|February 14, 2014||The Agitator #103: Taxes and campaign issues||1 comments|
|February 06, 2014||The Agitator #102: Deja vu all over again||4 comments|
|January 31, 2014||The Agitator #101: Snow and politicians||3 comments|
|January 22, 2014||The Agitator #100: Corruption and reform||3 comments|
|January 17, 2014||The Agitator #99: Tax exemptions & free markets||2 comments|
|January 09, 2014||The Agitator #98: Where have you gone, Randi Rhodes...||no comments|
|January 02, 2014||The Agitator #97: Michelle Malkin's "Cruciphobia"||1 comments|
|December 20, 2013||The Agitator #96 - Jobs vs. Obamcare||no comments|
|December 11, 2013||The Agitator #95 - Who are the real Republicans?||1 comments|
|December 03, 2013||The Agitator #94 - Unpopular spending cuts||2 comments|
There are two very significant federal races for office underway right now. The U.S. Senate election could be decided in the May 20th primary, but it’s still too early to know if Democrat Michelle Nunn could pull an upset. The winner of the primary for the congressional 11th District, currently occupied by Phil Gingrey, will almost certainly take office in Washington next January since no Democrat can overcome the Republican dominance for this seat.
Sadly none of the Republican candidates are talking about the real issues that affect our daily lives. We are being bombarded with why Obamacare is killing America, the assault on your Second Amendment rights, religious freedom and birth control (a thoroughly bogus argument in my opinion that I hope the Supreme Court will put to rest), gay marriages, and deficits among the higher profile arguments. All are fair game for political discussion, and I am all in favor of having that debate, but when you look at your paycheck, prepare your taxes, and otherwise try to figure out how to make ends meet, are you really thinking about any of the foregoing issues? Does it not bother enough taxpayers to scream out in protest against having to pay accountants and lawyers to figure out what they have to pay the government? This is not a pitch against taxes; we need taxes, and as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.
The tax code’s complexity is outrageous. It is a full employment bill for CPA’s, tax preparers, and tax lawyers. All we ever hear from our elected officials is that the code needs changing, but when has there been a meaningful effort by one party or the other to gather the necessary support and actually do something about it? Write to your representative to complain and you will get a nice response about how s/he supports change, is a sponsor to some bill, all of which is meaningless blather. The ones who write the tax code are the special interests seeking a credit, deduction, tariff, deferred payment, etc. And they get to write the code because they are the heavy contributors to our representatives’ campaigns. The person benefiting from a credit due to insufficient income to pay taxes certainly didn’t write that provision into the code. When you live hand to mouth you don’t have money to give to politicians. But this credit is pennies on the dollar compared to the gimmees the tax writers of the tax code get. When you are a serious campaign contributor, you are on the “team.”
We the voters are responsible for the mess we are in. We elect the masters of smoke and mirrors. They can denounce Obamacare all day and night, but it’s very unlikely to be rescinded. Instead there should be bipartisan effort to make it work better. What you will hear, though, from Republicans is about all their healthcare reform bills in the House that they control. What they won’t tell you is why none has even made it out of committee. Congressman Tom Price touts his bill as the panacea for reform, so why hasn’t he even gotten so much as a hearing on it? Obamacare has become a red herring. It is and should be an issue for debate, but to run on repealing it, as Phil Gingrey’s empty promise to do, is not going to make one difference in our daily lives. The likes of Gingrey love to throw out red meat and red herring to the voters, but neither is all that appetizing.
Republicans have traditionally been the party of business. Perhaps if some of the leaders put together a bipartisan team of professionals---accountants, lawyers, business executives, state and local government officials, and more, they could come up with a new tax code that would not only make the U.S. more attractive as a place to set up shop, but it would inure to all Americans. My best guess is that it won’t happen, and the whipping boys of campaigns will continue to be Obamacare, guns, religious “persecution”, and other issues de jour, issues that won’t make one dime’s worth of difference when you stroke your check to the IRS and try to meet all your other financial obligations.
The media has been all but silent about the upcoming debt ceiling issue that will become relevant on February 7th. Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew, says that he can find money here and there to borrow in order to pay the nation’s bills until about the end of the month. Contrast the national attention of last fall when we hit the debt ceiling and congress was unwilling to budge. I suspect that the voice of silence we are hearing this time may be a hint that a deal to raise the debt ceiling is in the works.
It is unlikely that the opponents to raising the debt ceiling in the Republican Party are going to submit quietly. What little I have already heard on the topic is that tea party Republicans are insisting on corresponding cuts in spending. That sounds good if you are trying to fool the American people into believing that raising the debt ceiling is like getting another credit card to go on a spending spree. In fact this Republican controlled House worked out a bipartisan budget agreement recently that increases spending, particularly for defense, over the next several years by restoring money that had been cut by the sequester. Raising the debt ceiling allows for the government to pay for the spending that has already been incurred, not future spending.
All of this makes for great political rhetoric, and you can be sure that you will hear a lot about Obama spending us into oblivion without one word of acceptance of responsibility by the responsible parties: our elected representatives. Obama can’t spend what hasn’t been authorized even if he wanted to. So as long as we keep unneeded military bases open, build weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want or need, continue the social costs of defense at current levels, and tout how defense is the main priority at all costs, then we need to pay for it. If some of this amounts to a jobs program under the guise of defense, so be it, but the taxpayers ought to know that it doesn’t come for free.
It was comforting to know that our two U.S. senators from Georgia voted for the latest farm bill that will cost over several years approximately a trillion dollars. Included in the bill are insurance subsidies and price supports for various crops. Farming has become largely a big business enterprise, and as such these businesses should bear the risks and rewards as any other business. But Johnny and Saxby don’t want to tell their constituents that food prices may rise as a result, and conservative taxpayers who complain about government giveaways don’t want to pay the real cost of farm products despite touting that free markets should be allowed to work their magic.
Another giveaway program is the subsidy that taxpayers provide for flood insurance to those who choose to live in a flood plain. Many, if not most of those that live along the beaches, rivers, and other waterways, have the money to pay for their spectacular views, but somehow they can rationalize that the rest of us should help them pay for it. If Republicans insist on government cuts, three ripe areas are wasteful defense spending, farm supports, and flood insurance subsidies. It won’t happen, though. My preference would be to put some of that money into paying for the rehab programs funded by the private sector for our seriously injured war veterans. That too won’t happen. The constituency isn’t large enough.
On an unrelated topic, I tip my hat to the Cobb County police officer who was shot the other day while making a traffic stop. Few tasks are more dangerous for a cop than pulling someone over. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. These men and women who risk their lives daily without the public realizing it deserve a lot more than they get. I hope that when the economy improves our uniformed services will be first in line for a much deserved pay raise. It’s long overdue and shameful that we aren’t doing better by these loyal public servants.
One of my good friends recently said that Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal looked like two Soviet bureaucrats while making their comments to the press about the snowstorm. As I spent 20 hours in my car (Peachtree Dunwoody Rd. and Hammond Drive to lower east Cobb), I felt better listening to Deal as he took full responsibility for the lack of preparedness while blaming the weather forecasters. Then Mayor Reed added to my level of comfort as he assured us that they learned from the January 2011 ice storm and all would be okay.
I thought it amusing to read comments and listen to interviews from people affected by the storm. Invariably they discussed how their elected officials and appointed bureaucrats failed, how they were unprepared, made bad decisions, and otherwise let the people down. Certainly there is some merit to the criticism. I just find it ironic that so many voters in Georgia who believe that government is the problem, that we need less government and fewer government workers, are the same ones that expect their government to work miracles in a time of crisis. I am sure many of the same people also think that the private sector could do a better job in these circumstances, yet I wonder how they would coordinate their efforts with all of the municipalities involved, and what the companies would do to stay profitable in between crises.
This storm, while bad, was nowhere near as bad as so many I have lived through. But it produced the single greatest mess impacting so many people, and you have to ask yourself why? As I see it the biggest problem is that we live in a state where the car is king. People generally don’t like public transportation and prefer the freedom that their cars bring even if they are stuck in traffic all the time and have to plan their lives around traffic. Now some of the opponents to the TSPLOST are proposing to allow individual counties to work with a neighboring county to come up with transportation alternatives. TSPLOST would have focused on the region, and being that the latest storm hit a wide region, I’m not sure how more localized fixes would alleviate our traffic problems. Consider that there is strong opposition to bringing MARTA rail service just to the new Cobb stadium, while at the same time the biggest concern with the new home of the Braves is the additional traffic it will bring.
The whole world saw on CNN what a small snowstorm can do to Atlanta. If anyone thinks that it won’t influence companies in whether to relocate to the Atlanta area, open a branch, or to start a business here, they are clueless. The world also watched how the governor handled it, and that too will factor into their thinking. Among the questions that will be asked are whether the Atlanta metropolitan area has a good, reliable transportation system, and whether Georgia produces the kinds of political leaders that makes things happen and solves problems. If this governor or any other candidate for public office thinks that just lowering taxes is going to draw businesses from all over the map, they are either drinking Kool-Aid or returning from a vacation in Colorado.
If anyone thinks that help may be on the way with alternatives to Governor Deal in the upcoming Republican primary, consider this. One opponent, David Pennington was quoted saying that Deal “failed miserably”, but never offered a syllable about how he would deal with weather crises in the region. His only mantra is about taxes. The other candidate, John Barge, said that he would have “taken the heat” for closing the schools early, “especially when it involves safety. Yet Barge, the state school superintendant, said that he did not urge the schools to let students out early out of fear of “overreaching.”
Nothing will change or improve until we solve our transportation problems. There isn’t enough asphalt to hold all the cars in the Atlanta metropolitan area. So all we can do is sleep well knowing that the governor has arranged for more salt bins to be strategically placed around the state. I wish that had consoled me the other night, but it didn’t. At least some consolation came from knowing that our underpaid uniformed public servants were out in full force doing the real work. To them I say, thank you!
A lot of interesting events have occurred over the past ten days or so, some still ongoing. I am always relieved when I read that the Republicans are protecting America from the socialist/communist Obama. It saves me the trouble of looking under my bed for commies who might be hiding there but for our Republican representatives.
Over and over on the conservative/right wing/reactionary radio waves I hear how the “liberal media” is destroying our country. If I am to believe Rush Limbaugh, he alone has a daily listening audience of over 20 million. Add Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck, Mark Levin, and many more, and we are talking about some serious numbers. Those numbers probably add up to far more listeners than the NYT and Washington Post, among other liberal media, have reading their newspapers. We already know that FOX has a wider viewing audience than CNN. In Atlanta there are no stations that I am aware of that carry any well known liberal talking heads. Randi Rhodes, who I rank among the best of them and who is virtually unknown to most Americans, is no longer heard in Atlanta. Air America, which carried her and several other liberals, disappeared some years ago with no replacement. Same for many other cities in the U.S.
So for those who rely on the reactionary talking heads for “news”, it has been interesting. Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, a Republican who served under Bush and Obama has a new book out. I haven’t read it yet, only the newspaper accounts of it. The talking heads have been touting Gate’s opinion of how Obama is essentially responsible for our failure to bring peace to Afghanistan. Yet Gates took Bush apart too for abandoning Afghanistan while winning that war in order to engage in a war with Iraq. Not a mention of that on any of the talk shows I have listened to. No mention either of Gates’ praise for Hillary Clinton, or even a passing comment that Condoleezza Rice sought to close our detention center at Guantanamo Bay. And for sure there wasn’t even a tip of the hat to Gates’ statement that Obama’s decision to send in the SEALS to capture or kill Osama bin Laden was the most courageous political decision that Gates had ever seen. To hear these “fair and balanced” bloviators one would believe that Gates’ only agenda was to rip Obama and Joe Biden.
The same commentators have also been heavily critical of Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. That’s a fair political debate in my opinion, but their position seems to be at odds with their mantra of states’ rights. Not one reactionary bloviator that I heard mentioned Mitt Romney’s healthcare law in Massachusetts that was the blueprint for Obamacare, or the Republican argument frequently heard that states should be laboratories to experiment with new ideas. Last week listeners were subject to days of critical commentary of the conservative version of what free speech is with reference to Duck Dynasty actor Phil Robertson. But all went silent when Gun & Ammo magazine columnist Dick Metcalf proposed some regulation of firearms and lost his job as a result. (See Kevin Foley’s blog concerning this, a very well done piece that explains the conservative hypocrisy concerning speech.)
To close the week out we can’t overlook the debate concerning extending unemployment benefits for three months at a cost of $6 billion. The Republicans insist on an offset, cuts from somewhere else in order for them to support the bill. Our own two U.S. senators, Johnnie Isakson and Saxby Chambliss insist on the offsets. While this is going on, the next farm bill is coming up soon for a vote that will cost $500 billion over ten years. Yet not a whisper from our two senators that just maybe we can find $6 billion from the “unemployment bill” for farmers who get paid not to grow crops, receive insurance subsidies, and much more. I have to believe that the unemployed who need additional help right now don’t fill the campaign coffers like Big Agriculture does. In other words, there is a solution, but cash is king, and the voice of cash speaks much louder than the voices of the down and out. It’s just more of the same…
It appears that a budget agreement is at last going to happen. Finally a majority of our elected representatives have restored some sanity to the process in order to prevent another chaotic situation in mid-January. But there are still some tea party Republicans or those with tea party primary opponents who didn’t vote for it. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that he would not support the budget. He also has a tea party opponent in Kentucky. It would be funny if it wasn’t for real that there is a faction in Kentucky that doesn’t think McConnell is conservative enough.
It is probably fair to expect that all Republican candidates will run on a mantra of Obamacare, how it is the worst legislation in history, that it is the opening salvo to turn the USA into a third world socialist country---and much more of the like. Of course we have never gotten a single Republican healthcare plan even when the Republicans had both houses and the White House---unless you count New Gingrich’s, Mitt Romney’s and the Heritage Foundation’s plans that looked much like Obamacare. Congressman Tom Price’s bill hasn’t even been taken seriously by his fellow Republicans, so we can’t expect much from Republicans on this score unless you count criticism and rhetoric.
In the meanwhile Republicans continue to flail away at government spending. The proposed House budget, though, increases spending for a few years before over time there is a net reduction. Believing that the reductions will occur requires an act of faith, and I personally am not a man of faith. Already the proposal to reduce military retirement COLAs until age 62 is coming under heavy fire from every veterans group and will not likely survive. Don’t expect the corporate farmers to take any torpedoes on their multibillion dollar subsidies. If you think the tax code is going to be overhauled to create some fairness, to reduce paperwork, to eliminate complex regulations, you are living in Walter Mitty land.
During the upcoming primaries and ensuing general election, if someone asks a question about jobs, among many legitimate societal issues, expect the response to circle back to blame Obamacare for the problems. This legislation may even be accused of causing cancer and heart disease. But in the end things that could help to create jobs (revised tax code, focus on higher education, rebuilding infrastructure, etc.) won’t get serious attention.
The next big political event occurs in February when the congress has to vote to raise the debt ceiling. Interesting that many reactionary radio talk meisters spin this as though it allows Obama to spend more money instead of the truth that it allows the government to pay the bills for spending that congress already authorized. The real irony will be if any Republicans vote against raising the debt limit while favoring increased spending in the proposed budget.
This is going to be a show to watch over the next ten months or so. If tea party Republicans prevail in the elections, there will be a hard shift to the right in this country. That would have a dramatic effect on what legislation gets passed or stalled out. If mainstream Republicans prevail, there would be hope that just maybe we could expect more compromise by both parties, more crossing the aisle to work together for the good of the country. Next year is going to be a very interesting political year, one that could have enormous influence on who the presidential candidates will be and what their platforms will look like
It’s gotten real crazy out there with local Republicans accusing each other of straying from the fold with one faction even talking about pursuing some kind of recall against Tim Lee. It’s hard to tell who the real Republicans are because each faction has its own guidelines that are considered gospel. There are always the social conservatives that put social issues above all else. Then there are those who profess that the free markets must be free, that government involvement in the marketplace can only corrupt it, and that cutting taxes and regulations is the best way to put people back to work. These are all legitimate positions for political debate, but it doesn’t help to figure out who the “real deal” Republicans are.
Locally there are two transactions going on simultaneously. The first is the new Braves stadium, and the second is the ten year tax abatement given to prominent developer John Williams just in time for Christmas. I’m not questioning whether either of the taxpayer supported enterprises will be beneficial for Cobbians: I don’t know. What I do question is why, in each instance, we are told that both are such good deals, yet those pushing these ventures want government gimmees. (As I’ve written many times before, I am an Eisenhower Republican that believes some private/public ventures can be beneficial, but I am challenging modern day Republicans who reject that notion. Eisenhower Republicans are extinct. ) I would think that there would be no shortage of investors willing to put up their money on what they tout as a sure win. In John Williams’ case, he’s building a massive office/condominium complex in a very desirable area, one conveniently located near the site of the new stadium. It’s not like we are talking about a potentially risky urban redevelopment project.
Tim Lee is a prominent Republican, but I’m not sure what that label means anymore since he is identified with both of these taxpayer enterprises. For two years, and especially the past two months, we’ve heard nothing but condemnation of Obamacare. It’s the most convenient punching bag out there today. I can’t wait for Lee and some of his supporters to remind us just how bad Obamacare is as he tries his hand at three card monte to keep our attention off of his political maneuvering in both deals. One recent letter writer to the MDJ, a very conservative Republican to all who know him, defended John Williams’ tax abatement with a novel argument. With zero evidence to support his conclusion that Williams’ project will have “obvious and immediate benefits” to the county, the writer continues in effect stating that Williams deserves the break because of all of his generosity and charitable contributions to the community.
The letter writer seems to overlook that Williams has justifiably prospered for his labor. For those biblically inclined for guidance, perhaps Luke 12:48 says it best: For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” I’m willing to bet that there are countless small business owners in Cobb County that contribute mightily to payrolls and also pay the full freight of their taxes. They just don’t rise to the level of Williams in financial success, but arguably they too deserve tax abatements for contributing to the economy and providing jobs. Where is Lee, et al to suggest some breaks for them?
On the national level, we have budget negotiations that continue. The Republicans support another farm subsidy bill that may be a sticking point with Democrats, and rightfully so in my opinion. The same Republicans, though, want to cut the food stamp program known today as SNAP. One Republican congressman from Tennessee said in support of the food stamp cuts, quoting the Bible, that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. It took the media to disclose that this same hypocrite has taken upwards of a million dollars in farm subsidies while not lifting a finger to sow his fields.
There are so many more examples of Republican hypocrisy when it comes to handouts, subsidies, and tax breaks for their special interest groups. It’s a target rich subject. And it’s a subject that should make all voters angry, especially those that adhere to the belief that their political party is about free markets unfettered by these handouts. At least that’s what they want you to believe.
We are nearing the first of three dates when our elected representatives in Washington have to make some tough budget decisions. The sequestration bill that went into effect earlier this year will cut several trillion dollars through 2021. The unfortunate byproduct of these cuts is that they are indiscriminate and hurt all federal agencies equally. That’s not a good recipe for our government or country as it will impact two among several of the more important government functions: Defense and law enforcement.
I never want the armed forces of the United States to be second best to any country. For now that isn’t likely to happen. One of the most important factors in making us the power that we became is our economy and industrial might. Our WW II enemies were very capable fighters, but they could not out produce us, they could not keep up with our ability to throw planes, ships and logistics against them in incomprehensible numbers. It has been that way ever since, but the recession that began in 2007 has begun to change how we must think, prepare, and plan.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), personnel and healthcare costs for the military are greater than ninety percent of their civilian counterparts---and rising. I am familiar with the usual arguments of how cutting some of these costs would be a breach of faith, but two things to consider. First, I am not talking about costs for wounded and disabled veterans. Second, our economy is in trouble, and most civilian workers, not to mention state and local government employees, have paid a heavy price. Everyone has to have an oar in the water if we are to get through these tough times. The only exception I would make to this argument is to raise taxes to keep the spending at the current levels. I’m sure, though, that what I’ll hear instead is how we should cut government waste first, which means cutting anything that doesn’t affect the person making this argument.
Something else to consider is the need to be more judicious in deciding when to use troops. Every military engagement has another component that doesn’t get much mention---the staggering costs to fund the Veterans Administration. I am astounded at some of the crazy talk about bombing Iran before giving diplomacy a chance. And yes, there are very credible people in the Israeli government, military and intelligence who support the six month agreement and lifting of sanctions with Iran. Few seem to remember that Benjamin Netanyahu said in 1995 that we had to bomb Iran now because their development of the bomb was imminent. Forgotten too is that no country in the world has the right to make foreign policy for the United States.
One of the difficulties in cutting defense spending is having a volunteer military. Very few members of congress have ever worn the uniform. No doubt many feel a certain guilt in sending others into harm’s way, especially those who lived through the draft and took advantage of every deferment they could get. Perhaps having a perfect record of always “supporting the troops” is their way of showing patriotism and assuaging any negative feelings about their lack of service . Maybe a two year mandatory public service requirement, which could be civilian or military, with greater benefits going to the military, would be one solution to spiraling personnel costs facing the Pentagon.
Some economists predict that our current situation is likely to last for decades for a lot of reasons that make sense. Our congress is going to have to work harder, smarter, and get down to the real work of tax reform. They are going to have to stop the nonsense of paying farmers hundreds of billions in various crop support programs, providing loan guarantees to banks, and propping up other segments of the private sector that so many claim works much more efficiently than the government. Tougher times lie ahead regardless, but it’s time to find officials who will make the tough choices independent from special interests. Any bets on the likelihood of that happening?