Entries Tagged as 'Politics'

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The three R’s of making a difference and helping to create a more sustainable world.

http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/

Reduce Reuse Recycle

Originally posted 2010-04-24 02:00:27.

Silence those pesky alarms!

What does the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and Upper Big Branch coal mine have in common other than many workers lost their lives because of the negligence and greed of their owners (and operators)???

Simple, according to Mike Williams (an employee of Transocean) and investigators of Massey Energy’s operations in West Virginia both often instructed employees to disable warning alarms — often because supervisors didn’t want to be disturbed during the night!

Silencing alarms?  I think most any reasonable person would reach the conclusion that the fabricators of the equipment put audible alarms in place because of safety concerns; and that generally those safety concerns are influenced by laws and legal precedences.

Eleven workers died on the Deepwater Horizon possibly because of a bypassed alarm; and twenty-nine in Upper Big Branch.

In my mind — ordering a worker to disable an alarm before a catastrophe that kills workers is sort of like saying you’re willing to accept full responsibility for the ramifications of your negligence.

Originally posted 2010-08-02 02:00:36.

Mythbusting Canadian Health Care

This is from an article by Sara Robinson published on Campaign for America’s Future.

1. Canada’s health care system is “socialized medicine.”
False. In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide.

The proper term for this is “single-payer insurance.” In talking to Americans about it, the better phrase is “Medicare for all.”

2. Doctors are hurt financially by single-payer health care.
True and False. Doctors in Canada do make less than their US counterparts. But they also have lower overhead, and usually much better working conditions. A few reasons for this:

First, as noted, they don’t have to charge higher fees to cover the salary of a full-time staffer to deal with over a hundred different insurers, all of whom are bent on denying care whenever possible. In fact, most Canadian doctors get by quite nicely with just one assistant, who cheerfully handles the phones, mail, scheduling, patient reception, stocking, filing, and billing all by herself in the course of a standard workday.

Second, they don’t have to spend several hours every day on the phone cajoling insurance company bean counters into doing the right thing by their patients. My doctor in California worked a 70-hour week: 35 hours seeing patients, and another 35 hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies. My Canadian doctor, on the other hand, works a 35-hour week, period. She files her invoices online, and the vast majority are simply paid — quietly, quickly, and without hassle. There is no runaround. There are no fights. Appointments aren’t interrupted by vexing phone calls. Care is seldom denied (because everybody knows the rules). She gets her checks on time, sees her patients on schedule, takes Thursdays off, and gets home in time for dinner.

One unsurprising side effect of all this is that the doctors I see here are, to a person, more focused, more relaxed, more generous with their time, more up-to-date in their specialties, and overall much less distracted from the real work of doctoring. You don’t realize how much stress the American doctor-insurer fights put on the day-to-day quality of care until you see doctors who don’t operate under that stress, because they never have to fight those battles at all. Amazingly: they seem to enjoy their jobs.

Third: The average American medical student graduates $140,000 in hock. The average Canadian doctor’s debt is roughly half that.

Finally, Canadian doctors pay lower malpractice insurance fees. When paying for health care constitutes a one of a family’s major expenses, expectations tend to run very high. A doctor’s mistake not only damages the body; it may very well throw a middle-class family permanently into the ranks of the working poor, and render the victim uninsurable for life. With so much at stake, it’s no wonder people are quick to rush to court for redress.

Canadians are far less likely to sue in the first place, since they’re not having to absorb devastating financial losses in addition to any physical losses when something goes awry. The cost of the damaging treatment will be covered. So will the cost of fixing it. And, no matter what happens, the victim will remain insured for life. When lawsuits do occur, the awards don’t have to include coverage for future medical costs, which reduces the insurance company’s liability.

3. Wait times in Canada are horrendous.
True and False again — it depends on which province you live in, and what’s wrong with you. Canada’s health care system runs on federal guidelines that ensure uniform standards of care, but each territory and province administers its own program. Some provinces don’t plan their facilities well enough; in those, you can have waits. Some do better. As a general rule, the farther north you live, the harder it is to get to care, simply because the doctors and hospitals are concentrated in the south. But that’s just as true in any rural county in the U.S.

You can hear the bitching about it no matter where you live, though. The percentage of Canadians who’d consider giving up their beloved system consistently languishes in the single digits. A few years ago, a TV show asked Canadians to name the Greatest Canadian in history; and in a broad national consensus, they gave the honor to Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who is considered the father of the country’s health care system. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was also Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather.). In spite of that, though, grousing about health care is still unofficially Canada’s third national sport after curling and hockey.

And for the country’s newspapers, it’s a prime watchdogging opportunity. Any little thing goes sideways at the local hospital, and it’s on the front pages the next day. Those kinds of stories sell papers, because everyone is invested in that system and has a personal stake in how well it functions. The American system might benefit from this kind of constant scrutiny, because it’s certainly one of the things that keeps the quality high. But it also makes people think it’s far worse than it is.

Critics should be reminded that the American system is not exactly instant-on, either. When I lived in California, I had excellent insurance, and got my care through one of the best university-based systems in the nation. Yet I routinely had to wait anywhere from six to twelve weeks to get in to see a specialist. Non-emergency surgical waits could be anywhere from four weeks to four months. After two years in the BC system, I’m finding the experience to be pretty much comparable, and often better. The notable exception is MRIs, which were easy in California, but can take many months to get here. (It’s the number one thing people go over the border for.) Other than that, urban Canadians get care about as fast as urban Americans do.

4. You have to wait forever to get a family doctor.
False for the vast majority of Canadians, but True for a few. Again, it all depends on where you live. I live in suburban Vancouver, and there are any number of first-rate GPs in my neighborhood who are taking new patients. If you don’t have a working relationship with one, but need to see a doctor now, there are 24-hour urgent care clinics in most neighborhoods that will usually get you in and out on the minor stuff in under an hour.

It is, absolutely, harder to get to a doctor if you live out in a small town, or up in the territories. But that’s just as true in the U.S. — and in America, the government won’t cover the airfare for rural folk to come down to the city for needed treatment, which all the provincial plans do.

5. You don’t get to choose your own doctor.
Scurrilously False. Somebody, somewhere, is getting paid a lot of money to make this kind of stuff up. The cons love to scare the kids with stories about the government picking your doctor for you, and you don’t get a choice. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

For the record: Canadians pick their own doctors, just like Americans do. And not only that: since it all pays the same, poor Canadians have exactly the same access to the country’s top specialists that rich ones do.

6. Canada’s care plan only covers the basics.
You’re still on your own for any extras, including prescription drugs. And you still have to pay for it.
True — but not as big an issue as you might think. The province does charge a small monthly premium (ours is $108/month for a family of four) for the basic coverage. However, most people never even have to write that check: almost all employers pick up the tab for their employees’ premiums as part of the standard benefits package; and the province covers it for people on public assistance or disability.

“The basics” covered by this plan include 100% of all doctor’s fees, ambulance fares, tests, and everything that happens in a hospital — in other words, the really big-ticket items that routinely drive American families into bankruptcy. In BC, it doesn’t include “extras” like medical equipment, prescriptions, physical therapy or chiropractic care, dental, vision, and so on; and if you want a private or semi-private room with TV and phone, that costs extra (about what you’d pay for a room in a middling hotel). That other stuff does add up; but it’s far easier to afford if you’re not having to cover the big expenses, too. Furthermore: you can deduct any out-of-pocket health expenses you do have to pay off your income taxes. And, as every American knows by now, drugs aren’t nearly as expensive here, either.

Filling the gap between the basics and the extras is the job of the country’s remaining private health insurers. Since they’re off the hook for the ruinously expensive big-ticket items that can put their own profits at risk, the insurance companies make a tidy business out of offering inexpensive policies that cover all those smaller, more predictable expenses. Top-quality add-on policies typically run in the ballpark of $75 per person in a family per month — about $300 for a family of four — if you’re stuck buying an individual plan. Group plans are cheap enough that even small employers can afford to offer them as a routine benefit. An average working Canadian with employer-paid basic care and supplemental insurance gets free coverage equal to the best policies now only offered at a few of America’s largest corporations. And that employer is probably only paying a couple hundred dollars a month to provide that benefit.

7. Canadian drugs are not the same.
More preposterious bogosity. They are exactly the same drugs, made by the same pharmaceutical companies, often in the same factories. The Canadian drug distribution system, however, has much tighter oversight; and pharmacies and pharmacists are more closely regulated. If there is a difference in Canadian drugs at all, they’re actually likely to be safer.

Also: pharmacists here dispense what the doctors tell them to dispense, the first time, without moralizing. I know. It’s amazing.

8. Publicly-funded programs will inevitably lead to rationed health care, particularly for the elderly.
False. And bogglingly so. The papers would have a field day if there was the barest hint that this might be true.

One of the things that constantly amazes me here is how well-cared-for the elderly and disabled you see on the streets here are. No, these people are not being thrown out on the curb. In fact, they live longer, healthier, and more productive lives because they’re getting a constant level of care that ensures small things get treated before they become big problems.

The health care system also makes it easier on their caregiving adult children, who have more time to look in on Mom and take her on outings because they aren’t working 60-hour weeks trying to hold onto a job that gives them insurance.

9. People won’t be responsible for their own health if they’re not being forced to pay for the consequences.
False. The philosophical basis of America’s privatized health care system might best be characterized as medical Calvinism. It’s fascinating to watch well-educated secularists who recoil at the Protestant obsession with personal virtue, prosperity as a cardinal sign of election by God, and total responsibility for one’s own salvation turn into fire-eyed, moralizing True Believers when it comes to the subject of Taking Responsibility For One’s Own Health.

They’ll insist that health, like salvation, is entirely in our own hands. If you just have the character and self-discipline to stick to an abstemious regime of careful diet, clean living, and frequent sweat offerings to the Great Treadmill God, you’ll never get sick. (Like all good theologies, there’s even an unspoken promise of immortality: f you do it really really right, they imply, you might even live forever.) The virtuous Elect can be discerned by their svelte figures and low cholesterol numbers. From here, it’s a short leap to the conviction that those who suffer from chronic conditions are victims of their own weaknesses, and simply getting what they deserve. Part of their punishment is being forced to pay for the expensive, heavily marketed pharmaceuticals needed to alleviate these avoidable illnesses. They can’t complain. It was their own damned fault; and it’s not our responsibility to pay for their sins. In fact, it’s recently been suggested that they be shunned, lest they lead the virtuous into sin.

Of course, this is bad theology whether you’re applying it to the state of one’s soul or one’s arteries. The fact is that bad genes, bad luck, and the ravages of age eventually take their toll on all of us — even the most careful of us. The economics of the Canadian system reflect this very different philosophy: it’s built on the belief that maintaining health is not an individual responsibility, but a collective one. Since none of us controls fate, the least we can do is be there for each other as our numbers come up.

This difference is expressed in a few different ways. First: Canadians tend to think of tending to one’s health as one of your duties as a citizen. You do what’s right because you don’t want to take up space in the system, or put that burden on your fellow taxpayers. Second, “taking care of yourself” has a slightly expanded definition here, which includes a greater emphasis on public health. Canadians are serious about not coming to work if you’re contagious, and seeing a doctor ASAP if you need to. Staying healthy includes not only diet and exercise; but also taking care to keep your germs to yourself, avoiding stress, and getting things treated while they’re still small and cheap to fix.

Third, there’s a somewhat larger awareness that stress leads to big-ticket illnesses — and a somewhat lower cultural tolerance for employers who put people in high-stress situations. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for their greed. And finally, there’s a generally greater acceptance on the part of both the elderly and their families that end-of-life heroics may be drawing resources away from people who might put them to better use. You can have them if you want them; but reasonable and compassionate people should be able to take the larger view.

The bottom line: When it comes to getting people to make healthy choices, appealing to their sense of the common good seems to work at least as well as Calvinist moralizing.

10. This all sounds great — but the taxes to cover it are just unaffordable. And besides, isn’t the system in bad financial shape?
False. On one hand, our annual Canadian tax bite runs about 10% higher than our U.S. taxes did. On the other, we’re not paying out the equivalent of two new car payments every month to keep the family insured here. When you balance out the difference, we’re actually money ahead. When you factor in the greatly increased social stability that follows when everybody’s getting their necessary health care, the impact on our quality of life becomes even more signficant.

And True — but only because this is a universal truth that we need to make our peace with. Yes, the provincial plans are always struggling. So is every single publicly-funded health care system in the world, including the VA and Medicare. There’s always tension between what the users of the system want, and what the taxpayers are willing to pay. The balance of power ebbs and flows between them; but no matter where it lies at any given moment, at least one of the pair is always going to be at least somewhat unhappy.

But, as many of us know all too well, there’s also constant tension between what patients want and what private insurers are willing to pay. At least when it’s in government hands, we can demand some accountability. And my experience in Canada has convinced me that this accountability is what makes all the difference between the two systems.

It is true that Canada’s system is not the same as the U.S. system. It’s designed to deliver a somewhat different product, to a population that has somewhat different expectations. But the end result is that the vast majority of Canadians get the vast majority of what they need the vast majority of the time. It’ll be a good day when when Americans can hold their heads high and proudly make that same declaration.

You can read the complete article and more of what Sara Robinson has to say on OurFuture.org.

Originally posted 2010-03-12 02:00:29.

The Eve…

It is the eve of a new year.

It would be interesting to know who future historians will characterize the first decade of this millennium; and what they will have to say about the causes of our plights.

Today; however, we don’t have the advantage of hind sight on today — nor can we really have good perspective on the recent events that have gotten us to where we are.

Each generation looks to it’s time as a decay of what was, and longs for the “good ol’ days”… and for us it’s hard to imagine that these will be the “good ol’ days” of another generation — and much as we lament about today with dwell on fond remembrances of our past so will our children’s children.

Well, that is if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an on coming train.

Originally posted 2009-12-31 01:00:25.

Compensating Politicians Adequately

My personal belief is that we vote against each and every incumbent; they have shown time and time again that they are the problem… and by far and large their only interest is in themselves and their needs.

Given, though, that people will always have faith in those that have thrown them bread crumbs to win their favor, we need to figure out other ways to encourage our politicians to fix what’s wrong.

One possible way to make our politicians more accountable for what they do (or don’t do) would be to tie their compensation to economic indicators (and not let them keep changing how those are calculated).

Let’s see — we could permanently reduce their pay by the percentage that the GNP falls; and reduce their pay by the same percentage as unemployment.

Those two would be a good start — but we’d also need to make sure that their nearly unlimited expense accounts were curbed as well… and maybe we need to find a way to make sure that the health insurance and retirement systems that they are part of is no better than that the people who put them in office are entitle to.

Let’s end the gravy train, and force our leaders to lead us, not bleed us dry.

Originally posted 2010-04-16 02:00:01.

E pluribus unum

Out of many, one…

It was the de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when the United States Congress pass HJ Resolution 396 adopting “In God We Trust” as the official motto (the same congress that added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in reaction to the “godless” communists).

E pluribus unum

In God we trust

Great Seal of the United States

Originally posted 2013-12-23 12:00:35.

The solution to illegal immigration

Wow, it looks like the GOP really knew what they were doing by driving the economy into the toilet.

I guess the GOP realized that they weren’t really getting any traction on protecting American jobs from illegal immigrants through circumventing the law and harassment, so they just decided to make the economy in the United States worse than most every where else in the world…

…and it’s working!

Reports from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the number of illegal immigrants entering this country per year has been steadily dropping since 2007.

Maybe this is why the Republican’s have seemingly resisted all the efforts to get the economy back on track.

Region 2009 2008 Change
South Atlantic 1,950 2,550 -600
Florida 675 1,050 -375
Others combined 1,050 1,200 -160
Mountain 1,000 1,200 -160
Nevada 180 230 -50
AZ-CO-UT 700 825 -130

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

The South Atlantic consists of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The Mountain region consists of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Originally posted 2010-09-03 02:00:34.

On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth

An excerpt from – On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth

The “Problem” of God in the Boy Scouts

In April of 1985, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America ruled that a fifteen-year-old Scout, Paul Trout of Charlottesville, Virginia, “should be expelled from the Scouts because he doesn’t believe in God.” Apparently, Trout mentioned in his interview with the advancement committee for his promotion to Life that he does not believe in God (or maybe that he does not believe in God as a Supreme Being, a distinction that makes a difference). Carl Hunter, director of the Stonewall Jackson Area Council, was quoted in the press as saying, “The Scout Law requires a young man to be absolutely loyal to God and country and to be reverent toward God. You can’t do that if you don’t believe in a Supreme Being.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took up Trout’s case, but by October the national organization reversed itself and readmitted Trout. The organization’s explanation was that Trout had said merely that he “did not believe in God as a supreme being,” and they chose to interpret his views as a disagreement over the definition of God. “So the organization’s national executive board decided to delete from its literature any definition of God . . . while reaffirming the Scout Oath’s declaration of duty to God.” I shall return to this issue of defining God, but let me move ahead to 1991.

By the summer of 1991, the BSA had two more lawsuits on its hands. The families of eight-year-old Mark Walsh of Chicago and of nine-year-old twins Michael and William Randall of Anaheim, California, had launched separate suits after their sons had been expelled from Cub Scout troops for saying they did not believe in God. The Cub Scouts is the organization created in 1930 by the BSA for younger boys, aged eight to eleven, with the young boys organized into “dens” supervised by a “den mother” and a larger unit, the “Cub Pack,” usually led by a male pack leader.

The BSA had finessed the Trout case by framing it as a mere dispute over the meaning of the word “God,” but these suits pitted avowed atheists against the BSA requirement that members believe in God. The National Council’s stance was that the BSA is a private group that can admit and exclude members by criteria particular to the organization. “Also supporting the status quo,” explained a New York Times story, “are the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, which formed the first Scouting council in America in 1913 and which remains the largest single Scout sponsor, and the Roman Catholic Church, the fourth-largest Scout sponsor. The two churches, which together support more than a quarter of all Scout troops, contend that the Boy Scouts has every right to keep certain people out, whether as Scouts, volunteers, or staff members.”

Public schools, it seems, sponsor the largest number of Scouts, which provided fuel for the plaintiffs’ view that the BSA is a public organization. But the public schools “do not speak with the unified voice of the Mormon or Catholic churches,” notes the New York Times reporter, who also points to a basic contradiction in the BSA practices regarding religious belief. “Officials say the organization was founded for boys who believe in God and should remain true to those principles,” he writes. “But while the organization accepts Buddhists, who do not believe in a Supreme Being, and Unitarians, who seek insight from many traditions but pointedly avoid setting a creed, it does not tolerate people who are openly atheist, agnostic, or unwilling to say in that Scout oath they will serve God.”

In fact, it was precisely this contradiction that the twins’ father, James Grafton Randall, acting as their attorney in the case, hammered as he cross-examined witnesses for the organization. In a decision with significant implications, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard O. Frazee Sr. ruled in June of 1992 that the Boy Scouts could not exclude the twins “because of their beliefs, or lack of them.” More shocking still, the state supreme court refused to hear a petition from the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Meanwhile, the Girl Scouts of America faced a similar challenge. In November of 1992, James Randall filed a suit against the Girl Scouts on behalf of a six-year-old San Diego area girl and her father, challenging the Girl Scouts’ pledge to “serve God” as a “religious test oath” that violates the Constitution. Within a year, the Girl Scouts had changed their pledge, permitting girls to replace “God” with “words they deem more appropriate” while reciting the Girl Scout Promise. “The group’s leaders said the measure . . . acknowledges growing religious and ethnic diversity among the nation’s 2.6 million Girl Scouts,” explained a newspaper account of the national convention that voted overwhelmingly for the new policy. “In regions with large Asian and American Indian populations, the group has had trouble recruiting girls whose religious tradition does not include a Judeo-Christian concept of God. . . .”

The Girl Scouts found a comfortable solution to the dilemmas of religious diversity, choosing a route that would make the organization open to every girl. What kept the Boy Scouts from doing the same thing? When reporters bothered asking boys themselves what they thought about excluding boys from the organization because they didn’t believe in God, the reporters found “mild to strong support for changes.” And this is what I would expect from my long association with the Scouts, both as a Scout and as a researcher observing a troop for over twenty years. The “professional Scouters,” the bureaucrats who work for the national office of the Boy Scouts of America, feel compelled to speak authoritatively about what is good or bad for children and adolescents without actually asking any young people what they think about it.

So why did the National Council dig in its heels on this issue? What was so much at stake that the Boy Scouts could not follow the example of the Girl Scouts and move to accommodate religious diversity?

Part of the answer lies in the historical connection between Christianity and an aggressive version of masculinity. It is useful to examine a bit of history on this connection. And perhaps the best way to get at this history is to look briefly at the five main figures who came together to create the Boy Scouts of America—Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, Edgar M. Robinson, John L. Alexander, and James E. West—for these men embodied much of the ambivalence and tension that connected Christianity with masculinity at the turn of the twentieth century.

Born in Victorian England (1860) and raised in Canada, Seton established himself as an artist, naturalist, and author of animal stories before he embarked on his boys’ work near the end of the century. In the 1890s, Seton began to formulate his “Woodcraft Idea,” a theory for youth work based on the Darwinian instinct psychology of G. Stanley Hall. The model woodcrafter, thought Seton, was the American Indian, and in 1898 Seton (at the urging of Rudyard Kipling) began casting his Woodcraft Idea into the form of a novel. Over the next few years, Seton worked simultaneously on the novel, Two Little Savages: Being the Adventures of Two Boys Who Lived as Indians and What They Learned (1903), and on a handbook for the organization he envisioned. In 1902, Ladies Home Journal agreed to establish a new Department of American Woodcraft for Boys, helping Seton launch his organization by publishing a Seton article each month. The appearance of Two Little Savages in 1903 and The Red Book, or How to Play Indian in 1904 cemented Seton’s national reputation as a leader in youth work, and he was asked to chair the committee that met in 1910 to found the Boy Scouts of America. Seton was made the first Chief Scout of the organization, and he wrote large portions of the first Handbook for Boys (1911), a manual that resembles the Birch Bark Roll as much as or more than it does the first British handbook written by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. Seton increasingly felt alienated from the Boy Scout leadership, accusing the New York businessmen and bankers in their numbers of abandoning the Woodcraft Idea he had in mind as the ideological foundation for the movement and as the feature that distinguished it so well from Baden-Powell’s militaristic model. In 1915, the conflict came to a head over the fact that Seton had never become an American citizen. The position of Chief Scout was abolished, and amid very bitter public exchanges Seton left the Boy Scouts to redevote himself to his Woodcraft Indians.

Two aspects of Seton’s thought in this period are relevant to our understanding his conception of God. First, Seton looked primarily to American Indian religions as the model for spirituality and ethics. Seton consulted written documents and live informants to distill “The Indian’s Creed.” Whereas “the redman” believed in many gods, he accepted “one Supreme Spirit.” To prove his thesis that the “redman’s religion” could revitalize twentieth-century white society, Seton described in detail the “redman’s” traits: he was reverent, clean, chaste, brave, thrifty, cheerful, obedient, kind, hospitable, truthful, honorable, and temperate, the model of physical excellence. In short, Seton embraced American Indian religions more than traditional European faiths, and he was as likely to hold up the famed Shawnee chief Tecumseh as a model of spiritual manhood as he was Christ. So, while it is accurate to say that Seton believed in God, he believed in a Supreme Being far from the one portrayed by most Western religions, and I think it is unlikely that he would have wanted to exclude from the Boy Scouts any boy or man who expressed doubts about the traditional understanding of God required by the present organization.

But Seton left the organization. What of Beard and the other founders? Daniel Carter Beard was no more conventional in his religious views than was Seton. Beard’s childhood in Cincinnati prepared him for the same wedding of art and nature we see in Seton’s thought. His father, James N. Beard, was a prominent artist, and his mother’s family (the Carters) enjoyed great entrepreneurial success in the Ohio Valley. The Swedenborgian theology of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, provided the moral canopy over the artistic and entrepreneurial values that Beard learned in his childhood home, as both the Beards and the Carters had converted to this faith early in the nineteenth century. After formal training in both engineering and art, Beard gained his fame in New York as an illustrator for St. Nicholas, a magazine for children, and compiled a series of articles he wrote and illustrated into his first book, the classic American Boys’ Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It.

In 1886, Beard joined Henry George’s single-tax movement and wrote his own single-tax novel, Moonblight. By 1889, Beard’s fame led Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, to seek him out to illustrate A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, an assignment Beard relished. The politics and morality of the novel appealed to Beard, and he was especially attracted to Twain’s theme of sham and the relationship between appearance and character. Beard’s illustrations for the novel became controversial because of his use of contemporary public figures (such as Jay Gould) as models for his characters as well as his explicit attacks on the church and the capitalists. Twain was pleased with Beard’s Connecticut Yankee illustrations, but many critics saw the illustrations as propaganda, and Beard was blacklisted as an illustrator.

Frustrated with the political and economic arenas of reform, Beard returned to boys’ work in 1905. William E. Annis, the new owner and publisher of Recreation, hired Beard as the magazine’s editor. In addition to the conservationist agenda they shared, including the conservation of American Indian cultures, Beard and Annis wanted to use the monthly magazine to launch a youth movement. The July 1905 issue introduced The Sons of Daniel Boone, a new department of the magazine. One purpose of the new organization was to enlist young people in the magazine’s conservation work. But equally important to Beard was the movement’s promise to promote “manliness” through democratic organization (boys would create local chapters called “forts”), outdoor fun, woodcraft (the study of nature), and handicraft (the making of things as first illustrated in his Handy Book). There was no central bureaucracy for the movement, and Beard’s monthly articles and the other material he wrote were all that linked the local chapters. By 1908, however, twenty thousand boys were members of the Sons of Daniel Boone.

Conflicts within the organization led Beard to sever his ties with Recreation in 1906 and join Woman’s Home Companion, where he continued writing for The Sons of Daniel Boone. Beard’s clashes with the women editors of the magazine led him to resign in 1909 and use Pictorial Review as the new magazine for promotion of his youth-movement ideas. A legal battle ensued with Woman’s Home Companion over the rights to the name “The Sons of Daniel Boone,” and when the parties finally settled, the magazine kept the name and Beard kept the rights to his articles. Beard chose Young Pioneers as the name for his new movement and filled the movement’s handbook with stories of pioneer heroes like Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed. These movements were in place in 1910 when Beard joined Seton and others to establish the Boy Scouts of America.

If neither Seton nor Beard was religious by the usual, mainstream standards in 1910, certainly we can say that Edgar M. Robinson, John L. Alexander, and James E. West embraced the Protestant “muscular Christianity” that linked physical fitness and moral rectitude at the end of the nineteenth century. Robinson and Alexander came from successful careers organizing youth work for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and West, the first chief executive of the BSA, also had YMCA experience as well as a law degree. But even in their most religious moments, Robinson and Alexander and West resembled Seton and Beard in their greater concern that boys acquire the virtues of manhood. Alexander wrote the “Chivalry” chapter for the first Handbook, and a long paragraph on “A Boy Scout’s Religion” is the only mention of religion in the entire Handbook. “The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no boy can grow into the best kind of citizenship,” explains Alexander,

without recognizing his obligation to God. . . . The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe, and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings is necessary to the best type of citizenship and is a wholesome thing in the education of the growing boy. . . . The Boy Scouts of America therefore recognize the religious element in the training of a boy, but it is absolutely non-sectarian in its attitude toward that religious training.

Alexander goes on to explain that the Boy Scouts leaves religious training to the boy’s own religious organizations; that is not the work of the Boy Scouts.

A careful reader of Boy Scout Handbooks, Scoutmaster Handbooks, and other Scout literature from the founding through the 1940s would have to conclude, I think, that insisting upon an aggressive religious stance was not high on the BSA’s agenda. Of course, it was true that the Boy Scout Oath created by the 1910 committee to “Americanize” elements borrowed from Baden-Powell’s movement had boys promise to do their best to do their duty to God, but the first Handbook‘s rhetoric around religion is remarkably subdued. The explanation of the twelfth point of the Scout Law, “A Scout is Reverent,” emphasizes both duty and tolerance: “He is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion.” Nor does this rather relaxed approach change in the second (1911), third (1915), or fourth (“revised,” 1927) editions.

It is only in the fifth edition (1948) that the authors of the Handbook began to expand their explanation of “duty to God” and “A Scout is Reverent.” For example, “Your Duty to God”:

You worship God regularly with your family in your church or synagogue. You try to follow the religious teachings that you have been taught, and you are faithful in your church school duties, and help in church activities. Above all you are faithful to Almighty God’s Commandments.Most great men in history have been men of deep religious faith. Washington knelt in the snow to pray at Valley Forge. Lincoln always sought Divine guidance before each important decision. Be proud of your religious faith.

Remember in doing your duty to God, to be grateful to Him. Whenever you succeed in doing something well, thank Him for it. Sometimes when you look up into the starlit sky on a quiet night, and feel close to Him—thank Him as the Giver of all good things.

One way to express your duty and your thankfulness to God is to help others, and this too, is a part of your Scout promise.

The expanded discussion of the twelfth point of the Scout Law also lays down much more explicit instructions on what it takes for a Scout to be “reverent”:

Reverence is that respect, regard, consideration, courtesy, devotion, and affection you have for some person, place or thing because it is holy. The Scout shows true reverence in two principal ways. First, you pray to God, you love God and you serve Him. Secondly, in your everyday actions you help other people, because they are made by God to God’s own likeness. You and all men are made by God to God’s own likeness. You and all men are important in the sight of God because God made you. The “unalienable rights” in our historic Declaration of Independence, come from God.That is why you respect others whose religion and customs may differ from yours. Some fellows think they are smart by telling stories or making fun of people of other religions or races. All your life you will be associating with people of other beliefs and customs. It is your duty to respect these people for their beliefs and customs, and to live your own.

We can see in this passage an elaboration of what was introduced first in Alexander’s 1911 linking of belief in God with “the best type of citizenship.” We see the wedding of religion and democratic ideology, of religion and patriotism. And we also see a continuation of tolerance and of what earlier Handbooks called “practical religion”—that is, the demonstration of duty and reverence to God by helping others.

It was also in this 1948 edition of the Handbook, used throughout the 1950s, that the Religious Awards Program appeared. The program required cooperation between the BSA and certain religious denominations, as it was the minister, priest, or rabbi who certified that the boy had performed the duties and service worthy of the award. The 1948 Handbook described religious medals for Roman Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Lutheran, and Buddhist boys and a general Protestant medal called the God and Country Award.

The Boy Scouts of America hit its golden age, both literally and figuratively, in the late 1950s; 1960 marked the golden anniversary of the organization. The demographics of the 1950s still have a lot to do with how the Boy Scouts thinks about itself. The baby boom was one feature of the 1950s, as the first wave of children born in that cohort (1946-62) pressed hard on the 1950s institutions aimed at serving children. I know because I am a member of that cohort. Born in July of 1945, I was eight years old when I joined the Cub Scouts in 1953. My third grade class had to meet in a one-room “portable” classroom because the South Florida school districts could not build new elementary schools fast enough to handle the suburban baby boomers. White, suburban, middle-class—these were the demographic features of the baby boom kids who flocked to Scouting in the 1950s. Being a good mother in the 1950s meant that you stayed home to raise the children, which included carting the kids to Scouts, dance lessons, Little League practice, and more. An organization that originally aspired to reach urban, working-class, and immigrant kids had become by 1960 predominantly white and middle-class.

The impact of the “symbolic demography” of the 1950s was just as significant. By symbolic demography, I mean the web of symbols and meanings that characterized the mainly mass-mediated narratives of American public culture. The rise of television in the 1950s had a profound effect on the symbolic demography of the period, as television generated for the middle-class audience a great number of narratives about “American life” and “the American way,” from the family sitcoms like Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It to Beaver to Cold War narratives as obvious as I Led Three Lives and as subtly coded as Gunsmoke.

In many ways, the 1950s version of America and the 1950s version of the Boy Scouts of America are fixed in the minds of the white middle class, regardless of the realities of differences in the ways Americans experienced American life from 1945 to 1960. The mass media invented an American middle-class way of life, a way “we never were,” as one historian puts it. But it is this fiction, the 1950s version of middle-class family life, that has become “normative,” that has become the “traditional” way of life to which all subsequent experiences have been compared.

Now consider the role of religion in this public culture of the United States in the 1950s. By any measure, Americans in the 1950s were a “religious” people. Membership in organized churches and other sects grew from 64.5 million in 1940 to 114.6 million in 1960. Public opinion polls consistently showed that the vast majority of Americans believed in God and prayed to him daily. Religious leaders like Reinhold Niebuhr, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, and Billy Graham became well-known figures in the public culture, and Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 best-seller, The Power of Positive Thinking, captured the optimistic tone and style of much of the public religion.

Religion in the 1950s was tangled with national and international politics. Religion had become an important marker distinguishing between the Communists and the Western democracies. “They” were “godless communists,” while we were religious. The World Council of Churches was founded in 1948, but Cold War politics soon disrupted that ecumenical move. The National Council of Churches was founded in the United States in 1950, and that coalition of mainly Protestant, mainline, and liberal denominations represented about thirty million church members. It is no accident that sociologist Robert Bellah published his first writings on “the American Civil Religion” in 1967. Although Bellah sees evidence of this particular blend of Protestant Christianity and Enlightenment political theory in earlier public narratives, such as Lincoln’s second inaugural address, it was living in Eisenhower’s America of the 1950s that made so clear to everyone the ways Protestant Christianity and Cold War ideology became tangled in the definitions of America. Even writers on Jews and Catholics, for example, noted how acculturation to the United States “protestantized” other religions. And this was the period when “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” was added to our money. The American flag, the civil religion, and patriotism entwined in the 1950s. The American Civil Religion enjoyed a powerful consensus in the public culture, even if people could not agree wholly on the political practices implied by that religion. Martin Luther King Jr. could invoke the Civil Religion as well as anyone, and the Civil Rights movement (which, in many ways, began with the Montgomery bus boycott late in 1955) drew upon religious energy from the start.

The Boy Scouts of America, that quintessential organization of 1950s America, proudly embraced this civil religion. The Boy Scouts was “nondenominational,” to be sure, and there were religious badges representing each major religious group. But “nondenominational” could not include agnosticism or atheism in 1950s America, for “nondenominational” meant only that no one religious denomination could impose its theology and practices upon the organization. Boys from all faiths were free to join the organization, but “faith” was the key. A boy had to have a faith, for atheism—and probably agnosticism—was the characteristic of Communists, our sworn enemies.

The sixth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, published in 1959, reflects the public religion of the 1950s in its revisions of the passages explaining “duty to God” and “reverent.” “Your parents and religious leaders teach you to know and love God, and the ways in which you can serve him,” explains the text about the Oath. “By following these teachings in your daily life you are doing your duty to God as a Scout.” The passage on “A Scout is Reverent” states the Civil Religion perfectly and is worth quoting in full:

Take a Lincoln penny out of your pocket and look at it. What do you see on it? Just above Lincoln’s head are the words “In God We Trust.” Twelve little letters on our humblest coin. Not only as individuals, but as a nation, too, we are committed to live and work in harmony with God and His plan.Most great men in history have been men of deep religious faith who have shown their convictions in deed. Washington knelt in the snow to pray at Valley Forge. Lincoln always sought divine guidance before making an important decision. Eisenhower prayed to God before taking his oath of office as President of the United States. These men had many things in common: love of the out-of-doors, human kindness, and an earnest vigor in working with God in helping make a better world.

You are reverent as you serve God in your everyday actions and are faithful in your religious obligations as taught you by your parents and spiritual leaders.

All your life you will be associated with people of different faiths. In America we believe in religious freedom. That is why we respect others whose religion may differ from ours, although for reason of conscience we do not agree with them.

This passage effectively conflates duty to God and country as a single duty, the individual’s duty to both but also the nation’s duty to God’s plan. The authors of the Handbook link Washington, Lincoln, and Eisenhower as practitioners of the nation’s public religion, while still urging tolerance for sectarian differences under the larger umbrella of a public religion. Tellingly, this passage also revives a 1950s version of “muscular Christianity.” The talk about “love of the out-of-doors” and about “an earnest vigor in working with God” echoes the nineteenth-century belief that a physically vigorous, aggressive masculinity would nourish and strengthen the spiritual and moral dimension of the boy’s character.

By 1960 the Boy Scouts had two powerful visual icons at work reinforcing the role of religious faith and reverence in the socialization of American boys. First was the artwork of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell began his association with the Boy Scouts very early. In 1912, the national office had acquired Boys’ Life, a magazine that had been created by an eighteen-year-old in Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter, another eighteen-year-old, Norman Rockwell, began working for Boys’ Life editor Edward Cave as illustrator for the magazine, for books, for Boy Scout calendars from 1925 into the 1970s, and for the covers of the 1927, 1959, and 1979 editions of the Handbook and the 1959 edition of the Handbook for Scoutmasters. William Hillcourt’s generously illustrated book on Norman Rockwell’s work on behalf of the Boy Scouts tells the details of this association, details I shall not recount here. My point is that through Saturday Evening Post covers, his numerous illustrations of the Boy Scouts, and especially his “Four Freedoms” paintings used to sell war bonds during World War II, Norman Rockwell had become by 1960 the definitive illustrator of the American Civil Religion. In his caption for Rockwell’s 1950 painting “Our Heritage,” Hillcourt writes that in this calendar painting “Norman combined ‘duty to God’ and ‘duty to country’ in a single picture. There was an extra significance to this painting: that year more than fifty thousand Scouts took part in the Second National Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where Washington has prayed during the dark days of the winter of 1777-78.”

Indeed, Valley Forge was the site for both the 1950 and the 1957 National Jamborees, only the second and fourth giant gatherings of Boy Scouts from all over the United States. The national office chose as the visual image for these jamborees a profile of George Washington, kneeling in prayer and asking God’s help for the soldiers huddled in the cold at Valley Forge. Of course, Washington was also praying for God’s blessing on the whole enterprise of the American Revolution. The image brilliantly condensed both the religious and the political elements of the American Civil Religion in the 1950s and even contained what I imagine was an unintended pun on Cold War. This official logo of the jamboree appeared on patches, jackets, coffee mugs, and any number of other memorabilia available to Scouts.

The national office of the Boy Scouts of America has never shaken off the symbolic demography of the 1950s. In 1992, the Anaheim twins’ agnostic lawyer father, James Randall, told a Los Angeles Times reporter: “It’s like dealing with the 1950s all over again—or at least all the bad parts of the 1950s,” and the same reporter found that many “Scout elders say their adolescent experiences with compasses, intricate knots and Scouting comrades left deep impressions on them. ‘It was one of the most meaningful times of my life,’ said Edward C. Jacobs, once a teen-age Scout in Missouri, now Scout executive in Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest council.” Here lies the significance of the actual and symbolic demographics of the 1950s—that so many adults running the organization were Scouts or young Scout leaders in the 1950s.

Repeated attempts to move the organization beyond the white middle class, many of them good-faith attempts, have met with little success and occasional scandal. The 1970s move of the national headquarters from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Irving, Texas, a suburb lying between Dallas and Fort Worth, symbolizes the symbolic demography of the movement. The national organization has chosen sides in the culture wars.

Talk of the culture wars has entered public discourse and everyday conversations to such an extent that most Americans have a pretty good sense of what this phrase means. This is a war over values and moral authority. As James Davison Hunter, one of the best writers on the wars, puts it, we are witnessing “polarizing impulses” from two camps. For one group of Americans, the “orthodox,” moral authority rests on “an external, definable, and transcendent authority,” and this camp holds the cultural conservatives and moral traditionalists. For the other group, the “progressives,” moral authority is not so fixed, as this camp tends “to resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life.” These are the “liberals” and “cultural progressives.” These categories cross and confound faith traditions, including secularists, who can be found in both camps. For Hunter and a number of other commentators on the culture wars, it is this new element of identity—not gender, not race, not social class, not religious tradition—that becomes the best predictor of a person’s politics.

So for all these reasons the Boy Scouts of America could not compromise on the atheists’ challenge at the end of the twentieth century. It does not matter that the founders of the movement, including Baden-Powell himself, had little interest in promoting religion beyond a very generalized belief in a Supreme Being, a fact that should make it as easy for the Boy Scouts as the Girl Scouts to change the oath (in practice, if not in wording) from a belief in God to a belief in a Supreme Being. The religious conservatives who control the national office of the Boy Scouts see themselves as important troops in the culture wars. If religion, masculinity, and citizenship are as tangled as the rhetoric of the Boy Scouts and others seems to make them and if, as so many historians and social critics have suggested, there is evidence everywhere of a “crisis in white masculinity,” a status revolution in which white males feel like the beleaguered class, then it makes sense that the men running the Boy Scouts see the atheists and their ACLU lawyers as agents of an assault upon masculinity and whiteness (symbolized by certain European religions and the very American religion of Mormonism). The link between white masculinity and religion at century’s end explained why the Boy Scouts would not make this compromise, while the Girl Scouts would; the Girl Scouts, quite simply, have no stake in the masculinity part of the tangle.

· Jay Mechling


Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 35-47 of On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth by Jay Mechling, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2001 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of University of Chicago Press.

On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth
©2001, 348 pages, 11 halftones, 1 map, 1 chart
Cloth $30.00 ISBN: 0-226-51704-7
Paper $19.00 ISBN: 0-226-51705-5

Originally posted 2010-02-28 01:00:57.

How serious is Obama about his own policies???

If in fact President Barrack Obama is extremely concerned about health care for US citizens, and raising the minimum wages… explain why:

  1. Many (full-time) federal employees make substantially below the proposed minimum wage; and
  2. Many (full-time) federal employees are not eligible for health care through their employer.

How much more disingenuous can you be than not “fixing” your own “house” before looking to force businesses to raise wages and provide (health care) benefits?

In the computer industry we have a phrase “eating your own dogfood“… or more colloquial, “what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander“. 

But then again, this isn’t the first nor will it be the last time the government of the United States exempts itself for it’s own rules (laws)…

Originally posted 2014-03-18 10:00:33.

Lone Star Republic

Some times I think the one star on the Texas flag is more representative of the IQ of the average Texan than anything else… clearly though the State of Texas seems to miss the point about separation of church and state.

Last March the Texas Board of Education removed Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum of Texas schools and substituted John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone in his place to put a religious spin on the ideology of the found of this country (and many other revolutions around the world) rather than teach about Jefferson — the man who coined the phrase “separation between church and state.”

Now the State of Texas has judged many text books to have a pro-Islamic / anti-Christian tone.

Freedom of religion and freedom from religion are the fundamentals that this country was founded on; however, the Christian right understands how fragile their belief system is, and cannot take any risks that allowing individuals access to information that might enlighten their thinking and question the mis-guided beleifs the Christian right bases their bigotry and hatred on might defuse their strangle hold on backwards locations.

The really alarming aspect of the Texas Board of Education rulings is that with 4.7 million students subject to their regulations and rules text book publishers pay attention to their demands and thus Texas view points find their way into classrooms throughout the county.

It is a travesty to allow religion to be promoted in the public school system any place in this country.

Originally posted 2010-09-27 02:00:17.