Monday, June 26, 2017

Health Care Reform Rhetoric

The Health care reform bills currently being considered in Congress have generated an avalanche of political posturing and outrageous claims on the part of the Democrat opposition. Even though they tacitly and sometimes openly admit that the ever increasing premiums and deductibles of Obamacare are unsustainable, they argue that the Republican reforms are even worse.

Let’s examine some of their objections.

Both the bill passed by the House of Representatives and the one now under consideration in the Senate came under severe criticism because of reports from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that between 15 and 20 million people would lose their health insurance. Political commentators and Democrat politicians were quick to jump on this estimate and paint the Trump administration and the Republicans as big, bad, meanies out to pull the rug out beneath the Nation’s needy.  

Yet, even the CBO admits that the majority of those who will lose their coverage will voluntarily drop their coverage once they will no longer be forced to buy it or pay a cash penalty. President Obama promised people they could keep their policies if they liked them, but Obamacare forced them to surrender those policies. Obamacare then forced millions of people who did not want medical insurance or felt they did not need it to buy it. It is hard to blame them since the high deductibles and premiums seemed a bad deal. In fact, millions of people chose to pay the tax penalty rather than buy those Obamacare policies.  

Opponents of the Republican bills also claim that millions of American currently on Medicaid will lose their medical benefits. However, it would appear that they are not talking about the poor and needy. Apparently, those threatened are former members of the upper and middle classes who now reside in nursing homes and whose care is paid for by Medicaid.

For decades eldercare lawyers and financial planners have been advising well-to-do clients to give away their assets to family members or family trusts before they get infirm enough to go into a nursing home. Since the government will pay their costs, their families can retain the often considerable assets of their elderly parents. Why, these advisors reason, should such assets be used for nursing home care, when, if done properly, the government will pick up the cost.

States have been long aware of these tactics and though they have tried to restrict their use and prevent last minute asset giveaways. Some States have even given tax incentives to residents who purchase nursing home care insurance policies in the hope that these insureds will stay off the Medicaid rolls. Nursing home costs are the largest part of any State’s Medicaid bill. So, who is the real victim here? It’s too bad that when people think the government will pick up the tab, it never occurs to them that their neighbors are footing the bill, or that the money could have been used for the real poor.

Actually, it does not appear that the Republican bills will directly deal with this practice. Rather, they want to give block grants to the States so that the States themselves can decide how best to deal with their poor and elderly.

Finally, how can anyone with a straight face claim that the Republican health care reform efforts lack transparency? The proposals are out there for anyone to see and criticize even though Democrats like my own Senators and representative in Connecticut have made it clear that they oppose any reform measures. What ever happened to the Nancy Pelosi strategy of passing the bill before reading it?


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

Today is Father's Day in America and the TV listings indicate that a number of favorite films depicting fathers will be aired. The relationship between a father and his children is one of the most frequently used themes in world literature and drama. 

We find it in ancient epic poems like the Odyssey and the Aeneid. Jesus dealt with if in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. Shakespeare Hamlet is based on the hero's loss of his father, and King Lear explores the relationship of a father with his three daughters. Dostoyevsky's great novel "the Brothers Karamazov" is all about a father and his sons.

One of my favorite depictions of the relationship of a father and his son is in the great Italian classic, Pinocchio, written in the late nineteenth century by Carlo Collodi. It immediately became a huge hit in Italy and its worldwide popularity continues to the present day. In the story the father, the carpenter Gepetto, actually carves a puppet out of wood although it is a very unusual piece of wood that seems to have a mind of its own.The bachelor carpenter views the puppet as his own son but almost immediately the son takes off on a series of wild adventures.

About fifteen years ago Roberto Benign, the great Italian comedian, directed his own version of the story that far exceeded the older Disney version. It was a  huge hit in Italy but was not well received in America. Critics panned it and it was not helped by a dubbed version that could not include Benign's great comic voice.

Maybe the American public couldn't stomach a Pinocchio that was so far removed from Disney's darling little puppet boy. After all, Carlo Collodi's original Pinocchio is the Italian Huck Finn. He is an impudent, mischievous rascal who refuses to be tamed or civilized and can never stay out of trouble no matter whom he betrays or hurts. On his first day after being fashioned into a puppet, Pinocchio runs away from home, gets Gepetto thrown into jail, and smashes a pedantic little cricket (Disney's famous Jiminy Cricket) with a hammer for presuming to give him good advice.

Fortunately, this great film is available on DVD or youtube but it is important to view the original Italian language version with subtitles. I 've watched the Italian version with grandchildren and they loved it. I’ve shown it to groups of educated seniors and they’ve loved it. 

The touching reunion of father and son is one of the highlights of the film. Here is a link to a brief video of their reunion. Pinocchio has just been swallowed by a huge fish and discovers that  Gepetto has also been swallowed while searching for his wayward and long lost son. Or see below for the clip.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pedophile Priests?

Last Sunday the Connecticut Post, my local newspaper, featured a front page article about the settlement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and the victim of the last of the priestly sexual abuse cases that originated back in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a heart-rending story about a teenage boy who was abused from the age of 15 to 21 by a now-deceased priest of the Diocese.

Based on interviews with the victim and his lawyer, the story described in some detail the nature of the abuse as well as the continued trauma of the victim more than 30 years after the events described. His lawyer summed it up in this way.
“He went through a living hell and his story should remind us of the exploitation that is possible of our youth at the hands of a pedophile allowed to continue to prey upon the innocent.”
It is hard for an ordinary person, Catholic or otherwise, to imagine the suffering that he and other victims of sexual abuse have endured. It is also hard to imagine what kind of man it was who abused him. Years ago, we would have called him a sinner or pervert but now he would probably be seen as suffering from a mental illness.

But his lawyer was wrong to label the priest a “pedophile.” By definition pedophiles prey on pre-pubescent boys and girls. * That is, they are attracted to young boys and girls under the age of 12 or 13. When the sexual abuse scandal erupted many years ago, the American Catholic Church commissioned a study by New York’s prestigious John Jay College of all the known cases of sexual abuse. The study found that most of the victims were teen-age boys.

The results of this exhaustive study also indicated that a little less than 2% of all priests serving during those years had been charged. We know that some of those charges were false and the priests were exonerated. But if we stick with the 2% figure, it would mean that out of 1000 priests, 20 had actually been abusers. To look at it another way, more than 980 of every thousand priests have been true to their vows.

The study went on to say that of the 2% the great majority had preyed on post-pubescent or teen-age boys like the 15-year-old victim in the CT Post story.  In other words, most of the 20 guilty ones in our 1000-man sample were homosexual men preying on young men. It must be stressed that most homosexual men do not prey on teen-age boys but the fact remains that the great majority of the abusers were homosexual men.

You might say, what difference does it make? They were still abusers of children. Nevertheless, to deal with any problem, you must understand its real nature. If you can’t understand the problem, you can’t offer a solution. Some say that allowing priests to marry would have prevented the problem but how would that work if the abusers were homosexual? Are there no incidents of child sexual abuse among married ministers, rabbis and imams?

It would also make a great difference to newspaper reporters, headline writers, cartoonists, or late night comics if they had to condemn priests as homosexuals rather than pedophiles.

Officials in the Catholic Church have been rightly condemned for trying to cover up these stories when they first appeared. Like most Catholics the members of the clergy could not begin to even believe that a small minority of priests could be guilty of such behavior. Nevertheless, they were wrong to try to cover it up, and those who advised them to do so were wrong.

But the cover-up on the part of the media and the press over the past 30 years about the true nature of the abuse has been equally reprehensible. It’s not just that the alliterative phrase “pedophile priest” is catchier than the awkward “homosexual priest.” Anyone today who would claim that the majority of sexual abusers were homosexual men would very likely be branded a “homophobe,” and subjected to the full range of social and political ostracism.


*Pedophilia or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children…

Pedophilia is termed pedophilic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and the manual defines it as a paraphilia involving intense and recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or which cause the person with the attraction distress or interpersonal difficulty.[1] The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) defines it as a sexual preference for children of prepubertal or early pubertal age. (Wikipedia)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Battle of Midway: 75th Anniversary

The anniversary of the Battle of Midway coming as it does on June 4, is usually overshadowed by remembrances of the Allied landings on the coast of Normandy on D-Day, the sixth of June. Nevertheless, if not for the American naval victory in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, D-Day might never have happened.

Nowhere is the story of Midway told better than in Admiral Samuel Morison’s epic history of United States naval operations during the Second World War. Admiral Morison was a rare combination of sailor and historian. Before the war he had written a magisterial biography of Columbus that still ranks with anything ever written about that great sailor. As part of his research Morison even used a sailing ship to cover the route Columbus had taken.

When the war broke out, the U.S. Navy asked Morison to be its official historian. The Navy took pains to put him on actual ships that were very likely to see action. He was not at Midway but his account reads like an eyewitness. Below are excerpts from his depiction of the pivotal two minutes of that epic battle.

First, a little introduction. After their stunning success at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the Japanese had rolled up one victory after another. By the spring of 1942 Japanese strategists thought that they only had to secure the tiny island of Midway in the central Pacific to completely solidify their hegemony over most of Asia.

They sent a huge naval task force including four of their best aircraft carriers and most of their best pilots to take the tiny island in the middle of nowhere. Even though the American navy had been battered at Pearl Harbor, it was able to send a carrier force to intercept the Japanese after code-breakers deciphered enough of the Japanese naval code to reveal that Midway was the target.

The Japanese had already bombed the small garrison at Midway when the American carriers came into range. Admiral Raymond Spruance was in command of the American fleet and he followed the advice of Captain Miles Browning who shrewdly predicted the location of the Japanese force. Spruance launched an immediate attack and the American planes quickly found the Japanese. Unfortunately, the initial torpedo bomber attack was thwarted by Japanese fighters (Jekes). Not one torpedo reached its target and practically all the torpedo bombers were shot down. It seemed like all was lost for the Americans. Morison relates what happened next.  

Lt. Commander McCluskey

"The third torpedo attack was over by 1024, and for about one hundred seconds the Japanese were certain they had won the Battle of Midway, and the war. This was their high tide of victory. Then, a few seconds before 1026, with dramatic suddenness, there came a complete reversal of fortune, wrought by the Dauntless dive-bombers, the SBDs, the most successful and beloved by aviators of all our carrier types during the war. Lieutenant Commander Clarence W. McClusky, air group commander of Enterprise, had two squadrons of SDBs under him: 37 units. He ordered one to follow him in attacking carrier Kaga, while the other, under Lieutenant W. E. Gallaher, pounced on Akagi, Nagumo’s flagship. Their coming in so soon after the last torpedo-bombing attack meant that the Zekes were still close to the water after shooting down TBDs, and had no time to climb. At 14000 feet the American dive-bombers tipped over and swooped screaming down for the kill. Akagi took a bomb which exploded in the hangar, detonating torpedo storage, then another which exploded amid planes changing their armament on the flight deck—just as Browning had calculated. Fires swept the flagship, Admiral Nagumo and staff transferred to cruiser Nagara, and the carrier was abandoned and sunk by a destroyer’s torpedo. Four bomb hits on Kaga killed everyone on the bridge and set her burning from stem to stern. Abandoned by all but a small damage-control crew, she was racked by an internal explosion that evening, and sank hissing into a 2600 fathom deep.

Lt. Commander Leslie

The third carrier was the victim of Yorktown’s dive-bombers, under Lieutenant Commander Maxwell F. Leslie, who by cutting corners managed to make up for a late start. His 17 SBDs jumped Soryu just as she was turning into the wind to launch planes, and planted three half-ton bombs in the midst of the spot. Within  twenty minutes she had to be abandoned . U.S. submarine Nautilus, prowling about looking for targets, pumped three torpedoes into her, the gasoline storage exploded, whipsawing the carrier, and down she went in two sections....

Never has there been a sharper turn in the fortunes of war than on that June day when McClusky’s and Leslie’s dive-bombers snatched the palm of victory from Nagumo’s masthead, where he had nailed it on 7 December.

Midway was a victory not only of courage, determination and excellent bombing technique, but of intelligence, bravely and wisely applied….it might have ended differently but for the chance which gave Spruance command over two of the three flattops. Fletcher did well, but Spruance’s performance was superb. Calm, collected, decisive, yet receptive to advice, keeping in his mind the picture of widely disparate forces, yet boldly seizing every opening, Raymond A. Spruance emerged from this battle one of the greatest admirals in American naval history.

Admiral Spruance

Admirals Nimitz, Fletcher, and Spruance are, as I write, very much alive; Captain Mitscher of Hornet, Captain Murray of Enterprise and Captain Miles Browning of the slide-rule mind have joined the three-score young aviators who met flaming death that day in reversing the verdict of battle. Think of them, reader, every Fourth of June. They and their comrades who survived changed the whole course of the Pacific War."

A recent controversial Japanese film does a remarkable job of reenacting the battle scenes in which brave men on boys sides participated. Here is a link to a brief segment on Midway.