Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Religion 201, No Ads, No Politics, Student Loans, Our Aging Population and Medicare Changes

There's a whale of a change going on with "Jackspotpourri" today, including some 
big differences for 2019.  

(including the color of the background)

No More Ads for a While

First of all, because of the difficulty I am having with Google’s Adsense feature, there will no longer be ads on the blog, the profits from which went to cancer-fighting charities.  My troubles with them started last year when I switched the Gmail address they had given me years ago at the time I started the blog to my new and current Gmail address. Without a human being to speak to (that’s the way it is with Google), I have been unable to resolve the problem over the past few months.  If this situation is remedied at sometime in the future, the ads, all of which benefit cancer research, will resume.  I am not totally ignoring the problem, but I am not losing sleep over it either.

Meanwhile, In lieu of clicking on the ads to help charities, I do urge all of you to make regular contributions to any and all legitimate organizations which support cancer research.  These include (and of course there are others) the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Society (one of my favorites),  chapters of such organizations as Hadassah and the Papanicolaou Corps, 

individual major research hospitals such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Dana Farber Cancer Center, Moffitt Cancer Center, and the Mayo Clinic.

Of course, making donations to local hospitals is also desirable unless they are owned by corporate “for profit” entities, such as Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) or Tenet Healthcare (South Florida examples are JFK Medical Center and Delray Medical Center) to which you should never make donations.  Doing that ultimately puts money in their shareholders’ pockets.

Goodbye to Politics

From here on in, there will be an absence of politics on the blog.  By now, most thinking Americans know that the occupant of the White House is totally unfit and unqualified for the job and that the Party which supports him, despite knowing this, shares the blame for the damage Donald Trump is doing to the nation.  It is a waste of effort to fill the blog with what amounts to “preaching to the choir” and trying to convince errant Republicans (and others) of the error of their ways.  There are many other things which the blog can constructively feature and your non-political efforts are always welcome. 


Student Loans – How they are Affecting Demographics?

These days, many young adults are strapped with enormous debt resulting from their
student loans.
  This is being reflected in their delaying marriage, having children later and a reluctance to go further into debt by delaying buying homes.  The lure of suburbia, bringing with it the need for one or more automobiles per family, is being replaced with decisions to remain in cities, where transportation is less of a challenge, often without the expenses (and debt) car ownership involves.  The vacancy rate in suburban malls, and the job loss that reflects, is  one result of this.  There will have to be measures over the next decades to make the resolution of these outstanding loans easier for young adults.  The economy demands it.

Complicating this are the number of student loans which were granted for tuition to less than creditable institutions, often involved in vocational rather than academic studies.  Some of these were outright frauds, just seeking to make a profit, and are now out of business.  Of course, they have taken the money and run off, leaving the student with the loan to repay.

Our Aging Population 

As more live longer, all over the world, who will support those who exhaust their resources and where will they be housed?  Let’s look at this problem as it manifests itself in the United States.

The Way It Used to Be
Years ago, the solution was for retirees to move in with their children’s families.  But this was when children remained close to their parents geographically.  Now they are often thousands of miles apart.  The institutions of a rocking chair on a front porch and an extra bedroom were part of this.  

But few houses have front porches today.  Some large families were fortunate enough (?) to include an adult unmarried daughter who assumed caregiver duties for the elderly parent.  Today’s smaller families have reduced that alternative.  

Millenials, Generation “X” and many Baby Boomers have not saved enough to adequately fund their retirement and Social Security payments alone are insufficient for that purpose.  Assisted living and nursing facilities, both costly, are no solution for otherwise healthy but insolvent retirees.  The nation’s eyes have been closed to that problem up until now, but as these generations age, they will have to open. How large a role government (which means taxation) will play in a solution will be widely debated over the next twenty years.

Medicare Changes 

Folks becoming eligible for Medicare in 2020 are in for some surprises.  The most popular (and most expensive) Medicare Supplement Plan (Plan F) will no longer be available.  Unless they choose a Medicare Advantage Plan rather than traditional Medicare, they will have to choose a Medicare Supplement (sometimes called Medigap) plan with higher deductibles and co-payments if they want coverage to fill traditional Medicare’s significant “gaps.”  For example, Medicare Part B only covers 80% of the amount they pay doctors.  With doctor bills sometimes reaching six figures for seniors, that "gap" can be considerable.

Good News? Those already with Medicare Supplement Plan F coverage will be allowed to keep it, but without new insureds coming into that plan’s risk pool, it is likely that the companies which offer it (United Health Care, Aetna, Cigna, etc.) will be raising their premiums significantly.

What this all means is that there will be increasing pressures to switch to Medicare Advantage plans which, while less costly, often restrict their insureds' choices of doctors or hospitals.  Another alternative would be single payer "Medicare for All," (replacing the Affordable Care Act for those below Medicare age) which conceivably, with younger people in entering the Medicare risk pool, might reduce the cost of Medicare for seniors, but don't count on it.

Religion 201- Giving Meaning to Life - But Watch Out!

(Some years back, before the blog came into existence, I wrote a brief piece about Western religions, explaining the origins of and differences between Judaism, Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant) and Islam. I had found many otherwise intelligent people to have a gap in their knowlege in this area. It was entitled "Religion 101."  If I can find it, or am moved to rewrite it, it may reappear on this blog.  Here, however, is its follow-up piece, which appeared on this blog in 2016.) 

Religious beliefs give meaning to life.  Mankind has always wondered how the universe came to be, how “life” was created and what forces govern that “life” as it has evolved over time.  Some say we will never know the full answers to questions like these.  Some say the answers are such that the human mind is incapable of understanding them.  And so, until we have the true answers to such questions, if ever, mankind must depend on faith to satisfy its curiosity. 

The form the organized structure of such faith takes is known as religion.  By believing in religion, any religion, mankind is provided with answers, but they must be accepted as unprovable matters of faith, not requring universally irrefutable evidence.  Proof is not necessary.  Such answers in the form of religious beliefs serve to give meaning to life for some. Others who lack such faith appear to be none the worse for it.  Those who turn to religions are equally comfortable.

Many Paths Lead to the Mountaintop
Religion takes many forms.  All seek to provide answers and all are equal.  The answers provided by any established religion (Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, for example) are equal to the answers accepted by an illiterate native on a remote Pacific island who worships the vastness of the ocean or a gigantic tree which has been there for generations.  It doesn’t matter what a religion’s beliefs are.  What is important is that the believer is satisfied that he or she has found answers to the “incomprehensible” in that religion’s teachings.

Problems ensue when believers in one religion are convinced that their beliefs are the correct ones and that those who accept what other religions teach are not correct.  Some are so zealous in their beliefs that they are intolerant of those who believe otherwise.  The word “non-believer,” to them, is no longer merely descriptive but suddenly becomes one of damnation.  Sometimes this can lead to their attempting to deny the right of other religions to exist. This attitude on the part of zealots can even result in the justification of murder of those who believe differently.

As a result, we have had massacres, inquisitions, pogroms and bloodshed in the name of religion throughout history.  The Crusades are an example as are the Shia-Sunni division in Islam and the Roman Catholic-Protestant division in Christianity, all of which involved the killing of people who believed differently.  When the Biblical Israelites entered the Promised Land, they did not treat those already living there kindly.

What I am getting at is that a great deal of the trouble in this world can be blamed on people who believe too fervently in their chosen religion.  To me, that is a greater curse than a total lack of religious belief or having faith in things like witchcraft or devil-worship. 

It appears that of the three major Western religions, Judaism and Christianity have matured sufficiently so that they no longer insist on their respective faith’s exclusivity.  Islam, the youngest of the three, has not yet reached that point, and some of its adherents still believe in jihad, a war or struggle against non-believers in Islam, which does not exclude violence.  In the Middle East where Islam is dominant, sadly, religious belief and politics are inseparable. 

A word of caution: Be careful of those who take their religious beliefs too seriously, putting them ahead of their membership in the human race.  Their zealotry can lead to violence. Religion and its rituals seek to provide comforting answers to questions which are unanswerable for many.  That is good, but that is all it should be.  It should never be a justification for violence against those who believe otherwise.

A religion which cannot even tacitly accept the existence of other religions and which denies their right to seek another path to the mountaintop is very dangerous.  It can inspire its most zealous followers to commit heinous acts.  This has been true throughout history, and it remains true today.

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Jack Lippman 

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