The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #206: Should judges be elected or appointed?
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The Agitator #86 - Guns and mental illness
by Oliver_Halle
September 20, 2013 04:27 PM | 1752 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It seems that each time there is a mass murder involving some kind of firearm, every pop psychologist and special interest is ready with an answer.  I doubt that any two subjects can work up the American people to take a position on one side or the other that guns and abortion do. 

Lots of things went wrong in the current case of Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter.  For starters, his military record, which included a less than honorable discharge should have been a red flag.  Then there were two reported shooting  incidents, neither of which ended with a prosecution.  One involved an “accidental” discharge of Alexis’ weapon into his upstairs neighbor’s apartment as he was “cleaning” it, despite evidence that the two were feuding.  The second involved shooting out someone’s tires.  Both would seem to have deserved to go the distance in the court system, but for whatever reasons they didn’t.  There was also an arrest in DeKalb County that somehow got disposed of.  Arrests don’t show up on data base searches; only convictions do. 

But law enforcement and its components have access to computerized arrest records that would have picked up all of Alexis’ arrests.  How that got passed the agency that did the background check for Alexis’ security clearance is a mystery.  It was also documented by police in Rhode Island that Alexis thought that he was being bombarded with some kind of rays by people out to get him.  That should have prompted a little more digging, but it didn’t.

What I have provided here is nothing more than a little background, which is really a red herring that the reactionary radio spinmeisters are using to deflect the problem of ready access to weapons to almost anyone who wants to get their hands on one.  The talking heads are blaming the whole shooting on Alexis having some sort of mental illness, that mental illness is the cause of these shootings, that if the security clearance check had been properly done all the victims would be alive.  Oh really?  How do they know that Alexis, without access to the Navy Yard wouldn’t have displaced his anger and taken it out somewhere else that had no security?  Another point they have repeatedly hammered at is how the “liberal media”, (never mind that Fox was part of the same reporting), initially broadcast that the shooter was armed with an AR-15, when it turned out to be some kind of shotgun.  I’m sure the victims and their families are relieved that the killer weapon turned out not to be the assault weapon that only “liberals” want to eliminate. 

The focus de jure among Second Amendment defenders is mental illness and how we need to do something about it, how this is the real problem, and that most of these mass murders wouldn’t occur if we just dealt with the “real problem.”  I’m fine with that if only the same opinionators would come up with a solution instead of just identifying the problem, if they would realize how silly they come across as masters of the obvious. 

I don’t advocate gun confiscation, and I do believe homeowners and others with legitimate needs have the right to possess firearms.  However, I stand with Justice Antonin Scalia’s position that the government has the right to regulate and control certain weapons.   But as long as those who believe in the unbridled right  to own and possess any kind of weapon, and as long as these people feed the campaign coffers of our elected representatives, just eliminating some of the gigantic loopholes in the current gun laws won’t happen.  Despite polls after the Sandy Hook shooting that showed a majority of Americans wanted to close or tighten these loopholes, our two Georgia senators voted against such legislation.  Then I saw a chart of how much money they got from the special interests to defeat the legislation. 

Yet there are those who believe that politicians can’t be influenced by campaign contributions.  The past victims and future victims (to include their families) of these shootings deserve better, but they won’t get it.  Congress only moves when it’s to their advantage, when things affect them.  Recall that when the sequester first kicked in and the FAA reduced the number of aircraft controllers at airports.  This hit our peripatetic representatives directly, so what did they do?  They passed a law that allowed the FAA to prioritize how they cut their budget and to eliminate the furloughs for the controllers.  You can expect the same immediacy if the worst happened and a gunman went off on our legislators and their families at some gathering.  That would be tragic beyond imagination, but it would be a game changer overnight. 

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The Agitator #85 - Obama's worst hour
by Oliver_Halle
September 13, 2013 11:52 AM | 1850 views | 3 3 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to get up in the morning.  As careful as presidents are, and have to be with making speeches and off-hand remarks, they are still human.  Obama proved that with his red line comment a few months ago, and I’m sure he has wished many times that he could take it back.  His best explanation, or what some would call spin, couldn’t do enough damage control to keep the ship of state upright on the topic of Syria. 

I recall well during the Vietnam era one of the mantras from the right, “My country, right or wrong.”  I didn’t know at the time that the words belonged to the great naval hero, Stephen Decatur, that they were out of context, and that the rest of it included the hope that our country would always be right in dealing with foreign nations.  With reference to Syria, to get involved at this stage would be wrong for a lot of reasons, and Obama’s speech to the nation did nothing to dispel that belief. 

Obama made a strong emotional argument that mentioned children victimized by the illegal use of gas.  No argument from me on that point, but he did not include any mention of children and other innocents killed and maimed by artillery or outright executions.  The issue I had hoped he would address concerned the “imminent” or at least “immediate” threat to the United States or any of our interests.  He rightfully pointed out that Assad would not use gas against Israel or the United States any more than Saddam Hussein used it against Israel or the United States.  While I don’t think a limited strike of the type Obama proposed would have any effect, even less so do I believe it considering all of the telegraphing Obama has done concerning the type of mission it would be, promises of no boots on the ground, no planes crossing Syria airspace, and what the targets would be.  I’ve never seen anything crazier.  If we were going to do a very limited and targeted strike, it should have been done with no warning, and it should have been fast and furious to accomplish the mission.  In this instance I am reminded of General Douglas MacArthur’s words, that every battle that has ever been lost can be summed up in two words, “Too Late.” 

To suggest that even a limited mission as Obama proposes isn’t an act of war is the height of disingenuousness.  Imagine some country striking one of our bases in the U.S. and trying that explanation.  The notion that we can support a “friendly” insurgent group is another lesson that we should have learned from.  We tried it in Afghanistan in the 1980s when we supported the Mujahedeen against the Soviets   only to have our own weapons later turned on us.  And even if we helped an insurgency aligned with U.S. interests, who’s to say that they won’t be overthrown by another group?  The communists and nationalists in China come to mind, as does our support for a lot of dictators in countries that were later overthrown.  How many were alive in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson said that he wouldn’t send American boys to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.  We know how that turned out.  

It’s time that our vast sums of money propping up Arab nations with military hardware and training be put to good use.  Syria is in their backyard.  Let the Arab League undertake the mission of destroying Assad’s gas capabilities, and overthrow him if they think they will be better off with a new government.  Why should we take the lead?  The unintended and unforeseeable consequences of the U.S. leading this charge make no sense without there being a real threat to our country.  

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Oliver G. Halle
September 15, 2013
Pete, First allow me to thank you for your kind remarks. What we probably have in common are the things that we want for our country to make it a better place to work, educate our children, live without economic, crime and other fears, and to enjoy our freedoms. Our differences mostly lie in HOW to get to the end zone. Reasonable people can differ, debate, and argue, and with that one can hope that the best ideas will be distilled. Thank you again for writing your comment.

The Agitator #84 - Budget gridlock
by Oliver_Halle
September 05, 2013 03:36 PM | 1633 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

This is going to be an interesting six weeks or so.  First, there is the subject of the upcoming new fiscal year that begins October 1st.  Will congress pass continuing resolutions to keep government functioning, or will it shut it down, as some Republicans are threatening, if Obamacare isn’t defunded?  And then there is the debt ceiling that will be reached about two weeks later according the Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew.  Again, a number of Republicans have said that they will not vote to raise it despite having voted for the spending of monies whose bills are now due.  Recall that the last time a debt ceiling compromise was reached we got sequestration. 

In case anyone has forgotten, the current sequestration involving cuts across the board is supposed to continue until 2022.  So far it has affected mostly programs that impact the poor.  When the FAA had to furlough aircraft controllers, our elected reps didn’t like having to wait at airports because of delayed flights, and somehow the funding was restored.  Robins AFB in Warner Robins was about to get hit hard with layoffs of civilian contractors until money was somehow found.  What many don’t realize is that laid off contractors spend a lot of money in the local economy.  A lot of other smaller communities that rely on the money that federal contractors bring are going to be in for some very hard times.  Cobb County will likely feel the pinch too with work related to Lockheed. 

The ripple effect of fewer dollars in the economy is coming our way.  My spending is your income, and vice versa.  When the money’s not there, guess who is going to get hurt?  I heard a financial radio talk show host the other day who gave some good advice to a caller about the need to cut nonessential spending and save more.  This was sound microeconomic wisdom, but I could sense the howling from the restaurants, coffee shops, house painters, cleaning services, the MDJ that relies on subscribers, and all the other small businesses that depend on the money that this person and others similarly situated will not put into the economy, which is what macroeconomics is all about.  What may good for the individual can be devastating for the larger community. 

We know from the experience of WW II that government spending is absolutely essential to the economy.  It was the single largest cause of ending the Depression.  Immediately after the war, when the government dramatically cut spending, many businesses suffered.  We also know that the costly GI Bill from that war was one of the biggest reason this country experienced prosperous times, that people who never could have afforded an education not only got one, they became the captains of industry and leaders of our great country.  Yet we have legislators who will never miss a stump speech to talk about our national debt and deficit spending, but vote for every spending bill that only benefits their constituents, particularly unnecessary weapons systems, and then denounce Obama who is responsible for ensuring that the invoices for these things get paid. 

For those who support Republicans because they promise to vote to defund Obamacare, you are the victim of their version of three card monte.  What have you heard lately about IRS hearings?  Any news from your congressman or senator about what they are doing to change the tax code? When it comes to taxes I have to believe that despite differences in political thought, especially with most people in Cobb County, we can agree that the tax code has got to go.  But it won’t.  And it won’t because the special interests like their credits and exemptions that give them an advantage, and they pay for it through campaign contributions and lobbying.  Meanwhile, as the three card monte of politics continues, once again  we are all the losers.  One thing for sure: As long as the same losers are reelected, we should not be surprised when things get a lot worse. 

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The Agitator #83 - Take no prisoners
by Oliver_Halle
August 26, 2013 02:03 PM | 1558 views | 2 2 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

For the past couple of years or so, Senator Saxby Chambliss has spoken about bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle, and bridge building with Democrats in trying to govern and get important legislation passed.  For this Chambliss has been hammered by tea party members and other conservatives.  To these groups it’s all about winning, all about cramming their agendas down the throats of everyone else with no compromise and a take no prisoners attitude.  Lots of war metaphors are used to describe the type of legislator these folks want representing them.  What is disgusting, though, is the notion that somehow politics and governing is analogous to fighting a war.  

The current crop of Republican candidates to replace Chambliss seem to think that they have to take this extremist viewpoint, that if they are perceived as a moderate they don’t have a chance of being elected.  Perhaps in Georgia they are right (no pun intended), but at some point that attitude is going to see Georgia  and likeminded officials of other states, mostly from the South, marginalized and perceived like the Dixiecrats of old.  They’ll make great speeches, talk about how America is on the precipice of being taken over by communists, terrorists, Muslims, or any other group they can use to scare the masses, but you won’t see   legislative accomplishments from them.  I doubt that I am alone in hearing how frustrated the voters are at the inability of Congress to get anything done, but when these people vote, invariably they elect the same do-nothings.    

The Republicans had an opportunity to really make some changes, to do all the things that they now obstruct if any legislator with a D after his name is the one proposing it.  In the six years that the Republicans had the White House and both Houses of Congress, we saw no tax reform that would change the current system, no immigration reform, no healthcare reform, and no debt reduction plan---among some of the more important issues.  Now that these issues are topical, except for tax reform, not only are the Republicans and Democrats going at each other, there is the internecine squabbling within the Republican Party because some Republicans are perceived as giving in, compromising, selling out, and other pejoratives that are unprintable.  In return the voters get sequestration, an absurd way of dealing with budget issues.  Don’t forget that in 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when asked what his legislative priorities were never mentioned a single one of the things on the minds of the American people.  He said that his top priority was to unseat Obama in 2012.  That’s real statesmanship.  That’s really moving the ball downfield. 

Phil Gingrey represents the intransigence I am referring to.  He has stated that it’s time to “stand our ground”, to have the “courage of conviction”, all tough talk from a guy who begged Rush Limbaugh on his radio show to forgive him for making statements about the Republican Party that offended His Porkulous.  And then there was the time after the Sandy Hook shooting that Gingrey made some comments about guns that upset the gun folks, and it took less than a day for him to plead temporary insanity to his constituents for making such foolish comments.  In a perverted way I would like to believe that maybe Gingrey really is a compromiser despite his no prisoners approach, and would compromise when his feet are put to the fire.  Perhaps Rush Limbaugh can get Gingrey to compromise more frequently than Gingrey thinks he’s capable of doing.

It won’t be long before there may be a government shutdown because of the unwillingness of a significant number of Republicans who want to defund ObamaCare.  The only health plan that the Republicans have put on the table is one proposed by Tom Price.  And guess what?  His bill has almost no support within his own party.      

The American people are the losers for the bunch we have elected to serve us in Washington.  If only there was a way to have a  clean sweep.  But snake oil sells, and when you put it to the sound of sweet music, we have no chance. 

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Lib in Cobb
August 28, 2013
Thank you Oliver, thank you.

The Agitator #82 - Living wage and strikers
by Oliver_Halle
August 15, 2013 10:36 AM | 1941 views | 5 5 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Listening to reactionary talk radio is always an experience.  You never know what you didn’t know until one of these talking heads enlightens you in ways that go beyond your imagination.  One of the latest episodes involves the attack on minimum wage/low paid workers who are striking for a living wage in several cities around the country.  It began in NYC with McDonald’s and is spreading.  The workers are asking for $15/hour, which for 52 weeks comes to $31,200.  When you subtract all taxes and FICA, you are probably down to the mid-20s.  Take out rent costs, public transportation to get to work, groceries, clothing, and doctor and dental costs, and you are down to nothing.  And this doesn’t factor in a worker who is married and has a kid or two.
The conservative pundits behind the microphone are saying, though, that if a worker makes $8/hour, which comes to $16,640, s/he should be grateful just to have a job, that the owner of the business deserves to be rewarded for his success since it is the owner that bears the risk.  I completely agree with regard to the risk/reward part.  The argument continues that the low paid worker could better himself if s/he really wanted to by getting an education.  Admittedly, there is a large number of minimum wage workers who are teenagers that live at home.  I’m not as concerned about them as the person who needs the job just to survive, but many teenagers outside of Cobb County, Westchester, NY, Fairfield County, CT, and other wealthy areas, also provide for their less fortunate families, something that isn’t much discussed. 
The worker that has the ability to do better but not the opportunity to get an education is in a difficult place.  If that worker is providing for himself at a minimum wage, where would s/he get the time to go to school?  Where would the extra cash come from for tuition, commuting, books, and other fees?  Georgia, among other states, has cut back on the HOPE Scholarship and raised tuition and fees.  I have been fortunate to be able to help my kids through college and beyond.  Even though it came with many sacrifices, I consider myself “blessed” to have been able to do it, and I understand that it would have been difficult to impossible for them to have gotten decent educations without family help.  The return on that is that they are productive, taxpaying citizens, which is a good investment for everyone. 
The radio bloviators focus on how much it would cost the employer to pay a living wage, that adding perhaps a quarter to the price of a hamburger could create hardships for some purchasers, and that it could drive a business into bankruptcy.  One other argument is that employers will replace workers with technology to cut costs.  On that one I have to ask where these know-it-alls have been since technology is one of the biggest causes of replacing workers.     
Now for what these experts leave out of their attacks on the workers.  There are a few key points to put all this in perspective.  How much money do special interests pay, (banks, pharmaceuticals, the oil industry, etc.)  each year for lobbyists and campaign contributions to protect their special tax breaks, tariffs, “onerous” regulations, and other benefits that help to reduce or eliminate competition and maximize profits, frequently at the expense of others.  If they think that unions who represent low wage workers can compete with the money that the special interests can pony up, they are delusional.  But it’s easier to go after the unions than the corporate interests, who just might have enough clout to get a talk show host replaced. 
Consider too that the disparity between worker and C level pay since roughly 1980 has gone from about
40:1 to 300:1.   Let’s not overlook the golden parachutes given to failed business leaders who were rewarded for tanking their companies.  The most recent one of prominence is the former CEO of J.C. Penny, who walked away with over $10 million after destroying this once great store. 
It is important to also factor in the multiplier effect of the extra pay that low wage workers would get.  Every penny of that money would go back into the economy.  To contrast, tax breaks for the very wealthy result in approximately 27% of the extra money being spent, the rest going toward savings and not circulating.  It makes economic sense, and it is the right thing to do to pay people a living wage. 
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on balance
August 22, 2013

I did not know Cobb County Guy had to provide you his/her name to express his opinion. I guess you are one with the Obama admin and its concept of the 1st amendment.

How about you open a McDonalds and pay the wages that Foley thinks can be paid. Please remember that Foley is in a non labor intensive business which apparently causes lapses in logical, business thinking.

The Agitator #81 - Congressional healthcare
by Oliver_Halle
August 06, 2013 03:10 PM | 1680 views | 1 1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

During the congressional deliberations over Obamacare, our elected representatives, largely from the Republican Party, never stopped touting how great the then current healthcare system was, that the private sector provided the best care in the world, and all sorts of other bloviating comments.  Obamacare never intended, and didn’t, nationalize our healthcare system, but it made for great scare talk.  Not one Republican voted for Obamacare. 

Many people don’t know that it’s not true that our congressmen and senators do not get free healthcare.  It’s also not true that they get free healthcare for life after serving only one term.  In fact they are under the same healthcare system as all federal employees, the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), which is an exchange consisting of private healthcare providers.  The FEHB allows participants to choose different plans from different providers and different costs, but each is subsidized by the Federal Government.  The plans were all (and still are) very generous and did not exclude preexisting conditions. 

For all the lavish praise bestowed on private healthcare providers, only one former congressman, a Republican from Illinois, chose to reject the FEHB stating that he didn’t feel he was any better than his constituents and should purchase his insurance from the private sector.  He did it at great additional cost.  Congressman Phil Gingrey was one of those who trashed Obamcare, which would have eliminated preexisting conditions for everyone, while defending the current system.  What’s interesting is that Gingrey was probably all but uninsurable during this time because of his preexisting conditions.  After Obamacare passed Gingrey was one of those who said that if Obamacare was good enough for the American people, it was good enough for the members of congress. 

Now Gingrey and all our Washington representatives are experiencing the curse of the Greek gods---they got what they wished for---and then some.  They voted to take themselves out of the FEHB and require that they buy their insurance on the state exchanges like everyone else.  What they forgot to do in passing this legislation is to provide the subsidy they had under the FEHB.  Sadly, this works a hardship on congressional staffers who for the most part don’t get paid much.  This should be corrected for them because it would be the right thing to do.  Our elected officials should live with it but are working to restore their subsidy. 

Every voter should know if their elected representative and senator voted themselves this subsidy handout when it comes up after they return to Washington.  I predict that most, if not all, will support the subsidy under the guise of protecting the low paid staff members, but don’t be fooled.  They can protect them while taking the hit for themselves.  After all, if Obamacare is good enough for the American people, it’s good enough for them, and they should experience how most Americans live.  And they don’t live like most of the people we send to Washington.  If the Republicans are successful in repealing Obamacare one day, one wonders if they would eliminate the requirement to ensure preexisting conditions since this is a costly feature and one of the big reasons for mandatory insurance.  If so, here’s hoping that they will be hoisted on their own petards. 


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Guido Sarducci
August 07, 2013
Requiring companies to cover pre-existing conditions is like wrecking your car, then demanding that Allstate insure it.

Pre-existing conditions fall into two primary categroies. Someone who had insurance and the carrier cancelled them because of contracted disease/condition that they no longer wanted to pay for.

I feel there should be requirements that once you have coverage, the company cannot cancel you because you develope a condition that is costly for them. That should eliminate one of the major needs for the pre-existing condition requirement.

The other is case of an individual who chose not to have insurance, until he developes a disease/condition and then wants to buy insurance. In that case, I don't think any company should be required to insure him.

The Agitator #80 - 2014 GA senate race
by Oliver_Halle
July 30, 2013 08:48 AM | 1488 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Some political pundits think that Georgia and Kentucky will be in play for the 2014 senate race, and that it is possible a Democrat could win one or both states.  Considering the announced choices so far who will slug it out in the Georgia Republican primary next year, I can only hope they are right.  Little is known about Michelle Nunn at this point, but she could be a change agent for the citizens of Georgia, something that has been long needed.

If you look at the Republican lineup, there are some interesting personalities.  First is Paul Brown, a self-proclaimed practicing Christian who has been married four times, a man who majored in chemistry and became a doctor, and who then goes on to make wild statements that would counter good science.  His views on abortion are even out of sync with most right to life supporters.  Broun is so partisan that he couldn’t form a consensus in congress to declare that America loves apple pie and baseball.  To his credit he served in the Marine Corps Reserves and was a medical officer in the navy. 

Phil Gingrey isn’t that much different from Broun.  I have no idea what he would bring to Georgians if he was to be elected.  He would be 72 years old when sworn in, and 78 if he ran for a second term.  Seniority in the senate matters, and it’s not likely that Gingrey would be there long enough to make a difference.  Also consider that when he has taken bold stances, the minute he comes under fire he falls on his sword to those he “offended.”   Recall the time, among others, when he publicly groveled all over His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) when His Porkulous took umbrage at some comments Gingrey made.  Kind of makes it difficult to figure out what Gingrey stands for.  I don’t speak for any veterans but myself, but I am sure I am not alone in resenting Gingrey’s failure to give something back to his country during Vietnam after getting tax subsidized educations at Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia.  The man has never opposed a war, but he failed to answer the war tocsin when doctors were needed, and I will never overlook that.

Karen Handel, like her fellow opponents, is a strong social conservative.  Somehow passing laws pertaining to individual morality is not “more legislation.”  This same candidate served as Fulton County Commission Chairperson and Secretary of State, but the common denominator for both is that she quit before serving out her terms to run for higher office.  She never found time to finish her college education, which is remarkable in this day and time with all the different ways that it can be done.  Commitment is not one of her virtues. 

Jack Kingston is not much different from the other three.  I will always remember how he got his back up when Nancy Pelosi became House Speaker and required the House to meet for a whole week at a time instead of the two and a half day workweek that they had become accustomed to.  Kingston complained that it deprived him of family time.  It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to a man who supported the Iraq War but never put on the uniform himself.  If he had he would empathize with the troops who have been away from their families for a year or more at a time. 

What I haven’t heard from any of the Republican candidates is anything about tax reform.  They do pay lip service to it, but the three males who currently hold congressional seats have done nothing to actively promote legislation to deal with this one issue that unites American more than any other.  One answer to explain it is that they are too busy dialing for dollars when they are in Washington, building up their campaign coffers from special interests instead of doing the business that the people sent them to Washington to do. 

If Michelle Nunn makes tax and campaign finance reform platform issues along with jobs and the economy, stays away from social issues and focuses on the things relating to our quality of life, she just might pull it off.  And Georgia would be the better for it.  The four Republican candidates have little to nothing to show for the time the taxpayers have been supporting them. It’s time for them to get jobs in the private sector, which they proclaim they love so much. 

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The Agitator #79 - Whose loss of religious freedom?
by Oliver_Halle
July 12, 2013 03:39 PM | 1601 views | 1 1 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The religious right and Catholic Church are teaming up to protest that their religious freedom is at stake because ObamaCare requires that secular corporations and businesses cover birth control in their health insurance plans.  To be clear, ObamaCare exempts houses of worship and strictly religious institutions from this regulation.  Yet profit making businesses that engage in interstate commerce, businesses that sell products or provide services to anyone with the money to pay, are claiming that they should be treated the same as strictly religious organizations. 

First, freedom of conscience, which is embodied in the First Amendment and includes the Free Exercise of Religion, has historically been considered an individual right.  If I choose to refrain from using alcohol or tobacco because of my religious beliefs, I have no right to force that belief on my neighbor.  If I choose to refrain from all medical care because of end of life issues, that is my decision, a decision that doesn’t confer on me the right to kill my neighbor because I believe it would end his suffering. 

Hobby Lobby, a large arts and crafts chain store, does not want its health insurer to cover contraceptives for its thousands of employees because it violates the owners’ religious beliefs concerning birth control.  They have taken it to federal court where it is still wending its way through the system.  The Catholic Church has also been involved with the same issue.  Recall Sandra Fluke, who His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) made famous because of her stance involving contraceptives at Georgetown University, a Catholic school with a secular mission, that receives federal money, and whose student population is a mix of religions.   To those who support the churches, they should think it through more carefully. 

I recall several years ago listening on the radio to uber right wing talking head Laura Ingraham.  She spent a good part of her show bashing the Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis airport for their refusal to pick up anyone that appeared to have been drinking or who was carrying alcohol back from a trip.  Ingraham was correct.  But to show how hypocritical and duplicitous these zealots can be, in a different show she defended pharmacists that refused to dispense birth control pills if it violated a pharmacist’s religious beliefs---this despite the person having a prescription for a lawful product. 

We are heading down a dangerous road if the courts change course and allow employers of businesses,  regulated industries, and other entities not actively engaged in religious activity (like a church)  to decide for their employees how they should live their lives.  If that happens we will be back to the Jim Crowe days, and restaurants and hotels will be able to refuse service to people not of the right faith, color, national origin, sex, or ethnicity.  Health plans will be able to exclude blood transfusions, deny inoculations for deadly diseases, disallow surgical procedures, and otherwise take us down a road toward anarchy where anyone can decide to ignore a law based on their religious belief. 

We are all Americans, and we live by the rule of law.  If we no longer believe that we are a nation of laws but rather a nation of exemptions based on personal beliefs that can directly impact others, we are doomed.  I have my own beliefs about how my tax money should and shouldn’t be spent.  It frustrates me that much of it goes for things that I totally disagree with for my own “religious” reasons, but I accept the will of the people through our elected representatives.  This process has worked well for almost 225 years.  Here’s hoping that wisdom and judgment prevail so that the United States of America is around for at least another 225 years. 

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Day After Pill
July 13, 2013
Hobby Lobby's main contention is with the day after pill, which they see as way to force an abortion after conception. They aren't trying to stop their employees from using this pill. They simply don't want to pay for it.

The Agitator #78 - Free markets--not!
by Oliver_Halle
July 03, 2013 09:08 AM | 1707 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Paul Ryan has advocated a new Medicare plan that purportedly cuts costs and allows for more patient choices.  Doesn’t get any better than that. The Republicans have been saying for years that the economy works best and is more efficient when there is competition---except when there are “reasons” why competition is bad and cutting costs would be a terrible idea.

You have to wonder if Republicans are really serious about this in light of their track record.  I am unaware that Halliburton submitted to a competitive bidding process for the multi billions of dollars they made in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A number of economists that analyzed the numbers concluded that the military could have performed the same services for far less.  Then there is Medicare Part D, the drug plan that Bush and the majority of Republicans at the time voted for.  Part D, by law, does not allow for the government to negotiate for the best drug prices.  (The Veterans Administration can negotiate the best deals.)  Not a peep from the Republican Party during the 2012 campaign to eliminate the most costly government program in history.  No, instead it’s about defunding Obamacare, a program that doesn’t come close to Part D in what it will cost over ten years.  Just maybe this is about politics instead of free markets and cutting government spending of a program that the American people never pushed for in the first place. 

The latest example of getting a double banger is Republican protests against requiring the providers of Medicare durable medical devices to compete for the lowest prices, and invoking Obama’s name while doing it.  Great Republican scare tactic.  Reminds me of Richard Nixon checking every night under his bed for commies; perhaps the Obama haters check for him under their beds.  You would think that Republicans would be supportive of saving a projected $43 billion over ten years, but they aren’t.  Congressman Tom Price is one of the vocal opponents of competitive bidding in this instance despite his concerns about the costs of Medicare and Obamacare.  He and the current medical device providers only see catastrophic consequences if the free markets were to work their magic and lower the costs of the products that Medicare pays astronomical sums for.  Those who watch TV see the advertising that goes into urging the elderly to talk with their doctors about prescribing motor scooters.  How many know that Medicare pays for eighty percent of the cost? 

Congressman Price and the current medical device providers are posturing all sorts of doomsday scenarios.  Evidence isn’t needed when you do this.  Success can often be accomplished by scaring the daylights out of a target audience, in this case the elderly.  It boils down to this: free markets are for the other guys, for your competitors. Those who stand to benefit from special tax breaks, sole sources, tariffs, and other advantages don’t want to play by the same rules.  They can offer the most plausible reasons why they should be exempted.  I can assure you that I could come up with very plausible sounding reasons for why I should pay no taxes on my business, and why I deserve to have sole source contracts with government entities at all levels. 

Every time someone gets an advantage in what is supposed to be a free and competitive market, someone else has to make up for it, whether it be through higher taxes, or higher costs to businesses that are forced to pursue other contracts because of markets closed off to them.  Both the consumer and the less favored subsidize those with friends in high and  influential places.  Republicans claim that Democrats are the party of government spending and giveaways, that they represent all that is good with economics.  That’s why I have focused on the Republicans, why I believe that they continue to fool a lot of people into believing their free market mantra.  The American people are the losers for it. 

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The Agitator #77 - Snowden is no Hero
by Oliver_Halle
June 25, 2013 08:29 AM | 1651 views | 3 3 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Edward Snowden is an American hero to some.  To others, like me, he is a self-righteous, self-serving do-gooder---and a traitor.  I have been amazed at some of the conservatives that have taken up for him (admittedly not all), and even more astounded at the number of people who have petitioned the White House to pardon him before his likely prosecution. 

Let’s be clear about a few things.  Whether you like it or not, the NSA, the White House, and those on the respective intelligence committees in congress, all knew and supported the intelligence gathering that some now find so egregious.  Moreover, the FISA court signed off of everything that was done.  In other words, there was nothing illegal or criminal about what was done. 

If those  who now protest the NSA intelligence gathering were the same who either voted for the Patriot Act legislation or supported it, I have to ask what their objections are?  They knew that the Patriot Act granted very broad powers to the executive branch of government.  To protest now only because an awful lot of Americans aren’t happy about the activities smacks of nothing less than full blown partisan politics and pandering to the voters. 

Back in 2004, when the NYT exposed the Bush administration’s actual wiretapping of conversations without a FISA court warrant, there were some right here in Cobb County who thought that the NYT should be prosecuted for treason.  What contrasts that case with this one is that the informer in the NYT case was exposing criminal misconduct.  The informer (never identified to my knowledge) was a whistleblower.  Snowden exposed lawful activity that has potentially decimated sources and methods of gathering intelligence that will make it that much harder to identify terrorist conspiracies.  Snowden is not a whistleblower.  He is a leaker.  Leakers make unauthorized and illegal disclosures of confidential or classified information. Leakers are criminals.   

We are a nation of laws.  That means we obey all laws until changed by a legislative body or struck down by a court.  That is who and what we are as Americans.  Snowden is more of an anarchist.  He didn’t like what the NSA was doing, so he took it upon himself to break the law to report sensitive lawful activity at a huge cost to our national security.  What makes him any different than anyone else, such as those evading paying taxes because they don’t like the tax code?  I have no argument with someone who wants to limit the intelligence gathering in this country because of superseding privacy interests.  It’s a debate we should have. But it is disingenuous to go back and cry foul after you supported the very laws that allowed for the NSA to do what it did.  And I recall too during the 2004 presidential race that one of the Republican campaign platitudes was that “Bush kept us safe.”  Didn’t seem to bother them at the time that one of the methods he used was criminal, but when Obama takes advantage of the laws on the books to keep us safe, somehow “it’s different.”

The MDJ recently reported two cases of some miscreants who planted miniature cameras in a bedroom and a bathroom to observe various female activity.  This is becoming more common it seems.  This is a serious invasion of privacy, too, but I’m not sure how we can address the proliferation of these electronic devices that have become small, cheap and ubiquitous.  Perhaps our elected officials should consider increasing the penalties for these violations of privacy to the point that if caught you would face a long prison term.  I am much more concerned about the availability and use of such gadgets, which strike much closer to our personal privacy, than I am of the NSA’s data collection.  And everyone else who cares deeply about maintaining some semblance of personal privacy should be too.

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July 03, 2013
Scott, name-calling does not a rational argument make! And empty statements such as "whatever steps are necessary" get us nowhere -- "necessary" according to whom? You want the NSA to have the final word (which it currently doesn't: members of both parties acknowledge that Congress had been briefed)? Gosh, Scott, you're a poopy-head. There, I've proved my point, I guess.

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