Pondering about why we all can’t be rich…

November 28, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

“Why can’t everyone have money? Why does there have to be the rich and the poor?”

That is what my granddaughter asked her parents who were over for Thanksgiving.

I chimed in something, but it was not much more than her parents offered. We all told her something to the effect that if everyone had as much money as they wanted, money wouldn’t be worth anything.

And now that I think of it, that is about as good an answer as there could be.

It may well be what we are going through right now. With no-money-down houses that could be bought for nothing and then flipped and sold for a profit and with paying for everything with plastic cards rather than money earned, our economic system became some mutant form of capitalism that in effect tried to make everyone rich. It was as if money were virtually being distributed to everyone.

But then something pricked the inflated economic system with a pin and the air was sucked right out of it. All that money, measured in equity never paid for in the first place and inflated mortgage securities based on money that could not be collected, was worthless.

I suppose if we really did live in the fabled Land of Milk and Honey and there was an abundance of everything for everyone, money would not exist.

But reality is that there is not enough of everything to go around in this world and in some cases even if there is a sufficient number of a certain type of thing people want, human nature being what it is, someone will want more than everyone else. So in order to allocate all the stuff we use money. But, I guess to make sure that money has value, it isn’t just distributed evenly. We have to offer something of value to the holder of money in order to get some of that money.

Realize that I’m doing this all off the top of my head, but it occurs to me that Karl Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels thought a working man’s labor was the measure by which all things should be valued. Exactly how they thought one would determine that, I don’t know.

But capitalists see the working man’s labor as worth simply what it costs to get it, but the product that the working man makes is worth not what the working man put into it, but again, how much can be got for it. I realize not everyone actually makes something. Some supply a service, but it’s still effort, and the Marxists I suppose would attempt to put a value on that effort. So do capitalists, but again, the value is what can be had for the product or service, not necessarily what was put into it (although that will be used in part to justify an asking price).

The capitalist system seems to be the natural system. The Marxist system is, to say the least, contrived. I mean one caveman has a pile of rocks he has gathered to throw at dinosaurs and the other caveman wants some, so the first caveman says: “what are you willing to give me for some of my rocks?” The second caveman had an argument with his nagging, but good-looking wife this morning, so he says, “I’ll give you my wife.” Deal. The second caveman did not inquire how much effort went into gathering those rocks and figure on that basis how much the rocks were worth. Okay the quibblers, maybe the Marxists, and even the capitalists would say the second caveman may have considered that although he could gather other rocks himself, it was not worth his time and effort if he could simply buy them from caveman number one (something about opportunity cost?), but that in a way spoils my example – no wonder I’m not so hot at economics.

Some people are either made to be, content to be, or have to settle on being workers. They will be paid for their efforts, but not necessarily according to their efforts, but more likely according to how much they are willing or able to demand for their efforts.

On the other hand, some folks take money for work, but save some of that money back until they accumulate enough to make it work for them by putting it out at interest (letting others pay them for the cost of using it) or investing it into something with the plan that they will reap profits beyond what they have invested. That money they save back is capital, thus they are called capitalists.

Neither the pure capitalist system nor the pure Marxist or socialist systems seem to satisfy whole populations all at one time. So we have the phenomenon of socialist systems incorporating forms of the capitalist system (China and Vietnam as examples) and capitalist systems incorporating forms of the socialist system (Western Europe and the good old USA).

(And yes, for the record, I realize Marxism is a form of socialism and not synonymous with socialism.)

The purists of both ideologies will complain bitterly when their respective governments stray from the preferred system, and the rest of society seeks what offers them survival at the time.

All the foregoing was a gross oversimplification and perhaps not totally accurate, I’m sure, and was not meant to teach anyone anything. It was more thinking out loud.

The public schools really need to instruct the young (everyone) about the theory of economics and the real meaning of money.

Unfortunately, by watching some of the top brains on that subject these past many months, I’m not sure those supposedly in the know really understand much more than I have just written.

P.s. Again, capitalism seems to me the more natural system, and being as it is natural, it allows humans to live life as nature would lead them and not by the rules of authoritarianism that would set up an unnatural model that would inhibit personal freedom. The natural capitalist society, though, requires some rules for civilization and self protection. We’ve seen what happens with a lack of control. And we may find out what happens with too much control.


Victory for Democrats, new freedom for GOP…

November 5, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It’s the day after and this white boy is feeling happy as a clam with the victory of Barack Obama, who is the first black man to be elected president of the United States of America.

Do I think that our savior has arrived and all of our problems are solved? Not quite. But for the first time in my adult life (at age 59) I feel jubilant about a presidential election victory.

Not only have I not approved of George W. Bush’s policies, I think that he has tarnished the name of the United States of America for eight years and done great damage to our world reputation. Now usually I am not one to wring my hands about what everyone thinks about us around the world – after all we are a superpower with a lot of responsibilities and we have a long history of fighting against tyranny, World War II being as Winston Churchill said of his own nation’s efforts, “our finest hour”. But Bush took the belligerent course of declaring that our nation could just at will decide to do pre-emptive war. Now sure, who would argue if there were a situation in which we could strike somewhere to prevent a real imminent attack on us? But we all know that is not what we did. And in my opinion, Bush also seemed to push efforts to essentially turn our nation into a Christian theocracy, while decrying the efforts of Islamic terrorists (a real threat) who are working to enforce their form of Islamic theocracy around the world. Both sides are wrong in that one. Admittedly, Bush’s efforts in that regard were much more subtle and non-violent (in terms of what he has done here).

And who could believe that a Republican who claims to be conservative and a fan of the free-wheeling capitalist market and an enemy of big government could have expanded the government, ran our nation into debt – after a Democrat at least balanced the budget – and then ended up having to hand over billions of dollars of taxpayer money to private banks and even have the government step in and take part ownership of the banks? If that is not some form of socialism, I don’t know what is.

I am a certified Bush basher. How he got elected, and two times at that, I am sure I will never fully understand. Part of it was that things did not appear so bad at the time, the electorate was complacent, and the first Democratic challenger worked hard, but not hard enough, and the second one was a little too much of a blow dried wind surfing empty suit.

But in what I believe is the biggest election turnout ever, Americans had their backs to the wall (facing a possible second Great Depression and continuing war in the Middle East) and knew that the only hope was to vote for real change. Even a lot of white bigots were at least smart enough to vote their own self-interest, or at least take a chance.

As I understand it at this time, the Democrats did not get the complete 60 votes needed in the Senate to be filibuster-proof. But I think that is a good thing. There needs to be checks and balances.

And I truly believe that those who sincerely worried that Obama would bring about complete or near complete socialism can rest assured that he will do nothing of the kind. I think that they may be pleased to find that he will be more of a centrist – strangely more like his vanquished challenger John McCain than not. Obama is careful and pragmatic. But yes, die-hard capitalists, he will lean to the left to help the majority of us to the extent that he sees fit.

And to you Republicans who are still worried, remember this: the nation survived the Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected to four terms, and even won a world war in the process. Surely we will survive a little real change. And I truly believe that the Republican Party is going to rise back from this stronger than ever and hopefully with a slightly more open-minded and more inclusive persona. No I don’t want the GOP to become Democrats. I want them to be the loyal opposition, but one that does not take such a narrow path. There are going to be problems, big problems, for Obama and plenty of openings for that loyal opposition to make their case that there is a different way to approach things. And I guess that I am going on with too many words, but I think that the GOP may have finally been freed from the shackles of dangerously hard-right conservatism and worse yet neocon conservatism.

Neocon conservatism is a hard one to understand, but in short, from what I have read, it was instituted primarily by progressives or liberals who were more interested in power than ideology, so they renamed themselves conservatives and have wrought major damage to our political system, with their winner-take-all no-compromise and often hate-inspired (have you ever listened to Rush Limberger?) approach.

IT IS A NEW DAY!


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

October 19, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————–

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

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

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

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

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

 ———————–

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

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

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

I have still not marked my absentee ballot.


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.”


Bush administration turns socialist…

September 18, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

Do you know where your money is? Under your mattress might be as good a place as any.

I didn’t make this line up, but I guess what we have nowadays in the financial markets is “private profits and socialized losses” ( I have used that quotation before, but how true with all of these bailouts). But, actually we now are going into the socialist, communist, or third world model of nationalizing companies (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG). And this on the Republican watch – strange indeed.

So has the Republican Bush administration turned socialist? Are the so-called conservatives who shun government control and intrusion now running to the head of the welfare line? Yes, to a degree, and yes.