A political evolution observed in my home area

October 31, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

I live in Republican country, kind of a stranger in a strange land, except that but for a few relatively brief periods I have resided here for virtually all of my adult as well as adolescent life.

This area, California’s Sacramento Valley, was not always such a Republican stronghold, but particularly where I live now, at the northern end of the valley, the narrative goes something like this:

Back when I was an adolescent, this area was more heavily Democratic. That was when the local sawmills were going full blast and there was a lot of union membership. In fact my only brief period as a union member was when I worked at a mill and I was nominally a member of the Woodworkers of America. It was a union shop. I never went to a meeting – don’t recall being invited – and I didn’t even know who my shop steward was.

But at any rate, unions tend to support the Democrats, because over the years, the Democrats have been supportive of organized labor, the idea of labor being organized being anathema to Republican pro-business interest thinking.

Interestingly to me, though, I recall that in the Nixon era, the Teamsters backed the Republican administration because they saw it as a counter to the anti-Vietnam War, commie-pinko welfare fraud crowd (that is not my belief system, just what I think is a blunt, but accurate portrayal of the mind set of the times). I guess it goes back to 1968 when there was a rift in the Democratic Party between basically the political left side of the party and the middle to right side of the party.

It really came to a head in 1972 when George McGovern, a World War II combat veteran, but an anti-Vietnam War crusader and a symbol for pacifism, became the Democratic Party candidate. He lost in a landslide to Republican Richard Nixon, who then began his second term, only to wind up being the first and only, so far, president to resign office (for the younger set, look up the Watergate scandal – that’s why all the modern scandals carry a nickname that ends in gate).

Nixon capitalized on the bad feelings and fear over the race riots of the 60s, the split in the electorate over the Vietnam War, and the worries about the break down in morality and law and order. In an odd twist in politics, the openly racist south up until the 60s was led by primarily conservative Democrats (an animal that has recently come back from extinction, but minus the racism, I think). But the passage of the civil rights legislation in the 60s thanks to more progressive Democrats led those Dixie Democrats to switch to the Republican side. The Party of Lincoln, who had freed the slaves, had now become the anti-civil rights party – politics is strange. Actually, the flip flop of the parties began back in the 1930s with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but I’m going too much and too far back into history here.

Another thing happened in my home area over the past many decades. San Francisco Bay area and Southern California folks, many of them good Democratic union members, retired here in droves bringing their real-estate equity (remember that?) with them, enjoying the mountains and the wide open spaces and the ability to buy nice houses and/or beautiful tracts to land with their urban home equity.

Funny thing happened. They transformed themselves from workers to landed gentry who had something to protect. They became Republicans.

Also, I know a guy who was raised here. As a very young man, he became a carpenter. He went through the union apprenticeship program because at the time, he explained, you needed to be a union member to get a job. But over time, he became disenchanted with the union. Union reps, as he tells it, would come out on hot days in their air conditioned cars, make him stop what he was doing and demand to see his union card. He once got bawled out by a union rep for helping a concrete man who was racing against time to get done before the cement set up. The rep said my carpenter friend was working out of his job classification. He also did not care for the union reps calling him and telling him how to vote (although I don’t think he was ever an active voter). He also did not like waiting around a union hall for work. He left the union and had no problem getting work the rest of his career (and I’ve known him the whole time and can attest to that part). And he was paid well (although no union benefits). There’s more to this story, but I’ll leave that out – I was only trying to set the scene as I have known it, not tell one man’s life story.

For several decades now we have had Republican congressmen and state legislators up here. But this time around, a Democrat is giving the solidly-entrenched Republican rubber stamp for Bush guy a serious challenge. The Democrat could ( I emphasize could ) win. The local newspaper, which has endorsed Republicans consistently for the past several decades, chickened out this year and announced that what with its new localcentric format it has decided not to endorse at the presidential level, citing the fact they couldn’t get an interview with Obama or McCain (really). They did endorse the Republican congressman, though.

That Republican congressman serves in a district that once was represented by a Democrat who brought a lot of pork (people liked the taste of that other white meat then) back to the home district – you know wasteful pork, such as strengthening the Sacramento River levees for flood protection.

And that Republican congressman also was preceded by another Democrat who went on to become one of California’s U.S. Senators. He was Clair Engle. He helped break a Republican filibuster, a move that led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was afflicted with cancer, was partially paralyzed and a brain tumor left him unable to speak. But when the Senate clerk called his name, he slowly raised an arm and pointed to his eye (meaning, “aye” or “yes”).

Sen. Engle died a month and a half later at age 52. I remember when his coffin lay in state under the rotunda of the Tehama County Courthouse. I was a high school student in that county at the time.

I also remember when my family took a trip to Washington D.C. and we had lunch in the Capitol building with our Democratic congressman.

Then a few years later I was taking a journalism class near where I now live and the local newspaper editor talked to us. I asked him if that sometimes when he wrote an editorial he might go against what he thought might be local opinion. He said he did not think that would be wise. While this area has gone Republican in these past many decades, his successors have seemed to follow suit.

One thing I have noticed this election cycle is that there are more pro-Democrat letters to the editor in the newspaper than usual.

But local voter registration statistics still show my county and the ones directly to the south to be Republican strongholds.

I think there will be a lot of moaning and groaning come next Wednesday morning.

But come the first of the year, it will be all happiness what with the diehards being able to blame all of our woes on the opposition rather than their own man.

P.s. I have more often than not devoted this blog to political issues, I guess, but when I began I tried not to come down too partisan or one-sided. I like to analyze things, and besides what is the use of preaching to the choir? But sometimes it is hard to be completely neutral when you find yourself citing the ridiculous to seem objective. I did cast my absentee vote a few days ago. Anyone who is undecided by this time probably should not even bother to vote – well unless they are voting for my chosen candidates.

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CORRECTION: 

In a previous blog I stated that the Catholic-run hospital in my city is a for-profit operation. I was wrong. It is run by Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit organization. And I feel obligated to add that my wife and my mother were treated at another one of their hospitals and received excellent care. I can also attest to the fact that in my wife’s case they were extremely cooperative in the billing for insurance and a representative told me not to worry, that regardless of our coverage, my wife would get the best care. Fortunatley we had good coverage and my wife did receive excellent care, and I am eternally grateful. I regreat the error in stating their business arrangement. A family member corrected me. I was not contacted by the good sisters or anyone connected with them.


Feeding economic monster endangers workers…

October 31, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It’s not always fun to be an American worker. Often business sees you as bothersome overhead and does anything it can to get rid of you, such as outsourcing or shipping your work overseas.

In the space of a day in my hometown newspaper (online edition) I ran across two disturbing items, the first via a feature that lets me pick up news from other newspapers from around the country (actually not a bad thing and it kind of goes along with the evolving role of newspapers and the move toward online editions I wrote about in my last blog).  An item from the Anderson, S.C. Independent-Mail caught my eye because I once edited the Anderson, Ca. Valley Post and we did a story in conjunction with the Anderson, S.C. paper (but that’s another subject I’ll get to below), and because it had to do with workers being laid off.

To quickly summarize, some 250 workers in that area of South Carolina who had made towels will no longer have jobs because their company sold out to a company out of the neighboring state of Georgia and much of that company’s towel production has been moved to Pakistan (you know, the country that is our ally, but is believed to host Osama bin Laden).

And here in my hometown in Northern California, the forever-changing-ownership downtown hospital, currently called Shasta Regional Hospital, once more has changed hands and the new owner after assuring all one day that no changes would be noticed by the patients announced the next that everyone on the staff is fired, but can apply for whatever jobs are left.

It’s no secret that patients have indeed noticed changes there over the past year or more. Heck I was a cancer patient there several times over the past year. While I have rave reviews for the nursing staff and others there, I can say they are definitely short handed. And the hospital’s effort at housekeeping was, well, not good. My wife had to make my bed several times and they never did clean the bathroom. And over the past several weeks I was told by two different doctors in town that the hospital was cutting back on staff and supplies, I suppose in anticipation of selling out.

So here we have dedicated hard working medical personnel whom so many depend upon (I know the feeling personally as a patient) and they are simply told, you now have no job, but maybe we will have a new opening for you, or maybe not. Also, a union at the hospital claims it is a move to break the union contract – and that seems likely.

As I have blogged before, I am not a union person, having only been a union member for about a year one time and in a passive manner. But I have worked for someone all my life, so I empathize with working people.

The problem in South Carolina for the towel factory workers is that a 102-year-old company sold out to one that only cares about how to make a product in the cheapest manner and nothing about the country in which it operates. Patriotic Americans fight in the Middle East so we can ship our jobs over there!

But the made in America issue gets tricky. Things can be made in America, but by companies based overseas. I don’t see a particular problem with that. Strangely enough, an example of that came to me out of the Anderson, S.C. newspaper, which also had a story about an area employer expanding its workforce by 152. The company hiring the new workers is based in Hong Kong and is actually shifting some of its production from China to South Carolina. The company makes various products, to include chain saws and generators. So, who says our workers are not competitive?

The hospital situation in my home town here in the northern end of California’s Sacramento Valley is the effect of privatization of the health care system (along with poor management). I sometimes feel that health care would be better off in the not-for-profit sector, with some, or possibly many, exceptions, to include individual doctors, as opposed to hospitals. The profit motive does not always provide the best service when it comes to health care (the motive is profit, not care, and sick people are in no condition to shop around and there is not much choice anyway in many cases).

The goal of the health care system should be to provide the best care for the patients, not how much the bandages can be sold for (just look at the markup on your hospital bill).

Back to the issue of American jobs lost to overseas competition: I am aware of the history that suggests that trade barriers is what created or exacerbated the Great Depression. Well, even I don’t think dropping out of the global market is the solution to our current financial crisis or unemployment problem. But I do think there needs to be more of a priority within government to create incentives to expand U.S. jobs and to re-industrialize America. We just need to find a way to become more competitive. I would suggest competing by producing quality. And I would suggest concentrating on programs that get people into paying jobs. Actually I think many of the secondary schools and junior colleges are doing a great job. In some cases the programs they provide need to be better utilized and in many cases those programs may need additional and/or more stable funding.

And back to the health care issue. We do have a second hospital in our city. It is run by Catholic Healthcare West. I believe it is in somewhat better shape than the other one, but it has its own financial challenges. It recently split up its cancer treatment program, in some cases requiring it to transfer patients across town to another facility for radiation treatments. The split may have made financial sense for the hospital, but it is a burden to some patients and some staff at the hospital. I do give the Catholic-run hospital credit for providing stability in their operations for many years, as opposed to the instability of the downtown hospital. And, by the way, one of my doctors suggested to me that our city is big enough to support two hospitals.

I should add, the troubled downtown hospital (Shasta Regional) gained some notoriety from a couple of its former surgeons who performed needless heart surgeries to line their own pockets and the coffers of the hospital with the apparent tacit approval of some of the unscrupulous members of that hospital’s former management. Certainly that was an example of the profit-motive gone awry.

Please don’t conclude that I look at the world as workers vs. management, or the proletariat vs. the capitalists. No, I don’t. In the United States of America we have our brand of ideology that combines elements and various political approaches. But it is based on individual freedom, the ability to choose one’s own destiny, and the ability of the individual to succeed. In some cases the individual succeeds as an employee and in other cases as an employer or even both at the same time. But I think as a nation we may have been forced to stray from providing ourselves with all of that freedom and success in an effort to feed some monster called the “economy”, which has turned out to really be the interests of the greedy. The forces of greed and quick profits have turned us too much away from being the producers of high quality goods and more towards consumers of things made elsewhere.

P.s. That connection between Anderson, Ca., and Anderson, S.C. that I referred to earlier had to do with a severe drought in the Southeast back in the early 1980s (I believe they have been undergoing one this past year or so too). Some farmers in Anderson, Ca. sent donated hay for cattle feed to farmers in Anderson, S.C. , kind of an example of Americans working together, rather than fighting among themselves. United we stand, divided we…..

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Correction: In a previously-posted draft of the exact same blog you have just read I incorrectly wrote that the Catholic-run hospital in my city was a for-profit business. I corrected that in this draft. It is a non-profit, run by Catholic Healthcare West. I regret the error.


For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for newspapers

October 30, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

With news that the Christian Science Monitor will cease daily print publication next spring and go totally online and the constant reports of declining newspaper circulation and advertising revenues, it seems that the death knell of newspapers as we have known them has finally tolled.

As I wrote in a previous blog, the demise of newspapers was said to be imminent when I took my first journalism classes in 1972. That was premature, but prescient, nonetheless. At the time, they thought maybe people might start reading modern electronic newspapers on some type of board that resembled the conventional newspaper. The PC had not come into prominence yet, let alone the BlackBerry.

I have read that some local newspapers across the country are doing well, but that is only some. The local seven-day per week newspaper where I live in the northern end of California’s Sacramento Valley seems to be dying a slow and painful death (and they keep telling us so in their editorials and have even hinted they may go to less than daily, possibly cutting out as much as two or three days). Their only hope, they think, is to keep their online version going. Somehow I think that if they drop their regular print version, the online version will disappear too, or maybe not, but it won’t be the same animal. And what the far away corporate moguls do not get is that the local newspaper has a monopoly on local news and people are interested in it – they just wish the paper would present more of it and in a more professional and comprehensive and consistent manner.

Newspapers as a source of immediate news for the most part went the way of the dodo bird a long, long time ago, kind of.

If there is really some breaking news, especially an accident or natural disaster, radio and TV are going to have it first and while it is still news. But for the most part, they only do what amounts to headlines. And you have to devote a lot of time to watch expanded coverage, and you only get the presentation on their schedule, and then you still don’t get the detail that can be provided in the more convenient printed form.

I have always wondered what would happen if there were no conventional news media such as newspapers. Then we really would be down to unchecked rumor and a mismatch of style in presenting news that might become incomprehensible and/or unreliable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet, and it is the only way I get most of my news, except the most local of news, for which I still have to depend upon my local newspaper. There is a website operated by two former local newspaper employees but so far it is not offering anything substantial. It’s hard to find time to work for nothing. And quality is still a problem.

I worked as a small town radio reporter for about nine months once. I learned that except for the actual on-the-spot news, traffic accidents and once or twice a courtroom verdict, most of our news came out of the local newspaper. We at least had the decency to rewrite it and add to it a little. When I worked at the paper, the jerk radio reporter just read my stories verbatim and didn’t even attribute them, after I did the leg work. I will say, though, that once when I worked in Arizona, a radio station read one of my stories and gave my name – thanks.

I noticed through the years that a lot of stories on the nightly TV news were generated from stories that had first appeared in major daily newspapers, sometimes days earlier, or were from stories out of news wire services, generated by newspaper reporters or wire service reporters. (In a kind of related issue, AP or Associated Press, a kind of newspaper cooperative wire service, is losing clientele.)

Newspapers have provided the base for news that is presented in all mediums. Even now it is common for a TV reporter to do a standup report and hold up a copy of the local newspaper as a visual prop to show what big news something is.

Then there are the bloggers, such as me. I don’t do news these days, just commentary. But I learned a long time ago after losing a newspaper job to a corporate downsizing that I couldn’t just do the same job, but on my own (I thought of putting out a local newsletter). No one was going to pay me to drive around or make phone calls to collect news. And blogging had not come into being yet. But even today, I am not making any money at this (although some enterprising thieves do snatch my blogs and post them on their websites which contain paid advertising – probably Republicans!).

A story in the New York Times (online of course) noted that at a recent media conference someone worried that with the demise of the conventional news media (to include newspapers) the internet might become a “cesspool” of useless information (more than it already is, I add). And it wasn’t some disgruntled print journalist making that observation. It was Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google.

My point is that there needs to be some base and some reliable check on the accuracy of information and even a gatekeeper to sort fact from rumor or legitimate news from gossipy tidbits (not that any method is totally reliable in this or that everyone agrees on what constitutes legitimacy or gossip).

If newspapers survive online, maybe the support structure of editors and such will survive, although I have my doubts.

Another thing to consider is that the internet is not likely to remain essentially free.

As an example, once newspapers no longer make their revenue off of the printed paper medium, they will need new sources of income. Some reputable organizations are already either charging for all of their stories or are giving us only teaser paragraphs and then charging for access to the rest.

A dirty secret is that news is a commodity that has been virtually given away free for a long time. The result is that news can be hard to sell.

Some specialized types of news are probably easier to put a price tag on, such as that handled by the Wall Street Journal.

We may end up with a world where only those who can afford it will be fully informed.

Even though I already knew it, I got first-hand confirmation of the fact that news is not what makes newspapers money (at least not directly) when I took my first newspaper job. We as news staffers were often reminded that the management felt we were mere troublesome overhead. It was the selling of advertising that made money (an ad salesperson paid directly for his or her own salary out of his or her own sales). The cost of each paper, at that time a dime, paid for part of the cost of printing the newspaper, nothing more. It was a small daily newspaper.

The newspaper’s profit was dependent upon the amount of advertising it sold. But due to the mechanical requirements of printing, there is often a break point where you have to choose between having not enough room for news or possibly having way too much space to fill (and not because there is not enough news, but production takes time and money – that was even more so in those pre-computer days). Often I would hear things like, “gosh I hate to have that much news.” That can be interpreted in different contexts, but ad people generally prefer tight pages, filled with ads and a little news filler in between. I often frankly wondered why the small newspapers, which did not and still don’t for the most part, have any respect or understanding of journalism, even bothered to run any news content at all. Of course without some news content they could not call themselves newspapers, but there is an animal called a shopper – in fact for the most part, that is what our local newspaper is. Shoppers supposedly are not able to command as much for their advertising rates.

I actually enjoy reading a real paper newspaper and find it much more comfortable and less fatiguing as opposed to a computer screen (and don’t you find yourself doing a lot more skimming on the screen?), although for the volume and immediacy of information, the computer is best.

And I believe I blogged once before that I think some type of medium that looks and feels like a newspaper, but that is electronic and can be updated immediately could hold promise.

Meanwhile, I hope CNN, Google, Yahoo, and the New York Times, and others keep posting fee news and information for me.


The great Republican culture war rages…

October 27, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

There is a culture war going on inside the Republican Party between those who are not only educated, but took their education seriously, and those who are not educated or who did not take their education seriously.

A growing list of educated Republicans have abandoned John McCain, primarily over his choice of Sarah Palin for vice president. Palin, although educated, likes to play the part of a simple down-home rustic and she does it quite well – a little too well.

Palin gives off the impression that if you talk in complete sentences and actually say something that makes sense about issues, especially foreign policy, besides “support the troops”, you are just being an elitist and don’t understand Main Street America values.

I think Sarah’s famous doppelganger Tina Fey put it best when she said: “I think she is at least as smart as I am, but that is not going to cut it…”

Palin does read a script with polish, though, and when everything is written out for her she shows great poise in front of the camera (so did Ronald Reagan). But she is not particularly good at quick thinking and the ad lib and spews out sentences that wander all over the place, seemingly missing a subject or predicate, when caught off guard – you know, with one of those silly “gotcha” questions, such as: What are the duties of the vice president?  How does the fact that one can see Russia from some part of Alaska somehow give you insight into foreign policy?

At any rate, this culture war I think may be one of the major reasons John McCain seems headed for defeat (if he wins, certainly it will be one of the biggest upsets in history – a real Truman proudly holding up the erroneous headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment).

While I have had about as much of Sarah Palin as I can take and while I don’t agree with her politics, I do have some possibly misplaced sympathy for her now that she is accused by the McCain campaign of going off the reservation and making statements on her own. I say “good for Sarah”, it’s about time! And that’s even if I still don’t agree with her.

On one televised occasion she – gasp – actually talked to reporters and wouldn’t stop even though one of her handlers kept trying to end the impromptu interview. And over the weekend she fought back over the flap about her expensive wardrobe, $150,000 paid by the Republican National Committee ( not to mention the thousands of dollars of makeup). She said that her expensive Nieman Markus or whatever duds were mere props or equipment such as the lighting, which she would give back to the party after the campaign is over. I imagine if that is true it is more likely the result of the bad publicity for the self-proclaimed small-town “hockey mom” than an original plan.

On the other hand, do we ask how much Barack Obama’s suits cost or how much Michelle Obama’s wardrobe costs? Of course those two, even though championing the middle class, of which by net worth ( in the millions thanks to good jobs and more importantly book sales) they are not part, they do not go around playing the part of Joe the Plumber themselves. In fact, Obama takes the tack that he has done quite well, thank you, and that like Bill Clinton, and even Billionaire Warren Buffet, he could afford to pay higher taxes and should. Republicans seldom if ever say such things.

Really, the only reason Sarah’s clothes are an issue is the fact that so many people are having to cut back and are losing their jobs and that the whole economy is falling apart and that she portrays herself as just a simple down-home girl who would be more comfortable shopping at Walmart than Saks Fifth Avenue. But again, even a Palin basher such as I cannot see much there except a laugh or two. I get more worked up watching the snippy Cindy McCain in her ultra expensive wardrobe so transparently looking down at all of us who are not fortunate enough to have a daddy who made it big in the beer distributing business. Four years of John McCain in the White House, well, who knows? It could be alright, or not. Four years of super snotty Cindy McCain, unbearable. I’d almost rather listen to George W – almost.

And just one more thing. Why do candidates have to have handlers? If the handlers have all the answers, why don’t we elect them? Why do we have to watch puppets on a string perform before us?

P.s.  John McCain as far as I can see is neither an elitist nor an anti-elitist. I know he was near the bottom in his West Point class, but he does not wear ignorance as a badge of honor (and I know he is not ignorant), and he does not play the part of a rube ought on the stump. Because he is a more or less middle-of-the-road Republican he gets hit from both sides and his biggest enemies may not be among the Democrats but in his own Republican fold. I don’t think a McCain victory is going to happen, but I wonder what a free McCain, not having to appease the ignorant and intolerant, would be like. We probably won’t find out.

P.s. P.s. Just thought of this: remember what happened in the Great Cultural Revolution in China when formal education was attacked and elitists were persecuted? It took decades for that nation to recover.


Economic crisis: thanks we needed that…

October 24, 2008

 

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

As painful and scary as it is, I think that the current economic crisis we are going through in the United States is a healthy thing (as to the world-wide situation, well, that’s their problem).

Collectively as a nation we’ve been living on borrowed time or borrowed money for too long and the chickens have finally come home to roost.

You know things are bad in my local area when the home foreclosures have skyrocketed, they are starting to build smaller homes – when they build them – and the contractors are going before the city council to get public funds to build low-cost housing. That last one mystifies me. If the homes are lower cost, why do they need public funds? I mean if they are cheaper to build, why do they need help? And don’t tell me it’s the cost of union labor. Home builders to my knowledge don’t use union labor in this area, for the most part, at least. There’s a lot of “Joe the Plumber” entrepreneurs no license required types around here. There’s also a lot of under-the-table work in the best why should I pay taxes Republican tradition. Of course these same folks are quick to sign up for public assistance when they get hurt or run out of work. The underground economy is no secret here. It’s been covered in the news over the years.

But back to the economic crisis. My way of looking at it is this: maybe living on credit and living beyond one’s means is not the way to do things, even though the powers that be have encouraged us all to this very thing. And maybe an economy, nationwide, that is focused more on handling imports and the so-called service sector and delivering pizzas to one another leaves us all kind of empty.

To be sure, there are a lot of folks out there who have been prudent with their money, worked hard, and now are being made to feel some of the bad effects of the nation’s profligate and imprudent ways. While things are bad all over, it is particularly unfair to those people.

While credit at some level is apparently a necessary and integral part of our capitalist economic system, I think the idea that everyone lives on plastic was always a bad one. Consumer credit is what makes things cost so much. When businesses know that their customers can charge it, they charge more for the products and services they sell. They, the sellers, know they get paid up front, and then it is someone else’s problem to collect later. And even with all the home foreclosures and the mounting credit defaults, banks are still mass mailing credit cards, no questions asked. We get them at our house and even get calls from banks wanting to offer higher credit limits (apparently they are working on either no information or bad information).

One major problem is that there is no consistent and comprehensive program to teach basic consumer finance in the schools. I have a BA degree and never once, kindergarten through senior in college, took a basic consumer finance course. I did take a consumer law business course, but it had little about basic consumer finance. And the Bank of America did pass out bank books when I was in first grade, but no one explained what they were all about. That would have been a good start, though, and if they don’t still do that, they should, and get the schools to provide instruction assistance to the program.

And don’t get me started on what the public schools don’t teach. What they don’t teach, or at least not well enough, are the basics of reading and writing and arithmetic. That’s why the state four-year colleges in California have to send many of their students to remedial classes at the junior colleges.

Computers and technology are an essential part of life now. But we still need to get back to the basics, both in education and in our economy.

In a nation as geographically large as ours, with as many people, and as many natural resources as we have, there is no reason that we should not be a leader in manufacturing and producing everything from food to basic durable goods, to high tech, and of course we will have a service sector to support all of this.

It makes no sense to waste our resources and to have the government (read taxpayers) be forced to pay a substantial portion of the population to do nothing. We actually wind up importing workers, legally and not legally, and outsource work.

A nation with a strong manufacturing base can support all of its citizens, to include the sick and disabled and aged, defend itself, and not be dependent upon other nations for capital and the reduction in its own sovereignty that comes along with being a debtor nation.

The best days are truly ahead of us. And they can get under way with either John McCain or Barack Obama, but it looks like Obama is to be the one, “that one”, as McCain would say.

We’ve been reduced to such a wretched state with the poor leadership from both major political parties over the past several decades that we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of adopting socialist-like state-run economic measures. This may or may not work in the short term.

History shows such measures don’t work in the long term.

Postscript:

I believe in reasonable controls on the economy that would seek to prevent the excesses that have occurred. And I support some type of universal health care for reasons I have stated in previous blogs. Health care no matter which way it is delivered is expensive. It needs to be delivered in the most efficient and equitable matter available. But leaving a large portion of working people and others out because they can’t afford health care is certainly not equitable and is not the way to achieve efficiency. One of the problems is that universal health care is often wrongly tagged as “free health care”. We all should invest, but that investment should pay us back in the form of security that would free all of us who are able to be productive members of society. And for those of us who are disabled, have some compassion. And don’t count me out. I may come back yet (and I am still paying on private insurance at the moment (won’t be able to soon), so that ought to make all of you die-hard Republicans happy).


Private health care is bureaucratic too…

October 21, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

The argument against government-run health care is often that there would be too much bureaucracy.

Problem is, there is already too much bureaucracy in private-run health insurance.

I do not know the details, but Barack Obama’s claim is that his proposed program would allow anyone who has his or her own insurance and is satisfied with it to keep it. But for those who do not have it and are priced out of the market, it would be made available them. In some cases people would have to pay a portion of the cost and in others because they have no means of paying, they would not.

I have a hard time seeing a hole in that logic, unless you are just dead set against those who can’t pay for insurance being cared for.

But let’s go back to the bureaucracy problem. I currently (not for long) have private insurance. Doctors and other medical providers have to have people working full time just to handle the insurance claims and go through the bureaucracy of private health plans as well as the government programs. That costs us all a lot of money in bigger doctor bills.

And if you think government programs are too bureaucratic, well, private plans can be also:

I just spent some time this afternoon dealing with insurance claims. A lab sent me several bills saying that my insurance company (a prominent well known one, in fact probably the best known one) said that they could not identify me in the system.

Each time I go to that lab I give them my insurance card and they photocopy it.

I have paid my premiums in full and on time.

I called the insurance company and they confirmed that I had an up-to-date card and said they had not received the claims in question.

(And you already know one waits on hold as much as 15 or 20 minutes or more and then you often have to navigate the circular pre-recorded option message and enter the correct numbers and if you goof, you go back to the beginning and you do not pass go or collect $200.)

I called the lab billing office. The customer service representative finally determined that possibly they were billing the wrong office. It seems that my insurance company has offices in each state, but has told providers to bill the office in the state the medical service was provided. In my case they have been billing the California office most of the time. But my insurance is out of Illinois. But on one case, the lab sent a blood sample to a lab in South Carolina and so the lab billed the office there. That’s confusing, because as far as I am concerned, the service occurred in California because that is where they stuck a needle in my vein. But at any rate, while some of the California claims did not go through, the South Carolina one did. But, remember, my coverage is out of the Illinois office. And remember, we are talking about a private bureaucracy here.

And while I am on the subject, I get riled when John McCain suggests he’s going to give taxpayers a credit so they can shop around for health insurance. There’s a lot of holes in that idea, but one big one is that you don’t know how well your insurance is going to work until you get sick or injured and file a claim. You have no ability to shop around at that point. And McCain’s $5000 health care tax credit would not buy any more than five months of insurance at the most. And McCain proposes to tax private health insurance (I’m not sure how – but it sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul). And at any rate, if you can’t work because you are sick, you can’t pay for the insurance anyway.

Back when a lot more people had jobs and partially-paid or fully-paid health coverage, universal health care coverage did not stand much of a chance of being enacted nationwide. Now with so much unemployment and people losing even company-paid insurance and skyrocketing medical insurance costs, there seems to be more of an acceptance of at least some type of more inclusive government-sponsored health care coverage.

I have cancer and am currently on a COBRA plan in which I keep my former employer’s coverage, but am hard pressed to pay the premiums ( I now have to pay the full premium). But I have a two-year wait for Medicare. What genius thought of that provision, the waiting period, I do not know. What am I supposed to do in the meantime? Beg? Die?

I personally think the idea of employer-sponsored health insurance was a bad one. It costs employers a lot and it is costing employees a lot these days. It also makes one a slave to a particular job. Fine if you are in love with that job, but not so good if you are not but are afraid to leave it because you will lose your insurance. And one thing I can tell you, bureaucracy aside, you do not want to lose your insurance, if you get sick or injured, you’re going to need it. And if you already have a health problem, new insurance often will not cover pre-existing conditions, especially if there has been a lapse in insurance. 

The people in the worst shape are those such as me, who have some amount of income but not really enough to pay for insurance, and those who have regular jobs that are low paid and that do not provide insurance. Walmart as we know provides its employees with info on how to get on the public health care dole. So we all subsidize Walmart. Ahhh that icon of free enterprise — not! 

There are state and federal programs for the chronically unemployed and disabled, but as I say, many are caught in between. And there are government-sponsored children’s health programs, but Republicans often prefer to vote against them, even though the so-called free marketplace they worship does not seem to provide an alternative.

But just as many conservatives have turned to government bailouts, just as the electorate seems to be abandoning the GOP, so too some type of universal health care, even if it’s private and government mixed together, may be in the offing.

The questioners at the debates seemed to be trying to elicit the answer that what with the current economic situation such plans might have to be delayed.

Strangely, most of the other industrialized nations decided long ago that public health is paramount and enacted their own forms of universal health care, even though it is true the cost is more and more of a challenge.

A major problem in the United States is the hodgepodge method in which we provide, and do not provide, health care. People without insurance crowd the emergency rooms putting a tremendous strain on other patients and the medical personnel and adding substantially to health care costs. I have personally been in the emergency rooms within the past year or two, bleeding uncontrollably due to my cancer and had to wait because someone ahead of me had a routine – albeit distressful I’m sure – ailment.

If we had universal health care people might have better health habits and have access to medical help that would save them from having to go to emergency rooms.

If compassion for your fellow man is not enough to support universal health care, then think of it this way: people who are healthy tend to feel better about themselves and have a better attitude toward life and are more likely to be productive citizens.

I would submit that a nation that spends $700 billion or maybe $1 trillion or more to bail out investment banks and that spends billions of dollars a week on wars of choice, can afford to have a decent and comprehensive health care system.


W. movie sums it up; McCain charges “socialism”

October 19, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

If you went into the theater with no knowledge of what has gone on for the past eight years, you might come out feeling sympathetic to George W. Bush after watching Oliver Stone’s movie “W.”, which opened Friday. I didn’t, but I could have, as I say, if I had not seen the real story played out before my eyes.

It is ironic, since Stone has little sympathy (a little, but not much) for Bush and set out to show what a disaster he has been and a little of the why and how. I watched the Charlie Rose show on PBS and saw an interview with Stone and the lead actor Josh Brolin. They both basically admitted to being Bush bashers, but Brolin also said he had a little sympathy for him, and I think Stone did too. Stone said Bush was a man who may have been able to look back and reassess his life at one point, seeing that he was an alcoholic and drug abuser and then supposedly becoming “born again” (and really, what is worse than a sinner? A reformed sinner). But Bush could not seem to do that same reassessment once he got mired in Mesopotamia. And it’s too bad he didn’t reassess what he was getting into before he did it.

I read at least one liberal blog before I saw the movie that lamented that it was too sympathetic to Bush. I think the sympathetic aspect gave it a human touch. But in reality, I don’t think there is anything to be sympathetic about (even though I caught myself being a little sympathetic during the movie, but that quickly faded). I warned someone I know before W.’s first election not to vote for him because he was “evil.” and I believe my warning turned out to be right. I’m not sure, but I think that person did not listen to or believe me.

Bush is evil because, in my opinion, he was, is, a spoiled rich kid who has always been cynical about the American people and this nation.

(This is not meant to be a normal movie revue. But if you want to know if the movie is worth seeing, I would say yes. Even though the writer of the movie — Stanley Weiser — had to depend upon the accounts of others and not Bush himself, I have little doubt that the story is eerily near accurate. I think it gives you a general sense of what he is all about and how he came to mess things up, particularly the Mid East wars. The movie does not deal with the financial crisis.)

Bush cleverly dodged the Vietnam draft by enlisting in the Air National Guard and then by all accounts did not fully complete his obligation. If he had just simply done what he was supposed to do, complete all the training and attend all the meetings, I would not fault him for that. It would have made him more honorable than Bill Clinton, who pretended to want to go into ROTC and then didn’t, keeping him ineligible for the Vietnam draft for awhile, and then skipped the country for awhile in the Rhodes Scholar program, once more keeping him out of reach, and then didn’t complete that program and then made a trip to the Soviet Union. But Bush does not have a clear record of completing his obligation. And then he has the audacity to pretend to land an airplane on the carrier deck and parade around in a flight suit and declare “Mission Accomplished,” and then go on to preside over a fiasco in which the death toll is 4,000 and counting and no end in sight, many long years later.

Actually, if things ever do settle down in the Middle East and we were to get some friendly-to-us governments there, history might record that it was all thanks to the determination of George W. Bush. Somehow I don’t think things are going to work out so cleanly. In fact, the mess there — Iraq and Afghanistan — may be the undoing of what looks to be an Obama presidency, strangely just as it undid the Bush presidency. Bush brought it all upon himself by his proud ignorance (he doesn’t  read much history or current news) and his stubbornness and cynicism. Obama is a thinker. We don’t know, though, if he is a “decider”.

If by chance John McCain ekes out a win, surly we will be headed for some type action against Iran (Russia?), because despite the fact that he accuses Obama of unwisely telegraphing moves, McCain has made it plain that Iran is his public enemy number one.

I personally wished this nation would refrain from military adventures, except in true direct self defense, but if we do, I wished we had decisive leaders. You either fight to win or you should not fight at all. And I believe the public feels this way too instinctively, but we have timid and inept leadership when it comes to war.

I actually think we as a nation may soon find that due to our own poor economic condition we can no longer afford to fight wars of choice. And what if we exhaust our strength and can’t even defend ourselves?

But on the subject on self defense, we need to look at the situation on our border with Mexico. It does not get much play in the press, but that nation’s internal order has by all accounts broken down under an all-out assault by the drug cartels. And now it looks as though members of a Mexican drug cartel have abducted a young apparently Caucasian boy, an American citizen as far as a I know, from his home in Nevada, possibly because his grandfather welched on a debt. This type of lawlessness from across the border we should not tolerate.

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AND NOW THE GOOD NEWS I CAN ADD TO THIS BLOG IS THAT LITTLE BOY, SIX YEARS OLD, HAS BEEN FOUND SAFE AND IN GOOD CONDITION! BUT AS FAR AS I KNOW THE INDICATION IS STILL THAT HIS ABDUCTION WAS CONNECTED WITH A MEXICAN DRUG CARTEL, WHICH SHOWS THAT THE INTERNAL TURMOIL IN MEXICO HAS SPILLED OVER INTO OUR NATION AND SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

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…McCain’s new line of attack is to call Obama a socialist, what with Obama’s call for “spreading the wealth”. McCain may have found an argument that resonates with many, but it’s kind of late for one thing, and we have been doing this for decades, for another. The progressive income tax, bracketing so that the more money you make the higher percentage of your income you pay (supposedly), is in essence income redistribution. I’m not sure but what I even feel that such is not fair or just. But I know that folks in the higher brackets either through their own adeptness or that of their tax preparers find a myriad of deductions to offset their tax burden, and don’t we constantly get those news stories at tax time where some major corporations pay no income taxes at all?

So it seems that income redistribution (which may work both ways – from the rich to the poor or from the poor to the rich in some cases) is something the right and left have accepted for the most part.

I notice that calls for a flat tax (Ronald Reagan made the pitch) or national sales tax or consumption tax, to replace the income tax never seem to get anywhere. As much as many hate the income tax, they may feel they or their tax people know how to work the system, so leave it alone.

It would seem that if those who worked in government, from our elected representatives to bureaucrats, knew that their source of sustenance directly depended upon a vibrant economy they would have no choice but to do everything they could to not hinder business activity.

Then again, I do not know the full ramifications of a national sales tax or such as opposed to the traditional income tax.

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Clarification: In my reaction blog to the last presidential debate I inadvertently left out part of a sentence. What I meant to say is that McCain accused the Obama campaign of wrongly accusing his, McCain’s campaign, of using George Wallace type race baiting tactics.

P.s. The McCain campaign is directly accusing Obama of consorting with terrorist (s) of the past (American born anti-government radical(s), and by implication or innuendo aimed at the ignorant, Islamic terrorists of the present – and how absurd is that?) and by innuendo are mentioning Obama’s race by saying he is “not like us”. Of course the Obama campaign is using some negative and probably not totally accurate stuff against McCain, and so it goes in political campaigns.

Unfortunately in this nation we do not have an intelligence test or current events test for voting so at least in the past negative and inaccurate political ads seemed to have worked. This time around, perhaps, the majority may just want something different and the only way you can do that is elect someone who who is different.

I have still not marked my absentee ballot.