player, anyway. 

No gym rat, he’s sometimes woefully dispassionate. I've seen that lackadaisical approach rub off negatively on his fellow players. Yes, even during games.

Because he's been so heavily hyped as a guy with NBA talent since the day he arrived on Montezuma Mesa, Pope has been able to influence his fellow players, who look up to him. 

He’s a star. And he is personable. But his easygoing nature and lack of competitive urgency have at times had a demonstrably negative effect on this team.

This played out miserably during the home loss against Fresno State last year. The Bulldogs just outworked SDSU. They simply wanted it more than the Aztecs did.  

Pope went 4 for 13 from the floor that night, and he looked for much of the game as if he were already mulling NBA contracts, or thinking about anything but the game at hand. Pope was inexcusably casual during that game, and his teammates followed suit. It made me sick to my stomach.

Again, Malik is a nice kid, but he's too content to rely on his natural gifts. When he’s good, he’s great, on offense and defense, but he checks out mentally. 

There are reports that he has worked hard this off-season than ever before. That's encouraging. I want to see him dig deeper and leave it all on the floor in this his final year. 

If he chooses to keep coasting on talent, he will not make it to the next level, and he will forever remain just a very gifted novelty and distraction.

Again, I don't dislike Malik at all. Please don't get the wrong idea. This column is about basketball, what goes on between the nets. I just don't think he’s yet been a plus for this team overall. He has one more season to change all that.

Whatever happens, I do not see him or Kell ever morphing into a truly effective floor leader. 

Good leaders get the most from their teammates and have a compelling and overriding need to win. 

Good leaders sacrifice. They speak up. They don't care if they tick off a teammate. They grind. 

Good leaders take it to the wall and then go through that wall. 

None of these things describe Malik, or Trey, or anyone else on last year’s roster. Someone else needs to take the reigns of this Aztecs team and escort it back to the promised land. 

Watson is that most likely savior. Yes, Devin, this team is yours if you want it.