Happy Thanksgiving

May You..

be blessed with friends, and family, and good food and drink. May you have a warm and safe place to enjoy them all. May your team win, and may there be a “friend” to whom you can gloat. May you reconnect with someone you’ve missed. May you miss someone who’s gone. May you take a moment to know how blessed you are, and take another to help someone who’s not. May you have a joyful and heartfelt and glorious Thanksgiving.



A Disturbing, Powerful, Starkly Emotional Surprise!


I am almost at a loss for words to describe the film Precious, except in one and two word gasps. It is the most disturbing and emotional film experience I’ve had in recent memory. But it is, ultimately, inspiring as well. Not in a feel-good Rocky kind of way, but in a more sober, realistic, and humbling way. One that makes you glad to know that there are people who can overcome obstacles that you don’t think you could even survive.

Precious is set in 1980s Harlem, and looks at a few months in the lives of a very dysfunctional family. The screenplay, by Geoffrey Fletcher, was based on the novel, PUSH, by Sapphire. It is unnerving, and gut-wrenching, and appalling, and humorous, and sad, and uplifting. Precious gets in your face in the first five minutes, and will not get out of it for the next 100. It will grab you by the hair and drag you to places you do not want to be, and it will not let you shut your eyes. It will pause briefly, from time to time, to let you exhale and laugh, and then it will grab your hair and be off again.

Directed by Lee Daniels, Precious stars Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Sherri Shepherd, and Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe. You will be hearing some of these names a lot when “awards season” rolls around, and Mo’Nique is almost certain to win Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, if not the little gold statues themselves. She is a powerhouse of an actress, and this film should make her well-known, at the very least.

The rest of the cast is also outstanding, particularly newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the title role of Clareece Precious Jones, an overweight, undereducated 16-year-old who is physically and mentally abused by her mother. Almost unrecognizable is Mariah Carey in her role as the social worker who reaches out to Precious. Both of these actresses should also find themselves the focus of much attention at awards time.

If you think you’ll skip it, because Precious sounds like a typical teen-in-trouble made for television movie, or because it sounds too bleak for your entertainment tastes, you should seriously reconsider. This film is what movie theaters are meant for. It’s not one to watch at home on DVD. You need to see it in a place that affords quiet, and darkness, and a couple of moments to gather yourself while the end titles roll. It is a film you will think about, and perhaps talk about, for days or weeks after you see it. It is unrelenting. But it is, at the same time, oddly encouraging, and compassionate, and funny.

Except for some occasionally distracting camera work, I have no complaints about Precious. It’s an outstanding effort by all concerned. You shouldn’t wait until all the awards buzz starts to find a theater where it’s playing. It’s not your typical holiday fare, but it will make you thankful for a lot of things in your life you may not have thought about. Precious is rated R for all kinds of good reasons.

UPDATE: 12/8/09

Barbara Bush and I are hardly kindred souls, but when it comes to the movie Precious, we share the same opinion. You should see it! Read her take on the film in this week’s Newsweek magazine.

Back to the Blog

What’s Christmas All About Anyway?

Fotolia_XmasTreeLast year, about this time, my most excellent friend, Jeff, got a call from his brother, Richard, in Cleveland. Richard suggested to Jeff that, since there was nothing they could give to each other for Christmas that either of them really needed, maybe they should take the money that would be spent and give it to someone, or some cause, that could really use it.

Jeff considered this, and thought it was not only a good idea, but one that deserved wider exposure. So, the cheap bastard called me up and asked, “How about if I don’t give you a Christmas gift?” After my initial outcry, and amid a hail of obscenities and protests that I had been really good all year, he finally got around to explaining the idea that his brother had hatched. Grudgingly, I allowed as to how it probably wasn’t a terrible idea. And, I agreed to approach my “gift-giving” circle of friends to see how they felt about it. I suggested that this moratorium on gifts should not affect the children on our lists but, that instead of the adults exchanging gifts, we make a donation of equal or greater value to whatever charitable organization we considered worthy.

Ryan and I estimated what our gift expenditures would probably amount to, and chose to give a few hundred dollars to the Valley Food Bank, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. What better use, we decided, than making sure that a few families who might not have a decent Christmas dinner would get one. Our friends responded in kind. Or, I should say, at the very least they did not give us a Christmas gift. We prefer to believe they donated to charity instead. Except for one or two. They know who they are.

But, I decided to take it one step further. I also contacted all of our friends that did not ordinarily exchange gifts with us, and recommended they float this idea within their own gift-giving circles. If this could be passed along, sort of like a chain letter, the amount of good that could come from just a few hundred dollars in each circle of friends could be increased exponentially. I got positive responses from several of them, indicating that they had also gotten family and friends to agree to this plan.

And so, here it is the holiday season again. With Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and Little Richard’s birthday all coming in December, there is something meaningful being celebrated by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Whether you’re celebrating for religious, or secular, or personal reasons, this is the time of year when most of us try to find the good in the rest of us; when we attempt to put aside our social and political differences to come together, however briefly, to recognize our common humanity.

We do that, in most cases, by exchanging gifts with the ones we love, and by being a little kinder to those we just like, or don’t know at all. I’m suggesting that those you love already know that you love them. I also believe that most of them would be proud to participate in a scheme that would take the ten, or twenty, or fifty dollars you might spend on their gifts to help someone that you, and they, don’t even know, have a better Christmas, or Hanukkah, or (insert your holiday here).

Most of us are fortunate enough to be with family and friends for our holidays, and to share in abundant meals, good times, and the warmth that comes from being together. More families than you can imagine will not have that in this holiday season, and no matter how generous you have been throughout the past eleven months, more is always desperately needed at this time of year.

So, this should put my friends and family on notice. If you’re older than 21, no gift for you. And we don’t expect one from you. Where your particular slice of the gift budget will be going, we haven’t decided yet. We may, once again, choose the Valley Food Bank. But we’re looking at several others as well. We may give to more than one of them. If you think you might want to participate, but don’t have a cause in mind, I’ve included a few links below to a handful of excellent choices. You can also find others in your local area that deserve your help. Pick one. Give. You’ll have a more satisfying, more fulfilled Little Richard’s Birthday. Trust me.

David Perkins

Save The Children: Donate as little as $10 to help train new mothers, and to feed, clothe, immunize, and educate children living in rural poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

Valley Food Bank: A central hub that collects, processes, and distributes food at no-charge to a network of rescue centers, food pantries, and soup kitchens to provide hot nutritious meals and food baskets to the homeless and to needy families throughout the San Fernando Valley.

And for the children on your list:

Avatar Movie Toys is the place to check for prices and information on all things Avatar – The Movie. A hot Christmas toy collection for every Avatar fan on your list.

FineChristmasGifts.com offers a list of the “Hottest” Christmas gifts for kids for the 2010 season.

Transformers Optimus Prime can be found at this site. Apparently a “must have” for many kids, I’m guessing mostly boys.

Bakugan Maxus Dragonoid is apparently second only to Optimus Prime on the most wanted list this year. You can find him here.

FurReal Friends interactive pets, like Lulu My Cuddllin Kitty Cat, are listed here with links to best prices and vendors.

Back to the Blog

Do You Play Well With Others?

Lyndon L. Olson, Jr., 62, served as United States Ambassador to Sweden from 1998 until 2001. On November 12, 2009 he accepted the eighth annual Texas Legacy Award from the Center for Public Policy Priorities at a luncheon in Austin, Texas. The following are his remarks from that luncheon. It’s five or six pages long, but they are well worth the read for anyone who is interested in public policy, politics in America, and the civil discourse related to both. Take the time. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks to my friend Peggy for sharing this with me.

David Perkins

Lyndon Olson

Thank you very much for this honor. I appreciate the kind remarks of my friend Congressman Edwards. I also appreciate the opportunity today to talk to this distinguished group about a concern of mine. I want to talk with you about civility, both in society in general and in our politics in particular.

I encourage you to think back…for some of us way back…to those report cards we got in first grade. Most everyone had different type cards and categories, but they were pretty much variations on the same basic theme. I’m not talking about your arithmetic or reading or penmanship grades. I’m talking about the comportment column, with things such as exercises self-control … respects the rights of others … shows kindness and consideration for others … indicates willingness to cooperate … uses handkerchief (important even before the H1N1 virus) … and, my favorite was usually right up at the top of that 6-week report card and it’s of particular significance to our discussion … “plays well with others.”

We were being taught about and graded on one of the most fundamental skills of our civilization: how to get along with others. There is a reason that plays well with others was one of the first things we were taught and evaluated on. And folks, I don’t think we’re getting a very good grade on plays well with others these days. Many of us don’t even want to play with someone we don’t like or disagree with.

Where did all of this come from? In the majority of my life this hasn’t been the case. Those of us in this room over 40 or 50 didn’t grow up in anything like this environment. We didn’t live like this. Not in our communities … not in our politics. We lived in a political world with strong feelings and positions, yes. And we took swings at each other politically. But it didn’t come down to the moral equivalent of street brawls and knife fights. Politics has always been a contact sport, but the conflict didn’t permeate every aspect of our society and rise to today’s level of social and verbal hostility. It is very unhealthy. And I’m not sure what to do about it. But I know it when I see it and hear it. And I know it is time we focus as much attention on our civil behavior as we do on achieving our personal and partisan agendas. How we do that, I don’t know. But I want to raise the issue, ask the questions, and encourage you all to give it your consideration as well.

We live in an era of rudeness, in society in general, in the popular culture, and in our political life. Our culture today, in fact, rewards incivility, crudeness, and cynicism. You can get on TV, get your own talk show or reality series if you out-shout and offend the other guy. Everyone screams, no one listens. We produce a lot of heat but little light. The proclivity is to demonize our opponent. People don’t just disagree … the challenge to the other is a battle to the death. Character assassination, verbal abuse, obnoxious behavior, and an overbearing attention on scandal and titillation – all that isn’t just reserved to day-time TV anymore—it’s the currency of prime-time, of late night, of cable news, of the Internet, and of society in general.

What happened to us? Should this be a sign of alarm? Is the problem selfishness—we won’t be denied, we must be immediately gratified? We want everything we’ve ever seen in the movies? How do we live and get along like our parents and their generation? They had to sacrifice. They didn’t get what they wanted when they wanted it. Is today’s need for instant gratification a problem?

We are more inclusive today…and that is a good thing—but has that good made for increased tensions?

Is it the 24-hour news cycle? The 24-hour news cycle demands instantaneous news, which feeds off of controversy, scandal, and easy answers to difficult questions. There is scant time for reflection or reasoned analysis. Market forces demand instantaneous information and jarring entertainment values, not sober analysis or wisdom. The news media are more prone to focus on the loudest, the most outrageous, and the most partisan actors. And given the rise of the political consultant class, candidates and campaigns are louder, more outrageous, and meta-partisan. Political consultants have helped create a permanent campaign where politics takes precedence over governance. The political consultants egg on all this for profit, creating controversy where little or none exists so the message, the theme of the day, is played out on TV and the media. They’re paid handsomely to cause strife and create conflict in order to raise hackles, money, and attention … fomenting issues to suit their agenda. It’s all about the message, not the solution, not the negotiation, the debate, the compromise to move forward. It’s about who is controlling the message, who is defining the message, who is creating the message, who is keeping the conflict alive often where none existed before the consultant decided one was needed. Is this what keeps us at each other’s throats?

Is it talk radio, attack TV? Is it the talk shows, the shout festivals where absolute hyperbole is the only currency? Mean-spirited hyperbole and hyper-partisanship breeds cynicism. Citizens are increasingly cynical about politics and about their government’s ability to work. The damage to the ship of state, to the fabric of the nation begs repair. Whose job is it to change course and effect the necessary repairs? I’m not sure I have the answer to that, but I propose that in a room full of policy makers and politicians, men and women who talk to the media, who work in the public arena, who hire consultants, who set agendas, maybe we have a role to play in making things better.

You know, I can say that there are some people in this room, people I consider dear friends, who understand this problem and I believe share my concern. To those friends I say, you and I both know that we disagree very fundamentally on some very big issues but the truth is that we could care less about our disagreements and are more concerned about where we can find consensus and reasons to work and live together to construct a better future. I consider this kind of commitment to trust and open dialogue crucial to maintaining a sustainable society.

And indeed, isn’t it about building a better future for our community, for our country, for our children? I say that even on the most intractable of issues, there is room for constructive debate, for consensus building, for the search for some common ground.

President Johnson once said to his Democratic colleague, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, during the crisis of civil rights in the South: “What do you want left behind? You want a great, big marble monument that says, ‘George Wallace: He built.’ Or do you want a little piece of scrawny pine lying there that says, ‘George Wallace: He hated’?” The people I know in this room are builders. But we are confronting a world today where hate seems to be a predominant factor in the crisis of incivility confronting our politics.

Where are the rules that govern conduct? What happens eventually after this continuous rancor tears the fabric of our society completely asunder? Can we survive with this tenor…taking no prisoners, giving no quarter?

I’m asking these questions because you folks here are blessed with skills, talent, experience and a commitment to a positive public policy. You understand the importance of maintaining and protecting our commonweal where we strive to serve our clients, our community, our country, and our state. If civil discourse self-destructs, we cannot move on the issues that matter. Think of this as an environmental crisis … the environment being our civil society and our very ability to live and work and prosper together.

I don’t want to sound pious or preachy here, but if we are to prevail as a free, self-governing people, we must work together. We shouldn’t try to destroy our opponents just because we disagree. We have to govern our tongues. The Proverbs tells us, chapter 18, verse 12, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” How we choose to use words—for good or for wrong— is clearly our choice. The health of our democracy depends upon a robust public discourse.

Recognize that I am not saying that conflict in our political life is to be avoided. Hardly so. It is not only proper but necessary for candidates to vigorously debate the issues of our day and examine their opponents’ records. Don’t let people confuse civility with goody two-shoes niceness and mere etiquette. Civility is a robust, tough, substantive civic virtue, critical to both civil society and the future of our republic. Civility entails speaking directly, passionately, and responsibly about who we are and what we believe. Divisions based on principles are healthy for the nation. Vigorous and passionate debate helps us to define issues and to sharpen positions.

Conflict cannot, should not be avoided in our public lives any more than we can avoid conflict with the people we love. But just as members of a household, as a family learn ways of settling their differences without inflicting real damage on each other, so we, in our politics, must find constructive ways of resolving disputes and differences.

Our work is here. We build from the base. We will foster change first by our example … by working together, respecting one another, and negotiating our differences in good faith and with mutual respect. Civility is neither a small nor inconsequential issue. The word comes from the French civilité which is often translated as “politeness.” But it means much more. It suggests an approach to life…living in a way that is civilized. The words “civilized,” “civilité,” and “city” share a common etymology with a word meaning “member of the household.” To be civilized is to understand that we live in a society as in a household. There are certain rules that allow family members to live peacefully within a household. So, too, are there rules of civility that allow us to live peacefully within a society. As we all learned in 1st grade a long time ago, we owe certain responsibilities to one another. Perhaps we spend a lifetime learning how to play well with others. So be it. It is a crucial goal for a civil society.

Thank you.

Health Reform’s Human Stories

The following is a first-hand account of the free health care clinic staged at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana this past weekend. The doctors, nurses, technicians, and other personnel were all volunteers. The facilities, equipment, instruments, and medicines were paid for by Americans all over the country who donated generously so that several of these clinics could be held in multiple cities around the U.S. The eyewitness account was written by Rich Stockwell, Senior Producer for Countdown on MSNBC. This article is reprinted from Countdown’s website.

David Perkins

Countdown Producer Bears Witness to
America’s Health Care Shortcomings

Rich Stockwell Senior Producer 'Countdown'
Rich Stockwell Senior Producer 'Countdown'

New Orleans, La. — – It happened as I watched a 50-something woman walk out, after spending several hours being attended to by volunteer doctors. “She’s decided against treatment. A reasonable decision under the circumstances,” the doctor tells us as she heads for the next patient. The president of the board of the National Association of Free Health Clinics tells me why: “It’s stage four breast cancer, her body is filled with tumors.” I don’t know when that woman last saw a doctor. But I do know that if she had health insurance, the odds she would have seen a doctor long ago are much higher, and her chances for an earlier diagnosis and treatment would have been far greater.

After watching for hours as the patients moved through the clinic, it was hard to believe that I was in America.

Eighty-three percent of the patients they see are employed, they are not accepting other government help on a large scale, not “welfare queens” as some would like to have us believe. They are tax-paying, good, upstanding citizens who are trying to make it and give their kids a better life just like you and me.

Ninety percent of the patients who came through Saturday’s clinic had two or more diagnoses. Eighty-two percent had a life-threatening condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension. They are victims of a system built with corporate profits at its center, which long ago forgot the moral imperative that should drive us to show compassion to our fellow men and women.

Health reform is not about Democrats or Republicans or who can score political points for the next election, it’s about people. It’s about fairness and justice in a system that knows none. I’d defy even the most hardened capitalist-loving-conservative to do what I did on Saturday and continue to pretend that the system in place right now is working.

Countdown chose to highlight and raise money for the Association of Free Clinics because we knew the work they do is so vitally important and we wanted to show in real terms how great the need is. We invited several politicians to attend so they could see first hand how critical the situation is. All declined. Some explained that they talk with constituents all the time and know very well of the need for reform.

I have news for them, these people didn’t need to speak. Their actions spoke far louder than any words. Having to get a check up and diagnoses at a free clinic because they have no other option tells you all you need to know. There are no words that can accurately describe the quiet desperation on the faces of the patients. Every single one I spoke to, and every one I heard talking with doctors, expressed their gratitude for the event and wished that they were held more often.

They have been given the resources in their local communities with which they can get follow up care, but they are also the few. Over 700-thousand people in Louisiana alone have no health care, most of them with jobs that don’t offer insurance.

Or, worse, they have to decide whether to pay for that or food and housing. Four patients were taken out on stretchers and admitted immediately to hospitals. One woman who didn’t know why she was feeling bad had a blood pressure of 280 over 180, numbness in her right arm, and “a slight headache.” She now has a shot at survival, but without her attendance at the clinic, it was a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

I spoke with a nurse who was there not as a volunteer, but as a patient. He works two part time jobs at hospitals providing quality care to those who have the one thing he doesn’t. Many of his patients share his condition of high blood pressure, but they are fortunate to have insurance to pay for him to care for them while he goes without.

His situation is not uncommon, he has tried for years to get more hours at one of his jobs so he will be eligible for benefits, but it hasn’t happened yet. Our system of for-profit health care can’t afford to give him and others benefits – might make the stock price drop a penny or two. The last time the media gathered at that convention center, it was for a natural disaster in which our government was rendered useless due to incompetence.

This time we were there to cover a man-made disaster of even larger proportions. This is a disaster that goes largely unseen by most Americans. It is not too late for our current government to show that they are competent, and can do what the vast majority of Americans are asking them to. The incredibly dedicated people at the Association of Free Clinics told me the clinic would change me and I knew it would. None but the most hardened and heartless among us could watch that event and not be moved to action.

I have changed. I am gratified that just over one thousand people were able to get the minimal amount of care and resources for follow up. But, I am heart-sick for the many more like them who didn’t have the time or didn’t know that they could get care on Saturday.

They walk through their lives not knowing when the ticking time bomb might go off.

Politicians continue to tell us we are the most compassionate and caring people, and clearly we have done much good in the world. I left the event overwhelmed by the hard work and dedication of the volunteers, doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, as well as ordinary citizens who came to help. I am left with one overwhelming question: what does it say about us as a nation of people who can live in a country so rich and yet allow this to continue?

Jon Stewart Riffs on Glenn Beck

Jon Stewart devotes an entire segment of his show to a parody of Glenn Beck, which most people will find spot on, and very funny, with the possible exception of devoted Glenn Beck followers.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project

Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Does Your Barbeque Suck?

Competition BBQ Secrets: A Review

I may have mentioned, once or twice on this blog, that I’m from Texas. At the time I was growing up, and it probably hasn’t changed much, there were a handful of things that the male of the species was just expected to do if he was gonna be a Texan. He learned to hunt and fish. He didn’t cry, no matter how much it hurt. He played football, no matter how much it hurt. And, eventually, he was expected to become a master of the barbeque. It was even more manly if you could barbeque something you shot and dressed yourself. You know, like venison, or wild boar, or a neighbor’s cow that you accidentally took down while cleaning your rifle.

BBQ_RevWell, I did a little fishing as a kid, but I really didn’t enjoy it much. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t allowed to drink beer. I might feel differently about it now. I cried at the drop of a hat, no matter how little it hurt. And my dad wasn’t a hunter, so we had no guns in the house. Consequently, I was never taught the manly art of stalking God’s majestic, antlered creatures in a quest to bag my own fresh meat. I’m not real sure I could have done it anyway. Did you see Bambi? Speaking of crying.

And when it came to football, except for a humiliating freshman year as a B-team bench warmer, I wasn’t really an athlete either. Wow. I’m starting to sound kind of pathetic, even to me. But, that left me with only one masculine, red-blooded, outdoorsy activity to salvage my manhood. Barbeque. If I couldn’t do that, it would mean joining a convent and becoming Sister Davida Michelle.

In our backyard we had a 55 gallon oil drum, cut in half longways, and hinged at one edge. Inside it was a steel “grill” that weighed about 120 pounds and had once been a piece of portable aircraft runway. This was a rugged, macho piece of cooking equipment. If I could drive this baby, I knew I would be okay. And over the course of many summers, my dad taught me to grill and barbeque in institutional quantities. We could fit enough half-fryers on that thing to feed forty or fifty people, and frequently did. I eventually got good enough that you could tell a piece of my grilled chicken from a piece of the charcoal beneath it. It was a proud day.

Over the years I’ve taken a fair amount of pride in my skills at the grill and the smoker, and I’ve even created a sauce or two that most people seem to like a lot. One was so good that my sister stole it, renamed it, and pretended that it was hers. But, I digress. The point is, I thought I was pretty good. No. I thought I was very good. Out of curiosity, I’ve purchased a few books on grilling and barbeque, and I’ve been given a few as gifts. I didn’t learn much from any of them, and I certainly wasn’t shopping for another one when I stumbled onto Competition BBQ Secrets by Bill Anderson.

Now this is not a new book. It’s been around for at least three years. The problem is, as fast as I’ve been trying to thumb through the entire internet, I think they may be adding pages faster than I can read them. But, I eventually got to Bill Anderson’s page, and I was intrigued enough by his pitch that I bought something I didn’t think I needed. A freakin’ barbeque book! And, I was wrong. I did need it.

This is the first book I’ve tried that actually made a big difference in what I ended up putting on the table. My ribs have always been good. Now, they’re great. They stay juicy. They’re fall-off-the-bone tender. And the dry rub recipe I used from this book knocked my socks off.

This book was written by the leader of the Chatham Artillery BBQ Team in Savannah, Georgia, and they have a trailer full of trophies to show for their efforts as competitive barbeque masters. Now I have no interest in competing, but the knowledge I’ve gained from this book so far has made a huge difference in the food that comes off my grill and smoker.

It’s only 73 pages, but it is packed with dozens of recipes for rubs and sauces, marinades and brines. It has chapters on cookers, wood choices for smoking, techniques and recipes for ribs, chicken, brisket, turkey, pork butts, etc. It walks you through how to choose the best cuts, how to prepare them, and how to cook them to perfection, including everything you need to know about time, temperature, and fire management. And it’s all illustrated with excellent color photos of each process and each dish. It finishes up with a couple of chapters on competition, in case you’re interested in joining the Pork Butt Circuit.

Being an instant gratification kind of a guy, I opted for the downloadable pdf, but the book is available in a paperback edition as well. Both carry the same $29.95 price tag, and are well worth the cost for what it will add to your skills and knowledge of the art of barbeque. I thought I was pretty good. These guys showed me I could be much better.

David Perkins

Competition BBQ Secrets is available only online and you can use your credit card or PayPal account.

Babs Ain’t Lost a Note – Updated

My first recollection of Barbra Streisand is the 1964 release of the Columbia LP, People. That was her fifth album. Her first, the original cast recording of I Can Get It For You Wholesale, was released in 1962. She has been a recording artist for forty-seven years, a performer for fifty, a star for almost all of it, and her voice still has a stunning capacity to move your emotions to wherever she cares to take them.

StreisandStreisand’s newest release, Love Is The Answer, is a collection of, you guessed it, love songs. After forty-seven years she’s still recording for Columbia, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Corporation, but they’re still smart enough to know that you hold onto franchise artists like Streisand no matter how long they take between new releases, because it’s almost always worth the wait. This album is no exception.

This time out, Streisand collaborated with another of my favorite artists, jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall, who not only played piano on five of the thirteen tracks, but also served as co-producer for this project with Tony Li Puma. Diana recruited her extremely talented backup trio, bass player John Clayton, guitarist Anthony Wilson, and drummer Jeff Hamilton, to serve as the foundation for these sessions. When Ms Krall was not at the piano, that post was ably filled by Tamir Hendelman or Alan Broadbent. Once the tracks were recorded to everyone’s satisfaction with the quartet, legendary arranger Johnny Mandel applied the finishing touches with a deft and delicate arrangement for string orchestra.

The songs are mostly familiar standards from the likes of Jerome Kern, Michel Legrand, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Jule Styne and others. The backing quartet artfully stays out of Streisand’s way while providing a beautiful canvas for her to work on. Diana Krall’s piano solos are delicate and generous, seeking only to complement, not to distract. And the orchestral arrangements by Johnny Mandel wrap the whole package in a soft, airy gauziness, that is intimate and never smarmy or overdone.

The result is Streisand’s best effort in years, possibly my favorite since 1974’s The Way We Were. At 67, Streisand’s voice doesn’t quite have the angelic purity it did 25 years ago, but it has been augmented by a maturity of understanding, and a feeling that she knows from whence she sings; that these are not just lyrics, but first-hand emotions that have been captured on tape.

These recordings were obviously put together by people who know, and love, what they’re doing. It comes through on every note of every track. This is the perfect CD to put on when you have some time alone, maybe on a cool rainy day, to sit back with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or a bottle of scotch, and relax. And listen to the warm.

David Perkins

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Since writing this review, I have learned that there is also a two-disc Deluxe Edition of this CD. The second disc is comprised of 12 of the 13 tracks with only the quartet backing Streisand’s vocals, before the orchestra was added to the mix. The 13th track was already piano only accompaniment. I haven’t heard the deluxe version, but since I tend to prefer jazz quartet accompaniment over orchestra, I intend to get it soon. I’ll post an addendum to this review after I’ve had a chance to listen to the quartet version.

Update 11/04/09

I was right. I do like the second CD in the Deluxe Edition better than the first. But that doesn’t surprise me. Because these sessions were initially recorded with the quartet (piano, bass, drums, and guitar) and the orchestra was added after the fact, there is absolutely no difference in the performances. Disc One has an orchestra, Disc Two does not. The vocals and the instrumental quartet are the same.

So it’s entirely a matter of taste. If, like me, you prefer trio and quartet jazz, you will appreciate the second disc more. If you like orchestral backgrounds, you’ll prefer the second disc. But there is absolutely no reason to buy the Deluxe Edition if you prefer the orchestra. You can buy the standard version for five or six bucks less, and have exactly what you want.

David Perkins

The Beatles Remastered – Updated

I have excerpted Bob Gendron’s excellent and thorough review of the upcoming EMI/Capitol reissue of the Beatles catalogue from his column at TONEAudio. His article has me very excited to hear all of this old and familiar material again through the ears of 21st century mastering technology. The remastering engineers at Apple Records have not added anything to the mix, nor taken anything away. They have allowed us, for the very first time, to hear what has always been there but has been inaccessible with previous mastering and playback technologies. If you’re a Beatles fan, then September 9, 2009 is a day to look forward to.

The BeatlesBeatlesBox
Stereo and mono box sets
EMI/Capitol , CD

Please Please Me: The Beatles Remasters
TONEAudio Exclusive by: Bob Gendron

The cost of owning a good-sounding Beatles record just got significantly cheaper. Arriving 22 years after the band’s catalog was originally issued on compact disc, Capitol’s long-awaited remasters of the Fab Four’s 12 studio albums, Magical Mystery Tour, and the Past Masters collections—as well as the label’s limited-edition Beatles in Mono box set, comprising 10 studio records in their original mono mixes plus the Past Masters set—sound, as a whole, uniformly fantastic. It’s clear that the team of engineers responsible for the four-year project ensured that the world’s most important and famous pop catalog finally received the care it’s always deserved no matter what mix is heard. While hardcore fans will want both the mono and stereo editions, the general populace is almost guaranteed to be content with the widely available stereo versions. Not that everyone will be happy. All accomplishments aside, it’s a foregone conclusion that no matter what the results indicate, certain parties will complain, criticize, and nitpick. Those curmudgeonly detractors and obsessive freaks are better off waiting for the second coming of Christ; rumor is that the payoff will be a lot better.

For the majority of listeners, however, any temptation to spend hundreds of dollars on rare vinyl pressings should erode as they become acclimated to what often resembles hearing familiar records for the very first time. Such are the near-miraculous improvements in the key areas of information retrieval, hidden details, palpable physicality, expanded midrange, transient presence, and frequency response. As expected, the mono and stereo editions have their share of positives and negatives. Yet the benefits of the mono mixes reign supreme through Revolver, no surprise given that original producer George Martin intended for the Beatles’ records to be enjoyed in mono. With Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the tide begins to turn, yet efforts like The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) remain toss-ups for myriad reasons.

Read Bob Gendron’s review, in it’s entirety, at TONEAudio

Update:  11/04/09

Since the original post, I have had the opportunity to listen to the mono box set, as well as most of the stereo remasters. In my opinion, up through “Rubber Soul” everything, almost without exception, sounds better in mono. The Capitol stereo releases were never actually stereo anyway. All vocals were on one channel and the music on the other, because they were recorded on two-track equipment, and intended to be mixed only for mono by EMI in England.

George Martin, who signed The Beatles to Polydor Records (an EMI label), and produced all their recordings, recorded for what he called “high impact mono.” By keeping the vocals and instruments on separate tracks, he felt this gave him maximum control over how “out front” the vocals were in relationship to the music. EMI, at the time, reserved stereo recording for classical music only, but Capitol was at the beginning of their “Full Dimensional Stereo” period, and would not issue any new release without both a mono and a stereo version. So, we got what we got. The resulting stereo versions, released only in America, were anything but “full dimensional.”

Later, as The Beatles began recording on four-track equipment, they were still recording for mono, but the attempts at stereo mixes got a little better. So beginning with “Revolver” I recommend having both the mono and stereo versions. You can then pick which songs really sound better, and choose that one for your iTunes library. This will take you a little time, but is worth the trouble, I think.

The mono box set does not include the “Yellow Submarine” “Abbey Road” or “Let It Be” CDs as they were originally recorded for stereo. “Yellow Submarine” is not worth buying separately, in my opinion, as there are no really good songs on it, and the title song also appears on the “Revolver” CD.

So, the mono set ends with “The White Album” and “Mono Masters” (a two-disc album which was originally released as “Past Masters”). You may recall that “Past Masters” was a collection of all the songs that were released only as “singles” in Great Britain, and were not included on any album there. You may want to pick this one up in stereo as well, though most of the songs on it sound better in mono. Interestingly, the mono discs of “Help” and “Rubber Soul” also include the 1965 stereo mix on the same disc, so this makes comparison very easy.

One last caveat – Some people just don’t like the sound of mono. It’s dated, and old-fashioned sounding, but the first half of The Beatles catalogue sounds much better in mono. You’ll still get the new dynamic range of the remasters. Every instrument really pops out, as well as each vocal within each harmony. It truly is amazing how much better these new discs sound than the 1987 releases, which are the masters we’ve been listening to since they were first released to CD. And you’ll probably realize how bad the fake stereo you grew up with really sounded. If not, the stereo box set is also available, and includes all of the albums.

If you’re a Beatles fan, and you still listen to them regularly, you’ll find it well worth the cost of updating your library with these newly mastered recordings. If you haven’t listened in a while, and are just curious, start with “Abbey Road.” You will be surprised by what you hear, and may find The Beatles sprinkled into your playlists all over again.

David Perkins

The Beatles
Stereo and mono box sets
EMI/Capitol , CD

Hypocrisy – A Definition

Representative Joe Wilson, (R) South Carolina, (best known for his “shout out” to the President during a joint session of Congress) sent an email to his district last week announcing that his wife, Roxanne, had been diagnosed with the swine flu and urged his constituents to get vaccinated. Then, he proceeded to blast the Obama administration for not providing enough vaccine for all Americans.

“The current administration is solely responsible. They can’t blame this on any prior administration,” said Wilson. “This is the responsibility of the current administration. They’ve put the lives of Americans at risk.”

What Wilson fails to mention in this interview with conservative news blog CNSNews.com is that in June he voted against a supplementary appropriations bill which contained special funding to combat H1N1 both domestically and internationally. He was joined by 95% of his republican colleagues. So, had Joe and company had their way, the swine flu pandemic would have been even worse than it is now.

There is no question that the Obama administration promised more in swine flu relief than it had the power to deliver, but does anyone seriously think that the President of the United States has absolute control over the speed and quantity of flu vaccine manufacturing? We all hope for Mrs. Wilson’s complete and speedy recovery from the flu.

hy · poc · ri · sy — the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense

A Good Halloween Soundtrack


The MP3 file, linked to below, is a five minute Halloween soundtrack created by me and my son, Austin, about seven or eight years ago. The voices are ours, run through a pitch conversion box, and the rest came from a few canned sound effects. Click on the link below, or the graphic above, to listen to it. Once you’re there, you may download it and use it by clicking on the down arrow at the right end of the progress bar, and selecting ‘Save as source” or “Save as Quicktime movie.”

Burn it to a CD, put it on your iPod, or just play it from your computer. Set it to repeat indefinitely, and it will play all Halloween night. It’s long enough that it won’t repeat in front of your Trick-or-Treaters. It is a stereo mix, and the effects move back and forth across the stereo field, but it also sounds fine in mono. If you have the ability to set up a pair of speakers about 25 feet apart in your yard, you’ll get the best stereo effect. We hide our speakers behind the shrubs. Have fun.

David’s Halloween Soundtrack

This file may be used and shared freely, but it may not be
sold, alone or in conjunction with any other files or products,
nor given as a free bonus for buying any product.

Copyright ©2009 David M. Perkins

The Truth About …


Since the outset of the current healthcare reform debate in this country, a lot has been said on talk radio, cable news outlets, assorted print media, the blogosphere, and thousands of other internet outlets. Not to mention every corner drugstore and coffee shop in America. The available information ranges from “just the facts” to honest attempts at decoding government speak, from inadvertent misinformation to deliberate distortion, and from demagoguery to outright lies. There is no shortage of opinion to be found out there, and no shortage of people, on both sides of the argument, who are willing to twist the facts to represent their predetermined point of view. But how does one go about sifting through the fact and the fiction to arrive at an informed judgment?

It’s a good question. Another is how this new phenomenon—the ability to spread misleading information at rapid speed through chain e-mails, blogs, text-messaging and “tweets”—will affect the reform debate.

“What we’re seeing is a flood of viral content that distorts the Obama effort to reform health care,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who codirects www.FactCheck.org, a website that examines questionable claims from all sides of the political spectrum. Today’s opposition tools are very different from those used against previous attempts at health care reform in the Clinton era. Then, the key means of attack available were television advertising and direct-mail campaigns, which were expensive and took time to organize.

“Extremists and people who are so locked into their own ideology that they’ll distort anything have been out there forever,” Jamieson says. “But they haven’t had a way to reach out to as many people as efficiently as they have now.”

To be fair to the opponents of health-care reform, the lies and exaggerations they’re spreading are not made up out of whole cloth—which makes the misinformation that much more credible. Instead, because opponents demand that everyone within earshot (or e-mail range) look, say, “at page 425 of the House bill!,” the lies take on a patina of credibility. Take the claim in one chain e-mail that the government will have electronic access to everyone’s bank account, implying that the Feds will rob you blind. The 1,017-page bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee does call for electronic fund transfers—but from insurers to doctors and other providers. There is zero provision to include patients in any such system.

Here are several other myths about healthcare reform that just won’t die:

You’ll have no choice in the health benefits you receive.

The myth that a “health choices commissioner” will decide what benefits you get seems to have originated in a July 19 post at blog.flecksoflife.com, whose homepage features an image of Obama looking like Heath Ledger’s Joker. In fact, the House bill sets up a health-care exchange—essentially a list of private insurers and one government plan—where people who do not have health insurance through their employer or some other source (including small businesses) can shop for a plan, much as seniors shop for a drug plan under Medicare part D.

The government will indeed require that participating plans not refuse people with preexisting conditions and offer at least minimum coverage, just as it does now with employer-provided insurance plans and part D. The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.

Senior citizens seem to be a particular target for these liars. A lot of the mythology about health reform is designed to scare them, like another lie spread across the country: the president’s proposal will lead to cuts in the coverage seniors receive for prescription drugs. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said as much on July 21st when he claimed that the Democratic proposal would cause “millions of seniors to lose their coverage for prescription medicine.” In fact, health insurance reform will save seniors hundreds of dollars on their prescriptions because it cuts the cost of drugs by half, once they reach the Part D coverage gap. Moreover, it begins phasing in the end of the “donut hole.”

No chemo for older Medicare patients.

The threat that Medicare will give cancer patients over 70 only end-of-life counseling and not chemotherapy—as a nurse at a hospital told a roomful of chemo patients, including the uncle of a NEWSWEEK reporter—has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare. The House bill does not use the word “ration.” Nor does it call for cost-effectiveness research, much less implementation—the idea that “it isn’t cost-effective to give a 90-year-old a hip replacement.”

The general claim that care will be rationed under health-care reform is less a lie and more of a non-disprovable projection (as is Howard Dean’s assertion that health-care reform will not lead to rationing, ever). What we can say is that there is de facto rationing under the current system, by both Medicare and private insurance. No plan covers everything, but coverage decisions “are now made in opaque ways by insurance companies,” says Dr. Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was on Fox News last month saying that the president’s proposals would be paid for “on the backs of seniors through Medicare cuts.” That’s a lie. This refers to proposed decreases in Medicare increases. That is, spending is on track to reach $803 billion in 2019 from today’s $422 billion, and that would be dialed back.

Even the $560 billion in reductions (which would be spread over 10 years and come from reducing payments to private Medicare advantage plans, reducing annual increases in payments to hospitals and other providers, and improving care so seniors are not readmitted to a hospital) is misleading: the House bill also gives Medicare $340 billion more over a decade. The money would pay docs more for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles for preventive care, and help close the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare drug benefit, explains Medicare expert Tricia Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As the Alliance for Retired Americans points out, Medicare will benefit from cost-containment across the entire health care system. Furthermore, President Obama has proposed ending the wasteful overpayments currently given to private Medicare Advantage plans. That reform will help ensure that Medicare resources benefit all Medicare participants, and are not diverted to insurance companies.

Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance.

The House bill doesn’t give anyone free health care (though under a 1986 law illegals who can’t pay do get free emergency care now, courtesy of all us premium paying customers or of hospitals that have to eat the cost). Will they be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance? The House bill says that “individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States” will not be allowed to receive subsidies.

The claim that taxpayers will wind up subsidizing health insurance for illegal immigrants has its origins in the defeat of an amendment, offered in July by Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada, to require those enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase private insurance to have their citizenship verified. Flecksoflife.com claimed on July 19th that “HC [health care] will be provided 2 all non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.” Rep. Steve King of Iowa spread the claim in a USA Today op-ed on August 20th, calling the explicit prohibition on such coverage “functionally meaningless” absent mandatory citizenship checks, and it’s now gone viral. Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.

Death panels will decide who lives.

When Sarah Palin writes that President Obama is going to set up “death panels” to decide whether her child with Down syndrome, or elderly parents, are going to live or die, she is spreading a lie. That’s a disgrace and she is not alone. On July 16th Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and darling of the right, said on Fred Thompson’s radio show that “on page 425,” “Congress would make it mandatory…that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition.” But it was Sarah Palin who coined the term “death panels” in an August 7 Facebook post.

This lie springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.

The death-panels claim nevertheless got a new lease on life when Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under George W. Bush, claimed in an August 18 Wall Street Journal op-ed that a 1997 workbook from the Department of Veterans Affairs pushes vets to “hurry up and die.” In fact, the thrust of the 51-page book, which the VA pulled from circulation in 2007, is letting “loved ones” and “health care providers” “know your wishes.” Readers are asked to decide what they believe, including that “life is sacred and has meaning, no matter what its quality,” and that “my life should be prolonged as long as it can…using any means possible.” But the workbook also asks if readers “believe there are some situations in which I would not want treatments to keep me alive.” Opponents of health-care reform have selectively cited this passage as evidence the government wants to kill the old and the sick.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) went on the House floor to state that the GOP opponents of health care reform “would not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.” The idea that the president and supporters of health insurance reform want to put people to death is an outrageous lie. As the Los Angeles Times noted on August 10th, “This has become one of the most misleading, inflammatory claims made in the health care debate, advanced repeatedly by conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Republican lawmakers working to stoke fears among seniors.”

In fact, as the Times notes, under the proposal, Medicare would start to cover voluntary doctor visits to discuss living wills and advance directives for care, which would be used only if a person becomes seriously ill and unable to make medical decisions. As is currently the practice, advance care decisions would still be made by the individual. There is nothing mandatory or coercive in the proposal, which was proposed initially by Republicans in Congress.

The government will set doctors’ wages.

This, too, seems to have originated on the Flecksoflife blog on July 19. But while page 127 of the House bill says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive 5 percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna. “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false,” says Amitabh Chandra, professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

To be sure, there are also honest and principled objections to health-care reform. Some oppose a requirement that everyone have health insurance as an erosion of individual liberty. That’s a debatable position, but an honest one. And many are simply scared out of their wits about what health-care reform will mean for them. But when fear and loathing hijack the brain, anything becomes believable—even that health-care reform is unconstitutional. To disprove that, check the commerce clause: Article I, Section 8.

So what are we supposed to do about it?

All across the country, the opponents of health care reform are spreading misinformation about almost all the proposals to improve health care coverage for Americans. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. The insurance companies, the right-wing radio hosts, the K-Street lobbyists and the Republican leadership who are spreading the misinformation have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. And they are willing to lie to protect industry profits.

It’s troubling to see that so many well-meaning citizens are listening to the lies and believing them. One has only to watch a handful of angry questioners at some televised town-hall meeting to know that some of these questioners are good people who are troubled by what they are hearing. They want to know the facts. But all too often, they are denied answers by the rabble that eschews the truth by shouting others down. The opponents of health care reform are pulling out all the stops to kill the reform that millions of Americans need to improve our health care. They’re spreading falsehoods and creating chaos. They know what they are doing.

All of us need to work together to break through the lies and shouts and slurs. We need to make sure that our friends and neighbors know the truth, and can separate the lies from the facts about health insurance reform. Educate yourself. Learn what is true and what it not. And when you hear someone spreading misinformation and lies, knowingly or unwittingly, don’t let it go unchallenged. Correct it. Do your part to set the record straight. There have been few times as important as now to stand up and speak the truth.

Information included in this post was gathered from:
The Huffington Post
The Los Angeles Times

Would You Kill For a Million Bucks?

Would you kill a wheelchair-bound man for a million dollars? Probably not. But there are those who would. If you needed further proof that the health insurance industry is broken, and needs some new controls, here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with it.

Ian Pearl

Ian Pearl is 37 years old, and he suffers from muscular dystrophy. He is confined to a wheelchair, and is hooked up to a breathing tube, but he refuses to just give up and die. He is insured by Guardian Insurance of New York, which pays for the one million dollars in care, each year, that it takes to keep Mr. Pearl alive. Most of that is for around the clock, in-home nursing care – for operation of his ventilator, hourly breathing treatments and continuous intravenous medication.

Ian Pearl has been fortunate, most of his life, to be covered under the Guardian small-business health plan his father bought through his remodeling company. Generous by modern standards, the health insurance plan covered home nursing, something most small-business plans do not cover today. In the state of New York, where Mr. Pearl’s business operates, 54 other employers offered the Guardian plan. Their policies covered nearly 500 employees and dependents, including two other severely ill people.

But Guardian grew weary of paying Mr. Pearl’s expenses, and decided to find a way to get out of its obligation. Legally barred from discriminating against individuals who submit large claims, they couldn’t simply cancel Mr. Pearl’s policy. Besides, that would just be wrong. Then someone at Guardian struck on the perfect answer. Instead of canceling Mr. Pearl’s policy, Guardian chose to cancel entire lines of coverage altogether, in whole states, to avoid paying high-cost claims like Mr. Pearl’s. In an e-mail, one Guardian company executive called high-cost patients such as Mr. Pearl “dogs” that the company should “get rid of.”

A Guardian spokesman said policies such as Mr. Pearl’s – which offered unlimited home nursing – had simply become too expensive for new small-business customers to buy, and that even Medicaid and Medicare do not cover 24-hour home nursing. His parents, Warren and Susan Pearl of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said their health insurance premiums had risen over the years to $3,700 a month. That’s $44,400 a year. Fortunately, they are in a position to pay these premiums.

A federal court ruled that the company’s actions were legal. The judge found that the company had not violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), because it canceled entire policy lines. The Pearls also claimed Guardian violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but the judge found that only HHS can enforce that law and that private citizens cannot sue under it.

The Pearls appealed to HHS under the Bush administration and were told the agency could do nothing, Warren Pearl said. They petitioned again in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on October 5th, with support from their congresswoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, but have not heard back. So, on December 1st, barring an order by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Pearl will lose his benefits.

The insurer also canceled similar policies in New Jersey and South Carolina, and earlier ceased offering any health plans in Colorado, but did not cancel all of the policies in every state in which they were offered, said John Fried, the Pearls’ attorney. The company took the action only against those plans where claims were highest, he said. In an e-mail to four other Guardian executives entered into evidence in the Pearls’ suit, company Vice President Tim Birely discussed how the company could “eliminate this entire block to get rid of the few dogs.” Wow. This reminds me of something I’ve heard before …. what is it? Oh yeah. Death Panels.

Guardian, a 150-year-old mutual company, reported profits of $437 million last year, a 50 percent increase over $292 million in 2007. It paid dividends of $723 million to shareholders and had $4.3 billion in capital reserves, according to its annual report. The company’s investment income totaled $1.5 billion that year, a small increase from the year earlier. They discontinued Ian Pearl’s coverage late last year, but were required by law to continue paying for his care for another year. Next year, without Mr. Pearl as a drag on their books, they will earn an extra one million dollars in profits.

Ian Pearl has Type II spinal muscular atrophy – which often kills victims in infancy. He grew to adulthood only to suffer respiratory arrest at 19. He has required a tracheal tube ever since. The Pearls moved to Fort Lauderdale 30 years ago because the humidity there is beneficial to their son. Warren Pearl has commuted back and forth from New York every weekend since to continue to operate his business. Ian became the first wheelchair-bound pupil to be mainstreamed in the Broward County elementary schools, and he was elected president of his high school class at University School of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

As a last resort, Ian would be admitted to a state hospital under Medicaid. But the Pearls consider that a death sentence. “Ian would be lucky, or unlucky, to survive more than a matter of weeks or months,” Mrs. Pearl said. “One-on-one skilled nursing is essential.” Her husband, 60, a wealthy businessman, said the couple have enough savings to pay for their son’s care for a few years, and after that, they could mortgage the family’s home.

This is capitalism at its finest. The free market at work. And a perfect example of why the health and well-being of Americans should not be a part of that equation. Profit will always be the priority.

“This is a matter of life and death for my son,” Warren Pearl said. “I have to have faith that HHS will enforce the law. This is attempted murder, as far as I’m concerned. They targeted us, they never expected to get caught. I believe that justice will prevail.”

I hope your faith is justifed, Mr. Pearl.

David Perkins

Thanks to:
The Washington Times

Peace Through Music

Playing for Change is the organization that produced the wonderful international music video “Stand By Me” which can also be found on our site. This followup is the great Bob Marley song, “One Love” recorded with many of the same international artists who participated in the first project. Their mission is to promote peace and awareness through music.

NOTE: Once you’ve clicked the “Play” button, to view this video in full screen mode, hover over the lower right corner of the picture, and click the full screen button.

Visit Playing For Change at their website to see their other Peace Through Music projects.

Exactly What Are We Fighting About?

The debate over whether or not the federal and/or state governments should mandate affordable access to medical care for all Americans has raged for at least 75 years. As a larger and larger segment of the population finds itself in the “have not” column when it comes to healthcare access, this debate is more critical than ever in our history. Passions erupt into angry exchanges on both sides of the argument. Accurate information sometimes gets little notice, while misinformation and deliberate lies gain traction simply because they get intense exposure.

All the heat and light encircling the debate make it difficult, even for an astute observer, to separate the reasonable from hyperbole, the right from the wrong. and the truth from the lies. But one thing has never been more true. If we don’t get it right this time, the consequences will be damaging for a long time to come.

73807521Who Are The Uninsured?

Many on the political right are fond of pointing out that only a small portion of the uninsured in this country are legal residents of the United States; that, of the nearly 50 million people without health insurance, only about 17 million are U.S. citizens. Like many things the right is fond of pointing out, this is simply untrue. According to a study released in October 2008 by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a large majority of the uninsured (79%) are native or naturalized U.S. citizens.

Another favorite, but false, statistic is that most of the uninsured are the chronically unemployed, and those who are uninterested in working for a living, and pulling their own weight. The fact is that more than eight in ten of the uninsured are in working families—about 70% are from families with one or more full-time workers and 12% are from families with part-time workers.  Only 19% of the uninsured are from families that have no connection to the workforce.

Also, about two-thirds of the uninsured are poor or near poor. These individuals are less likely to be offered employer-sponsored coverage or to be able to afford to purchase their own coverage. Those who are poor (below 100% of the poverty level) are about twice as likely to be uninsured as the entire nonelderly population (35% vs.17%). Were it not for the Medicaid program, many more of the poor would be uninsured. The near-poor (those with incomes between 100% and 199% of the poverty level) also run a high risk of being uninsured (29%), in part, because they are less likely to be eligible for Medicaid. Only 10% of the uninsured are from families at or above 400% of poverty.

Adults are more likely to be uninsured than children. Adults make up 70% of the nonelderly population, but 80% of the uninsured. Most low-income children qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, but low-income adults under age 65 typically qualify for Medicaid only if they are disabled, pregnant, or have dependent children.  Income eligibility levels are generally much lower for parents than for children.

Most importantly, the uninsured are people you know, maybe even love. They are the people you work with. The people you socialize with. They are your neighbors, and your friends, and your family. And if something isn’t done soon to address the problem, one of them could someday face the reality that their life cannot be saved because they don’t have the resources to afford healthcare.

‘The Public Option’

The public option has been called a lot of things; a government takeover of healthcare, socialized medicine, an intrusion into our doctor-patient relationships, and a safety net to assure that no American has to go bankrupt or die just because he or she doesn’t have health insurance. Opponents of reform like to cite polls that indicate Americans do not want a public option included in any eventual healthcare bill. If you listen carefully when they cite these studies, their source is almost always the Lewin Group, a consulting firm in Falls Church, Virginia. With the political battle over healthcare reform being waged largely with numbers, few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group.

Most of their studies appear to point to certain doom for America if any form of public option is included in the reform bill. According to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, the Lewin Group is “well known as one of the most nonpartisan groups in the country.” Generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers. Does the term “conflict of interest” seem appropriate here?

More specifically, the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association, of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data. Ingenix supplied its parent company and other insurers with data that allegedly understated the “usual and customary” doctor fees that insurers use to determine how much they will reimburse consumers for out-of-network care. In January, UnitedHealth agreed to a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the AMA, covering conduct going back as far as 1994.

The Lewin Group, and other partisan “think tank” studies aside, when mainstream nonpartisan polling organizations ask the question, without using loaded phrases like “government takeover” and they include an accurate explanation of what it is, the American people strongly favor a public option by a 61% to 34% margin. Almost two to one. And they trust the president over the GOP by 47% to 31% to properly deal with healthcare reform.

A Question of Morality

By law, we have stacked the deck against the American healthcare consumer. Health insurance companies are exempt from antitrust laws, thus allowing insurers to establish near monopolies in most states. In Georgia, two companies – WellPoint and UnitedHealth Group – hold a 69 percent share of the market. The American Medical Association reports that 94 percent of insurance markets in more than 300 metropolitan areas are now highly concentrated. WellPoint runs Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans in 14 states. In Maine, for example, WellPoint controls 78% of the health insurance market. It dominates the market in Missouri, with 68% of the business, as well as in its home state of Indiana (60%), New Hampshire (51%), Kentucky (59%), Connecticut (55%), Virginia (50%), and Ohio (41%).

In addition, we have allowed insurers to “cherry pick” the youngest and healthiest Americans to insure, while rejecting those who are more likely to file a claim. If you are fortunate enough to have employer subsidized health insurance, and happen to suffer from a chronic ailment, if you lose your job or change jobs, qualifying for insurance coverage again can be impossible due to the “preexisting conditions” exclusion. If anything positive comes out of the current healthcare debate, outlawing the preexisting condition exclusion should be a top priority.

The United States is the only modern industrial democracy where the health and welfare of its citizens, and the life and death decisions connected to it, are just another bushel of free market commodities to be bought, sold, granted or denied based on the bottom line profits of a handful of large corporations. Uninsured citizens aside, Americans with health insurance die every day because a decision was reached, in some corporate office, that treating their condition was just too costly. Or, some pretense was used, based on a possible preexisting condition, to deny treatment. If you don’t believe this, read through a few transcripts of congressional hearings on healthcare. You will find it disturbing. Meanwhile, we worry and debate about government intrusion. In this country, in the 21st century, whether or not you live or die should not be contingent on how much money you have. It is immoral, plain and simple.

The ‘S’ Word

Providing an alternative, like a government sponsored insurance pool, immediately raises the dreaded ‘s’ word. Socialism. As soon as the word socialism enters the discussion, rational debate disappears. We are so appalled by the prospect that we immediately forget the fact that, in most urban and suburban areas of this country, we long ago agreed to pool our resources, and fund through taxes, socialized police and fire protection, socialized street and bridge maintenance, socialized sewer and garbage removal, water systems, and on and on and on.

Our elderly are protected by a socialized medical and pension plan. Our veterans have access to excellent medical care through a socialized system of hospitals and doctors. By and large, most of these people are satisfied with the service they receive. We are already a hugely socialized democracy, and we haven’t completely collapsed as a society because of it.

If you decide to protect your home with flood insurance, State Farm or Allstate will be happy to sell you a policy. Unless, of course, you live some place that actually stands a reasonable chance of flooding, like the Florida coast or the Ohio River Valley. Then, your only option for flood insurance is the federal government. The free market won’t touch it.

If you live in a fire-prone area, or an earthquake prone part of this country, your only choice for fire or earthquake insurance is often a state run insurance pool. Virtually all states require that automobile drivers carry liability insurance against potential accidents. Most states also have a state run insurance pool for high-risk drivers who are unable to purchase coverage anywhere else. And the last time I checked, State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Progressive and AAA are all doing just fine, precisely because they are protected from writing high-risk coverage.

Protecting Competition

So, the federal government is happy to be in the flood insurance business because it protects the profits of private insurance companies. Under the guise of protecting competition, they are equally unwilling to intervene in the health insurance business for the same reason; the protection of corporate profits. The health and welfare of the American people is a secondary consideration.

In any case, there is no competition. Most Americans who have health insurance get it through employer subsidized plans, and therefore don’t get to “shop” for coverage. They get what their employer decides it can afford to offer. While health insurance costs are theoretically regulated, health insurers seem able to manipulate rates, deductibles, copayments, restrictions, and exclusions with impunity, unlike their counterparts in the home and auto insurance fields. They also appear able to lower reimbursements to medical facilities and professionals at will. In short, they are a government protected, unrestricted monopoly against which the healthcare consumer stands no chance of prevailing. Only our elected legislators have the power to influence the outcome, and they seem to have been bought and paid for long ago.

What Do We Do?

It’s a good question. It may well be that the outcome has already been written, and that all the current Sturm und Drang is strictly theater. But, on the off chance that right can still prevail, I urge anyone who feels that every American deserves to have access to quality and affordable medical care, regardless of economic station, to find out who your senators are. Find out who your congressman is. Write them. Email them. Fax them. Telephone their offices. Call and email the White House.

Until we know for certain that the issue is resolved, for good or bad, we should not stop trying to make our voices heard.

David Perkins

U.S. Senators – Contact Information
U.S. Congressmen – Contact Information
Petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

The Uninsured: A Primer
The National Coalition on Healthcare
The Lewin Group
The Washington Post
The New York Times