30 October 2008


The images rolled forth with sober and simple beauty: a tinge of gold swaying on endless Plains; a hint of brown. . .and billows of grain. They focused on acres of wheat, then to vast swaths of farmland that seamlessly merged with a sea of hands — then faces, then flags.

The video whispered, “We are the wheat; the strength; the Hope; the sustenance of America.”

Thus began the poetry of Sen. Barack Obama’s paid advertisement in the most expensive real estate on television: prime time. It was meant to be his sonnet for America, his closing argument, a reminder to his countrymen about the immensity of our promise and the peril of our current reality.

It was, quite possibly, the finest half hour of television possible in a world of 300 TV channels. It was emotional and empathetic to the working class, and fully centered on the kind of personal stories that have been lost in this season of pettiness and mean-spirited debate. It was the antithesis of Joe the Plumber, the phony air-filled carnival prop who is now, by published reports, seeking everything from book deals to a country music recording contract to a seat in Congress.

The adage “don’t quit your day job, Joe” might be applied here.

If Joe the Prop really wanted the kind of change he espouses, then he should have voted for Ron Paul — not John McCain, who despised everything the good Congressman from Texas represented. Rep. Paul was the candidate for change in the Republican Party — not McCain.

With five days remaining, Obama’s long form ad will certainly be under attack until November 4th. But did he connect to the American people? Only time will tell.

As a filmmaker, and as an American, I saw very little to disagree with in Obama’s presentation — and even less to criticize. As one who has devoted his professional life to sharing the stories of common people, I was particularly touched by Obama talking about his mother, who died after a violent struggle with ovarian cancer. I identified with Rebecca Johnston of North Kansas City, Missouri who spoke about how her family is part of a new class of the working poor, despite two working salaries. I was moved by the humble elderly man in his 70s who had his pension reduced from $1500 a month to $379 a month — after his employer squandered $19 million of pension money and went bankrupt.

These are the stories of America — this is indeed “how the other half lives,” although I suspect that today, it is far greater than merely “half.”

I have stated many times in this blog that I am a registered Independent voter, and have been since 1990. I first interviewed — and then voted for John McCain in the primaries of 2000. But that ship sailed out of sight long ago. He has taken the honor so many Independents hoisted upon him in 2000 and squandered it — invoking the work of Karl Rove by suggesting Obama is really Karl Marx. He has replaced his genuine populist past with the nonsense of Joe the unlicensed Plumber. He has forgotten the pain of unemployed factory workers and hardworking Americans who are drowning in a sea of debt — and who once supported him.

This is the tragic truth of John McCain.

I have read that Sen. Obama paid millions of dollars for his prime time pitch. It was worth every penny. With a simple but moving narrative, with a tinge of gold swaying on endless Plains, and billows of grain, he reminded us all that “We are the wheat; the strength; the Hope; the sustenance of America.”

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23 October 2008


HE ONCE TERMED HIMSELF ‘A SOLDIER,’ much to the consternation of critics who claimed that his words were disrespectful to the warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did withstand two potentially life-threatening battles, however, yet he has been derided as a “baby,” a “whiner,” and a Helluva lot worse.

Those who follow football know that when the Cleveland Browns drafted Kellen Winslow, Jr., the consensus was that he was a lot like his father, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after ten years with the San Diego Chargers. Tough, tenacious and talented, “K-2,” as he has become known, is indeed the “real deal,” an astonishing mix of speed, doggedness and strength of purpose.

He’s also a bit of a hothead who flies off the handle on occasion and gets himself into trouble. This week, however, Kellen Winslow, Jr. raised an issue that extends far beyond what he originally intended. His “outburst,” as it has been described by some, cut to a core issue about medical care — and its’ inability to defeat what could well be the next plague: Supergerms.

Superbugs, or Supergerms range the gamut from the rare, but honest-to-God nightmare of flesh-eating bacteria, to the increasingly common threat of MRSA — an infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — and often called "staph." According to The Mayo Clinic, MRSA is “a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it.”

It also states, “MRSA can be fatal,” and tragically, that has also become commonplace.

Winslow recently made headlines by missing a nationally televised game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants because of what was eerily termed, “an undisclosed illness.” So when he missed what was arguably the most important game of the season, it raised eyebrows from coast-to-coast, and led to rampant — and often mean-spirited conjecture. To those of us who know him, Winslow is a player of unbelievable resolve, a man who fought back from a broken leg in his rookie season, only to suffer again from a self-inflicted injury to his knees while performing ill-advised stunts on a motorcycle the following Spring. The latter cost him dearly, both in terms of salary and what will surely be a shortened career.

Even his critics admit that no one plays through more pain than K-2 — no one. And I’m not speaking only of pain on the football field, either, rather the unbelievable pain he encountered after a staph infection appeared following his first surgery. By numerous accounts, he writhed in pain as the staph infection tried to eat his knee from the inside out. Winslow the Warrior faced the challenge with grit, and when he intially returned to the Browns, he was an emaciated shell of his former Herculean self.

Little did he know at the time, but he became the latest athlete whose life — and career was literally threatened by staph. From high school wrestlers to Major League Baseball, the problem has spiraled out of control with frightening speed over the past decade, with no signs of slowing up.

Despite denials from the NFL, the American Medical Association (AMA), and countless others, staph infections truly are deadly business. For all of the overblown fears about Avian Flu — to which we have allocated hundreds of millions of research dollars with the aim of finding a “pharmaceutical solution,” there is a willful ignorance about existing solutions to this deadly strain of superbugs.

While a scant few media outlets reported it, one of these essential weapons has been employed recently in the fight against staph: ozone. NFL teams like the Browns began using ozone-generating machines to clean their gear, where sweat and germs obviously need sanitizing. The larger problem, however, has not been adequately addressed — and that is in the locker room and showers where these germs mutate into their potentially deadly cousins like MRSA. For decades, chemicals have been the dominant weapons of choice in “fighting germs.” Whether antibiotics or often toxic cleaning agents, we must acknowledge that the chemical solution has failed to eradicate the supergerms, and that their usefulness may have largely run their course.

Pitifully, they still are being used in the vast majority of hospitals, clinics and locker rooms — and people are dying — in many cases for no logical reason whatsoever. Staph claimed the life former Rams receiver — and a longtime radio analyst Jack Snow in 2006. According to Associated Press, “the cause of Snow’s death was a staph infection” after Snow had a double hip replacement surgery in 2006. A staph infection followed, and Snow died shortly thereafter.

It is a threat pervasive throughout sports. As reported by Fox Sports, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios contracted staph in 2006, cutting short an All Star season. Staph also stymied Phoenix Suns star Grant Hill following one of his four surgeries, and college football player Ricky Lannetti of Lycoming College died after contracting MRSA in 2003.

So for Kellen Winslow, Jr. — who has been victimized twice by the scourge of staph — this was no laughing matter. The team requested confidentiality even though he was the sixth Browns player to contract staph — all following surgery of some kind. And make no mistake, Winslow must have channelled the courage of a soldier just to survive the pain.

Likewise with his former teammate LeCharles Bentley, a Cleveland native and Pro-Bowl center, who contracted staph after an operation on his patellar tendon. He too suffered horribly — and was forced to endure multiple surgeries in an atempt to remove the infection, an infection that ended his career — and very nearly his life.

Next came Joe Jurevicius, who is, ironically, another member of the Browns who emanates from Cleveland. In the off-season, after what was termed “a simple surgery to clean out his knee,” Jurevicius became violently ill. It was learned that he also had a staph infection, yet he was optimistically slated to return to the team in mid-October. The truth is, this beloved hometown hero will be lucky if he ever returns to the game he loves.

Rounding out “the staph-infected six” are wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who recovered; linebacker Ben Taylor, and safety Brian Russell. While this supergerm felled six members of the same team, it is, by no means, confined to the Cleveland Browns or even the NFL.

Surgical operations, the last time I checked, don’t occur in locker rooms. While the area’s medical institutions are mum about the origin of the staph, one doesn’t have to possess the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes to discern where these supergerms may have really come from.

Not only is this dangerous — for all of us — it is wholly unnecessary. Even though many teams have finally turned to Ozone to kill staph on equipment, they need to do more — and use ozone generators each evening after practice throughout locker rooms. I’ve seen this at work many times: men donning “space suits” who spray ozone in smoke and fire damaged homes, and to kill molds caused by flooding. It works, people, and dramatically so. Ozone should be used far more widely in operating rooms, where germ mutation rates are beyond the reach of man-made chemicals, in addition to airports, schools, etc.

But let’s be real, here — they are not.

Finally, there exists one other vital weapon to be utilized against staph: it is called a Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy provides oxygenation, which fights staph in at least three important ways:

1. It helps to strengthen the bone cells (called osteoclasts) that reabsorb dead bone, allowing the osteoclasts to remove bone debris more effectively.
2. Hyperbaric oxygen enhances the function of the immune system's white blood cells, which depend on oxygen. Many claim that hyperbaric oxygen is especially effective when used with antibiotics as it supports the action of the antibiotics.
3. Hyperbaric oxygen helps the body to create new blood vessels, or capillaries.

WHY MORE PRO TEAMS DON’T USE THESE WEAPONS to fight staph is a mystery of untold proportions. Wealthy owners house million dollar investments — athletes — and then they don’t adequately protect them. Perhaps this relates to the stubborness of conventionally trained team doctors, who enjoy a stranglehold over pro sports, but does this make any sense, with what is at stake?

Whatever the reasons for their inaction, when six athletes become infected with a life threatening illness — on one team — one would surmise that said doctors would be smart enough to reach for something outside the medicine cabinet. Yet they continue to employ pharmaceutical based medicines and chemicals despite the risk, and they imperil millions of patients in the process. By refusing to acknowledge that the spectrum of bacteria is so evolved that it is virtually impossible for drugs to keep pace with mutations, they betray their dangerously narrow, learned prejudices.

Sooner or later, society will learn that while millions of MDs certainly may mean well, their wisdom is hollow when it comes to confronting the horror of supergerms.

Kellen Winslow and five other Cleveland Browns learned that painful truth first hand. . .and it’s only a question of time before millions of others will be faced with the same awful choices.

Armed with this information, however, we can demand drastic change from medicine. In the deadly quest to treat supergerms, that time should be now, before future leaders, doctors, and Kellen Winslows die needlessly.


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20 October 2008


“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State.”
U.S. Constitution, Amendment XV-Section 1

WHEN MY EIGHTEEN YEAR OLD SON VOTED FOR THE FIRST TIME a few weeks ago, it was a bit like recalling the day that he learned to ride his bike without training wheels. I felt proud and a little giddy, but then, as my sons often remind me, I am often prone to these kind of “sappy” and emotional feelings.

“Dad. . . like, you’re embarrassing me.”

But I digress.

Fortunately, my eldest is a student of politics. He reads, watches, and absorbs news like many of us who are addicted to the importance of “issues” more than a “campaign.” He was well prepared and ready to do his civic duty, so off we went.

We drove to the County Election Board and cast our votes early — in part to avoid the crush of voters — and in part to lessen the possibility of fraud. Ohio is one of 14 states that allow citizens the privilege of voting early, and it is a Godsend, considering the sordid recent history of presidential elections in Ohio.

What awaited us was a line of Diebold voting machines, which among we Ohioans engenders an immediate distrust. Since computerized voting has become somewhat synonymous with fraud, we both kind of groaned as we approached the touch screen machines.

LIVING IN THE GREAT STATE OF OHIO, we have had an insider’s view of some of most egregious violations of voting statutes since, well, the elections of 2004, but 2000 was no picnic either. As you are probably aware, a plethora of serious voter fraud charges charges were levied against Diebold, an Ohio-based company, during the Bush-Kerry election cycle. Many of these charges, from the disenfranchisement of African American voters to major “glitches”in the Diebold machines themeselves, have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. The problems with Diebold voting machines are many, according to Common Cause, Black Box Voting, and numerous others. The solutions to clear up the potential for Election Day dirty tricks, however, are harder to come by.

Ohio is not merely a symbol of “middle America,” or the perceived small-town values that make it a bellweather state every four years as the Presidential elections re-surface. No, Ohio, with its’ 20 Electoral votes at stake, has become the perfect storm for a chain of legal and ethically dubious behavior over the last two election cycles. According to an investigation by Rolling Stone Magazine, the practice of “caging,” or suppressing votes was executed ruthlessly in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched President Bush's victory in the electoral college.

The investigation stated that Ohio officials "purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency.” As Rolling Stone explains it, voter fraud was pervasive in 2004 — and always seemed to favor President Bush. “A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County (a GOP stronghold) recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland (a Democratic stronghold) recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.”

Since 1990, the Ohio’s Republican Party has enjoyed a majority in the Statehouse. By 2004, Republicans held all six statewide executive offices (governor/lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, and treasurer), a two-thirds majority in the state senate and house, and a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court. In 2004, the GOP also held both seats in the U.S. Senate, and 12 of Ohio's 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. That kind of stranglehold can be either wildly productive (as in one party having the ability to enact positive reform), or tremendously corrupt, which was the case with GOP-orchestrated elections in Ohio.

What followed this electoral monopoly, writes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., was a scandal in 2004 of unparalleled proportions. “In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election,” says Kennedy, “one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.”

But even that level of “caging” Democratic voters pales in comparison with “outright fraud,” Kennedy charges. The Diebold voting machines, you see, made certain that a full “80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush.” That swing of more than 160,000 votes, Kennedy goes on to say, would have been “enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.”

After the sheer disgrace of 2004, however, some not-so-instant karma finally asserted its’ will. . .as Ohioans “threw the bums out” of office. Democratic Gubernatorial candidates Ted Strickland and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown both coasted to easy victories, and Democrat Jennifer Brunner was elected as Secretary of State following Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell’s sad, partisan reign over both the 2000 and 2004 elections. Brunner, by most accounts, is a caring public servant who is commiited to counting votes fairly, but she has had to contend with dozens of GOP lawsuits since she took office in 2007.

FAST FORWARD NEARLY TWO YEARS, and my son stands at the ready and voting for the very first time. He is solemn on the occasion. . .and more than a little leery of the infamous Diebold machine.

“Why is there no print-out of my ballot?” he asked a poll worker present.

“This machine does not offer one” he is told. Reverently, but firmly, he states that this should be changed. “Please tell your superior that I complained about this,” he continues, “and that if I can get a piece of paper from a Diebold ATM machine, surely they are sophisticated enough to provide a paper receipt for the voter.”

The elderly woman assures him that she will indeed share his concerns with the Board supervisor. “We hear this from a lot of young people,” she whispers to my son.

I won’t say how proud I was to hear him articulate his concerns to the pollworker with such clarity. . .as I don’t want to sound like a complete dork. What I will say, though, is that the hard-earned lessons of 2000 and 2004 may have made this year’s Freshman class of voters more savvy than most.

And they NEED to be savvy to cut through the corruption and scheming that has brought America's main claim to fame: that of free and open elections, under such warranted scrutiny.

Thus, thanks to Black Box Voting, the following are a checklist of reminders of how tenuous voting has become in the U.S. — and I mean that in the most Orwellian way possible.

1. 80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S.
2. There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the US voting machine industry.
3. The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers.
4. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major campaign organizer and donor to President Bush. In 2003, he wrote that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
5. ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the US and counts almost 60% of all US votes.
6. Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.
7. Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail
8. Diebold employs five convicted felons as developers. Developers are the people who write the voting machine computer code.
9. In 2004, none of the international election observers were allowed in the polls in Ohio.
10. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it!
11. 30% of all US votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail. The goal of President Bush's “Help America Vote Act” of 2002 has as its goal to replace all machines with the new electronic touch screen systems with no paper trail.
12. All -- not some -- but all the voting machine errors detected and reported went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates.
13. Major statistical voting oddities (odds on the order of 250 million to 1!) -- again always favoring Bush -- have been mathematically demonstrated by experts

SO LIKE MY SON AND ME — VOTE EARLY AND VOTE OFTEN — if you are able. Voting early could cut the waiting time for people on Election Day, and deny the voter fraudsters the opportunity to cast your vote for you. The more chaos there is on Election Day, the better for the Fraud Squad.

Videotape your vote when possible and use a paper ballot if your voting machine seems to be acting erratically.

And if all else fails, take the following checklist to the polls with you. It is from Election Protection, a non-partisan coalition, created to make ensure that your vote is counted.


Be sure you are properly registered. 
Most states require voters to register in advance of an election (though some allow voters to register on Election Day). Deadlines range from 3 to 30 days before an election. To find out if you are properly registered, confirm your address, obtain a copy of a voter registration form, or learn about registration deadlines in your state, call 866-OUR-VOTE or, for more information about registration rules in your state go to www.866ourvote.org.

Be sure you go to the correct polling place. 
In many states, if you vote at the wrong location, your vote will not be counted. If you are unsure exactly where to vote, find your polling location by calling 866-OUR-VOTE or by going to www.canivote.org.
Find out your options for convenient voting. 
Many states allow individuals to vote prior to Election Day, either in person or by absentee ballot. Absentee voters typically must request an absentee ballot in advance. To learn about the options in your state, including how to obtain an absentee ballot, visit www.866ourvote.org, or call 866-OUR-VOTE.

Find out if you are required to show ID. 
Every state has identification requirements for at least some categories of voters. Find out the rules for your state by visiting www.866ourvote.org, or calling 866-OUR-VOTE.

Review sample ballots and information about candidates and issues. 
If you familiarize yourself with the layout and instructions of the ballot, you can prevent mistakes when you go to vote. Some local election officials will provide you a sample ballot if you request one. Also, know who and what you're voting for — you can research all candidates and ballot issues by contacting local civic groups or visiting www.canivote.org. If you have questions, concerns or problems, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Trained volunteers for the nation's largest non-partisan voter protection effort are available to answer your questions and help make sure your vote counts.

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15 October 2008


THE YEAR WAS 1987, and over a decade had passed since the Vietnam War had ended. I was three weeks into my first foreign foray as a filmmaker — and I was hurting — and hurting badly.

Our trip began innocuously enough, fueled by a curious mix of anticipation and discovery. We were six thousand miles from home, but my friends on the production crew helped me celebrate my 30th birthday as the clock struck midnight in Bangkok. Eighteen hours later we landed in Hanoi, and before long we bounced along an endless series of dirt roads in the back of an old Russian school bus that served as transport to our hotel, far outside the city and near the Gulf of Tonkin.

I had moved back to Cleveland a few years prior, after living in Boston for five years, but my NBA loyalties still lie with the Celtics. As the sun set over Hanoi it became uncharacteristically chilly, so I put on my luminescent Celtics jacket, in all its’ Kelly-green glory, to fight off the brisk wind blowing from the South China Sea. Within minutes, as I braced myself on the back steps of the bus, I heard children cry out, “Larry Bird. . .Larry Bird,” which made me smile and wave enthusiastically to the smiling natives.

“Not bad,” I recall thinking. “I get to enjoy my birthday in both Thailand and Vietnam. What a way to ring in a new decade of life. Not bad at all.”

Little did I realize what awaited me in the days and weeks ahead.

THIS WAS ALL VERY ODD FOR ME, as I suppose it would have been for any American. I was on a historic journey, of sorts, as we were among the first 200 U.S. citizens allowed to visit Vietnam in the post-war years. For a kid from Cleveland, this was pretty ethereal stuff.

One of my brothers, Martin, had served near the so-called DMZ, or “de-militarized zone” in DaNang. All I knew of Vietnam came from scratchy audiotapes sent home by Martin during the war, from my hero Walter Cronkite, and now, from a group of Vietnam vets who had decided to tackle their demons by heading back to the belly of the beast: Vietnam.

I was about to confront some ghosts of my own, thousands of miles from where I first experienced their inescapable and indelible impact.

I GREW UP AS A WHITE middle-class beneficiary of the greatness of America, in a time and place when all of my peers seemed to enjoy stable families and live in homes built in the 1920s and 30s. My place in the Miller hierarchy was second-last-of-seven kids, and while growing up, I had never truly known what it was like to live life on the edge. This was partly due to my own cluelessness about money or the challenges of balancing a budget while raising seven children, but it was also partly attributable to the seeming dearth of “poor people” living around me during those years.

That would change when I got my first real job in the 1970s, popping popcorn for the tens of thousands of rabid Cleveland Browns fans at Cleveland Stadium. I was 14 at the time, and as I walked down from the bus towards the Stadium, I literally stumbled on a group of men who greeted me with vacant eyes and tattered clothes. The smell of urine pummeled me with such overwhelming power that it lodged in my senses. . .and to this day I still recall the smell of the misery that was unveiled to me that day.

As I have described elsewhere in this blog, however, I was born with an innate, inquisitive nature — some might call it naïve. . .so I stopped to talk to the men who were huddled together on that very cold November day. One of the men had ice-blue eyes that popped out from shrouded and wrinkled skin. He spoke very softly and asked, “what are you doin’ down here, kid?” When I replied that I worked at the Stadium, he muttered, “well good for you, kid. Maybe you can bring me somethin’ to eat.”

Uncertain — and perhaps even frightened — I had no idea how to respond. So I took off and sprinted down to work. When I reached the concession area, I told my boss, “Big Jim,” a wonderful African American man in his 50s, about my experience. “There’s lots of them down here now, son,” he said with a measure of both sadness and disgust. “Lots of them since the steel plants closed. You be mindful, now…some of them are crazy on liquor.”

It was the first time I had confronted poverty with my own eyes. . .and it left a mark. Week after week I would see the poor gather outside St. Malachi’s Church near the Stadium. Week after week I would talk to the men on the streets. And week after week, “Big Jim,” one of the kindest men I have ever known, would help me forage for hot dogs and coffee after work, often by asking favors of some of the vendors, even though he was concerned about his young lilly-white employee and his rather idealistic notions about “helping the men on the streets.”

BACK IN VIETNAM IN 1987, all of those emotions came flooding back. It hit me hard when we entered DaNang, where my brother Martin had fought some 14 years before my arrival. It was the first time I saw the sons and daughters of American servicemen. . .the ones who were left behind. Forced to live on the streets because they were “illegitimate children of the enemy,” or because they were not “pure blooded” Vietnamese, AmerAsian children scoured garbage cans for food and begged for whatever they could sell on the black market.

By this time, I was living on my own, trying to get noticed as a writer and filmmaker, and I had a better grasp of what the men and women on the streets back home encountered on a daily basis. I had lost some of my youthful naivete — I was struggling as well — but I felt like a millionaire compared to the horror of DaNang. Though I had only $50 in my pocket, I felt tortured by my wealth. Over the final two weeks of the trip, I gave away literally everything to children from DaNang to Saigon. My Walkman, my shoes, an earring, cigarettes, toiletries, and pads of paper — you name it.

I gave it all away.

FOR SIX WEEKS, following my return trip home, I was as melancholy and depressed as I have ever been in my life. What had I learned about poverty — and wealth? What was my purpose in experiencing all of this?

What I finally realized is that the prologue of my adult life came as a teenager in living in a suburb on the border with Cleveland. The events I witnessed, and the people I met during that time monumentally changed me forever. The recognition of poverty among us — and the challenge to do something meaningful about it — shifted me away from the carefree life of a 13 year old and morphed me into the being I have become. As a 30 year old — emotionally lost in Vietnam — I returned to the memories of the men on the streets of America. . .and realized that they were one and the same as the AmerAsians wallowing in poverty in Vietnam.

TWO YEARS LATER, IN 1989, STILL HAUNTED BY VIETNAM, I decided to try to affect change. I was working for my dear friend Ron Copfer, a philanthopist in his own rite, who allowed me to produce my first film for a non-profit agency based in Cleveland. KIDS IN CRISIS was the result, a mini-documentary about poor children in the city of Cleveland. One of the lines I remember most from the film catapulted me, once again, to the fateful days of meeting the men on the streets of Cleveland as a teenager. “The number of poor children in Cleveland,” the speaker said solemnly, “the number of children who go to bed hungry every night, could fill Cleveland Stadium. That’s 87,000 kids.”

Through KIDS IN CRISIS I also received a wondrous message by winning a Silver Medal at the New York International Film & Telelvision Festival. The reminder was not the lovely award, but the fact that I could indeed affect change. . .and so I have tried earnestly to do so ever since, by utilizing all of my God-given talents and blessings for a higher purpose.

I followed KIDS IN CRISIS with a fundraising video for the Cleveland Foodbank, which helped garner 15 million pounds of food from area residents, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash donations. Then I turned my sights to the homeless — including homeless war veterans — in my film THE PROMISED LAND. More awards, but more importantly, nearly $1 million in donations from Cleveland area residents, money that was used for job training and temporary housing for homeless families.

In the years to follow, there were more fundraising videos for the National Veterans Foundation, and many others.

YEARS LATER, a wealthy salesman-turned videomaker castigated me for my beliefs, and the fact that I had refused to produce numerous videos for him that did not align with my idealogy. “You could be wealthy,” he said, rife with condescension, “but no…you are some idealist who expects the world to conform to you. I’ve got news for you: it won’t.”

Today, the notion that many of us are “one paycheck away from poverty” is much easier to grasp — and there’s unfinished business here in the land of the free. Millions of seniors have lost their pensions, their retirement nest eggs, and their security. Countless others teeter on the brink of disaster, victims of their faith in the gods of capitalism.

Meanwhile, “How the Other Half Lives” is no longer a testimonial to the sins of the past century. Rather, it is the prologue of what has become the worst of realities for people throughout America and the rest of the world.

Perhaps my cynical critic was correct — I might never be the next Michael Moore, a filmmaker who enjoys $10 million budgets. But for me, that was never the point anyway.

I have lived a good life; replete with the joy and sadness of miracles and devastation that life brings every day to scores of unknown people throughout America…and lands beyond our borders.

As a filmmaker, I have dined with the wealthy and have been given uncommon access to the powerful. But my Brethren, it would seem, will always be the least among us. . .the men and women who deperately cling to the hope that we as a People will see our way through the madness long enough to care for our fellow humans, and to afford them them chance to eat and drink from an inclusive economy of dignity and goodwill.

So continue I shall, thankful for my epiphany. . .and grateful for the hard lessons I learned on the streets of Cleveland — and from the faraway faces of children in DaNang.

14 October 2008


LAST WEEK I PROVIDED MORE CONCRETE PROOF that the pharmaceutical companies own the academic and governmental bodies they work with. I did so by outlining the case against Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, a prominent psychiatrist at Emory University, "who violated federal research rules regarding conflicts of interest and made millions of dollars consulting for the pharmaceutical industry," but also by sharing some of the data from my new film GENERATION RX, which will be released in the next few weeks.

Even though my commentary explained that the most recent post emanated mainly from the New York Times, I fielded hilariously sad letters from a few extremists who passed off this hard news as 'fantasy,' despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Stick your heads in the sand if you must, but today's news brings yet more commentary on the immoral and unethical circumstances surrounding the approval and use of ADHD drugs, antidepressants and anti-psychotics among children and teens.

Author Judith Warner is a former special correspondent for Newsweek in Paris who also reviews for The Washington Post and has written about politics and women’s issues for magazines, including The New Republic and Elle. Her latest OpEd piece for the N.Y. Times is certainly worth its' weight in gold. It is included — unedited and in its entirety below.


For a break from the news of the financial meltdown, The Times on Saturday offered a page one story about Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, a prominent psychiatrist at Emory University, who violated federal research rules regarding conflicts of interest and made millions of dollars consulting for the pharmaceutical industry.

Yet the story of Nemeroff, who earned $2.8 million in fees from 2000 to 2007, and had at one point consulted for 21 drug and device companies simultaneously, wasn’t really a departure from the news of the week – or of this whole benighted era – at all.

It was, rather, yet another iteration of the ever-unfolding saga of greed and how the deregulation of absolutely everything has brought our country to this painful season of reckoning. Because Nemeroff’s story – which is hardly unique – belongs uniquely to this time in our nation’s history.

It is a product of legislative and cultural changes that have altered the practice of medicine, the work of research universities and the relationship between those universities and industry. And it is marked, like so much of what’s gone off the rails in our era, by the failure of our government to step in to protect citizens.

Nemeroff didn’t bring down any banks, didn’t freeze the American credit markets, hasn’t plunged the world economy into recession. But his extensive, excessive and untransparent ties to the pharmaceutical industry are all too common, unfortunately, among his cohort of “thought leaders” in psychiatry and other medical specialties. And these relationships have led to a dangerous crisis of confidence in the basic integrity and validity of America’s medical research.

Nemeroff’s case, which has many twists and turns involving allegations of conflicts of interest and nondisclosure of payments going back over the years, is only the latest to issue from the office of Senator Charles E. Grassley.

Grassley, Republican of Iowa, patron saint of whistleblowers, would-be regulator of hedge funds and now-seemingly prescient critic of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has, since this past spring, been investigating drug makers’ payments to prominent psychiatrists whose research bears the imprimatur of prestigious universities that frequently receive federal grant money. In June, his office reported that Dr. Joseph Biederman and Dr. Timothy Wilens, psychiatrists at Harvard Medical School, under-reported earnings of more than $1.6 million each from drug makers, possibly in violation of federal and university rules. More recently, Grassley raised conflict-of-interest allegations concerning Dr. Alan Schatzberg, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Stanford and the incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association, who is said to have controlled more than $6 million worth of stock in a company while serving as lead investigator on a study involving one of that company’s products.

And these cases are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Conflicts of interest between the pharmaceutical industry and prominent research physicians now “permeate the clinical research enterprise,” writes Dr. Marcia Angell, author of the 2004 book, “The Truth About the Drug Companies,” in the Sept. 3 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

In one review that Angell cites, about two-thirds of academic medical centers had financial stakes in companies that sponsored research within their facilities. In another study, two-thirds of medical school department chairs were found to receive departmental income, and three-fifths received personal income, from drug companies.

Scientists in government agencies aren’t above suspicion, either: Angell cites a study of 200 government panels that issued practice guidelines, which found that more than a third of the authors had some financial interest in drugs they recommended. And “perhaps most importantly,” she writes, many members of 16 standing committees that advise the Food and Drug Administration on drug approvals also have financial ties to drug companies. “Although these individuals are supposed to recuse themselves from participating in decisions about drugs made by specific companies with which they have a financial relationship, that requirement is frequently waived by F.D.A. authorities,” Angell writes.

Universities have all kinds of conflict-of-interest rules too, of course, as do the National Institutes of Health, which hand out grant money to researchers. But the federal government counts on universities and researchers to police themselves, and I think we know all too well from recent events on Wall Street where self-regulation leads.

The upshot: No one can be trusted. “Not only do the researchers have the complete conflicts of interests, but the medical schools and the universities do too,” Angell told me this week in a telephone interview. “The Biedermans, the Schatzbergs, they’re rainmakers for the institutions. It’s a broken system.”

How did all this happen?

It’s a familiar story: About three decades ago, it became possible to make serious money as a university researcher. Not that the money was so bad before, of course. It was respectable. But it wasn’t Wall Street-type money.

That changed in the early 1980s with the passage of legislation that allowed universities to patent their publicly funded research results and then grant exclusive licenses to pharmaceutical companies. The public-private wall came down. The universities received royalties on the drugs, and the royalties were split between the researchers and the departments. Start-up companies were spun off and sold. University researchers became, essentially, partners to industry.

The change wasn’t just structural, however. There was a cultural shift, a kind of boundary melt.

“Greed became respectable,” Angell, a professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and the former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, recalled. “There used to be a sort of tension between doing well and doing good for medical researchers. If they wanted to make a lot of money in a high-risk sort of job they could work for industry. If they wanted to do important, exciting research they stayed in academia and they had a comfortable life but not great wealth.

“Before 1980, they were aware of this tension,” she said. “Before 1980, those who went into industry were held in some disdain. With Reagan, all this changed. There was a strong feeling that the world divided into winners and losers. In medical research this just has had enormous implications.”

It’s had enormous implications for our world generally. On Wall Street, change had to come via catastrophe. Let’s hope it won’t take a disaster to bring sense back to medicine.

AUTHOR INFO: Judith Warner is the author of a range of nonfiction books, among them You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy to America. A former special correspondent for Newsweek in Paris, she reviews books for The Washington Post and has written about politics and women’s issues for magazines, including The New Republic and Elle. She lives in Washington, D.C.

03 October 2008


The conflicts-of-interest which are running rampant through psychiatry is one of the main topics of my new documentary called GENERATION RX, which will be released early in November. This is NOT an isolated incident. . .just the opposite, in fact. My investigation spanned many years and I unearthed numerous documents dating back to the 1980s — ones which are even more damning than today's revelations. While this should be shocking to the American public, this is truly just the tip of the iceberg.

This is why this issue — and my film are so terribly important. It's one thing to take a psychiatric drug based on the notion that you have received "all of the relevant facts," and thus, decide to consume it. But as my film — and this N.Y. Times article point out, psychiatrists have been pocketing millions of dollars — under the table — from giant drug companies and then doing their dirty work on Capitol Hill, at the National Institutes of Health, and throughout Washington D.C.

This has got to change, and hopefully many of you will consider GENERATION RX as a prime source for the kind of information you need to make your voices heard on this vital issue.

Top Psychiatrist Failed to Report Drug Income
Published: October 3, 2008

One of the nation’s most influential psychiatrists earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers between 2000 and 2007, failed to report at least $1.2 million of this income to his university, and violated federal research rules, according to documents provided to Congressional investigators.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory University, is the most prominent example to date in a series of disclosures that is shaking the world of academic medicine and seems likely to force broad changes in the relationships between doctors and drug makers.

In one telling example, Dr. Nemeroff signed a letter dated July 15, 2004, promising Emory administrators that he would earn less than $10,000 a year from GlaxoSmithKline to comply with federal rules.

But on that day, he was at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., earning $3,000 of what would become $170,000 in income that year from the British drug giant — 17 times the figure he had agreed on.

The Congressional inquiry, led by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is systematically asking some of the nation’s most prominent researchers to provide their conflict-of-interest disclosures, and he is comparing those documents with actual payment records from drug companies.

The records often conflict, sometimes starkly.

“After questioning about 20 doctors and research institutions, it looks like problems with transparency are everywhere,” Mr. Grassley said. “The current system for tracking financial relationships isn’t working.”

The findings suggest that universities are all but incapable of policing their faculty’s conflicts of interests. Almost every major medical school and medical society is now reassessing its relationships with drug and device makers.

“Everyone is concerned,” said Dr. James H. Scully Jr., the president-elect of the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, whose 30 members represent more than 500,000 doctors.Dr. Nemeroff is a charismatic speaker and widely admired scientist who has written more than 850 research reports and reviews. He was editor in chief of the influential journal Neuropsychopharmacology. His research has focused on the long-term mental health risks associated with child abuse as well as the relationship between depression and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Nemeroff did not respond to calls and e-mail messages seeking comment. Jeffrey L. Molter, an Emory spokesman, wrote in an e-mailed statement that the university was “working diligently to determine whether our policies have been observed consistently with regard to the matters cited by Senator Grassley.

“Dr. Nemeroff has assured us that: ‘To the best of my knowledge, I have followed the appropriate university regulations concerning financial disclosures. I have dedicated my career to translating research findings into improvements in clinical practice in patients with severe mental illness.’ ”

Mr. Grassley began his investigation in the spring by questioning Dr. Melissa P. DelBello of the University of Cincinnati after The New York Times questioned her connections to drug makers. She reported to university officials that she earned about $100,000 from 2005 to 2007 from eight drug makers, but AstraZeneca alone paid her $238,000 during the period, Mr. Grassley found.

Then in early June, the senator reported to Congress that Dr. Joseph Biederman, a renowned child psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, and a colleague, Dr. Timothy E. Wilens, had reported to university officials earning several hundred thousand dollars apiece in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007, when in fact they had earned at least $1.6 million each.
Then the senator focused on Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg of Stanford, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, whose $4.8 million in stock holdings in a drug development company raised the senator’s concerns.
Mr. Grassley has sponsored legislation called the Physician Payment Sunshine Act that would require drug and device companies to publicly list payments made to doctors that exceed $500. Several states already require such disclosures. As revelations from Mr. Grassley’s investigation have dribbled out, trade organizations for the pharmaceutical industry and medical colleges have agreed to support the bill. Eli Lilly and Merck have announced that they will publicly list doctor payments next year even without legislation.

The National Institutes of Health have strict rules mandating that conflicts of interest among grantees be managed or eliminated, but the health institutes rely on universities for oversight. If a university fails, the agency has the power to suspend the school’s entire portfolio of grants, which for Emory amounted to $190 million in 2005. But this step is so draconian that the health institutes almost never take it.

Dr. Nemeroff was the principal investigator for a five-year, $3.9 million grant financed by the National Institute of Mental Health for which GlaxoSmithKline provided drugs. Income from GlaxoSmithKline of $10,000 or more in any year of the grant — a threshold Dr. Nemeroff crossed in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, records show — would have required Emory to inform the health institutes and manage the conflict or remove Dr. Nemeroff as the investigator. Repeatedly assured by Dr. Nemeroff that he had not crossed this income threshold, Emory did nothing.

“Results from N.I.H.-funded research must not be biased by any conflicting financial interests,” John Burklow, a spokesman for the health institutes, said in the kind of tough statement that in the past has rarely been followed by real sanctions. “Officials at Emory are investigating the concerns. Failure to follow N.I.H. standards on C.O.I. is very serious and N.I.H. will take all appropriate action to ensure compliance.”

Many medical school deans say that they would welcome a public listing of payments from companies because the only way to audit disclosure statements now is to demand professors’ tax returns, something no one wants to do. But even if the Sunshine act passes, the Nemeroff case suggests that medical schools may falter.

Emory, for instance, conducted in 2004 its own investigation of Dr. Nemeroff’s outside consulting arrangements. In a 14-page report, the university’s conflict of interest committee detailed multiple “serious” and “significant” violations of university procedures intended to protect patients.

But besides insisting that he reform, the university took little apparent action against Dr. Nemeroff and made no attempt to independently audit his consulting income, documents show. His violations continued, documents show.

Asking schools to oversee faculty consulting arrangements and the conflicts they represent to patients is fraught since schools benefit from the fame and money that the deals can bring. In effect, universities share professors’ conflicts — a point Dr. Nemeroff made plain in a May 2000 letter stamped “confidential” that he sent to the dean of Emory’s medical school. The letter addressed Dr. Nemeroff’s membership on a dozen corporate advisory boards.

“Surely you remember that Smith-Kline Beecham Pharmaceuticals donated an endowed chair to the department and that there is some reasonable likelihood that Janssen Pharmaceuticals will do so as well. In addition, Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals has funded a Research Career Development Award program in the department, and I have asked both AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Meyers [sic] Squibb to do the same. Part of the rationale for their funding our faculty in such a manner would be my service on these boards.”

There was a time when universities looked askance at professors who consulted for more than one or two drug companies, but that changed after a 1980 law gave schools ownership of patents discovered with federal funds. The law helped give birth to the biotechnology industry and is widely credited with spurring the discovery of dozens of life-saving medicines. Consulting arrangements soon proliferated at medical schools, and Dr. Nemeroff — who at one point consulted for 21 drug and device companies simultaneously — became a national model.

That Dr. Nemeroff, according to Congressional documents, broke university and federal ethics rules and concealed much of his consulting income from Emory administrators may make him a model once again — this time for a broad reassessment of industry relationships. Many medical schools, societies and groups are considering barring doctors from giving drug or device marketing lectures.

In 2003, Dr. Nemeroff failed to state in a review of experimental treatments for depression that he had significant financial ties to three therapies that he mentioned favorably. He blamed the journal.

Three years later, he blamed a clerical mix-up for failing to disclose in an article that he co-wrote, published in a journal he edited, that he and his co-authors had financial ties to Cyberonics, the maker of a controversial device that they reviewed favorably.

The Cyberonics paper led to a bitter exchange of e-mail messages between Dr. Nemeroff and Claudia R. Adkison, an associate dean at Emory, according to Congressional records. Dr. Adkison noted that Cyberonics had paid not only Dr. Nemeroff and his co-authors but had also given an unrestricted educational grant to Dr. Nemeroff’s department.
“I can’t believe that anyone in the public or in academia would believe anything except that this paper was a piece of paid marketing,” she wrote on July 20, 2006.

Her exasperation may have resulted because, unknown to the public, Emory’s conflict of interest committee in June 2004 discovered that Dr. Nemeroff had made far more serious blunders, including failures to disclose conflicts of interest in trials of drugs from Merck, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson. His continuing oversight of a federally financed trial using GlaxoSmithKline medicines led Dr. Adkison to write Dr. Nemeroff on July 15, 2004, that “you must clearly certify on your annual disclosure form that you do not receive more than $10,000 from G.S.K.”

In a reply dated Aug. 4, Dr. Nemeroff wrote that he had already done so but promised again that “my consulting fees from GSK will be less than $10,000 per year throughout the period of this N.I.H. grant.”

When he sent that letter, Dr. Nemeroff had already earned more than $98,000 that year from GlaxoSmithKline. Three weeks later, he got another $3,844.56 for giving a marketing talk at the Passion Fish Restaurant in Woodbury, N.Y.

From 2000 through 2006, Dr. Nemeroff earned more than $960,000 from GlaxoSmithKline but listed earnings of less than $35,000 for the period on his university disclosure forms, according to Congressional documents.

Sarah Alspach, a GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman, stated in an e-mail message that “Dr. Nemeroff is a recognized world leader in the field of psychiatry,” and that the company requires its paid speakers to “proactively disclose their financial relationship with GSK, and we believe that healthcare professionals are responsible for making those disclosures.”

02 October 2008


OVER THE YEARS I have been blessed with a number of loyal fanboys and fangirls who seem to love my films. It really started with my documentary about homeless war veterans called THE PROMISED LAND, when I received hundreds of personal notes scribbled on napkins and torn notebook paper. In the wake of WE BECOME SILENT in 2005, I received over 4,000 emails and letters from around the world. Most were complimentary, but a few took issue with the case I laid out against free trade, the WTO and Codex Alimentarius.

Lately, my email inbox has been buzzing with letters about my forthcoming film GENERATION RX. If the emails are to be believed, I am being both praised and attacked for the film as a result of the trailer that is online at YouTube. I suppose that's a good sign.

Some critics write to say, “Who are YOU to question medical doctors?” Others who lost loved ones to Ritalin, Zoloft, Prozac, and other drugs communicate deeply personal feelings about their loss. This comes with the turf, especially when one produces a film as controversial as GENERATION RX. It happens in part because it challenges much of the conventionally accepted wisdom about the use of psychiatric medicines among children and teens.

SO I GUESS IT WAS INEVITABLE that eventually I would be accused of being a Scientologist, which I am not, nor have I ever been. Since Scientology has become both revered and reviled for their work opposing psychiatry, some folks just cannot understand how anyone — filmmaker, journalist or medical practitioner — could speak out about the drugging of children without being part of the Scientology movement. What balderdash!

If you need to take a shot at someone, I guess I’m your man. As with all of my films, I signed a contract giving me complete editorial and creative control over GENERATION RX. Thus I am "soley responsible for its content." But if you had traveled the world like I did — and interviewed families who lost loved ones to these drugs — your cynicism would vanish in an instant.

I was raised as a Catholic, a faith that does not escape the barbs of those who use its’ well-documented history of repression to point out what they believe to be the hypocrisy of the religion itself. Since I am an intensely spiritual person, I have always used the mantra of the Mass as a tool to “get quiet,” and indeed to meditate. If I had been raised a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Buddhist I’m fairly certain that I would do the same, because prayer is what provided me a window into my spiritual consciousness and helped me develop my own worldview.

I do not judge others who do not share my religion, nor do I try to impose my views upon them. It is one of the things I despise during this political season: the idea that one group thinks they are “more holy” than another, simply because of their overt religiousity. It is this nonsense that undercuts the entire political process, not to mention adding to great divide that exists in America.

As I have stated repeatedly throughout this blog, I take the responsibility of producing documentary films very seriously. My training as a young journalist mandated that I become an excellent researcher, and since my films are often outside of the norm of mainstream journalism, facts are the prime currency I wield.

Many of you: doctors, parents, critics, may not like GENERATION RX — and that is fine with me. But if my film helps spur the much-needed debate about the overuse of psyciatric medicines among children and teens, I will gladly take the heat from those who believe these medicines are “a godsend.” If you actually see the entire film when it is released, you will know that for all of the damning evidence I present in the film, NONE of it is designed to take away your choice to use these medicines. I call that “medical freedom of choice,” and it is a tenet at the core of my beliefs.

So, let the insults fly, if you must. . .but become part of the debate. My only request is that critics realize this has nothing to do with religion. Rather, this film is about a pattern of deception by the federal government and drug companies regarding the “science” behind these powerful drugs.

If we start the debate there, perhaps we can actually attain what my Latin teacher once called, “Pax Mentis,” or “peace of mind” — and accomplish something really important for this generation and the next.

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