|September 30, 2015||The Agitator #188: "Checks" and balances||no comments|
|September 23, 2015||The Agitator #187: Republicans and religious freedom||no comments|
|September 16, 2015||The Agitator #186: From balsa wood to oak||no comments|
|September 09, 2015||The Agitator #185: Religious freedom turned on its head||no comments|
|September 02, 2015||The Agitator # 184: "One, two, three, look at Mr. Lee"||1 comments|
|August 26, 2015||The Agitator #183: JEB is clueless||no comments|
|August 19, 2015||The Agitator #182: "Rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell"||1 comments|
|August 12, 2015||The Agitator #181: Corruption versus "corruption"||no comments|
|August 05, 2015||The Agitator #180: The sound of silence is fatal||1 comments|
|July 29, 2015||The Agitator #179: The balsa wood candidate, Part 2||2 comments|
Stating the obvious, last week was a big week. Between Pope Francis’ visit and House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation, there was a monumental convergence of events. Conservatives are still angry that the pope is speaking out about issues that they regard as political, never mind that the same critics have never objected to Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other men of the cloth being engaged in the political arena. The difference is that the latter have carried the conservatives’ water.
Conservatives also rejoiced at Boehner’s decision to quit. To them, Boehner wasn’t tough enough. He understood that politics is the art of compromise, something anathema to conservatives who think that politics is more like war, that there is only unconditional surrender. The likes of Rush Limbaugh (His Porkulous) and Sean Hannity promoted the “no compromise” line. A few elected representatives found themselves groveling on air for forgiveness to His Porkulous when they strayed from the party line and dared to suggest working out certain deals with Democrats.
Boehner’s successor, likely Kevin McCarthy from California, will probably find himself equally frustrated with his “take no prisoners” faction. These reactionaries have forced upwards of 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, a complete exercise in futility, yet Congressman Tom Price’s proposed replacement plan wouldn’t even get a committee hearing in the Republican House. The House has refused to debate the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate a couple of years ago, yet the Republicans have nothing to offer in its stead.
Somewhere along the way these reactionary obstructionists seem to have forgotten that we have three branches of government. The Founding Fathers, whom the reactionaries proclaim to adore, created a system of checks and balances that has evolved into more “checks” than balances. Today the moneyed interests have more sway over legislation than the voters. Follow the money and you will see who supports building obsolete weapons systems, keeping open unneeded military bases, and most importantly, getting favorable provisions passed in the tax code.
The reactionaries continue to question why Obama would veto any spending bill or continuing resolution that defunds Planned Parenthood. They can’t comprehend how the president could go against them on this issue. This is a fair political debate, and the president has just as much right under the Constitution to veto any law as the House and Senate have to gather the necessary votes to override it. For these reactionaries who never stop professing their love for the Constitution, it seems kind of odd that they “forget” the president’s role in governance.
The usual Obama critics question why it’s okay for Obama to “conveniently ignore the Constitution”, when somehow it’s wrong that Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis is forced to act against her First Amendment protected religious convictions or be jailed for failing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. What is overlooked in this debate is that some functions of government are discretionary and others are ministerial. Obama, as chief executive, has a lot of discretionary powers. Davis, on the other hand, took an oath to perform certain duties as specified by law.
Recent history has demonstrated that when the Republicans control the White House and both houses of congress, the voters should not have high expectations. George W. Bush was in that situation for six years. For sure you can always count on a tax cut with Republican dominance, something that Bush did during a time of two wars (a first in American history). Immigration reform, not exactly an issue that just surfaced, was completely ignored during those six years, as was any attempt to change the tax code to provide some meaningful fairness to it. There was no attempt to fix the broken healthcare system, and despite all the criticism of Obamacare, you won’t ever get so much as an acknowledgment from Republicans that eliminating the preexisting conditions exclusion from insurance policies was a seismic positive change.
Washington politics has become impersonal unlike the years of Reagan and earlier. Representatives today rarely move their families to the capital. There is no socializing among the electors, and spouses aren’t there to organize dinner parties where once upon a time people could get to know each other on a personal level. In the current climate, especially within the Republican Party, being seen having a beer with a Democrat after hours could be a career-ender.
We still may have a government shutdown by year’s end over Planned Parenthood, but also on whether to lift the current debt ceiling to pay for the bills that Congress already passed. For those who advocate shutting down the government if they don’t get their way, I say let it happen. But this time let it be complete. Include the aircraft controllers, public safety employees, and anyone else otherwise usually exempt. And then let the American people decide at the ballot box if standing on “principle”, at least as Republicans see it, was worth the results.
Republicans are fond of claiming to be the real defenders of the Constitution versus Democrats who they perceive to interpret it to suit whatever outcome they desire. This is particularly true when it comes to the First Amendment and religion.
Recently, several of the Republican candidates for president defended Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for refusing to carry out her constitutional oath and issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, because to do so would violate her religious freedom. Never mind that Davis can practice her faith as a private citizen without government interference, but that would require her to give up her $80,000/year job, a top tier salary in her county, and one not likely to be matched in light of her limited education.
Then this week we heard from candidate Ben Carson that he would not support a Muslim for president because he does not believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution. He did allow, though, that he would consider supporting a Muslim who ran for Congress. Carson is an evangelical Christian, and because he has a very powerful and inspirational story to share, he might make for a better minister.
Donald Trump was asked if he could support a Muslim in the White House, and he replied that some people thought that we already have one there now. But Trump was “generous” in adding that he would take Obama at his word that he was a Christian. Yet when confronted by a man at an Iowa rally who “accused” Obama of being a Muslim and not an American, unlike John McCain who corrected a woman in 2008 who made the same statement, Trump remained silent. Trump later explained that if he had corrected the man, he would have been accused of violating the man’s free speech. And that lame, pathetic response garnered Trump loud applause.
What is missing from Carson’s and Trump’s religious bigotry is the real question that should be asked of anyone running for elective office irrespective of their religious convictions: Would they support and defend the Constitution of the United States? That is the real issue that should matter.
We should go after Muslim extremists who would do our country harm. But if we are to be intellectually honest, it is just as fair to point to the number of extremists that profess to be Christians in this country and who have committed terrorist acts, to include organizations that are Christian based such as the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. Both varieties of extremests pervert the tenets of their faiths, and both are equally dangerous.
I well recall the election of 1960 when there was strong anti-Catholic sentiment against John F. Kennedy, that Kennedy’s first loyalty would be to the pope and not the Constitution. Kennedy dispelled the fears and proved that his oath of office superseded his personal faith when it came to governing. Until now I thought that Kennedy’s legacy in that regard had changed the way Americans think about their leaders. I was wrong.
Then there is Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator who professes to love Israel. To that I will give a Trump-like response and say that I will take her word. During last week’s debate a question was asked of the presidential candidates about what America would look like after “you” were president. Those who responded spoke up for Israel, but Coulter thought that since all Republicans are already strong supporters of the Jewish nation, that they were pandering to the Jewish vote. Coulter tweeted, “How many f…ing Jews do these people think are in the United States?”
Coulter tried later to parse her words to suggest that she was using the F bomb as a modifier or some such in talking about the number of Jewish voters, not as an adjective to describe Jews. Her response assuaged my concerns that she could be an anti-Semite, and since the Republican silence concerning her remark was deafening, I thought for sure that I had misread and overreacted to this harridan’s choice of words.
There are those who believe that we are a Christian nation. The Judeo part was really only added to this belief within the past fifty years or so. Anti-Semitism was, and some places still is, a part of our country’s history. But notwithstanding what one of our local columnists continues to write---along with any number of his supporters---the Constitution of the United States of America is a secular document. It provides religious freedom to believe or not believe, for all. Our Founding Fathers got it right, and any presidential candidate who doesn’t get this is unfit and unworthy to hold that high office.
I have written a couple of commentaries that characterized Donald Trump as the balsa wood candidate if one is referring to presidential timber. For now I would say that Trump is looking more like an oak tree; I’m just not sure at what stage of growth we are talking about, and how deep the roots go. If Trump withstands the Wednesday debate by parrying the shots coming his way from the other candidates, and if he doesn’t have a Rick Perry moment, he will defy all the political pundits from academia and the media.
Recent polls show that the vast majority of voters are looking for an outsider, not someone that has become settled in Washington with the skewed world view that being there too long can bring. Readers can decide if past outsiders proved that they made better presidents. Among the more recent are Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Only Trump, who avoided military service during Vietnam, could get away with slandering a former POW, comparing his high school experience at New York Military Academy with actual military service, make demeaning comments about Meghan Kelly’s femininity, and Carly Fiorina’s looks. The guy has proven thus far to be bullet proof.
Last week Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote a column about the Iran nuclear agreement rally outside the Capitol that Ted Cruz had put together. Cruz invited Trump to the event to pitch in. Cruz, a man with a stellar academic pedigree, talked to the crowd about existentialism, how congress needs more Blue Dog Democrats like Scoop Jackson, and other esoterica. The younger people in the gathering appeared not to have any idea what Cruz was talking about, and when he concluded his remarks, he received polite applause.
Then Trump got up to speak. He immediately blasted the people who negotiated the nuclear agreement and called them “really, really stupid.” The crowd loved it, roaring their approval. It didn’t matter that Trump said absolutely nothing of substance, he reached into their inner cores, their souls if you wish, and resonated. And Trump has been doing that from exactly day one.
Only Trump can have his somewhat liberal past ignored. He was once pro-choice, a serial philanderer, on his third marriage, and currently proposing to raise taxes on the wealthy. Trump is also on record that he would eliminate the carried-interest tax loophole that allows billionaire hedge fund owners to be taxed at a much lower rate. He professes to be a Christian but can’t name his favorite Bible verse. For any other candidate, the fact that they were a Democrat as recently as a decade ago, and reportedly voted for Obama, would be a great opening for attack---but not with Trump. Just having voted in a Democratic primary one time---even for a worthwhile purpose such as ending former Representative Cynthia McKinney’s career---is an opening for an opponent other than Trump.
Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, two of the frontrunners until recently, are dropping like rocks in the polls. Both proclaim that they will have strong showings in Wednesday’s CNN debate at the Reagan Library. I can’t wait to see their secret weapons. But my guess is that they will fall flat, Trump will triumph, and he will have been responsible for the narrowing of the field. Voters have consistently stated that they like Trump’s candor, that he’s not a waffler, that you know where he stands, that he makes them feel good, that he doesn’t give political speeches, that he’s the right guy to return us to the Promised Land.
Trump has yet to say how he would satisfy diverse interests like those from agricultural states versus urban populations, how he would spend taxpayer money, and perhaps most importantly, how he would win over a majority of 535 elected representatives who don’t answer to him. But it doesn’t matter. As long as he can win loud applause for promising to win our overseas conflicts to the point where the American people will become “bored with winning”, he’s on the path to winning the Republican nomination.
The big question is what will establishment Republicans do if Trump becomes the inevitable winner? Will they try to find a way to sabotage him? From someone I thought was once made of balsa wood, I now have to wonder if it would take a logging company to bring down what appears to be a mighty oak---even if this oak tree could never produce a single acorn.
The First Amendment, which protects religious freedom for all Americans, has been turned on its head, and not just because of the actions of Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis. Happening concurrently, among other high profile incidents, there is the Muslim flight attendant who refuses to serve alcohol because it violates her faith; the baptism of football players at a Villa Rica, GA high school; and the smear campaign in the Nashville, TN mayoral race where one candidate has accused the other of being an atheist.
People have strong opinions one way or the other concerning these instances. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (not the only one, just the most vocal) is desperately trying to salvage his campaign, and has taken on Kim Davis’ cause. He visited her in jail this week, cameras rolling, to demonstrate his support. Their mutual position is that one’s individual religious beliefs supersede the person’s oath to support, preserve and defend the Constitution and federal and state laws. Davis has been jailed for contempt for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Davis is paid $80,000/year by the taxpayers to perform a public duty. This salary is considered very high compared to most who live in her county. The honorable option would be for Davis to resign from office and pursue her cause as a private citizen, something the First Amendment protects, and something those of us who really do believe in religious freedom would support.
But Davis has a mortgage and other typical household debt, good jobs nearby are hard to find, so she has chosen to defy her oath of office, to defend what she believes to be a just cause, while remaining in her position of power and getting paid. Her legal representation is being covered by a religious organization, so Davis isn’t making much of a financial sacrifice to stand on principle.
The Muslim flight attendant took a job knowing that it included serving alcohol to passengers, but she later converted to Islam, and subsequently asked for an accommodation that other flight attendants serve drinks in her stead. Apparently, not all the attendants were appreciative of the added duties, and the airline is now being sued on some grounds of violating the plaintiff’s religious freedom. I have yet to see Mike Huckabee or one other Republican candidate who supports Davis come out and support this woman.
Then there is the baptismal story at Villa Rica High School. A local minister was invited by a coach to baptize players in a large tub on the football field before practice. Of course, there was no coercion involved. The eighteen students voluntarily submitted to the sacrament and turning their lives over to Jesus Christ. No pressure at all on any of the players who were present who might have been of a different religious persuasion---or no persuasion. No reason to think that the coach and other teammates might look differently at those who did/didn’t participate. Those defending the coach and minister, I am sure, would also defend a Muslim coach who brought an Imam to the same field for a proselytizing activity.
In Nashville there are two candidates in the runoff election this week for mayor. One of them has run a campaign smearing the other candidate, Megan Barry, of being an atheist. An atheist, I say! And Barry, whether she is or is not, has sadly felt compelled to deny it, to defend that she was raised a Catholic, instead of proclaiming her right as an American to not have to defend at all her freedom of conscience. The question for the voters of who would be the better mayor, who would be the better problem solver, who has better ideas for improving the quality of life for the citizens of Nashville, has taken on secondary importance to what should be front and center.
When presidential candidates openly talk of defying the Constitution, of defying court orders, of public officials answering to their interpretations of God’s will over obeying and enforcing the laws of this country, we are in trouble. That is the road to anarchy. Our religious institutions, unlike in so many other countries, have thrived because of government neutrality, and for the most part we have lived in peace with our neighbors who may be different from us.
This country is fortunate to have legal procedures in place to change the Constitution and statutes, and those procedures have served us well for over 225 years. There will never be unanimous agreement on anything, but one thing we should all agree on is that our Founding Fathers gave us a system of government that is worth protecting against political demagogues.
Once again Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee has made the news, but probably not in a way that he would have preferred. He recently “wrote” a letter to the editor for the MDJ in support of the police following Commissioner Lisa Cupid’s encounter with an undercover officer. It turned out that Mr. Lee’s “heartfelt” LTE wasn’t authored by him. His deputy chief, Kellie Brownlow, actually wrote it and lifted portions from a letter, without attribution, written by a victim/witness advocate in Kentucky. Brownlow then compounded her lapse by offering a disingenuous justification for her dishonesty that couldn’t pass the red face test.
The AJC and a local columnist have also written on this topic, and I am happy to pile on. This is hardly Mr. Lee’s first rodeo with situational ethics. I have written several other commentaries about it over the past year.
What is particularly disheartening is that the letter was supposed to let Cobb police officers know that Mr. Lee has their back. How in good conscience could he ever convince these officers that he is serious when we don’t even know if he read it? My uninformed guess is that knowing Mr. Lee’s cavalier attitude toward the truth, one can easily picture him ordering Brownlow to write a letter for publication that “will make the cops happy” and to let them know that Lisa Cupid is irrelevant as far as he’s concerned. (Recall his duplicitous statements that he did not hire an attorney for the county concerning the drafting of the Braves Memorandum of Understanding, which was later shown to be false by previously undisclosed emails that proved his denials were deceptive.)
Unfortunately for Mr. Lee, one of the experiences he missed in life was putting on the uniform of this country. (There are any number of us who would love to know what deferments he had during the Vietnam draft era, or why, as a conservative patriot, he didn’t volunteer.) Had he been in the military he would have learned by example that even busy generals take time to write personal notes to families that have lost a loved one. I think I am right in remembering that every president has found time to write notes under similar circumstances. But Mr. Lee is apparently much busier---or is just plain flippant.
I’m not sure how anyone in the Cobb PD can take Mr. Lee seriously. He continues to prove that he is not worthy of belief. Brownlow, who makes $105,000/year and isn’t even from Cobb County, has become Mr. Lee’s alter ego. Mr. Lee hasn’t apologized for the letter that he is ultimately responsible for, and he hasn’t disciplined Brownlow that anyone knows. To think, two cops could be hired for real work for what Brownlow is paid. Sadly, too many are blinded by what they see as Mr. Lee’s success in bringing the Braves to Cobb County. That story is a long way from completion, even if everything seems to be going well for now. But having cut out the taxpayers in the decision making process, Mr. Lee’s name will always be associated with it for better or for worse.
“One, Two, Three, Look at Mr. Lee” as he tells you to talk to the hand. Here’s hoping that next year he’ll be looking for a job, and that a real leader who knows how to write, who knows how to lead, who has earned respect by doing, who knows how to work as a team, who knows what integrity and character mean because he learned it from the best---the U.S. Marine Corps---will replace Mr. Lee. The voters have gotten the hand from Mr. Lee. It’s time for the voters to give him the boot.
No matter what Donald Trump says or does, he stays on top in the polls. The interesting phenomena, though, is that the same people who put Trump ahead are the same ones who are convinced that he can’t win the nomination. Yet, if the voters who support Trump actually cast their ballots for him in the primaries despite their “certainty” that he is unelectable, he will be the Republican nominee.
While Trump continues to say all the right things to make the new silent majority feel good---never mind that none of his so-called plans on various issues have any substance---the other candidates are trying to persuade Republican voters that they really do have ideas that will “restore” America to the golden years of Reagan.
Not long ago Jeb Bush got into a heated debate with a college student at a campaign event. Bush tried to explain that his brother George had saved Iraq with the Surge, and that Obama is responsible for the creation of ISIS because he withdrew American troops too soon. The young lady strongly disputed Bush’s revisionist history, and as she tried to cite facts to support her argument, Bush walked off. Since then Bush has stood by his version of events as he tries to convince Americans that he is the right leader to combat ISIS and win the fight against terrorism. Another inconvenient fact that Bush ignores is how the Iraq War created one of the largest refugee problems in history. And refugees with no home, no hope, who are sheltered in tents and provided with bare subsistence, can create huge incubators for more terrorism.
Very brief history, Bush had negotiated a complete withdrawal of combat troops to occur by December 2011. Obama is blamed for failing to obtain a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq that would have extend the time frame of the withdrawal. The argument continues that had Obama made a sincere effort to negotiate a SOFA, ISIS would never have evolved, and a third of the country now occupied by ISIS would never have occurred. What is omitted from this account is that then Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki didn’t want American troops to remain, and he was also under a lot of pressure from different corners, including the Grand Ayatollah, to restore Iraq’s sovereignty.
Bush also conveniently brushes off how his brother’s administration prohibited former Iraqi soldiers under Saddam Hussein, and members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, from becoming part of the new government after Saddam’s overthrow. With nowhere to turn, no jobs, no income, many of these experienced soldiers joined up with al-Qaida and later ISIS. That mistake was foreseeable and probably the genesis of all the bad consequences that we are paying for to this day and for the indefinite future.
There is more that continues to undermine our best efforts to ensure that what remains of Iraq doesn’t fall to ISIS. In addition to the sectarian partisanship that al-Malaki promoted by excluding Sunnis from participating in the government in any meaningful way, he turned a blind eye to rampant corruption if not actually promoting and participating in it himself. And corruption is a country-killer.
Last week the Washington Post reported how the new prime minister is trying to address the corruption problem, which ranges from paying off cops on the low end, to paying sizable sums of money to officials just to get a job that someone is qualified for on the merits. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The corruption did not end with Saddam’s exit, and in fact probably got worse as hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars have gone missing and unaccounted for. Also of note is that we openly paid Sunnis to join the Surge, which is probably not the best way to build any kind of real loyalty to the government we were trying to prop up.
Jeb Bush is likely to be one of the last candidates standing, thus my reason for focusing on him. Like all the other tough talkers who claim that Obama is the cause of the Middle East mess, I ask what Bush’s plan is to turn the area into a nice, friendly, safe place. Included in that question is how he will pay for it without raising taxes, without closing unneeded military bases, without eliminating unneeded costly weapons systems, and without turning the American economy into something that resembles the old Soviet economy where the bulk of spending went to the military. And we know how that ended for them.
Trump is selling snake oil very successfully. Bush is too, but he does it with a softer, confident mien. Neither know what they are talking about, but Trump is more convincing. Neither doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, but the American people will know soon whether they got taken.
Presidential campaigns have a way of causing divisiveness among families, friends, organizations, and anywhere else where discussion occurs about the candidates. People who pay attention to what’s going on in the world are very passionate about their beliefs, which is a good thing, except when it becomes the reason for relationships to sever after so many years. People, including me, can forget all the other things that we share in common and let political differences become the focus. We should remember that disagreement and dissent are good. Dissent is American. Dissent distills ideas and hopefully crystalizes the best and discards the worst.
Another thing that has occurred is the increasing use of pejorative words to describe those with a different world view. The word “liberal” has become associated with being a Democrat, socialist, leftist, or communist---with all meaning the same thing. These words conjure up memories of the Soviet Union and other communist dictatorships, a gross distortion of what Democrats and liberals represent. Our current president has been accused of all of these things, and worse. When I ask Obama’s accusers what industries he has nationalized, I don’t get a response. Instead, the person will usually say that Obama would take over this country if he could. I haven’t seen the evidence for it other than his exercise of presidential powers that conform with other past presidents.
Religious faith has become more important to many Americans than fulfilling one’s oath to preserve, defend and protect the Constitution. A lot of the Obama haters are convinced he’s a closet Muslim because he lived in Indonesia as a boy, yet there is zero evidence to support that assertion. And even if he was a Muslim, why would it matter as long as he had a record of putting the Constitution before whatever religious belief he held? Should we assume that any German-American living in Germany during WW II is a closet Nazi?
As we get closer to the primaries we will see more professions of faith from the candidates, photo ops of them at church, and trying to subtly suggest that they can be trusted because of their belief in God. And something else that has become more common over the past few decades are outliers who promise to run the government like a business. If you look back more than a hundred years---and maybe longer, you will find no president who came directly from a business background. If precedent holds, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina are going nowhere.
It used to matter that a presidential candidate had served his country in uniform. It demonstrated that he understood the import of sending Americans to war. Now it’s okay for the likes of Donald Trump, a man who took four deferments during Vietnam, to attack John McCain’s status as a POW. It’s okay to continually bash John Kerry’s naval service, which included a year on a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam before becoming an officer-in-charge of a Swift Boat. (I do not defend Kerry’s post-Vietnam tossing of his medals.) And it’s especially obnoxious coming from armchair warriors who never saw the elephant.
General Douglas MacArthur, a man who saw war as few have or ever will, understood in his later years that with the development of technology and weapons systems that are exponentially more destructive than anything previously imagined, the need for diplomacy had become vital if the world wasn’t to be destroyed. Yet, false analogies with the Third Reich are made with Iran from our tough talking Republicans who are only too eager to use our military power as the first option. Eisenhower understood the absurdity of this, and if some of the current presidential crop had been president in the 1950s, we might have had a world-ending nuclear war with the Soviets.
At this point I don’t know who the best presidential candidate is. There is only one Republican that I would consider voting for. It isn’t Donald Trump. Trump makes people feel good. He brings out a lot of latent emotions that people generally prefer not to talk about. I still wonder why conservative media hasn’t called on Trump to tell the American people how he would increase defense spending, triple the number of boarder security personnel, put troops on the ground in the Middle East, take care of our veterans, pay for a wall on the Mexican border---all while balancing the budget. If by some miracle he was elected, I can only imagine him giving the State of the Union address.
The days of holding different political opinions without being accused of the worst things, of injecting religion into the debate in a nefarious way, of being un-American, is probably over. Criticizing the candidates is fair game. But the calumnies laid on those that offer criticism has gotten a lot uglier over the years. That is a sad commentary on who we have become as Americans.
Former state Attorney General Mike Bower’s investigation into corruption in DeKalb County is getting a lot of attention. Last March, DeKalb acting CEO Lee May appointed Bowers to investigate and pursue all leads to identify and root out corruption wherever he found it, from top to bottom. The county appropriated $500,000 to pay Bowers $400/hour, and his investigators $300/hour.
From day one I had three questions that I thought should have been answered before the CEO committed to spending this kind of taxpayer money. First, and most importantly, without subpoena power, how would Bowers pursue allegations of illicit relationships---such as between someone in power and a contractor? For that you need to gather up phone records, emails, bank statements, other financial documents, and other sources of information that can only be obtained with a subpoena.
The second question was where would you start? Would the investigation be open-ended, meaning that every county employee would be scrutinized regardless of whether there was a factual basis to conduct an investigation?
The third question pertains to how you could extract relevant information from a potential witness where some sort of immunity agreement might be necessary? Bowers, not having any law enforcement powers, had no authority to offer anything in return for a witness’ testimony should that witness have exposure himself.
Important to consider is that human nature would almost certainly call for Bowers to find “something” in which to justify spending a half million dollars, especially when his commission all but started out with the conclusion that “we know that there is corruption here, we don’t have any idea where or we would have pursued it, but because you are an expert we expect that you will be able to do what our salaried experts couldn’t do.”
In a letter to May last week, Bowers stated that DeKalb County government was “rotten to the core.” What was not stated were names and specific acts associated with them. Instead, it was noted that P-cards issued to county employees had been used for personal items, at least seemingly so, because May refuted some of these expenses as likely legitimate. Admittedly, Bowers has not submitted his final report, which is due either later this month or October, the date depending on whether you believe May or Bowers concerning a dispute over it. What may prevent Bowers from naming names is the real possibility of being sued for defamation.
There is a big difference between incompetence, negligence, and corruption. My educated guess is that there was a failure of oversight in the various departments to ensure that spending was appropriate, that receipts were obtained and accounted for, and that disciplinary action was taken where any breakdown occurred. The roughly ten or so county officials that have been convicted of crimes, to include the CEO and a former longtime commissioner, all acted independently. Each convict figured out his/her own system in which to steal money from the taxpayers. What has not been reported, and which no evidence has been adduced, is that there was or is systemic corruption, where you had an organized hierarchy of criminals (racketeering enterprise) with money flowing in various directions.
Bowers letter, and all the previous investigations on both the state and federal levels, have not revealed any kind of organized corruption. With what May knew when he appointed Bowers, it seems that it would have made more sense to hire an outside forensic accounting firm to flesh out negligence, lack of oversight, incompetence, and even criminality. The firm could also have recommended changes to minimize future occurrences of mishaps or more serious deviations---all for a lot less than Bowers charged.
In the end, I’m not sure what Bowers’ investigation accomplished that couldn’t have been done by ongoing criminal investigations by the FBI, and that the DA’s office and a forensic audit couldn’t have done. The FBI only opens corruption cases based on specific allegations, not gossip and innuendo. In the political arena, it is all too common for one’s opponents and enemies to create mischief by using an investigative body to conduct an investigation, and then to make it public that their opponent/nemesis is under investigation. Bowers has also stated that a number of sources cooperated in his investigation, but what we don’t know is whether these sources led to anything significant or if they used Bowers to get some “payback” against fellow employees or bosses.
Cobb has not experienced anything like DeKalb. Yet fair and reasonable questions have been raised about the stadium deal. I wrote about many of them in Agitator #137, which was based in part on the investigative report that the AJC did. I am not suggesting that someone is guilty of committing a crime. I am suggesting that there are facts and circumstance that warrant a government law enforcement agency with full subpoena power and the power to immunize witnesses, to get answers to a lot of unanswered questions. The citizens don’t need a special outside investigator to do this. They need and deserve more than they have gotten so far.
When it comes to the Confederate Flag, I don’t have a dog in the fight. My first ancestors in America, to my knowledge, didn’t even arrive until the late 1800s. I appreciate my heritage as much as anyone from the South, but its roots lie elsewhere.
Flying the Confederate Flag on government property has been controversial for a good 20 years or so. It may have contributed to the loss of Governor Barnes’ reelection bid in 2002, and it has been a campaign issue for many candidates throughout the South over the years. We’ve all heard the arguments for and against it, and like the abortion and gay marriage issues, most people have their heels dug in one way or the other.
On Saturday, August 1st, many hundreds of Confederate Flag supporters protested at Stone Mountain Park. They demanded that the flag should continue to fly at the park and other public places. What I can’t seem to grasp is why any group should think it their right for the federal, state or local government to display their flags or religious symbols. The same people that think it their right to have the Confederate Flag fly over tax supported forums are probably the same ones who would vociferously object to a minority group insisting that their religious, political or other flag should also be flown.
To be very clear, I support the right of anyone to fly their flag or display whatever symbol they want over their house of worship, their home, their private school, their car, or their neighborhood. I am about free speech, and symbolic speech in this instance should be interpreted very broadly. But when it comes to anything to do with tax money, I am less supportive, and I take a strong position that the government should be neutral in these instances.
Interestingly, the Confederate Flag only became an icon in the South in modern times going back to the mid-1950s. It was a “poke-in-the-eye” at the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal government following the Brown vs. Board of Education integration decision in 1954. So this notion of the flag being such an important part of one’s heritage really didn’t take on that import until it began to symbolize something different---opposition to integration and the federal government.
Last week someone(s) planted or left Confederate Flags at the MLK Center. I think it safe to presume that the “benefactors” did it as an act of defiance, an in-your-face way of telling black people to pound sand. So much for the heritage argument here.
Then on Saturday at Stone Mountain Park, the AJC reported a conversation between a flag supporter and a group of black men. The man, among others, insisted that they weren’t racists, that the flag honored their ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and that it’s about heritage. This one man, though, paraphrasing, said that neither blacks nor whites wanted intermarrying or integration of the schools. The man went on to argue that “integration and the civil rights movement could be blamed on ‘communist Jews’”, and that the Charleston shooter, Dylann Roof, “should have went to the synagogue, because that’s the enemy of all of us.”
So here’s my question: Where are the “heritage” groups like League of the South and Sons of Confederate Veterans, among others, to denounce the incident at the King Center and this anti-Semite? How about those who were present for this remark---why didn’t they publicly condemn him? Why hasn’t there been shouting from the highest hills and treetops objections to the misuse of their flag by the likes of these troglodytes? Why haven’t they screamed out against the KKK and neo-Nazi groups that also fly the Confederate Flag?
I have heard the argument repeatedly that American Muslims are not vocal enough in protesting against Islamic terrorism. (Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure as I have read any number of accounts that don’t support the accusation.) Why the double standard? I think it fair that if any group allows it’s flag or cause to be perverted without objecting, without a fight, deserves what happens.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups allowed an honored symbol of their cause to be hijacked by racists.
The loud silence speaks volumes, and that no official from any recognized southern heritage group has denounced the likes of the vandalism at the King Center, or the disgusting remarks of the anti-Semite at Stone Mountain Park, among many such incidents---all associated with the flag---deserve to forfeit the hallowed place that the flag once arguably deserved.
In an earlier Agitator submission, #174, I wrote about presidential timber and why Donald Trump was the balsa wood candidate. Nothing has changed that opinion. His campaign rhetoric appeals to a very low common denominator.
Trump’s personal attacks on John McCain and his status as a POW for five years during Vietnam is something that would normally end the candidacy of any presidential candidate, especially one that took several school deferments and one medical deferment concerning a bone spur on his foot---but which foot he couldn’t remember when asked.
Not unexpectedly, Rush Limbaugh is strongly defending Trump. Limbaugh reportedly didn’t wait for his draft notice during Vietnam; he went to the draft board with a doctor’s note concerning some unspecified back or skeletal issue. I guess that these two self-serving “patriots” need mutual support as they bash McCain, who answered his country’s call without hesitation. There’s an unprintable name for the kind of “birds” that stick together like Trump and Limbaugh.
From Trump’s despicable comments came other innuendo from supposed fellow POWs who claimed that McCain was a traitor, that he willingly cooperated with his captors, that he got special treatment, and more. I’m still waiting to learn the names of the fellow POWs who have made such claims.
It reminds me of the smears against John Kerry’s Swift Boat service (I am not talking about his post naval service that he should have apologized for). Except for one crew member, the overwhelming majority of the calumnies against Kerry came from sailors who never served with Kerry, weren’t in Vietnam at the same time as Kerry, weren’t in Kerry’s boat division, and had never met Kerry. How many remember Senator Joseph McCarthy’s disgusting accusations against America’s architect of the victory of WW II, General of the Army, George C. Marshall, where Low Blow Joe claimed that Marshall was a communist and responsible for the fall of China? Sadly, one of my great heroes, Dwight D. Eisenhower, went to his grave regretting that he did not defend Marshall against these outrageous, false defamations.
I recall from history that something similar happened to General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the remaining forces at Corregidor in the spring of 1942. The Japanese had laid siege to the island rock, and ultimately Wainwright had no choice but to surrender or go down fighting with no more food or ammunition and no hope of resupply. There is a photo of General MacArthur and Wainwright hugging after the war, and Wainwright is not much more than a scarecrow. Wainwright was awarded the Medal of Honor, but like the guttersnipes attacking McCain, they questioned why he deserved the medal in light of having surrendered.
To those who question McCain’s patriotism, his loyalty to the U.S., his contributions to the American war effort in Vietnam, I share this personal experience. In May 2008, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association dedicated a granite and brass monument at East Cobb Park in memory of Major James Wise, a native of Atlanta who was a pilot shot down and killed in Vietnam on December 23, 1965. I was on the committee that helped plan the ceremony and got a chance to speak briefly with the keynote speaker, Air Force Col. Bud Day, who earned the Medal of Honor as a POW, and like John McCain, had been shot down.
I vividly recall that Day spoke reverentially of McCain, how McCain was a real hero who had endured so much torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese. I have to believe that if Day thought otherwise, and being the gentleman that he was, if he didn’t believe what he said, he would have just remained silent. But he didn’t. And I am glad to bear witness to the memory of the kind words Day had for John McCain.
People who are quoted in the media, and people I have talked to myself, tell me that Trump is saying all the right things, that he is his own man, that he is not afraid to speak the truth, and for those reasons they like and support him. Many add that Trump can’t be bought, and considering his own statements about how successful he is with women, it’s not likely that he can be corrupted in either instance. Yet if you ask the same people how this demagogue would accomplish everything he says he will do if he’s elected, you get blank stares. What neither they nor Trump have figured out is that even if he had both Houses of Congress on his side, he would still have to win over the majority of 535 individually elected representatives who don’t answer to him.
No, even this self-serving tough guy can’t fire the very people that he would need if he were to get anything accomplished.