Gay marriage ban separate, but not equal…

November 6, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

Today my wife and I celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary, proving that all teenage marriages don’t end in failure. And they said it was only puppy love.

And now that I’ve been sweet by starting off my blog on that note I will no doubt make the other half of this long-lasting marriage shake her head as I go into my near daily political thing:

So Proposition 8 in California that bans gay (homosexual) marriage has apparently passed, and this only months after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was allowed under the state’s constitution. Proposition 8 amended that constitution.

There was a split in my household over the voting on that one.

It is not in my usual character to be a champion of so-called gay rights. But I did some study of constitutional law in obtaining a BA degree in political science and it seems to me that to deny a class of people rights that all others have is a violation of equal protection under the law.

Of course, I suppose, the first challenge to that in most people’s minds might be whether homosexuals are truly a different class of people in the sense that, say, black people have been considered a different class, a class that in the past was heavily discriminated against.

Black people were born with a darker skin pigment. Society as a whole – not everyone – I think has come to the conclusion now into the 21st Century that homosexuality is a natural condition some people have at birth (and while I understand there is still some division of thought on this in the scientific community, don’t most of us have gay people in our families and realize they were born that way and did not just hang out with the wrong crowd?). A homosexual can no more help his or her condition than a black person can help his or her condition, and I quickly add that I do not mean that either class of people should want to change their condition. But both have and do suffer discrimination from society as a whole.

Now the favorite argument as to whether gays should have a right to marry is that no they should not, that marriage by tradition, primarily religious tradition, but also by secular tradition, has been considered to be a union of a man and a woman, and that if gays are concerned that they are being  discriminated against they can have so-called civil unions or domestic partnerships, which are supposedly to take the place of marriage.

The problem with that is that civil unions are not marriage in name and do not necessarily carry the same status as marriage. They are not recognized in all jurisdictions and I am not sure that even under the best of circumstances they offer the same protections as marriage.

And the very idea that you can get around the tag of discrimination by offering one brand of something to one class and another supposedly separate but equal brand to another was shot down in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954). That ruling directly dealt with discriminating against black people by making them attend separate public schools. But the ruling covers all such supposedly separate but equal practices. That ruling overturned the Supreme Court’s Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling (1896) that held separate but equal was permissible. In that one the issue at hand was whether blacks could be made to ride in separate passenger railway cars.

Now this is not a lawyerly analysis, but basically we all know that separate is never equal, otherwise there would be no need for being separate. The fact is that in the case of schools, black schools were almost always starved of funding and maintenance. In the case of separate passenger accommodations, the idea was to shun black people from the rest of society, due to white prejudice of the time.

So, I have a problem with all of that. But moreover, I think what galls me are the single-issue people. I read in my local newspaper about one 34-year-old guy who voted for the first time in his life just so he could vote yes on Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage. So, no other issues – war, the economy, taxation, health care, etc. ever mattered to him, but by gosh running other folks’ lives, imposing his morality on someone else, that mattered. And if he felt a religious compulsion to do so that only indicates that such measures violate the First Amendment which forbids government intrusion into matters religious.

Having said all the above, I am not totally comfortable myself with gay marriage. I think I just see the idea of banning it to be a conflict in my sense of personal liberty. Personal liberties sometimes are restricted if they can be construed to hinder the personal liberties of others, but how that applies in this case I am not sure.

In California the status of current gay marriages is in limbo. That issue will probably go to court. As I understand it, civil unions are still allowed.

And now, the rest of my blog:

A parting shot I just can’t resist: let’s hope that Sarah Palin is put back into the Alaskan deep freeze where she belongs.

We might see her again for 2012, but she’s no doubt going to have some hefty competition from the likes of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee (who now is a talk show host on FOX – makes sense, there is a pattern: preacher, politician, talk show host). Maybe by that time she can learn a little more about basic civics and world events and how to answer questions in hardball as well as softball interviews.

But now in a pause from writing this blog, I just watched a Sarah Plain interview on CNN and was impressed with how humble and sincere she came across. She said she doubted that her candidacy trumped the major economic crisis that surfaced just before the election. But she said that if she cost John McCain “even one vote” for that, “I am sorry…” She promised to “work with” Obama on energy issues (uh, sure Sarah, have your people get in touch with my people).

See how gullible I am? I fell for her humbleness. But how is it in politics that you can say such terrible things about someone one day – he pals around with terrorists who want to destroy our nation or he wants to take away our freedom and make us share our hard-earned money or he is not a leader. And then the next day you are willing to work with him.

Thanks to the endless talk on TV we can watch and listen to the experts tell us how they are crafting the messages that are full of lies and distortions designed to fool us and then we are supposed to listen to those messages as if we did not know we were being taken in. Ah politics. No wonder some folks say they can’t stand it.

As gracious as John McCain himself was in defeat, the boos from the sore losers during his concession speech are emblematic of the attitude among much of his support group that turned the majority of the voters off. That attitude has been turning a lot of folks off for some years. The GOP finally got a taste of what that attitude can mean (they got their first hint during the last midterm elections – they just wouldn’t shape up).

And just what was that sour grapes assessment of the Obama win by no. 1 Obama basher Charles Krauthammer I saw late Tuesday night on FOX all about? I know he wanted the other guy to win, but why couldn’t he have just admitted that if nothing else Obama made a lot more folks more comfortable in voting for him than the other guy? Krauthammer complained that Obama really never presented a program. Oh really, well maybe not, but what was the program presented by McCain – wait don’t tell me, leave the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in place (the one’s he originally opposed because we needed to pay for the war directly rather than borrow from China – you know, support the troops as they say). Oh and make sure we don’t tax Joe the Plumber, who is not a real plumber, whose name I understand is not really Joe, and who would in all likelihood, I just have a hunch, would be the first in line to take unemployment, disability, medicare, Social Security, or any kind of public assistance if he felt he needed it (or run for congress or cut a record or book deal or run for vice president).

— I thought my local newspaper was localcentric, as I like to call it, emphasizing local news over national and world, but the Manteca, Ca. Bulletin (7-day per week) Wednesday edition has all kinds of election news (local), but nary a word or picture of Barack Obama on its front page. Maybe they could have at least had local reaction story.

Print media is dying. As I stated in a previous blog, I had no sooner got interested in U.S. News and World Report news magazine, thinking that it seemed newsier than Time or Newsweek, only to find it was dropping from once per week to once every other week. Now I read that just as the daily Christian Science Monitor newspaper is doing, they are getting out of the print editions altogether and going to online, except I think they may be doing some kind of monthly not real news editions or something.

Yes I love the instantaneousnous (did I make up that word?) of the world wide web, but where is the news for posterity that a print edition provides? And as much as I use this contraption nowadays, I still can’t figure out how to comfortably sit back and read my computer. On the other hand, the keyboard sure beats those manual Royal typewriters I used in more than one newspaper job. How I ever banged out my stories I can hardly imagine (and you should have seen all the pencil self-corrections in my copy). Spell check was looking it up in the dictionary or being ridiculed by the proofreader. And the instant access to fact checking on my computer can’t be beat.


Surely they’re not standing in line for McCain…

November 2, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

I find it hard to believe that all those young people, all those new never voted before voters, and all those people starting to wait in line at 3 a.m. at one place for early voting are all excited to get out the vote for John McCain. That seems unlikely.

I’m not sure how much good McCain’s appearance on Saturday Night Live did him two days before election Tuesday. With an assist from wife Cindy along with Tina Fey doing her Sarah Palin routine, complete with a “going rogue” aside about her running in 2012, McCain did a pretty good skit. But really, is that the image he wants just before election day running for the most powerful office in the world? Well, who knows? maybe he could do like that other Republican oldster war hero and presidential campaign loser Bob Dole and wind up taking a job doing Viagra commercials.

No, I’m envisioning an Obama landslide, not just a win, but a Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater (the latter of course being an Arizonan like McCain) kind of an affair. Of course I was sure Mitt Romney was going to be the Republican candidate too (even though I don’t care for him).

With so many top Republicans repudiating McCain and with so many more conceding either tacitly or directly he won’t win, it seems those who actually decide, the voters, are not likely to pull this one out of the hat for him, even if McCain acts as if he is the happy underdog confident that he will come back from behind one last time. Heck a large percentage of the voters have already cast their ballots and more of them are registered Democratic than not, I believe.

If this were still an extremely tight race, I might be concerned about voting irregularities and dirty tricks with the ballots, but with the overwhelming outpouring I am witnessing on television of voters across the nation I find it hard to believe that the election can or will be stolen, even though there is sure to be some mischief (from either side).

—  So I can’t sleep and in the middle of the night I get up and watch C-Span and I see convicted bribe taker Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens debating his Democratic opponent and declaring that they (the Senate) won’t kick him out. They wouldn’t dare, he proclaims indignantly. He has a lot of friends, he boasts (hmm I wouldn’t count on it Ted). He is well respected, he says. Okay already, keep believing it. Call me sappy, but I almost don’t want to see the old coot go to jail, I just want him out of government.

But even more startling: Stevens in answer to a question by the moderator as to whether he thinks Iraq had any hand in 9/11 (here we go again) confidently said yes it did and he knows things others don’t. I know, and so did Bush. But they are keeping it secret from the rest of the American people.

Why is this?

Apparently there is some super secret information that explains why our nation has done what it has done in Iraq and if we only knew what it was we would not complain, but we cannot be told, because, well, I don’t know why. But at any rate, only Republicans can be privy to this super secret information. Maybe it should not even be shared with other Republicans. Maybe George W. and Dick Cheney should be able to continue in office.

And let me state here and now: I do not know for sure whether there was ever any connection between Saddam Hussein and his Iraq and 9/11 but I have never come across it and I read the news regularly. Of course I know old Saddam was not sorry for it – well at least not until he got blamed for it and later got hanged. I also know that no matter how much is written there will always be people, and quite a few of them at that, who did not get the message that Iraq apparently had no direct connection with 9/11. Who knows? Maybe some day we will find evidence that there was some direct or indirect connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the 9/11 terrorists (I doubt it) and we might even stumble upon a secret cache of weapons of mass destruction or a bakery where yellow cake was being made, now covered under a sand dune. (I was kidding; I know it’s a different kind of yellow cake.)

We went into Afghanistan with an army to basically find one man, Osama bin Laden, and still have not located him (psst, he’s in Pakistan, but keep that under your hat – oh I forgot, McCain told us he knows where Osama is and he knows how to get him, and Nixon had a secret plan to get us out of the Vietnam War, it was called drag out the war and try to sue for peace in the background and then quit the presidency and let the other guy take the blame for quitting the war.

We went into Iraq because George W. for various reasons, including a reported attempt by Saddam Hussein to assassinate his father and to make up for what he considered the weakness of his father for not going all the way to Baghdad at the conclusion of the otherwise successful Gulf War. “Regime change” was called for by the fashionably dressed Condoleezza Rice and others, and Bush had been convinced by those who put together a think tank paper called “Project for a New Century” that we needed to control the Middle East for strategic interests. To put it bluntly, we needed to have control over an area that produces most of the world’s easily refinable crude oil.

—  What is up with this thing when the talking heads discuss whether some politician should have had a better speech written for him or her? Why, I ask, can’t they say their own words? Even taking into consideration that some folks have an ability to speak more eloquently than others, say Obama over McCain, why would we want to elect someone who can’t even come up with his or her own words?

Don’t know if it is true, but weren’t we taught that Abe Lincoln wrote his own speeches. Supposedly he scrawled out the Gettysburg Address on the train en-route to his speaking engagement and stuck the draft in his stove pipe hat (and wouldn’t you have thought he would have had an advance man to get the address for him – I digress). I thought of this inability in drafting one’s own words when I watched a clip of former speech writer and economic guru Ben Stein telling Larry King that Sarah Palin benefitted from a good speech writer when she was introduced at the convention, but suffered from not having the same support later. He also claimed that she is incredibly able, in many ways more so than Barack Obama (huh?), but lamentably she just doesn’t appear to have, his words: “presidential timbre”. I would just add that she is “clueless”. That having been said, that would not preclude her from running for president as the Republican candidate in the future.

—  And here’s something that I have been hearing a lot lately, so much so, I wonder if it will not become accepted as correct. It’s about elementary grammar. I confess, I didn’t know what to call it, but I consulted a grammar text and it called what I am encountering a “double comparison”. Anyway, it’s when you hear someone say something like “more better”, when better alone would suffice and be correct English. I keep hearing these double comparisons on the radio and television from those who should know better, so much so, that it does not appear to be just careless speech.

I think Dave Letterman usually uses correct speech, even though he is a jokester. But I just watched a clip from his show where he asked guest Alec Baldwin if had ever seen a “more hotter political figure” than Sarah Palin. And I know that when people talk fast that sometimes their grammar slips, but I hear this all the time (and I know technically one is not supposed to begin a sentence with and, as I just did and often do – it’s a holdover from my journalism experience where many rules are broken. We who call ourselves writers feel that it is okay to break the rules if we know that we are breaking them, and sometimes I do, know that I am breaking the rules, that is).

—  And I just saw and heard Sarah Palin, whiny voice and all, stating to the crowd “doggone it, government is the problem not the solution.” So I must ask: then why do you want so much to be part of it Mrs. Palin?

 



 

Correction: I incorrectly stated in a recent blog that the Catholic-run hospital in my city was a for-profit business. It is a non-profit run by Catholic Healthcare West.


The socialization of America; a war loss…

October 14, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

I think our economy is fundamentally unsound and what we are doing now, the bailouts and what amounts to a partial nationalization or socialization of the economy by our government, will only act as a band-aid or a pill that at best will temporarily mask the symptoms of what ails us.

Admittedly I know little of economics, but like most of us, it has been so much in the news these past several weeks and in so much detail, I feel like after all these years I really do understand some of the fundamentals.

Before I go any further, I would suggest reading a piece by Harvard lecturer and economist and Libertarian Jeffrey Miron, now posted on CNN Politics.com. While I have never thoroughly bought into libertarianism, I think that they seem to be the only true conservatives (and they are liberal on social issues, although not government involvement in social issues).

Back to my thoughts: I will wander here, as I sometimes do. But last night while I was trying to read a novel, I had the TV on low and caught a portion of some finance commentators from Britain, I believe. They read an e-mail from someone who complained about the bailouts and also noted that he began his career as a gofer for some financial firm in 1969 at $129 (American) per week. “Now these guys come out of college and think they should start at $200,000 per year.”

Wandering still: I note that Barack Obama has the political guts or maybe savvy to concede in his stump speech that although a lot of our problems are caused by greed and malfeasance on Wall Street, there is also blame to those on Main Street, so to speak, who knew they were getting in over their heads and did it anyway. I think he is being honest there and is also trying to appeal to the centrists, much as I believe Bill Clinton often did. I recall that at one time during his presidency Clinton was referred to as a centrist or maybe even a slightly conservative or “new” Democrat.

Whatever, he supposedly balanced the budget and left office with a surplus. Actually I think that is a lot of accounting trickery that both the major parties engage in, such as when they propose new spending, then cut that proposed new spending slightly and claim they have reduced government spending. This charade is aided and abetted by the news media, which in some cases does not understand what is going on and in others just settles for it because to do otherwise takes too many paragraphs of explanation.

All that aside, Clinton was aided by a robust economy, the Dot Com bubble, as I recall, was a big part of it. But under Clinton the federal budget was balanced (in governmentspeak anyway) and Welfare reform was enacted, something you would have expected Republicans to do.

Bush came into office promising to keep taxes low (especially for folks who could most afford to pay them in the first place) and to loosen government control on free enterprise. He now prepares to leave office while presiding over the biggest socialization of government since Franklin Delano Roosevelt (maybe bigger).

It seems that a lot of the laissez faire free enterprise folks, to include George W., don’t have the courage of their convictions. To be sure, this bailout and nationalization stuff has caused a split in the GOP, which will in part to be blamed for John McCain losing the election, as he at this time seems destined to do. I still think he could win if the stock market were to stay up and gasoline prices kept falling, and if there were to be some attack on the nation or if as I read in another blog that the Bush Administration is able to announce that Osama Bin Laden has been caught. Now this does not make sense. But the voting record of the American electorate is often driven by fear and emotion. This time around it does seem,though, that folks – the Palin contingent aside – seem to be looking at things more thoughtfully and more people are taking part.

What I meant to say in this blog and did not get around to, is that our economy is fundamentally unsound because we (as a nation) have spent too much time consuming and not enough time making. When we get back to the making, which we are quite capable of doing, conditions will improve greatly, I feel. When we get back to investing in our own nation and not industry elsewhere and not in nation building in the Middle East, things will turn around.

Still wandering, but I fear that all of this government infusion into the economy is going to lead to wild inflation. I just heard an economic pundit on TV say that he thinks we are in danger of going into something worse than the Great Depression. We’ll have high unemployment but unlike the Great Depression, we’ll also have inflation.

Wouldn’t it have been better to let the investment banks and other banks fail and be replaced by new bankers who would operate like the bankers of old, prudently?

And finally, I want to jump to the subject of war. In all of this economic upheaval we have forgotten about the wars we are fighting.

Unlike Vietnam (something a couple of generations now have no memory of), there is no draft and the numbers of casualties and troops involved are much smaller (but no less important). But people are dying and being gravely wounded and none of us really know what for, beyond the jingoistic phrases of “fighting terror” or “fighting for freedom”, that have no thought behind them.

I want to mention this because I was thinking about a boyhood acquaintance that dates back to first through fifth grade. He had a stutter, and beyond that I can only describe him as the typical all-American boy. He probably did not do well in school (I don’t know. Our family moved after fifth grade). I recall going over to his house and a bunch of us kids playing on the slip and slide he had just got. I often think back to those kids because it was a time when we were all so happy, free and easy, with no responsibilities (at least I didn’t have any).

I had just got through entertaining my youngest daughter with my memories of that kid who stuttered (not about his stutter, just the fun) and went back into the house to go on the computer. Quite by chance I ran across his name. He died as a Marine in Vietnam from enemy fire.

None of us knew what that war was all about either, except something about fighting for the cause of freedom, and yet no one was freed, except from life on earth.


Cool is conquering crotchety in election…

October 9, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It has become the contest of the crotchety old geezer against the cool kid, and cool is winning.

Republican John McCain is strident and does demonstrate policy knowledge gained from nearly three decades in Washington. But there is a certain angry and desperate edge to his demeanor that subtracts from what we would like to see as a leader in these extremely difficult times.

On the other hand, the Democrat Barack Obama exudes calm. In fact, it seems the more he is attacked and baited, the calmer he gets. Certainly he must be exasperated. But he is cool enough to know not to fall into the trap of being called an “angry black man.” He does not have the luxury of simply appearing as a forceful white military officer. We still have certain double standards in our society, the vestiges of racism. Then again, maybe Mr. Obama is just naturally unflappable (we have, though, seen him bristle ever so little at times – he is human after all). Obama does not claim to have all the answers as McCain does. He does demonstrate that he understands the problems we face and has ideas and can reason with others. McCain brags he is a “maverick” who loves to cross party lines, but his demeanor suggests one who is super sensitive to criticism or perceived slights, and who demands hero worship.

Asked about the fact that the McCain campaign is pressing its charge that Obama has consorted with a terrorist, William “Bill” Ayers, and that he is disloyal, but that in the debate McCain did not bring it up, Obama cooly noted that he wished McCain had the guts to charge him to his face.

When McCain referred to Obama as “that one” in the debate Tuesday night, I did not see it as a slight or sign of disrespect, it was just a rhetorical flourish to show some supposed irony about the way Obama voted on a particular bill. On reflection, though, I have to say that McCain acts as if he has no respect whatsoever for his opponent, even though some time ago he had promised to run a civil campaign. He’s getting desperate.

McCain talks as if the fact that he’s been in Washington for nearly three decades and has “been in on every foreign policy decision,” his words, and spent five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of War camp gives him an automatic ticket to the White House.

First of all, I wouldn’t brag about being in on every foreign policy decision considering the mess we are in now with our military way over extended and world opinion being more negative toward us than any time in history (even our friends don’t like us).

And just how being a prisoner of war qualifies one to be president, please tell me.

McCain’s biggest liability is what he brags about being, a maverick. I really don’t know what his complete record is in the congress and senate, and at this point I really don’t care. But he has been so erratic during these past few financially turbulent weeks that such should be enough to convince folks he’s a little unstable or confused. The economy is “fundamentally sound”; we are in an “economic crisis”, two McCain assessments made within 24 hours. He tried to explain such away by saying “fundamentally sound” referred to the work force. Absurd. If that were so he would have said “work force,” not “economy”.

Choosing a woman to be his running mate seemed to me like a bold move at first, that is until I saw and heard more from this heretofore unknown. Now that I have gotten to know Sarah Palin I see her for what she is: a right wing reactionary demagogue who always goes for the lowest common denominator. So many people, from ones who are wealthy today to those who live in the ghetto, share something in common, they sought help from their government when they needed it. Even Palin has proclaimed that she is a recipient of women’s rights measures in civil rights legislation. But at the same time, Palin mocks government. We have freedom of speech in this nation, but anyone who doesn’t think as Palin or McCain is suspect, in their minds, or not ready to be president, as if Palin were. When Obama votes against one military funding bill, but supports another, he is voting against the troops, they say. No one votes against the troops. No one votes not to supply food and shelter and ammunition to the troops. To suggest otherwise is nonsense on its face. People who call for “supporting the troops” generally are using that slogan as a rhetorical device to stifle debate on the underlying policy that puts troops in harm’s way and keeps them there for such extended periods of time.

And contrast the shrill Cindy McCain who charges out on the stump that Obama somehow endangered her son in Iraq by voting a certain way in the Senate, to Michelle Obama’s graceful handling of the question of whether she thought McCain the candidate disrespected her husband by referring to him as “that one”. She said, “no not at all.”

Palin, a college graduate herself, mocks education, and refers to common folk as “Joe Six Pack.” She also refers to the concerns of “soccer moms” or “hockey moms” as if they were Stepford wives with no brains of their own, thinking and acting in unison. I’m sure neither of the afore mentioned groups are in total agreement among each other, but Palin cynically tries to appeal to prejudice and ignorance. Don’t think. Just react.

Just as Palin claims Obama is not fit to lead, I fear for the safety and dignity of this nation should she ever reach the White House. With McCain’s age and health, there’s too much danger of this undignified light weight becoming president. Despite her claim to be a conservative, many of the conservatives are in despair over her candidacy. There is actually a rift now between the less sophisticated conservatives and some of the more learned and I think genuine conservatives because of Palin.

Sorry for the diatribe on Palin. But the fact McCain chose her without even vetting her (we know now that he barely knew anything about her), says something, too much, about his irrationality.

McCain is also the man who sang bomb bomb bomb Iran, to the tune of Barbara Ann. A good joke I admit, but hardly an example of Teddy Roosevelt speak softly and carry a big stick policy that McCain always says he admires. And a leader of the free world should not be so flip.

He threw out the line or two at Tuesday night’s debate about coming up with his own original idea about the government buying up mortgages and renegotiating them at diminished value. Now we find out that it just means the government would eat the difference but give the total payoff to the banks up front. I’m not sure this is much different than what is proposed under the new bailout law, and I am not even sure that it is a bad idea, but I understand it is not original. Hillary Clinton proposed a similar approach on mortgages during the primary. But of course back then McCain said that would be government usurping the role of free enterprise (today we are finding out there is nothing free in free enterprise).

And that brings to mind another rift among the conservatives and among the Republicans in general. Bush, their man, pushed through the biggest socialization of free enterprise in the history of this nation. True conservatives should not be happy about that. And McCain suggests having the government buy up mortgages and then setting a lower value on property. Yikes! Adam Smith has to be rolling in his grave. And all this thanks to the conservative Republicans.

Maybe conservatism is dead. If true conservatism is anything like what has been supported by the Republican party since Nixon, thank goodness.

Once upon a time conservatism was about preserving the basic values of democracy and the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and support of the Bill of Rights, and of resistance to rapid change, and holding to accepted moral values. Then came Nixon who introduced a kind of meanness. He was an eager participant in the communist witch hunts of the late 40s and early 50s (now I don’t think he was wrong to fight what he saw as communist subversion, but it is said he tarred the reputations of innocent people in his zeal and often just threw around the word “communist” as a distraction, rather than argue on honest issues). Then in the late 60s and early 70s Nixon led the vile and cynical Southern Strategy that fed on racial prejudice, turning the Party of Lincoln (who freed the slaves) into the party of white bigotry. And if there was a war of choice, even more than ours in Iraq today, it was Vietnam. Americans have a right to oppose wars of choice, I believe (technically they have a right to oppose any war). But first under a Democratic administration and then under the Republicans, the idea that dissent on war or war policy even in wars fought for ambiguous reasons is disloyal has become vogue among those who call themselves conservatives.

When you consider the situation we are in today with the wars in the Middle East, you have to realize that to say we cannot reassess our situation but must continue on no matter what and to do otherwise is treason is illogical and beyond all reason. We have to look again at what we are trying to achieve (hard to do since it has never been made fully clear or the reasons have changed) and assess whether our goals are attainable. No one would reasonably argue against true defense of our nation. But gaining control of oil lands and nation building is not purely self defense. And we need to look at the moral aspect as well. Our Founding Fathers did not intend for ours to be a conquering nation. But then again, maybe they were not conservative for their time. They had the newer notion that people should be able to live free and peacefully and not be ruled by unquestionable authority. That was a liberal idea for the time.

I doubt whether most Americans concern themselves a lot about “liberalism” and “conservatism” and even “socialism”, though these terms are bandied about by candidates and political pundits (I must admit, though, liberalism has joined socialism as being an epithet in the popular lexicon, even though we seem now headed for a little more of both, go figure).

Personally, I believe in preserving our form of democracy using what works for the time. Maybe we could call it “Americanism.”


Obama and Ayers, McCain and Keating…

October 5, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

John McCain’s pit bull with lipstick Sarah Palin is going around accusing Barack Obama of consorting with terrorists because it is known that he has had some connection with admitted late 60s, early 70s radical bomb thrower William “Bill” Ayers, a member of the Weatherman terrorist organization, who is now a college professor at the University of Illinois, at Chicago, and a neighbor of Obama.

(I don’t know if McCain is talking about the alleged Obama-Ayers connection yet, but I would not be surprised if it comes up in Tuesday night’s debate.)

Of course when Ayers was throwing his bombs, Obama was just a kid. Ayers although charged later had his charges dropped after a court ruled that there was prosecutorial misconduct. Ayers donated $200 to an Obama state election campaign in Illinois. And Obama and Ayers have had mutual connections with more than one non-profit organization. Whether there ever has been any personal relationship between the two or whether they actually worked together on any projects, other than attended the same meetings, is unclear.

Certainly it would not seem like Ayers is one that anyone running for president should have kept company with. But in politics one brushes up with a lot of less than savory characters. I think Palin is implying that Obama and Ayers have conspired in some plot to destroy the American way of life.

Although considered by many, not all, to be a respectable part of the community in Chicago nowadays, Ayers is reportedly unrepentant about his radical past. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “I don’t regret setting the bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.”

It is important to note that people, including policemen and security guards, and some of the terrorists themselves, were killed in Weatherman bombings and an armored car heist.

Just as Obama has publicly distanced himself from the Rev. Wright, I think he should make a public statement about Ayers.

I would have a hard time voting for someone who has had a direct connection with such a person as Ayers, unless he was ignorant of the man’s past and could show he had reason to be ignorant of it and that of course any dealings he has had were not illegal or subversive. And he should publicly denounce Ayers.  Ayers’ reported admission to bombings is I suppose not actual proof that he really was involved or at least involved in bombings that resulted in death. But the public has to wonder why a seemingly admitted killer can go free and even be a college professor at a public institution.

While I think it is a little late in the game to be coming up with this kind of attack, I do think the McCain camp has a legitimate issue.

But, John McCain’s connection with Charles Keating of the Savings and Loan Scandal of the 1980s is much more clear. Keating bilked 21,000 investors, most of them elderly, out of their savings, totaling $285 million. McCain accepted political contributions from Keating and went to bat for him before regulators (McCain’s line is that he just introduced him as a constituent, sure, and just your presence there meant nothing senator). Keating was eventually convicted of fraud and racketeering.

Two wrongs do not make a right. But since we’re talking about connections Sarah….


Mr. Wall Street: ‘Your money or your life!’

September 26, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

The word this morning is that John McCain will take part in the debate this evening and apparently those pushing the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill are hell bent on getting it done today (tonight).

 I find myself in the strange position of being on the side of those House Republicans who yesterday were holding out for some different type of bill that would use private money (government guarateed, I guess) instead of the straight bailout. I don’t know what the status of all that is now and whether they were sincere or just making a show for the folks back home who are skeptical.

I thought the political cartoon in my local newspaper this morning said it all: A big fat cat Wall Street tycoon was sitting up against a wall and begging to a little older couple with a sign that reads: “Please get me out of debt, or I’ll be forced to ruin us all.” The little slender old man is standing there with his hands in his pockets while the wife hands the sobbing tycoon some cash from her purse. I think we are all asked to be that lady.

It is hard to swallow that a whole society can be dependent upon those who borrow and leverage and borrow on what they borrowed and leverage and anyway, make money on money they never had in the first place (and pardon me if I don’t tell this is strict or correct financial language, I’m a layman).

Perhaps as a society it is our collective fault for not paying enough attention to the inner workings of our economy and letting ourselves be misled by leaders who don’t understand it themselves and that goes for those in both major parties.

And I am still scratching my head trying to figure out what the urgency is in this bailout thing. I realize it would not be a good thing to let the financial market go down the tubes in a panic because it thought phony money was not available anymore. But folks, if it is all that bad, we need to fix the system. That should be the urgency, and that may take a little more time.

And by the by, I plan to watch the debate tonight. I think this could be the most important presidential debate that has ever taken place. I plan to blog on it afterwards. And now for anyone who is interested, my previous blog follows:

I now recall seeing an earlier tape – was it Monday? – of Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby asking Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake if they had thought of an alternative to the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan. I don’t think Paulson answered – he seemed to just sit there bewildered and speechless (maybe he did mumble something), anyway I didn’t think much of it.

But a self-satisfied Shelby, chairman of the senate banking committee, came out of the specially-called Bush meeting Thursday afternoon before anyone else and told reporters: “There’s no deal.”

Where it all stands today, who knows? It’s like a Howie Mandel Deal- No Deal game.

What will Wall Street, picked up Thursday by hopes for a deal, think today?

This $700 Billion giveaway plan for Wall Street is one of the most bizarre, implausible and maybe even frightening turn of events ever. A Republican president proposed to bail out gambling investors on Wall Street, threatening that failure to do so would be the near instant ruination of the whole nation’s economy, with implications world wide.

(No one argues that there is not something terribly wrong right now with the economy. No one, not even the administration, though, is claiming to know exactly how to fix it.  Supposedly, the government might eventually recoup losses – make money, I don’t know – in the plan to buy up bad debt. While the official price tag is put at $700 Billion, the $1 trillion figure is often used, especially when the already-approved bailouts are counted.)

And it gets stranger all the time. Now we have Democrats seemingly pushing for a quick movement on a bill, but one with “safeguards” and help for some distressed homeowners who can’t make their mortgages and provisions to prevent Wall Street executives from getting multi-million dollar perks after receiving tax-payer dollars to bail them out. Some Republicans are on board too, but reportedly some 100 House Republicans are not.

A poll I heard on Thursday said that one third of the voters are against it, one third for it, and one third undecided.

The latest is that the objecting Republicans are proposing that it all go back to the drawing board and that a plan that would use private capital (probably much less than $700 billion), with some government incentives, such as tax breaks, be presented. And actually, that in principle, sounds reasonable to me.

It’s hard to tell what the motivations by the various parties are.

I suppose the original idea just to hand over $700 billion with no questions asked was never popular with most Republicans, let alone Democrats, especially since it was from a Republican president. On the other hand, they might have supported it if they really thought the world would come to an end otherwise. And some Republicans may have deviously thought, well at least it will help business and if the Democrat Barack Obama is elected it will tie his hands somewhat in getting social legislation through.

Then came the outcry from the constituency. Especially staunch conservatives or just citizens with a sense of fair play. You can’t just say when the man on the street makes a poor or unfortunate financial decision that it is his problem, don’t go crying to government, but when Wall Street investors make a bad or a just plain reckless move, the taxpayer must bail them out.

Meantime, Democrats saw the hypocrisy of the bailout and the cost, but thought, oh well, if it must be done let’s at least tack on some programs we want – and that was good politics.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain did not know what to think. But now he seems to be pushing some type of bailout (he was against it before he was for it), what type, we don’t know. And of course, meantime, he has suspended his campaign and threatened not to take part in tonight’s (Friday) presidential debate. Many think this is all a ploy. I suspect for the most part it is. It is a rather weak argument to suggest one cannot run for president and make decisions at the same time. Isn’t that after all, making decisions, pretty much the job of the president? Why even George W. Knows that – “I’m the Decider” (although not-so-much now).

Both presidential candidates were at Thursday’s meeting at the invitation of Bush. Actually McCain apparently was the one who came up with the idea to drop everything and put the debate on hold so he could run back to Washington to play hero (he didn’t seem to get anywhere Thursday). Obama reluctantly agreed. And in a statement late in the day, long after Shelby made his “no deal” announcement, Obama implied that he and McCain due to the politics of the whole thing may have actually been a distraction (of course they are politicians). McCain for his part said he was hopeful something (what?) could be passed soon.

P.S. That Hillary might replace Biden as VP thing I inserted as a new lead in my last blog came out of the Drudge Report (as reported somewhere else) and the report said that while it was just a rumor, the usual myth debunkers, such as Snopes and one the Obama campaign has set up, are neither confirming nor denying it. I usually would not bother with something so thin, but I couldn’t pass it up. It seems plausible (if a little Eagleton-like risky). It’s hard to know where the presidential race stands now with polls contradicting each other. Some say McCain is falling on his face, others say he’s made some crafty or clever moves, such as the suspending campaign move and picking Palin – and then there’s always the race card.  And if Obama says he’s “behind Biden one hundred percent”, don’t quit your day job Joe.


Political confusion, division, indifference…

September 16, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

While I don’t think one can put all the blame on the wars we are fighting for our current economic crisis, they sure play a major role. You just can’t spend billions of dollars every week on war and not have it take a toll on the U.S. treasury (estimated total, $3 trillion). We don’t tax directly to supply the war effort. Instead we borrow money from foreign nations, to include the oil-rich Middle East nations and China.

And I would like to write a blog without mentioning the lipstick on a pig woman (and I’m not really calling her a pig – I actually have a soft spot for pigs, real swine that is), but I read an opinion piece in the New York Times online that suggests that some conservatives are uneasy with John McCain’s vice presidential pick. They actually think experience matters. The piece is interesting in that the author brings out something I have noticed but would have had a harder time describing. It has to do with the fact that conservatism in America has a divide between traditional conservatism and a kind of uniquely American populist conservatism (and then there is neo conservatism, but I’m not going into that today). The best example I could think of along these lines is that in my neck of the woods folks whom might normally be considered part of the base of the Democratic Party, so-called working class or tradespeople, more often than not align themselves with conservative Republicans. They liken Democrats to the flag-burning, pot smoking, unpatriotic hippie war protestors of the past. Now for sure there is a lot of contradiction here. Some of those who detest the so-called left wing radicals of the past (the 60s) were part of that rabble themselves. I actually had a right wing guy confide in an e-mail to me that he was a hippie war protestor back in the 60s and never served in the military. He changed his mind. Today he sees politics as basically Bush or Reagan type Republicans against left leaning appeasers who would sell out their own country and run away from a fight in a second. Also, as a truck driver, I worked with a lot of guys who seemed to follow the conservative line, but admit that they were pot smoking anti-war, almost hippie types, but they served in Vietnam (and most seem proud of it, even though they realize it was a hopeless and misguided cause).

While I think that the bulk of the troops who were drafted and actually served in combat in the Vietnam War from the lower end of the economic scale, there were also those from nearly every level of society and every political persuasion (and as in society as a whole, no political persuasion). They were drafted, they did their duty as required by law, and if they were fortunate, they got to come home after two years or less, one year approximately of Vietnam service required.

Not to disparage our current all-volunteer military, but it primarily has to draw from those in search of employment who might not be able to find it elsewhere. Even though that force is fighting valiantly (by all accounts), it seems there is something inherently unfair in having primarily one part of society do our fighting and sacrificing for us. If all were subject to service and all were subject to sacrifice, we would as a nation be more selective in our use of military force, but more committed  toward meaningful results once the decision was made.

Another way to look at all of this is that in the world of politics, you have college educated people who look at things one way, and non-college educated people, who tend to see things from another perspective. To the latter, right and left and liberal and conservative are esoteric terms that carry little meaning or significance or even clear recognition (although calling someone “liberal” and “leftist” does seem to be an epithet). To them, you are either common sense and practical or you are someone with your nose in books and your head in the clouds and just don’t get it (in effect, you are too smart). You are either willing to defend your country (and that means support any military adventure the president initiates) or not. You either support the troops or not.

At any rate, I’m not sophisticated enough to do links correctly, but you can find that column I referred to earlier by calling up New York Times, Sept. 15, David Brooks column, “Why Experience Matters”.

I’m not in favor of re-instituting the military draft at this point, but I do think that if it were, we would quickly be out of our wars. The problem with instituting a draft would be that we have never resolved the issue of how it is we decide to go to war. It seems that despite the fact that the Constitution gives the power to declare war to the Congress, in reality it plays out another way. The president as commander in chief (as designated in the Constitution) can commit troops or take military actions and then essentially black mail the Congress to go along, with the argument that not to do so amounts to treason, and much of the public buys this or is indifferent to this.

The draft would force many to drop their indifference, but it would be unfair to call up people to fight in an unjust war under threat of imprisonment if they don’t.

I may have written here that many people still mistakenly believe we went to war because Iraq attacked us. In reality, I don’t think many believe that by now. It seems apparent that a primarily indifferent or apathetic public just went along with it content that without a draft, who cares? and besides, maybe we can whip those Arabs and get their oil, that would pay them back for gouging us and would send a message to Islamic terrorists (after all we are fighting over there in that world).

Supposedly, there is a lot more interest in the current presidential election than has previously been the case, with voters unhappy about the economy and the war. The turnout in November will tell the tale.

Indifference or not, reckless and unethical practices in the financial markets and the monetary cost of war is responsible for the economic crisis we now face.

Also I agree with a line out of a Barack Obama speech today that blamed our financial mess on: “policies that reward manipulation rather than productivity.”

John McCain rather weakly, I think, claims that he realizes that some things are amiss and that he will work for reform. Rather hard to believe since he has been in Washington for 26 years, and although he has differed from Republican administrations on some issues, for the most part he has gone along. Besides he is counting on the support and votes from the so-called Republican base who got us into this mess. While he may be trying to reach out to undecideds there is no indication he would abandon his base if elected.

When the cost of war and the cost of indifference and apathy toward both war and the out-of-whack financial practices really hits home, the mood will change.

Actually, that gives me hope, for no matter whether Obama or McCain is elected, they will face that mood of the public, who probably won’t be so indifferent anymore.

As to our war effort, strangely I see little difference between Obama and McCain, except that McCain has a natural proclivity for armed conflict.

Maybe Obama is closer to being anti-war, but he wouldn’t dare be too direct about that. I remember what happened to George McGovern.

The war issue is confusing in that there is certainly a terrorist movement, at least somewhat coordinated, and now centered in the Middle East, that means to do us harm (in the manner of 9/11 or worse).

But that just means we need someone level headed and not hot headed who can make reasonable decisions about the deployment of military force and other defense issues. And this is the 21st Century. We need someone who can think in terms of modern realities.

And finally, although I didn’t want to mention her name, Sarah Palin, due to McCain’s age primarily, has a good chance of becoming president. So far, the only knowledge of foreign affairs she has shown is that she says that from some point in Alaska you can see Russia. To realize that she would actually use that point to answer a question about her worldly knowledge, is scary, to say the least.

Setting things straight:

In the initial draft of my previous blog I said something about a woman who said she had no previous interest in politics but was intrigued with Sarah Palin and I went on to suggest that people who have no knowledge of current events should not be able to vote (I was being kind of sarcastic). Anyway, I wrote that after misinterpreting a TV soundbite. I saw the piece later and realized it was not what I thought. But then I read in the paper today that Palin is attracting some former Hillary Clinton supporters. I can’t see the logic there. The only similarity or connection that the two have is that they are both women and that putting them together makes a hilarious Saturday Nigh Live skit. Oh, and I removed my erroneous info and posted a new draft.


Palin and McCain and the big lie…

September 10, 2008

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It’s convenient when you can spew out rhetoric and make claims and charges but don’t have to answer any questions and, so far, that is what Sarah Palin is doing. She does have an interview scheduled this week with ABC’s Charlie Gibson – let’s hope he doesn’t just lob her soft balls – let’s in fact hope he has b…s.

It seems apparent that Palin is at the least stretching the truth and to be more precise, she’s engaging in telling the big lie (s).

This whole notion that Democrats spend our hard-earned money and Republicans try to let us keep more of it is nonsense and we all know it. It’s more a matter of priorities. Republicans have their priorities and Democrats have theirs.

But I am doing a slow burn on this Palin thing. How can she claim in speech after speech – she takes no questions – that she stood up to wasteful spending on the Alaska “bridge to nowhere” when she in fact supported the earmarked project and only changed her tune when the news of the boondoggle reached the public? And how does she claim to not squander federal money when she was the one who initiated the lobbying effort by her Alaska home town where she was the mayor to get federal dollars through the earmark process, a process that avoids public scrutiny?

And then there is the video I saw of her telling a crowd that our soldiers in Iraq are “on a mission from God.” That’s George W. Bush’s line. He said God told him to go into Iraq. It makes no difference whether you are religious or not, our system of government has no place for someone on high who claims to have the ear of God to be our president. Tyrants through the ages have justified their positions and decisions on the premise that they have divine rights, that they are the instrument of God. It’s not that God could not have talked to them, it’s that we only have their word it is so and their word that they even got the message right. I could tell you that God has talked to me and appointed me the supreme leader – will you follow me?

We have freedom of religion in this nation, but in order to ensure that freedom, we have interpreted our First Amendment to mean that church and state must be separate. It is apparent that the Sarah Palins want to make this a theocracy. Then we would be no different, than say, Iran.

I had the impression some time back that John McCain kept his religion private and thought it was something that was separate from politics. I think he has seen that he can get political mileage out of it, though, and he can send Palin out to do the work. But Mrs. Palin, isn’t one of the ten commandments “thou shall not bear false witness” (not lie)?

Another atrocious lie the Republicans are putting out is that Barack Obama does not “support the troops” or does not support our war effort in the Middle East. The truth is that both McCain and Obama support the war effort (even though Obama was against our move into Iraq, he has accepted it as reality), but they have different ideas on emphasis or tactics (in Iraq and Afghanistan). Yes, clearly McCain is the more warlike. He’s indicated that he’s itching for a war with Iran and even Russia. Should that give anyone comfort? Our current president was itching to go to war with Iraq before 9/11 (it’s well documented for anyone who has paid attention or who will read), and as a bonanza for him 9/11 occurred. Even though Iraq did not attack us he just put forth the message that all those forces over there are against us, you know all those turban-wearing folks (arabs or Muslims they are called in our popular culture, which does not distinguish between Arabs, Persians, Hindus, Sikhs, and anyone who does not dress and talk like most of us) and much of the public along with the congress and the gutless national media, afraid of losing the ratings game, went along with it too for the most part.

Now here’s a weird thing. I think the Republicans could win this election even if they told the truth. It would be harder for them, but it could be done. They apparently have not chosen that route to the White House.

Anyone, especially professional journalists, needs to without editorializing, insert the truth, as explanatory background, into any and all of their stories and not just throw out quotes or sound bites without explanation, background, and context. Obama needs to not so calmly refute the lies (and I guess he is doing that).

Republicans see business and commerce taking the lead in priorities with social needs being met by resulting prosperity and volunteerism for the most part. Democrats see a larger role for government in the realm of social needs, but also support measures that they feel will stimulate and/or create a robust economy. Both parties are wedded to the capitalist system, as is the largest part of the world’s economy. Republicans accuse or imply the Democrats as engaging in socialism or even communism, and Democrats in turn often imply that Republicans are fascists. In economics there might be a difference between the right and left ideologies, but in human liberties, there is none. Both extremes believe the individual always has to submit to the needs of the state. I have always thought that the American public is pretty much in the middle ground, but can be swayed by events of the time. Desperation in a poor economy can lead folks to the far left (a dirty secret is that a lot of red-blooded freedom-loving Americans flirted with communism in the Great Depression of the 1930s), and fear can lead the voters to the police state and authoritarian mentality of the far right.

I was never a McCain fan, but I think I could have been. This tactic of his – the lies, lies, lies – is pretty much a deal breaker with me.

In all campaigns the truth is often at least somewhat distorted but this thing McCain is doing is over the top. He’s probably rationalizing to himself that he needs to do this to get elected and then he will do fine and honest things for his country. But he has ruined his credibility with me.

I wrote about earmarks and pork barrel spending in my last blog. And on that subject I have noticed that McCain often pokes fun at certain so-called pork or earmarked projects. I pointed out one in a blog a month or more ago. McCain ridiculed federal dollars being spent on research into “hard red winter wheat.” As I pointed out, he apparently did not understand that his own state raises wheat and that the program he was castigating with a throw-away line, had to do with developing a disease-resistant strain – something important to our economy and to fight world hunger. But it’s part of a pattern. Say anything to get elected.

One thing I would criticize Obama on is that he is making a lot of expensive promises. But that does not bother me so much, because he is setting out his priorities. Everything has to be approved by the congress and the congress is still elected by the voters.

This election really is about the philosophy on what the government’s priorities and responsibilities should be. I am looking forward to the debates between Obama and McCain and hope that they will be conducted in such a manner that the issues can be discussed and argued and the lies and distortions left out.

P.S. It seems apparent to me that race is an issue in this campaign. If the election is close, as the polls suggest now, Obama could well lose when both not-so-well educated and educated white folks cannot get themselves to vote for a black man for president, even though they may agree with his positions. To be honest, I am not totally sold on Obama. But I would hope to God that I would not make my final decision based on the color of someone’s skin.

P.S. P.S. Democrats are vulnerable among some of the so-called (and hard to define) working class who believe that the Democratic elite get their education and good jobs and then get into politics and sit up on high and create victim groups whom they condescendingly promise to rescue but whom they shelter themselves from in their own lives. The working class also chafes at protests that seem un-American as when the American flag is burned or the Mexican flag flown or when a preacher of a certain race rails against the government making scurrilous charges, or when a candidate seems to have ties with someone who advocates violence and insurrection (Weather Underground). And working people who have to labor to support their families and pay doctor bills and worry about losing their jobs are just as concerned about the ranks of baby creating freeloaders as they are of mean-spirited rich Republicans.

Obama to his credit in his acceptance speech and elsewhere has called for parents and fathers in particular to step up to the plate and be responsible. He made a misstep when he told a private audience that when folks are scared they cling to their guns and religion.

And McCain said something to the effect during his questioning at the Saddleback mega-church that you have to make $5 million or so to be considered rich – we know he was just being flip or careless in his speech. He even acknowledged as soon as the remark came out that he had flubbed.

But, when the race is close, anything and everything you say can come back to bite you.

 

P.S. P.S. P.S. Obama at Saddleback answered a question about when life begins by saying the answer was “above my pay grade.” His running mate, Joe Biden, used that phrase on another subject in a separate interview. I’d suggest they drop that phrase. This is too serious of a contest for such flip and silly expressions.


Earmarks for hogs, not congressional pork…

September 10, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

I’ve heard of pork barrel spending all my life, but it was only a year or two or three or so ago that I began to notice the term “earmarking.” It’s become quite a political buzz word and gets commentators and reporters and politicians, and I suppose voters, all excited.

I was a little confused and a little embarrassed to admit to myself even that I really didn’t know what a “congressional earmark” was specifically. Sure I’ve heard of an earmark on a hog or a cow, and I have heard of the term that so much money in the budget is “earmarked” for, say, public safety, meaning that the dollars are allocated to a certain category or purpose. But this earmarking that we’re constantly hearing about all the time, such as for the infamous Alaska “bridge to nowhere” project, is something more specific and restrictive. Earmarks don’t get the normal legislative scrutiny or administrative oversight.

I’ve also read now that many earmarks are not even in legislation, but come in supplemental reports to legislation, and many lawmakers either never see these or at least do not get a chance to actually vote on the earmark itself. And while such an earmark might technically not have the force of law, any government agency that would ignore it would face the wrath of those who pushed it next time that agency’s budget came under review. In other words, it’s just the way we do things folks.

Happy and relieved was I when I read that there is no precise legal definition of what an earmark is, especially since I have a BA degree in political science (something that I usually do not disclose in public or rough company).

Republican presidential candidate John McCain claims to have never put forth an earmark in his nearly three decades in the congress. (It is claimed, though, that he has sought at least a couple of earmarks, but since there is no precise definition, how could you prove or disprove it?)

McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin admitted in a newspaper piece she wrote that as a politician in Alaska she has sought earmarks, claiming that the realities of the budget process forced her to.

From my initial reading, it appears that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is no stranger to the earmark game, with an unsuccessful $1 million request tied to his wife’s employer, Chicago Medical Center, and a successful one for $1.3 million for General Dynamics, on whose board sits a large campaign contributor, who is also an Obama campaign staffer.

Strangely, I find all this fuss somewhat disingenuous (and I did say “somewhat”). I thought voters often elected politicians, especially members of congress (both houses), partly on how much bacon they could bring home for the district. It is understood that an elected official has a dual role in representing his or her own constituency, as well as the people as a whole. But when push comes to shove, we want that defense plant in our district and we don’t want our Air Force Base closed.

When I began high school, my family lived in a rented house on the Sacramento River. It just so happened that was the year they put the rip rap along the banks, giant boulders that protected the river banks from erosion. Without that rip rap, the banks would cave in. The river had already changed its course at various places. People lost river front real estate, homes, and parts of orchards, one row at a time, from erosion. A congressman of the Democratic party was responsible in large part for that project. That was way back in 1963. All these years later, that area is solid Republican. But I’ll bet even the Republicans, especially ones who own land along that river, are happy for the pork that Democratic congressman brought back home.

Surprise overnight political star Alaska governor Palin claims to have fought against earmarks, but apparently she is not truthful in her claims. From what I’ve read, the record shows she supported the bridge to nowhere until the heat was on and then decided to take that same money and spend it on another state project. Her claim that “we told the federal government they could keep their money, that if we wanted a bridge, we’d build it ourselves,” is a campaign fabrication. When she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she reportedly introduced the idea of lobbying for federal earmarks for her town and was quite successful.

Even before I became acquainted with the term “congressional earmark” I was aware of the concept, because ever since I can remember at least once a year at budget time there were news stories about how congress inserted items into bills such as giving some constituent a break on his tax bill.

Special favors such as tax breaks or spending for individuals is wrong, a fact that’s proven by the stealth in which it is done.

In fact, transparency in government business is always the answer for creating better government.

Without knowing all the facts, I wouldn’t automatically fault a politician for using earmarks and I kind of think it’s something we have accepted through the years as “the way business is done in the real world of politics.”

But McCain rails against earmarks and Obama has called for “transparency” in the government’s business.

On this I agree with the sentiments of both and hope they live up to their ideals.


White boy looks toward Barack Obama…

September 7, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

In my last blog, this white boy wrote that it almost made him feel guilty to not pledge his vote for John McCain.

Another way of looking at this whole thing is that maybe it’s just the Democrats’ turn in the White House.

We are in a recession and probably going into a modern day and somewhat softer version (we can only hope) of The Great Depression and are bogged down in Middle Eastern conflict and powerless to react to the Russians in Georgia or anywhere else. And what if the Chinese decided to turn on us? What if they called our loans? (And by the by, the government is taking over two major home loan giants and the latest I heard is that while U.S. stockholders will lose, China, holding “preferred stock”, will not. We can thank both major parties for this mess, I’m sure.)

While John McCain claims he is going to change things in his own party (fight big spending and end corruption), that seems highly unlikely when you really look at it, especially when he has toted the party line 90 percent or more of the time, helping to run up the highest budget deficit in history (he did co-author McCain-Feingold, but so what?). I do imagine, though, he has some intra-party scores to settle (his version of reform). 

With all the mess, why would a majority of the voters want to renew the eight-year Republican hold on the White House? Could the Democrats really do worse? No answer necessary.

And if you’re looking for government to be more responsive to individuals and not just be the toady of big business and the enabler of outsourcing of American jobs, then you have to vote Democrat, not a guarantee, but really the only chance. McCain has said we have to go with the “global economy” which is code for capital go where the labor is cheapest and forget about allegiance to your own country and those who gave their blood for you. McCain does offer some vague notion of retraining the workforce – probably to work at McDonalds or Walmart. And anyway, not everyone is cut out to be a computer programer, or high tech, if that’s what he has in mind. And how stable is a society in which the workforce has to constantly retrain for jobs? As different as our society is today than say, the 1960s or 70s, you will find that most of the conventional jobs (not all) are still in demand, but often the demand is for cheaper foreign labor or the demand is in nations who still consider producing actual products a worthwhile endeavor.

And while I’m at this rant, and while I am not a union member, what is the difference between unions, which seek to control and protect labor, and trade associations or cartels or monopolies, which control availability of the product? Weren’t the craftsmen of ancient civilizations who formed guilds really independent businessmen, controlling the price and availability of their products, and weren’t these guilds the forerunners of unions?

We move on. Need health insurance? McCain has some vague suggestion about improving the private offerings. I can tell you that if you are ill and can’t work and can’t keep up with the cost of private insurance and find that to get on Medicare or other such programs you have a two-year waiting period, McCain offers nothing for you. And that free market choice might well be useless if your income is not high enough. But we just couldn’t cover everyone like all other western democracies do. No, hold on die-hard capitalists. I know there is no such thing as “free” health care, but there is such a thing as shared costs. Even capitalists cooperate with each other in consortiums to purchase things such as fuel. Some family farmers, good capitalists that they are, actually market their crops through, dare I say, “cooperatives,” and of course dutifully vote no on any social program to help farm workers or other disadvantaged folks (not all do this, but that has been the Farm Bureau recommendation through the years).

As much as the electorate has kind of wanted but also resisted universal health care, any suggestion that folks give up or lose any of their Social Security benefits is met with solid resistance. Messing with Social Security is an election loser, just ask all those Republicans kicked out of congress last election.

And I and anyone else who writes or blogs should have called out the Republicans, to include Sarah Palin and McCain, on their claim that Barack Obama does not believe in defending the USA. Nowhere have I heard or read (except in Republican rhetoric) that Obama or the Democrats as a whole do not want to defend America. I think Obama questions the rationale of going into Iraq, but also realizes that it is a done deal, and is now trying to find a practicable way to extricate ourselves.

McCain also wants to extricate us from there, but not before we have scored victory, but he has not defined what that victory is (although I suppose the implication is a stable, pro-U.S. government and an end to violence there, and who could argue with that? – we’re still waiting and the casualties mount). He was strangely silent about Afghanistan in his acceptance speech. Obama wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden hung out and even go into Pakistan if need be to get bin Laden. For some strange reason the Bush administration gave up on hunting him, even though going after him is what started our current involvement in the Mid East debacle in the first place. Maybe they want bin Laden to stay out there as a symbol of why we need to be in perpetual war. It’s nice to have a war that makes money for contractors and creates obligations that rival funds that otherwise might go to social programs that are anathema to Republican philosophy. Those billions of dollars would be better spent on a moon shot program by the government to create true energy independence. Had we already achieved that, we would not be embroiled in Middle East wars today, I am sure. I say again, it’s all about oil.

 I certainly do not want to disparage the efforts of our military in Iraq (or Afghanistan). In fact, I am reading an interesting book, “The Strongest Tribe,” which has accounts of bravery betrayed and makes my blood boil. But I have to take issue with that constant unthinking throw away line the Republicans and other war enthusiasts use: “they’re fighting for our freedom.” We have a professional, non-conscript military, fighting for its country and being paid to do so. I will grant that there is always a presumption that when our military fights it is in the name of freedom. But in this instance it seems that it is a volunteer force fighting on the orders of its employer, the U.S. government. Fighting for freedom has become kind of an abstract and feel good and morale building concept. I would only concede that in some indirect fashion it is felt that our struggle does something to strengthen our hand in world power and thereby help us preserve our own way of life. But it’s a mean world and when you go that direction, you give in to the argument for eternal war.

In Iraq today we cannot really say why we are there for we have had many theories in that regard, to include: we were enforcing UN sanctions, even though the UN did not authorize us to. The Bush administration has also said we are trying to help the Iraqis establish democracy. I don’t recall them asking us to and I wonder why that would be our job anyway. And I wonder why Bush originally chided Bill Clinton over attempts at “nation building” and said he, Bush, was against “nation building.” And in a big lie to top any Nazi propaganda, Bush has claimed that we are fighting in response to 9/11, even though there is no known connection between Iraq and 9/11 (something we truth seekers get tired of explaining to deaf ears). He and his supporters have also claimed that it was a pre-emptive strike because Saddam Hussein was holding and/or creating “weapons of mass destruction.” Strangely there has never been any evidence gathered on this. Are we to go to war with any nation or in any place where someone has a suspicion that someone or some group is plotting to attack us? We would be in perpetual war – and that notion of perpetual war has been recognized as necessary by Bush and Co. many times. Again, perpetual war gives an excuse to cancel funding for social programs and an excuse for those with an authoritarian bent (which the Republicans seem to be) to implement the police state – wire tapping without warrant, arrest and search and seizure without warrant, torture. I know, only the bad people have to worry. If you believe that you have not been reading the news or your history.

I think if one listens closely, even allowing for the usual rhetoric, the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, does not just spew out the old line dogma. He seems like a person with a fresh approach who can reason and comprise between factions to get things done. His record is thin, but we certainly have heard him talk.

And, really, after it is all said and done, does McCain give us anything more than talk? Aside from his military adventure, what is so positive about his record?

We grant him his heroism at the hands of his North Vietnamese torturers, but we are looking for a president, not an action hero (we have a phony Republican action hero as governor in California, and he has not made any more headway than his Democratic predecessor).

We are looking for a new approach. Even he, McCain, has called for change.

So, we have an old Republican (who has supported at least 90 percent of the Bush policies, despite his claim to be a “maverick”), and a young Democrat with a fresh approach.

Do we go with a record of failure, or try a new approach?

And after the fun and smiles and wisecracking is over, do we really want this 44-year old cheerleader who is Sarah Palin to be our president, due to a quirk of fate?

I don’t discount Palin’s ability to become a major force in politics – she might even be the ticket for a McCain victory, as strange and weird as it seems. But from what I have heard her say and from what I have read so far, I definitely don’t like her ideas and methods. I would also think she needs more experience on the national stage.

She scoffs at science, doesn’t believe in global warming, does not seem to be concerned about the environment, and is not terribly concerned about personal liberties. She reportedly inquired about having certain books banned at a public library when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. But my does she have spunk. And perhaps on some issues and causes, I would agree with her – I don’t know what – and would be glad to have her fighting for me.

But I’d rather see her get more experience and more time to prove herself. She is probably what the Republican Party Needs. New life, new blood.

The race is still extremely close.

Somehow, I think it is the Democrats’ turn.

Let’s see, the last time we had a Democrat in the White House we had relative peace, a robust economy, and a budget surplus and were on our way to paying off the national debt.

Is there something wrong with that?

 

P.S. I find it strange that folks like Sarah Palin, the mother of a special needs child, would say that she would fight for help for parents of special needs children, but opposes universal health care. So she has her insurance, so we don’t need to have universal coverage. But she thinks the government should help her and others so situated with their problems. Social programs for us, not for you, she says. And she probably doesn’t see the irony or hypocrisy either.