Saturday, January 10, 2009

Single Payer Health Care for all Americans.

Health care delivery in the USA is challenged. One out of six Americans has no access to health care because they have no insurance or money , many more millions have some insurance, but do not get it because they cannot meet their deductibles, and even people with Medicare, due to additional high fees, cannot get the care they need. Yet, we spend 16% of our GDP on health care (in 2006, with the population at 300 million, this came to over $2,107 billion dollars or over $7,000 per person per year). By comparison, the Netherlands spend 9.4% of their GNP on health care or 2,900 Euros per person per year. The Euro, at the time, was about at par with the US dollar. And every one in that country was covered and the health care that is being delivered is often superior to what is available in the United States. What do we do wrong?

The answers are at once simple and complex, but the solution to my mind is that the USA should follow the example provided by the Netherlands. Even though the difference in the size of the population and the geographical dispersion is great, the rationale is the same, i.e. that health care is a human right and to provide it, an obligation of society. Also, it is far cheaper to have a Federal government handle it, because there are no high commissions that must be paid, lawyers will not be needed to make companies live up to their obligation, and when the government holds all the reigns, the cost of health care can be kept under control.
Now, in the Netherlands, all residents are obliged to take out the Federal health insurance, which includes all citizens and all legal aliens, except tourists. The system is operated by private health insurance companies; but insurers are obliged to accept every resident in their area of activity. A system of risk equalization enables the acceptance obligation and prevents direct or indirect risk selection.

There are three sources of revenue for the government:
• The insured pay a nominal premium to the health insurer.
• The Health Insurance Act that provides for an income-related contribution to be paid by the insured.
• Employers contribute by making a compulsory payment towards the income-related insurance contribution of their employees*.

Thus, implementing the plan involves collecting premiums from everyone, whether employed, self-employed, enjoying an income from investments or whatever, or having no income. The easiest way is through payroll or dividend/interest deductions. Not everyone will be expected to pay the same amount, but in the aggregate the total premiums should approximate about 10% of GDP.

Perhaps a premium arrangement can be considered as follows, with the amounts of earnings adjusted for today’s realities in the States, for the income levels I am using are strictly arbitrary.

(a) Families with an income of $10,000 per year per person pay no premium
(b) Families with an income between $10,000 and $25,000 per year per person must pay a percentage of their income for premium via payroll taxes or taxes levied on investment returns.
(c) Families with an income of between $25,000 and $50,000 per year per person have the option to pay into the program, their premium being the equivalent to the highest percentage paid in (b)
(d) Families with an income above $50,000 per year per person have no option and are ineligible to participate in this program.

• The program is obligatory to every one living legally within the US, whether citizen or not.
• The program can be carried out by private insurance companies who will be compensated for each policy issued (1% of premium or a fixed minimum).
• The overall administration should be administered by Medicare.
• The total cost of administration should be no more than 5% of total premium income.

The health insurance comprises a standard package of essential health care. The package provides essential curative care tested against the criteria of demonstrable efficacy, cost effectiveness and the need for collective financing. The health care that is provided under this plan is determined by a board of medical experts, but should include preventive care and all treatments including surgery, but excluding electives. Hospital stays should be kept to a reasonable length in semi private, efficient and cost-effective surroundings. Private rooms can be obtained through additional private insurances. Medical appliances and implants should be included, also things like wheelchairs etc. I also would extent this care for those who are staying in our country temporarily but legally (tourists etc.) to a point where they can be safely transported back to their own country for continued care. Reciprocal measures by other countries should be expected.

Health care providers (doctors) must be compelled, as a condition of their license, to contribute a certain number of hours each week to the plan. They should have enough time left to have a private practice.

All health care providers (doctors and nurses) should also be subjected to regular compulsory review procedures to test them for fitness. Those that pass should be immune to legal procedures, thereby eliminating the need for high insurances.

The shortage of health care providers can be addressed by the importation of practitioners from West Europe, India and Asia.

Pharmaceutical research can be carried out by universities and licensed to manufacturers so that the cost of production is well known and the price of product can be controlled by government.

Medical facilities (hospitals and clinics) should be required to obtain licenses for certain procedures (MRIs etc.) to reduce competition and enhance efficiency.

Implementing a plan like this will bring the USA at a par with other developed countries; will make our country a lot better place in which to live, and will enable business to be more competitive internationally. It also will provide a lot of jobs, for care givers and auxiliary industries involved with the delivery of health care as well as save an amount equal to 6% of GDP.

*Unlike the arrangement in the Netherlands, I would consider eliminating the involvement of employers with health care. This will make administration easier for both government and business.

I hope that you give will my musings some thought.

John de Waal.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Single Payer Health Care for all Americans.

There is no other way to my mind, but that any change in health care in the USA should provide accessibility to each and every person living in our country. Health care is a right, not a privilege. However, it also will be cheaper to provide health care through a Federal governmental insurance program. For one thing there are no high commissions that must be paid, for another, lawyers will not be needed to make companies live up to their obligation, and certainly, when the government holds the reigns, the cost of health care can be kept under control.

Implementing such a plan involves collecting premiums from everyone, whether (self-) employed, enjoying an income from investments or whatever, or having no income. Not everyone will be expected to pay the same amount, but in the aggregate the total premiums should approximate those that are being paid now.

I suggest that an arrangement is considered like it is (or at least used to be) in the Netherlands, adjusted for today’s realities in the States as I see them:

(a) Families with an income of $10,000 per year per person pay no premium

(b) Families with an income between $10,000 and $25,000 per year per person must pay an increasing percentage of this income for premium via payroll taxes.

(c) Families with an income of between $25,000 and $50,000 per year per person may pay a premium equivalent to the highest premium paid in (b)

(d) Families with an income above $50,000 per year per person are ineligible to participate in this program.

Obviously, the income levels are arbitrary.

The program should be administered by Medicare at a cost of no more than 4% of total premium income.

The health care that is provided under this plan should include preventive care and all treatments approved by a board of medical experts, including surgery, but excluding electives. Hospital stays should be kept to a reasonable length in semi private, efficient and cost-effective surroundings. Private rooms can be obtained through private insurances. Medical appliances and implants should be included, also things like wheelchairs etc. I also would include care for those who are staying in our country legally (tourists etc.) to a point where they can be safely transported back to their own country for continued care. Reciprocal measures by other countries should be expected.

Implementing a plan like this will bring the USA at a par with other developed countries; it will take a huge burden of the shoulders of industry and will enable better international competitiveness. It also will provide a lot of jobs, not only for care givers, but also for the auxiliary industries involved with the delivery of health care.

There are other aspects as well, but in the interest of brevity I will not elaborate on these at this time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why must we make our lives so difficult?

Why must we make our lives so difficult?

An old recipe for solving a crime is “to follow the money”.

Illegal drugs are bad, right? But legal drugs are good, unless they were obtained illegally, of course. Does that make sense? When we’re talking drugs, we’re talking about [Wikipedia] “any chemical substance that, when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily function. [However] there is no single, precise definition, as there are different meanings [for drugs] in medicine, government regulations, and colloquial usage”.
Many natural substances blur the line between food and drugs, including beers, wines, tobacco, even some mushrooms. The drugs therein alter minds and set up a craving that in many individuals cannot be controlled without professional help. Manufacturers of these products are very much aware of those properties and attempt to enhance the effect so as to promote addiction and assure repeat customers.
In the USA

Alcohol abuse causes 100,000 deaths each year! With percentages ranging from 5-60, deaths from diseases of the circulatory system, the respiratory system, accidents, drowning, burns, suicides, falls, automobile accidents, and homicides are attributed to alcohol, according to the NIDA Report, the Scientific American and Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario.
Tobacco abuse causes emphysema, the most common cause of death from respiratory disease in the United States and the fourth most common cause of death overall. Between 1964 and 2004, cigarette smoking caused an estimated 12 million deaths, including 4.1 million from cancer, 5.5 million from cardiovascular diseases, 2.1 million from respiratory diseases, and 94,000 infant deaths related to mothers smoking during pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking results in more than 400,000 premature deaths each year—about 1 in every 5 U.S. deaths.
In 1998 in the United States, 9,839 cases of mushroom poisoning were reported by poison centers, but the statistics do not include the number of fatalities. So it is with coffee, chocolate and other such substances, so we’ll forget about these delicacies.
However, Drug abuse killed 19,102 persons in 1999 USA (NVSR Sep 2001). Drugs include cocaine and heroin, crack and cannabis).
When we divide the above statistics into the population of the USA (which, according to Census 2000, was 281,421,906 in 2000) we see that, out of every 10,000 persons: alcohol kills 4; tobacco kills 10; and drugs kill 1 person per year. Yet, alcohol and tobacco are legal, and drugs are not. Now, isn’t that interesting?
To eliminate that 1 death out of 10,000 the American government spends over $50 billion each year on the War on Drugs. They arrest about 2 million persons in that (at $25,000 per), of which about ½ of 1 percent actually goes to jail to add to the about 250,000 inmates who are already there for drug abuse. Each inmate cost the tax payer about $35,000 per year or almost $9 billion in total. At the same time, almost 50,000,000 people in the USA have no access to heath care and millions of kids go to bed hungry every night. Does that seem right to you?
This situation has not changed for years and the government isn’t winning. If the drug enforcement battle is fought out of concern for the health of our citizens, why would we not go after the major killers first? Perhaps it is just me, but something seems askew! Then this old adage sprung to mind: “follow the money”.
And there is a lot of money at stake. There are the “contributions” by the tobacco and alcoholic beverages industries to keep their people in place in the US Congress, while placating the public with advertising and other educational efforts, has been paying off. It is still OK to kill yourself with smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, but drugs must be fought with all our might, but why is that?
Obviously, a lot of people make money on drugs, and these are not just drug dealers, but politicians, police, drug enforcement agencies, border patrols, fence contractors, and many others. It is an industry in itself. All have a big stake in keeping the importation of drugs illegal, making things difficult and keeping the price high. That this ensures that addicts without sufficient money to maintain their habit must turn to crime, is OK, because it will keep police busy as well. Is that a wise way to use tax money?
What would happen if the government of the USA made drugs legal, perhaps subject to the same controls that alcohol and tobacco products have? The drugs might be distributed by governmental agencies at approved prices, like liquor in Canada. Just think of it, since there is no longer a huge profit, or any profit for that matter, importing and distributing drugs stop and crimes drop, while the cost of enforcement is suddenly zero. Perhaps there is still that odd person in ten thousand to die from drug abuse, but drugs will no longer be a challenge to get, try and use, are no longer the forbidden fruit, and no longer attractive. More over, President Obama will have almost $60 billion more with which to carry out his mandates. You can check out all the numbers on the Internet. If things make no sense to you either, why not make your feelings about drugs known to your representative in Congress?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Religions must be intellectually honest.
By John de Waal.

According to scientists, we humans appeared as a separate species about 2-3 million years ago and went through various recognizable stages of development, from Australopithecus to Homo habilis, Homo erectus and finally to Homo sapiens or “the thinking man” about 130,000 years ago. The verses of the Vedas of India can be traced back about 14,000 years and the Bible about half that time. Thus the religion of the Jewish people would probably be about 7,000 years old, the Christian religion more or less 2,000 years and Islam even less than that. I can be fairly said that ‘religion’ in the broadest sense has been around for only .01% of the time that humans have been on Earth (14,000/2,500,000) and is a new phenomenon.

The development of religion seems to be a function of the development of our ability to imagine things. It probably came about when our natural leaders, those that led the hunt in our hunting and gathering days, found a need to explain the various events of nature: lighting, storms, earth-quakes, volcanoes, plagues, drought, or long winters that frightened their followers. Initially each of these phenomena was assigned its own god. Then, as our mental evolution continued to develop, we went from many gods to one god and, as in the case of Buddhism etc. to no god.

Up until the time of Copernicus, about 450 years ago, and Galileo a little later, most people on Earth believed that we were the center of the Universe. However, the latter’s telescopes proved that that wasn’t so. It was clear to these early scientists that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, but that it was just the other way around and that we even had company. Then Mr. Newton gave us the reasons how it is that the various planets and moons do not fall in on each other.

As science developed further, we discovered that there are many more stars, like our sun, in the universe, in fact, that there are many more universes in addition to our own and that we are somewhere in a remote area of all this celestial stuff. When Einstein and his Theory of Relativity took away our “privileged reference frame”, while Darwin already had shown us how we developed like any of the other species on earth, and while we are probing the areas of our solar system - peering at other systems and other universes - it is clear that, in a cosmological sense, humans are not very important, but we are unique in that we have yet to find life elsewhere. However, in time we may be able to do that too, provided that we do not wipe ourselves out first through the destruction of our ozone layer in our haste to get rich, due to global warming resulting from irresponsible ways of life, or bombing ourselves into nothingness with thermonuclear devices triggered by the zealots with religious differences who lead us.

Religions have been fighting advances in knowledge, ostensibly because scientific findings do not agree with the “Word of God” as written down in their primitive Scriptures, but more likely because science threatens their power. When stories, such as Adam and Eve, virgin births, etc. are exposed as children’s tales with no truth to them, the fear of God is difficult to sustain.

However, religions should not feel threatened because they perform, or could perform, important functions. They should take a new look at their approach to the human communion and help us become more completely human. Religions can recognize and promote human tenderness and compassion, and make love of others easier. Religions should explore the realities of life and help us meet those realities with greater courage. It is time that religions be intellectually honest with us, and be done with myths and superstitions. If we need role models, let they be supplied by men and women who are consciously engaged upon a life which they consecrate through their own efforts.
This piece was written a few months ago after viewing the web site of the church named below. Enjoy, John

According to the web site of the Landover Baptist Church, Mr. Bush the Elder was quoted to have said the things with which I open my article on Atheism. A need to put the record straight prompted me to write this. I do not know if this topic is something that would be of interest to your readers, but I am sending it to you because your paper enjoys wide circulation in areas where, I believe, the topic of God is frequently discussed on an intelligent level. All the information in this article is quite easily verified, much of it was acquired through Wikipedia and other sources on the Web. I hope that you will find it interesting and, if you decide that you like to use it, I would appreciate it if you could let me know. Living, as I do, in Central Mexico, makes it a bit difficult to get hold of your paper on a regular basis. And if you decide that you do not want to use it, I would appreciate knowing that as well.


John de Waal.

By John de Waal.

"I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
-President George Bush (the elder).
Well, Mr. Bush, I am one of the 36 million American citizens who do not belief in a God. It’s not because I want to fly in the face of religious people, but because the God idea makes as much sense as believing in Santa Claus, which flies in the face of everything, but at least is fun. Thus, you can call me an atheist, but you cannot call me as someone against God, because how can I, or any atheist, be against something that isn’t there in the first place?
For your information, Mr. President, atheism is not new or unique and certainly not vile like the ideas of Landover Baptist's Pastor Deacon Fred and Brother Harry Hardwick, who consider themselves the world's foremost Christian experts on atheism. Their idea is to give an 18.4 minute inspirational presentation at countless Atheist conventions in exchange of a fee, twenty-four hour room service and first class airfare. When they are done they take a relaxing walk through the parking lot outside the convention to harvest hundreds of car tag numbers for the FBI's computers for which your Mr. Ashcroft pays a dollar each and that, they say, adds up to a complimentary tour of the hotel gift shop! No, Sir, atheism is a bit more sophisticated than that!
The history of atheism began at about the same time as the history of religion. But unlike religion, atheism is not a group-think, but a philosophy that most acquire by using their own, innate intelligence. Speaking for myself, I came by the certainty that there is no God easily. You see, each of my parents was of a different religion: one Roman Catholic and the other Reformed, and as loving parents, they decided that it would be more fair to raise me without tying me to one of their religions, but let me pick one when I would be able to think for myself. I did receive religious instruction, but on an academic level, there was no indoctrination. When I was in my teens, I shopped around for a religion and when I was sixteen I joined a youth group of a Humanistic organization. Humanism and atheism has been my life ever since.
However, for many folk, Atheism doesn’t come that easily. For instance:
Gina Allen, an author of several books and articles for adults and juveniles, told her story in “The Night I Saw the Light”. She read the Little Blue Book by Percy Bysshe Shelley “The Necessity of Atheism”. At the time she was sixteen too. She had been a very religious young woman until then, although she had found it difficult to defend her religious beliefs to her free-thinking boyfriend’s satisfaction, and her own. “In one memorable night”, she wrote, “Shelley's logic shattered all the Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, and sermons I had been exposed to for years”.
Gina confronted her father the next day and asked: "You can't possibly believe all that god stuff, do you? You're an intelligent, educated man!”.
Indeed, he was a trustee of the local Presbyterian Church, supported the church financially and attended services every Sunday. Yet, he told her that ‘no, he didn't believe what the church taught’, but he did believe that without the church there would be no morality in the world, children learned right and wrong in the church, and adults lived righteous lives because they believed in God and heaven and hell.
Gina observed that this attitude is not unusual among many who appear to be religious. They are less concerned with their own spirituality than with the conduct of others. They see themselves as superior, able to understand their religion as mythology and still conduct their lives morally. However, they don't think that the ordinary person can do that, so they count on religion to keep the masses under control. Indeed, she says, this attitude has been used throughout history to regulate slaves and subjugate women.
She went on with her story and said: “When I told my boyfriend that I had seen the light, he was glad. Then I told him that now we could sin together: drink, smoke, and have sex. He looked at me as if I were crazy. I could do those things if I wished, he said, but he was in training as an athlete”. It slowly dawned on me that I hadn't been "a good girl" because I believed in god but because I love my family and friends, enjoy my studies and music, and because I wanted to prepare myself for all of life's possibilities. I have stopped being personally furious with the Christian religion that duped me as a child, but I continue to be alarmed when it hurts people, stunts their growth, and practices sexism and racism”. So, Gina did not return to religion, nor has she missed it. Her associates are people with whom she shares common interests and goals, all are trying to make this world better, rather than hoping for heaven and all are moral people because they love our earth and those with whom they share it.
Indeed, Atheists are moral people and can most often be found among the cream of our citizenry, Mr. Bush. Just take five minutes to watch the video “Atheist” on When reviewing all the atheists on this video, one realizes that America would not be the place it is today and if it wasn’t for politicians like you, Mr. Bush, it would probably be a lot better.

Western Atheism has long history. It goes back to pre-Socratic Greek philosophy. The 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher Diagoras is known as the "first atheist," and he strongly criticized religion and mysticism. Critias viewed religion as a human invention used to frighten people into following moral order. Socrates himself was accused of being an atheist for impiety on the basis that he inspired questioning of the state gods. He was ultimately sentenced to death.

Epicurus also disputed many religious doctrines, including the existence of an afterlife or a personal deity. He considered the soul purely material and mortal. While Epicureanism did not rule out the existence of gods, he believed that if they did exist, they were unconcerned with humanity. Questions posed by him some three hundred and seventy-five years before the composition of the New Testament and over one hundred years before the composition of the latest books of the Hebrew Bible remain unanswered today. Christians do not want to ask the questions he asked, because they do not like the obvious answers.
Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent!
Is he able but not willing? Then is he malevolent!
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Epicurus and his followers weren’t rebel rousers. Their ideal was to "live secretly, to get through life without drawing attention to yourself, to live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc”. and they emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of oneself and others. I have been trying to live my life this way as well. Perhaps I should call myself an Epicurean?
The Roman poet Lucretius also agreed with Epicurus views. He said:
“If there were gods, they are unconcerned with humanity, and unable to affect the natural world. Humanity should have no fear of the supernatural”.
And the Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs, that nothing was inherently evil, and that “peace of mind" is attainable by simply withholding one's judgment.
The meaning of "atheist" changed over the course of classical antiquity. The early Christians were called atheists by non-Christians and were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods and Emperor-worship. When Christianity became the state religion Christians reversed things and heresy became a punishable offense.
In the Early Middle Ages William (1288 - 1348), an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher from Ockham, was (and still is) considered one of the major figures of medieval thought. This atheist was at the center of the major intellectual and political controversies of the fourteenth century and is commonly known for his Ockham's Razor, a methodological procedure that states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. Also called the "law of parsimony" it is often paraphrased as "All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one." It is still used in debates about God today.
The espousal of atheistic views was rare in Europe during the Middle Ages because of the Inquisition, which was designed by the Roman Catholic popes to do away with anyone (i.e. murder him or her gruesomely and publicly) that posed a serious threat to the Church. Somewhat like Guantanamo, although I do not think that we actually murder people there but just torture them, right Mr. Bush? There were, however, movements at that time that forwarded sacrilegious conceptions of the Christian God, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and the understandability of God. Individuals and groups maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies (the belief that God and the material world are one and the same thing and that God is present in everything). Nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects (which is the philosophical doctrine that there are no realities other than concrete individual objects) asserted that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect.
The Renaissance did much to expand free-thought and skeptical inquiry. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, sought experimentation as a means of explanation, but this era witnessed a proliferation of new religious orders, confraternities, and popular devotions in the Catholic world, as well as the increasingly austere Protestant sects such as the Calvinists. This era of inter-confessional rivalry permitted an even wider scope of theological and philosophical speculation. It led to advance a religiously skeptical world-view.
Criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England. In the late 17th century, Deism came to be openly espoused by intellectuals of the Enlightenment. They advocated a rational approach to philosophy and government. Baron d'Holbach also expressed disbelief in God when it became a less dangerous position and David Hume, another atheist, probably was the most systematic exponent of Enlightenment thought, developing a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, in particular its foundations, scope, and validity, grounded in empiricism (the philosophical belief that all knowledge is derived from the experience of the senses), and undermining the metaphysical basis of natural theology.
The French Revolution took atheism outside the salons and into the public sphere. At its climax, the more militant atheists attempted to forcibly de-Christianize France, replacing religion with a Cult of Reason. The secularizing measures of this period have remained a permanent legacy of French politics. The Napoleonic era institutionalized the secularization of French society, and exported the revolution to northern Italy, in the hopes of creating pliable republics.
In the latter half of the 19th century, atheism rose to prominence under the influence of rationalistic and free-thinking philosophers. Many prominent German philosophers of this era denied the existence of deities and were critical of religion. They considered God to be a human invention and religious activities to be wish-fulfillment. Atheism in the 20th century, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies, under names such as: existentialism, objectivism, secular humanism, nihilism, logical positivism, Marxism, feminism, and the general scientific and rationalist movement. Logical positivism and scientism paved the way for neo-positivism (the theory that knowledge can be acquired only through direct observation and experimentation), analytical philosophy, structuralism, and naturalism (a belief that all religious truth is derived from nature and natural causes, and not from revelation) and emphatically rejected the existence of God. The natural world was considered to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.
The 20th century also saw the political advancement of atheism, spurred by the works of Marx and Engels. The Soviet Union and other communist states promoted state atheism and opposed religion, often by violent means. The Albanian government announced the closure of all religious institutions in their country, declaring Albania the world's first atheist state. The communists’ regimes enhanced the negative associations of atheism, especially in the United States where anti-communist sentiment was strong. However, E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Periyar), a prominent atheist leader of India, fought the good fight against Hinduism and Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.
In 1966, TIME magazine asked "Is God Dead?" The article cited the estimation that nearly one in two people in the world lived under an anti-religious power. However, it is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Different people interpret "atheist" differently and it can be hard to draw boundaries between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, atheists may not report themselves as such, to prevent suffering from social stigma, discrimination, and persecution in certain regions. A 2005 survey published in Encyclopedia Britannica found that the non-religious make up about 12% of the world's population, not including atheistic religions, like the Buddhists. A November–December 2006 poll published in the Financial Times found that Americans are more likely than Europeans to believe in any form of God or Supreme Being (73%). Of the European adults surveyed, Italians are the most likely to express this belief (62%) and the French are the least likely (27%). In fact, in France, 32% declared themselves atheists, and an additional 32% declared themselves agnostic.
A letter published in Nature in 1998 reported a survey suggesting that belief in a personal God or afterlife was at an all-time low among the members of the National Academy of Science, with only 7% who believed in a personal God as compared to more than 85% of the general U.S. population. But this is not as strange as it seems because study after study, forty in all carried out between 1927 and 2002, found an inverse correlation between religiosity and intelligence. This, according to an article in Mensa Magazine.
Atheism, Mr. Bush, rather than being a cult of low lives and undesirables, is a philosophy that appeals to the educated and they tend to have a relative larger influence on their fellow humans than similar numbers of unthinking masses of believers. Atheists therefore are typically dangerous only to those who preach the gospel, because they are skeptics, tend to think for ourselves and cannot be controlled by them. This is why we are often a target for these religious zealots and short-sighted politicians, like you. We are not only skeptical of religious claims, but also of those made by other commercial entities. As a result, many of us are vegetarians as well. Because we are peace loving and abhor violence, we also tend to be pacifists. And politically, we think liberal and are independents. We are, and always have been, tolerant of anyone’s beliefs and we will not ridicule or otherwise attack people for their outlook. We just do our best for our families and our communities. How many religious people do you know, Mr. Bush, that show these qualities?

Friday, November 28, 2008

This article was send to me and I thought it too good to just keep in my records.
The title of it says it all...I hope you enjoy reading it as I did. I just hope that Mr. Obama makes it all better...

Goodbye and Good Riddance (1381 words)
by Paul Waldman*.

Just over two years into George W. Bush's presidency, The American Prospect featured Bush on its cover under the headline, "The Most Dangerous President Ever." [They could have added: “brought to you by the Republican Party and its unthinking adherents”, ed.]. At the time, some probably thought it a bit over the top. But nearly six years later, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the multifaceted burden that will soon be lifted from our collective shoulders.
Since last week, I have stopped short and shaken my head in amazement every time I have heard the words "President-elect Obama." But it is equally extraordinary to consider that in just a few weeks, George W. Bush will no longer be our president. Let me repeat that: In just a few weeks, George W. Bush will no longer be our president. So though our long national ordeal isn't quite over, it's never too early to say goodbye.

Goodbye, we can say at last, to

• The most powerful man in the world being such a ridiculous buffoon, incapable of stringing together two coherent sentences.
• Cringing with dread every time our president steps onto the world stage, sure he'll say or do something to embarrass us all.
• Being represented by a man who embodies everything our enemies want the people of the world to believe about America -- that we are ignorant, cruel, and only care about foreign countries when we decide to stomp on them.
• His giggle, his shoulder shake, and his nicknames.
• A president who talks to us like we're a nation of fourth-graders.
• Dick Cheney. a man whose naked contempt for democracy contorted his face to a permanent sneer, who spent his days in his undisclosed location with his man-sized safe. And while we're at it,
• Cheney's consigliore David Addington, as malevolent a force as has ever left his trail of slime across our federal institutions.
• The entire band of liars and crooks and thieves who have so sullied the federal government that belongs to us all. And we can even say goodbye to those who have already gone: Rummy and Scooter, to Fredo and Rove, who left tornados of misery in their wake. Also
• The rotating cast of butchers manning the White House's legal abattoir, where the Constitution has been sliced and bled and gutted since September 11.
• The "unitary executive" theory and its claims that the president can do whatever he wants -- even snatch an American citizen off the street and lock him up for life without charge, without legal representation, and without trial.
• The promiscuous use of "signing statements" (1,100 at last count) to declare that the law is whatever the president says it is, and that he'll enforce only those laws he likes.
• An executive branch that treats lawfully issued subpoenas like suggestions that can be ignored.
• Thinking of John Ashcroft as the liberal attorney general.
• The culture of incompetence, where rebuilding a country we destroyed could be turned over to a bunch of clueless 20-somethings with no qualifications save an internship at the Heritage Foundation and an opposition to abortion.
• The "Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job" philosophy, where vital agencies are turned over to incompetent boobs to rot and decay.
• Handing out the Medal of Freedom as an award for engineering one of the greatest screw-ups of our time.
• An administration that welcomed gluttonous war profiteering, that was only too happy to outsource every government function it could to well-connected contractors who would do a worse job for more money.
• The Bush Doctrine of preemptive war.
• The lust for sending off other people's sons and daughters to fight and kill and die just to show your daddy you're a real man.
• Playing dress-up in flight suits,
• Strutting and posing and desperate sexual insecurity as a driver of American foreign policy.
• The neocons, so sinister and deluded they beg us all to become fevered conspiracy theorists.
• Guantanamo and its kangaroo courts.
• The use of torture as official U.S. government policy, and the immoral ghouls who think you can rename it "enhanced interrogation techniques" and render it any less monstrous.
• The accusation that if you disagree with what the president wants to do, you don't "support the troops."
• Stocking government agencies with people who are opposed to the very missions those agencies are charged with carrying out.
• Putting industry lobbyists in charge of the agencies that are supposed to regulate those very industries.
• Madly giving away public lands to private interests.
• A Food and Drug Administration that acts like a wholly owned subsidiary of the pharmaceutical industry, except when it acts like a wholly owned subsidiary of the fundamentalist puritans who believe that sex is dirty and birth control will turn girls into sluts.
• The "global gag rule," which prohibits any entity receiving American funds from even telling women where they can get an abortion if they need it.
• Vetoing health insurance for poor children but rushing back to Washington to sign a bill to keep alive a woman whose cerebral cortex had liquefied.
• The ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.
• The philosophy that says that if we give tax cuts to the rich and keep the government from any oversight of the economy, prosperity will eventually trickle down.
• The thirst for privatizing Social Security and to the belief that the success of a social safety-net program is what makes it a threat and should mark it for destruction.
• The war on unions and to a National Labor Relations Board devoted to crushing them.
• The principle of loyalty above all else, that nominates Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and puts Alberto Gonzales in charge of the Justice Department.
• That Justice Department, the one where U.S. attorneys keep their jobs only if they are willing to undertake bogus investigations of Democrats timed to hit the papers just before Election Day. Goodbye to a Justice Department where graduates of Pat Robertson's law school roam the halls by the dozens, where "justice" is a joke.
• James Dobson and a host of radical clerics picking up the phone and hearing someone in the White House on the other end.
• The most consequential decisions being made on the basis of one man's "gut," a gut that proved so wrong so often.
• The contempt for evidence, to the scorn for intellect and book learnin', to the relentless war on science itself as a means of understanding the world.
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to it all.

Though President Obama will be spending most of his time cleaning up the mess George Bush made, we probably won't have Dubya to kick around anymore. It's hard to imagine Bush undertaking some grand philanthropic effort on the scale of the Clinton Global Initiative, or hopping around to international trouble spots like Jimmy Carter. Republicans won't be asking him to speak on their behalf, and publishers are reportedly uninterested in the prospect of a Bush memoir.

His reign of destruction complete, Bush will return to Texas and fill his days with the mundane activities of a retiree -- puttering around the yard, reading some magazines, maybe enjoying that new Xbox Jenna gave him for Christmas ("I'm the Decider, and I decide to spend this afternoon playing Call of Duty 4").

This presidency is finally over. We can say goodbye to an administration whose misdeeds have piled so high that the size of the mountain no longer shocks us. In our lifetimes, we will see administrations of varying degrees of competence and integrity, some we'll agree with and some we won't. But we will probably never see another quite like the one now finally reaching its end, so mind-boggling a parade of incompetence and malice, dishonesty, and immorality. So at last -- at long, long last -- we can say goodbye and good riddance.

*Paul Waldman is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America and the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success. The views expressed here are his own.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hi Everyone:
If you have been reading some or all of the articles I have posted on my blog, then you should have a fair idea where I come from. My thinking is both liberal and independent. This is probably because I have been an Ethical Humanist almost all my life.
Some personal background.
My father and mother were of different religions - Roman Catholic and Dutch Reformed respectively - and this caused them to decide that I, their first born, should be raised free from religion. As I grew, I became naturally curious about other people, and it wasn’t long that I became aware of the differences among them. This led me to investigate a variety of religions, including: a Jewish synagogue, but I could not appreciate the goings on there; some Roman Catholic churches during services, and while impressed by the souring interiors, I could not appreciate their rituals either; and finally, a few Protestant churches, but again I could not swallow their rhetoric and so I joined a youth group of the Humanistic Association in The Hague, the Netherlands – the country I am from – in 1949, at the age of 16.
Arriving in the USA in 1957, it took me five years to connect with the Ethical Culture Society of Chicago. It was a long time before I started to appreciate this group and their views on life. Perhaps that was because I did not have the luxury to sit back and contemplate the world as some of the other members. Most were academics, scientists or other learned professionals and staying alive was not a major concern for them. Still, I felt good in their company and enjoyed their thoughtful Sunday lectures (although some went over my head).
So now I have been involved with Ethical Humanism for nearly 50 years. Still, I am ill prepared to organize a fellowship at Lakeside, yet I sense that there is a need for one. Therefore I thought I should use my blog to explain and introduce this movement, borrowing from the writings of Richard Carney of the Chicago Ethical Humanist Society and others.
Ethical Humanism is a view of the world in which reason, compassion, and commitment to ethical values are central and is what it takes to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, while creating a world that is good for all. It is the one thing that is at the heart of all religions. We focus on supporting one another in becoming better people, and on doing good in the world.
Ethical Humanists celebrate diversity, are inspired by the arts, work on being responsible stewards of the environment and to improve the quality of life for all. Ours is a lifelong philosophical and educational guide for a good, happy, informed, and useful life, that focused on the here and now and the values that different kinds of people have in common. We have no doctrine, but we share the ethical values of many traditional religions.
Ethical Humanists come from diverse religious backgrounds, but welcome all persons of good-will. Belief, or lack of belief, in a Supreme Being or personal deity is a personal matter, and we do not engage in, or foster debate on, such unknowable matters.
Ethical Humanists typically meet once a week at a mutually convenient time and place to listen to a speaker on ethical philosophy, science, the humanities, current issues, or a musical or dramatic performance in the fine arts. We also may host public discussions and debates about current issues and explore ethical dilemmas to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of complex human issues.
We differ from Unitarian-Universalism or other Liberal religions in that our consistent emphasis is on the promotion of humanism. Ethical Humanist Societies often maintain trained and certified volunteers to officiate in weddings, naming ceremonies, or memorial services.
A bit of history.
Humanism can be traced back to ancient India and Greece, but it is the Renaissance that foreshadowed a new view of humanity upon which the “architects” of the Enlightenment forged their revolutionary ideas of reason and equality. A strong humanist expression began to emerge and nurture a monumental societal revolution in thought where individuals actually mattered and were worthy of respect and dignity by reason of their very existence. This process of liberation has proved unstoppable and continues today.
The Ethical Culture Movement in the US began in 1876 by Felix Adler, a transcendentalist and son of the principal rabbi of Manhattan’s Temple Emmanuel, in New York, when he spoke of openness, inclusion, and the need for all persons of good will to join together and work for the benefit of humankind. His vision was a religion for the modern world to bring diverse people together in a unified spirit to accomplish good things.
Ethical Culturists generally share common beliefs about what constitutes ethical behavior and what is good, but individuals are encouraged to develop their own personal understanding of these ideas. Ethical principles are related to deep truths about the way the world works and not arbitrary, but their complexities render the understanding of ethical nuances subject to continued dialogue, exploration, and learning.
Not surprisingly, the movement reflects many of the non-dogmatic, democratic and humanistic ideas of our founding Fathers and early nation-builders and was embraced by Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, Jane Addams, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Clarence Darrow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Tom Dewey, Jane Addams, Judge Henry Booth and Robert Hutchins, among many others.
The Chicago Ethical Society specifically played a leading role in the formation of the Chicago Urban League, the Legal Aid Society, Visiting Nurse’s Association, and the NAACP. They are still very active, building upon their powerful legacy.
Many of us living here at Lakeside are retired and have time to reflect on life in all its nuances. I suspect that some of us may find ourselves on a spiritual journey as we have outgrown the religion of our birth. It is to those that I would like to offer a comfortable, thoughtful home to not only stimulates the mind, but also to speak to our inner philosophical and emotional needs. Open Circle does that from time to time, but not consistently. As life is complex and uncertain, we believe that we must live with the challenges. On the surface, our approach does not offer the security and instant comfort that religions claim to provide, but we can give each other authentic solace and profound feelings of connection to the mysteries of life and the cosmos. While our approach to life may seem a bit on the heavy side, we also believe in joy, humor, and happiness as we celebrate our shared great journey of life.
If you agree with many of the ideas expressed above, please call me at 765-3076 and let’s talk about organizing an Ethical Humanists Society of Lakeside.

The following is provided by the Ethical Society in New York.
Individual Ethical Society members may or may not believe in a deity or regard Ethical Culture as their religion. In this regard, Ethical Culture is similar to traditional religions such as Buddhism and Taoism, about whose practitioner’s similar statements could be made. Felix Adler said “Ethical Culture is religious to those who are religiously minded, and merely ethical to those who are not so minded.” The movement does consider itself a religion in the sense that
Religion is that set of beliefs and/or institutions, behaviors and emotions which bind human beings to something beyond their individual selves and foster in its adherents a sense of humility and gratitude that, in turn, sets the tone of one's world-view and requires certain behavioral dispositions relative to that which transcends personal interests.
The Ethical Culture 2003 ethical identity statement states:
It is a chief belief of Ethical religion that if we relate to others in a way that brings out their best, we will at the same time elicit the best in ourselves. By the "best" in each person, we refer to his or her unique talents and abilities that affirm and nurture life. We use the term "spirit" to refer to a person's unique personality and to the love, hope, and empathy that exists in human beings. When we act to elicit the best in others, we encourage the growing edge of their ethical development, their perhaps as-yet untapped but inexhaustible worth.
Since around 1950 the Ethical Culture movement has been increasingly identified as part of the modern Humanist movement. Specifically, in 1952, the American Ethical Union, the national umbrella organization for Ethical Culture societies in the United States, became one of the founding member organizations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Ethical Culture can be described as a form of non-theistic religious humanism.
While Ethical Culture does not regard its founder's views as necessarily the final word, Adler identified focal ideas that remain important within Ethical Culture. These ideas include:
• Human Worth and Uniqueness - All people are taken to have inherent worth, not dependent on the value of what they do. They are deserving of respect and dignity, and their unique gifts are to be encouraged and celebrated.
• Eliciting the Best - "Always act so as to Elicit the best in others, and thereby yourself" is as close as Ethical Culture comes to having a Golden Rule.
• Interrelatedness - Adler used the term The Ethical Manifold to refer to his conception of the universe as made up of myriad unique and indispensable moral agents (individual human beings), each of whom has an inestimable influence on all the others. In other words, we are all interrelated, with each person playing a role in the whole and the whole affecting each person. Our interrelatedness is at the heart of ethics.
Many Ethical Societies prominently display a sign that says:
"The Place Where People Meet to Seek the Highest is Holy Ground"
Albert Einstein was a supporter of Ethical Culture. On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture he noted that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. Humanity requires such a belief to survive, Einstein argued. He observed, "Without 'ethical culture' there is no salvation for humanity."
The impulse that led originally to the formation of Ethical Societies sprang from Adler's profound belief that human life must be treated as sacred and never violated. Adler believed that the emerging influence of secular society and the rise of scientific thinking in the public mind would make traditional religious metaphors less believable and compelling. Adler held that religion needed to evolve to keep pace with the evolution of politics, economics, and science. He was concerned because he believed religious communities to be essential. They are the one institution with the exclusive mission to sanctify life, teach ethical values, and provide a personal experience of living in a caring community. An Ethical Society would fulfill these roles, but in a way that was more in keeping with modernity.
The movement was initiated in 1876 by Dr. Felix Adler in New York City with the founding of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The society adopted as the condition of membership a positive desire to uphold by example and precept the highest ideals of living and to aid the weaker to attain those ideals. The aims of the society were stated as follows:
• "To teach the supremacy of the moral ends above all human ends and interests;
• "To teach that the moral law has an immediate authority not contingent on the truth of religious beliefs or of philosophical theories;
• "To advance the science and art of right living."
The members of the society were free to follow and profess whatever system of religion they choose, the society confining its attention to the moral problems of life. Adler did himself have an ethical philosophy that deeply influenced how this was approached. A central precept was "Always act so as to elicit the best in others, and thereby in oneself."
In adhering to its social and moral imperatives, the Society quickly initiated two major projects in 1877. First was the establishment of the District Nursing Service, a precursor of the Visiting Nurse Service, which is still active today.
The second project was the founding of a free kindergarten for the children of working people (the first free kindergarten in America), and in 1880 the Workingman's School was chartered, a model institution for general and technical education in which the use of the kindergarten method in the higher branches of study was a distinctive feature. Each of its teachers was a specialist as well as an enthusiast in his subject; the Socratic Method was followed. Pupils over seven were instructed in the use of tools. In 1895, the School was reorganized, becoming The Ethical Culture Schools. An upper school, The Fieldston School, was added in 1928 but is no longer affiliated with the Ethical Culture Society.
Under Dr. Adler's direction, the Society worked to improve conditions in tenement houses, created the Mothers' Society to Study Child Nature (later the Child Study Association), and helped to found the Visiting and Teaching Guild for Crippled Children in 1889. The Society was also instrumental in the formation of the National Child Labor Committee and in calling for the formation of the NAACP. The Chicago Society organized The Bureau of Justice, the organization that preceded the Legal Aid Society. According to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor the pro bono tradition among lawyers started with a speech by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis at an Ethical Society in 1905.
According to a 1906 encyclopedia article, while originally agnostic in feeling, the Society gradually developed into a simple, human brotherhood, united by ethical purpose and a humanistic outlook, and to some degree acquired an influence in distinctively Christian circles in some parts of Europe. But the only approach to a religious service was a Sunday address on topics of the day, preceded and followed by music. Its chief supporters in New York and Philadelphia were Jews, as was its founder and leader, though the society did not in any degree bear the stamp of Judaism.
A similar movement was started in Berlin and today a society exists at Frankfurt am Main.
Societies were established in Cambridge and London, United Kingdom but the only remaining society in that country is the South Place Ethical Society, based at Conway Hall, London.
The largest concentration of Ethical Societies is in the New York metropolitan area, including a dozen or so Societies in New York and New Jersey such as Bergen and Essex Counties, New Jersey, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Ethical Societies exist in a score or so U.S. cities and counties, including Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Boston; Chapel Hill and Asheville, North Carolina; Chicago; Los Angeles; Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia; St. Louis and St. Peters, Missouri; Washington, D.C., and Vienna, Virginia. There is a new Ethical Society located in cyberspace, the Ethical Society Without Walls.
Legal challenges
The tax status of Ethical Societies as religious organizations has been upheld in court cases in Washington, D.C. (1957), and in Austin, Texas (2003). The Texas State Appeals Court said of the challenge by the state comptroller, "the Comptroller's test [requiring a group to demonstrate its belief in a Supreme Being] fails to include the whole range of belief systems that may, in our diverse and pluralistic society, merit the First Amendment's protection."
• Ericson, Edward L. The Humanist Way: An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion. A Frederick Ungar book, The Continuum Publishing Company. 205 pages, 1988.
• Radest, Howard. Toward Common Ground: The Story of the Ethical Societies in the United States. Ungar, 1969
• Muzzey, David Saville. Ethics as a Religion, 273 pages, 1951, 1967, 1986.