The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #157: The paragon of a real American
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The Agitator #67
by Oliver_Halle
April 05, 2013 02:12 PM | 1407 views | 2 2 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

North Korea has been in the news recently with its threats to fire up their plutonium making facility, and to once again annihilate South Korea and the United States. If I took seriously some of the reactionaries on talk radio, these self-professed military know-it-alls (none come to mind that served in the armed forces) would have me building a nuclear bomb shelter like the 1950s. Make no mistake---I don’t doubt for a millisecond that North Korea could inflict some very deadly damage on its southern neighbor. Considering the number and proximity of the North’s missiles to Seoul, Seoul would probably be obliterated if those missiles were unleashed.

In my blog last week I asked the question of the Iraq war defenders why Iraq needed to be conquered but not North Korea? Using the same criteria that was applied to the Iraq invasion, North Korea had all of them plus one: they actually had the atomic bomb. I’m not suggesting that Bush should have preemptively attacked North Korea, only that he used specious reasons to go into Iraq that he didn’t apply to North Korea. I don’t recall the reactionaries ever challenging Bush for these different standards to similar situations. But Obama is the one at the helm now, and as usual, because it’s Obama the reactionaries will go after him, even if he declared that he loved his mother. One self-proclaimed reactionary pundit said on the radio today that North Korea’s threats amount to an act of war, and that Obama should have responded accordingly. It’s not enough for these tough talkers that Obama flew stealth bombers to South Korea to drop dummy bombs on an unoccupied island off its shore. It’s not enough that Obama has implemented the Pentagon’s recommendations to position the navy’s anti-missile warships to defend the South, and to place anti-missile batteries on Guam. One radio expert didn’t think much of the dummy bombing run. I wonder if the Chinese Air Force was to simulate an attack on some Central American island, whether that same expert would be concerned. Only a full blown preemptive strike would satisfy these big talking strategists who make more money by far with their brilliant insight than any admiral or general that just might know a little more than these guys.

I have no way of knowing what secret weapons the United States has. I suspect that we have some very powerful conventional weapons that might obviate the need for nukes in a lot of situations. I don’t know, but suspect that we have monitoring technology that is keeping up in real time how serious the threats from the North really are. I also suspect that we have some military satellites that can do things that are out of science fiction stories. What I do know is that these war mongering talking heads don’t know any more than I do. And if they do, they and whoever leaked to them should be prosecuted. My opinions about the possibility of secret capabilities is based on having been part of things at other times in other places with the service and government. Some of the things our country could do was dazzling, and it is understandable that those not in the know would be concerned that we might not be taking the appropriate action in a given situation. But that is not the same as some of the treasonous calumnies that have been said about Obama.

By far and away Obama has shown strength as commander-in-chief in ways that we never got from Republican administrations. Reagan never retaliated for the deaths of the 240 marines killed in the Lebanon barracks attack. Bush could have used the torpedoing of the USS COLE as grounds to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen. He didn’t. Obama has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia---and who knows where else---to pursue terrorists. And while I agree that it is a fair debate on whether the president is doing this without certain due process protections, I find it remarkable that the reactionaries are suddenly concerned about the constitutional rights of terrorists. Considering our economic situation right now, if there weren’t other reasons not to preemptively go to war with North Korea (and likely bring in China), the reactionaries who are always concerned about spending might want to consider how much it could cost them in taxes if this got out of control. And when it comes to taxes, reactionaries listen.

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Oliver G. Halle
April 08, 2013

Thanks very much for your comment and past support. And I also want to thank you for being one of the few who is not afraid to publish your name. Allow me to try and briefly address your concerns. First, we are going to have to agree to disagree on whether I have cited facts to support my conclusions. As for how and why we got into the Iraq war, all of the issues I raised were well known by the administration at the time the decision to preemptively strike was made. That is documented.

I use the term reactionaries more frequently because it counter-balances the labels "lefties", "socialists", "libs", and others that most, but not all, anonymous bloggers use. Personally, I don't like the use of labels because they really don't fit. If you doubt that, look at the internecine disputes in the Republican Party today as to who is or isn't a RINO.

I think that it is important to know just how we got into the economic mess we are in today, why we warred with Iraq, and more. We can have an honest debate whether the Bush administration is to blame for most of it or not. I believe they are and have repeatedly written factual accounts to support my opinions. Reasonable people can differ and disagree, and that's what makes America great.

Lastly, if you read the blogs that people write to not only the MDJ commentators, but also to other opinion writers and below various stories, you know that some of the most vicious, nasty, personal, vindictive things are said---and most hidden behind anonymity. If you listen to conservative talk radio, and I do, you will also hear the same.

In principle I agree with you that ad hominem attacks are inappropriate. But sometimes when responding to some nastiness out there, to be very honest---it just feels good. I hope you will feel free to agree or disagree with me. Debate is good, distills the best ideas, and takes us a step closer to truth.

The Agitator #66
by Oliver_Halle
March 27, 2013 09:27 AM | 1443 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The Iraq war is behind us, at least our military participation.  Some pundits still believe that our involvement was right, necessary, and appropriate, and that  whether there was WMD is just tired talking points.  I couldn’t disagree more.  There were any number of prominent conservatives who opposed going to war, George Will and William F. Buckley among them.  Marine General Anthony Zinni was a prominent opponent, a man who served with distinction in Vietnam and who was intimately familiar with the politics of the Middle East.  Both supporters and opponents of the war can cite any number of reputable people for their side, and I only mention these three because there are those who will name well known liberals who supported the war.  It doesn’t matter.

The WMD was the main reason for invading Iraq.  Two sources in particular were relied on: Ahmed Chalabi and a German asset known as Curve Ball.  Chalabi, an Iraqi national, had been in exile in London for many years and on the CIA payroll.  He had a very clear personal agenda, and that was to replace Saddam Hussein as the new Iraq leader.  Some of our own intelligence agencies warned against taking Chalabi seriously, but the White House and Defense Department weren’t interested in hearing anything but what they wanted to hear.  The Germans said that Curve Ball was not a reliable source and a known liar.  But let’s look at other evidence.  The NSA (National Security Agency) had Iraq saturated with electronic vacuum sweepers and monitored virtually every communication into and out of that country.  Yet the NSA never picked up any serious evidence that Saddam had the WMD.  (One of the colossal failures of intelligence was that the CIA did not know that Saddam’s WMD bluff was directed at his more immediate enemy, Iran.)  Consider too that our satellites covered all of Iraq and then some, and there is no evidence that they detected movement of WMD to Syria  as some have alleged.  The other reason for going to war was based on a photograph purportedly showing Mohammed Atta (911 hijacker leader) meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in the spring of 2001.  The FBI conclusively proved, before the invasion of Iraq, that the meeting had not occurred.  Again, those hell bent on war ignored the evidence and proceeded.  Some still believe that we also went into Iraq to pursue al-Qaeda.  Saddam and al-Qaeda had common enemies---Israel and the United States---but Saddam was a secularist, something that was at complete odds with Osama bin Laden.  Had Saddam armed al-Qaeda he knew that they would turn those same weapons back on him at the right time.  Al-Qaeda only became a force in Iraq after the U.S. invasion and overthrow of Saddam.  

Years after the war began George Bush said that no evidence of the WMD had turned up.  He justified the war instead by claiming that it was worth the price to rid the world of a tyrant  who used chemical and biological warfare against his own people, and that the Iraqi people were now free.  No doubt Saddam used those horrific weapons against fellow Iraqis, but to ignore that he never used them against Israel or the United States is to ignore the reality  of Saddam who was a survivor; he knew that his country would be annihilated if he had.  The same apologists who believe that getting rid of the dictator was worth the price never, ever mention Kim Jong Il, the then dictator of North Korea.  And North Korea had the bomb, had committed genocide, had starved its people, had blown up commercial airplanes, and was/is an immediate threat to South Korea and Japan.  Yet for some reason North Korea didn’t make the cut to go to war with to rid the world of this horrible human being and to liberate their people.  The reasons should be self evident.  

It won’t be that many years from now when the parades and accolades for our Iraq veterans will be a memory.  Older generations will want to forget and younger ones won’t care.  Those of us who experienced Vietnam never really went through it to the extent these warriors will.  And that’s because we knew it was a hated war, a war that divided the country, and we didn’t expect anything when we came home.  (Ronald Reagan made being a Vietnam Veteran an honor, something I will always be grateful for.)  The cost in lives, destruction of families, lifetime physical and mental wounds, and the staggering VA costs over the next 60 years must be factored into whether a war fought for all the wrong reasons was worth the price.  
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The Agitator #65
by Oliver_Halle
March 21, 2013 04:17 PM | 1327 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
It’s financial crunch time again in Washington as our elected representatives either pass another continuing resolution by March 27th, or they submit a budget approved by both Houses of Congress.  Probably a safe bet that there will be another continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.  But the same congress is also trying to address the hardships of the $85 billion that sequestration will take out of the economy.  Today’s newspapers (Wednesday, March 20, 2013) reported that both sides are trying to restore spending in places that serve their interests, but cutting deeper in other places in order to comply with the $85 billion figure.  It’s a simple zero sum game with some winners and some losers.  The irony is how hard the Republicans are fighting to protect their interests despite all the proclamations of the past that all federal spending has been too high, that there is too much waste and fat in all departments, and that all agencies could take a hit of at least ten percent or more.  (Again, I leave Democrats out of this discussion because they are known by the reactionaries as the tax and spend party.)  

One of the Republican arguments has always been that government should be run like a business.  I don’t buy into that line of thinking for a lot of reasons, but it’s still a fair argument that we should debate.   There are several ongoing opportunities for these proponents to support their business model.  But brace yourself, dear reader, for the big surprise when you learn that it’s more convenient to mouth a grand idea than put your political career on the line and actually vote like a statesman.  Example one is the U.S. Postal Service.  They are going broke for the reasons we all know.  The Postal Service has proposed ending Saturday mail delivery and closing a lot of post offices that serve only a handful of people at a cost disproportionate to the number of people in the area.  But there is some serious pushback going on, and any number of Republicans (and Democrats) are resisting the cost cutting measures that the Postal Service insists it needs to balance its budget.  My bet as of this writing is that Saturday mail delivery will continue, and that the number of proposed post office closings will be substantially reduced from the list.  So much for supporting a business model for a failing concern.  

Then there are the military bases.  It was reported this week that the congress will almost certainly not vote to create another BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) committee to review the long list of bases that the various branches want to close.  Sequestration has brought out a  lot of flag waving, about how the president is hollowing out the military, that we won’t be prepared for the next big mission, etc.  As I’ve written before in my commentaries, the money from cutting antiquated bases, military social spending, excessive travel, and extravagant treatment of flag rank officers, could be used to enhance the fighting capabilities of the uniformed services.  The reality, though, is that bases and unneeded weapons systems are nothing more than jobs programs that our elected representatives support in return for votes.  It has always amazed me to hear some bloviating congressman or senator talk about the need for a base or weapon made in their state or district that the experts in the Pentagon oppose as unnecessary.  In this awful economy the pain has to be felt everywhere, and protecting special interests under the guise of the flag is wrong.  If these reps will  admit that what they want to defend is government job programs, the voters could decide if that honesty deserves sending them back to congress.

Another example of Republican hypocrisy is the number of special tax breaks or tariffs that are given to special interests.  Free market advocacy makes for great campaign speeches, but in reality the Republicans no more believe in free markets than communists.  It’s a matter of degree.  These special interest groups don’t want to compete; they want the government to help them eliminate their competitors or get an edge over their competition.  And tax breaks and tariffs are the way to do it.  Note the flag waving that is used to defend the breaks the favored get.  But I’ll bet that many remember that American cars only improved once the Japanese were able to produce a quality product that our native manufacturers could no longer keep out.  Funny how that works.
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The Agitator #64
by Oliver_Halle
March 14, 2013 10:53 AM | 1480 views | 4 4 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Two separate stories about restaurants were in the local media today (Wednesday, March 13, 2013), one in the Atlanta newspaper, the other the MDJ.  The first was about Manuel’s Tavern, the landmark political gathering spot in Atlanta, and the other Tommy’s Sandwich Shop on the Marietta Square.  Both were more or less human interest stories about the different costs associated with doing business and trying to make it in a tough economy.  I think it is fair to suggest that there were some political overtones between the lines deserving some observation and comment.  

Brian Maloof has 52 employees at Manuel’s, among them ex-convicts that he thinks are worth a second chance.  Rising food costs, which Maloof attributes to varied factors, are eating into his business.  Also affecting his costs will be the federal mandate to provide health insurance to his workers.   For years Maloof provided health insurance, but with rate hikes of thirty percent some years and competitor restaurants not covering their employees, he had to drop it.  Of note is that these premium spikes occurred long before ObamaCare, and from memory it seems like the trend began in the early 1990s.  But with the mandatory ObamaCare getting ready to kick in, Maloof stated that it will level the playing field.  Instead of figuring out a way to cut the number of his employees in order to fall outside the mandatory provision in the healthcare law, Maloof is going forward.  Between his increased food costs and ObamaCare, Maloof had no choice but to raise prices.  And in return his loyal customers have said they will stay with him, that they won’t patronize those establishments that are cheaper.  If ever this man gets it, it is Brian Maloof.  He truly understands the concept of loyalty up and loyalty down, that it matters that you take care of your workers, and that your workers will reward you in turn by giving their all and more to ensure that Manuel’s continues to be a successful business.  And Maloof can be contrasted with all too many business leaders who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, in this case the value of the employees.  

Closer to home Tommy’s Sandwich Shop is closing its doors after 36 years.  The landlord wants a $550/monthly rent increase on a current rent of $1,200.  Considering the relatively small profit margin on this type business I suspect that Mr. Smith had no choice but to shut down.  He built a restaurant with a lot of loyal customers by providing a good product at a good price.  And people rewarded him by coming back, by becoming the regulars that can make the difference between success and failure.  But times change and competition began to erode some of that loyalty, although from the report it appears that he could still eke out a living.  But the landlord wouldn’t budge on the rent hike despite acknowledging that Mr. Smith has been a good tenant.  In other words, the landlord is willing to change horses in the hope that a new horse will be a better deal than the old reliable grey mare.  Loyalty in these tough times and free markets seems not to matter so much to some. 

No one ever said that capitalism and free markets would produce a utopian economy.  No business can survive without making a profit.  But Brian Maloof and Tommy Smith bring another dimension to some of the cold side of capitalism.  In their own ways they chose to take the high road  by factoring into their business models the importance of people to their success.  They care(d) about profits and their workers, and they were never on the starting line to compete in a race to the bottom to cut costs, raise prices, and  enrich themselves.  May our communities know more Brian Maloofs and Tommy Smiths in the future. 

Well done. 
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Barry Schwartz
March 17, 2013
Both Oliver's and Mike's comments should be the corner stone of business ethics and morals. I am a consultant and far to many times I get to see how owners, managers in small to large companies are only interested in how they can increase their own salary and bonus. I was taught early in life by my mentor, my father, who ran a small luncheonette and then a liquor store, that 1)you have never been in business unless you have had to make a payroll out of your own pocket even before you pay yourself and 2)Your employees are your most important resource, like the front line troops. In case readers take my comments as "bleeding heart" liberal, I want to state that I am an independent who votes for both parties. Once again, thank you Oliver for bringing these articles to the reader.

The Agitator #63
by Oliver_Halle
March 10, 2013 09:12 AM | 1368 views | 3 3 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Republican mantra has always been to lower taxes and cut spending. Deficits have been the bane of Republicans for a long time, and I am fine with that being part of the political discourse. It is a fair argument to debate in order to try and distill truths from it so that we can get our economic house in order. But despite Republican’s concerns over deficits, for the most part their voices were silent or muted when Reagan and Bush ran up the largest deficits in history up until the current administration. One would think that with deficits in the forefront of Republican Party philosophy, with fiscal responsibility being a major part of their platform, that they would rejoice that we are now undergoing the sequester. After all, we have heard so often that there is so much waste in government that federal spending could easily be cut anywhere from ten percent to twenty-five percent across the board. In Friday’s AJC it was reported that the Republican Senate in Georgia voted to support a congressional resolution that would call for a constitutional convention for the purpose of balancing the budget. Now let’s be serious---if we were to balance the budget anytime soon, the consequences of the sequester would look like a walk in the park on a nice sunny day. This is one of those things known as the curse of the Greek Gods, which reminds us to be careful of what we wish for because it might come true.

Fast forward to March 1st when the sequester kicked in. All of a sudden there are Republicans crying foul. (I am leaving Democrats out of this discussion because they are perceived by the Republicans to be the tax and spend party.) The arguments are all over the place, but for the most part can be boiled down to spending cuts that affect them or people/things close to them. Yet, I recall the cries for across the board cuts, which we got. I recall too the unelected Grover Norquist extracted or extorted from Republican candidates across the fruited plane a pledge that they would never vote to raise taxes. The same Norquist said that his goal was to cut government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub. The sequester cuts are a long way from achieving that startling image, but never was there any Republican voice to challenge Norquist.

Now the best for last. His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) has come up with another conspiracy. The man’s imagination knows no limits. In this latest, His Porkulous says that Obama is intentionally inflicting these cuts on America to cause pain so that those feeling it will plead and beg to have the spending restored. And that would allow Obama to tax and spend some more of our money. Evidence for this is lacking in the extreme, but it makes for good programming, deceives the low information voter, and keeps this demagogue’s show going on and on. The bottom line to all of this is that sequestration was a bipartisan agreement that neither House nor Party thought would ever occur. But it did. And I can’t understand why the Republicans aren’t dancing in the streets to proclaim that their prayers were finally answered.

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EM Buckner
March 12, 2013
Seems as if Mr. Halle has the facts on his side. And he's articulate, too. Just sayin'....

The Agitator #62
by Oliver_Halle
March 01, 2013 04:22 PM | 1390 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The sequester has struck but it’s too early to know if it will be as consequential as the doomsayers predict. This is the bargain that both parties struck when they couldn’t agree on spending cuts to go along with increasing the debt ceiling. It was a poison pill that the House and Senate agreed to and which the President signed into law. What is curious about all this is how the Obama-haters are blaming him for coming up with the idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Does it really matter considering the bipartisan support in both Houses? What matters is if the sequester will ultimately impact public safety and government services that we all rightfully depend on.

Senator Johnny Isakson submitted to an interview on NPR Thursday evening. Unlike a recent MDJ editorial and MDJ guest columnist, Isakson engaged in a reasoned discussion about the problem and did not substitute reason with mindless Obama bashing. Isakson took the high road in stating that if we are in this situation again, there won’t be a meat axe approach. Instead each governmental department and agency will be directed to cut a certain percentage from their budget thereby allowing agency heads to make intelligent and informed decisions about where the cuts should be. There is no getting around the fact that despite a roaring stock market of late and a slow increase of home sales, our country is still in a difficult financial situation. We are still paying for two unfunded wars and Medicare Part D, both of which substantially added to the deficits, and with unemployment still high there remains a lack of needed revenue. Unfortunately, so many of the jobs being created today are not those that will bring in the taxes that occurred prerecession.

The American middle class continues to shrink, their wages are stagnant, and some things that can be done aren’t. The current tax code needs to go. When you have vacant shopping centers right here in Cobb County because landlords demand more rent despite businesses revenues being off, you have to ask why. Does the tax code incentivize investors of these shopping centers to walk away with some tax advantages to the detriment of the small businesses and communities? If so, something is very wrong with that. Empty shopping centers are not good for anyone except criminals, and of course, the property value also goes down which in turn decreases the local tax collections needed for schools, police, fire and other public services. But despite an overwhelming number of Americans who demand a new tax code, it won’t happen until there is campaign finance reform. When special interests no longer are special because they can’t influence our elected officials with money to keep their tax breaks, we just might see a ray of hope for change.


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Devlin Adams
March 04, 2013
Oliver, I couldnt agree more about the tax code. Seems like the Fair Tax, or the Flat Tax or something along that line would eliminate a lot of the inequitiies in the system. I don't see it happeneing until we get term limits in congress so these A--holes work at thejob they are elected to do instead of campaigning for re-election.

The Agitator #61
by Oliver_Halle
February 25, 2013 02:50 PM | 1429 views | 1 1 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Recently the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy to receive federal disaster aid from FEMA. I wonder how many readers know that this aid is in the form of grants, not loans, which would allow churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious edifices to receive federal tax dollars to rebuild. What I find interesting is that after large, damaging storms, there are loud voices that object to the money FEMA spends to help people who have lost everything. The claim is that these people should have had insurance, they knew the risk of living where they did, they were foolish to choose a home near the beach, flood plain, etc. For the most part I agree with these objections with some exceptions not worth mentioning here. But what I am puzzled by is that the Republicans tout individual responsibility, risk/reward, and that the government shouldn’t be the paymaster for things that go wrong in people’s lives. (Yes, some Democrats voted for this bill too, but according to the Republicans, the Democrats love taxes and spending anyway, so according to them, Democratic support for the bill should be no surprise.) One has to also keep in mind that it was the same House that was reluctant to provide reconstruction money to New York and New Jersey using the same arguments that I mentioned. I, for one, would sure like to know what influenced their voting for this FEMA addition.

In these times of trying to figure out ways to cut spending, eliminate special interest tax breaks, here is another one that seems to be a sacred cow: the special exemption from federal taxation for all “legitimate” clergy for most of the money they spend for housing. And yes, that would include some of the high profile ministers with seven figure incomes when combined with benefits. No secular staff members of nonprofits are eligible for this perk. No teachers or other volunteers that work in ghettos for low pay can claim this deduction. What makes clergy members so special that they get a tax paid housing subsidy? Clergy are also in a unique category that allows them to opt out of Social Security. While I have no issues with Social Security, I know all too many people that have said that they wish they had a choice to leave the system and take their chances with investing their own money. Then there is the question of why churches do not have to file annual paperwork concerning their finances, paperwork that every other tax exempt 501 (C) (3) is required to complete. I have read that preparing the form for the IRS is very labor intensive and costly. Do any readers remember the pushback that Senator Charles Grassley got a few years ago when he proposed auditing some of the mega churches that paid whopping salaries and benefits to their spiritual leaders, and had complexes that would rival something a major corporation would envy? I can only wonder how much money from these sacred institutions is legally and illegally not going into the treasury.

Consider too that churches don’t pay property taxes, but they get police, fire, and other public services that the rest of us have to pay for. And each time a new church goes up on property that a church purchased, it is another parcel taken off the tax rolls. Any guess who has to make up the shortfall? Ironically, The Atlanta Free Thought Society (AFS) purchased on old, historic church. AFS is a 501 (C) (3) that does a lot of charitable work in the community for the small organization that it is. Yet it pays a sizeable sum in property taxes. They don’t object to paying the taxes, but rightfully so, they do have a legitimate claim of disparate treatment. Do you think the churches would complain if asked to contribute to the public services they now get from the taxpayers that subsidize them? Count on it!

The AJC reported on 2/21/2013, that a host of business entities, through their paid lobbyists, are seeking from the Georgia General Assembly special tax breaks. Former Governor Roy Barnes in his 2009 campaign identified over 200 businesses that received special tax considerations. We all know the arguments that are used to protect these interests: they create jobs, they provide incentives for businesses to locate in Georgia, they add to the community’s tax base, they help the poor, and on and on. I can assure you that as a small business owner, if I got the same tax breaks I would hire people and take on jobs that presently I consider too small and not worthwhile because of the taxes. Amazingly, the Tea Party---among others---promotes a policy of no new taxes and cutting spending. Here’s an opportunity to go after some religious and business sacred cows. It’s long overdue. I’ve heard enough canned speeches from our local congressional delegation and Senator Johnnie Isakson to last a lifetime about how we need to change the tax code. But if you asked any of them if they have put together a team of outsiders with tax and business expertise to come up with a draft of some serious tax revisions, the answer would be no. They benefit from the campaign contributions from the very special interests that need to pay up. In the meanwhile, we, the working stiffs, are paying for this outrage.

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Devlin Adams
February 25, 2013
Spot on, Oiliver,

The Agitator #60
by Oliver_Halle
February 15, 2013 03:32 PM | 1406 views | 2 2 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The other day a Cobb County school system employee (not a teacher) lamented that they hadn’t received a pay raise in several years while their health insurance and other costs have continued to go up.  I expressed some sympathy and asked this person what they thought of Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $9.  Somehow it just didn’t seem right to this person, which was accompanied by all the usual arguments that it would kill small businesses.  What made this conversation particularly interesting was how it illustrates the human side to all of us, that some of us are more deserving than others, that some of us have “earned” their government largess, and that it is the other folks out there who are looking for handouts.  As I pointed out in last week’s commentary, the congress and legislatures decide and define what the word earn means, and it doesn’t always mean the same thing.  

Approximately 15 million people earn a minimum wage.  Statistically, the poor don’t live as long as those better off, and all too many that pay the mandatory FICA on their minimum wage won’t live long enough to collect Social Security or Medicare.  These same people have either no healthcare or the bare minimum, and many use their bodies to make their livings.  By the time they hit their fifties they have all sorts of medical conditions from repetitive motion jobs or manual labor.  But one of the Republican proposals for getting control of the Social Security and Medicare costs is to raise the eligibility age.  Yet the majority of Medicare’s costs occur in the last few months of a patient’s life, and most would be considered old at that point.  In actuality, this suggestion to raise the age is a sham to fool the American people into thinking that their esteemed representatives and senators are doing something meaningful to fix the problem.  

But back to the minimum wage hike that the president has proposed.  I can’t imagine why most reasonable people wouldn’t be willing to pay a nickel or dime more for a cup of coffee, a quarter or half dollar for a pizza, and the same for a movie ticket and every other service industry that employs minimum wage workers.  If you do the math on how little these workers are paid on an annual basis, I can only wonder how they survive.  So as to remove one rejoinder from a reader who would point to the workers who aren’t motivated to do better, I’m not talking about them.  Anyone unwilling to improve themselves should live with their choice.  I am talking about those that for a variety of reasons are stuck in these jobs.  I don’t have a figure for it, but I wonder how many veterans are only earning minimum wages through no fault of their own.  

Raising the minimum wage by all of $1.75/hour would have a multiplier effect.  That money will get spent for sure.  The earner still won’t be able to save any money from it, especially if they have a family.  All of that small amount of cash will go right back into the economy.  There are any number of anecdotal stories of how a hike will kill this or that business, but  I have read that some states which have imposed their own minimum wage have not experienced higher unemployment.  Even Mitt Romney supported raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.  Those people that receive any type of government benefit, those who receive COLAs, if they oppose the less fortunate making a paltry addition to their pay, they should look in the mirror and ask what makes them so special and entitled. 
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Oliver G. Halle
February 17, 2013
Devlin, Your questions are fair and poignant. I wouldn't focus on the percentage of increase so much. If you double a penny, it's a 100% increase, but not much has changed. Several things worth considering and factoring into all of this: 1. A business can take a tax deduction for the increase. Admittedly it's not a hundred percent tax credit, but the deduction would offset some of the cost. 2. How do businesses and consumers manage when the price of gas goes up? When the price of food products go up? When the myriad of other business costs go up? Why are the bottom end workers the last to be considered?

Up until roughly the early 1980s, the disparity between C-level employees and workers was about 40:1. Today it approaches 240 (or more):1 Who's paying for those whopping costs? As consumers of products and services, we are all paying for those salaries and benefits. And don't forget too that a huge percentage of the C-level income is not taxed as income but structured to gain a much lower tax advantage. Proportionatley, the minimum wage worker is paying a very disproportionate percentage of his wages for FICA even if there may be minimal to no tax consequences.

As you rightly pointed out, this is a complicated issue, one that needs some healthy debate. I just wanted to present another side of the argument. Thanks very much for your input.

The Agitator #59
by Oliver_Halle
February 08, 2013 04:37 PM | 1308 views | 3 3 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The stock market went over 14,000 last week for the first time since 2007, a good thing if you are invested in it. But I would hate to judge the economy based on the numbers. The unemployment rate is bad enough, but the numbers who are underemployed is equally alarming if not more so. What can be done about it? Well, some seem to think if that they keep blaming Obama, somehow that will make things better. I assume the real message is that the Republicans have a solution if only they could get rid of the current president. If that was the cure, I would support it in a New York minute, which is very fast. But consider that we have the lowest interest rates in perhaps 75 or more years, yet that hasn’t spurred home ownership or businesses to go out and borrow money to expand. Corporations are sitting on upwards of $3 trillion but not spending it. Why? Some blame Obamacare and excess regulations, but in fact if you ask any business owner the reason is lack of consumer demand for product and services. Lowering the FICA by two percent put some extra cash in middle class people’s jeans, but it didn’t really stimulate the economy. (I remain puzzled that the Republicans blame Obama for not continuing the FICA cut in December, but the Republicans didn’t come out and support it either. In fact, the Republicans pushed for a FICA cut when Bush was president and then opposed it when Obama first proposed it.)

Politicians can argue all day about how the corporate tax needs to be reduced or eliminated to stimulate the economy. So why hasn’t it happened? Could it be that the myriad of tax credits and deductions that many business can take advantage of might get cut, so it’s in their interest to keep it where it is? Remember, GE was only one of the big corporations, despite the 35% corporate tax rate, to pay no taxes a year or so ago. I’m not a tax lawyer or accountant, but I can sit back and say that that is a pretty good deal if you can get it. Of course our military protects American businesses, but the way the tax code is structured, it’s much better to make the shareholders happy than to worry about paying for the hardware and personnel costs of our armed forces. And the social costs of military retirees (not wounded or disabled veterans) is staggering. It is more than twice that of those on active duty. I’m all for either cutting some of these benefits or raising taxes to pay for them. The volunteer military was never projected to be adequately funded. It became law as an emotional response to the draft, something I still think we need. Recipients of this largess claim they have earned it, and I won’t dispute that. I will only say that Congress decides what it means to have “earned” the benefits they bestow, and in these hard economic times everyone has to have an oar in the water and feel some of the pain. (As a federal retiree I am fine with taking a reduction, but to suggest that I should be an “army of one” and take the cut myself as a matter of principle is meaningless.)

Our elected officials face two very real issues as I see it when it comes to fixing the economy. They can dramatically cut spending, which will happen if sequestration occurs. If that happens the pain will be felt by almost everyone. Too many politicians blame spending for all the problems, but there is a revenue side to this equation, and this recession has dramatically cut revenue. The government pumps a lot of money into the private sector, Lockheed being just one example out of millions. Take that money out of the economy and you are now hitting all the stores where these private sector employees shop and buy their morning coffee. The government doesn’t operate under micro economic theories. If every American saved all their money, some would say that’s a good thing. But on a macro level it would put us into a depression. Ask a restaurant owner what they think about politicians or other pundits that urge families to cut their spending and eat more meals at home or brown bag.

To sum it up, our politicians are not addressing how technology has and continues to replace good middle class jobs. On the state level our elected officials are too interested in giving enormous tax credits and benefits to attract individual industries that often fail and don’t come close to making up the advantages they were given to locate here. Instead, spending money on transportation, education, and infrastructure, which would not be cheap, would likely draw many businesses because of the better quality of life we could offer. But consider that a few years ago the voters of Georgia turned down a $10 added fee when renewing a drivers license that would have gone to build new trauma units in rural hospitals. So if you are seriously injured once you get south of Macon, good luck---you will need it because you won’t have a trauma facility near you. And like so many issues related to taxes and spending, it comes down to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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B D Lane
February 16, 2013
You are right, Oliver. We definitely see things differently.

The Agitator #58
by Oliver_Halle
January 29, 2013 10:40 AM | 1554 views | 6 6 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

All MDJ readers know that the editorial pages, with token exceptions, represent very conservative viewpoints on foreign policy, taxes, social issues and their almost total support of the Republican Party and its candidates. There is nothing wrong with that. I am confident that most of the people that disagree with the paper’s editorials want the same results for our country. It is how we get to the goal post where the main differences lie. But the MDJ’s mantra never varies---it’s always Obama’s fault. Doesn't matter what it is, it’s still his fault. And if Obama should refer to the history of how we got into the recession, unemployment, revenue shortfall, and any number of other issues, he is accused of not accepting responsibility. The January 23rd editorial looked like it was just filling some empty space on short notice. The first paragraph opened with a slam about Obama’s failed promise of hope and change. Is this really a measurable promise, or just maybe could it be called subjective and aspirational ? Do readers recall Bush’s promise of being the uniter? How did that one work out? What did he mean by “compassionate conservative?” What knowledge does the reader acquire in reference “to the new president with the funny name.” How does that advance the ball of information downfield? What does the reader learn from it? How about nothing.

Obama is chastised for paying only cursory notice to MLK or the symbolism of both the swearing in and King’s birthday celebration falling on the same day. Yet if this was such a monumental event, why didn't the MDJ note the occasion on the opinion page with a comment of its own relating its significance? I find it interesting, too, that the “liberal media”, to include the NYT and Washington Post, publish the names and other information about our troops killed in Iraq/Afghanistan, but the conservative “support our troops” MDJ does not. And it doesn't even take up much space, but it would honor and inform the readers of the sacrifices our volunteer military makes and remind them that we are still at war. The editorial falsely asserts that the bailout of the U.S. auto industry did not save it. That statement is contrary to virtually every economist in the country, including the very reputable Alan Blinder, the Princeton University professor who just wrote a book that includes a discussion on this topic. According to the editorial, the U.S. won the war in Iraq because of the surge, something Obama voted against. It’s a fair debate to have concerning whether the surge bought time and ultimately won the war, or whether the surge bought time for the U.S. troops to withdraw before the country collapsed. To call the current situation in Iraq a victory is way premature. And it was Bush, to his credit, who set the withdrawal date. The editorial never once mentioned the unfunded costs of that unnecessary war, which cost this country too many lives and a lot of money, and additional money that few factor in that will be substantial for the next 70 years---VA expenditures. I wonder why the opinion piece takes a shot at Obama while not giving any credit for the president taking seriously how this war is piling up more debt without a lot to show for it. No mention of Pakistan, where the real threat to world stability is shaky, and Obama’s overt and covert activities there. To give Obama credit would unravel the mantra that the president can’t be given credit even when it’s due.

I, among many other MDJ readers, would like to consider, ponder, and debate any worthwhile proposals that the MDJ has and is willing to put on its editorial page about the best ways to get control of the budget. Once upon a time the largest government stimulus package revived almost every industry in America and created the middle class. The impetus for that stimulus was WW II, but the lesson is that it worked. So far, though, it’s the same knee-jerk script, with ObamaCare being the straw man. Never once has the MDJ proposed ridding us of Medicare Part D, which according to the CBO, is leaps and bounds more costly over ten years than the Affordable Healthcare Act. And one of the costs of Part D that was enacted into law was prohibiting the government from negotiating with the pharmaceuticals for the best prices that could be had with volume. Wonder how that happened? Does the MDJ think that there just might be some serious waste in the Pentagon and ask why bases remain open that the military wants to shut, and why some weapons systems are being built that the military says we don’t need? The MDJ is the Voice of Silence when it comes to making an effort to be “fair and balanced”, but then again that slogan never meant what it says either.

All of that said, I appreciate the MDJ providing to me this outlet to voice my opinion, which is not in the mainstream of Cobb County thinking. I am grateful that I live in the United States of America where opinions can be expressed that differ with publishers and editors, that the MDJ affords me space to differ, and that they understand the importance of debating and deliberating ideas that help to reach our common goals.

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February 05, 2013
The MDJ is many things to most of its longtime readers (like me), but one of the most consistently reasonable and engaging voices the MDJ brings us--unfortunately, only on the online version--is Oliver Halle's. His voice may be that of an "agitator," but it's one that agitates us with thoughtful, well informed comments, not balderdash and bombast. If the MDJ wants to keep readers like me as subscribers, it would do well to keep--or better, expand--the role of Halle as an opinion writer.

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