RAGING BULL

“Raging Bull.”  What a great nick-name for a boxer.  It conjures up an aggressive, unrelenting fighter who mauled his opponents in the ring, who would gladly take a punch (or two or three), to give a more punishing one.  Think Joe Frazier or Rocky Balboa on steroids.  Boxing observers of the 1940s through early 1950s, often commented that Jake LaMotta’s face reflected his fighting style.  One sportswriter quipped that LaMotta’s face looked as though “it had caught more fast balls than Yogi Berra’s (MLB catcher for the Yankees) mitt.”  Yes, the moniker fit the fighting style of Jake LaMotta to a tee; unfortunately, it also fit his personality to a tee.

Giacobbe (aka “Jake”) LaMotta was born on July 10, 1922 in NYC.  His father was an émigré from Messina, Italy; his mother was native born.  His family was very poor.  How poor?  Well, his father forced young Jake to fight other kids for mere pocket change as entertainment for the adults in the neighborhood.  The father would use the money to help support the family.

Jake turned pro as a middleweight in 1941 at the age of 19.  Perhaps, his primary attribute was his ability to absorb punishment.  As I said, he was more a brawler than a classic boxer.  He was one of the first boxers to employ the “bully” style of boxing.  Rather than dancing around the ring and relying primarily on quickness and boxing skills, Jake would stay as close to his opponent as possible and slug it out.  This style suited him, as Wikipedia describes him as having a “thick skull” and “one of the greatest chins in boxing history.”  In any event, in 106 career fights he was only knocked down once.  Think about that.  I don’t mean knocked out; I mean knocked down!  Considering his fighting style, that is truly remarkable.

Jake did lose occasionally.  His career record was 83-19-4 ,with 30 knockouts, including five losses to Sugar Ray Robinson in six bouts.  No shame there, as Robinson is considered by some to have been “the best fighter, pound for pound.”  Jake won the Middleweight Title on June 16, 1949.  Remember, in those days, unlike today, there was only one champion in each weight division, so that was a very noteworthy accomplishment.  Jake held the title until February 14, 1951 (St. Valentine’s Day) when he was beaten by Sugar Ray.  Jake took a great deal of punishment and lost by a TKO in what became known in boxing circles as “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (not to be confused with the mob massacre of the same name).

Following that defeat, Jake moved up to the Light Heavyweight division.  He was successful as a light heavyweight, although he suffer his lone knockdown.

After Jake retired from boxing he did not merely fade away as did most boxers.  He owned and managed bars, became an actor and, believe it or not, a stand-up comedian.  Furthermore, Jake appeared in more than a dozen films.  Perhaps the most famous one was The Hustler, the original version with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, which was a real classic.  Jake had a cameo as a bartender.  His most noteworthy tv gig was as a supporting actor (five episodes) in the comedy series Car 54 Where Are You (1961-1963).

As a fighter, although Jake was well-known within the sport, he was not a household name with the general public.  That all changed with the release of Raging Bull in 1980.  The movie starred Robert De Niro as Jake.  De Niro gave a remarkably authentic performance.  He boxed an estimated 1,000 practice rounds so that he could appear realistic as a boxer, and he even gained some 60 pounds so he could present an accurate portrayal of Jake in his retirement.  De Niro won an Oscar, and the film, itself, was an artistic, critical and box office success.  The American Film Institute ranked it as the fourth greatest film ever (behind Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Casablanca).

The movie pulled no punches, so to speak.  Jake was portrayed as a violent and abusive husband.  He was, in fact, married six times, a further indication of his domestic shortcomings.  Jake did not dispute the way he was portrayed.  “I’m no angel,” he told the AP in a 2005 interview.  According to IMDb.com he once asked one of his former wives if the portrayal was really accurate.  “You were worse,” she supposedly said.

CONCLUSION

In his later years, Jake was active on the autograph circuit and published several books about his career and his life.  He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and Ring Magazine, the sport’s bible, ranked him #52 on its list of the Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years.

A movie sequel, named LaMotta: The Bronx Bull, starring William Forsythe, is in production.

Jake passed away on September 19, 2017 at the age of 95, a remarkable lifespan for a boxer who took as much punishment as he did.  Rest in peace, Jake.  You will be sorely missed.

 

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THE SCOURGE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

The Jewish High Holidays will begin tonight, September 20, with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  For the most part, this is a joyous occasion, a time when Jews celebrate their religion and enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends.  True so far as it goes, but, unfortunately, it is also a time when Jews are normally reminded of and confronted by increased anti-Semitic incidents around the world.

Anti-Semitism is virtually as old as recorded history, itself.  Well before the birth of Christ, Jews fought with various pagan-worshipping ancient enemies, such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Philistines who lived in and around the present-day Middle East.  Jews were hated, mistrusted and persecuted, because they did not worship the sun or idols like everyone else.   Also, they resisted assimilation.  They were different, and people mistrust and hate those who are different from them.

This hatred, mistrust and persecution has continued in different forms and to different degrees throughout history.  The Romans subjugated and enslaved everyone, but they were particularly vexed by the Jews, who stubbornly clung to their particular religious, social and cultural customs and values.  During the Middle Ages, kings and queens found the Jews to be convenient scapegoats for all the ills of their respective kingdoms.  Crops failed?  Blame the Jews.  They poisoned the water.  Plague?  It was the Jews’ fault.  Failing economy?  The Jews, again.  Who killed Christ? Blame the Jews.  Who controls the banking system?  The Jews.  These rulers could have forced their Jewish citizens to leave, but they probably realized it was more advantageous to retain them as second-class citizens with restricted rights.  As long as their subjects were blaming the Jews for their sad, squalid lives, they were not going to blame them.

Some rulers, like the Spanish, forced Jews to convert or face death.  They tortured the Jews relentlessly during the period we call the “Inquisition.”  Many Jews chose death; others converted; still others pretended to convert, but continued to practice Judaism secretly (prayers as well as customs).  I believe that is why to this day it is customary for some Jews to mumble a short postscript after they recite a prayer.

Later, particularly in the late 19th century, some countries, such as Russia and Poland, engaged in pogroms against their Jewish citizens, again, for no other reason than they were different.   Jews were constantly looking over their shoulder.  There was no telling what would set off the next pogrom.  Theirs was an extremely precarious and brutal existence (think of the play “Fiddler on the Roof”), however, as always, they persevered.

The foregoing paled, however, compared to the Holocaust visited upon the Jews by the Nazis in the 1930s and early 1940s.  The Nazis wantonly exterminated some six million Jews, roughly one-third of the world’s total.  We are all too familiar with that period, and there is no need to rehash it here.  Suffice to say, it was very fortunate that the Allies won the war.

Stereotypes developed and became accepted as “fact.”  People who had never met a Jew in their lives “knew” that all Jews were “pushy, sneaky, conniving, cheap and devious.”  They “knew” that Jews killed Christian babies and drank their blood or used it to make matzoh (aka “blood libel”).  They viewed Jews, not as a religion per se, but as a biologically inferior separate race.  They “knew” they had horns.   I personally know someone whose college acquaintance asked her if she could “feel her horns.”   Some of these stereotypes have persisted to this day.  Some of them are expressed in a more subtle manner.  For example, many Jews believe, as I do, that when some people criticize Israel or Zionism, it is code for criticism of Jews.

In a recent article, Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine, cited the following four myths regarding anti-Semitism:

  1. Anti-Semitism has subsided since the Holocaust.  More likely, it has merely become more covert, bubbling just below the surface, like an inactive volcano.  In fact, currently, there is ample empirical evidence that it has been increasing, sharply in some countries.  Rosenberg cited FBI data that asserts Jews are routinely subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group even though they comprise only 2% of the US population.  Additionally, consider France, which has the largest Jewish population of any country in Europe, about 500,000.  French Jews are routinely victimized in some 50% of all racist attacks even though they only comprise 1% of the total population.  In a 2014 survey 70% of French Jews reported they were concerned about insults or harassment, and 60% expressed concern over physical attacks.  These percentages were among the highest in Europe.  Substantial numbers of French Jews have begun emigrating to Israel.  Coincidentally, or not, France has a considerable Muslim population, which has been emigrating from North Africa.   A 2013 EU survey disclosed that 40% of European Jews are afraid to identify themselves as Jewish (in Sweden the figure was a whopping 60%).  This is hard to fathom since Jews have comprised an integral part of the country economically, socially and culturally since the 18th century, and we know that Sweden was a haven for Jews during WWII.  Swedish Jews are also emigrating to Israel in record numbers.  The BBC reports that AS incidents in the UK are at “record levels.”  This sentiment was echoed by The Community Security Trust, a Jewish Charity, that disclosed that 767 AS incidents were reported to them between January and June, 2017, a 30% increase over the same period in 2016.  There are many other examples as well.
  2. Anti-Semitism is primarily attributable to the “right.”  That same EU survey disclosed that AS statements can come from the “left” as well as the “right.”  (One might view this as counterintuitive, since liberal thought is supposed to be more tolerant, but it is what it is.)  For instance, Italian and Swedish Jews have reported they perceived that more anti-Semitic sentiments came from the “left.” Apparently, anti-Semites come in all political stripes.  According to the Anti-Defamation League AS incidents in the US have increased a whopping 90 % in 2017.  Population centers with sizeable Jewish populations, such as NYC, Long Island and South Florida, which are generally liberal, have experienced the highest numbers of incidents.  Examples include personal attacks, social media attacks, and defacing property with slogans and swastikas.  ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt expressed grave concern over the sustained increase in AS incidents during the past year.  “[We] need more leaders to speak out against this cancer of hate and more action at all levels to counter AS,” he said.  On US college campuses, which are overwhelmingly liberal, AS has been well-documented.  Some examples include restriction of pro-Jewish speech, hostility of professors (again, overwhelmingly liberal), defacing property with AS slogans and swastikas, harassment, and personal attacks, both physically and through social media.
  3. Criticisms of Israel.  As I mentioned above, criticisms of Israel and Zionism are perceived, by some, me included, as “code” or “cover” for anti-Semitism, much like talk of “states’ rights” in the 1950s was perceived as “code” or “cover” for segregation.  For example, the UN’s Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more often than all other countries combined despite the fact that the infamous human rights transgressions of North Korea, Russia, Iran, and others, have been more pervasive and well-documented.  Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN, conceded that Israel “has been treated differently from other nations at the UN.”
  4. Anti-Semitism only threatens Jews.  This is, perhaps, the most insidious myth of all, because it is not obvious until it is too late.  Deprivation of human rights is a slippery slope.  Once it is condoned, or even encouraged, with respect to one group, what is to prevent it from spreading to other groups as well, until no one is safe?  Witness, the famous quote from a speech by German pastor Martin Niemoller describing Germans’ indifference to the Nazis’ purging of certain groups in the 1930s:

“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.  Then, they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.  Then, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Words to consider.  Remember another famous quote: “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

CONCLUSION

As always, we can expect a spike in AS incidents during the High Holidays.  Police Departments everywhere will be on high alert.  For example, last week the NYPD convened a group of law enforcement and Jewish community leaders to review security measures.  In anticipation of violence by white supremacist and other hate groups, the NYPD announced there will be additional police assigned to Jewish neighborhoods and synagogues, and it will deploy heavily armed counterterrorism units (aka “Hercules” patrols) in certain areas.

Other communities around the world are making similar preparations.  Some synagogues are planning to hire their own security to augment the police.  Still, synagogues make a very tempting and highly visible soft target for any terrorist or hate group that wants to make a “statement,” so let’s pray for no incidents.  Prepare for the worst; hope for the best.

Enjoy the holidays.  Don’t let the terrorists and hate-mongers run your life!

GEOGRAPHY QUIZ

I have received many requests for another quiz.  With all the bad news in the world at the present time, I agree that a fun quiz would provide a welcome change of pace.  So, here it is.  As always, no peeking at the internet.

  1. The most western state in the US is (a)  Hawaii, (b) California, (c) Washington, (d) Alaska.
  2. According to Wikipedia the longest river in the world is (a) the Amazon, (b) the Nile, (c) the Mississippi, (d) the Yellow.
  3. The highest mountain peak in the US is (a) Mt. Whitney, (b) the Denali, (c) Pike’s Peak, (d) Mt. Rainier.
  4. The easternmost state in the US is (a) Maine, (b) Florida, (c) Alaska, (d) New York.
  5. The country with the SECOND-MOST area is (a) China, (b) India, (c) Brazil, (d) Canada.
  6. Which of the following cities is NOT the capital of the state in which it is located? (a) New Orleans, (b) Montgomery, (c) Boise, (d) Pierre
  7. Each of the following countries is located in the continent of Africa, EXCEPT (a) Egypt, (b) Israel, (c) Eritrea, (d) Burundi
  8. Which of the following states is NOT one of the so-called “Four Corners?” (a) Utah, (b) Colorado, (c) New Mexico, (d) Oklahoma.
  9. Which of the following countries has THREE capital cities?  (a) Honduras, (b) Tanzania, (c) South Africa, (d) Sri Lanka
  10. Which country has the largest population?  (a) China, (b) India, (c) Russia, (d) Indonesia.
  11. The Continental Divide (aka Great Divide) runs through each of the following states, EXCEPT: (a) Colorado, (b) Washington, (c) Alaska, (d) Montana.
  12. Each of these countries shares a border with only one other country, EXCEPT: (a) Portugal, (b) Denmark, (c) Indonesia, (d) Qatar
  13. The US and Canada share the longest border of any two countries – 5,525 miles.  Which of the following states does NOT border Canada? (a) Ohio, (b) Massachusetts, (c) Vermont, (d) Pennsylvania
  14. Which of the following countries is NOT located in Central America? (a) Cuba, (b) Belize, (c) Costa Rica, (d) Mexico.
  15. The southern-most state in the US is (a) Florida, (b) Hawaii, (c) Mississippi, (d) Alabama

ANSWERS:  1. (d),  2. (a) (4,345 miles),  3. (b) (20,310 feet), 4. (c),  5. (d), 6. (a), 7. (b), 8. (d), 9.  (c)  (Pretoria, Cape Town & Bloemfontein, 10. (a) (1.4 billion out of 7.4 billion), 11. (b), 12. (c), 13. (b), 14. (d), 15. (b)

Well, how did you do?  Let me know.

 

 

THE WALL

We need The Wall.  We need to build it sooner, rather than later.  I need it.  You need it.  America needs it.

Do not dismiss this as a “racist rant.”  Favoring the Wall does not mean that I hate Mexicans, Hispanics, or poor people.  That is an absurd, overly simplistic argument liberals use when they do not have any facts to support their opinions.  To me, whenever someone uses the “R” word, they have already lost the debate.  Quite simply, walls work and protect.  Consider the following few examples:

  1. The Great Wall of China, which is now a tourist attraction more than anything else, was built over a period of several hundred years beginning in the 7th century BC.  It was constructed in various sections, which, later, were joined together in what we call “The Great Wall.”  Its primary purpose was to protect the Chinese Dynasties from raids by various nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppes.  In addition, it served as a control against unwanted immigration (and emigration).
  2. The Vatican Wall was built in the 9th century, authorized by Pope Leo IV, following the sacking of the Vatican by Muslim invaders in 846.  It completely encircles and protects the Vatican City and the Leonine City.   Hence, I find it most amusing whenever the Pope criticizes President Trump and America, in general, for wanting to build a wall along its southern border.
  3. The West Bank Wall along the Green Line was constructed by Israel in the early 2000s in response to repeated incursions by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank area.  Between 2000 and 2003 when the first segment of the wall was completed some 70 terrorist attacks were executed in the area.  In contrast, between August 2003 and 2006 there were only 12.
  4. On the other hand, Europe’s borderless condition, which has facilitated unfettered access to virtually to any country on the continent, has fostered one terrorist attack after another in recent years.  (I believe that GB’s Brexit vote in June 2016 was due to these issues more so than economic issues.)

Quite simply, as these examples clearly and conclusively demonstrate, barriers work.  The empirical evidence is there for all to see if only one cares to look.

As Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might say, “Let’s look at this situation logically.”  Other than the illegals, themselves, who benefits from unfettered immigration?

1.  Terrorists, for obvious reasons.  Despite all our precautions, it is not that difficult for a determined terrorist cell to execute a successful attack, but let’s not make it any easier for them.

2.  Drug dealers and distributors, for obvious reasons.  We already have a huge drug problem in the US, including cocaine, heroin and various opioids, and it is growing worse day by day.

3.  Gangs.   Presently, it is relatively easy for gang members to gain illicit entry into the country.  These gangs engage in wanton violence, including rape and murder.  They terrorize our children in the schools.  For example, the gang, MS-13, has been so extreme that it has drawn the attention of the FBI and ICE, who, in an effort to curtail them, have conducted multiple raids. Furthermore, on Long Island they have become so problematic in some schools that the governor has authorized the deployment of state troopers for additional security.

Those are the obvious beneficiaries, but I believe there are two more groups whose motivations are more subtle and, perhaps, overlooked.

  1. The super-rich and business establishments seeking to hire cheap labor are only too happy to take advantage of the increased labor pool created by the large number of illegals.  Many of them manage to skirt around the laws requiring documentation somehow.
  2. Democratic politicians hope to benefit politically by being the champion of open borders.  They hope that some day illegals will be allowed to vote and will remember their support.  Before you scoff at this notion, be advised that some localities have already granted the right to vote to residents who are not citizens in local elections.  I expect that the next time the Democrats attain control of the presidency and the Congress this issue will become a priority.

CONCLUSION

So, those are the beneficiaries.  Who are the losers?  You, the middle class and the working class citizenry, or I should say, the rapidly disappearing middle class and working class citizenry.  It’s basic economics.  The Law of Supply and Demand holds that as the number of people available to work increases, wages decrease, that is, if one can even find a job in the first place.  And, don’t forget, illegals utilize social services, including schools, healthcare and others, which are already overtaxed in many areas.

Yes, it sounds good to support open borders.  Give all the oppressed and downtrodden people of the world a chance to better themselves.  We are a nation of immigrants.  All of us or our ancestors were once immigrants.  All true, and I support controlled, legal immigration.  But remember, actions have consequences.  Terrorists, drugs, gangs, cheap labor, low wages, etc.

Don’t be fooled by the liberal celebrities, politicians and media.  Most of them don’t live in the real world, anyway.  By the way, just once I’d like to ask one of those ivory tower liberals who spout off about open borders if they live in a gated community with 24-7 security, or if they lock their house at night.

PARTITION OF INDIA

In August 1947 Great Britain oversaw the partition of the Indian subcontinent, aka the British Raj, into two countries – India and Pakistan.  The partition was far from orderly.  In fact, it was swathed in controversy and violence, as we shall see.  The hostility between the two nations persists to this day, and the geopolitical ramifications have been extensive.

Great Britain had ruled India since 1858, but by the end of WWII India had become an unwelcome remnant of a bygone colonial era.  GB was looking to exit the subcontinent as gracefully as possible.  Fighting WWII had depleted GB’s treasury substantially.  In addition, the post-war elections had put the Labor Party in control of the government, and most of the Laborites wanted out.

Furthermore, in 1946 a series of mutinies in the armed forces stationed in India broke out.  RAF servicemen were growing increasingly frustrated by what they perceived to be the too slow pace of their repatriation.   At the same time, the Indians were riding a wave of nationalism.  Violence between the more radical elements of the Hindu and Muslim populace was accelerating.  In short, all three parties wanted the British to leave asap.  The only question was whether the area would remain whole or would it be divided into Hindu and Muslim countries.  The British and Hindus wanted to keep the area whole; the Muslims wanted a separate country.  Feelings were hostile on all sides.  The Brits did not want to leave without having achieved a peaceful resolution.  The government appointed Admiral of the Fleet Louis Mountbatten Viceroy of India and charged him with the responsibility to do so.

Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten was born on June 25, 1900.  He was a second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II.  He enjoyed a long, distinguished military career.  He served in WWI and WWII, rising to the level of Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre .  As such, he had the distinct honor of commanding the British forces that recaptured Burma from the Japanese and, later, of accepting the Japanese surrender of Singapore.  In short, Mountbatten was a famous and well-respected military hero and he had the necessary cachet to complete this assignment successfully.

Initially, the British government had instructed Mountbatten to keep the area united.  He negotiated extensively with Jawaharlal Nehru, the Hindu leader, and Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the Muslim leader, in an attempt to accomplish this, but in the end, he could not overcome the mutual mistrust and antipathy between the two groups.  As the violence escalated, he realized unity was a lost cause.  Ultimately, he managed to convince his superiors in London that a partition was the only possible solution.

Essentially, the partition was accomplished along religious lines.  Those areas that were predominantly Hindu were included in India, while the predominantly Muslim areas were formulated into Pakistan.  Unfortunately, the demarcation lines were determined by a committee consisting of people who had limited or no knowledge of the region, and they were drawn under the time pressure of a short and arbitrary deadline of August 15, 1947.  Furthermore, many areas were impossible to demarcate as they included substantial numbers of both Hindus and Muslims.  Millions of Hindus and Muslims alike, fearing for their safety, were forced to abandon their homes and flee to areas in which they would be safe.  The entire process was handled most poorly and was extremely problematic for both Hindus and Muslims.There were numerous instances of starvation, rape and murder.  It was total lawlessness and chaos.  The British, who could have ensured that the transition proceeded in an orderly manner, did not exactly do themselves proud.  They were just too anxious to wash their hands of the area.

In an odd twist, Pakistan was divided into two sections, which became known as West Pakistan and East Pakistan.  These two areas were separated by a large section of India.  This was not sustainable, and eventually, East Pakistan became a separate country known as Bangladesh.

CONCLUSION

Mountbatten stayed on as India’s first Governor-General until June 1948, but Jinnah refused his overture to serve as Governor-General of Pakistan as well.  Jinnah knew that Mountbatten, like many in the British government did not approve of Pakistan.  As I mentioned above, India and Pakistan have clashed repeatedly and remain enemies to this day.

The matter of the partitioning of India is chronicled in the movie, Viceroy’s House, currently playing in selected theatres.  It stars Hugh Bonneville, best known for his role as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, as Lord Mountbatten and is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who is the granddaughter of one of the aforementioned refugees.  I have seen it, and I recommend it.

Mountbatten met a sad and untimely end.  In 1979, he and his grandson, Nicholas, were assassinated by the IRA (a bomb in his fishing boat).

9/11 REMEMBRANCE

Today, as on every 9/11 one could see the names of every 9/11 victim being read out loud on tv.  This is a particularly poignant scene as the readers are typically the children and grandchildren of the victims.  In my opinion, these readings of the names of the victims is a fantastic idea as it helps us to remember the horrific and cowardly terrorists attacks.

On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. ET, Americans’ safe and secure lives changed forever.  Like the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, undoubtedly, most everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the attack.  At that moment, the first hijackers’ plane crashed into the north tower of the WTC.  This was followed quickly by a second plane crashing into the south tower, and, later, a third one crashing into the Pentagon.  Incredibly and inexplicably, by 10:28 both towers had collapsed.  Later in the day, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA.  It is believed that this fourth plane was bound for a target in Washington, D.C., perhaps, the White House or the Capitol, and it would have succeeded but for the heroism of some of the passengers on board.

Today, marks the 16th anniversary of those horrific attacks.  They resulted in just under 3,000 deaths.  Most of those were workers who were trapped in their offices and consumed by fire or smoke/chemical inhalation.  They could not escape because most of the stairwells were blocked. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that NYC’s 911 operators were not as well informed as they should have been.  Thus, they were advising callers from inside the towers not to descend the stairs on their own.   Some of them proceeded to the roof hoping to be rescued by helicopter.  Unfortunately, helicopters could not land on the roofs due to the heat and thick smoke.  Many of us who were watching on tv witnessed the awful sight of people jumping to their deaths (in some cases, actually holding hands with others for support) rather than awaiting their fates from the fire.

The horror of the attacks, themselves, was amplified by the fact that the victims were not soldiers but innocent civilians who were merely working at their jobs.  This was the deadliest attack on US soil ever.  By comparison, the shocking Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which President FDR characterized as “a date that will live in infamy” resulted in “only” 2,400 deaths, and they were mostly military personnel.

In addition to the deaths there was significant damage to the economy of NYC and the US as a whole.  The entire Wall Street area, including the financial markets, was closed until September 17.  Air travel was disrupted.  Americans’ psyche was severely damaged.  The cleanup of the WTC area was not completed until May 2002.  All in all, it took 3.1 million hours to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a cost of $750 million.  Internationally,  countries were generally horrified and supportive, although some of the people in some Muslim countries, such as Iraq, were seen to be celebrating.

Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, with the others having originated from Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE.  The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, quickly claimed responsibility.  Bin Laden had declared a holy war on the US and had issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Americans.  Following 9/11, bin Laden became public enemy number 1.   Eventually, the US exacted revenge, hunting him down and killing him.

In addition, to the thousands of civilians, police officers, firemen and EMS workers that were killed in the attacks, themselves, thousands more volunteer workers and even people who lived or worked in the vicinity ended up contracting various illnesses from inhaling the various carcinogens in the air and dying subsequently, in some cases many years later.

Horrifying as it may seem, some doctors have predicted that eventually these victims will exceed the 3,000 killed on 9/11.  Many of us know or know of someone who suffered this fate.  The shame of it is they went out of their way to volunteer their services and paid for it with their lives.

The primary illnesses are cancer, respiratory disorders, asthma, COPD and gastroesophageal reflux disorder.  In addition, health workers have noted a significant increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD.  As I said, many of the above have manifested themselves years later.  Even now, new cases are being presented.  The number of documented cancer cases, alone, has tripled in the past two years.  The physical, mental and emotional toll has been astounding.  An estimated 18,000 people have contracted illnesses from the toxic dust.  Moreover, there is speculation that 9/11 has caused health issues in babies whose mothers were pregnant at the time of the attacks, such as premature birth, respiratory problems, below average weight, and increased neo-natal requirements.

In the aftermath of the attacks,  Americans wanted to know how our intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate them.   Who had “dropped the ball?”  Amid many investigations and finger-pointing it became obvious that the major factor was failure to communicate and share intelligence and information.  For example:

  1.  The CIA had intelligence reports that a terrorist attack was forthcoming, but it was expecting it to be in Israel, not the US.
  2. The CIA knew that two known terrorists had slipped into the US.
  3. The FBI had information of certain anomalies at some US flight schools.
  4. The Justice Department policies advocated very limited intelligence sharing, even with other agencies.
  5. The CIA and NSA were reluctant to reveal sources of information and their methods of attaining it.
  6. None of these agencies reported their information to each other or to the White House.
  7. In 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft testified to the “9/11 Commission” that the “single greatest structural cause…. was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”

I hope that the coordination and information-sharing among these agencies have been enhanced since 9/11, but I have my doubts.

CONCLUSION

Americans’ lives have changed considerably since 9/11.  Many  believe that not all of these changes are good or even necessary.  For instance:

  1.  The US created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and oversee intelligence activities and security.  In addition, it passed the USA Patriot Act.  These agencies have improved our readiness and security but at the price of certain civil liberties.   There is, and should be, a balance between security and liberty, and depending on one’s political point of view the pendulum may have swung too far, or not enough, towards security.
  2. Enhanced security at airports and train and bus terminals has made travel more complicated, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking.  Some people have curtailed or ceased their travel entirely, particularly internationally.
  3. Parents are apprehensive, if not paranoid, about letting their children go outside to play or ride their bicycles in the neighborhood.  Also, they accompany their children to the school or school bus stop and pick them up at the end of the day.  The various terrorist attacks in schools in recent years have done little to assuage these fears and concerns.
  4. On the plus side, there has been a significant increase in patriotism and gratitude toward veterans.

In my opinion, parents should make a concerted effort to educate their children on the tragedy of 9/11, what happened, how it happened and what it means.  Roughly 21 million of the country’s 320 million population are under the age of 21 and, therefore, have little or no recollection or knowledge of this event.  The danger is that as time passes the populace will forget, and we should never allow that to happen.

I encourage everyone to find the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan.  Take the time to stroll around the beautiful fountain area.  Take one of the many tours.  Yes, it is tragic to be reminded of the horror of that day, but, on the other hand, it is uplifting to be reminded of the heroism of many first responders and ordinary citizens and to experience the healing that has occurred.  Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

OBAMACARE MESS

The US healthcare system is, to put it bluntly, a “hot mess.”  I suppose it’s all right for those who have qualified for Medicare, are covered by a group plan that is relatively all encompassing and inexpensive, such as, NYS teachers’ Empire Plan, or have qualified for free healthcare based on low income.  For the millions of others, however, it has become a nightmare of rising premiums, deductibles, and co-pays,  restricted coverages, disappearing providers, and cash-only doctors.  Negotiating the exchanges to find a suitable healthcare provider has become an exercise in frustration and futility.  More on this later.

Healthcare is an extremely complex matter, and, simply put, the ACA, aka Obamacare, has not worked out as promised.  It has proven to be rife with unintended (or, perhaps, intended) consequences.  I can’t believe I am actually saying that Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, was correct about anything, but I have to say she was downright prescient when she famously, or infamously, said with respect to the ACA bill “you have to pass it to know what’s in it.”  Remember when President Obama promised the American people: If you like your doctor, you can keep him?  WRONG.  If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it?  WRONG.  Premiums will not go up.  WRONG again.  WRONG, WRONG AND WRONG.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on healthcare issues, approximately 32 million persons under the age of 65 were uninsured in 2014.  These were predominantly people in working families.  Moreover, most of them had been without insurance for over a year.  For most, this was not by choice.  Over one-half of them cited the cost of coverage as the reason.  When they get sick, they often forgo treatment, unless it is so serious they have no choice.  Often, they do not fill prescriptions due to expense.  They pay for mandatory treatment out of their own pocket.  Approximately, one-half of them were eligible for ACA and had to forgo it.  The tax penalty that was designed to entice people to sign up is a sham, as it is cheaper to pay the fine than any ACA premium, especially if one is young and healthy.

Many states have expanded their Medicare coverage.  Approximately 70 million persons are now covered by Medicare.  Generally, it is a good plan, but expensive to administer.  On the other hand, many of the people living in the states that have not expanded their Medicare coverage remain uninsured.  They have not been able to qualify for the much-ballyhooed subsidies, thus rendering the ACA “UNaffordable” for them.

One of the key underpinnings of ACA was the state exchanges.  In most states, they have been a colossal failure.  According to Sally Pipes, President, CEO, and fellow of Healthcare Policy at the Pacific Research Institute, the exchanges needed 40% of the so-called “young invincibles” (aged 18-34) to sign up in order to remain viable.  For various reasons, only some 30% have done so.  Furthermore, many exchanges have either raised rates considerably, as much as 20% per year (Blue Shield, CA) or dropped out citing unaffordable (pardon the pun) costs.  For example, just a few weeks ago, Northwell Health, Long Island’s largest health insurer, which currently covers 126,000 policyholders, announced it will drop out in 2018.  Michael Dowling, President and CEO, stated the reasons succinctly, which I believe is a microcosm of the problem with ACA: (1) huge losses, e.g. payments into the state’s “risk-adjustment pool” in excess of $100 million for last year and this, and (2) uncertainty and instability in the marketplace.

Luckily for New Yorkers, 14 insurers remain in the individual market to choose from and 19 in the small group market.  People in other states are not so fortunate.   According to Newsday, in many states the choices are in the “low single digits,” one third of the nation’s 3,000 counties only have one insurer offering insurance on their exchange, and 40 have none.   It doesn’t take an advanced degree in economics to discern that the fewer the number of providers, the higher the cost.

Take Arizona, for instance – John McCain’s home state.  According to the AZ Department of Insurance website, premiums for the popular silver plan are projected to rise 116% in 2017, by far the largest increase of any state.  By comparison, the nation-wide average is projected to be 22%.  Furthermore, there will not be any PPO options available in any of the exchanges in AZ.  This is part of a continuing trend, and is cited as a means to hold down costs.  As most of you know, with PPO you can choose any doctor and do not need a referral to see a specialist.  HMO plans require you to see a doctor from an approved list

Louise Norris, a healthcare.org contributor, wrote that many ACA critics have characterized AZ a prime example of a state whose healthcare system is in a “death spiral.”  And yet, Senator John McCain came off a sickbed to cast the deciding vote to kill a bill that would have authorized the Senate to continue discussion of the healthcare issue and possibly pass a bill, which could be “conferenced” with a like bill that the House had passed.  Just a discussion to keep debate alive!  Inexplicable.  As the late Desi Arnaz would have said: “He has some ‘splaining’ to do.”

CONCLUSION

To analyze all essential aspects of the problems and possible solutions would take a book, not a blog.  I have tried to limit myself just to the essentials, as I see them.

Suffice to say, I know very few people who are pleased with the US healthcare system as it is presently constituted.  It seems everyone has had a nightmare experience.  Whenever I discuss it with my friends it becomes a game of “can you top this.”

I don’t pretend to have the answers.  But, then again, it is not my job to have them.  I am not a duly elected member of Congress. I don’t have access to the latest data and experts in the field.  What I do know is that nationalized healthcare is offered in many countries, and although results in some have been better than others it has not worked well in any of them.  There is plenty of empirical evidence around to support that.  For example, I have heard first-hand accounts of people waiting months for a simple CAT scan or MRI.  I know of many Canadians who simply travel to the US for emergency treatment.  Free or subsidized healthcare for everyone sounds really good, but coverage tends to be inconsistent, delayed and very expensive for the government to sustain.

That said, I am continually frustrated by our government’s failure to resolve this problem.  Once again, members of Congress prefer to squabble and score political points rather than find a solution.  Former President Harry S Trumann won re-election in 1952, in part, by labelling Congress a “do nothing Congress.”  That group was probably more productive than the current one.  Politifact has cited an average of several polls conducted by CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN, which found that the Congress has a 14% approval rating and a 95% re-election rate.  I don’t know what they says about us voters, but it tells me that Congressmen are good at two things and two things only – getting elected and getting re-elected.

In my mind, the leadership needs to do more.  Leaders are supposed to lead, and if not, they should be replaced by someone who will.  Dems have been operating in homogeneous negativity, uniformly opposing anything the GOP has proposed in the belief that that would be bad for President Trump, whom they despise.  Perhaps, but more importantly, it is bad for the country. Many in the GOP seem to have forgotten that they were elected, in part, to repeal and replace Obamacare.  They have failed to do so.  How will these people be able to explain their inaction to the voters in their respective states or districts?

Since they’re acting like children, let’s play a children’s game.  Instead of calling it “repeal and replace,” let’s characterize it as “refining and fine-tuning Obamacare.”  It’s essentially the same thing, but maybe that semantical change will provide both sides with sufficient “political cover.”  In any event, the nation has the means to resolve this severe problem satisfactorily, but does it have the will?

LABOR DAY

Tomorrow, September 4, is Labor Day (“LD”).  As we all know, the holiday has traditionally been celebrated on the first Monday of September.  It is celebrated in various forms and at various dates in approximately 80 countries.

To most Americans LD merely symbolizes the unofficial end of summer and the impending beginning of the school year.  They enjoy the day off from work.  They spend the day with family and/or friends.  They enjoy picnics, parades, vacations, shopping, baseball games and other sports activities, and barbecues.  They lament, but grudgingly accept, holiday traffic and long lines at airports.  Also, it is the reason why summer always seems to be so short.  In our minds, we transfer the approximately three post-Labor Day weeks of the season to Autumn.  But, what is the meaning and purpose of LD? Why do we celebrate it?  How did it come about?  Good questions.  Read on for the answers.

As the name implies, the purpose of LD is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American Labor movement.  Whatever one’s political views and affiliations, I think it is important and appropriate to understand Labor’s contributions to the growth and development of the US.  For one thing, cheap labor was an integral component of the Industrial Revolution.  When all is said and done, someone had to build all the roads, railroads, and cars, and operate all the factories and steel mills.  In addition, the labor movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely responsible for the relatively high wages and extensive benefits that are enjoyed by today’s US labor force.

The history of LD began in the 1870s in Canada.  Labor Unions were illegal in Canada, and 26 members of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour work day.  That action led to demonstrations and rallies and raising the profile of labor unrest in both Canada and the US.  Two of the most outspoken leaders were Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an official of the AF of L, and Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY.  Historical accounts differ, but one or both of these men are credited with being the first to propose a holiday to celebrate labor.  In any event, the CLU planned and organized the first LD celebration in NYC on September 5, 1885.  Approximately, 20,000 workers and their families participated.  The concept spread. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to sanction the holiday.

The Pullman Labor Strike in 1893 provided the final impetus for a national labor holiday.  The Pullman Company had been founded and was run by George Pullman. Pullman, IL, where the company operated, was a classic company town.  All the workers lived there and paid rent to the company, which was automatically deducted from their paychecks.  Workers’ housing was segregated according to their jobs; everyone shopped at the Company Store.  Many viewed such an arrangement as a form of slavery, because workers were, in actuality, trapped due to their omnipresent debt to the Company. (Think of the song “Sixteen Tons.”)  In 1893 the country was in the midst of a recession, and the company laid off hundreds of workers and reduced the wages of the others.  Of course, living expenses remained constant.  These actions led to a strike.  President Cleveland declared the strike to be illegal and broke it with Federal troops.  Some striking workers were killed in the ensuing violence.  This incensed many Americans, and 1894 was an election year.  So, Congress expeditiously passed a bill establishing LD as a national holiday, and the President promptly signed it into law.  This entire process took only six days, so you can imagine the extent of the public outcry.  Incidentally, this action failed to save President Cleveland’s political career; he was defeated anyway.

Eventually, the government settled on the first Monday in September as the official date. Many countries celebrate it on May 1 in conjunction with International Workers’ Day, but the Federal government did not want the association with that date for obvious reasons.

CONCLUSION

One of the supreme ironies of LD is that because it is such a big shopping day, many workers, especially retailers, are required to work.  LD is considered to be one of the biggest retail sales days of the year.  Some people use the day as a benchmark to change over their summer clothes to fall clothes.  Fashion-minded people claim it the latest day when one should wear white clothes (although “winter white,” whatever that is, is still permissible.)

Like other holidays, LD should be a time for all of us to come together and reflect on what makes America, despite its flaws, the greatest country in the world.  People in other countries may like to criticize us for our real and perceived flaws, but yet they still want to come here, in some cases, desperately.  In essence, many of them are “voting with their feet.”

Despite what you may see on tv or read in newspapers or social media, most Americans are decent, hard-working, caring persons.  Whenever disaster or tragedy strikes we unite to help those in distress.  Many have donated their time and/or money without being asked and without expecting any payback or even recognition.  If you doubt me, just look at the outpouring of kindness and empathy being shown by “average” Americans toward the victims of Hurricane Harvey.  To me, those people, not the destructive thugs and professional agitators one sees on the tv news destroying property, attacking the police, and beating up those with whom they disagree, are the “real” Americans.   It is the proverbial “silver lining” in a very dark cloud.

So now, as you celebrate the day in whatever fashion you choose, at least you will have some appreciation of the meaning of LD beyond a day off from work, the unofficial last day of summer and the beginning of the school year.

Have fun and enjoy.