Feb 23, 2009

The "No More Taxes" Mutation in the Republican Genome

Some Republican governors, led by Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (and Sarah Palin--remember her?--of Alaska) are objecting to the stimulus package because they say it will pass the costs on to future generations and "Social Security." At least that is what Sanford said on Sunday morning. I was astounded by his sudden concern for Social Security. I was also puzzled as to why he would think that Social Security was even threatened. He didn't elaborate, only asserted. Perhaps he still thinks that we should have privatized social security in 2005.What delight that would have created right about now.

I was also concerned when these governors said that what they were going to reject was assistance to their states for unemployment compensation. I guess they think that no one in their states is losing their job.In other words, screw the people who are really struggling, but accept the tax breaks for the better off. True Republican compassion and justice. Mostly, they just want tax cuts. They have drunken the kool-aid and cannot raise themselves from their intellectual sugar high. The sugar high has permanently mutated their civics genome.

Since the American taxpayer is going to pay for the bailout over time, it makes sense that those taxpayers who will receive most of the benefit from the bank bailout and the corporate tax breaks should also pay higher taxes and absorb most of the burden. They get their bank bailout money, then they pay a good chunk back in higher taxes. Not only let the tax cuts end in 2010, but increase them even further for those making over $40,000 or maybe even $250,000. "Foul, no fair!" they would cry. "Why that would be destructive to the economy," they would object. How silly to pay us millions only to collect most of it back the way Roosevelt, that traitor to his class, did, or Eisenhower! Well sure. And the circularity would end up with the money in the government's coffers to offset buying up the "toxic assets" and for more stimulus and support for the unemployed and the homeless and the ordinary American.

So if you don't like the circularity of the bailout paying you only to be collected in higher taxes, Mr. Citibanks, then let's just stop it right now. Don't ask for the bailout, return the money you've already received, take your lumps, watch the FDIC come in and take over your insolvent bank, fire your sorry asses along with the members of your board, keep the decent employees on the payroll, break you up until you are no longer too big to fail, and look for new buyers for the fragments.

There's plenty of people out there who will buy your assets for the chance to make their money in the banking business. Only this time the banking will be sensible and local (or at most regional) and responsive to the people in your community. You know, Frank Capra, Jimmy Stewart, avuncular angels descending to keep the jobless from committing suicide.

The healthiest banks in the world right now, it turns out, are in Lebanon, of all places. Lebanon which once again had the crap knocked out of it in 2006 by their neighbors to the South. Why? Well, it seems the head of the Lebanese banking authority forbade Lebanese banks to buy the mortgage backed securities and other speculative instruments, let the insolvent banks go under, and required that banks not lend out more than 70% of deposits. People all over the Middle East are sending their money to Lebanon because of the stability. There's regulatory sanity for you.

Additionally the Glass-Steagall Act should be returned so that investment banks cannot mingle with commercial banks. Regulation of securities should be tightened, and full accounting for the use of the bailout money should be determined. Congress could also re-introduce the legislation that Charles Schumer managed to quash that allowed hedge-fund managers not to pay income tax, only capital gains taxes on their ill-gotten gains. While we're at it, the people of New York could recall Schumer, one of the unsung villains of the massive transfers of wealth.

Though the consensus is rising from every economist outside of the government that the insolvent banks should be placed into receivership just like Indy Mac, the consensus within the White House and on Wall Street, unfortunately, is that the Banks should be left alone to carry out their predictable shenanigans. Let's just not use the word "nationalize" shall we? Let's use the proper word, "receivership," and let the bank examiners take them over and clean them up in preparation for a sale to bankers, not marketing and sales idiots.

For my money, you can also stick it to the Wall Street traders on the floor who won't be affected by the executive caps on salary. Let them start paying more taxes on their commissions in order to lighten the burden on the 90% of the people (and their offspring) who will bear the brunt of the bailout. Let them pay transaction fees on their longs and shorts and jumps in and out of the market.

Whenever Republicans complain about taxes, they always threaten that business and talent will leave the states, like in California for the past few weeks. Perhaps we should encourage the giant bankers and even other Republicans to start thinking about leaving the country. It's time we let the plutocrats flee the US if they don't like the tax burden, especially since that burden is increasing because of the handouts they demand. Let's take over the slogans. America: support it or leave it. Let the plutocrats defect and live off their massive accumulated transfers and tax-avoidance bankrolls sitting in their Swiss Bank until they perish from the face of the earth. Deep down in the muck that has been identified in the UBS scandal is the spoor of Phil Gramm, one of the first at the trough when the bailout money was dished out by Hank Paulson, villains both in the deregulation of the derivative roulette.

Because there are plenty of people who can take their place for lesser pay, and probably run the banks as well as or better than the fools who have brought us to this mess. It would be the inexpensive way to do it, and it would be wonderful dramatic irony: the same kind of screwing that they have been pulling on their employees for decades, fire the older help and hire the neophytes.

We could call it "ethical cleansing."

Feb 21, 2009

Paul Krugman Loses Sleep

“All participants anticipated that unemployment would remain substantially above its longer-run sustainable rate at the end of 2011, even absent further economic shocks; a few indicated that more than five to six years would be needed for the economy to converge to a longer-run path characterized by sustainable rates of output growth and unemployment and by an appropriate rate of inflation.”
--Federal Reserve Open Market Committee minutes , quoted in Paul Krugman's "Who Will Stop the Economic Pain?" (NYT, 2-21-09, posted at Alternet.)

Isn't that last sentence a doozy? I always thought that "converge" meant two things coming together. Now it's "converge to." What does that mean?

Krugman points out that eventually housing will have to catch up with population growth and autos will have to be replaced. (He quotes economically reliable website called Calculated Risk saying that it will take 27 years to replace the current fleet of autos at present day sales rates.) My independent car mechanic tells me that business has never been better. Few people are buying new cars. I have been watching the papers and Internet ads for new cars and the prices appear to be stalled at the same level for months. One new crack in the wall: dealers even have started listing the prices of the Prius and the hybrid Civics, Accords, Camrys and Altimas.

I like Paul Krugman. I'm finishing his last book, The Conscience of a Liberal this week, and he's got a lot of good prescriptions. I'd like to be optimistic, but I can't be. I'm not nearly at the mindset of the Cormac McCarthy of The Road, but I am pretty close to James Howard Kunstler:

We can't promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can't crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can't ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta. We can't return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can't return to the now-complete "growth" cycle of "economic expansion." (Diary entry for February 9, 2009, "Poverty of Imagination.")

And I'm not sure that the fleet will be replaced one for one, as Krugman submits. Unemployed people will use their cars less, and the cars will last longer. Fewer people will think of rolling over their cars every three or four years. More people will turn to public transportation. The baby boomers will have entered retirement with a whoosh and with reduced savings and investments. The kids will start moving back in with their families. The houses larger than we needed if they are paid for, will start sheltering the down and out relatives or sons and daughters, and won't be sold.

If the unemployment goes on for two or three more years, the changes in average life will be massive. If economic and environmental struggle spreads, if physical events like flooding and drought begin to seriously impact our world, fewer and fewer young people will think of the future as something positive and full of possibility.

Recovery from the psychological trauma may take much longer than the pessimists on the open market committee project for the economy. Keep your fingers on the suicide and domestic mayhem pulse, keep watching for the people living in their cars in the parking lots overnight.

Feb 13, 2009

A reply, with hat tips to Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Over at Best of the Blogs, a respondent to my cross-posted entry about Martin Wolf's piece in the Financial Times, timr, took issue with the "prematurity" of my criticism of the new President, so I thought I would elaborate. Please don't misunderstand me. I do hope that the president sees the urgency. Martin Wolf's piece jolted me, as I said, because he honed in on a problem that all leaders face in critical times.I'm not criticizing Obama as president. I am criticizing the weaknesses of an intellectual/political/plutocratic/privileged class to which he belongs.

This political class is incapable--with a few notable exceptions, like Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold, all of whom without fail are marginalized by the other members of their class--of understanding the dilemma of people in the "underclasses." I use the word carefully, I think, because at this point it is the only appropriate word to use. It includes people, for example, in the professional and technical classes and business classes whose combined incomes exceed even a quarter of a million dollars, because even they have seen a transfer of wealth to the tiny minority of the rich and super-rich who control--I might even say enforce their beliefs--in the vast majority of major decisions in the United States.

Most of these 90% of Americans in this underclass are indeed hard-working, pay their bills, grumble about but pay their taxes, lead honest and caring lives, and value the future of their children above all. I would also include in this group those aspiring residents of America who have been branded as "illegal aliens," yet who still contribute energy and vitality to our economy and society and who may even pay social security taxes for benefits which they will never receive.

It was no coincidence that I mentioned Iceland at the end of my piece--the citizens of that country have been well-satisfied and well off for many a year, dozing in their shared prosperity, but after the bottom fell out of the tub, they took to the streets day after day with pots and pans for almost 100% peaceful demonstrations that literally drove their government out of office, installed a caretaker left-leaning government, and forced new elections.

Max is right about how most Americans are unaware of what has taken place, and for many years now I have been saying to people that Mark Twain had the best analysis of their silence and ignorance. I can't remember his exact words, but he thought that Americans never wanted to resist the power of the rich because they so firmly believed that anyone could become rich through hard work. Even the poorest of the poor could never consider themselves as poor, only "temporarily embarrassed." But I think now, as with the Icelanders, the delusion is dissipating. There will always be those extraordinary few who become exceedingly rich, but for the most of us, a comfortable and secure and happy life will be the best aspiration we can resign ourselves to. This is such an American theme. It's F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." The very rich, not the rich.

However, now, it seems, most members of that 90% can see what has taken place over the past thirty years. They see the history of expropriation by the Very Rich and the massive transfer of wealth--that is still continuing in the TARP programs, I might add--in a number of things. They all have their own examples. These are mine:

First, notice the failure of ANY politician to refer to anything but "the middle class" as being hurt by the economic adversity; almost every politician is unable to talk about the "indigent,"" the working poor," the "working class."

Second, notice the sudden and recent silence about "class warfare." That has always traditionally been used to silence any claims for social justice or economic equality. The reason, I think, is that the plutocracy now understands that the stealthy class warfare going on for three decades under another name, has been won. However, one thing has changed. The underclass is finally beginning to see and understand that they are the Gazans in this class warfare, victims of high-tech swindling (repeal of Glass-Steagall, revision of the bankruptcy laws, high commissions and bonuses for shilling the derivatives) and collateral damage (job shopping in foreign countries, tax breaks and off shoring profits for corporations, the debt economy, the decline of manufacturing and its creation of real wealth, the necessity for two income families to work in order to make the ends meet, etc. )

The list goes on, and my anger rises the more I add to it. Some of them have even been burned by the economic versions of white phosphorus, the new DIME (dense inert metal explosive) weapons, or the economic cluster bombs that are still in wait out there disguised as Pepsi cans or Kentucky Fried chicken wings, or the water tables below Hanford, Washington, or diesel pollution near the Port of Long Beach. You know, the "externalities" that the good people of Eastern Connecticut don't have to put up with as they pack their bags for the corporate jet trip to Telluride.

You remember how the Republicans always framed their exploitative legislation in benign terms--Clear Skies Initiative, No Child Left Behind, Healthy Forests Initiative? In the same way they always framed any moves for social and economic justice as "class warfare."

Third, notice the continuing emphasis by the Republicans (and the acquiescence of most Democrats) on tax breaks. Do you really think that a tax break of $400 is going to stimulate the economy? Notice as well the Republicans' continuing insistence on eliminating the inheritance tax, which will benefit only the top 1/30th of the top 1%. That is to say, the Very Very Rich, the moneyed class that has been driving this transfer of wealth. In their insistence on tax cuts Republicans may think they have solid economic principles at work, but it really is the attempt even in this crisis of capitalism feeding on itself, to squeeze every last drop from the great udder of the financial debt and derivative structure.

They have driven this expropriation by lobbying, influence peddling, political contributions, class collusion, "knowing who to talk to" when they were doing something shady or "aggressive," and by the continuing and dominating use of the legal profession and the big accounting firms far more effectively than any "trial lawyers" or "regulators" did in return.

But to get back to President Obama. If I might, I'd like to make an analogy here, and one that the President is very fond of using these days, when he implicitly or explicitly compares himself to Abraham Lincoln.

President Obama's strong belief in the capitalist tenets and his ability not to rethink them and let go of them, is quite similar to the belief that Lincoln held for most of his life, that Negroes were in fact inferior to whites, so much so, that for the years leading up to emancipation, he still held to the idea of massive transfers of slaves to Liberia or South America or the Caribbean. It was a vision one can only call benign ethnic cleansing. Yet this was in parallel to his insistence that "all men are created equal" and that liberty should be extended to all. Lincoln eventually gave up that idea of transfer, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and enabled black men to fight in organized units for the Union, even though he feared that there would be a massive desertion of racist troops from the Union forces.

So I think that the President has a similar dilemma of belief--he understands the inequities in this economic system, what I have called "Americanism" in my post, but he still can't give it up. (The belief in American exceptionalism that drives his foreign policy is related to this as well, so well discussed by Andrew Bacevich in his last book, The Limits of Power: the End of American Exceptionalism.) President Obama may be forced to give it up, eventually, and the sooner he does, the better for all of us--the overwhelming majority of Americans--with the understanding, of course, that it will also be to the detriment of the moneyed class that is still in charge, conceptually, politically and economically.

I just think that by drumming this dilemma home to him, by beating our pots and pans, we may just make him understand that we really have entered a crisis, as Tom Paine would call it, a "time that tries mens' [and women's] souls."

[originally posted at Best of the Blogs]

Martin Wolf on "depressing timidity"; or Welcome to Laputa

For two days I have been rereading Martin Wolf's logical and jolting commentary in the Financial Times, "Why Obama's new Tarp will fail to rescue the banks." Wolf asks a hard question, "Has Barack Obama's presidency already failed?" His reasoning? Obama has not realized that these are not normal times, and that "Doing too little is now far riskier than doing too much."

His evaluation of the stimulus plan is, to my mind, spot on: the president hopes for the best rather than preparing for the worst, and what is even more telling, Wolf adds, is "that it is extraordinary that a popular new president, confronting a once-in-80 years' economic crisis, has let Congress shape the outcome."

So what exactly, is the worst that we are facing? In essence, it is that the "a sizeable portion of financial institutions are insolvent: their assets are, under plausible assumptions, worth less than their liabilities." Wolf is not the first to suggest this. Commentators from both edges of the marginalized political spectrum--Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Saunders, Ron Paul, Nouriel Roubini, James Galbraith, Paul Krugman, Kevin Philips, Joe Stiglitz, Paul Craig Roberts, Michael Hudson, just to name a few--have suggested as much for many weeks--no months--now. Wolf's point is that anything less than responding to this worst case scenario will bring utter failure.

And even deeper, Wolf thinks that "it also seems it has set itself the wrong question. It has not asked what needs to be done to be sure of a solution. It has asked itself, instead, what is the best it can do given three arbitrary, self-imposed constraints: no nationalisation; no losses for bondholders; and no more money from congress." If I had to add my own constraints to this list, they would have to be no relief for all mortgage holders, no failure of the "too-big to fail banks," no return of Glass-Steagall, no strings attached.

Obama has not only surrounded himself with conventional people who helped create or midwifed the current mess, he has unfortunately listened to them and been persuaded by them. His bi-partisanship is only one manifestation of his conventionality. And in this sense he has fallen victim to his own tendency to play to the center, to appease, not to break with convention and not even to bring into the mix the credible voices of critics who have been saying that the Emperor of Americanism has no clothes. It is said that an argument ensued in the inner sanctum of the royal chambers of Laputa, and Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers shouted down Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod and prevailed. Of course, what do the pols know, who are concerned already with re-election, compared to the poobahs of the predator state? Yet, one short look at Geithner's inadequate testimony before Congress yesterday shows that he has just not been able to think outside of his self-imposed box.

In one of the delicious ironies--and Naomi Klein (see The Shock Doctrine) would raise her fist in accord, Wolf points out that if Lawrence Summers or Tim Geithner were advising the US as if it were a foreign country, they would point out the dire situation "brutally."

Wolf's opinion piece is so accurate and devastating, that I have to think that the new President's bi-partisan approach is symptomatic of a much deeper issue, the inability of all politicians, no matter how well-meaning or intelligent, to deal with the economic facts as they appear, to expect the worst outcome, and to understand that we have in fact entered some extraordinary, almost revolutionary times.

The issue, I think, is this: can any politician even hope to escape the mental constraints imposed by 1) not being a member of the poor, the working poor, the working class, or the middle class; 2) of being an adherent to Americanism, the religion of capital (and Capitol!).

I use the words "adherent" and "Americanism" because I want to stress that the thinking over the past two weeks of every politician I have heard or whose words I have read, be they Republican or Democrat, assumes a concern for the American economy that leaves reality somewhere outside of the discourse. There are exceptions who prove the rule, but they are marginalized and perceived as "cranks" by the Capitol press corps. These politicians, men and women, walk around conversing with themselves over the subtleties or contradictions of their beliefs, like characters in a Swiftian satire, needing acolytes to bop them upside the head every so often with an air-filled bladder. The inhabitants of the flying island of Laputa talking not music and fine arts, but finance and economy and free markets and bonuses and pretending that they actually represent the inhabitants down below.

They still think they are live in an economy which has a bad case of the flu rather than congestive heart failure. And indeed, to them, it probably IS a bad case of the flu but they have plenty of time to stay in bed and drink plenty of liquids, a doctor who feels privileged to be their doctor, and spouses who don't have to work, or when they do, may make more as a lobbyist than they. It's not only politicians. It's the media as well, particularly the "molders of opinion" who tend to think they know what middle-America wants and needs. The David Brookses of the airwaves.

Their talk appears to me to be religious--in the root sense of the word: "religare" to "restrain," to "tie back." The bondage of religious belief. These men and women are so constrained in their thinking that they spout dogma, not think hard thoughts grounded in their constituents' reality.

They are unable to imagine a world without employment, without status, without influence, without savings, without investments, without assets, without solid education, without influential contacts, without a roof over their heads, without food on the table, without tolerance of their cheating on income tax, without bonuses, without good medical care, without a raise, without money to send their children to the best school they can, without security, without privilege, without health and safety protection on the job. In short, though they may have come from a working class or middle class background, they have so "escaped it" and so left it behind them, that they are incapable of imagining or remembering viscerally what it feels like to be an American who is destitute, poor, working class, or two-earner middle class, dependent upon begging or employment for their survival.

I almost want to say that because they are the 24-7 recipients of the benefits of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," they cannot begin to imagine what it is like not to exist within their bubble of warmth and safety. For them, the Declaration of Independence has been brought to fruition. For 90% of Americans, it is still an aspiration or a dream deferred.

Because the politicians and their minions exist in a world of more than adequate compensation, of full benefits, of excellent retirement pensions, full medical care and enough income not to worry about deductibles or co pays. They believe in capitalism and "free unregulated markets" so much that they incapable of seeing that the markets are not free except for those who create and run the markets. They still believe that the America of their dreams, like the ending of a Frank Capra movie where all comes round to peacefulness again, is still existing, humming along, and that their bliss is the bliss of all Americans. One might even say that they are "religiose." That is to say excessively or sentimentally religious but with a dash of "otiose," futile, functionless with no useful result.

As long as they float on their flying island--and by "they" I include the Charlie Gibsons and the Bill O'Reillys, the George Wills and the Tom Friedmans, the Katie Courics and the Rush Limbaughs, the political appointees and the lobbyists and consultants--they will never be able to formulate a plan than does anything but rescue and continue to reward the inhabitants of Laputa in their mag-lev island thrumming over all the cities and towns of distress and foreclosure, debt and hot dogs and beans, suicide and anger.

Perhaps its time not to bop them with the air-filled bladder but to wake them up with hard edged noise, to start banging pots and pans like the citizens of Iceland. There's an island for you!

Feb 5, 2009

On Daschle, on Killifer, on Gethner and Stevens . . .

. . . because it really is a type of repetitious scenario, trotted out periodically, this waiting for the gift of health care that supposedly comes down the chimney with what everyone needs.

Originally, I thought to comment on the post about Daschle and Killifer's removal due to tax irregularities, but the Daschle story brings up the speculation on what Daschle probably would have done had he overcome the scrutiny and become Obama's leader of the medical reform program. Now, thank Galen, Obama will be forced to find someone who may bring imagination, sympathy, and courage, not immobility and cowardice, to the problem.

Someone like Howard Dean, a former governor, an actual physician, who has dropped out of the Democratic picture although he had the imagination and courage to come up with the 50 state strategy. That vision managed to increase the voting margins even in the red states. But of course, Dean would not have had the political bent for compromise, and the whack-job image of him perpetrated by the national news media would have lingered. He would have failed before he took the oath of office. Nor do I think that the shill for the pharmaceutical establishment Obama has nominated for surgeon general will have the imagination and common sense of a Jocelyn Elders or C. Everett Koop.

First, some general thoughts on the matter of Daschle's tax "mistake." The fact is that the more money you make, the more aggressive your accountant tends to be. Democrat or Republican, there is an institutionalized practice of "pushing the deduction envelope" and the smart accountants know what the IRS parameters are for various deductions (home office and business miles for the little guys, shelters, shadow corporations, and income substitutions and deferrals for the plutocrats), and all of this is made easier by the IRS regulations constantly being blunted away from large corporate interests and high income audits as part of the philosophically imbedded "Wealth Transfer, Augmentation, and Preservation Act" integrated by Congress by design into every tax bill since Ronald Reagan's first oath of office.

(I should also point out that the insurance business is one of the more skillful at being able to hide all sorts of money making mechanisms by use of the concept of "incurred losses," and that insurance companies on the whole have been very profitable investments over the years. We should remember that AIG is going down the tubes because of their creative Drexel Burnham Lambert refugees who started their Financial Services legerdemain of credit default swaps. The actual property casualty and leasing operations were still very profitable.)

The abuse of the tax system goes on eternally on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Many of the guys in the Senate are millionaires, some obscenely so, like Bill Frist, whose riches come entirely health care and health insurance enterprises. (Have we already forgotten the former senior senator from Alaska? Have we forgotten Sarah Palin's fiddling with the perks?) Read David Cay Johnston's Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch if you are interested in the gruesome details, or follow his columns in the WSJ.

On the whole, it's good to see that Obama is taking the tax integrity matter seriously. Daschle was an important person, in Obama's compromise philosophy, for working out a deal on health care. That Obama was willing to take him out of consideration (I know, I know, it was his decision, and honest Tom Daschle made the decision himself) speaks to a core of integrity that is needed.

The real problem is that any plan Daschle engineered would have been a compromise against common sense and reality. I think we would have received a miserable deal under Daschle's leadership, similar to the miserable prescription drug program passed under Bush.

Why I think that can be illuminated by reference to AARP. Those of you who belong to that now 50+ year-old voting bloc, have been inundated with their countless mailings for their insurance programs (auto, homeowners, umbrella, wrap-around and supplemental Medicare, disability, term life, long-term care, etc). You may have also been solicited by their "United We Can" campaign for a reform of health care. You may have even been suckered into contributing to it.

However, did you ever notice that in all of their many articles on health care reform they always leave out a universal, single payer proposal? It's not even given a nod. Of course, the reason is not hard to see: they make a nice chunk of their income from their relationship with insurers. Now, it may not be a substantial chunk, and I have no interest tonight in reviewing their financial statements, but their consistent failure even to include a single payer option indicates clearly that they cannot think outside of the insurance box.

Daschle, for all of his knowledge, is too close to the insurance companies. (Let's just tail him over the next few months, shall we, and see the direction in which he heads.) Insurers will be the biggest obstruction to moving toward a decent health care system. They think that they are fighting for their existence.

In a just world, that should indeed be the case. Any health care plan that would extend coverage to all Americans at a reasonable cost--whether to the taxpayer or the government--must destroy insurance as we now know it, and turn it into a basically non-profit enterprise for basic coverage, and for-profit for cosmetics and frills desired by the better off earners and plutocrats.

The massive lay-offs now accumulating and accelerating will probably result in well over a quarter of the population having no health care by the end of 2009, and the belt-tightening at surviving companies after the layoffs will result in another third being severely under insured or having such high deductibles and premium payments (especially through the so-called Medical Savings Accounts) that medical expenses will start overwhelming their budgets.

I do not think that cost containment, managed care, computerized records, tax breaks or subsidies for those who cannot buy health care (one essential of the Obama plan) will be viable. When nearly forty per cent of the people in the United States are shut out of the system, the demonstrations, angry meetings, and confrontations will begin. The demonstrations will be especially telling if people finally understand what a great plan the members of congress receive.

This will be a signal issue in the economic recovery, though I don't think Obama knows it yet, nor does he know that he will have to steamroll the Republican rump opposition in order to get any useful and caring plan completed. And the biggest obstacle he has to overcome--in his own mind to start with--is that Americans must be taught to understand that there is nothing wrong with demanding health care. They must be convinced that it is a basic human right rather than a privilege or a commodity.