Randy's Corner Deli Library

27 May 2009

Did Wilco's Jay Bennett Die Because He Lacked Health Insurance?


Did Wilco's Jay Bennett Die Because He Lacked Health Insurance?

Today news broke that Jay Bennett, a singer/songwriter most famous for his work with the band Wilco, died during his sleep on Sunday. Bennett, who earlier in the month sued Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, recently blogged that he needed hip replacement surgery, but lackedhealth insurance to cover its costs.

Bennett, who was famously fired from Wilco after butting heads with Tweedy during the filming of I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a documentary about the band, sued Tweedy earlier this month for breach of contract and $50,000 in unpaid royalties, a move allegedly motivated by Bennett's declining health and his desperate need for money to cover his medical expenses. Though an autopsy to determine Bennett's cause of death is pending, and it should be noted that he has battled drug addiction in the past, it's hard not to wonder if Bennett's inability to get care for his hip didn't contribute to his death. In a Myspace blog post regarding his health dated April 24th this year, Bennett wrote:

I've been close to bedridden since I last "saw" y'all. After burying my proverbial head in the proverbial sand since last summer, I finally decided it was time I "face the music," and find out what was causing the severe pain and immobility in my right leg. I have had a torn A.C.L. in that knee for many years (caused by a "daring," well, uh, really just ill-planned, and poorly executed, stage jump at Seventh Street Entry in Minneapolis, with Titanic Love Affair), and suspected that time had most likely further worn down, or even torn loose some more cartilage, most likely causing premature arthritis. So, after much prompting from friends and loved ones ("Jay that limp is NOT getting any better"), bright and early one Monday morning I decided to simply open up the Yellow Pages, and find the first Orthopedic Medicine Clinic with an immediate opening and find out what a large part of me did not want to find out. I braced myself for a diagnosis of additional minor knee surgery to remove some "floating" cartilage, and told myself that maybe all I needed was a cortisone shot or two, or something like that…but, something deep down inside was telling me this could well be something bigger and badder (or else why would I have "run" from it for so long). I DID NOT brace myself for THE diagnosis of the need for a complete hip replacement (ball and socket, if you will). I just about fainted when I saw the X-Rays of that hip….holy &%$#*, what a mess I had made. The doctor sized me up at 5'9" (well actually, now a bit shorter than that on one side) and concluded that most likely I was not a basketball player, yet recognized the damage as that typically caused by repetitive high impact sports activity. Well, I knew in a heartbeat that could mean only one thing…. and, yes, you guessed it—-a decade plus of multiple nightly stage jumps and various other rock and roll theatrics had finally taken a toll that I could no longer merely "deal with," or ignore, even if I were to change my evil ways (baby). As I dizzily drove home (a drive I can barely remember), I alternately rode waves of the power derived from finally having the knowledge I had both craved and avoided, and of the fear of an uncertain future.

Well, it turns out that these types of injuries don't really heal themselves, as I naively told myself might just magically happen, if I rested that leg, used a cane for a while, and lost a bit of weight. So, major surgery it was to be…the only glitch, I am among our nations under-insured (my previous injury to that leg was listed as a pre-existing condition, and any injury that could be linked to the same root cause, I was told would not be covered). Some time passed as I contemplated my next "move,"—-how to come up with the money to pay for the surgery "out of pocket," and as I brainstormed, my hip finally decided to lock up, and the pain got worse. So I began the arduous, or more accurately, extremely time consuming and endlessly frustrating, process of finding a surgeon and hospital that would perhaps "cut me a deal," be willing to bargain/barter a bit, or at least allow me to make installment payments. As it turns out, this is possible, but also difficult to arrange, if you can not come up with a sizable down payment as a show good faith, etc. I have been saving as much money as possible ever since I made this new commitment to my health, my future, and my quality of life, and have sold off some vintage recording gear, whose monetary collectors value now far outweighs it's functional value.

I still don't know exactly when my surgery will be, but I have learned a good deal about the procedure, and that has helped to make me MUCH less fearful. The double dose of anxiety caused by the pain, and the quite natural fear of the invasive surgery itself, really had me in its grip for a while, but now it only comes in waves. Once I am able to get a down payment of sorts together and actually have the surgery performed, I have been told that I then have only about six to eight weeks of physical therapy before I should be operating at approximately 80% capacity—-these types of joint replacements have come light years in the past five years or so. The way I look at it, I'm functioning WAY below 80% right now, so what do I have to lose? Except a limp, some pain, some anxiety, and some weight. In many ways, I'm really looking forward to it, and wish I could go in tomorrow.

We hate to get all political at the time of a man's death, but if a well-established musician/producer like Jay Bennettcouldn't afford the health care he needed to seek treatment for his crippling injuries, what hope does that leave for the rest of us in this country? His story is intolerably sad, not to mention downright scary.

Finally, a Wilco spokesperson released this statement from Tweedy and the rest of the band earlier today:

"We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him — as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."

Jay Bennett was 45 years old.

26 May 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

While the rest of the world was barbequing, beaching, and, I am sure, remembering those who fought to preserve the liberty we possess in this country, I couldn't help also remembering the values that those who fought and died for.

I know that my uncles Maurice, Willy and Jack would be turning in their graves if they could see what has become of this country, dominated as it has been by people who felt that government was, and is, the enemy and that the marketplace would be self-correcting. I am sure that the Cohen and Diamond boys who fought Germans and Japanese to preserve our freedom, who came home to welcoming arms and proceeded to build this country into a superpower would be glad to have seen me, in 1980, marching in protest against what we were all certain then would be the end of the world as we knew it with Reagan's "voodoo economics" programs which left, as we knew he would, rabid foxes foaming at the mouth in charge of the poorly guarded chicken coops. But what is there to do now besides make the best of the situation?

Instead of dwelling on the past this Memorial Day, I dwelt on memories and feelings that I knew would present themselves when I had the chance to start to sift through a collection of old documents, letters and photos that had belonged to my mother and which I began to scan into my portable hard-drive so that they would be preserved forever.

I discovered letter upon letter. About mundane topics like money, the weather and love. It's interesting that people put pencil to paper just to say hello to faraway relatives, in a time period when to make a "long distance" call was the acme of technological achievement. As I write these words, I hear Barbara Streisand in the background singing "The Way We Were" so I will relent and here insert a YouTube video of Streisand singing it in 1975. I was 14. Life was indeed so much simpler then.

As I waded my way through the dusty wrappers on the documents, I ran across the Congregation Kneseth Israel (Hammond, Indiana) building dedication book. I spent almost 5 hours carefully scanning each page, looking closely at the advertising and the pictures of the men, women and children who comprised that group. Many of them were immigrants from Europe. The Cantor, Lipschitz (whom my Uncle Jimmy used to call "ShitLips"), I found out, was delivered from the Dachau Concentration Camp and made his way eventually to the outskirts of Southeast Chicago, over the state line in Hammond. The Rabbi was likewise a refugee from Hitler's Germany in 1938. If that isn't good and lucky timing, I don't know what is.

The sense of common purpose, to have a place where Jewish people in Hammond and surrounding communities could come and have a place to socialize, pray and gripe together was palpable, jumping off each page.

As it happens, my great-grandfather, I.L. (Israel Louis) Cohen had donated the land on which the Jewish cemetery sits and where I want to be buried when the time comes, assuming there is room there. My connection to my own past was brought front and center to me by looking at that book. I vow that if I ever get the chance to name a building, it'll be the "I.L. Cohen Center" as a fitting tribute to a man who sold paint and wallpaper from his Sibley Avenue store in Hammond, Indiana and whose picture I look at every day as he mixes paint by hand sitting out in front of the store on an upside-down paint can, complete with his fedora, white shirt and slacks and a great big smile.

I discovered my grandfather and grandmother's (Milton Diamond and Jean Cohen) ketubah from 1929. It is yellowed with age, the folds in the page reinforced with scotch tape, but the Hebrew script was just as beautiful if as unintelligible to me as it is today. Fortunately, they had the foresight and smarts to translate the Hebrew into English. It was a reminder not only of my Jewishness, but also of my grandma Jean, who was such a beautiful person, but who admitted on more than one occasion that she'd really died April 23, 1964 when Milt did at 57 and his fourth and final heart attack. My Grandma Jean was a beautiful person if not the best businesswoman in the world. My mother used to say that she had the "reverse Midas touch" -- everything that Grandma Jean touched turned to shit. And so went so much property down the toilet, back to the city, because she didn't know how to run a business, nor apparently how to pay property taxes before they took the properties back.

If I told you that my Grandparents had a 22-room mansion complete with circular driveway on 4 acres, you wouldn't probably believe me. But it's very true. She held it for so long that by the time she was ready to sell it, the home had deteriorated to such an extent as to be nearly worthless. I think my mother got $150,000 for it when she had to eliminate all signs of wealth so that she could go on Medicaid when she went into -- and did not come out of -- the Northwest Home for the Aged on Devon and California back in Rogers Park, Chicago.

If there's one thing that I can't stand it's old-folks homes of the sort that both my mother and my grandmother went into. Warehouses. Smells of urine mixed with shit and puke and bleach. Please, before I get that bad, I hope that somebody will have the guts to load me up on sleeping pills and let me go out peacefully, without the cost or headache to Mitchell. The last thing I want for him is to stick me in one of those places. Shoot me first, willya?

The other bit of interesting information I ran across was a certificate given to my grandpa Milt Diamond who was chairman of the Jewish Welfare Board during WWII. He was quite the history buff, and I remember as a kid listening to old 78rpm shellac records that he'd made when FDR came on the radio or there was some other event taking place that deserved to be recorded for posterity. (Question: how different is the meaning and intent behind blogs and arts and letters in general today, with the obvious exception of the technology we have at our disposal? People like my grandfather knew they'd be of some value someday to someone. Sadly at the end of my mother's life, she sold e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in order to live out her life, my grandfather's record and film collection as well as my baseball card collection whom some lucky buyer now has in his or her possession. You might say that she was wrong in selling those things without asking first, but you luckily did not know my mother. She asked permission from no-one.)

There was one particularly great shot of the Cohen sisters (my grandma Jean, Aunt Norine and Aunt Sarah (whom everyone called "Sallie") and their husbands, all in a row. Milt, Jean, Norine, Kal (Waller), Sarah and Charlie (Kohen)...in a photographic style redolent with late 50s elegance, charm and class. They all had such a way about them that few people today can replicate, especially my grandmother and my Aunt Sallie, whom I adored. Her husband, Charles Kohen, ran a stamp and coin shop in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. until he died sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. He was a great guy, friends with Admiral Hyman Rickover and pen pals with Harry Truman. I have a letter of his that I'll dig up and scan and post here at some point, along with an official invitation to the 1972 Presidential inauguration of Richard Nixon. I missed that soiree, but the invitation itself is an amazing piece of history to be in my possession.

This Memorial Day was a very special one, because instead of my usual marathon of WWII moves like "Saving Private Ryan" or the "Band of Brothers" series, all of which I have on DVD, I felt like getting next to those who brought me memories for good or for ill. I've decided that memories are what they are - things, events that happened in the past about which we can do nothing but learn. I'm still struggling with the lessons I was presented with yesterday, though I have to say that it was a comforting feeling getting to see names and places I hadn't seen in years -- since the last time I was in Hammond was to bury my mother five years ago this October. A desolate, run down spot in the rust belt, still there, but nowhere near the vibrant community that once thrived there. Memories. They shouldn't be relegated for study to one day out of the year.

'White Ribbon' wins Palme d'Or

Ken Loach, the winner of the Ecumenical Prize, was the person in charge of the succesful protest against an Israeli filmmaker at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Through protests and letters, the EFF relented and let the Israeli filmmaker come to Edinburgh (paid for by the State of Israel) and exhibit her film. It's a pity when anti-Semites like Loach get rewarded for disgusting behavior as he did at Cannes.

Randy Shiner

White Ribbon' wins Palme d'Or

Sony Classics duo top Cannes Film Festival

Michael Haneke
'Happiness is a rare thing, but this is a moment in my life when I am truly happy,' said Michael Haneke, whose 'The White Ribbon' took top prize.

In awards that ran the gamut from the widely predicted to the jaw-dropping, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” a stark, black-and-white drama set in a rural German village on the eve of WWI, received the Palme d’Or from the jury of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.

Haneke, who had previously won the director award for “Cache” (2005) and the Grand Prix for “The Piano Teacher” (2001), received his first Palme from a visibly delighted Isabelle Huppert, president of the jury. Huppert had won Cannes’ actress award for “The Piano Teacher.”

“Happiness is a rare thing, but this is a moment in my life when I am truly happy,” Haneke said in his acceptance speech.

The Grand Prix went to French helmer Jacques Audiard’s tough prison drama “A Prophet,” which had been a front-runner for a major prize since screening early on in the fest.

The top two prizes rep a coup for Sony Pictures Classics, which acquired North American rights to “The White Ribbon” before the festival and will distribute “A Prophet” in multiple territories, including the U.S.

Sole kudo to an American-helmed film, in a competition light on U.S. fare, was the actor prize for Christoph Waltz for his multilingual turn as the Nazi “Jew Hunter” in Quentin Tarantino’s German-U.S. production “Inglourious Basterds.” The 52-year-old Vienna-born thesp was previously unknown outside Germany, where he’s spent most of his career in TV.

“I owe this award to (my role as) Col. Landa,” said Waltz in his acceptance speech, “and his unique and inimitable creator, Quentin Tarantino.”

To a standing ovation in the Grand Theater Lumiere, French vet Alain Resnais, who turns 87 next month (and was in competition with the elegant tragicomedy “Wild Grass”), received a lifetime achievement nod for his work and contributions to the history of cinema. The visibly frail helmer declared it “completely surprising,” a possibly ironic reference to his stormy past relations with the fest (starting with 1974’s “Stavisky ...”), from which he’s previously won only one award, the Grand Prix for “Mon oncle d’Amerique.”

While many other Cannes fave auteurs were completely passed over by the jury -- including Pedro Almodovar,Ang Lee and Palme laureates Ken Loach and Jane Campion -- Danish maverick Lars von Trier’s latest headline-grabber, “Antichrist,” at least walked away with an actress kudo for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance as a mother whose grief over her child’s death takes a psychotic turn.

Sharing the jury prize were Brit director Andrea Arnold’s slice-of-lifer “Fish Tank” and Korean helmer Park Chan-wook’s vampire meller “Thirst.” Arnold scooped the same award three years ago with her debut feature, “Red Road,” while Park won the Grand Prix in 2004 for “Oldboy.”

Australian helmer Warwick Thornton’s well-received Aboriginal teen drama, “Samson and Delilah,” nabbed the Camera d’Or for first film.

Though several of the awards had largely been predicted and were generally seen as well deserved, many others were seen as among the quirkiest in recent memory.

All three of the Asian kudos drew heavy booing from the assembled press corps. Biggest scorn was reserved for the director prize for Filipino Brillante Mendoza’s rape-and-dismemberment drama “Kinatay” (of which even admiring jury member Hanif Kureishi admitted, “I don’t ever want to see it again, myself”), followed by jeers for “Thirst” and mainland Chinese director Lou Ye’s “Spring Fever,” which copped the nod for screenplay (generally seen as its weakest element).

These awards appeared to have reflected deep divisions within the nine-member jury, which, apart from Huppert, included directors James GrayNuri Bilge Ceylan and Lee Chang-dong; writer Kureishi; and actressesRobin Wright PennShu QiAsia Argento and Sharmila Tagore.

Before the awards ceremony, rumors were already circulating that jury discussions had been particularly fraught. One member described it as the worst jury experience he’d ever had, while another was said to have described Huppert as a “fascist.” Onstage, Huppert, looking visibly tense, referred to “an unforgettable week” and “several hours, uh, several moments of deliberation.”

Show’s host, comedian Edouard Baer, jokingly suggested that the onstage jury might “perhaps exchange telephone numbers and addresses” before parting. However, at the press conference afterward, several members went out of their way to stress that deliberations were “harmonious” and “democratic.”

Somewhat less harmoniously, the ecumenical jury, which presented its annual award for spiritual values in filmmaking to Loach’s “Looking for Eric,” bestowed an “anti-prize” on von Trier’s “Antichrist.” Cannes fest director Thierry Fremaux was quick to denounce the dubious honor, calling it a “ridiculous decision that borders on a call for censorship,” particularly from a jury headed by a filmmaker, Romania’s Radu Mihaileanu.

In other Cannes sections, the Un Certain Regard prize went to Greek drama “Dogtooth” from Yorgos Lanthimos.

Gallic helmer Nassim Amaouche’s “Goodbye Gary” and Belgian Caroline Strubbe’s “Lost Person’s Area” took top honors in the 48th Critics’ Week section.

Directors’ Fortnight honors went to Canadian helmer Xavier Dolan’s “J’ai tue ma mere” (I Killed My Mother), which won the Art Cinema Award, the Regards Jeunes 2009 Prize and the SACD Prize. The other Directors’ Fortnight kudo, the Europa Cinemas prize, went to Austrian docu-fiction “La Pivellina,” by Tizza Covi andRainer Frimmel.


Palme d'Or 
"The White Ribbon" (Michael Haneke, Germany-France-Austria-Italy)

Grand Prix 
"A Prophet" (Jacques Audiard, France)

Lifetime achievement award
Alain Resnais, "Wild Grass" (France)

Brillante Mendoza ("Kinatay," France-Philippines)

Jury prize 
"Fish Tank" (Andrea Arnold, U.K.), "Thirst" (Park Chan-wook, South Korea-U.S.)

Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds" (U.S.-Germany)

Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Antichrist" (Denmark-Germany-France-Sweden-Italy-Poland)

Mei Feng"Spring Fever" (Hong Kong-France)


Main Prize 
"Dogtooth" (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)

Jury Prize 
"Police, Adjective" (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania)

Special Prize 
"No One Knows About Persian Cats" (Bahman Ghobadi, Iran), "Father of My Children" (Mia Hansen-Love, France)


Camera d'Or 
"Samson and Delilah" (Warwick Thornton)

Special Mention 
"Ajami" (Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani, Israel-Germany)

Critics' Week Grand Prix 
"Farewell Gary" (Nassim Amamouche, France)


"The White Ribbon" (Michael Haneke, Germany-Austria-France-Italy)

Un Certain Regard
"Police, Adjective" (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania)

Directors' Fortnight
"Amreeka" (Cherien Dabis, Canada-Kuwait-U.S.)


Palme d'Or 
"Arena" (Joao Salaviza, Portugal)

Special Mention 
"The Six Dollar Fifty Man" (Mark AlbistonLouis Sutherland, New Zealand)


First Prize
"Baba" (Zuzana Kirchnerova-Spidlova)

Second Prize
"Goodbye" (Song Fang)

Third Prize
"Diploma" (Yaelle Kayam)
"Don't Step Out of the House" (Jo Sung-hee)

"Looking for Eric" (Ken Loach, U.K.-France-Italy-Belgium-Spain)

Aitor Berenguer, sound mixer ("Map of the Sounds of Tokyo," Spain)

California: State of Paralysis


State of Paralysis

Published: May 24, 2009

California, it has long been claimed, is where the future happens first. But is that still true? If it is, God help America.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman


Times Topics: California

Readers' Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

The recession has hit the Golden State hard. The housing bubble was bigger there than almost anywhere else, and the bust has been bigger too. California’s unemployment rate, at 11 percent, is the fifth-highest in the nation. And the state’s revenues have suffered accordingly.

What’s really alarming about California, however, is the political system’s inability to rise to the occasion.

Despite the economic slump, despite irresponsible policies that have doubled the state’s debt burden since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, California has immense human and financial resources. It should not be in fiscal crisis; it should not be on the verge of cutting essential public services and denying health coverage to almost a million children. But it is — and you have to wonder if California’s political paralysis foreshadows the future of the nation as a whole.

The seeds of California’s current crisis were planted more than 30 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that placed the state’s budget in a straitjacket. Property tax rates were capped, and homeowners were shielded from increases in their tax assessments even as the value of their homes rose.

The result was a tax system that is both inequitable and unstable. It’s inequitable because older homeowners often pay far less property tax than their younger neighbors. It’s unstable because limits on property taxation have forced California to rely more heavily than other states on income taxes, which fall steeply during recessions.

Even more important, however, Proposition 13 made it extremely hard to raise taxes, even in emergencies: no state tax rate may be increased without a two-thirds majority in both houses of the State Legislature. And this provision has interacted disastrously with state political trends.

For California, where the Republicans began their transformation from the party of Eisenhower to the party of Reagan, is also the place where they began their next transformation, into the party of Rush Limbaugh. As the political tide has turned against California Republicans, the party’s remaining members have become ever more extreme, ever less interested in the actual business of governing.

And while the party’s growing extremism condemns it to seemingly permanent minority status — Mr. Schwarzenegger was and is sui generis — the Republican rump retains enough seats in the Legislature to block any responsible action in the face of the fiscal crisis.

Will the same thing happen to the nation as a whole?

Last week Bill Gross of Pimco, the giant bond fund, warned that the U.S. government may lose its AAA debt rating in a few years, thanks to the trillions it’s spending to rescue the economy and the banks. Is that a real possibility?

Well, in a rational world Mr. Gross’s warning would make no sense. America’s projected deficits may sound large, yet it would take only a modest tax increase to cover the expected rise in interest payments — and right now American taxes are well below those in most other wealthy countries. The fiscal consequences of the current crisis, in other words, should be manageable.

But that presumes that we’ll be able, as a political matter, to act responsibly. The example of California shows that this is by no means guaranteed. And the political problems that have plagued California for years are now increasingly apparent at a national level.

To be blunt: recent events suggest that the Republican Party has been driven mad by lack of power. The few remaining moderates have been defeated, have fled, or are being driven out. What’s left is a party whose national committee has just passed a resolution solemnly declaring that Democrats are “dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals,” and released a video comparing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Pussy Galore.

And that party still has 40 senators.

So will America follow California into ungovernability? Well, California has some special weaknesses that aren’t shared by the federal government. In particular, tax increases at the federal level don’t require a two-thirds majority, and can in some cases bypass the filibuster. So acting responsibly should be easier in Washington than in Sacramento.

But the California precedent still has me rattled. Who would have thought that America’s largest state, a state whose economy is larger than that of all but a few nations, could so easily become a banana republic?

On the other hand, the problems that plague California politics apply at the national level