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August 3, 2015

Lawyers Misleading Clients - Trying to Predict Outcomes...

As part of my concern about lawyers' advertising, and misrepresenting themselves to clients, I recall an interesting interview with a prospective client a number of years ago.

A client [name and gender sanitized] came to see me, referred from another lawyer [name and gender sanitized]. The spouse had owned a house prior to the marriage and had kept it in his name. Because of pay downs on the loans secured by the property, the community was entitled to some reimbursement. Basically, the pay down of principal [and a few other things] is added back to the community property to be divided, and by a series of formulas known as Moore/Marsden an interest in appreciation is also divided. The rules come generally from two old cases involving the marriages of the Moores, and the Marsdens - for shorthand, we refer to the rules by the names of the cases from which they were derived.

I asked the person a series of questions trying to quantify what her interest might be: How much did your spouse pay for it? What was owed on it when you got married? What is the balance today? What do you think it's worth? And a couple of more.

I then did some quick math and told her my best guess if all the answers were accurate, she would receive something between $30-40,000 in reimbursement for that asset, from an estimated equity of about $300,000.

Her response was "That's not what the other lawyer told me." I hadn't known she was shopping.

I then asked who the other lawyer was: Someone I view as very competent and experienced. So I asked what the lawyer told her about the house. She responded "Well, she said she couldn't tell me what I would get, but that it would be less than $150,000," which would have been half the equity.

I responded "Isn't $30-40,000 less than half?" She looked at me like she didn't understand the question. So I told her that I had tried to put real numbers on her situation so that she could have some degree of predictability. Yes, the other lawyer could easily tell her she wouldn't get half the house, since it remained the husband's separate property, subject to reimbursements - it wasn't a lie, but the answer wasn't really helpful to the client.

Of course I couldn't tell her what she would get, as we were using estimates all along, with no documents to support the discussion. Maybe it had been an interest only loan, and she was just guessing at the amounts, or maybe the loan had been paid down with a separate property inheritance. These things are never known at this stage, but I knew she wasn't going to walk away with a large bundle of money from the house.

So, of course, the prospective client went back and hired the first lawyer, as she made her feel more positive about what she would get.

Can't argue with that logic, but the client wasn't prepared for the ultimate outcome.

May 15, 2013

No Money for California Divorce Courts, etc.

In a recent article in The Recorder, it was reported that Governor Jerry Brown's revised spending plan [his 2013-14 budget] contains no additional money for our courts.

The story quotes a Judicial Counsel lobbyist as stating that the courts will not be able to make payroll by July, 2014, the start of the fiscal year, because of new changes proposed by Brown that will prohibit courts from maintaining a reserve account of any sizable amount for cash flow purposes.

If you have been in a family law department in the last year in San Diego County, you will see part of what budget cuts have done - hearings are set many months out for important issues like child support and custody - court reporters are only available in each department a few days each week, which means that there is no record of the proceedings the other days if you don't bring in your own court reporter - and, no, you aren't allowed to record hearings, so with no record there is no agreement on orders and no ability to be able to mount an effective appeal.

As usual, if you have money, you can take your case out of the court system, but the middle class can no longer afford court hearings even if they can afford lawyers.

February 21, 2011

Cost of Litigation in Divorce Cases: Millions for Defense....

Here's a question: Would you spend upwards of $300,000 in attorneys fees trying to get your spouse from collecting what he or she is probably going to get anyway? Does the answer change when the dollars change? Does the answer change if the person is in a tax bracket close to 50%, and has to earn close to $600,000 to pay those fees.

Let's say, hypothetically, there is a very long term marriage. The high earner makes about $1,000,000 per year. The low earner wants support to maintain the marital standard of living. In this hypothetical, the low earner worked throughout the marraige and still works, full time, earning about $80,000 per year. Hypothetically, the temporary support ends up being around $30,000 per month. In gross terms, that leaves the high earner with about $640,000 a year, and the spouse about $440,000 per year. Sounds like a lot of money, doesn't it, but hardly unfair to the high earner after 30 years of marriage.

Temporary support in my county, San Diego, is almost always computer and formula driven: Pretty predictable once you agree on the amount for the parties' earnings and tax deductions. Our computer programs calculate net incomes and divides them on about a 60-40 ratio, although it is adjusted for the recipient-spouse's earnings and often ends up closer to 55-45 if the low earner makes a good living.

Long term support [also called permanent or judgment support] is what a judge would order after trial and the division of assets - the court must then consider a bunch of factors, and is not permitted to use guidelines. Notwithstanding that rule, long term support tends to be close to temporary support for long term marriages: Those twenty plus years, especially if a career was built during the marriage.

Knowing all of that, why would anyone spend that kind of money avoiding the inevitable? I don't have an answer, but it's a question that I ask a lot. Especially after watching it happen time and time again. Personally, I'd rather give the money to my ex-spouse than to the lawyers. The lawyer isn't going to walk my daughter down the aisle or come to my son's graduation, and at least I'm keeping the money in the family.

January 13, 2011

Health Care & The Best in the World - Truthiness isn't Truth...

I'm healthy. I like my doctors, and get to pick the doctors who provide my treatment - I don't have an HMO because I want that choice, and I pay extra for such a plan and the extra gives me great coverage - I almost never pay for anything. If my insurance company doesn't like my doctor, I could pay anyway, charge it on a credit card, and fight with them over the treatment. If I get really sick, I could fly to Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, or somewhere else where they treat a lot of cases like mine. These are all my choices. I am fortunate enough to have the choice. Of course most of society doesn't have the same choices.

But, You can't fool me into believing two things: [1] That the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, and [2] I am better off having my insurance company's bureaucrats and rules between me and my health than a government employee. At least the civil servant has to follow rules that the government decides will benefit the general health, and not those designed to make profits and pay for advertisements. The civil servant doesn't get a bonus for turning down claims, and neither does his boss.

It may feel good in our gut to tell ourselves we are the best, but let's deal with facts, not stomach issues. Such a feeling is what Stephen Colbert calls "Truthiness." That's something that feels like it should be true, or what we want to believe is true, but isn't.

Here's the CIA's study on life expectancy: THE DATA. In case you don't have the time to digest that information, it is summarized on Wikipedia.

Let me cut to the chase: the U.S.A. is 36th in the world in longevity. In 35 countries, people live longer than we: Such evidence is where Truthiness hits a brick wall. We are almost tied with Cuba [which is 35th]. And a lot of the countries higher up on the list have high infant mortality, otherwise their numbers would be a lot higher. If we have such great health care, why are we dying so fast?

OK, so people do come here to go to a particular hospital, medical center, or doctor who, by reputation, is perceived by these people to do a better job than anyone in their own country - that's the right wing/corporate/business/bought-off-politicians response to reality. But, these people aren't flying to San Diego to go to a local public hospital. They go to a particular doctor, or a particular hospital, where they think they can get the best care. Heck, one of my friends flew to London to have her eyes lasered so that she could see better without her classes. She heard from someone that this guy is the best, and he has a song and dance about why he can't use his techiques and tools in the U.S., even though he is a U.S. citizen.

And, of course, my employee's health insurance cost [which I pay] just went up another 15%, and not because of "Obama Care." Heck, if Obama had done what he promised we would all have coverage and at lower cost - put us all in Medicare and health care costs will stop being a major economic problem in this country.

November 3, 2010

Divorce, Appraisals, and Home Inspections...

A major issue in most of my divorce cases is the value of the family residence. Yes, even in this market there may be equity. The value is affected by the condition of the home, which is often a source of litigation. Usually, there is no home inspection to provide an objective view of the homes defects.

What family law lawyers call the "In Spouse" is the person most likely to end up with the residence; that party generally wants it cheap. The "Out Spouse" wants it dear - often he [or she] is getting a business or other assets offsetting the equity in the home. Sometimes the In Spouse simply has greater resources [separate property funds or family help, for example], and can afford to keep the house. The Out Spouse is often not in the running financially, so he [or she] wants a high value or the property sold for the maximum.

As you can expect, when asserting a value, to the In Spouse the house is a shack; to the former mate, it is a pristine palace. We see these arguments passed back and forth going back to the beginning of real estate. Usually, they are just arguments.

In San Diego, most of our judges want a neutral real estate appraiser, and we choose from a short list of the usual suspects to go to the home and ignore what each party says is good or bad about the house. The real estate appraiser we choose should have a lot of experience in divorce cases, so often does not put much stock in the claims of either side.

This is where a home inspection can help. There was a recent New York Times article on this subject.

Continue reading "Divorce, Appraisals, and Home Inspections..." »

November 1, 2010

Financial Problems, Divorce & Dementia

Over the weekend, an interesting article appeared in the New York Times relating to divorce, Alzheimer's, and financial problems.

The story begins with a sad story of a successful lawyer who simply lost track of his finances. His wife learned of the problem when she received a call from their homeowners' association to the effect that their dues were not being paid. He had also stopped writing checks to other creditors, and when she hired a forensic accountant to find their money learned that most of it had "just disappeared."

The article is part of a series on dementia, and points out that difficulty understanding finances, money and credit, is on of the first signs of the problem.

While a person may have sufficient capacity that no one will intervene, the unfortunate part is that they may no longer have the ability to make sound financial decisions. The American Bar Association has published guidelines for lawyers in this area. Unfortunately, in the divorce setting, the consensus seems to be that the lawyer who sees the problem cannot move to have a conservator appointed for his own client, and may not even be able to warn others of what he sees.

August 12, 2010

Spousal Support for the Alien Spouse: Deductibility.....

The general rule is that when spousal support is ordered by a court, it is deductible by the person who pays, and taxable to the recipient. There are rules that apply, but they are relatively straight forward.

Occasionally, the recipient is a non-resident alien who decides to live in another country: Maybe they return from their country of origin, just want to get away, or they have family there - maybe they can make their support stretch farther. Some who have been married to American citizens for decades were here legally, but remained citizens of another country, and when the marriage failed decided to go to their homeland.

The taxability scheme assumes the government gets tax from one spouse or the other. Although the recipient is usually in a lower tax bracket, that is a bargain we make. When the receiving non-resident spouse moves to Italy, Poland, Japan, or Canada, for example, how does the government get its money? To often, no one asks that question, and finds out too late to solve problems created.

Well, there is an answer: The paying spouse withholds the money and sends it to the IRS. This does not apply in all cases, as there some inter-country treaties that eliminate the obligation. The risk to the paying spouse is that failing to withhold may make him or her liable for the tax that should have been paid.

Will the "document preparer" helping you fill out the paperwork to process your divorce have any clue? Of course not. Even most lawyers don't know the rule unless they attend the type of courses that teach these unusual rules - certified specialists are more likely to take such courses.

June 21, 2010

Crazy Senator and Your Right to Petition Your Government....

A Pennsylvania man has been indicted for sending an e-mail to Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning as a result of his efforts to stop a vote on extending unemployment benefits last February.

His crime may have been filling out a contact form on the Senator's website, incorrectly identifying himself as "Bruce from Louisville" in an effort to appear to be one of the Senator's constituents. He claims he didn't directly identify the Senator as crazy, but allegedly said ""ARE you'all insane," even though Bunning probably qualifies personally for that term. It is impossible to determine from the indictment what the man did, since the U.S. Attorney only quoted the vague language of the statute in the indictment.

There are two problems here: One is the basic due process right to be given knowledge of the charges against you, which we can't determine from the indictment. The other is the Constitutional right to "petition the government for redress of grievances", one of the rights granted by the First Amendment. It would be nice if the public could look at the indictment and actually determine what defendant is alleged to have done.

It will be interesting to see what the e-mails actually said. As for calling "Bunning" crazy, truth should be his defense. Age age 79, with an approval rating under 30%, he decided not to run again in 2010 because he couldn't raise enough money to fund his campaign.

June 3, 2010

California Domestic Partners: IRS Tax Rules for "Divorces"

Until last week, it has been generally assumed by many lawyers and CPAs that Domestic Partners, duly registered as such in California, may not divide their incomes for tax purposes, although the income may be treated like community property by the state.

In a recent publication from the IRS effective last Friday, that may no longer be true for tax years beginning in 2007. Because of a change in California tax law effective 1/1/07, this state has treated partners' income the same as that of married persons.

A major concern is the effect this may have on returns for the last 3 tax years, and whether amended returns are required or recommended. It does not appear they may file joint returns, however. It would just mean that each may declare one-half of the income of the other, potentially shifting much of the income tax burden to the lower earning partner at much lower tax rates.

If you are dissolving a domestic partnership, it is important that you contact a Certified Family Law Specialist who has knowledge of these rules and keeps up to date on recent changes.

March 26, 2010

Getting Your "Divorce in a Day": No Way....

There is one local lawyer in San Diego County who specializes in bashing the legal profession, and bragging about the ability to handle a complete divorce in a day: Mediating a settlement, gathering the financial records, drafting all the documents, having an agreement signed, and the case ready for filing with the court. Sounds attractive - especially if you are rushing to get an agreement signed.

That attorney brags of a 100% success record. Unfortunately, the claims are not justified by experience. While that attorney may be able to claim to have talked the parties into a settlement and signed most of the documents in that day, not counted in those bragging rights are the many cases that have later been set aside by a judge or by stipulation because they were unfair, or entered into without sufficient understanding of the law or facts. The same person instills fear in potential clients by telling them that letting some other lawyer near their case will end up costing them tens of thousands of dollars, making outrageous claims of the cost of the average divorce.

And the saddest part is that the work is of low quality, and often could have been handled more competently at lower cost. Two mature, reasonable people, can mediate with a competent mediator inexpensively, and do it right: They don't need to pretend they can or should wrap it all up in a few hours. Typically in my practice, we meet 2 or 3 times over several months; by the time we are done, each knows his or her rights and feels comfortable with the agreement. And we strongly suggest they at least consult with an attorney before signing.

As a concept, it sounds nice that two reasonable people who know what they are doing can go to an attorney, polish the rough edges off their agreement, and have all the paperwork completed quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. Unfortunately, that isn't what happens in practice when they try to do it in a day. One of the things I complain about in this blog is people with insufficient education and training performing mediation in the guise of protecting people from the legal profession and their own inability to reach agreements on their own.

Continue reading "Getting Your "Divorce in a Day": No Way...." »

January 28, 2010

Vocation Evaluations and Your San Diego Divorce:

I your spouse isn't working to capacity, you can ask the court to attribute to him or her an earning capacity for support purposes. But, how do you do that?

A vocational evaluation can be conducted to show the court that a party has the ability to work and that jobs are available. The evaluation is a means of having an expert conduct a study to provide the court with information about the ability of one or both of the spouses to earn more than they claim.

In our present economy, there may be few jobs available, but that doesn't mean that a spouse can remain unemployed for a long period of time and still continue to collect full amounts of child and spousal support, or avoid paying, as though he or she were incapable of working. The evaluation process is essential to get expert opinion to the judge who must make a determination - you can't just tell the judge how much they can make, or even what they used to earn in earlier days - only an expert can provide such evidence.

Once a judge has information that the party has job skills, he or she may order that the person make job contacts, and report them on a form listing the name of the company, the manner of the contact, to whom the person spoke, the job for which they applied, and the outcome of the contact. We often see those who we think are not anxious to find work making the required five or ten job contacts a week simply by logging onto the Internet and forwarding a resume - some judges require personal contact.

Most vocational evaluators will testify that jobs are usually found through personal contact (including family and friends), and that the success rate in sending a resume without such contact is very low. At least one appellate court has observed that it is easy for a person to avoid working if he or she wants, so the judge is ultimately required to make a gut reaction to a set of facts to determine whether the litigant is affirmatively seeking employment.

In one of my cases years ago, the non-working spouse would report on the court form, that she was going to an industrial park, usually on Monday or Tuesday, then going door to door passing out resumes and picking up a business card from the receptionist. Every two weeks, she would then report back 20 job contacts, but it was painfully obvious that she was only looking for work one day a week.

We suspected that she was actually working somewhere the rest of the time, probably under the table. The judge looked at her qualifications (fluency in four languages), the master's degree she had from college, and assigned to her a relatively high-income level, and ordered child support accordingly and ended the husband's spousal support obligation. A good vocational evaluation is essential to that process.

In the present job market, it is relatively easy to claim that someone is not earning a living in his or her chosen field, for example a real estate broker. A judge has to decide whether or not to push that person to look for work in some other industry, or try to weather bad times because the person was previously successful and will probably be successful again when the market picks up. In the long-run, the decision to pursue one career move or the other may affect the persons long-term ability to pay increased child or spousal support.

These kinds of decisions are left to the sound discretion of the trial judge. Whichever side of the issue you are on, your position is best presented to the judge by a certified family law specialist; and vocational evaluations are essential.

If you can present evidence of a pattern in the manner of job contacts, or even show that you have followed up to determine that the contacts were actually made, you are more likely to be successful in that process. If you treat it casually, or assume that the judge will simply believe in your position, you are likely to be disappointed in the outcome.

January 4, 2010

Divorce Rates, Domestic Violence in San Diego...

Hard economic times may have caused a temporary decrease in the divorce rate, but along with it, an increase in domestic violence. In a recent article, this phenomenon was discussed.

Economic stress, and the general failure of couples to discuss and understand family finances, are two of the prime causes of divorce. When times are tough, it seems that people learn to appreciate the stability of multiple possible sources of income, and the ability to make adjustments to keep the family unit flowing.

Unfortunately, people have a tendency to learn these lessons, but forget them as soon as money becomes available. Are we just building pent up demand to divorce because we aren't solving the core issues - lack of communication, and economic pressures?

A high percentage of potential clients who come to see me are unaware what the economic effects of divorce will bring to them, and often reconsider when they find out their life styles will change. And, it is surprising how many of them do not know what their spouses earn, what they have accumulated in savings and retirement, and how much debt has been emassed during the marriage.

While the divorce rate may be down temporarily, the number of crazies in the system seems to have gone up - people filing motions to set aside old judgments, apparently because they haven't been lucky playing the Lotto.

November 29, 2009

Divorce Mediation, Costs, Lack of Training & Scare Tactics....

Today, courtesy of Google, I received a link to a webpage titled something like "Free Divorce Help in San Diego", followed by an advertisement looking like an article touting a private mediator with a law degree, but apparently someone who never passed the bar examine to become a lawyer. Aside from the irony of starting by offering free help, then charging, the page contained a lot of misinformation.

As with much mediator advertising, it was peppered with misstatements about the cost of the legal process. It reported that lawyers charge "at least $500 per hour" and many charge non-refundable retainers as much as $7500, and "total fees of $100,000 are not unheard of for a divorce."

Although legal services are expensive, let's set the record straight. In San Diego, the number of competent lawyers consistently charging $500 or more per hour is probably well under a dozen. Yes, a divorce can cost $100,000 or more, but that's because the parties are unreasonable and lousy candidates for mediation in the first place - and few lawyers have done cases that have gotten that expensive.

Retainers of $7500? Again a small number of lawyers, or those where the attorney knows going in that there is going to be a large amount of work to do, or there are other issues [a lot of property to keep track of, custody disputes, prior lawyers, a particularly obnoxious attorney on the other side] - and non-refundable retainers are generally prohibited in California, so you are only going to pay for the actual work needed.

And, this person bragged that most cases are mediated for less that $5,000: Now that's still a fine fee to charge if you are a lawyer, and in my experience far more than having a competent family law lawyer mediate your divorce and process it through the courts, as long as the people are reasonable and mature. Yes, most of us charge on an hourly basis for the work, so there is no limit, but you can have it done competently for less, in most cases.

One regular warning I make here is that you need to examine the credentials of the mediator: In my mind, it is more than taking a short class in how to help people reach agreements, and knowing some basics about the law. You want accurate information about your legal rights and responsibilities and knowing the mediator's thought processes have been honed by litigation, where biases and assumptions are tested daily. A J.D. degree means the person went to law school - it does not mean or imply the person knows the law, or ever competently practiced. Masters and Bachelor degrees are meaningless in choosing a mediator.

There is no substitute for education and experience as a family law specialist with years of litigation experience. Scare tactics to draw you in should be viewed with suspicion. If you can hire a true expert for the same price, why go to someone with a good sales pitch that lures you in with a promise of free or cheap resolution of your divorce? Someone who badmouths competitors on the basis that they are educated, knowledgeable, and experienced. There are a few, money hungry lawyers, whom you can't trust, but the vast majority know what they are doing and went into the legal profession because they wanted to be able to help people.

November 17, 2009

House Prices and Divorce in San Diego....

Today's San Diego Union contains an article on the front page with a headline that "S. D. County home prices inch higher." While this is certainly welcome news, it hardly serves as notice of the end of falling prices and is not enough to make settling divorce cases easier.

The statistics cited in the article refer to median home prices in the county - for those non-math majors, that means that one-half of the houses sold are above, and one-half below that median number. The increase, if you can call it that, is .5%, year to year for October. That can easily be a statistical anomoly, and not reflect an actual increase in prices, although the article does reflect a 2% increase in the number of sales - of course that increase is from the extremely desperate days of October, 2008, just before the election, when it seemed our financial world was about to end, which is probably not a good guide post from which to measure the market.

What I notice in my family law practice is that houses at the very bottom of the market are selling as a few buyers think they can pick up a rental propery cheap [especially based on early 2005 prices].

In one case, we have two houses to value; one in the $300,000 range, and one nearer $700,000. Because of delays, we've had two appraisals of each house - the same appraiser says that the less expensive house has actually increase in value about 10% in the last year, while it is opinion that the higher priced house remains unchanged. With the median at $325,000 [according to the article], it may just be that the bottom end has firmed up as buyers think they are getting a bargain, while the number of foreclosures and repossessed houses continues to keep the overall market soft.

Those few friends who are looking at houses in the range above $700,000, are finding they can buy nearly new, custom built houses far below the cost of construction - one friend remarked that the top end is equivalent of being given a free lot, then a discounted bid on building - he's interested in moving, but is really picky because he finds so much from which to choose - he doesn't have to suffer noise problems or bad layouts, as there are other houses on the market.

Before taking a step into buying a new house, think carefully. We may not be at the bottom. And, remember, one factor in keeping the bottom firm is that interest rates on these sub-jumbo loans remain very low, and money is available to many buyers in that price range. That does not necessarily mean that people are trading up, only that houses at the bottom are becoming attractive to investors, while pricing remaining a gamble. If interest rates rise, prices will drop. As always, be sure you have the financial stability to keep the property you buy even if housing prices and rental values drop, and interest rates go up.

August 7, 2009

Self-Employment, Health Insurance, and the Gov't....

As noted below on this blog, I provide health insurance for my staff because i care about their health, about them as people, and their productivity. I am concerned about the growing cost of health care, in part for that reason. I am also concerned because my health care and that of my spouse keep going up.

Last year, we changed our office policy to Costco, because it cut our rates substantially, even though the insurance comes from the same company I had before - apparently there is enough profit in health insurance that Costco can make something, yet the health insurance carrier [the same one we'd been using] makes a profit, and can still cut my costs. Anyway, last year, by changing policies, slightly increasing the co-pay by another $5, and our cost went up slightly - otherwise, it was scheduled to go up about 15% .

One year later, on our policy anniversary date, our rates will go up about 25% from that. Of all the wackadoodles who complain that a government policy or health coverage will raise their taxes or the deficit, I wonder how many have considered the rapid increase in insurance costs - from the looks of many of the loudest protesters, they are covered by Medicare, a government program they'd fight to the death to keep.

At 15% per year, health care costs will double every 5 years. At 25% [this year's increase], it will double every 3 years. The average is somewhere in between, we hope. The cost of health care and insurance is rising at least 5 times as fast as wages and earnings.

Total health insurance funded by my family will cost about about $26,000 this year, covering 6 people, aged 12 to 66, one of whom is covered by Medicare, so prior years' taxes cover part of the cost. Part of that is paid by my wife's employer, but it ultimately comes out of the money available to pay her a higher salary, just as more the cost of insurance for my employees limits what I can afford to pay them.

Health cost is in crisis because of these rapid increases that seem to be accelerating. Between 1/7th and 1/6th of the nation's economy goes to health care - and we don't have the best health care in the world despite the unsupported assertions of the opponents of reform. It is time to wake up people, and fix a broken system.

Tax breaks, or buying insurance from "out of state" companies that aren't regulated, isn't the answer. We need to get out from under the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the health care industry [drug makers, health insurance, etc.] on things that aren't necessary [advertising, manipulating doctors, profits, huge bonuses, etc.], and vote for substantial changes. When we here that Medicare is rife with fraud, what we don't consider is that the fraud is perpetrated by capitalists [doctors, pharmacists, insurance companies] who are bilking the government system - it isn't the system that is corrupt, its the private sector.

Proposed reform isn't socialism, it's self-preservation. Our auto industry can't compete with the Japanese, in large part because it provides health insurance. Our small businesses are being eaten alive by health insurance costs. Nothing is working but the system of lobbyists bribing our elected representatives. We are being scared by fears of a socialist government, but if you ask people they think that means Communism, as in the USSR - they don't realize that the postal service, police, schools, Medicare, and national parks are all government owned businesses. We, as a society, are so far from socialism that the risk that our government will own most aspects of our economy is merely a myth, designed to scare us into submission.

The "socialism" we are lead to fear is a communist system, where everyone [in theory] earns the same no matter how hard they work, how much they save, how they sacrifice, and how much they create. A tax rate of 50% doesn't stifle competition, hard work, or imagination. In the 1950's, the top Federal tax bracket was 90%. We lowered it to 70%, yet that plus state and local taxes, didn't keep us from making us the most inventive country in the world, or the most economically successful.

Yes, we have taxes that are unfair - all taxes are unfair. The goal is to find a mix between paying for government and not eliminating our desires to improve our economic positions and be more successful than those around us, or our parents. The cost of health care really can't enter into the discussion - it is a problem that needs to be solved and none of the solutions offered by the right are designed to solve that problem. Using tax policy [deductions, credits, etc.] makes taxation more complex and doesn't directly attack the problem - it just ties into the idea that any tax is bad if it hits people with the money to pay it.

Yes, I don't like high taxes, but I also don't like health care costs out of control - does it matter where my money goes? Not really. If the government can get the rapidly rising costs under control, I'm for it - maybe that requires government health care, or maybe it only requires government competition. One way or the other, the problem needs to be fixed.

I am celebrating my 45 year as a registered Republican, but the party is trying my patience. I survived the Bush years, although in some financial disarray to my retirement accounts, but I expect Republicans to be reasonable - I'm about to publically recognize their drive for power makes reasonable thought impossible.

Capitalistic theory operates on the assumption that society advances economically when we are allowed to be rewarded for hard work and inventiveness. The Chinese seem to understand that lesson. What Teddy Roosevelt understood more than 100 years ago, however, is that unregulated capitalism leads to boom and bust cycles, aggressive monopolies, and periodic economic and social disruption. He tried to fight this battle with William Howard Taft, but lost to party politics and big money when he tried to start a 3rd party to do so.

Throughout the 19th Century [the 1800's for some of you], and into the first 30 years of the 20th, we largely had unregulated capitalism, banking, and investing. Every 10 to 15 years there were huge recessions or depressions. The Great Depression started regulation started by Teddy Roosevelt, and the lessons learned sustained those regulations for the next 70 years. The next 75 years, we have had recessions, but nothing like what lack of regulation had produced before. The current recession was headed to Depression until the government realized we need to solve the banking crisis and prime the pump - even George Bush recognized this need, and started the process.

Somewhere, there has to be a mix: Government intervention and control to permit capitalism to flourish without the havoc it is prone to create when it isn't controlled.

The Bush Administration taught us several good lessons: Don't appoint your friends to make decisions just because they are your friends, don't appoint people to positions governing who believe there should be no government, and open government so what it does is transparent - oh, and don't let the regulated draft the regulations.

Now if that sounds like the ravings of a liberal, I'm sorry, but I don't think I've changed that much since I supported Barry Goldwater 45 years ago - the arguments of the conservatives then aren't recognizable to conservatives today. That wing of society has gone over the edge.

Gone are the Republicans like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Everett Dirksen, and others, who didn't want government controlling our daily lives, but understood it served a purpose - in part to protect us from foreign enemies, and in part to provide services it could provide more effectively, more fairly, or more economically, than private industry driven by the profit motive or the need to create economic empires, irrespective of the impact on society.

General Motors has long known it couldn't continue to pay for health care for its employees and retirees, still build cars here and still complete against cars made in strange foreign cultures, like Canada. Part of the imbalance causing our present health crisis is that General Motors shouldn't be in the health care industry, competing against companies like Toyota that aren't. As an employer, I shouldn't be in that industry either.

If Republicans care about their country, as we claim, we need to participate in a process to effectively bring health care costs under control. At present, it looks like we are just trying to repeat our rhetoric [government bad, tax cuts good, pure capitalism perfect], and seeking to regain power. How much more effective could our elected representatives appear if they seemed to be part of the solution, rather than the problem? Trying to take advantage of those simpletons who think Obama isn't an American, or that Congress will pass legislation to kill old people, is a way of gaining power, but not of fixing the problems of society.

What the Conservatives are forcing on us is a 51% majority in Congress cramming a health system down our throats that we will be stuck with forever - wake up, quit trying to scare us all, and solve the problem. It's time for both sides to get together to solve the problem, and quit telling us we are going to be killing grandma. Otherwise, you won't like the solution.