Friday, December 31, 2010

Liberals – Philosophy XIV 120

Health care's a right until we all get tired of paying for you

By Patrick McIlheran of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dec. 31, 2010

Surpassingly strange -- if not alarming -- how, when the administration added back Medicare’s end-of-life counseling coverage that Congress removed from Obamacare, it did it sneakily: One of the few congressmen in the loop e-mailed supporters to keep quiet, lest the public find out and the death-panel furor erupt again.
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out [separately copied below], the availability of end-of-life counseling was never the meat of the death-panel problem in the first place. The problem lies not in government offering to cover counseling about getting it over with for those who want it. The will-they-cover-it controversy, Journal editorialists write, illustrates “a larger truth about a world of finite resources and infinite entitlement wants.
“Under highly centralized national health care, the government inevitably makes cost-minded judgments about what types of care are ‘best’ for society at large, and the standardized treatments it prescribes inevitably steal life-saving options from individual patients. This is precisely why many liberals like former White House budget director Peter Orszag support government-run health care to control costs: Technocrats in government can then decide who gets Avastin for cancer, say, and who doesn't.
". . . The real problem is the political claim that Medicare and other entitlements are imposing on the culture of U.S. health care. Everyone, on the left and right, now behaves as if every medical issue is a political matter that the government or some technocratic panel can and should decide.”

Health care does not have to be a political matter. If rationing must be hashed out politically under highly centralized national system, then why are we moving exactly in the direction of a highly centralized national system?

For equity, of course, reply the advocates of Obamacare (as well as those who wanted to go much further). If we want absolutely everyone covered and covered fairly -- by which they mean that one's health circumstances have little or no bearing on how much of one's income must go to doctors -- then we must be centralized, national and political.

But again -- why? Universality is good and so is fairness, but not at any cost. Consider another phrase that’s widely uttered and that sounds nice, that health care should be a right. Ross Kaminsky in the American Spectator pointed out where this high-minded phrase leads.

To trouble. For one thing, it’s a “positive” right -- a right that must be supplied not by everyone else not harming you but by some specific others supplying you with something.
“An American who for whatever reason does not have access to a doctor must be provided that access, whether that means redistributing taxpayer money to the would-be patient or even the potential of forcing a doctor to provide his services in an area ‘underserved’ by health care professionals.

“The problem with Obama's positive right formulation -- as with all positive rights -- is that one never knows where such a right ends.”

Because, as Kaminsky points out, everyone’s now acknowledged that this costs more than the country can afford. Medicare cost boss Donald Berwick has openly said there must be rationing. Yet if health care is a right, “shouldn't Grandma Smith be entitled to as much of the Jones' and Jacksons' money as necessary to keep her alive for as long as she wants to and can have a pulse in her heart, a breath in her lungs?
“The big-picture problem for the left is that in the context of government-run health care Berwick's rule is not only sensible, but it's the only possible outcome. This leaves proponents of a ‘right’ in the uncomfortable position of having to say that it's only a right up to a certain age, a certain degree of sickness, or a certain cost.

“Yet, if a ‘right’ ends at an arbitrary point set by bureaucrats and legislators -- a point not based on conflict with other rights but rather with changeable financial or political considerations -- then it can't be a right. Furthermore, if a positive right such as that claimed by supporters of Obamacare can be curtailed because of cost, then every government program that relies on the redistribution of wealth can be curtailed. Either they're all ‘rights’ or none of them is.”

The problem lies in the guarantee -- in thinking in terms of rights and of universality and equity. This doesn’t mean we must embrace some every-geezer-for-himself savagery; it suggests that some more rational approach that centers on the autonomy of the patient -- such as, for instance, the concepts behind Rep. Paul Ryan’s “roadmap” -- be central.

None of this precludes social generosity outside the realm of politics -- indeed, it calls for exactly the kind of charitable spirit implicit in every hospital name that includes the word “memorial.” Not that the government doesn’t have a role, but when we talk about health care chiefly in terms of rights asserted and claims made on strangers via the political process -- as Obamacare does -- then inevitably those strangers will balk at the cost, and they will do so through the mechanisms of the administrative state.

Through panels, if you will. Or even if you won’t.

= = = = = the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above = = = = =
The Wall Street Journal

Death Panels Revisited

The left won't admit that Sarah Palin had a point about rationed care.

At a stroke, Medicare chief Donald Berwick has revived the "death panel" debate from two summers ago. Allow us to referee, because this topic has been badly distorted by the political process—and in a rational world, it wouldn't be a political question at all.

On Sunday, Robert Pear reported in the New York Times that Medicare will now pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling as part of seniors' annual physicals. A similar provision was originally included in ObamaCare, but Democrats stripped it out amid the death panel furor. Now Medicare will enact the same policy through regulation.

We hadn't heard about this development until Mr. Pear's story, but evidently Medicare tried to prevent the change from becoming public knowledge. The provision is buried in thousands of Federal Register pages setting Medicare's hospital and physician price controls for 2011 and concludes that such consultations count as a form of preventative care.

The office of Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, the author of the original rider who then lobbied Medicare to cover the service, sent an email to supporters cheering this "victory" but asked that they not tell anyone for fear of perpetuating "the 'death panel' myth." The email added that "Thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it, but we will be keeping a close watch."

The regulatory process isn't supposed to be a black-ops exercise, but expect many more such nontransparent improvisations under the vast powers ObamaCare handed the executive branch. In July, the White House bypassed the Senate to recess appoint Dr. Berwick, who has since testified before Congress for all of two hours, and now he promulgates by fiat a reimbursement policy that Congress explicitly rejected, all while scheming with his political patrons to duck any public scrutiny.

But if Dr. Berwick's methods are troubling, the substance is more than defensible. Certain quarters on the political right are following the media's imagination and blasting Dr. Berwick's decision as the tangible institution of death panels. But the rule-making is not coercive and gives seniors more autonomy, not less.
The affront is that Medicare needs to sneak around in order to offer a type of care that is routine in private insurance. If the medical experts in Congress haven't decided that some treatment or service is worthy of the fee schedule, then the program won't pay for it even if it is in the best interests of patients.

In this case, fully a fifth of the U.S. population will be over age 65 inside of two decades, and whatever the other marvels of modern medicine, the mortality rate remains 100%. Advance care planning lays out the options and allows patients, in consultation with their providers and family members, to ensure that their future treatment is consistent with their wishes and moral values should they become too sick to decide for themselves.

The real death panel myth is that the term ever had anything to do with something so potentially beneficial. We wrote at the time that Sarah Palin's coinage was sensationalistic, but it was meant to illustrate a larger truth about a world of finite resources and infinite entitlement wants.

Under highly centralized national health care, the government inevitably makes cost-minded judgments about what types of care are "best" for society at large, and the standardized treatments it prescribes inevitably steal life-saving options from individual patients. This is precisely why many liberals like former White House budget director Peter Orszag support government-run health care to control costs: Technocrats in government can then decide who gets Avastin for cancer, say, and who doesn't.

Democrats and the press corps accused Mrs. Palin of misrepresentation to avoid reckoning with this inexorable rationing reality that President Obama has himself implicitly acknowledged. In a 2009 interview with ObamaCare advocate David Leonhardt of the New York Times, he called for "a very difficult democratic conversation" about the costs that are incurred in the last six months of life. The President even mused about whether his own grandmother's hip replacement following a terminal cancer diagnosis represented "a sustainable model."

The real problem is the political claim that Medicare and other entitlements are imposing on the culture of U.S. health care. Everyone, on the left and right, now behaves as if every medical issue is a political matter that the government or some technocratic panel can and should decide. No wonder "the 'death panel' myth" has such currency among Americans who won't be doing the deciding.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Liberals – Philosophy part XIII 119

I doubt that I agree with the overall philosophy or tenor of The American Thinker blog publication because of what I perceive as a strong overall conservative (and perhaps Christian conservative) bias. But the August, 2010, article below is being repeated on this blog anyway – because it is a good timeline of the Argentinian collapse of 1998 to 2001 and the parallels to the present American administration are daunting and compelling. I have highlighted some of the comments in red within the article. The article's strident argument for maintaining the 2001 Bush tax cuts came to pass in December 2010 (with critical assistance of a chastised President Obama and furious opposition from the political left in the lame duck Congress).

Overall I find American Thinker to be a biased publication that can and does occasionally hit the bull's-eye. The article immediately below about the Argentinian economic crisis is daunting and deservedly disturbing.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

American Thinker
August 13,2010
An Argentina-like Economic Crisis
by Scott Strzelczyk

The United States' economic decline precariously resembles Argentina's economic collapse, which started in 1998 and landed Argentina in a depression by the end of 2000. What began in Argentina as a recession mushroomed into a full-fledged depression due to bad economic and monetary policy. The Obama administration and its congressional Democrat lackeys are on the precipice of following Argentina's disastrous economic and monetary policy decisions. 

Arguably, the United States economy has been in a two-year-long recession, and while some may posit that the country has started an economic recovery, others suspect the country will plummet into a deeper recession, or perhaps a depression. In the past two years, the United States government instituted economic and/or monetary policies detrimental to American's short- and long-term economic prosperity. 
  • $700-billion TARP bill.
  • $787-billion economic stimulus bill the president deemed necessary to keep unemployment under 8%.
  • $410-billion Omnibus bill with 9,000 pork-barrel projects.
  • $1.3-trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.
  • $1.4-trillion deficit estimated for fiscal year 2010.
  • $1 trillion or more for a health care bill that the majority of Americans didn't want.
  • Auto industry bailout with complete disregard to the bankruptcy laws, which turned the U.S. government into an equity owner and granted an ownership stake to the United Auto Workers union.
  • $500-billion bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • $145-billion bailout of Greece.
  • Billions spent by the Federal Reserve to purchase toxic assets.
  • $10.6-trillion dollar public debt the day Obama took the oath of office. In nineteen months, the public debt stands at $13.3-trillion (a 25% increase).
In early 2000, Argentinean President Fernando de la Rúa's government evaluated options to end the recession. According to a 2003 report issued by the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress, the de la Rúa government evaluated several options and settled on raising tax rates as the solution:
The De la Rúa government was worried about the federal budget deficit, which was 2.5 percent of GDP in 1999. The government thought reducing the budget deficit would instill confidence in government finances, reducing interest rates and thereby spurring the economy, which was showing signs of recovery in late 1999. Among the options for reducing the deficit, cutting spending was politically difficult; the government doubted that cutting tax rates would spur enough growth in the short term to offset lost revenues; it did not wish to abandon the convertibility system and simply print money[.]
That left only one option: raising tax rates. President de la Rúa secured approval for three big tax increases, effective January 2000, April 2001, and August 2001.

Argentina's economy continued to shrink throughout 2000. In April 2001, the Argentinean government proposed cutting spending by 4.5 billion pesos over a two-year period. Public outrage ensued, and special interest groups protested. Furthermore, government monetary policies manipulated current valuations, causing fear and instability, and debt policies such as refinancing debt at higher interest rates exacerbated a deteriorating economy. In late 2001, a newly elected government took control, and the Joint Economic Report summarized their actions:

In a series of blunders that made matters even worse, from December 2001 to early 2002, succeeding governments undermined property rights by freezing bank deposits; defaulting on the government's foreign debt in a thoughtless manner; ending the Argentine peso's longstanding link to the dollar; forcibly converting dollar deposits and loans into Argentine pesos at unfavorable rates; and voiding contracts

Coincidentally, the United States is in a two-year-long recession, and Obama and congressional Democrats intend on letting the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year. The outstanding public debt stands at $13.3 trillion. Any opposing viewpoints from Republicans or conservatives on cutting spending or addressing entitlement programs are met with media outrage, accusations of racism, and accusations that Republicans and conservatives are coldhearted people incapable of compassion or benevolence. 

The Obama government's actions ominously mirror the actions and the timing of the Argentinean government in early 2000, when the first of three tax increases was instituted. Higher unemployment, more debt, falling wages, and eventually inflation ensued. Moreover, the Obama administration and the mainstream media deceive the American people regarding the impact of the Bush tax cuts. Obama and the MSM repeatedly espouse that only tax rates for those rich Americans in the top income tax bracket will increase.

Unfortunately, the truth is that all tax brackets are impacted, and even the Obama lemmings will recognize they've been duped when their payroll tax deductions increase in 2011 and their take-home pay decreases. Perhaps then the lemmings will seriously consider what "hope and change" means and that elections do indeed have consequences. A summary of the Bush tax cuts expiring at the end of 2010:

  • 10% bracket reverts to 15%
  • 25% bracket reverts to 28%
  • 28% bracket reverts to 31%
  • 33% bracket reverts to 36%
  • 35% bracket reverts to 39.6%
  • Marriage penalty is reinstituted
  • Child tax credit cut from $1,000 to $500 per child
  • Dependent care and adoption care credits cut
  • Estate (death) tax returns at a rate of 55% on estates over $1 million
  • 15% capital gains tax reverts to 20%
  • 15% dividends tax reverts to 39.6%
Many economists recognize, though they many not publicly admit it, that inflation is the only feasible alternative. The government is limited to three possible revenue sources: taxing, borrowing, and inflating. Any sensible person realizes the country cannot tax its way out of a $13-trillion debt or sustain existing entitlement programs, much less government-run health care. The government borrows money by selling government-backed securities to investors. Eventually, investors will either stop purchasing government securities or demand substantially higher interest rates due to the increased risk. The only feasible alternative is to monetize the debt -- in other words, inflate it. Monty Pelerin's recent American Thinker article captured the essence of the problem:

The political class's survival is at stake. Eventually, anything that extends their rule will be tried. It is not concern for you or the economy that is driving policy, but the preservation of power of an increasingly wounded power elite. Their survival is now driving policy. Unfortunately, what benefits them is generally harmful for the economy.

Obama and congressional Democrats have chartered a course leading America down an Argentinean economic path. November may be the last reasonable chance to change course.

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Unedited except for emphasis in red from:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Liberals – Philosophy part XII 118

Yesterday's posting included a furious argument over the “net unfunded debt” of Social Security and Medicare, which according to the government's actuaries is soaring through the mid-$40 trillion level (and growing fast). The other blogger went silent rather than agree with the enormity of the problem as I researched it and referenced it to mainline news sources and ultimately to US government websites.

However, most of my fellow baby boomers are “hip” to the potential for outliving these benefits:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

AP/GfK Poll: Baby Boomers Fear Outliving Medicare

WASHINGTON (AP) December 29, 2010 – The first baby boomers will be old enough to qualify for Medicare Jan. 1, and many fear the program's obituary will be written before their own. A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that baby boomers believe by a ratio of 2-to-1 they won't be able to rely on the giant health insurance plan throughout their retirement.

The boomers took a running dive into adolescence and went on to redefine work and family, but getting old is making them nervous.

Now, forty-three percent say they don't expect to be able to depend on Medicare forever, while only 20 percent think their Medicare is secure. The rest have mixed feelings.

Yet the survey also shows a surprising willingness among adults of all ages to sacrifice to preserve Medicare benefits that most Americans say they deserve after years of paying taxes into the system at work.

Take the contentious issue of Medicare's eligibility age, fixed at 65, while the qualifying age for Social Security is rising gradually to 67.

Initially, 63 percent of boomers in the poll dismissed the idea of raising the eligibility age to keep Medicare afloat financially. But when the survey forced them to choose between raising the age or cutting benefits, 59 percent said raise the age and keep the benefits.

"I don't mind the fact that people may have to work a little longer," said Lynn Barlow, 60, a real estate agent who lives outside Atlanta. Especially if there's time to plan, laboring a few extra years allows people to save more for retirement.

Bring up benefit cuts and Barlow isn't nearly as accommodating. "I started working when I was 16 and I expect a benefit after putting into it for so many years," she said.

As Medicare reaches a historic threshold, the poll also found differences by age, gender and income among baby boomers. For example, baby boom women, who can expect to live longer than both their mothers and their husbands, are much more pessimistic than men about the program's future.

Medicare is a middle-class bulwark against the ravages of illness in old age. It covers 46 million elderly and disabled people at an annual cost of about $500 billion. But the high price of American-style medicine, stressing intensive treatment and the latest innovations, is already straining program finances. Add the number of baby boomers, more than 70 million born between 1946 and 1964, and Medicare's fiscal foundation starts to shake.

Here's the math: when the last of the boomers reaches age 65 in about two decades, Medicare will be covering more than 80 million people. At the same time, the ratio of workers paying taxes to support the program will have plunged from 3.5 for each person receiving benefits currently, to 2.3.

"The 800-pound gorilla is eating like mad and growing to 1,200 pounds," said economist Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, warning about the imbalance. "The switch from worker to retiree status has implications for everything."

The government can't balance its books without dealing with health care costs, and Medicare is in the middle.

Some leading Republicans and a few Democrats have called for phasing out the program and instead giving each retiree a fixed payment — or voucher _to help them buy private medical insurance of their choice. The poll found doubts about the idea, and a generational debate.

Overall, a narrow majority (51 percent) of Americans opposed the voucher plan. But those born after 1980 favored it by 47 percent to 41 percent, while seniors opposed it 4-to-1. A majority of boomers were also opposed, with 43 percent strongly objecting.

However, younger boomers like RoxAnne Christley of Roanoke, Va., were more likely to be favorable.

"I think that's a possibility if it brings choices and competition," said Christley, 47. "We don't need to stimulate the government; we need to stimulate the economy. A lot of people have different choices when it comes to medical coverage, and I see nothing wrong with that at all." Christley is self-employed, counseling new mothers on breast feeding.

Changes that don't involve a full-scale re-engineering of Medicare tended to draw more support in the poll, especially when the survey forced people to choose between giving up benefits or making some other kind of sacrifice.

For example, 61 percent of Americans overall favored raising Medicare taxes to avoid a cut in benefits. The current payroll tax is 2.9 percent on wages, evenly divided between workers and their employers. The new health care law added a surcharge of 0.9 percent on earnings over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples filing jointly.

When forced to choose, even a majority of Republicans said they would rather pay higher taxes (53 percent) than cut benefits (38 percent). Among adults in their 20s, who'd face a whole career paying higher taxes, 61 percent said they would be willing to pay more to preserve benefits. Only 29 percent of boomers said keep taxes the same but cut benefits.

"If people are forced to the wall and something has to be done about the financial shape of the program, they would rather take their medicine by raising taxes and moving the eligibility age than having the benefits cut when they retire," said polling analyst Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health.

A narrower majority of Americans — 54 percent — also favored requiring people on Medicare to pay higher copayments and deductibles so that payments to doctors don't have to be cut.

Support was surprisingly strong among seniors, 62 percent of whom said they'd be willing to pay more so that doctors' fees don't have to be cut and more doctors keep accepting Medicare payments.

"In its present form, Medicare will be insolvent before my grandkids get there," said Fred Wemer, 73, a retired dentist from Seattle. He says Medicare's biggest problem is that it rewards inefficiency by not paying doctors enough to keep people healthy and then paying for just about everything — even botched procedures — when patients get into trouble.

"We've got a discrepancy in how doctors are paid," said Wemer. "Primary care doctors, the ones who listen to you, they're underpaid. But specialists get paid way over what they're worth."

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Nov. 18-22, 2010, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Liberals – Philosophy part XI 117

We are going to use logical argumentation, as if we were judging debates, to look for patterns of irrational thought in order to get some hints at what has gone wrong with liberalism since its freedom-bringing triumphs of the mid-nineteenth century. Modern liberalism is a different thing – it thinks different, feels differently and perceives differently than its origins.

There was a conversation from readers of Teagan Goddard's Political Wire dealing with whether or not Obama is a socialist. The initial posting by Teagan Goddard sarcastically noted that the stock market is up a lot this year, indicating the criticism of Obama as a socialist is unfounded.

= = = = as part of the reader's comments, I entered the conversation as the urban coyote = = = =
From: Urban Coyote
  • Let's see, there's a dead cat bounce in the stock market (aided by Treasury and the Fed) with some corporate profits (but not enough to lift the NASDAQ above 1/2 its high from ten years ago), therefore, magically, ObamaCare isn't socialism. Ask the 25% of Medicare recipients who have an "advantage" plan who are about to be cheated out of it under this legislation.

    Magically, TARP2 isn't socialism.

    Independent voters didn't buy that logic. They gave the new Congress about 242 Republicans.

From: Tom P
    Social Security and Medicare are also socialism, you know. Did the voters give the public a mandate to remove those, or is there a degree of socialism the independent voters are prepared to accept?
From: Azselendor
    urban_coyote just doesn't want the government touching his government-run entitlement programs[1].

From: Urban Coyote
    Stuck with a Ponzi scheme like Medicare, I'd at least like the federal government to keep its word about allowing "advantage plan" contracts. Instead there is new legislation in which the federal government breaks contracts with those still working who WERE going to receive a certain program. Keeping the government's word to its "people" is no part of socialism. The people are always cattle that can be redirected to different pens when the political winds shift under socialism or any statist philosophy. It also interests me that "private" "non-profit" AARP went along with this theft in order to feather its own nest. AARP endorsed Obama Care because its insurance arm offers a plan lousy compared to advantage plans -- so they supported laws that would eliminate the competition. SO this kind of bait and switch is a government-lobbyist partnership, ain't it?

From: Leo
    Actually you've got this the wrong way around. Medicare Advantage, run by Insurance Companies, was supposed to be the cheaper option. Instead it cost a ton of money more than normal Medicare; And apparently, some of the beneficiaries think they're entitled to it no matter how deep in the red the rest of the country goes. Interesting.

From: Azselendor
    Wow, all the keyboard mashing and it boils down to a wrong assessment [2].

From: Urban Coyote:

Yes, I do know that social security and medicare are socialism. They are also responsible for tens of trillions of dollars of "net unfunded debt" an actuarial term that means they are dead broke.

Are independent voters prepared to accept on-going Ponzi schemes like this? Stay tuned for 2012.

Medicare is a dead failure. It's cost-push inflation in medicine has made medical expenses the number one reason for bankruptcy. If medicare were "pay as you go" self-funding, it would be about an 8% payroll tax and 8% employer tax. Instead we think we can continue to borrow money from the Chinese indefinitely instead of abandoning the Ponzi scheme. Regarding Medicare and its socialism, I can't resist adding the historical fact that a week after LBJ signed Medicare into law (now that I've got your bodies under my control), he quintupled our commitment of troops in Vietnam to 125,000 (I'm gonna use 'em as cannon fodder). Socialism means "your means of production and your bodies belong to your government to use and control as the government see fit."

Social security is a lower-to-fail Ponzi scheme that was set up with a lock box that was taken away and no longer has the tens of trillions to pay for baby boomers. I personally don't know anyone under 30 who is so stupid they expect any benifits from this corrupt socialistic "security."

But let's see what the coming election cycle brings.

From: Tom P

I'm confused.
    England instituted a national health care system while engaging in systematic withdrawal from its imperial conquests during previous "free market-y" eras. Germany implemented one after its formation as a national state and well before the first world war. It was implemented in large part to steal the thunder of the large, active socialist movement in Germany. Also, Medicare is only available for old people, and relatively few old people fought in Vietnam. Can you explain your reasoning a little better? As a person under thirty, I don't expect to see Social Security benefits because I expect the old are going to shut down the program in order to lower taxes on corporate profits and gear it in such a way that I have to pay into it and then not get anything from it. If they did NOT do this, I would see no reason to not expect it.

From: Urban Coyote

LBJ was being a typical power-hungry politician: Make the deal that Truman failed (Medicare) to show how humane he was with expanded government power. Then, immediately, do what he wanted to do – get into a strategically needless war. Give a politician like that more power, and he'll immediately start using his overall power in new ways.

The same thing happened in September 2008 when Wall Street tanked. A $700 billion dollar bailout was proposed. The House voted against it. Porked up, it passed. Poof! Ever since, the deficit has been above $1 trillion a year. Give a politician power, and he'll abuse it – and this is true across party lines and across administrations.

The current president is also trying to expand government medical care while prosecuting a strategically meaningless conflict (Afghanistan). I hope American liberals have the political honesty to challenge him in 2012 with an anti-war primary candidate.

Since you are under 30, you must, absolutely must, develop a thorough understanding of a mumbly term used by actuaries and certified public accountants: “net unfunded debt” or “net unfunded liabilities.” This is the discounted present value of future expenses that have not been set aside as reserves. Corporations must report changes in this calculation as expenses for the year on their audited financial statements (but city, state and national governments need not do so!) under FASB 86 (for pensions such as social security) and FASB 106 (for non-pension benefits such as health plans or, governmentally, Medicare). Again, the federal government itself is exempt from this reporting requirement.

If the federal government had to report the “net unfunded debt” of Social Security (about $20 trillion) and Medicare (somewhere between $36 and $72 trillion), it would be the balance sheet of a bankrupt entity, as the USA spends about $3.6 trillion a year and the income is considerably less than that. This can't go on forever. It can't go on for 35 years. As a retired certified public accountant, I GUARANTEE YOU the money won't be there for you. The cupboard will be bare, unless we admit that and sunset Medicare (urgently!) and Social Security (we have some time for this). If we do the sunsetting NOW, we don't have to pull the rug out from the current recipients. The longer we wait the crueler we are going to have to be. Do nothing? Hyperinflation will take care of it for us by making all the old very poor and utterly helpless (the offspring will also be broke from wheelbarrows of money).


The Coming Generational Storm by Kottikoff and Burns (get it! Definitive on this subject)

Forgive Us Our Debts: The Intergenerational Dangers of Fiscal Irresponsibility by Andrew L. Yarrow

Comeback America by David M. Walker (former US Comptroller General – published in 2010)

The Concord Coalition – Social Security
From: Azselendor
    GLOBAL WARNING WILL KILL US ALL [3] oh sorry, wrong thread. Doom was clearly the same however.

From: Azselendor
    "Tens of trillions of dollars" really, you're just making it up now, aren't you. If you're gonna lie, your numbers need to sound realistic! [4]
From: Urban Coyote
    net unfunded debt of social security is approximately $20 trillion. net unfunded debt of Medicare is approximately $30 to $70 trillion. Logical argumentation is a contract to seek the truth through certain protocols. You didn't do that, nor did you check my references, nor did you surf the net shrewdly. I'm sorry your skills are lacking. The horrific numbers in the tens of trillions come from others in my profession. I trust them before I trust you, because of the speed of your smearing.

From: Azselendor
    The Concord Coalition is lead by the former commerce secretary of Nixon (I'm not trusting a damned soul that worked under that man with 2 nickels and a paperclip let alone the budget), their treasurer is a Reaganite (because Reaganomics is really another word for tax'n'spend to stop commies), and the list goes on. They are hardly non-biased and nonpartisan [5]. When the right listens to al gore, then I'll listen to this madness [6].

From: Urban Coyote
    Oh, yeah. In about 75 seconds of internet surfing, I found an article talking about a March, 2004, CBS "Sunday Morning" show that listed the combined social security and medicare net unfunded liability as $50 trillion. OK? $50 trillion six years ago? Wonder how much it is now? Here's the link Or the references I listed at the time I made the estimate can be checked, of course.
From Azselendor:
    I dont hold individual/personal opinions on complex matters regarding non-linear systems in high regard. Even more when your sources don't cite unbiased sources [7][8]. Just to back over your arguments with a money truck, the US GDP is merely 14.59 trillion dollars. My argument stands, don't make up numbers [9]

From: Urban Coyote
    $51 trillion as reported March 21, 2004, by CBS News. That was six and one half years ago. The net unfunded debt of social security and medicare is surely higher now. Link to CBS: It's simple Azselendor: your government lied to you. It made promises it can't possibly keep. I know this because I used to count government money as a CPA. A simple point of information: the ultimate expert for this kind of calculation isn't a CPA like me or even an economist, but a "registered actuary," the folks who calculate the values of pensions and non-pension retirement benefits (health benefits, usually) for corporations for their annual financial statements. Registered actuaries are the highest paid profession in the USA because of the critical effect of their calculations.

From: Azselendor
    I read that article like media fear mongering. The suggestion of taking and handing over social security money to wall street makes me ever more suspicious of it's truthfulness [10]. If Registered actuaries are indeed the best source of information on this topic, then I'll accept nothing less than a peer-reviewed organization(s) position on this matter [11].
From: Urban Coyote
    a good summary news article = = = = = = = = = = an ever better summary of medicare being broke -- $42 trillion unfunded liability correctly reported and published May 11, 2009 with an estimate of $46 TRILLION in net unfunded debt of Medicare & SS at 2009 from government actuaries = = = = = = = = = = official government actuarial annual reports = = = = = = = = = = 2008 medicare actuaries report –

  • page 203 of this pdf file shows a projected deficit over the next 75 years for budget purposes of
    42.9 trillion dollars.

    but wait, there's more! the 2009 medicare actuaries report

    page 207 of this pdf file shows a projected deficit over the next 75 years for budget purposes of $45.8 trillion dollars.

    In one year, the government's own actuarial calculation for net unfunded liabilities for SS and
    Medicare increased by $2.9 trillion. This is in addition to the reported $1.3 trillion deficit for FY 2009. This does not include federal pensions, military pensions, obligations for private pensions under ERISA, or the unaudited commitments of the Federal Reserve. But we can say that if the US federal government were a listed corporation with public stock ownership, it would have to have reported under FASB 86 and FASB 106 at least a deficit of $1.3 + $2.9
    trillion for FY 2009, which is $4.1 TRILLION. For a single year's federal deficit. Which congressperson or senator told you that truthful number as reported to them by the actuaries?

    Who are you going to believe? The politicians who sat on this report or a retired government fraud examiner? "Tens of trillions of dollars," just as I said in my first comment.
  • = = = = the conversation above was unedited from: = = = = =

except for the inclusion of footnote references [1] through [11] which are discussed below.

(These all deal with Logical Argumentation)

[1] Azselendor attacks me, personally, because he assumes I am receiving a Medicare “Advantage” plan. My point was that the 2010 health care bill takes away an existing system fore Medicare recipients, a point Azselendor does not address at all.
[2] Azselendor uses Leo's post to reduce my discussion to “keyboard mashing” that results in a “wrong assessment” – a personal “ad hominem” attack instead of his duty to defend the government's right to break promises.
[3] This is another personal attack, accusing me of irrationality and hysteria through worshiping “doom.”
[4] Azselendor is agog at the notion that the federal government has over-promised by “tens of trillions of dollars.” He accuses me of lying instead of looking the numbers up himself on the internet. He is supremely confident he can handle this argument right off the top of his head with no references.
[5] Here Azselendor asserts that since former Nixon and Reagan officials work for the Concord Coalition, that proves the unreliable bias of the organization. He did not look at the bi-partisan board of the Concord Coalition or check into its sterling reputation. One guy he doesn't like proves it is stinking with unfair bias.
[6] Another ad hominem attack, thinking I am spewing “this madness” he need not listen to.
[7] Azselendor says he doesn't “hold individual/personal opinions on complex matters regarding non-linear systems in high regard.” This is wrong for two reasons – the opinions are from professionals and he asserts in a blanket manner that non-linear systems are too complex to analyze.” .
[8] He states that the sources in my link are biased, again, without any proof, again
[9] “My argument stands, don;t make up numbers.” Azselendor's arguments are based on personal attack and on the lie that I am making up the numbers for the net unfunded debt of social security and Medicare.
[10] Pay attention to this one. CBS has a very thoughtful and thorough simplification of the problem and the coming disaster. One of the suggestions is to shift to a risk-based system for social security. Therefore Azselendor dismisses the entire (excellent) discussion because of one point which he finds offensive. This represents magical thinking by Azselendor, surely based on his ersatz knowledge that the problem is a minor bookkeeping one rather than the tens of trillions of debt that I insistently content in my posts.
[11] Azselendor falls into my trap, telling me that he will only accept the opinions of registered actuaries (the experts in this technical discussion] providing “nothing less than a peer-reviewed organization(s) position on this matter.” How very foolish of him. I give him the name of the technical experts and the amount of the debt (over $40 trillion) and he doesn't do a search. My remaining links show that the government's social security and Medicare actuaries have provided the same numbers I've been talking about to the Medicare trust fund (a truth Azselendor should have picked up from the reliable news links earlier in the discussion).

Azselendor does not thank me for providing bullet-proof evidence of financial instability, he doesn't congratulate me for winning the argument on the facts and merits, instead he vanishes without another word.

Contention of this Blog Post
Azselendor is not an exception. I've been arguing with liberals since I was a teenager in the 1960s. This individual is not a stray irrationalist. The method of sly smearing that was used represents a standard approach of modern liberalism that is regarded increasingly as respectable because it has growing support in formal philosophy, a point that will be demonstrated soon in this blog. To understand this shift and trend, we have to go from arguments to philosophy. If we start with philosophy in the way that was done with the theology of the Christian conservatives, we could get “lost in the stacks” of books on philosophy and never get the point.

Tomorrow a huge and furious blind spot of modern liberalism will be examined through argumentation.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Liberals – Philosophy part X 116

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom") is the belief in the importance of individual liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, free trade, and the separation of church and state. These ideas are widely accepted, even by political groups that do not openly profess a liberal ideological orientation. Liberalism encompasses several intellectual trends and traditions, but the dominant variants are classical liberalism, which became popular in the eighteenth century, and social liberalism, which became popular in the twentieth century.
Liberalism first became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting several foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as hereditary status, established religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.
The revolutionaries in the American Revolution and the French Revolution used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Latin America, and North America. Liberal ideas spread even further in the twentieth century, when liberal democracies triumphed in two world wars and survived major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. Conservatism, fundamentalism, and military dictatorship remain powerful opponents of liberalism. Today, liberals are organized politically on all major continents. They have played a decisive role in the growth of republics, the spread of civil rights and civil liberties, the establishment of the modern welfare state, the institution of religious toleration and religious freedom, and the development of globalization. Political scientist Alan Wolfe wrote, "liberalism is the answer for which modernity is the question".

[Thus liberalism led to the United States of America, now the world's oldest revolutionary republic, and to the French Revolution of 1789, a failure that led to the military government of Napoleon Bonaparte. These critical revolutions of the late 18th century set the tone for the upheavals of the next century.]

Children of revolution

Liberals in the 19th century wanted to develop a world free from government intervention, or at least free from too much government intervention. They championed the ideal of negative liberty, which constitutes the absence of coercion and the absence of external constraints. They believed governments were cumbersome burdens and they wanted governments to stay out of the lives of individuals. Liberals simultaneously pushed for the expansion of civil rights and for the expansion of free markets and free trade. The latter kind of economic thinking had been formalized by Adam Smith in his monumental Wealth of Nations (1776), which revolutionized the field of economics and established the "invisible hand" of the free market as a self-regulating mechanism that did not depend on external interference. Sheltered by liberalism, the laissez-faire economic world of the 19th century emerged with full tenacity, particularly in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
Politically, liberals saw the 19th century as a gateway to achieving the promises of 1789. In Spain, the Liberales, the first group to use the liberal label in a political context, fought for the implementation of the 1812 Constitution for decades—overthrowing the monarchy in 1820 as part of the Trienio Liberal and defeating the conservative Carlists in the 1830s. In France, the July Revolution of 1830, orchestrated by liberal politicians and journalists, removed the Bourbon monarchy and inspired similar uprisings elsewhere in Europe.
Frustration with the pace of political progress, however, sparked even more gigantic revolutions in 1848. Revolutions spread throughout the Austrian Empire, the German states, and the Italian states. Governments fell rapidly. Liberal nationalists demanded written constitutions, representative assemblies, greater suffrage rights, and freedom of the press. A second republic was proclaimed in France. Serfdom was abolished in Prussia, Galicia, Bohemia, and Hungary. Metternich shocked Europe when he resigned and fled to Britain in panic and disguise.
Eventually, however, the success of the revolutionaries petered out. Without French help, the Italians were easily defeated by the Austrians. Austria also managed to contain the bubbling nationalist sentiments in Germany and Hungary, helped along by the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly to unify the German states into a single nation. Under abler leadership, however, the Italians and the Germans wound up realizing their dreams for independence. The Sardinian Prime Minister, Camillo di Cavour, was a shrewd liberal who understood that the only effective way for the Italians to gain independence was if the French were on their side. Napoleon III agreed to Cavour's request for assistance and France defeated Austria in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, setting the stage for Italian independence. German unification transpired under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, who decimated the enemies of Prussia in war after war, finally triumphing against France in 1871 and proclaiming the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, ending another saga in the drive for nationalization. The French proclaimed a third republic after their loss in the war, and the rest of French history transpired under republican eyes.
Just a few decades after the French Revolution, liberalism went global. The liberal and conservative struggles in Spain also replicated themselves in Latin American countries like Mexico and Ecuador. From 1857 to 1861, Mexico was gripped in the bloody War of Reform, a massive internal and ideological confrontation between the liberals and the conservatives. The liberal triumph there parallels with the situation in Ecuador. Similar to other nations throughout the region at the time, Ecuador was steeped in turmoil, with the people divided between rival liberal and conservative camps. From these conflicts, García Moreno established a conservative government was eventually overthrown in the Liberal Revolution of 1895. The Radical Liberals who toppled the conservatives were led by Eloy Alfaro, a firebrand who implemented a variety of sociopolitical reforms, including the separation of church and state, the legalization of divorce, and the establishment of public schools.
Although liberals were active throughout the world in the 19th century, it was in Britain that the future character of liberalism would take shape. The liberal sentiments unleashed after the revolutionary era of the previous century ultimately coalesced into the Liberal Party, formed in 1859 from various Radical and Whig elements. The Liberals produced one of the most influential British prime ministers—William Ewart Gladstone, who was also known as the Grand Old Man. Under Gladstone, the Liberals reformed education, disestablished the Church of Ireland (with the Irish Church Act 1869), and introduced the secret ballot for local and parliamentary elections. Following Gladstone, and after a period of Conservative domination, the Liberals returned with full strength in the general election of 1906, aided by working class voters worried about food prices. After that historic victory, the Liberal Party shifted from its classical liberalism and laid the groundwork for the future British welfare state, establishing various forms of health insurance, unemployment insurance, and pensions for elderly workers. This new kind of liberalism would sweep over much of the world in the 20th century.

Now this history of the liberal philosophy is not new knowledge. There is a very straightforward, mostly English, history involved. Kings used to have “divine right,” meaning they were selected by God and could do no wrong. Even a notably “bad king” deserved the power of divine right, because he was the instrument punishing the people for disobeying God! This cozy and arrogant philosophy came under fire after the Anglo-Norman king murdered the disobedient but beloved Archbishop, Thomas a Beckett. Two score and four years later the subsequent king had to sign Magna Carta (a document which had the support of the rebellious barons and the tradespeople and even the serfs). The 1297 version of Magna Carta changed history. It also informed the archbishop, Cranmer, who officiated over the breakout of the Church of England from the Catholic Church. Cranmer was burned for his defiance of Catholic authority, but his argument has won the day, and his elegant prayers, written for the Book of Common Prayer, are still in use. Government power was further limited by the restoration of William and Mary in 1688, which was immediately followed by John Locke's political writings.

Locke's writings were the philosophical basis for classical liberalism, the American Revolution, the reworking of the Articles of Confederation into the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and the many republics created in the nineteenth century. The central notion is due process, rule of law, limited power by the central government, and representative government. The importance of a stable currency and the freedom of tradesman to invent their own contracts and market their own inventions was added in 1776 with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.

None of the basic ideas here have been successfully refuted, either in geopolitics, economics or philosophy. The best and closest effort was probably the defiance of the South in the American Civil War, in which the southern states adhered to their constitutional right to leave the union, demanded a continuance of slavery indefinitely into the future, and established a government significantly re-inventing features of the Articles of Confederation. This effort barely failed; the North prevailed, partly by cracking and weakening its own Constitution, a series of acts which remains very much topical.

Conservatives, as has been noted in this blog in the many posts on Christian conservatism, have the basic job of conserving Locke's revolutionary ideas (which themselves were very leading-edge and profoundly unconservative at the time). However, modern American conservatives have invented preposterous fairy tales to underpin their position: the piety and almost Baptist, evangelical Christianity of the founding fathers, who themselves tended to be Lockean empiricists and anti-Utopians (especially the Virginia Anglicans so central to the revolution and Constitution). The blog author has contended that modern conservatives are dangerous to the Constitutional guarantees of the nation toward which they profess “patriotism.”

The blog author also contends that something pernicious and destructive happened to Liberalism from the mid-nineteenth century forward. That in becoming modern liberalism, it has morphed into something destructive and typically dishonest. We shall look a bit at what it says about itself and then take a look at how modern liberals talk and think when in the trenches of logical argumentation.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Liberals – Art part IX 115

Morality within the Art of Modern Liberalism


According to cognitive linguist George Lakoff, liberal philosophy is based on five basic categories of morality. The first, the promotion of fairness, is generally described as an emphasis on empathy as a desirable trait. With this social contract based on the Golden Rule comes the rationale for many liberal positions. The second category is assistance to those who cannot assist themselves. A nurturing spirit is one that is considered good in liberal philosophy. This leads to the third category, the desire to protect those who cannot defend themselves. The fourth category is the importance of fulfilling one's life; allowing a person to experience all that they can. The fifth and final category is the importance of caring for oneself, since only thus can one act to help others.

The morality described above may be a sound summary for progressive Christians (as opposed to the Christian conservatives discussed earlier on this blog). But this kind of liberalism has not been demonstrated by Imogen Clark in her autobiographical Saving Jessie. There's another liberalism out there, one that asks for magic to deal with a hostile universe, one that can quell the fear of being inauthentic, a liberalism that makes one feel properly adjusted and thus able to maximize relationships.

Imogen feels unfairly treated because the shame of being the mother of an addict has landed on her. Her desire to preserve her reputation is more important than assisting her daughter, who can't cure her own addiction or defend herself. Imogen has no idea how to help her troubled daughter fulfill her own life, but she will buy this off by using book proceeds to help pay for her daughter's acting lessons. She will also support treatment centers which teach addicts the importance of caring for oneself, which mysteriously seems to be missing from Jessie's upbringing.

It is the blog author's observation that Geraldine Page's Eve from Interiors is a twin of Imogen Clark, the addict's mother. If this is correct and Allan Bloom's analysis of Woody Allen's moieties and philosophical values is correct, then a platoon of philosophical ghosts marches and refuses to halt.

Imogen's first two children are raised to get along, and they do, as well as Leonard Zelig in the 1983 Woody Allen film. It's the third child, Jessie, who doesn't take direction well without self-medication. It is Imogen who is part of Reisman's Lonely Crowd, and Jessie either can't or won't be ambitious out that quest as she becomes a teenager. And who is German philosopher Martin Heidegger, and what does he have to do with liberalism or not having an identity?

Similar to the great schism between democratic socialists and street revolutionaries, there is a break between progressive Christian liberals and liberals who import German philosophy and psychology.

So this blog will shift the discussion to a review the philosophy of modern liberalism.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Liberals – Art part VIII 114

Liberalism: Inferences by Narration with Picasso and Woody Allen
“It [an African ritual mask] is not an aesthetic process; it's a form of magic that interposes itself between us and the hostile universe, a means of seizing power by imposing a form on our terrors as well as on our desires.”

--Pablo Picasso [as quoted in the February, 2006 Economist article in the previous blog]

So, I am suggesting that modern art and its premiere star, Picasso, are popular with liberals because they have that same set of fears that require magical help to be quelled.  What kind of fear?  A fear of being caught without an identity.  A fear of being inauthentic.  A fear of being the freak in the group, inferior to all others present because they are adjusted. Imogen Clark is afraid that her daughter's heroin addiction will reveal her own lack of adjustment, her inferiority, her inauthenticity. This is so unbearable that she curses her daughter and slaps her.

Intellectually and artistically, this is very akin to Woody Allen's comedy movies.

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Woody Allen's comedy is nothing but a set of variations on the theme of the man who does not have a real "self" or "identity," and feels superior to the inauthentically self-satisfied people because he is conscious of his situation and at the same time inferior to them because they are "adjusted." This borrowed psychology turns into a textbook in Zelig, which is the story of an "other-directed" man, as opposed to an "inner-directed" man, terms popularized in the 1950s by David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, borrowed by him from his analyst, Erich Fromm, who himself absorbed them (e.g., innige Mensch) from a really serious thinker, Nietzsche's heir, Martin Heidegger. I was astounded to see how doctrinaire Woody Allen is, and how normal his way of looking at things—which has immediate roots in the most profound German philosophy—has become in the American entertainment market.

One of the links between Germany and the United States, the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, actually plays a cameo role in Zelig. Zelig is a man who literally becomes whoever or whatever is expected of him—a Republican when with the rich; a gangster when with Mafiosi; black, Chinese or female, when with blacks, Chinese or females. He is nothing in himself, just a collection of roles prescribed by others. He inevitably enters into psychiatric treatment, where we learn that he was once "tradition-directed," i.e., from a family of silly, dancing rabbinic Jews. "Tradition-directed" means to be guided by old values, received from old beliefs, usually religious, which give a man a role that he takes to be more than a role and a place in the world. It goes without saying that a return to that old mode of adjustment and apparent health is neither possible nor desirable. One is supposed to laugh at the dancing Jew, although it is not clear whether from the point of view of alienation or health. It is sure that the Jew is a pariah, Max Weber's category given special notoriety by Hannah Arendt, here meaning interesting only as an outsider who has a special insight into the insider, but whose Jewishness has no merit in itself. His value is defined by the world currently of interest to him. His health is restored when he becomes "inner-directed," when he follows his real instincts and sets his own values. When Zelig hears people say that it is a nice day, when it manifestly is, he responds that it is not a nice day. So he is immediately clapped back into a mental institution by those whom he previously tried to imitate and with whose opinions he is now at war. This is the way society imposes its values on the creator. At the end he gets around, on his own, to reading Moby Dick, which he had previously discussed without having read, in order to impress people. His health is a mixture of petulance and facile, self-conscious

Woody Allen's haunted comedy diagnoses our ills as stemming from value relativism, for which the cure is value positing. And his great strength is in depicting the self-conscious role-player, never quite at home in his role, interesting because he is trying so hard to be like the others, who are ridiculous because they are unaware of their emptiness. But Allen is tasteless and superficial in playing with his Jewishness, which apparently has no inner dignity for him. And where he fails completely is in his presentation of the healthy inner-directed man, who is neither funny nor interesting. This is the figure against which the others are understood and judged, as misers are ridiculous only compared to the man who knows the real value of money. But Allen's inner-directed man is simply empty or nonexistent, forcing one to wonder how profound his creator's understanding can be. Here is where we confront the nothing, but it is not clear that Allen knows it. Inner-directedness is an egalitarian promise that enables us easily to despise and ridicule "the bourgeois" we actually see around us. This is all terribly lightweight and disappointing, for it really tries to assure us that the agonies of the nihilism we are living are just neuroses that can be cured by a little therapy and by a little stiffening of our backs. Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom is just Dale Carnegie with a bit of middle-European cultural whipped cream on top. Get rid of capitalist alienation and Puritan repression, and all will be well as each man chooses for himself. But Woody Allen really has nothing to tell us about inner-directedness. Nor does Riesman nor, going further back, does Fromm. One has to get to Heidegger to learn something of all the grim facts of what inner-directedness might really mean. Allen is never nearly as funny as was Kafka, who really took the problem seriously, without the propagandistic reassurance that Left progressivism would solve it. Zelig has a flirtation with Hitler—whose appeal, it almost goes without saying, is to "other-directed persons," or to use an equivalent expression popularized by another German psychosociologist, Theodore Adorno, to "authoritarian personalities"2—but is rescued by his psychiatricus ex machina. (Flirtation with Stalin never needs explanation in this intellectual universe.) Woody Allen helps to make us feel comfortable with nihilism, to Americanize it. I'm O.K., thou art O.K. too, if we agree to be a bit haunted together.

In politics, in entertainment, in religion, everywhere, we find the language connected with Nietzsche's value revolution, a language necessitated by a new perspective on the things of most concern to us. Words such as "charisma," "life-style," "commitment," "identity" and many others, all of which can easily be traced to Nietzsche, are now practically American slang....

--The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, ppg. 144-46, on line at:

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There are two problems with jumping to Allan Bloom to discuss Imogen Clark and her book, Saving Jessie. The minor problem is that Clark is an Australian and Bloom is talking about Americans and American comedy. My response to that is that the cultures and the philosophies of those country's liberals are similar enough to survive that complaint.

The other complaint is that it is nearly ridiculous to compare Imogen Clark's bad performance as an angry mother of an addict to a Woody Allen comedy. Imogen is not a ditzy, scatterbrained young woman who says funny things and gets into ironic yet humorous situations in her book Saving Jessie.

Indeed. But what I mean to do is to compare Imogen Clark to the central character in Woody Allen's first and best tragedy, his 1978 masterpiece Interiors. The philosophy and approach is the same, but Allen brilliantly decides to let everything go wrong and work for dramatic character development instead of laughs. And the center character, the interior designer, Eve, played by Geraldine Page, has a great deal in common with Imogen. Eve is a perfectionist who is enraged if things go wrong or don't match into the elegant feng shui that she imagines. She has three children, the youngest of which is most like her and follows her example (just like Imogen and her daughter Jessie). Eve and her children are uneasy about being found to be inauthentic. Diane Keaton plays daughter Renata, Kristen Griffith plays daughter Fly, and Mary Beth Hurt plays daughter Joey. Ex-husband Arthur is played by E. G. Marshall and Arthur's second wife is played by Maureen Stapleton, the counterpoint of this situation tragedy. Stapleton's character is realistic and frank; she is something like Juliet's nurse or Brutus' wife or Coriolanus' mother in various Shakespeare plays. Imogen's daughter, Jessie, appears to know no woman of this sort as she travels down the path to addiction.

Here is a review of Interiors from

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A Film That Deserves A Place
in Every Art Collection
By Grady Harp (Top 10 Reviewer)

Revisiting INTERIORS written and directed by Woody Allen in 1978 it becomes apparent that this is one of the most important American films made. In this time of video art and digital manipulation of images, both in real time and in fixed entities, INTERIORS exemplifies the finest in what film can achieve. Without manipulation of scenery, without (gratefully) a senses-assaulting musical score, without GIMMICKRY - here is a film of brilliant writing, stunningly and beautifully subtle sets and costumes, and acting of the first degree. The angst so present in our society's family relationships is gently observed and explored and the results are a paean of understated simplicity and pain. It is difficult to single out any of the outstanding cast as 'best' and that is yet another proof of ensemble acting and directing at a zenith. Yes, it is unimaginable to leave behind the characters created by Geraldine Page, H.G. Marshall, Diane Keaton, and Maureen Stapleton, but again this is an indicator of how well and cohesive the experience provided by this movie is.

I have never been a Woody Allen fan: I find his comedies overwrought, self-absorbed, and frustratingly tedious. Seeing INTERIORS on a DVD, in the quiet of home, has altered my respect for this man. A dazzlingly brilliant, thoughtful, elegy of a film.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Liberals – Art part VII 113

What are we dealing with here with Saving Jessica author Imogen Clark?

“As a parent you can only divulge your own child's misdemeanours to someone who is not shocked by them. Most of my women friends were much more conservative than I was and whilst I loved them dearly, they were not the ones to confide in now.”

Saving Jessica, p. 134 where Imogen describes looking for advice and help

Imogen may really be saying, “I have a lot of conservative acquaintances, but I wouldn't humiliate myself by telling them my daughter is a heroin addict. I'm better than that. I'm better than them, and I won't let them lecture me or smirk at me. My approach to life is better than that. And maintaining my appearances is a more pressing need than aiding my daughter with her problem.”

And she is probably right! Conservative friends might have asked her about her faith, about the closeness of the relationship with her husband, why the husband isn't leading the decisions and confrontations with Jessie, whether she should ask for forgiveness for being an indifferent mother, and a whole host of embarrassing and fight-provoking questions.

And she is probably right for another reason. Her book was reviewed and edited by a top publisher and her implied cruelty, though evident, was not edited out. A more rational book review might have suggested not publishing such an hysterically furious and self-serving rant. She was nominated for awards for this book. She spoke at conferences as a veteran who had been through the mess that addicts create. She only got called on her cruelty seven years after publication. And that insightful review was from an experienced counselor who fully understood invalidation and its techniques.

Imogen Clark doesn't know who she is or what her emotional triggers are. The folks at Random House didn't catch any of this. The attendees at at least one major seminar didn't pursue it. Imogen was nominated for awards. What do all these teachers and social scientists have in common that they don't recognize?

I call it a civil religion. It isn't written down It's a package of moieties that goes unquestioned and undebated. I myself have had trouble tracking it down, though I knew it was there, having gone to extremely liberal public schools and state universities in the 1960s and 1970s (King County, Washington, and the City and County of San Francisco, California).

So, how as blog author can I assert this mysterious “package of moieties” without references? Because I am a CPA, an experienced auditor, a master of tricky formal research (in taxation), and, on my last employment before retiring, a state fraud examiner. The package of moieties is there, sometimes stated out loud, yet unbundled and left in the technical fields involved – art criticism and formal philosophy.
We aren't going to find anything if we search the Internet (or even search Lexus Nexus) for a connection between liberalism and cruelty and pomposity. But if we look at art that liberals admire (especially cubism, impressionism, and 12-tone-scale orchestral music) and at the formal philosophies favored by liberals over the last century, we can achieve some theories and some answers – inferences that are powerful enough to reach some conclusions about the quiddity of modern liberalism.

Let's start with modern abstract art, particularly painting, and very particularly with Pablo Picasso. I've spend a lot of time living around and working with conservative people in places like Virginia. I've never met a single art-minded conservative with a high opinion of Picasso. I've also known a lot of libertarians. They don't have a high opinion of Picasso, either, though some will try to shift the conversation to surrealism (especially Salvador Dali) or photo-realism. But many, many liberals love Picasso. He was an artistic revolutionary.

Below is the best review of Picasso I've ever read. It says a great deal in just a few hundred words. Some of them I've emphasized. This analysis is copyrighted but available on-line from the link below the text. I will discuss it further in the next blog posting.
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Africa's Magic that Transformed Modern Art
An exhibition in South Africa reveals the depth of African influence on Picasso
The Economist February 9, 2006 (Johannesburg)

PABLO PICASSO never went to Africa. But more than three decades after his death, his art is travelling to the continent that so deeply affected his work. “Picasso and Africa”, the most extensive exhibition of the artist's work ever assembled in the region, was due to open at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg on February 10th, and will travel to the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town in April. The show, which highlights Africa's influence on Picasso's work, brings more than 80 of his paintings, drawings and sculptures together with a selection of African masks and statues similar to those that he had around him as he worked.

                                                                    Out of Africa

Picasso said that the “virus” of African art stayed with him throughout his life. He caught it in June 1907, when stumbling upon the African and Oceanic collection at the Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadéro in Paris. The fateful encounter was a revelation: “The masks were not simply sculptures like any other. Not at all. They were magical objects.” That day, he later said, he understood what painting really meant. It is not an aesthetic process; it's a form of magic that interposes itself between us and the hostile universe, a means of seizing power by imposing a form on our terrors as well as on our desires.”

He had been working on “Les Demoiselles

Many other signs were to follow. The exhibition shows how Picasso absorbed Africa's abstract, expressive representations of faces and bodies, and made them his own. He started fragmenting and faceting the human figure, which eventually gave birth to cubism. He was later inspired by African power masks from Congo—wood carvings used by diviners to help them communicate with the spirits—which used everyday materials, such as nails and mirrors. Picasso created one of the sculptures in the exhibition, “Head of a Woman”, out of a colander and springs; nails and newspapers find their way into other works.

The show offers visitors a glimpse into Picasso's genius at work. Many of the pieces exhibited are drawings, sculptures and studies that the artist kept in his studio and which document and dissect his experiments with a new art form. His fascination for African art had turned into a collecting bug, which he fed as he wandered the flea markets of Paris and Marseilles. He gathered over 100 African statues and masks, and kept them by him. Visitors to the exhibition, surrounded by work in progress and with African artefacts beaming their magic, feel transported to his studio.

Many of Picasso's contemporaries shared his fascination with African art. Artists such as André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse were also avid collectors. In the early 20th century, France's colonial push into Africa encouraged an interest in the tales and objects from mysterious, exotic lands, which travelled back with soldiers, traders and missionaries. Picasso and his fellow avant-garde artists, who had been searching for a new artistic language to break the mould of conventional representation, were exposed to forms rich in symbols.

Africa found its way in varying degrees into their work. Yet, explains Marilyn Martin, one of the exhibition's curators, Picasso had a unique understanding of the magical and ritualistic power of African art, which influenced him far beyond form. That encounter at the Ethnographic Museum transformed his artistic vision, and with it the direction of modern art.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Liberals Art part VI 112

Imogen Clark Gives Advice To the Parents of Addicts

It is unlikely that a conservative household would treat a troubled daughter as Imogen Clark treated Jessie. Instead, tools such as these would be commonplace:

Religious intervention
personal supplication
use of parental authority
the father would have led the interrogations and demands, not the mother

Imogen herself does not talk nor write like a conservative: There's no reference to a basic morality. There is no reference or appeal to God. There is no concern with justice. The reputation of the family is more important than the soul of the daughter. Parental control expresses itself as abuse through invalidation rather than as arguments from authority. Imogen uses complex intellectual constructs and polysyllabic words to distance herself from her daughter's problem. Once her daughter's problem is under control, Imogen talks to groups about it as a social issue among social scientists.

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Jessie's mother speaks publicly about the ordeal

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A Personal Story

When I first discovered that my 18 year old youngest daughter was addicted to heroin, I was consumed with misery and guilt. Guilt that I had not managed to protect her from the recklessness of her decision to experiment and use drugs freely and regularly, guilt that I had not realised what was happening earlier and somehow headed it off, guilt that I had failed her as a parent. There seemed to be few more devastating examples of getting it wrong.

There were signs that things were not going well. Her friendship group had changed, her performance at school slackened, her appearance became very alternative and she began associating with many people generally older than she was, not from her school environment. But many teenagers display similar behaviour which does not necessarily indicate drug use.

Our first indication that she was involved with drugs came when she was fifteen, after she had gone missing for a weekend, ringing me Friday evening an hour after she was to be collected by us and she had not shown up, to tell me she was staying out that night and would return in the morning. We spent the night furious at what we saw as her rebelliousness, but never imagining it was more than that. We learned, much later, that she had taken an acid trip and was still too disoriented to return home in the morning. It was Sunday evening before our family tracked her down and the police returned her.

The police informed us that as she had been smoking cannabis daily, she needed to go into a detoxification centre. Feeling they must know best and certainly knowing no better, we reluctantly agreed. Jessie agreed too, but it is true to say she would have agreed to anything, so keen to make amends for her wayward weekend. She was placed in a detox centre with middle aged, male alcoholics, advice which now even the police would say was inappropriate. She left with our support after only five days.

For the next three years her life had a semblance of normalcy. She attended school, was involved in theatre, music and worked in the local supermarket on Sundays. We felt she was probably still experimenting with drugs, but assumed (and wanted to assume) that it was cannabis and we had assured ourselves that this was a relatively harmless pursuit. However, by the time she was seventeen, she had returned to a detox centre at her instigation, assuring us that it was not for heroin, dropped out of school and temporarily, and against our wishes, left home. She was always very careful to shelter us from what she was doing, not wishing to alarm us and very careful to cover her traces. At one stage she moved briefly to Melbourne. Only later we discovered that she was terrified by recent heroin related deaths in our city and grasped at geography to solve her problem with drugs.

One evening in February 1996, when she was flat-sitting for an acquaintance, she failed to show up for an arranged dinner. She had cancelled the night before and with her recent atypical unreliability, we became concerned. I drove over to her flat, waited for her to return and confronted her. It was then that she told me the shattering news that she was addicted to heroin. We were much more fortunate than most, as she realised that her life was in complete disarray and wanted to stop using. We did not have to deal with a child who was not ready to face up to her addiction. But we had no idea of how to help her and the problem was overwhelming. Initially, we felt it was not appropriate to discuss what was happening in our lives with others, except with a few most trusted friends. Our child was doing something that was illegal and widely condemned and even while friends were kind and caring and if they were judgemental kept their judgements to themselves, they had no notion of the agony that parents of addicts live with. Had our daughter had any other illness which endangered her life, there would have been widespread understanding and support. It is not only the risk of overdose that is so distressing, but the disordered, dysfunctional lifestyle that is an addict’s lot.

We sought advice and emotional support from drug counsellors. It was this which helped us realise that it was our daughter’s choice to use drugs and that it was up to her to change her behaviour. We could not do it for her. Though we could rationalise the problem as hers, the sense of parental failure and guilt persisted. The counsellors advised us not to give her money and gently prepared us for her continued use. But at no time did anyone tell us what was advisable for her to do in order to recover, or what we could do to help her.

Over the next three years we watched, cared, supported, suffered as she did, made mistakes and bumbled along as best we could, as she struggled to become and remain clean. Initially, our reaction was for me to take her away to a friend’s isolated farm to look after her as she detoxed. We naively assumed that she would detox and then resume a normal lifestyle. We knew no more than the average person who has not been confronted with this problem. We certainly did not realise that addiction was a chronic, relapsing condition. Gradually we came to understand. She went to live interstate with her older brother, to try and break the ties with her using friends. She tried several rehabilitation centres, at one stage working and staying clean for nine months before relapsing once again. Finally, in January 1998, she completed a three month program at a women only rehabilitation centre in Sydney. She moved into supported housing run by the Salvation Army, living on her own in a bedsit, completed another course in relapse prevention and very slowly, not without significant setbacks, began to rebuild her life.

She has now been clean for almost three years. She still lives in Sydney, works as a waitress, has completed a course in acting, has many friends and a busy, happy life. On the surface her life appears like many other young women. But the reality is nothing the same. Each morning, she tells me, when she wakes, she resolves not to use ‘just for today’ and several times a week she spends an hour and a half at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. She is not ‘better’ or ‘over’ it. She is in recovery.

Several months after we discovered Jessie’s addiction I began to write about our experiences. I had searched constantly in book shops, eager to read about other families facing heroin addiction so that I could learn from their experience and validate the devastation and overwhelming despair I felt. I was sure that someone else would have written something. No one had. Then, just as I had assumed that it would be some-one else’s child who became the addict and it was mine, I became the some-one else who wrote about it. In March 1999, Random House published Saving Jessie, a mother’s story of her daughter’s battle with heroin, written by me.

Saving Jessie was not written in order for me to come to terms with what had happened, to understand it better, or to explain it. But I guess it has had that effect. The rest of the family found reading the manuscript and then the book extremely painful. Only recently my son lent his copy (something he never does) to a close friend to read, telling her only on condition that she not ask him anything or expect him to talk about it with her. Instead she wrote him a lovely letter. It is still, and probably always will be, too raw and painful for them.

My sense of guilt has now largely dissipated. But, of course, I am now seeing it from the perspective of a parent who has a child in recovery. We are always conscious that if our story is over we have been some of the very lucky ones. Only time, indefinite time, will tell. When I reflect on those years of constant dread when returning home to see the red light flashing on the answering machine, of always expecting a phone call from Jessie in distress, or even worse, no phone call at all, of our great need to talk to each other daily, for me to know that she was still all right and for her to reassure me and be reassured, and compare it with now, a couple of phone calls a week and ‘I’ll catch up properly tomorrow, mum. I’m on my way out now’, I know we have come a long way.

There are some lessons which may be learnt by reflecting on Jessie’s and our journey. What was it that has enabled Jessie to turn her life around? Why has she succeeded so far where others have failed?

In the months before Saving Jessie was published I began waking in the night with panic attacks and was quite unable to sleep. My doctor sent me to a psychologist who listened to my story about Jessie and her struggle to recover and gain control of her addiction and said something that was a revelation to me: “You must have raised a very strong daughter.”

Until that moment I had assumed I had raised a weak one, weak enough to succumb to drugs. So where did Jessie get her strength and resilience? I am sure there are many other users who simply do not live long enough to exercise that same resilience and strength. Whilst ever we have a government determined to see drug addiction as a law and order matter, rather than as a health issue, young lives will continue to be lost. I have never asked Jessie if she has overdosed. She told me once of being present when someone else did, which may well have been her way of testing my level of readiness for her answer. We desperately need easily accessible supervised injecting rooms. Our family takes no credit for Jessie’s continued recovery. She has done it herself. But several things helped and hindered her along the way.

We were and still are a close family. Our obvious distress at what was happening to her upset her and she tells me was a great consideration. Had we not known about her addiction she would have continued to use for much longer.

She tells me she always had the expectation that she would have a good life and achieve something. Her disordered, dysfunctional lifestyle as a user was not what she had envisaged. While by conventional standards she has achieved virtually nothing compared with young women her age, I think she has shown courage, persistence and determination in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds, and enormous resilience. Quite an achievement.

These are attributes that she was fortunate to have. But external factors helped her too and from
these we can learn and apply when helping others. Detour House allowed her to finish her rehabilitation program as an out-patient after she had been asked to leave for resuming a sexual relationship with her long term boyfriend, when he came to visit. While recognising that rehabilitation centres must have rules, their inflexible adherence to and application of penalties when rules are broken are not always in the interests of those they are trying to help. Insisting that clients leave for infringements of no real relevance to their commitment to recover has sometimes had disastrous effects.

Jessie lived in supported housing run by the Salvation Army for almost a year. This period was of inestimable value to her and once again she benefited from the flexible interpretation of the rules. She was only two months clean and therefore ineligible for assistance as their rules required three months. Their worker took a punt, impressed by her expressed commitment. She moved into a clean bedsit, supplied with everything a recovering addict, who has nothing, may need. Even a wettex [a trademarked household cleaning sponge].

During her time there she paid a proportion of what she earned as rent and had daily access, if necessary, to the support worker. This time, I believe, was crucial to her recovery. She had to learn what others take for ranted, how to shop on a tight budget, how to pay bills on time, how to live responsibly. She tells me now, how hard it was to do all this with all her energy directed towards staying clean, sometimes going to two NA meetings a day. To put money into rehabilitation programs and not to address the dire needs of those in early recovery when leaving a centre, is dooming many to failure.

The key factor for Jessie was, and still is, her involvement in NA. NA works for her. It does not work for everyone. She chose a wonderful sponsor, a magazine editor, mother of two, eight years clean. Once she arrived on Jessie’s doorstep within 10 minutes of her phone call, judging that a phone call was not sufficient. For months they had dinner together every second Sunday evening and still meet regularly for coffee, even though Jessie has now assumed the role of sponsor to someone else. This support base is still very important to Jessie and I know she would be reluctant to leave it for any reason, even though NA is to be found just about everywhere. She was not faced with leaving a rehab and establishing herself somewhere in a different town. Her support base was in place already.

Jessie was turned away from some rehabs because she was too young. Not because they were concerned they could not meet her needs because of her youth, but because her dole cheque was not sufficient to cover her costs. Surely false economy in the big picture. Government-funded rehabs for our young drug users are essential. I sometimes wonder what the outcome might have been had we been given different advice from the police when she was fifteen. I certainly don’t blame the police for her addiction, but I wonder if it might have been averted. If we had been put in touch with good drug counselling for her, rather than sending her to a detox centre with middle aged male alcoholics, perhaps we may have accessed support that was appropriate.

It is vital that police are well trained, restrained and wise in their treatment of young people and drugs. It may be a lost opportunity to intervene in a positive way.

And, as in much in life, circumstance and a bit of good luck played their part. She was fortunate that she did not have to wait for long periods to get into a detox centre or a rehab, once she had made the commitment, unlike so many I hear about who have to wait for three months to access help. Several times, detox centres took her the next day. Of the three rehabilitation centres she was at, all could take her within two or three weeks. This really was good fortune and unusual. It is agony for parents to watch their child wait, or give up in despair.

She found part time work nearby when she felt ready. She has around her a wonderful group of friends who are all in NA and support each other in a way that is heart-warming. On moving out of supported housing and into a house with friends, the estate agent saw her NA one year clean tag on her key ring, Sure it would mean forfeiting the house, she was touched when he handed it back to her quietly and said, “Eight years clean. AA.”. They got the house. Knockbacks and difficulties are hard to bear in early recovery. After some time she found an acting course she wanted to do which went a long way to restoring her confidence and self esteem and gave her a sense of purpose. The royalties from Saving Jessie funded it, which seemed appropriate.

All this has played a part in her efforts to rebuild her life. Others, in very different circumstances and against seemingly insurmountable odds, will also turn their lives around. As Jessie’s drug counsellor once said to me: “My job is to keep young addicts alive long enough to help them.” That’s the real challenge for our community.

Imogen Clark

Author Biography

Imogen Clark is a writer and primary school teacher living in Canberra. She is married, mother of three and grandmother of one. She is the author of ‘Saving Jessie’, a mother’s moving story of her daughter’s battle with heroin. (Random House, 1999). Since publication of ‘Saving Jessie’ she has spoken to parent groups and at public forums and conferences. She is a member of Families and
Friends for Drug Law Reform and represents the ACT on ADCA’s (Alcohol and other Drugs
Council of Australia) Treatment and Rehabilitation Reference Group. ‘Saving Jessie’ has been nominated for several awards and was short listed for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards in the ‘Works Advancing Public Debate’ section. Her other publications include a chapter in ‘The Heroin
Crisis’ (Bookman Press, 1999).

  • pdf file ppg. 80-84 [pages 74-78 as printed on pages themselves] from National Families and Community Conference on Drugs: “Voices to Be Heard,” Homebush Bay, Australia, 10-11 of November, 2000, available on line at

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Summary: Imogen Clark is an unintended example of the Liberal civil religion. She's cruel to her daughter, writes about it and gets nominated for awards. Her publishers do not spot and do not edit her subjective descriptions of herself. Of central importance, Imogen does not know who she is.