Our food in plentiful, but could this be without massive govenment subsidies?

November 27, 2013

As you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner, you can be thankful that food is so plentiful in this nation and although it might not seem so, I think I’m safe in saying that it is relatively cheap, relatively I say, as compared to what it might be in many other parts of the world. And I imagine that is because of two main factors: one, our nation (the United States of America) has a vast amount of farm land and a variety of climate zones, compatible with a wide variety of crops. We are totally self-sufficient in food production, even though the global market reality is that we also import a lot (but we would not have to in order to survive). Factor two: we have a complicated federal agricultural subsidy system that supports our agricultural production to the tune of billions of dollars of taxpayer money each year.

I write this after reading a story in Politico.com about the current farm bill being worked out in congress, the last one being passed in 2008. Despite having some background (limited to be sure) in agriculture myself, I barely understood anything in the story. I think it was too much inside baseball (or should I say inside farm lobby speak).

Probably few people, outside of the agricultural lobby and besides big farming interests (both corporate and large family farms) understand farm bill-speak either.

One of the biggest hypocrisies I have seen in my lifetime is the fact that farming interests for the most part take the conservative Republican line and decry federal subsidies and social programs to help the poor and what they call the “nanny state”, but don’t seem to consider their own subsidies in the same vein.

But, all that aside, I have often wondered whether the government should even be involved in the farming and ranching business. Why can’t it all just work under the vaunted free market system?

Of course, right off the bat, I can see some reasons why not. Farming requires a lot of investment in land and equipment and knowledge. And usually you are into some kind of specialization and your inputs are not necessarily interchangeable at a whim. If you are big into row crops, you can’t just plant an orchard and harvest it next year. If you are a rangeland cattle operation, you’re not going to turn to planting corn next year. If you run a dairy and the price of milk drops, you can’t just change over to beef cows at a whim (although you can sell your cows for hamburger). And in some cases, federal subsidies underwrite crops that without them would not even be practical for an area. An example is that some distance south of where I live now, vast acerages of rice are grown. Much of that rice is shipped overseas, ironically to areas that at one time may have been self-sufficient in rice growing. Rice growing in the area I am speaking of would not be economical if it were not for federally-subsidized water and rice subsidies from the government. And I am not suggesting this is a bad thing (not sure).

Along the same lines, prices for agricultural commodities on the open market vary from year to year, heck from day-to-day. Deciding what to grow and harvest in order to make a profit is always a gamble. So in order to take some of that risk off the shoulders of producers and thereby in the process stabilize our food (and fiber, such as cotton) supply, we have the subsidy programs.

Now as hard as it might seem to believe in the area where I live, all farmers are not conservative Republicans, but the political line we generally hear from farming interests is conservative get the government and its taxes off our back. So I just wonder if we ought not call their bluff and do so. Get rid of all government price supports and other types of agricultural subsidies.

It’s probably not possible; our whole system depends upon some type of government involvement.

There is this movement toward local and organic farming — kind of like bring your home-grown garden produce to market. I like that. But I doubt we could feed everyone with it.

And one more thing. It is interesting that within the farm legislation (the farm bill) is the food stamp program (there is a move now to cut that back). In my first newspaper job I covered farm news. I was still new to things and had been hearing the Farm Bureau (a kind of non-profit/for-profit business that pretends to be a group of farmers) oppose all types of welfare programs, which food stamps are generally aligned with, and then I attended a meeting of the California Cattlemen’s Association and was surprised to hear its staff of experts tell of that organization’s support of the food stamp program. But then, you have to realize, why not? People using food stamps buy food, produced by farmers and ranchers, some of whom are the same people who oppose welfare programs (as in you ought to work for me for substandard wages).

Agricultural people reading this might take all of this as negative towards them. I don’t mean to be. I have always had an affinity towards people close to the land. My ancestors, and even my own father at one time, were farmers and ranchers, and I have worked a little on farms, and was in the Future of America in High School, and now have spent more than a decade and a half hauling produce in a big truck.

I was just wondering.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the bounty!


One of my late uncles farmed for many decades in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He owned 60 acres, not a big spread. He began as a dairy farmer but later went to work for the county and changed over to raising sheep, part hobby, part supplemental income I suppose. I recall him lamenting that the local county farm advisors (a state program, for the most part) were not interested in working with him because his operation was too small. The government agricultural establishment prefers big time I think. My point is that there are a lot of small farmers across the nation who do not partake of government programs, both because they may not be eligible and because the big-time establishment is not interested.

JFK funeral, filibuster change, voters go for their own particular self interest at the time…

November 26, 2013

Thinking about JFK’s funeral and the placing of his closed casket in the Capitol rotunda, back in 1963, along with the news this past week that the Senate Democrats voted to alter the filibuster rules reminded me that in 1964 U.S. Senator Clair Engle of Red Bluff, Ca. cast one of the votes needed to break a filibuster that had been holding up the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

The slain president had not been able to push through his civil rights legislation. But his vice president, now president, Lyndon Johnson was an old power house in congress and now as president he was able to get it passed. But the Democrats needed every vote they could get to invoke cloture to break the filibuster. Republicans and many Southern Democrats were opposed to the civil rights bill (of course as most of us know, those Southern Democrats shortly thereafter became Republicans).

The vote took place in June. Sen. Engle died the next month.

I was attending Red Bluff Union High School at the time and my dad was working on the local newspaper. I recall going to the Tehama County Courthouse and passing by Sen. Engle’s casket, placed in the courthouse rotunda, to pay our respects. I don’t think I knew the total significance of his legacy at the time.

But here we were in what used to be called one of California’s “cow counties”. I think that tag referred to the northern counties that were low on population of people and maybe higher on cows. But anyway, here we were, little Tehama County, but we were home to the U.S. Senator who broke the filibuster, or helped break it, against the 1964 civil rights bill. And he did so while suffering from a condition that left him speechless. He instead pointed to his eye, for an aye (yes) vote.

That’s significant to me in that here he was a Democrat. We used to have Democrats representing us up here in this north part of the state (I now live in neighboring Shasta County). But a lot of folks around here probably forget that. I mean this has been conservative Republican country up here for so long now, most people probably take it for granted, especially the relative newcomers.

I won’t go into all the reasons for the shift in politics right now (assuming that I really know them anyway), but I can tell you my own personal experience/observation that might explain part of it:

Like I always feel I have to warn listeners or readers nowadays, I may have made reference to all of this before. Anyway, a few years ago I was attending a cancer patient support group. There was a retired fireman from the San Francisco Bay Area there. As a public employee and member of a union he by his own admission had a good retirement program. And, he said that he was a Democrat for years. And we all know that the Democratic Party has solidly supported unions and visa versa. But he moved up here to the northern tip of the Sacramento Valley on his own piece of land and he underwent a transition. He became a conservative Republican. And I think that is the story for so many. They retired, cashed in their equity (homes) in the Bay Area (or LA), left their Democratic Party leanings (and some of the liberalism that went with it) behind.

(Also when the logging industry was in high gear here, which it no longer is, a lot of the lumber mills were unionized, with union workers supporting Democrats.)

You see, when you’re working and the money is coming in and the Democratic Party seems to support your interests at the time, you support it. But then life changes. You’re now living off that nest egg from the equity in the house you sold and perhaps other savings, not to mention Social Security (oops, thanks to the Democrats), with Medicare coverage (oops thanks once more to the Democrats), and you only have so much life left (you can’t do it over again, as far as we know) so you become a little more protective of what you have and quite a bit more tax resistant. All very understandable really, if a little hypocritical.

Politics is all about self interest. And sometimes one’s self interest or perception of it changes. Of course the two main political parties have gone through transformations and flip flops on the issues over the years as well.


Our last Democratic congressmen up here was Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson. A lot of well-to-do Republicans have nice places along the Sacramento River. Old Bizz was big on the Army Corps of Engineers project to dump tons of rocks along the river to protect its banks, to protect those homes from bank erosion. I imagine a lot of Republicans voted for old Bizz. He was our congressman up here between 1959 and 1975. Republicans have held his old seat since. But they bring the bacon home too. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Our current Republican is a rich farmer who rails against government spending and handouts and at the same time accepts millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies for his family’s farming operations.

(And just to show what a fair-minded person I am, I could make an argument in support of that congressman’s acceptance of subsidies. You night be against them, but you pay taxes that finance them, so if you are eligible for them it only makes good business sense to partake of them. However, I don’t know his voting record on the farm bills, but there again, you have to either vote yay or nay on a bill, the good parts and the bad parts come in a package.)

Oh, and here’s the Wikipedia link for Clair Engle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clair_Engle

Obama’s Iran nuclear deal: will anyone believe it? and just what is it?

November 24, 2013

Last night before I went to bed I was reading that President Obama was going to announce a breakthrough deal with Iran to keep that country from continuing with its nuclear weapons program, but from the story I gathered it was going to be about  1 a.m. or so my time so I didn’t stay up — I’m glad I didn’t from what I just read this morning. Maybe I’ll find out more soon, but from what I just read in the news all I get is something that is:

Vague, unclear, indefinite, not precise and so on, and I have to ask: Will anyone believe it considering the current credibility of this administration? And just what has really been agreed to?

I mean unless Iran had agreed to let international inspectors (to include ones from the United States) unlimited access to virtually anywhere in Iran (and it did not) at any time why would we possibly trust that nation?

The only thing I have read so far is that in return for the gradual lifting of some economic sanctions, Iran has agreed to slow down its move toward the bomb. Well progress maybe, but hardly a breakthrough deal.

If the sanctions were working well enough to make Iran want to bargain, I would have said keep them on, maybe make them stronger.

And as of this time, I’m still sticking with my idea put forth in this blogosphere space more than once: tell Iran in secret that it is not to develop the bomb, that if it does, we’ll take care of it (them). That would leave Iran the face-saving option of dropping its nuclear weapons program seemingly on its own volition.

But of course this current deal, if there really is one, might just be the breakthrough after all. I would hope it is.

For my part I would just as soon that the United States would have good relations with all nations and would keep out of their business as long as those nations are not directly threatening us. We cannot run what goes on inside their borders, nor should we want to.

We will see.

And I’ll bet some are recalling Ronald Reagan’s admonition about dealing with the Soviets on arms issues: “trust but verify”.

(I’m not particularly fond of quoting the old actor in chief, but it seemed appropriate here.)


Of course the diplomatic work in all of this was done by Secretary of State John Kerry, a man who has never impressed me (not that he nor anyone else need worry about that), but perhaps he does have some talent. But Obama is the boss and will get the ultimate credit or the blame.


Check out my Video Extra: http://youtu.be/lX7bVg_Jon8

LBJ takes over with new promise, and then there was Vietnam…

November 23, 2013

And so after the funeral the country moved on.

That is after the assassination of JFK on that terrible Nov. 22 of 1963 there was an orderly transition of power. The bloodshed was left behind at Dallas…

Lyndon Baines Johnson became president, sworn into office right on the airplane leaving Dallas and headed back to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.

He had been vice president. He had wanted to be the man on the top of the ticket and was no doubt chagrined to have to take the thankless position as vice president — a post where the only duty is to, and this is in JFK’s own words, “to sit around and wait for the president to die”. It just so happens I just this evening saw a video clip of an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press of candidate Kennedy. The questioners kept hammering away at his refusal to accept the vice presidential nomination under any circumstances. And with chilling irony, Kennedy told of how a vice president has little to do except wait around for the president to die (and occasionally cast the deciding vote in a tie vote of the Senate). Kennedy said that he doubted Johnson would accept the vice presidential nomination himself. And JFK said that he, JFK, was in good health and unlikely to die in office.

So anyway, LBJ took over and put his own Texas brand on the White House. But he was a curious character. Usually Southern Democrats were anti-civil rights (most of them switched to the Republican Party; the party of Lincoln? politics is crazy) — and yes Texas is a western state but it is also part of the Old Confederacy, and let me tell you, people of color were second-class citizens there back in those days. How do I know? I’m white and not from Texas. Well I know for a lot of reasons: news accounts, literature, history, and just hearing people talk.

An aside here: well before LBJ in the White House and before JFK in the White House even, we had some Texans as neighbors. One of the boys was my best friend. One time his mother was talking to my mother. And I want to say, his mother was a nice lady. But my mom was, is, by her own description, a “bleeding heart liberal” (me, I’m just middle of the road). The woman asked my mom what she thought of all the “colored people” demonstrating for civil rights (most of this was taking place down south). I don’t recall what my mom said. But this lady said: “well colored people are more polite where I come from (Texas). If you are walking down the sidewalk they will step into the street out of your way.” Yeah, so that gives you the flavor.

So LBJ came from that world (and I need to quickly add, racism exists and has existed everywhere regardless of geography — it was just more up front and out there in the South. In fact in was institutionalized with Jim Crow laws).

But LBJ was raised amid poverty and as a young man out of college taught school for a short time to a class full of impoverished minority school children. It was said some had no shoes. Also his politics were more designed on what would get him elected. He at times had to support segregation. But he latched on to FDR’s new deal with the political winds of the times.

My mom was skeptical of him, but was overjoyed to learn that he was going to push through the civil rights legislation and he did. He had the years in the Congress and the arm twisting power (sometimes almost literally) to get legislation passed.

And he pushed through Medicare and a lot of the social programs in his Great Society program we take so much for granted today.

While Kennedy’s Camelot was gone, it was replaced with all-American down home Texas-style folksiness and a man with a drawl who would do things like pull his shirt up in public to show a scar from surgery, and who would grab his beagle dogs by the ears and raise them up to display (ouch!, somebody call the SPCA).

And while Kennedy started the no-hat style among men, hats made a comeback in some circles, with men wearing LBJ hats, that distinctive type of felt western style similar to the ones often seen worn by the quintessential Southern sheriff, a medium-sized brim almost flat all the way round except a light curl at the edges and a medium-sized crown dented in at the top.

So in many respects the nation was delighted once more to have someone fun to follow in the White House, even if he was not as eloquent in speech, and not as young as his predecessor — but oh was he a character.

But whereas JFK had been able to keep Vietnam on the back burner it became LBJ’s tar baby, using his own words. Once he got stuck to it he could not get loose from it.

Like JFK, and like Eisenhower before him, and I suppose even Truman before him, LBJ was tied to the prevailing domino theory that said we could not let any more countries fall to the communists lest they all fall like a row of dominoes.

Johnson’s own secret recording tapes in the White House reveal that he knew early on that the situation was hopeless. But he felt damned if he did and damned if he did not. He could not be the president who lost Vietnam. Truman had taken heck for losing China (as if he could have stopped that) and felt obligated to wage the Korean War.

After promising not to send “American boys to do what South Vietnamese boys should be doing”, Johnson would ultimately commit a force of a half million to the war in Vietnam.

But it is hard (read impossible?) to fight an insurgency. People are fighting on their home ground.

It was not World War II where the axis powers (primarily Germany and Japan) were invading other nations, it was basically a civil war aided from the outside primarily by the Soviet Union and the communist North Vietnam. To make matters worse, the government in South Vietnam the U.S. was supporting was corrupt — and that was no secret at the time. The U.S. at one time even gave its secret nod of approval to the assassination of one of its leaders in a coup. But geopolitics is like that.

Vietnam was his downfall. He did not run for a second term. It had wrecked his presidency. And Johnson retired to his ranch in Texas a broken man and died not long after that.

I can’t think of any elected president leaving office undamaged since Dwight Eisenhower after JFK was elected in 1960. Okay, maybe Ronald Reagan (and how I hate to say that — just never was a Reagan fan). Bill Clinton too, maybe, despite the sleazy side of his presidency.

But so far, no matter who’s president, the nation moves on… take heart Barack Obama, things may pick up for you again… you still have plenty of time to get that mojo back.


Check out Tony Walther’s Weblog Video Extra: http://youtu.be/U9jYJ71jZCA

It began with the promise of youth and then Camelot died…

November 22, 2013

A half century ago now President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and I look back:

I think I got my initial look at politics perhaps during the mid 1950s when I was just a little lad indeed. But I watched the political conventions and found them to be as entertaining as anything I had ever watched on TV. All those people wearing funny hats and displaying signs and chanting for their candidate. And that was back when the candidacy was actually decided at the conventions, rather than that endless string of primaries and straw polls we have today.

And then my mom let me stay home from school the day of Dwight Eisenhower’s second inaugural because the local high school band was in the parade in far-off Washington D.C. , and it was being televised.

Mr. Eisenhower was a grandfatherly old man. He of course had been the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, as Gen. Eisenhower.

But the election of 1960 offered something new. The old man could not run for a third term because a new constitutional amendment had just passed forbidding that.

So now, this time, no matter whether the Republican won or the Democrat, the new president would be relatively young — in his 40s. Comedians told jokes about the babyish candidates.

But there was no doubt that the more handsome and more lady-killer looking one was the Democrat John F. Kennedy, often referred to as “Jack” Kennedy. And we all know the story that Kennedy clobbered Eisenhower’s vice-president Richard Nixon in the televised debates, or at least the first one, because Kennedy’s makeup was better under the lights and he had a fresh tan, whereas Nixon either was not wearing makeup or it was bad makeup, and he was just coming off an illness. In actual debating it was probably a tie, and it is said that many who listened on radio gave Nixon the win.

As we know, Kennedy, or JFK, as he would become known, went on the win the election (Nixon got his turn a decade later). JFK wore a top hat to the inauguration but I think that was where he lost the hat — after that it was that bushy red hair brushed back (or was it forward?) on his head. And seemingly overnight the style of men in hats was gone — although of course many men still wore them, my dad included.

Glamour and youth took over the White House. JFK had striking good looks, and he had a charming and gracious and cultured wife, Jackie. And they had two darling children, Caroline and John John. While not everyone loved the Kennedys, overall they took the nation by storm. It was as if we had royalty in the White House and the public was taken in by the pageantry created by the forces supportive of Kennedy and the media in general I suppose. Jackie gave a televised tour of the White House showing how she was refurbishing it. The whole Kennedy White House and presidency took on the name of “Camelot” after a current play about a mythical kingdom where the days were sunny and happiness reigned.

There was a major foreign policy misstep early on. Kennedy had signed on to an ongoing secret operation initiated in the previous Eisenhower Administration in which the U.S. military would give some support to a band of Cuban exile anti-Castro forces who were to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and according to the plan spark a popular uprising against the communist dictator. It failed miserably from the start and seeing the sure disaster JFK cut the U.S. support. It was a major embarrassment when it soon became public.  But later he became a hero by standing up to the Soviet Union and forcing our arch cold war rival to remove missiles aimed at us from Cuba.

And Kennedy vowed to fight the communist insurgency in Vietnam by supporting the government there, although initially all the talk was about a country in the same area called Laos.

But all of that was in the background. We were not yet mired in a ground offensive in Southeast Asia. I doubt most people even knew where Vietnam was on a map yet.

No, then it was all goodwill via JFK’s Peace Corps sent all over the world to help those in developing countries live better lives — youthful volunteers spreading hope from the good ol’ USA around the globe.

And he urged the nation to get fit with 40-mile hikes. My dad and I even took one — not 40 miles though. Well that was one hike, actually my dad and a brother and I did take a hike that long and more into a wilderness area in the mountains.

JFK exuded the spirit of can-do for the nation. He vowed that we would put a man on the moon before the decade was out (and of course we did). And during his days in office we put our first men into space and kept up with the Soviet Union in the space race and soon surpassed that nation.

Kennedy seemed to be for all the correct things: he was strongly anti-communist and pro-civil rights. Night after night people were now seeing terrible scenes on TV of black people demonstrating to get equal voting rights in southern states, only to be beaten back by water cannon and dogs and police with billy clubs.

JFK was pushing for civil rights legislation. This of course was not popular in some circles.

And then he went into the south, to Dallas, to campaign for another term in office.

And on Nov. 22, 1963 he was gunned down in a motorcade on a Dallas Street.

(And while that city was a hotbed of anti-Kennedy feelings and even those making violent threats, I don’t mean to imply we know the motive for the assassination. We don’t.)

Fifty years later we don’t know if there was but one assassin or how many shots were really fired and whether there was a conspiracy and if so by whom. Theories abound, everything from pro-Castro forces, to anti-Castro forces, to the CIA, to vice president Lyndon Johnson, to organized crime, to anti-civil rights forces.

What we do know is that Camelot died on that day. The sun was no longer guaranteed to shine. But we also survived as a nation and there was an orderly transition of power.

And ironically a man from Texas, the state of the city of JFK’s death, Dallas, took over as president and pushed through JFK’s civil right’s legislation.

There has never been anyone like JFK since. We’ve had some charmers, Bill Clinton, at least, but he does not even come close to the JFK mystique.

I mean why do even Republican candidates often cite JFK as their inspiration?


Check out Tony Walther’s Video Weblog: http://youtu.be/j-LPEiZ-Z5M

Those who pick up skills along the way generally keep employed, or solving unemployment on the personal level…

November 21, 2013

I was looking for something to write about in this space and then I ran across an article about something like 38 people applying for each low-wage job (part-time at that?) at a new Walmart store opening up in Washington D.C.  I didn’t even finish the article (yet). What caught my eye was some statistics it was using about the unemployment rate among those with various levels of education, such as no high school, high school, college. And as you might expect, it said the rate is lower among those with higher educations.

And then there is always the ongoing argument or discussion about the worth of higher education, to include the fact that so many college graduates, already deep in debt from borrowing to finance their education, cannot find jobs.

At 64 years of age, I can safely say from what I have observed the key to employment is being willing and, more importantly, able to do what someone else needs to be done. Yeah, works almost every time. Regardless of your education (well most of the time) if you are able to perform work (manual or otherwise) someone else needs to be done you will have a job.

Simplistic I know. And yet so true.

As my dad always told me: you should learn a trade so you have something to fall back on if what you really want to do does not work out. I did not follow that advice to a tee, that is not directly.

His advice was not original. People have been advised that forever.

In my own life I just bumbled along. But somewhere in my late middle age I learned the truck driving trade (not my first pick of things I always wanted to do) and have not been without work since (save a bout of disability due to health).

Now I don’t for a minute suggest that is the key. No I would suggest a far better trade or skill. And yet, it worked for me.

Not all trades or skills require a degree or license or such. People just learn things by doing them on various jobs and find that what they learned comes in handy on other jobs.

Now the following is not exactly an example of what I am talking about but it comes to mind nonetheless:

Once another trucker and I arrived at a newspaper to deliver rolls of newsprint. But there was a problem. The lift truck the man at the newspaper dock was using would not work. Well my trucker friend in another job did some work on forklifts. He found the problem — it was something about a loose fuel line as I recall — and fixed it. Now there is a man who could get a job. He picked up some skills along the way. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes you have to be not too narrowly focused. It helps to be somewhat multi-talented.

What I am trying to say is that people who want to work and who in fact end up getting work are usually those who open their eyes to what is in demand at the time and also who pick up skills along the way. And that can start young. I am not a good example personally, and yet in my younger days I was certainly offered a lot of opportunities:

My dad was a newspaperman, but he grew up on a farm and there he learned some skills, such as carpentry and home (and farm) electricity wiring, and plumbing. He did a lot of handy work around the house. I should have paid more attention. But once when I was little he was wiring a light switch and said: “pay attention, you might need to know this some day”. Years later when I had a home of my own, that came in handy.

During high school and at times later I did some amount of farm work, driving tractors and such. On one occasion I worked for a farmer and he said if I stayed on through harvest he would have me drive a big truck from field to processing plant. I went on, though, and became employed in journalism. But wouldn’t you know it? years later I attended a short course in truck driving and went into driving semis — the earlier offer by the farmer could have come in handy later.

And here’s a real good one as far as I am concerned:

When I was in the army in Germany I was a crew member on a tank. As tank crew members we did crew maintenance. As part of that, when mechanics needed to work on our engines we undid various bolts to assist them in getting at the engine and transmission which was then lifted in one unit right out of the back of the tank. But I had a fellow crew member who was a black guy. I mention his race only because I’m trying to make a point. There is always the lament that unemployment is high among minorities. Well he went a step beyond crew maintenance. He learned how to undo the brakes, something the mechanics usually did. I had no clue. But he took it upon himself to learn. Now there is someone looking to build skills for future employment. I mean you never know.

And this holds true in all types of work — in the field, in factories, in offices, everywhere.

All of this is easier said than done, I know. Sometimes you are kept busy and not offered the opportunity to do anything else. But some people just seem to ignore that roadblock.

I don’t claim to be among those. But I will pat myself on the back for the following:

When the newspaper trade finally played out on me during that era of corporate downsizing a couple of decades ago I sought help through some public agency (veteran’s?). After a discussion with a counselor, the guy tells me:

“I could put you in a training program but I see you as someone who is just going to go out there and get a job.”

Really. He said that. I was discouraged, temporarily. I mean how much help is that? But then I did what he said. I was desperate for sure. And sometimes that’s what it takes.

I should add, now that I think about it, that tagging along with my dad as he made photos and covered various news stories, to include fires and floods, gave me a head start in journalism.

All this does not solve the lingering unemployment problem and the fact that there are way too many people and fewer and fewer jobs, due to the rapid movement of technology even more than economic conditions.  But when you’re unemployed it’s a personal problem that public policy and politics and such is not likely to solve for you personally. I was just making some observations from that personal point of view.


Hey check out my new video edition of Tony Walther’s Weblog: http://youtu.be/PMupDfggVIM

Let’s cut the contractors before we cut military pay and benefits…

November 19, 2013

If you want a professional fighting force to protect you and to help the United States project its power around the world as the super power it is and must continue to be (for self-preservation) you have to pay for it. Of course you can’t just open up the checkbook and say pay and benefits are unlimited, but an effective all-volunteer military is a costly proposition and yet one we have tied ourselves to.

And so I read with surprise and some skepticism and dismay about plans to curb the future growth of military pay and benefits, and a projection that military families will suffer in the process.

It’s already a disgrace the way we treat soldiers who fight overseas, in some instances refusing to pay for all of their medical care because they may have been part of the National Guard or some such other bureaucratic reason.

And it is already an outrage that we pay them so little and private contractors so much.

And it is unconscionable that now that the defense department is faced with the demands of the sequester to trim its budget that the first thing it does is go after military pay. Certainly an analysis of pay and the growth of future pay outlays are in order, but how about looking for efficiencies in other ways, such as unneeded weapons programs, too many contractors, and too cozy relationships between government procurement officials and the private part of the military-industrial complex.

A decision was made toward the end of the Vietnam War to go to the all-volunteer professional force. No more would young people be forced to serve for dubious causes.

And an argument can be made that we are much better off with the all-professional force. It was dark days indeed during the Carter administration. We were coming off a not-so-long ago major defeat and a wound to the pride of the nation that was Vietnam (and I will add it was a loss due to politicians primarily, not those who fought). And then Iran took our embassy people hostage and we were militarily impotent to do anything. There was  a failed rescue mission. Now one can say that in such an instance there is not much you can do militarily without getting all the hostages killed. Maybe, though, we should have consulted the Israelis. They have been successful in similar circumstances.

While I personally am dubious about our efforts over this past decade in the Middle East I am impressed with what I have seen in documentaries about the caliber of our fighting force. It is not perfect and all of its members are not perfect, but then the bad apples get all the publicity.

The only way we can get by with less might be to have a smaller professional cadre and then depend upon mandatory service of all young people between certain age groups for a limited time, such as three or four-year hitches. But that type of system probably works better in smaller and more homogeneous societies.

Not everyone in the military serves in direct combat. But all have that as their basic duty. No matter what your classification, as part of the military you are a fighting person first, even if your job might be more of a support mission. But we have a large fighting force. And how are we going to continue to recruit and maintain such a force if we do not keep the pay and benefits up? In fact, we probably should be figuring out how we can raise them.

Gone are the days when you just needed brawn and physical fighting ability. Today we need people who are willing and able to put their lives at risk but who are intelligent enough to understand and work with modern technology and who are intelligent enough to understand the more complicated missions we have today in military actions that are so much more complex than the ones of the past. We want people who will do the right thing, not people who will simply get overseas somewhere and go berserk without regard to who is friend or foe, and people who will project the correct image.

It’s a tall order.

We have to pay the piper.


The military is not only a force for war, it is a humanitarian force (witness the Philippine situation) that could be used much more effectively both abroad and at home (Katrina).

P.s. P.s.

One general said in justifying holding the line on pay and benefits that we cannot pay people enough for what we ask them to do. That is hard to argue with, but it sounds like a cop-out to me.

Obamacare false promise could be biggest political blunder ever…

November 18, 2013

Sometimes someone says or writes something that I just can’t put into my own words better (well quite often), so with that in mind I just have to dash off this quotation ripped right out of an article in the Huffington Post, with attribution following:

“The ancient Greeks liked to say that character is fate. The colossal mess that Obamacare has become reflects both the character of the legislation and that of the president who sponsored it. The Affordable Care Act, as a government mandate for people to purchase private insurance with an array of possible subsidies, had too many moving parts. It was an accident waiting to happen. As many of us wrote at the time, Medicare for All would be simpler to execute, easier to understand, and harder for Republicans to oppose. But this was not to be. Instead we got a program that was poorly understood by the public because it was almost impossible to explain and even harder to execute.”

Those words were written by Robert Kuttner, co-founder and editor of “The American Prospect”.

I have not even read the entire article. I am going to in a minute and then later add to this post. I still have hope for Obamacare at this time but continue to be amazed at its poor implementation and sometimes ask myself: “what were they thinking?” And I am glad to hear that others were thinking: “why not Medicare for all?” (well, I actually have suggested an expansion of Medicare for those who could not get insurance any other way).

And now I will finish that article…

Well, that was quick. I read it and it was interesting. If I interpreted it correctly on first read I think one of his points in the body of the piece was that comparing Obamacare to the success of Social Security and Medicare was not an apt comparison because the former were public public, while the latter is something called private public, in that Obamacare is a partnership and really a subsidy to the private insurance industry.

And in my own words I would say that, yeah, private enterprise can be more efficient at times (and maybe most of the time), but it has to stand on its own two feet and be private.

And I am tired of writing about Obamacare and will move on to something else soon.

Okay, one more thing: if Obamacare falls, it’s death knell will have been the cancellation of private insurance policies despite the claim by Obama that such would not happen. It does not matter if it is only a relative minority that affects or whether in reality they could get better and more cost effective insurance via Obamacare. The argument that Obamacare would destroy private insurance, would be a government takeover, a move toward total socialism, was one of the primary weapons Obamacare opponents have used. They have to be overjoyed that in some instances their projections seemingly are coming true. This could go down as the biggest blunder in politics ever. If the Republicans did not have so many crazies in their party, they could already count on total victory. And they might wise up and clean house yet.


Here is a link to the full Kuttner article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/obamacare-republicans_b_4293314.html

P.s. P.s.

And to add insult to injury here and through the magic of the computer I go forward in time from when this post was originally posted to now on 11-19-13. I just read a CNN story that says that President Obama cited an Affordable Care Act success story involving a woman in Washington State. But then, and we go to the story:

From CNN:

But in the days that followed that presidential shout-out, Sanford received letters from Washington state’s insurance exchange, notifying her she did not qualify for a tax credit she was originally told she would be getting.

After looking into Sanford’s matter, officials with the exchange admit they made a mistake calculating her benefits, along with those for thousands of other Washington state residents.

“The Exchange would like to sincerely apologize to Jessica Sanford and all those affected in Washington State by this error,” Washington Health Benefit Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka said in a statement provided to CNN.

All ills or changes in the health care market blamed on Obamacare; free market is great but does not work for everything…

November 14, 2013

I did not watch the president on TV this morning announcing possible changes to his Obamacare but of course I am familiar with the whole story.

Here’s what I think. The free-market conservatives are right in that you don’t want the government trying to take the place of the free market. You really cannot have a free market, capitalism at its best, when the government steps in to run things.

But the free or open market does not always fill the need. If people cannot afford something they really need, such as health care, the market itself is not going to be there for them. So the only choice left without government health care coverage is to cut back on one’s health.

So sometimes the government does step in. That is why we have Medicare, for instance. If the marketplace simply took care of that we would not have Medicare.

Obamacare actually uses the open market with its health care exchanges, but our whole health care/insurance system is highly complex and convoluted. It just evolved that way.

Opponents of Obamacare, or technically the “Affordable Health Care Act”, started their propaganda war early, before it became law, and have been inundating us ever since. A lot of people have no idea what Obamcare is about or what it intentions were, they just know from all the propaganda that it is bad and if they have any problems with health insurance it’s because of Obamacare.

And there is no doubt there is mass confusion out there. And to some extent I am sure that Obamacare has caused problems for people. But I also can see that just the word “Obamacare” is thrown around by people trying to explain away things, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes laziness, and sometimes malice. I know someone who was told she could no longer use the free health clinic she had been using. She was told it is because she is on Obamacare and they don’t take it.Come to find out it was because she did not qualify because she had moved and lived in a different county. She is not on Obamacare anyway.

Another woman I am somewhat acquainted with was told she could no longer get a medicine she had been taking because she is now on Obamacare. But as far as I know, she is simply on Medicare (which is not affected by Obamacare), and that is not Obamacare. Now there could have been changes in her Medicare, but she is still being misled.

At my own doctor’s office I was asked to sign a notice about some new policy. When I asked what it was all about the receptionist said: “it’s just an Obamacare thing.” Actually I don’t think it was. I think they were simply telling me that they would no longer handle Medicare Advantage plans, which were initiated under the George W. Bush administration (No problem to me. I am not on that). According to a Medicare website (not the Obamacare website), Advantage plans are still acceptable under the new law — but apparently not at my doctor’s office.

That is not to say that Obamacare is not messing some things up. I am not sure but whether I may be affected. I’m going through some changes right now in my own health insurance situation and I have that on my mind. I should know, but to tell you the truth, reading through and trying to understand health insurance material is almost or maybe worse than having a root canal as far as I am concerned.

I have an appointment to see an insurance agent today. I am dubious about it. I have talked to him and others previously. I never do understand them. I don’t care what anyone says. Health insurance is not simple to understand. There are all kinds of limits and exclusions (notwithstanding Obamacare’s abolition of exclusions on pre-existing conditions), and percentages from this to that on one end of the bill and that to this on the other end of the bill, and coverage of some doctors and facilities and not others (and if you are really sick you often don’t have any way of deciding who takes care of you at the moment, especially if you are stuck in a hospital bed, and yet you can be told that one of your providers was not on your health plan). I mean why can’t we just be covered no matter what?

Personally I don’t think the profit motive is good for health care. But the reality in this country is that is our system and I don’t think we are going to change it.

I think the president has good intentions with Obamacare, but I am sad that he and his administration have bungled it so badly so far. If they don’t rescue it soon they will have not only ruined Obamacare but any chance of health care reform in the foreseeable future.

The Republicans are wedded to the profit motive. While they may or may not want a system where all get some kind of protection, their first priority is to protect profits.

Many people identify with that because they abhor or fear socialism. But some at least mild forms of socialism have been with us for a long time — Social Security being a prime example. If the free market could take care of everything we would not have Social Security.

I believe wholeheartedly in free markets, in capitalism. I also believe that the market does not work in some limited areas.

The corn for enthanol problem and millions in subsidies for millionaires…

November 13, 2013

Apparently the federal government is still doling out millions of dollars to millionaires via agricultural subsidies, some of whom aren’t even gentleman farmers — have nothing to do with farming, other than to collect their subsidy checks — and just as bad or maybe even worse is a misguided effort to burn cleaner fuel and help corn farmers at the same time. It is causing an environmental crisis and has increased food prices. The latter has to do with the corn-based ethanol mandate for our gasoline.

I’m talking about two different but somewhat related things here.

The subsidy scandal has been around for a long time. I mean at least once a year the story is done. But the lobby that supports the subsidies is strong and misrepresents itself as supporting Ma and Pa down on the farm, lest they lose the farm to the uncertainties of crop prices and weather and the high cost of chemical based, manufactured fertilizer (and gee in the old days it just came out of the end of a cow, as a byproduct, you might say), oh, and the evil banker foreclosing on the unpaid mortgage. But much of the subsidies go to extremely large farming operations and even business operations of individuals who have nothing to do with farming, other than they have investments involving land and other than they have somehow finagled their way into the subsidy bonanza.

And whether some of these subsidy payments may be collected illegally is apparently in question and there does not seem to be a lot of oversight by the government agencies involved. In fact, I just read that rules are being changed in the name of more transparency but in reality some of the subsidies are going to be moved to different programs that do not provide transparency. I know. That does not make sense. I don’t claim to be an expert in all of this. Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers, well on the computer. But there is a bad smell from the farm programs and it is not cow manure.

And I’ll just add, something I have mentioned previously, my own congressman comes from a family who has a large farming operation, of which he is part, and it has collected millions of dollars over the years in subsidies. He is a conservative, anti-tax, get the government-out-of-my-business conservative Tea Party Republican. He sees no conflict. I imagine he considers it just good business.

The ethanol mandate was supported heavily by presidential candidate Barack Obama and continues to be supported by President Obama. He needed to woo Midwest corn farmers, particularly the Iowa farmers to influence the Iowa caucuses. Supposedly, replacing part of the gasoline mix with the additive of ethanol makes the fuel burn cleaner. Whether that is true or not, the resulting demand for corn has resulted in more pollution and environmental damage and has caused food prices to skyrocket because corn that would have gone either directly for human food or to humans via livestock feed is being siphoned off into ethanol production, the process of which causes pollution. And what has been noticed now is that farmers have put so many acres into corn, to include virgin ground, that it is becoming an environmental disaster, to include heavy erosion. And such heavy fertilizer use contaminates ground water and water ways and large bodies of water, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Lands that had been put into conservation programs, that carried a government incentive, are now being put into corn because the price of corn has jumped.

Now as to farm subsidies, there may be an argument for them having to do with supporting family farms and maintaining a stable food supply. But they seem to be maintaining rich people and maybe there is a less costly and more efficient method of maintaining food supplies. And stepped up oversight is certainly in order. And if your income is in the millions (or billions), really it is hard to argue that you need help from the government. And if it is only in the millions because of the government, well the government should not be in the farming business and you should not be either.

As for the ethanol thing, well for one thing, as I understand it, it does not improve gas mileage and in fact reduces it. And I have already mentioned the environmental harm and the effect it has on food prices.

I am not at all against our agricultural sector. Much of my life I have worked in connection with it. A lot of family farmers run major operations that look more like corporate endeavors than that iconic picture of Ma and Pa down on the farm somewhere in Iowa, but the farmers I have come into contact with are hard working and multi-talented, being part businessman, farmer, mechanic, construction worker and so on. I don’t begrudge their success. And I suppose if the government is offering a subsidy it in most cases it is simply good business to take advantage. But on the other hand, we all have to realize that it makes no sense and is not fair to the rest of us for our government to subsidize people who can do quite well on their own. And I really have no good feeling about subsidizing corporate farming operations. Businessmen want independence and they should get it.

I’ve provided links to two stories that deal with the subjects I covered:




I forgot to mention that energy independence was used as a selling point for corn-based ethanol production. But as I understand it, what with natural gas and new oil extracting methods we are now energy independent. I mean Hitler did turn to making fuel for his tanks from distilling the alcohol out of potatoes — but that meant everyone had fewer potatoes to eat.