Jewel Inspires Hope

JewelLast week I interviewed platinum recording artist Jewel about her life, her love of the arts, her music, and her love of learning.

Here’s my interview with Jewel. Note: The podcast has some unclear audio, but it is worth listening to Jewel!

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Baring It All – Glee’s Charlotte Ross Tells How Investing Small Can Have Big Payoffs

Charlotte RossCharlotte Ross, who plays Judy Fabray, the uptight mother of Quinn Fabray on the hit TV series “Glee,” is now playing another role.

She is the new spokesperson for Operation Blankets of Love, which is based in Granada Hills, Calif. The grassroots group started out by bringing blankets to animal shelters, which often have cold — and sometimes wet — floors. This small investment has had big payoffs. The warmth and comfort of the blankets make animals more playful, which in turn makes them more adoptable, Ross says. And that can mean the difference between life and death for these animals, she explains.

Ross is such an animal advocate that she has turned to the power of documentary to spread her message. She is currently in the midst of producing a documentary following individual stories of why pet owners have had to leave their pets at shelters. Some of the stories turn out well for the animals, and unfortunately, some won’t, she says.

Documentaries, while much cheaper to produce than feature films, are often costly. But Ross says they can be done on a shoestring budget. Ross worked on a documentary that cost $10,000. As with any product, genuine passion sells, and Ross’ passion attracted other investors who believed in her cause and who wanted to contribute their time. Fundraising for the project started with something any kid can do – a lemonade stand, which Ross, a single mother, and her child set up. Ross says the cost to produce her documentary will exceed $10,000 but is keeping the price down through soliciting volunteerism. Once the documentary is complete, she will seek funding for a strong release to give it some legs, she says.

Ross will be starring opposite Nicholas Cage in the upcoming feature “Drive Angry,” which will be released on February 11 nationwide. Ross describes the movie as a surreal journey that Nicholas Cage’s character goes on in which she plays a character with a hard life and “strange” values. The film leans on action and violence, she says. It was shot in 3D, and Ross reveals that “I did full frontal nudity for the first time in my career, which actually I’ve been not only kind of against but have passed on.” She took on this role because, with the tendency to get typecast as the girl-next-door, she tries to take on character roles that are as far from her own experiences as possible and get into their minds and souls. But full frontal nudity wasn’t easy for her and required a martini before shooting and workouts of 3 to 4 hours a day.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s Plea: Help Our Soldiers Who Have Invisible Wounds

Patrick Kennedy
Patrick Kennedy has been a relentless fighter for the rights of people with brain disorders to have their diagnoses covered by insurance like any other medical condition. His focus has now become understanding the etiology of brain disorders and changing the way Americans view them by looking at them through the eyes of our soldiers.

It is not possible to report the exact numbers of soldiers who have come home with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because the Veterans Administration can only track soldiers who sign up with it. Further, these injuries can slip by undiagnosed in both veterans and active duty soldiers both because the soldier may not relate the symptoms to injury and because the symptoms may be considered by the soldier as signs of weak moral fiber and he or she may be unwilling to seek treatment. However, it is clear the numbers stretch into the hundreds of thousands.

Invisible wounds in the brain are no less debilitating than lost limbs. In fact, they may be more debilitating (which is not to take anything away from the pain and suffering of any wounded soldier). PTSD affects a region of the brain that, when damaged, plays out in destructive behaviors that have led to an unemployment rate among some groups of veterans that is double that of civilians and to the breakup of families. As a result, the invisible wounds scar those who surround the affected soldiers, and they–their loved ones–have now become the newest victims of war.

Worse, PTSD, with its nightmarish flashbacks, has too often proven too much for even strong soldiers to bear. Suicide rates nearly doubled between 2009 and 2010, according to an Army report on Guard and Reserve Soldiers.

“We can’t allow suicide to claim more of our soldiers’ lives than killed in action, and right now it is,” Patrick Kennedy said. “[I]t’s precisely because these wounds are invisible that our response to these wounds have been inadequate,” he said.

“Most people assume [PSTD] will be covered by the VA,” but most symptoms will manifest over time “and will not be treated with the same urgency that someone with a … a visible wound of war will receive,” Patrick Kennedy said. “Our nation’s heroes, our veterans, need the most generous application of … mental health parity that can be [provided] in terms of these benefits.”

(While serving in Congress Patrick Kennedy introduced the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. Patrick Kennedy continues to work to get the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 fully implemented. The Parity Act requires health insurers that cover mental health to provide the same amount of coverage as they do for other illnesses.

“I see the epidemic of suicide by our soldiers as the result of not only the lack of good therapeutics and screening and diagnostics and treatments, I see it as a direct result of stigma,” Patrick Kennedy said. If these soldiers were wearing their wound in prosthetics, no one would question their wounds as legitimate or question their moral character or fiber, he continued.

“[Our soldiers] suicide rates are the Sputnik for our generation,” Patrick Kennedy said. He pointed out that not treating these invisible wounds is a national security problem. “Among those [soldiers with these invisible wounds] are the people who are going to be in the [National] Guard and the Reserves,” he said.

The key, Patrick Kennedy said, is “making sure that these veterans don’t get left behind,… [and making] sure that they don’t suffer twice… the indignity of losing their job or falling into healthcare bankruptcy, because of the untreated wounds of traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.”

At this point “we need to ensure that the politics align, so that the federal government, and private health insurers, and private employers understand that it’s in their interests to implement [mental health parity], in other words, that’s it’s a cost saver,” Patrick Kennedy said. As evidence he noted that in this county, the Fortune 100 companies provide the best mental health insurance programs, “because they know it’s the key to their workforce being a productive workforce.”

Patrick Kennedy has a different reason for helping soldiers and all Americans with brain disorders — it’s right thing to do, he said. He added that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the service people who are preventing another 9-11.

On my blog on The Huffington Post, I wrote about my interview with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and his fight for parity in medical coverage of the brain – no more carve outs. Years ago he pointed out to me that health insurers don’t carve out parts of the kidney, why should they be able to carve out parts of the brain? I thought that was a good point.

The day I interviewed him, Patrick Kennedy was meeting with the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on fully implementing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. He wants to make sure “we get the best regulations possible that will effectively implement the spirit of the parity law, which is that no one should be denied medically necessary treatment for an illness that is a mental illness,” he said.

HHS and DOL are in the process of putting regulations into place to implement “the requirement of all health insurers to treat the brain as an organ of the body” to make sure all the symptoms of neurologically-based disorders are adequately covered, he said.

However, and here’s where the rubber meets the road: We need to make sure the regulations are written to ensure the right treatments and coverage so as to make certain people are treated the same for a mental illness as they would for any other physical illness, he said (which is to say, no loopholes).

The intent of the Parity Act “won’t matter if it’s not put into practice,” Patrick Kennedy said.

Patrick Kennedy: Moonshot Mission, Houston, We Have Problem

In my recent interview with Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy for my blog on the Huffington Post, he spoke about Moonshot, his project to launch the study of the brain as a whole to determine the overlap of neurological conditions and come up with new treatments.

During that conversation, Patrick Kennedy expressed concern that many drug manufacturers are backing out of new drug development for brain disorders. Even though drugs, such as the blockbuster Prozac, are the industry’s biggest moneymakers, new drugs are not being developed.

“They have not come up with a significant new breakthrough in neuroscience in a generation!” Patrick Kennedy says. He attributes this failure to the Food and Drug Administration, saying that the rules of the game aren’t defined in a way that gives confidence to the venture capitals that, if they invest in the enterprises that do the research, they’ll benefit from it. The FDA does not have a regulatory model that’s conducive to the complexity of this type of medical research, he says. On the high end, it the industry claims it costs $1.26 billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, and it has less than a 2 percent chance of success. So, the industry’s money is better invested in a “me, too,” drug.

So all you’ve gotten is “me, too” drugs. “None of us knows this because we keep thinking that the son of Prozac is a new drug, when it isn’t. They’re all the same,” he says.

On the high end, it the industry claims it costs $1.26 billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, and it has less than a 2 percent chance of success. So, the industry’s money is better invested in a “me, too,” drug.

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Ben Stein
Charlotte Ross
Ludacris, Photo Credit: AP/Wide World Photos
Laila Ali, Photo Credit: Peter Langone
Brett Michaels, Photo Credit: Nancy Mazzei
Carl Reiner, Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ric Francis
Jane Seymour
Stuart Damon, Photo Credit: Ken Matthews
John O’Hurley
Jim Cramer
George Wallace
Annika Sorenstam
Bill Rancic, Photo Credit: America Now
Kevin Sorbo
Larry Guli, Photo Credit: Shandon Youngclaus
Christian McBride, Photo Credit: Chi Modu
Adam Mesh

The Other Side of the Window by S.Z. Berg


Rated 5 stars at both and Amazon!

What would you do if you knew the truth, but no one would believe you?

"[Y]ou will be hooked until the last page." William D. Curnutt "Pastor Dan" (Wichita, KS, United States)

"Savannah [will become] that scared, struggling, terrified part of you ... it won't much feel like reading, but like living it yourself, and intensely." L.E.Olteano - Butterfly-o-meter Books

"[H]er story will stay with you and make you look at those around you with a little more compassion and understanding, and maybe even a little more paranoia!" Amanda Alberson

"[T]he story will haunt you long after! " J. Sprague

William Edwards and the Wizardly Glasses


William Edwards was not good at anything, or so he was told. When he doesn’t bring home a soccer trophy (when they’re given out just for showing up), his banker parents (who bought him off the Internet) think he’s an investment that’s just not paying off. Oh, they are a frightful pair, indeed, even throwing mustard parties, with plenty of gluten, when William is allergic to mustard — and has celiac, so he can’t eat wheat!

But everything changes for William when a knowing old lady gives him a pair of big green glasses with rose-colored lenses. His classmates tease him, because he looks like a frog. But they turn out to be wizardly glasses, and William is transported to Winkleberry, a school for children with wizzies (magical powers). There he meets a smart young girl, Bora, and another boy, Zandall, who help William learn about his wizzies and accidentally lead him to a time travel machine. But before William can travel back in time to save his real parents, who are being held captive in 1929 by a zygot (a monster that inhabits the homes of mean people), William must protect the gene pool in his fake parents’ back yard from mutation!