Must we destroy housing to save it???

July 31, 2008



By Tony Walther

I think there’s a scene in The Grapes of Wrath where a hungry man is kept from eating oranges that are going to be thrown out because of low prices. And the book also tells of dumping milk when thousands are going hungry. Food was dumped rather than being allowed to flood the market and further depress prices in the Great Depression, and thousands went hungry in the process.

Using that logic, or maybe the logic of the officer in Vietnam who explained, “we had to destroy the village to save it,” an article in the Wall Street Journal presents a plan to deal with the stagnant housing market and home mortgage crisis. It calls for lenders to demolish new houses that never sold or have been foreclosed upon and won’t sell. In that way a new demand for housing would be opened up, relieving the stressed market. At first I thought this was just said to make a point, a bit of hyperbole, but then I realized the writer was quite serious, quite, he got the idea out of The Economist, published in Britain (but talking about America).

The writer cited the fact that Uncle Sam has already invested trillions in mortgage related bailouts.

Well, for the most part, or for the whole part, I think the bailouts are wrong. If we have free enterprise, then we need free enterprise (although it needs to be fair enterprise as well). There needs to be some regulation to prevent imprudent and outright reckless practices that resulted in the home mortgage crisis. And certainly appropriate government agencies, local, state, and federal, should go after fraudulent practitioners in the mortgage trade.

If it is to be that some houses will never be lived in, can never be sold, perhaps demolition would be the way to go. It beats blight. Also, in many cases, new housing tracts are built over good to prime agricultural land. We’ve all seen this, but I personally witnessed the strangest thing, housing tracts in Salinas, Ca., being built on prime land (the world’s vegetable capital) right next to packing houses. Now if houses in a place like that were not being sold, demolishing them might not be a bad idea, the world food crisis being what it is.

What it seems we need, though, is to go back to the older method of financing housing, where a reasonable down payment is required, and some good evidence that the borrower should be able to repay the loan presented (there is always some gamble for both parties).

Of course if we do that we could wind up in the situation we were in decades ago when it became nearly impossible for a vast number of people to ever even think of buying a house.

Through the years there have been government programs, FHA, GI loans, Farm Home loans, to name a few, that have helped, they should be continued.

A major problem over the years was the lack of “affordable housing.” Builders like to do expensive homes if there is a market, because a lot more money can be made.

But it would seem that local governments, in conjunction with state and federal, would do well to promote affordable housing. It in turn promotes community pride, discourages crime, and strengthens the tax base.

The problem is figuring out a way to provide “affordable” housing, but not simply low cost homes that wind up being occupied by folks who do not have the resources or even desire to care for them.

I think there should be government subsidized housing, but there needs to be safeguards as to lending and borrowing requirements, and quality construction needs to be required.

There’s probably no easy way out of the mortgage crisis, but proper government oversight to prevent fraud and abuse in the future, and market forces themselves over time should bring things back to a more even keel.

Homes are to live in. They are to raise families in. They should be a long-term and relatively safe investment. They should not be constantly bought, sold, bought, sold, like commodities on the floor of the mercantile exchange.

Stability beats instability for enjoyable, healthy, and productive individual lives, and for our nation.

It’s that 70s show all over again…

July 30, 2008



By Tony Walther

Maybe history really does repeat itself.

We borrowed heavily to fight an unpopular war, the cost of social programs and the growth of big government went unchecked, and then we faced a major energy crisis. The end result was a strange heretofore unheard of condition in which there was inflation in the economy (prices went up) and stagnation (less demand for goods and services) at the same time, seemingly violating the sacred capitalist rule of supply and demand. It was tagged “stagflation.”

All these things happened in the late 1960s and the 1970s (the latter being the era of stagflation).

And all of these things are happening today in the later 2000s.

I recall that back during the buildup of the Vietnam War there was a debate as to whether the Johnson administration could offer both “guns and butter.” Those old enough will recall that Lyndon Johnson pushed through the most ambitious program of social legislation since FDRs New Deal. Johnson called his “The Great Society.” Medicare and Medicaid were enacted, along with a whole host of social welfare programs. And remember folks, back then the impetus was not only to help poor folks of color (Blacks and Hispanics), but poor white folks too. There were news reports and documentaries done about the abysmal living conditions and the high unemployment and lack of education among white folks living in Appalachia (strangely enough, some of the same problems and similar reports come out of that region today).

At the same time, Johnson was pushing our nation into a major military land offensive in Vietnam, hence the afore mentioned paradox, producing both “guns and butter.”

Johnson and his successors chose to do it in what has become the “American way” these past many decades, they borrowed it. Rather than to call for sacrifice for the war effort and to levy sufficient taxes, they chose to put off paying for it. But the piper must be paid.

George W. Bush faced a crisis not long after coming into office, 9/11. The evidence seems to suggest that Bush was predisposed to go to war with Iraq, well before 9/11. (Johnson was predisposed to fight in Vietnam because of the domino theory on the spread of communism and the fear of being blamed for losing more ground to the commies.)

After 9/11, the prevailing mood in the country was that we had been attacked and we needed to strike back. Bush struck first at Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden, the apparent culprit behind 9/11, was holed up, and that seemed prudent, but then Bush conveniently morphed it into a war in Iraq. And I apologize for boring anyone with this all over again, you know the rest.

But the point is, there was uncertainty and debate in the government as to whether Bush’s war policy was correct. But as in Vietnam, the war was not the result of a declaration of war by congress, as the U.S. Constitution provides for, but resolutions passed by congress, essentially giving Bush carte blanche to fight a “war on terror.”

In the same way, President Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, used the “Gulf of Tonkin” resolution to fight an undeclared war in Vietnam.

(Something tells me, though, that Bush’s war on terror resolutions more closely represent declarations of war than the Tonkin resolution, but the end result in both cases was unconditional permission to wage war given to the president. Can congress legally abdicate its responsibility to declare war? The whole issue of when and how we should go to war, properly following the Constitution, has never been officially resolved since Korea and Vietnam.)

In any event, we have come full circle into a situation in which we are paying on credit for a costly war, government spending in general is way out of control, and we once again face an energy crisis. And now stagflation has reared its ugly head. We seem headed deeper and deeper into an economic downturn, with higher unemployment, and, meanwhile, inflation, the cost of most everything we buy is going up. Inflation, plus stagnant economy = stagflation.

We would have been better off to avoid a costly war (defense is necessary, offense, maybe not so much). We should try to pay as we go (unfortunately that means taxes, but at least we can choose to not do as much, hence, lower taxes). We need to become energy independent (something we knew way back in the 70s).

If history really does repeat itself, it may be because we never learn.

Traps for presidential has beens and hopefuls…

July 29, 2008



By Tony Walther

There’s a scandal brewing! It’s rumored in the blogosphere that John Edwards has a child by a mistress.

So, who cares? That’s my question. I mean, unless maybe he would be considered for a VP slot for Barack Obama. But John Edwards? What was he about anyway? I think I have been following the campaign for president lo these past many, many months, and you know, I never could figure out what Edwards was all about, except expensive haircuts. I liked his wife. She seems like a nice person and a good speaker. I’m sorry for her poor health.

When I think of Edwards, I think of Gary Hart. I mean I watched that campaign too and never did hear him say anything, except “read my book” (I didn’t), and “I have new ideas.”

I’m almost tempted to say as much about John Kerry, or even Al Gore, although certainly both of them had much to say – but somehow it never stuck. Kerry was too back and forth, proud to be a Vietnam veteran, ashamed of the medals he got there, against the Iraq war, for it, I couldn’t keep up. And then he got swift-boated and wouldn’t defend himself.

Al Gore had a lot more substantive things to say after his failed presidential run (and yes, I remember, he really did win the most votes, but lost by a technicality, constitutional quirk, a Bush-friendly Supreme Court majority, and a botched recount strategy).

But this Edwards thing. Lee Stranahan, blogging in the online Huffington Post, promises this thing is going to go sky high. I don’t see why. Edwards isn’t even a candidate anymore.

George W. doesn’t have to worry about scandal, really, since he’s a lame duck.

Certainly Obama and John McCain have to be ever vigilant against scandal (there were rumors awhile back about some extra coziness between McCain and a female lobbyist).

And no doubt Obama’s staffers are warning him to steer clear of strange arugula.

And poor McCain, he just can’t catch a break – “I was right on the surge I tell you, won’t anyone listen!?”

I just saw a video of McCain trying to say something in a supermarket and being drowned out by the PA system. Saw another one where he was being interviewed at home and the dogs came running in and interrupted things and it seemed to bother McCain, especially when the interviewer wanted to pay attention to the dogs. McCain also has that pained sucking-on-a-lemon look when anyone asks him a question. If he gets to be the president, he’ll be another press hater (he already is, actually). He really is not getting his money’s worth in campaign advisers as far as I can see.

Supposedly, the media is now falling out of love with Obama, although I haven’t noticed yet.

For the most part, I think, Obama and McCain are trying to go for the center, and I have to think that is where most of the public is and always has been. Economics and other events of the times push the electorate one way or the other.

The more desperate things look for the economy and things in general, the better chance Obama has, for he represents something new (no one is sure what).

As far as McCain goes, his toughest opponent may be himself.

We don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore

July 28, 2008



By Tony Walther

It’s often said that everyone remembers where he or she was when Kennedy was shot or on 9/11.

I do, certainly, but I also remember my car radio being on during the Watergate hearings that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. And I remember sitting in the living room and watching Nixon give his resignation speech.

I was never a Nixon fan, but have come to at least understand something more about him through the years. And those two events trigger memories in my mind that have nothing to do with him, but instead my own life and its events, but I don’t want to go into that, except to say that maybe it reminds me of the beginnings of an adult life I have lived that had no real planning. Nixon, on the other hand, was a man with a plan, win elections at all costs and get power. He did that, then was forced to give up the power, lost his prestige for awhile, and then gained it back, at least to some extent, before he died.

What brought this to mind, was that I checked out a DVD of an A&E Biography episode of Richard Nixon from the library the other day. It was a reasonably good summary of his life, telling some of the good and some of the bad. I guess you could say he was kind of like that girl in the nursery rhyme, when he was good, he was, well, pretty good, and when he was bad, he was very, very, bad.

Actually, I followed most of Nixon’s political career from the time I was just a little tyke and he was vice president of the United States, through it all, including his humiliatingly unsuccessful run for governor of California, the one in which he made the cry baby ending with “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” The biography piece made me understand his sentiments a little bit (no one, especially the press, liked him or gave him an even break). Far from ending his political career, as many thought at the time, it actually may have helped it. From then on anyone who was suspicious of what they felt was an elitist, too liberal media, could identify with pull-yourself-up from- your-own-bootstraps Dick Nixon. He was the hard-working young man, son of equally hard-working, self-supporting parents, who had their own small business. He was among the top in his class, but could not afford to go to Harvard, even though he received a scholarship – living expenses would be too much.

He lost one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history to Jack Kennedy, who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and never had to work at a real job (had the handy trust fund), and was handsome to boot.

But both Nixon and Kennedy served in the U.S. Congress together and probably had more in common than not – they were reportedly even friends. They were both World War II veterans, both having served in the Pacific theater. While Nixon served ably as a supply officer, Kennedy commanded a PT boat and may have turned a mishap into a heroic adventure (thanks to the influence of his father) chronicled in print and film, PT 109. Some say it was pure bravery and others just a screw up.

I was too young to have known about Nixon when he was running for congress and then the U.S. Senate. I know he made his reputation as a communist baiter, accusing opponents of being either communists or communist sympathizers. He of course gained fame in the Alger Hiss case, going after a state department employee with accusations of communist espionage. Hiss did eventually do some time on perjury charges. I always heard the story of how he tarred Democratic opponent Helen Douglas in a race for the U.S. Senate as a communist sympathizer. Come to find out, what was left out, is that some in her own party had tagged her with being a communist sympathizer in the primary. Nixon picked up on that tactic and ran with it.

I watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates, but the only thing I really remember is that both seemed to pretty much say the same thing, and they vowed to defend the islands of Quemoy and Matsu against the Red Chinese. Kennedy was more handsome, folks thought (and Nixon was pale from a bout of flu or something). And Kennedy was a smoother talker. But Nixon could give a fairly good political speech and debate performance himself (in fact it is said that listeners on radio thought he won the debates).

And even earlier than that, I now recall, I saw him go toe to toe with the Soviet Union’s Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate. He certainly got the best of that, grinning, country-bumpkin looking fat man, I always thought.

I was unhappy with Nixon over how he drug out the Vietnam War after promising to end it. But in reality I thought he pulled off one of the best tactics in that war and I’ve never seen it get the recognition it should have received. He ordered the mining of North Viet Nam’s major port, Haiphong Harbor. Just as in Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis, the Russian supply ships turned around. Nixon proved once again that when you stand up to the Russians, they will blink. Had Lyndon Johnson used and stuck with such tactics, Vietnam, as awful a mistake as it was, might have turned out better. As for Nixon’s infamous incursion into Cambodia, I don’t know. In a war, you have to go after the enemy where you find them (Barack Obama has talked of going into Pakistan).

Nixon never cared for domestic affairs. He loved the world stage, always playing the part of a statesman. He could have contested the razor close and suspicious election of 1960, but thought it best for the nation not to.

His downfall was the Watergate break-in. Seems to me he should have just faced it, blamed it on over-zealous supporters, and put it behind him. I think the story would never have gained legs had it not been for the cover-up, which the secret tapes proved he directed.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton should have resigned out of respect for the office over the Lewinsky affair.

And George W. Bush has managed to make the United States look evil and indifferent to world opinion and at the same time incompetent. Bush has as much as said that he cares not what others think. He is simply the “Decider.”

In today’s atmosphere, Nixon wouldn’t even of had to have resigned. Sure everyone, even his own party and many of his once admirers were fed up with him. But, look at George W. Bush, he just gives a silly smile and presses on, knowing that he can leave his mess to his successor, in what may well be the final revenge on the Democrats and the nation itself for its lack of respect for the “Decider.”

During Nixon’s time, the Republicans, the Party of Lincoln, who freed the slaves, came up with the cynical Southern Strategy of appealing to bigotry, racism and white backlash to replace the Southern Democrats. But Nixon also presided over the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

He fostered better relations with the old Soviet Union and went to Communist China to open diplomatic relations with that nation.

On the down side, Nixon did set the precedent for the presidency as a dictatorship.

The current Bush has outdone him. Bush openly defies the Constitution with his signing statements that proclaim he does not have to follow laws he does not agree with. Bush has presided over an administration that uses warrantless searches, spies on citizens, and throws people into jail without trial or even habeas corpus.

There was a time toward the premature end of the Nixon presidency that some feared he would use the ongoing Vietnam War as an excuse to declare martial law. But even Nixon backed down when he saw the handwriting on the wall and more importantly when some influential lawmakers from his own party visited him in private.

Nixon wrongly used his executive powers to investigate his enemies, sometimes sicking the IRS on them (whether others ever did such things, I don’t know).

Nixon was a loner, dark, and devious, and more of a statesman than the past two presidents could have ever hoped to have been.

A stealth cancer; almost bleeding to death…

July 24, 2008



By Tony Walther

The thing about Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM) cancer is that you have it long before you know it and one usually doesn’t find out about it, except by accident.

My feet tingled. Yes, I was tired, and I did have a rather rapid weight loss, but I attributed the second two symptoms to the fact I was getting a lot of exercise.

But the tingling feet bothered me. At first I thought maybe it was frost bite. I had been out in the cold and snow in the mountains. But that did not really seem likely, since when I noticed the tingling it was some time since I had been in the snow. Then I thought it was the non-carpeted floor in parts of the house my wife and I had just moved into. But that did not seem likely either, since she was not experiencing a problem.

I went to my primary care doctor, the first time I had ever seen him, and he sent me to a foot doctor, but also ordered some blood tests. The foot doctor did not find anything wrong. But I think after I got the first blood tests back, someone somewhere was suspicious. They sent me for another test and shortly after that I was sent to an oncologist. I got a phone call from someone, I don’t remember who, before my second blood test and got the strong hint that cancer was suspected. That’s when my whole world changed. Earlier, when I had noticed my rapid weight loss, I had actually joked to my wife, “maybe I have cancer.” You have to ask yourself, why would someone joke about such a thing? I don’t know, believe me.

The oncologist confirmed that I had cancer. Then he informed me it was a rare and incurable, but treatable kind, WM.

One of the main giveaways in the detection was the fact that my blood was way too thick (I’m using laymen’s terms).

I’m just going off the top of my head here. I don’t have all the numbers and facts before me (something I still promise to get organized so I can write more intelligently about the subject).

But I will tell you: concurrent with all of this, I had developed a sore on the middle part and front of my upper tongue. Other than it was a little bothersome, I didn’t worry much about that. I don’t think I had been alerted to the possibility of cancer just yet, when we were having a barbecue out in the back yard. I remember, besides my wife, my oldest daughter and her family were there. I bit down onto a piece of thick, juicy, good-tasting steak, and at the same time, bit my tongue.

I got kidded a little about that. But, it started to bleed and would not stop. My wife took me to the emergency room and there I waited with a wash cloth, now soaked with blood, in my mouth. I think I waited for some time.

Over the next many weeks, this scene was repeated over and over. Usually in the middle of the night, I would go to the emergency room, bleed all over the place, often wait a long time, and finally it would stop bleeding on its own. I would be sent home, only to return another night (or day).

I even showed up to my first oncology appointment with a bloody rag in my mouth.

At night, I would wake up with a mouth and throat full of thick blood. I swallowed a lot of it, and how I kept from choking on the blood, I do not know. The worst part of it all is that no one seemed to know what to do about it.

On one visit to the emergency room, a doctor did give me a shot of epinephrine directly into my tongue and it seemed to stop the bleeding for a time, but it came back (and I am not sure that was a good thing to do, from what I have heard or read since, but I don’t know).

Eventually, a specialist I went to removed the nodule on my tongue, took a biopsy, and found it to be non-cancerous. He stitched up his work, but eventually it broke loose and the bleeding resumed. It would stop for awhile and then start again. He finally demonstrated to me the correct way to stop it. It’s difficult and really only I could do it for myself. I had to put pressure on my tongue with a finger above and thumb below, hard pressure, and hold it for at least 15 minutes, sometimes much more (once for at least two hours, and I was in a hospital bed at the time). Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t (it is a good first aid technique, though).

Eventually, my oncologist did come to the rescue, by giving me IVs while I was in the hospital with something called blood factor 8. After that, I had no more problem with the tongue bleeding. I never did find out or could get anyone to say how the tongue problem was connected with my WM, but certainly it was not just a strange coincidence (now was it?). The WM literature does speak of mouth and/or gum bleeding.

I did learn this, though: It would be possible to bleed to death right there in the emergency room.

Watching and waiting with Waldenstrom’s…

July 23, 2008



By Tony Walther

I’m “back to square one” with my cancer, Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM), is the sad, but not unexpected news I received from my oncologist today (Tuesday, July 22). Not unexpected, because she essentially already told me that in a phone call late last week.

Physically, I don’t feel bad (a little sluggish). And mentally, well, although I am not in actual denial, never have been, I do play that little mind game of not thinking about it. How else can one keep his sanity? We all know we face death. It’s just a question of when.

WM is treatable, but non-curable. It is a slow moving (indolent) form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in simple terms, a blood cancer.

I was originally diagnosed with WM in early June of 2007. At my former oncologist’s advice, I immediately started on chemotherapy. For one week, each month, for six months, I went to the doctor’s office each day (well actually a five-day week) and received treatment. Monday through Thursday, I would sit in a recliner and be hooked up to an IV and have what are essentially poisons run through my system. On Friday, I would get a shot of Neulasta to keep my white blood cell count up so I would not suffer neutropenia, the condition of having too low of a neutrophil count (a type of white blood cell),which causes one to be super susceptible to any bug or infection that comes along.

At the end of those six months, the good news, according to my oncologist at the time, was that my cancer was gone (for the time being).

I still had problems with a low white blood cell count, which was expected, and somewhat troubling was the fact that on some of my bone marrow biopsies, some scarring or fibrosis was evident. But I won’t go into all that for now (and my last biopsy, no. 5, did not look so bad). Suffice to say, my white cell counts went up, and I was pronounced good to go back to work. I felt fine. But I had a demanding job, driving a truck, pulling double trailers over the icy and snowy mountains. But, I hasten to add, it was really not the hard work that caused me a problem, directly anyway, it was apparently the fact that my white blood cell count dropped and I got sick. My last two days at work were among the longest in my life. The second to the last day I spent hours throwing snow chains around tires, putting them on, taking them off, waiting for the roads to open and so forth. Because of road conditions and hours-of-service rules, and my own worsening physical condition, I couldn’t get back home. I spent a night in an old and damp motel room, squirming in my own sweat, caused by both the damp condition of the room and the night sweats that come along with WM. I threw some more chains the next day, made it over the pass, and headed home – not knowing whether the road would close in front of me at any moment. But I made it. It was not long before I was in the hospital. I was in there on that stay for two weeks.

During my chemo treatment, in between my actual chemo weeks, I was in and out of the hospital, due to getting fevers as a result of my neutropenia. I just decided to add that fact to give you a clearer picture of the situation (and in a future post I will write about the mouth sores one can get with chemo and the issue I had with a tongue that would not stop bleeding).

But back to the present: My new oncologist (I’ve already mentioned why I changed in two previous posts) has given me two options. One is to watch and wait for awhile (and I think WM sufferers will recognize that one) or to begin another round of chemo, only this time it would be administered orally. With the fact that I am already close to being considered neutropenic again, the doctor doesn’t think I could stand up to normal chemo, with the IVs. I have chosen to watch and wait.

Now I should have gone into more detail here, but I confess, I still have not read up enough on my condition (and by this time, I should have been an expert) to make total sense of everything. In the past, I thought I had enough general info in my head about it, but that does not seem the case now. I am confused.

At the risk of being repetitive of previous blogs, if you get nothing else out of what I have written so far, please get this:

If you face a similar situation as I am or have faced, be pro-active (actually, I think the word active means the same thing, but I guess people prefer pro-active). Read up and learn as much as you can about WM or whatever condition you might suffer from. You will be asked for your consent to various treatments along the way, and you are at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t have some understanding of what is going on.

Get a second opinion. Most insurances pay for it and it is the thing to do. It could save you a lot of grief, it could even save your life, and it will at least give you some peace of mind.

For those of you who are really interested in this stuff and for those who have already contacted me and have given me some of their info, I promise again to go into more detail, but I am behind on my studies of WM.

I want to put out there what my oncologist proposes for chemo and something about stem cell transplant and all my bone marrow biopsies and so on. I’ll will do this as soon as I can.

And here’s a hint of something I want to mention, my oncologist suggests trying Thalidomide in the oral treatment. Anyone my age, 58, or older, will recall that drug was connected with birth defects in newborns many decades ago. Yes, when she mentioned it, it gave me pause. The doctor said the drug companies demand that women get pregnancy tests before using it (since I’m a guy, I won’t have to do that), even from one patient who is 70. At any rate, if anyone knows about the use of Thalidomide against WM, let me know. I’ll write about it some more in future posts.

So for now, my whole life is down to “watch and wait.”


My problems and McCain’s woes…

July 22, 2008



By Tony Walther

Probably by the time most read this I will be at my oncologist’s office finding out what turn my cancer – Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM) – is taking. I’ve been down, up, down, up, and, well I don’t recall how many of each over the year or so since I was diagnosed with it.

For some time I lived under the hope, the illusion, maybe, that I would undergo my chemotherapy and go back to work and things would be back to normal, or even better, because now I would appreciate life more.

I did go back to work, for maybe a couple of weeks or more, and then things got so bad I was back to the hospital. I got out of the hospital, but I never could get my white blood cell count to stay up, despite Nupigen shots.

I changed oncologists, as I have already mentioned. There was a communication problem.

The new one had me on Prednisone, which is a form of steroid, although I’m told that won’t help me hit home runs, not the right kind. My white cell count shot up and, let me tell you, I felt much better. But now I’m off of them (can’t stay on them forever – they’d be too expensive for one thing) and don’t feel as peppy and apparently my white cell count has gone down again.

I should know more soon and will post what I can. I found out several days ago that when I post something about cancer and more specifically WM, I get a response, much more than I do with my usual political or current events essays. But I love to do those anyway. That degree I got in political science has to be good for something, well, then again, probably not.

So, I hope anyone who has read my previous posts about my WM will tune in, so to speak, for my next post, because I should have something to report.



– Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gets the press because he’s doing something, John McCain. And he seems to be offering something new and you do not seem to be offering anything new.

I did think it was wrong of the New York Times, though, to accept an opinion piece from Obama and not yours (oh, I guess they said you could resubmit if you could bring it up to their standards). Maybe you should start your own personal blog. No fussy editors.

– It also seems strange to see my nightly news on TV report with a straight face that everyone seems to be covering Obama and not McCain. You’re the reporters, so tell us why you’re not covering the other half of the race for president. The old man may be dull and his attempts at humor may be wearing thin, but he is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, so why not just cover what he does and let the people decide? Geesh, no wonder the public distrusts the media.

A strange thing happened along about the 1980s, suddenly the electronic media, the networks at the time, found out that news did not have to be a money loser that you put on for prestige only – you could dress it up and make money off of it.

But that’s when the electronic media and even print started thinking of their news effort as putting out a “product” to sell to the public.

Once upon a time, editors ran news based on journalistic judgment (well, the good ones). But the new way is to base stories on ratings. Obamamania draws more ratings than that sleepy old guy.

And I suppose ratings are just an extension or form of politics, but it seems like a hellava way to make such momentous judgments on how to present information to help voters decide who would make a better president of the United States.

I haven’t been watching the PBS News Hour lately, but since it does not depend upon paid advertising and the ratings game, it is probably the better way to go for serious news. Their five-minute news summary covers anything you’ll likely get on the networks in 30 minutes and their in-depth reports actually go into the issues and not just the visuals or sound bites.

(I confess, though, ratings mean something. In my blog world, I do check out my hits.)

Enough said. I have a doctor’s appointment to prepare for.

Obama on tour; McCain on same…

July 20, 2008



By Tony Walther

Barack Obama does the grand tour while John McCain sits on his hands and says, “been there, done that.”

Finally, a Democratic candidate that can outfox the Republicans. The White House even mistakenly gave Obama publicity when a staffer accidentally hit the wrong computer key and sent out a story that the Iraqi prime minister prefers Obama’s troop withdrawal plan over that of the Bush administration.

Obama has even forced the Bush administration’s hand on troop withdrawal and made it do a flip-flop. Remember, the Bush administration was adamantly opposed to a time table, but since Obama was apparently doing so well with his proposal for a time table, the Bush administration decided to flip flop but to cover its embarrassment it used a little word play with the euphemism “time horizon.”

And while the Republicans have tried to paint Obama as a neophyte in world affairs and a pacifist who won’t stand up to terrorists, Obama is pushing for increased U.S. military action in Afghanistan. The effort there is often referred to as the “forgotten war.” Osama bin Laden who took credit for masterminding 9/11 was holed up there with the then Taliban government’s approval. That’s why we initially invaded Afghanistan with much public approval. Harboring those who sought to destroy us seemed sure enough an act of war. But inexplicably, the Bush administration only went about the task half-heartedly and seemed to hold back on any genuine effort to capture or even kill bin Laden. And the administration even claimed at one point it no longer considered catching bin Laden a priority.

Instead, Bush morphed the whole situation into a convenient excuse to invade Iraq (something he’d apparently planned to do from day one), which to all evidence available, had no direct or even indirect connection with 9/11. And if there is such evidence available (remember those who surmised, the president knows something we don’t (I doubt that!)), pray tell, why was it never presented?

Now it is true that Saddam Hussein was a pain in the you know what. And he certainly was not cooperative about nuclear weapon inspections. So why didn’t Bush just propose we go to war with Iraq over that? Probably because he was afraid he would be overruled by congress. So, he made it all part of 9/11 and the public at large and congress bought into it hook line and sinker or just couldn’t be bothered with the details and here we are all these years later in a stalemate, at a heavy cost in lives and a staggering cost in treasure that could well bankrupt our nation.

And what does Republican presidential candidate McCain propose? I’m not really sure. But my guess it’s just more of the same.

Obama, painted heretofore as the liberal pacifist, seems to have become a pro-war candidate. He just wants to fight in a different place. Remember, he has even said that he would go after Al-Qaeda in its Pakistan refuge.

And, the Bush administration is following the Obama play book in reversing itself and negotiating with the Iranians.

Gee, Mr. McCain, where does that leave you?

McCain needs to get his ship in order or he may be looking at the biggest landslide against a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater (also from Arizona).

Meanwhile, Obama has drawn some criticism here at home for suggesting that U.S. children should learn Spanish. He also said he was embarrassed that Americans go over to Europe and can’t speak the languages there. He said that most Europeans are multi-lingual.

First point: So far I have been unable to verify whether Obama speaks any foreign language himself.

Second point: I agree that learning a foreign language (Spanish or many other languages, Chinese anyone? would be a good idea. It broadens one’s horizons and often helps one learn his or her own native language better).

Third point: I did a survey of one European. I asked a woman from France who said her home was near the Italian border whether she also spoke Italian and mentioned that I had always heard that most Europeans speak multiple languages. She kind of gave me a dumbfounded or quizzical look and said no she did not speak Italian, but offered that her mother did take Spanish in school and it came in handy when they visited Spain. That throw-away line that everyone in Europe is multi-lingual is kind of like the one that says Canada has government health coverage and the Canadians just love it (some do, some don’t. I’ve heard it both ways from Canadians, eh?). And I am not against government-sponsored health insurance, and how did I get off track? That’s for another blog.

The Bush administration behind the scenes pressured the Germans to not allow Obama to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, symbolic East-West divide in the Cold War, where once John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan spoke, but he will be allowed to speak at the Victory Column at the opposite end of the street and within view of the famous gate. And on that note:

Before I found out that I had apparently bought into an urban legend, I was going to say that I hope Mr. Obama does not make the same mistake as John Kennedy and stand before Germans and announce in German that he is a “jelly doughnut.” But I now read that Kennedy read and recited his one line of German correctly back in 1963 when he proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Purists said he should have left the pronoun “ein” out, that what he said meant he was a “Berliner,” which is a kind of jelly doughnut served in Berlin. However, others say that he was correct and besides it’s all about context. Certainly Germans did not think the president of the United States was calling himself a pastry.

As far as I know, we have seldom had a multi-lingual president, Jefferson, maybe? (Bush 2 claimed to speak Spanish, but the evidence is that he only knows some words and phrases like many of us to took a few classes in school – and he did mistakenly refer to the president of Spain as a duck).

I was always impressed with JFK’s wife, Jackie, who demonstrated in her trips abroad her fluency in Spanish and French.

But English is our language, and I’m waiting for some English to convince me why I shouldn’t vote for Obama or even why I should. As for McCain, he’s got quite a sales job ahead of him to get my vote.

The nation is having an economic crisis and by his own admission, McCain is not sharp on that subject, other than he was smart enough to marry the heiress of a beer fortune. He had to let his former economic adviser Phil Gramm who called us a nation of “whiners” go (you know Mr. Gramm, pompous windbag, producer of porn and bedfellow of Enron).

When it’s all said and done, you have to ask yourself, who seems to best represent your interests, McCain or Obama? Buck up and quit whining, or re-examine our whole economic policy, stay the stalemate course, things are peaceful in Iraq, that’s why I’m wearing a flack jacket and surrounded by hundreds of solider body guards, or change strategy and move onto victory.

And then there is the Bradley effect (one-time black mayor of LA who led in polls for governor but mysteriously lost). Although the polls give Obama the lead, will white voters not be able to get their hands to move in his direction inside the voting booths or in the privacy of their own homes?

Or is Obama a kind of Manchurian Candidate? Will someone flip a playing card after the election and then will Obama shift to using his middle name and hijack our government and make us all slaves of radical Islam?

The second to the last one (el penultimo – using my Spanish) was a real question, and the last (el ultimo) was a kind of play on the controversial New Yorker cover.

At least it’s a fun and interesting contest this time around. But the stakes were never higher.


I sure received a lot of feedback on my two previous posts that mentioned my cancer, Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM). I don’t plan to make this the all-cancer blog, but I certainly plan to write more, especially after my Tuesday doctor’s appointment. Thanks again for all the interest and support!

Life goes on with cancer….

July 19, 2008



By Tony Walther

It’s about two days after I was told that apparently the chemo I had over the past year did not do the job it was supposed to do on my cancer. In fact, it may have actually caused me a problem that I did not have before, which is not to say that it did not save my life for the time being. I don’t know.

And that’s really the whole problem. I don’t know. I changed oncologists because the first one was never terribly communicative and it finally got to the point where he quit communicating with me or berated me for not knowing something he claimed (and maybe did) tell me at one time or another.

I wrote this once before. But I say again:

When you are diagnosed with some life threatening disease or condition, get a second opinion and learn as much as you can yourself. Now, of course, in the end, you have to trust most of the treatment to doctors, but at least you know what is going on and can maybe spot something that may be wrong or not to your liking.

Study up on your disease and ask your doctor or doctors questions, lots of questions. If they can’t answer them or seem resistant, maybe you need better doctors. In my opinion, doctors have no right to refuse or discourage their patients from being inquisitive. Of course it is your responsibility to listen to the doctor and to learn on your own a well, so you do not waste his or her time or the time they need to devote to others.

Doctors and all in the medical profession are only human and you soon find out you are not the only one on their mind. They get in a hurry and sometimes they make mistakes or misjudgments. And I am not accusing anyone of anything. I’m just reminding everyone that as skillful and learned as these people may be, they are human and not infallible.

So now I am in super limbo. I don’t know where I stand and don’t know how to proceed with a life that could go on for a long time, or not.

Much of what I have advised here I did not totally practice myself. I have learned some of this the hard way. I was so devastated when I got my first diagnosis somewhat over a year ago, that I just kind of blindly went through the motions and did what I was told. My wife has done more research on my disease than I, much, much more.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia or WM for short.

It’s treatable, but incurable.

You’re probably thinking, well, so how long did they say your life span will be? They haven’t directly. And I’m not going into it now. I have to do more of my own research anyway. But I am supposed to get more information about my current condition in an appointment next week.

And before I forget, I received several comments and e-mails from total strangers about my WM and they were reassuring. I thanked the authors of those messages, but I want to thank them again and let anyone know that if they get into a similar predicament, there is help, hope, and inspiration out there…..

– I live in the northern end of the Sacramento Valley of California. In a recent post I said that the smoke from the fires was not so bad for the time being – it’s back, the smoke, big time. It’s even getting kind of scary. While I don’t believe we are in any danger from the flames here, that smoke is getting intense. All that we have breathed in over the past several weeks can’t be good. For those who have lung or breathing problems already, it is especially bad.

And when you’re suffering from fear of the unknown as I am, this smoke just seems to magnify the feeling of doom (and since I first wrote this, weather conditions have lifted some of the smoke, but it’s kind of a minute-to-minute situation. And the fires are still burning).

Meanwhile, I still have my loving wife and my family and my oldest daughter is coming to visit today. Life goes on.


I want to make it clear that I have appreciated all of the medical help that I have received thus far, all the way from the folks who tidy up the hospital rooms to the nurses to the doctors. While I mentioned that I changed oncologists, I did not mean to suggest anything other than at the time I felt more comfortable doing that.

A bad news day for me…..

July 17, 2008



By Tony Walther

So I’m writing a blog and it’s not going all that well, but I like to write one as often as I can, and then I get the call from my oncologist. My cancer is back.

Now things really aren’t going well. Actually, my cancer never really left, but recently I had been told that I was all but in remission. Well I wasn’t or at least I am not now, according to my latest tests.

I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago this past June and have undergone six months of chemotherapy and have been in an out of the hospital. I had actually been feeling fairly good for the past several weeks, except lately I had been feeling somewhat sluggish.

The type of cancer I have is not curable, only treatable, and the prognosis one usually gets with it is not good. I have written very little about my cancer – only have made for the most part vague references to it. A lot of people start blogs just to get it out and talk (or write, I should say) about their cancer. I started blogging, but mostly about current events and my thoughts on various subjects. I have not wanted to go on about my cancer. Yes, I will admit it. It scares me and it is not fun to write about or think about.

What I have is a type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma called Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, or WM, that’s easier. Basically, it affects the blood. I plan to write in more detail about it in my future posts, if I am able to do so, and I think at this time I will be able to.

But for now, I will tell you what it’s like to get the original phone call that you have cancer.

I had been feeling pretty good about finally after a decade of trucking getting a job with an outfit that paid excellent wages with excellent company-paid benefits and had good working conditions. Instead of being out on the road all the time, I was home almost every day, although my hours varied widely and the days were long. Also I spent two winters and a fraction of a third winter chaining up trucks in snowy and icy weather. But summer had come and we had a barbecue in the backyard. I bit down on a juicy steak and accidentally bit into a sore that had developed on my tongue. I bled profusely. That is almost a second story, but suffice to say, over the next several weeks I was in and out of the emergency room in attempts to stop recurring and heavy bleeding.

But around the same time of the biting-of-the-tongue incident, I went to the doctor because I had tingling in my feet. I had finally decided something must be wrong – it was not left-over frost bite from the winter. The doctor sent me for blood tests.

I got a call one day – I guess on my day off – and I was told that it looked as though I might have cancer. I was shocked. I was 58 years old and thought, yeah, maybe when I get real old I might well succumb to cancer, because it runs in my family.

Handed the phone to my wife and ran to the bedroom like a little kid. I cried on my pillow for less than five minutes and then regained my composure.

It’s cliche. But like they say: “It changed my whole life (our whole life, my wife and I).

The chemo over the summer and into the fall was not as bad as one might think. But I had my ups and downs with other complications and was in and out of the hospital. My tongue problem was a separate but related matter. It was actually the worst of it all. I plan to write about that and more details about my cancer and how one copes, shortly.

Today has not turned out to be a good day, except that I am alive and I still have my faithful wife at my side. Appreciate your life – it doesn’t last forever.