The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #125: The Potemkin Village economy
July 16, 2014 01:30 PM | 115540 views | 0 0 comments | 2214 2214 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #115: Insiders and outsiders
by Oliver_Halle
May 08, 2014 11:45 AM | 411 views | 2 2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Supreme Court just decided that Christian prayers are constitutionally permissible at local government gatherings and meetings. The case began when a Jew and an atheist in Greece, NY objected. There is an old axiom that hard cases make bad law, and in my opinion, this conflict did not prove the exception.

Contrary to what many are taught and falsely believe, the United States is not a Christian nation. It is a nation that is composed of a majority that profess to be Christian, but that is not the same thing. In fact, the Constitution is a secular document, makes no mention of Jesus or God, and provides that in taking an oath to tell the truth, one can affirm instead of swear.

For the religious I have never been able to understand why Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 aren’t taken seriously. In the relevant passage, He commands his followers to pray in private, to not be like the hypocrites who like to be seen by others in public. Jesus continues that the Father already knows what the invocators seek. In light of these words, I have to wonder why true believers have no problem ignoring them, and then do exactly what Jesus explicitly admonishes against.

No one can ever stop prayer. What is wrong with government entities calling for a moment of silence where all in attendance can choose to pray to their individual deities or contemplate something else? All too many Christians fail to understand what it is like to be marginalized by those in power. Our country, and all countries to greater and lesser degrees, have suffered various forms of religious discrimination. George H.W. Bush was quoted as saying that he didn’t think atheists could be considered citizens or patriots. I’m sure he’s not alone in that belief, so imagine someone coming before a local government body where all or most are Christians, and the supplicant asks for something like a zoning variance. S/he might wonder if it is possible to get a fair hearing, especially if the result later goes against him.

Why should anyone who pays taxes be forced to hear prayers at government functions that make them uncomfortable? One justice suggested that the person can walk out of the room. I’m sure that that won’t have any effect on the decision makers when he returns. The Bill of Rights was written to protect minorities, not majorities, contrary to a lot of misinformation about that. Many of the same people who believe that majorities should always prevail in America, to include constitutional rights, somehow fail to follow the same line of thinking when the Second Amendment is involved. Even if only a minority of Americans support gun rights, unless and until the Second Amendment is nullified by the people, it is still a right.

For those who are less than sympathetic to my arguments, who believe that majorities should hold sway, that there is no harm to listening to Christian prayers, I can only respond by warning of the curse of the Greek gods. Your wish may have come true because of a 5-4 decision. But if you wake up one morning in a Muslim (by example only) community that holds the majority in government and population, and their prayers are recited at every government gathering, it would be interesting to observe just how understanding and patient the minority would be. Perhaps then people would understand the importance of neutrality in religious affairs that governments at all levels should abide by, and that our Founding Fathers understood this despite all the lame arguments to the contrary.

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ED_CT
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May 08, 2014
The Agitator is correct. Prayer at public meetings should be limited to non sectarian prayer. As the Agitator pointed out suppose you live in Dearborn Michigan and the local town body started its meeting with a few lines from the Koran followed by a prayer against Christian Blasphemy. How happy would you be. Just remember our founding fathers were Deists.

The Agitator #114: It pays to have the right friends
by Oliver_Halle
May 01, 2014 03:45 PM | 520 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

An outsider to the inner-workings of Georgia politics might think that Georgia is vying to gain the reputation as the toughest, no nonsense, God fearing state in the country. They might be right. Certainly the new gun law demonstrates that it would be wise to curb your thoughts to strangers, watch how you drive, and otherwise be more cautious in your daily interaction with people. Someone packing might have had a bad day…. Time will determine the wisdom of this law, so no point in engaging in academic arguments for or against it.

Another law that Governor Nathan Deal just signed requires certain individuals applying for food stamps or welfare to be tested for drugs. There is also a move afoot at the capitol to include those who apply for unemployment. Unlike some other states that have testing programs, if the applicant in Georgia passes the drug test, s/he still has to pay for the cost of it. It’s not like these people’s backs aren’t up against the wall already, and requiring those who have a clean test to pay for it doesn’t seem right.

Some may argue, and fairly, that taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize someone’s illegal drug habit. But Deal didn’t address that point. What the governor said was, …”drug use is the thing that causes people to lose their jobs many times, it causes people not to be able to get a job because they can’t pass the initial screening. Unless we confront that and require them to confront that, we will continue to cycle people through the system---whether it be food stamps, whether it be unemployment benefits. You name it.”

What Deal did not address was the number of people who receive public benefits that are addicted to alcohol. That too prevents people from getting hired or to get fired, and it causes many of the same problems on the job that drug addicts cause. Why single out just drugs? Is the weekend marihuana user any more a siphon to the public treasury than a chronic alcoholic? Perhaps including alcohol in the testing requirement might hit too close to home for too many people who “serve” our interests at the state capitol. Considering that other states that do drug testing for public benefits have found only a very small number of violators, it would seem that if saving money is the issue there are better places to look. And that leads to my next point.

Some believe that our “liberal” centers of higher education are teaching their students that capitalism is bad, that it is evil. Certainly there are things that are bad about it, and that’s why a couple of hundred years of experience has demonstrated the need for some regulation to make the markets safer, more efficient and competitive. But what does it say about the so called defenders of free markets when they seek government handouts for themselves? We have two new stadiums being built in the Atlanta area, and both will be heavily subsidized by the taxpayer. If these were such good deals, where are all the investors who stand to make a lot of money? The cost of buying a ticket to a professional football game has become so high that most people can’t afford it, yet they are being forced to subsidize through taxes the very entity that has priced them out.

Then there is Gulfstream that just got a nice tax break that will cost the state and local governments $29 million to $40 million a year. The politicians that vote for these gimmees defend them by saying that companies like Gulfstream create jobs. Well, we all do when we spend money. If you can afford a private jet, then you should be able to pay your share of taxes that go with your good fortune.

This is another Three Card Monte game that our elected officials are playing with our money. Trash the people who are down and out, and catch a handful of fraudsters that you can publicly shame. When there is a shortage of money, though, for schools and other municipal services---police and fire for example--- perhaps we would be wiser to look elsewhere and focus our attention on the real thieves. But as long as campaign coffers are filled by the recipients of a different kind of welfare, those controlling the Three Card Monte game will always win.

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The Agitator #113: We're falling and can't get up
by Oliver_Halle
April 24, 2014 03:20 PM | 316 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The middle class in America is on a steady decline, which is not a good thing for social stability. Manhattan has been a microcosm of this for a long time, and has become a place for the very wealthy and the poor. Middle class people can’t afford a decent lifestyle there because it is out of reach, so they have moved further and further out along with their long commutes. This is not good.

The New York Times recently did an analysis of the U.S., Canada and Europe that shows us falling in rankings as the country with the most people per capita in the middle class. Canada has passed the United States in the number of people with more after tax income. Most of the European countries are also trending in the direction of Canada. While the United States is still the richest country in the world, the distribution of that wealth is what should concern us.

This is not an argument for redistribution of wealth; we already have that through the tax system that takes from each of us and applies various sums to causes and programs that we can all find disagreement. But something is very wrong when the backbone of this great nation is weakening because wages are not keeping up with costs, and more money is going to the top 1% than at any time in perhaps a hundred years. While companies are making big profits and sitting on upwards of $3 trillion, most of the profits are going to the C level executives and shareholders, not the workers who put in the sweat equity.

There was a time when things were different. Henry Ford paid his people on the assembly line enough money that they could realistically expect to own a Ford product. Today you have companies that will do anything to cut employee costs, because employees are expendable in tough times. Many of those employees have to sign up for food stamps and other government benefits. In other words, the taxpayers are subsidizing the private sector and corporate profits. This should be troubling to more people than it seems to be. George Romney, president of American Motors, chose to cap his salary at lower multiples of what he was offered because he thought that the workers should be paid a decent wage. What has changed?

Another analysis that I recently read reported that no couple that survived on the income of a minimum wage worker could afford to rent a place to live in any county in the U.S. Considering that the couple would be living on $15,000/52 week year before taxes, and that even those too poor to pay income taxes still pay FICA, sales tax, commuting costs, groceries, clothing, and out of pocket medical and dental costs if there is any money left, this analysis makes sense. Remarkably the annual COLA given to Social Security recipients, those with veterans benefits, civil service retirements, and pay increases provided for those in the private sector (lucky enough to get one) don’t cause inflationary concerns with most. Yet a small bump in the minimum wage scares the daylights out of the same people.

Today’s workers are expected to produce more for less remuneration. It’s the modern day version of the outlawed assembly line speedup. If union bashers think that unions are the cause of all the problems, the numbers don’t support it. Union membership is a fraction of what it was even thirty years ago. Foreign auto plants in the U.S. don’t pay anywhere near what their American counterparts pay. The uprising in Egypt a few years ago was the result of rampant corruption and an unemployment rate of forty percent among college graduates. There was no hope of things getting better. We aren’t there, but we should be paying attention and working to fix the things that can be fixed in order to return to a much more equitable society that the U.S. experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.

If anyone doubts the seriousness of the growing disparity of wealth and income in America, they are making a big mistake. Fewer people with disposable income means our consumer based economy is going to slow down even more than it has. In my former travels to Eastern Europe, I discovered that many of these countries had declining birth rates. I frequently asked why, and the response was always the same, that people didn’t have enough money to raise children. They also said that there was little hope of upward mobility in their jobs or a chance to enjoy what we once took for granted here---the ready availability of a good middle class life.

Our country can do better. Reforming the tax code would be a start. Anything to stimulate the economy, especially hiring private businesses to rebuild so much of our decaying infrastructure would also go a long way. There are a lot of good ideas out there, but unfortunately all we hear are partisan attacks by both sides and no meaningful dialogue. We should keep that in mind on May 20th and November 4th.

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The Agitator #112: Freedom and responsibility
by Oliver_Halle
April 17, 2014 12:30 PM | 387 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I’m not sure of the whole story behind all the different versions of what has been reported concerning Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose cattle were seized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees. Bundy admits that he owes $300,000, but disputes the remainder. Who knows what the truth is since this case had been demagogued by everyone with their own agenda.

Some have argued that the Obama administration, the most evil presidency, or tyranny if you prefer, since Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, et al, has victimized an innocent cattle farmer just trying to live the American dream and way of life that he and his family have enjoyed for over a hundred years. Somewhere along the way, though, the federal government decided to charge a grazing fee on government land, land that belongs to all the people of the United States. One unverified account I read says that it was Ronald Reagan who issued an executive order imposing the fee. Either way, it is still the law.

I don’t like the heavy hand of the government any more than those who advocate for less government, fewer laws, and fewer regulations. Having been subject to the abusive power of the IRS, I know what it’s like to have your back against the wall. (I ultimately prevailed.) I also believe that the Constitution is a worthless piece of paper with no meaning if everyone can decide for themselves that they are a “Constitutionalist”, that he’s right, you’re wrong, that he knows what the Founding Fathers intended, you don’t. Amazing how so many who subscribe to this belief don’t know just how divisive the constitutional convention was, and just how close it came to not being ratified. There was no unanimity when the delegates left Philadelphia more than 200 years ago.

We as a nation either accept the rule of law or we end up like other countries with dictatorship, or corruption so endemic that you might as well not have a government and instead rely on neighborhood vigilante groups to decide disputes and mete out “justice.” Our current system is anything but perfect, but however imperfectly, it works pretty well. That includes accepting the dictates of the Supreme Court, many of which I think are wrong for a lot of reasons. If the Constitution was so simple and so clear, we would only need one justice on the court, not nine. If we don’t like the laws our representatives make, then we can change horses and elect those who better reflect what we want for ourselves, our regions, our states and our country. Until then, if we are to remain a peaceful nation that lives under the law, we have to accept the laws that are handed down.

Whatever Cliven Bundy’s differences are with the U.S. government, as an American he owes an allegiance to the Constitution to play by the same rules that we all tacitly agree to as part of our social contract that gives the Constitution any meaning. There are courts available to him. Since he has a lot of supporters, I’m sure some are wealthy benefactors that have access to legislators and other powerful people in Washington to try and work through this problem or help with his legal fees. Fomenting potential violence by supporting militia groups armed to the teeth is, in my opinion, about as un-American as it gets. Again, I don’t know all the facts in this case, and neither do most people who have opinions about it, so I don’t know why the BLM chose to seize Bundy’s cattle instead of pursuing other options to collect their money. But to all the critics who attack Obama for not enforcing all the laws equally, I would ask what makes Bundy’s case any different? Perhaps it illustrates that in fact the government does selectively prosecute cases, some like this one because of the deterrence impact it will have on other ranchers who might look to skirt paying fees.

This is not an easy case for sure, and I don’t know who is on the right side of the underlying issues. But I do think that if we don’t all agree to abide by the social contract of obeying laws, like them or not, we are headed for a lot more trouble. And any politician that supports armed confrontation against the government isn’t worthy of holding any public office.

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The Agitator #111: Ozzie was right
by Oliver_Halle
April 10, 2014 03:50 PM | 429 views | 5 5 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

On August 22, 1979, Philadelphia Congressman Ozzie Myers took an envelope with $50,000 from an undercover FBI agent. He was filmed stuffing the envelope into the inside of his suit coat pocket, and while doing so he was heard to say, “Money talks and bull----walks.” It’s highly unlikely that Myers was the originator of that expression, but he certainly popularized it.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 opinion that any American has a First Amendment free speech right to give as much cash to as many candidates (within the limitations of each individual candidate) as he chooses, perhaps Myers’ words take on an expanded meaning. Somehow this conservative decision smacks of the very judicial activism that Republicans love to lay on liberal judges. The congress passed a law after much debate and deliberation that set limits on how much any one individual can contribute in an election cycle. They did this because of the obvious corrupting influence of money, and that a handful of very wealthy individuals could potentially swing the outcome of an election and which party would be in the majority. Yet the five conservative justices overrode that of the will of the people.

The justices equate spending money with free speech, but if you read the First Amendment there isn’t a single mention of money. Since strict constructionists like to argue that we need to “go back to the Constitution”, how had this “unconstitutional” law undermined anyone’s right to speak? Laws should not be overturned unless they clearly violate the Constitution. Otherwise the high court becomes an unelected super-legislature. The Constitution has to be interpreted because most of it doesn’t, and can’t possibly, define every situation. For example, there is nothing in the First Amendment that says a person can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. But we all agree that the courts have it right that this is not protected speech. The question then is what is protected?

The Court ruled that the current limits of how much an individual can contribute to each candidate remains in force. But why? If money is the same as speech, why should there be any caps under any circumstance? What is the reasoning behind upholding this part of the law but overturning the other? Draw your own conclusion as I have drawn mine, but it should be pretty clear.

Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the ruling does not create a corruption issue. In the very strict sense of the law I would have to agree with him. In other words, trying to prove that someone’s contribution was a quid pro quo, an element of proof in a bribery case, is very difficult. But if you’ve ever tried to get a call returned from your elected representative in Washington, or a letter that is directly responsive to yours, it won’t happen unless you are a major player. Just a week ago a stream of potential Republican presidential candidates met with multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson one on one in Las Vegas so that Adelson could determine who would be the recipient of his campaign largess. Is there a doubt that Adelson can get a call returned from any Republican representative anywhere in the USA? Anyone doubt that if Adelson has some concerns to discuss about tax laws, for example, that he will be heard and likely get some support for his special issue?

The very wealthy will sneer at those who exercise their freedom of assembly, a First Amendment protection, when they “occupy Wall Street.” These protestors, with no power, no voice, but with legitimate issues about the unfairness of so many things in government, can only be heard if they rally in unison. But then the right wing media trashes them for being communists, nare-do-wells, lazy, people just looking for handouts and government welfare---and many more pejoratives. Those seeking corporate welfare can pay to do it in private.

Ozzie Myers, a convicted crook, proved to be a sage with his immortal words. He just didn’t know at the time of his gift of prophecy.

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Oliver G. Halle
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April 16, 2014
Kevin, it's actually going to get worse. Justice Thomas stated that he wants to eliminate all money caps on individual candidates. Roberts has staked out his position that only quid pro quo transactions can be illegal. Paying for influence or access is protected speech under his view. This was another incremental decision that will ultimately lead to unlimited spending and no regulation. Not hard to figure out who the politicians will target for money and all that follows.

The Agitator #110: Men of principles
by Oliver_Halle
April 02, 2014 04:35 PM | 349 views | 1 1 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Last week the Republican candidates to replace Saxby Chambliss in the senate met for a debate in Savannah. It is interesting to observe how the experts that identify less than doctrinaire Republicans (RINOs) would have classified the various candidates. I was left wondering who in the bunch was the real Republican. Republicans love to accuse Obama of class warfare, yet here was Jack Kingston saying that “no gate separates your house from my house.” This was in reference to the big money candidate David Perdue who made his money in the private sector as a successful businessman. Sounds like Kingston is trying to create a divide between those who choose to spend their wealth however they decide in a free society, which makes me ask whether underneath Kingston’s professed conservatism he is really a RINO.

Then Kingston, who is polling number two behind Perdue, acknowledged having voted in the House to cap federal flood insurance premiums. Kingston defended the tax subsidy, which affects a disproportionate number of one percenters who own mansions and palaces on beaches, rivers and lakefronts. One would think if you profess to believe in free markets, then these folks should buy their insurance from the private sector---except that Kingston pointed out that the private sector won’t handle coastal property. Jeez, then maybe if the marketplace worked like Republicans claim it should, these “poor” homeowners shouldn’t live where they can’t get insurance. Could it be that insurance companies have sized up the risk and figured out that they can’t make a profit because the premiums might dissuade people from living on the coast or in flood plains? To the experts who “out” RINOs, Kingston is sounding more like one all the time.

Karen Handel, who abandoned the two elective offices that she has held in order to run for higher office---and lose---denounced the federal flood insurance program, but when pressed wouldn’t say how she would have voted. Now that’s bold leadership, yet she touts her leadership skills and how as a U.S. Senator from Georgia she will lead the charge to balance the budget, rid us of Obamacare, and create good jobs just because she says she can.

Meanwhile, all of the aforementioned candidates pay glancing lip service to tax reform. But not one has publicly supported Republican Representative Dave Camp from Michigan who a few weeks ago proposed a substantial revision to the tax code. In fact, House Speaker John Boehner, when asked by a reporter about the plan, replied “blah, blah, blah.” The low hanging fruit, at least for now, remains the promise to repeal Obamacare, something highly unlikely to happen. Senate candidate and current congressman Phil Gingrey has promised not to run for reelection in six years if he isn’t successful in repealing the law. There are people who are not happy with Obamacare, but there are also many who are, and time will allow some tinkering to work out the bugs. But speaking for me and most of the people I associate with, there is more anger at the tax code, the complexity of it, the unfairness---especially to the middle class---and the bigger bite it takes from working stiffs than those at the top of the economic ladder.

The senate race is another one of those three card monte games. They want you to focus all of your attention on Obama and anything to divert your attention from issues that affect your daily life. How many reading this column get a tax break for trying to put their kid(s) through college? Recently Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an editorial about tax breaks that most don’t know about. They include write-offs for owners of private jets; mortgage deductions for second homes and yachts; lower tax rate for hedge fund operators; loan guarantees for banks; and tax breaks given to corporations that relocate to certain areas. Then there are the property tax exemptions for churches. Make no mistake, whatever argument one wants to make to defend these tax breaks, in the end it is the rest of us who make up the shortfall.

Robo calls by the candidates has already begun. They are annoying to start with, but after you hear what they say, and what they don’t say, it should be pretty clear: not one offers a specific plan to do something to help the middle class or the small business owner. If attacking Obama makes you feel good, then vote for the one who makes the most noise. But once the election is over, one thing will not have changed: the middle class and small business owner will continue to take shaft.

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on balance
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April 05, 2014
It is and has been clear where your politics and sentiments lie. What you think or feel about a conservative candidate carries no meaning to a conservative voter.


The Agitator #109: Medicaid and onions
by Oliver_Halle
March 27, 2014 03:25 PM | 385 views | 2 2 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The General Assembly just passed a law that will take away the power of the governor to expand Medicaid into Georgia. It seems more like a gift to the incumbent in this campaign year allowing Nathan Deal to shift the blame to the legislature when it becomes a hot issue to see who gets to live on West Paces Ferry Road next January. A lot has already been written on this subject, so I will only add a couple of thoughts. First, it is remarkable that the taxpayers of this state aren’t screaming outrage for declining the Medicaid expansion. Georgia will turn away one hundred percent of the funding for the next three years, and then a minimum of ninety percent in the ensuing years. That is our money that would have come back to our state, provided for countless jobs, tax revenue from those jobs, and given the down and out a chance at getting minimum health care. The money that we send to Washington on April 15th will go to other states.

The second point is that without that federal money to bring in more people, to include not only patients, but doctors, nurses, equipment providers, and other associated business in the medical field, hospitals, particularly in rural areas, will close. It is the smaller communities north and south of metropolitan Atlanta that will feel it the worst. Consider that there will be almost no incentive for medical school graduates to set up shop in these places because there won’t be enough money to provide a living and to pay off their education debt, and they won’t have hospitals nearby that provide them privileges. Makes you wonder why any business would possibly think about relocating or expanding where medical services are non-existent. Actually, they won’t consider it, and we may see more small towns and communities disappear.

Then there is the controversy being litigated over Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black’s decision dictating to growers the earliest date that they can ship their Vidalia onions to market. A judge ruled that Black did not have that authority, so Black is appealing. He argues, among other things, that in recent years some farmers have tried to be first in selling this trademark onion, and the lower quality from not having reached maturity has adversely affected the Vidalia’s reputation. What is funny about Black’s argument is that if I recall correctly, he ran on a Republican platform of fewer regulations and less government.

Now I’m all in favor of protecting the Vidalia onion and it’s singular reputation. But as someone who believes in free markets, I thought that if a farmer sent a poor quality product to a store, that the consumer would make the decision on whether to buy from that source again. Apparently Black has decided when the Vidalias are ready to be shipped for all farmers. Yet I haven’t heard any labels attached to Black like czar, dictator, fascist, socialist, or communist that the current occupant of the White House is accused of every day. I won’t disagree that Black might have some meritorious arguments for his position, but it seems a tad hypocritical to campaign on fewer regulations, less government, free markets where the consumer decides, and then impose a pretty harsh regulation on the growers. Makes me wonder if there isn’t a hidden agenda in there somewhere considering how much of the state’s money he will spend appealing it. It also makes me wonder how Republicans pick and choose which regulations are in the public interest---at least in their opinion.

Georgia voters should know by now that the Republicans they elect aren’t serious about reducing regulations or tax reform. Unless you are a big business that threatens to leave the state without tax breaks just for them (Gulfstream comes to mind), or a business that promises to come to Georgia and play Santa Claus to get a tax advantage, you will continue to pay the full freight and abide by all the rules and regulations. No waivers for you. Struggling small businesses will make up the difference. It’s only during campaign season that the empty promises of reform are made, but once in office---as they say in New York---fuhgetaboutit!

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EdConnecticut
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March 28, 2014
The Agitator is correct and Black and the onions. Just a reminder Onions are the only commodity for which futures cannot be traded. Onion people are very protective. But why attack the entire Republican Party. Bias

The Agitator #108: What would Reagan do?
by Oliver_Halle
March 20, 2014 10:40 AM | 406 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Because Obama is so disliked by conservatives and most Republicans, the question frequently comes up how Ronald Reagan might have done things differently with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, our military, taxes, and everything else a president has to deal with. (I voted for Reagan both times.) This is a counterfactual, and with all counterfactuals, change one thing, let one of the moving parts fail, and there could be a very different outcome. I think it fair, though, within this limited space to try and sort through some of the issues and see if things would be a lot different. Certainly, many of the readers of this column will differ (most in Cobb for sure), but it makes for an interesting discussion.

Obama is being ridiculed for his fecklessness in Crimea, for not standing up to Vladimir Putin. Yet all of my conservative friends readily acknowledge that we should not do anything to provoke a war with Russia over it. Obama and European leaders are talking in unison about applying a number of financial sanctions, but the Russians have options too, and Putin is probably more willing to let his people suffer than any American president would if either side is to apply heat. Only John McCain and Lindsay Graham seem to think that we should consider some kind of military intervention.

While this is going on and still to be played out, the Pentagon is looking at huge cuts in size of our manpower levels for all the services. While many complain about the shrinking military, they don’t want a tax hike to pay for one that they want. Considering the Great Recession and its ongoing aftermath with lower revenue, money is a more important factor than it was during better times.

Obama has been blistered for the death of our ambassador and four civilian security personnel in Benghazi. Yet I haven’t heard a single word from the right about the failed security precautions that resulted in the deaths of over 240 marines in their barracks in Lebanon in October 1983 when a suicide bomber rammed his truck into it. There was active intelligence that such an attack could occur. Despite that, marine sentries were not permitted to have loaded magazines in their weapons. The bomber was subsequently identified as an Iranian national. Yet Reagan never retaliated against Iran, and he was never held to account for the security lapses. I personally wouldn’t hold him accountable, but since Obama is somehow accountable for Benghazi, I would think that the same rules for where the buck stops should also apply to Reagan.

Reagan inherited a very bad economy, and several years into his presidency the high unemployment rate dropped very significantly. What is rarely discussed in connection with how Regan got unemployment under control is the record setting deficits he created. His deficits were off the chart compared to all of his predecessors with the exception of FDR, who had to deal with the Depression and WW II, and who Reagan considered one of America’s best presidents. Reagan spent money that we didn’t have to build up our military that had deteriorated after Vietnam for a lot of reasons. I don’t have an argument with what Reagan did---it got results by pouring money into the economy---but when Obama suggests spending money to stimulate the economy, he is a “tax and spend” liberal. WW II and Reagan’s deficits proved that there are times that government spending can work to prime the pump of the private sector.

People forget that Reagan substantially increased taxes when he was governor of California, and while he was successful in lowering taxes as president, he also raised them several times. But the right doesn’t remember these inconvenient truths. Nor do they like to bring up the amnesty that Reagan got through for some three million illegal aliens. I think Reagan proved to be a sober president, a man who understood politics on a national and international level, who at first was considered a traitor by the right for negotiating arms limitations with the Soviets, and only later proving to have been bold and wise.

Reflecting on Reagan’s historical record, I have a hard time thinking that he would have been so different than Obama today. I also don’t believe that the same Ronald Reagan, using a pseudonym, could get very far in today’s Republican Party based on his record. He would be considered a RINO and persona non grata. Reagan may have projected being a better leader than Obama, but his record doesn’t support the mythical icon that he has become in far right quarters.

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The Agitator #107: Defense spending and more
by Oliver_Halle
March 13, 2014 11:45 AM | 352 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Shrinking military budgets should concern everyone.  There should never be a debate about the military we need, only about the military we want.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, recently painted a pretty grim picture of our current armed forces in the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  To quote Dempsey, it will become “increasingly difficult to balance the competing demands of protecting allies abroad, securing Americans at home and deterring future wars.”
 
The latest budget cuts $13 billion from defense.  By itself that is a lot of money, more than half of the state of Georgia’s annual budget. Former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and now Chuck Hagel have all pointed out that the social costs associated with the defense budget are out of control.  Proposals to cut commissaries in a time of ubiquitous discount stores off base meet with all sorts of cries of foul from special interest veterans groups.  And that doesn’t even get into how much taxpayers supplement the cost of TriCare for military retirees with no service connected disabilities.  Any attempt to tinker with these costs meet with shouts of “breach of faith” with the troops.
 
I don’t for a second propose cutting the pay of active service members.   Yet if I recall correctly from a lot of reading, military pay was cut during the Depression.  We are in hard times now, and some economists think it could be decades before our economy returns to anything like it was before the Great Recession.  All too many civilians were promised pensions and retirement benefits that have been cut because they became unsustainable with the drop in business or government revenue for state and local public sector employees.  That includes our front line police, fire and other uniformed services.  Just because the federal government can run deficits doesn’t mean that entitlement recipients shouldn’t also feel some of the pain.  Sacrifice has to be across the board.
 
Dempsey rightfully pointed out in the QDR  that we can’t have it both ways: either the slashing of the defense budget is directed at unneeded military bases, obsolete weapons systems, and social costs, or we face a military that will no longer be able to meet all its commitments.  But as long as we have elected representatives that know more about these “priorities” that amount to jobs programs for their constituents and defense contractors who fund campaigns, we have no hope for change.  Another component of this discussion is the incestuous relationship between retired flag rank officers who go to work for defense contractors.
 
Since the topic of increasing the minimum wage has been in the news along with the associated claim of class warfare being waged by liberals, perhaps we should consider a few factoids.  My own anecdotal experience is that Social Security annuitants never fail to claim that not being granted a COLA in a given year will have a devastating impact on their household budgets.  However, I wonder why so many are bothered by the equivalent of a COLA in raising the minimum wage that hasn’t been increased since 2009.  Interesting that their COLAS won’t result in inflation, but for fewer people making a minimum wage it would.
 
Lastly, it’s important to point out that the disparity of income between C-level executives and their workers has grown  from approximately 40:1 in the 1980s to about 425:1 today.  That doesn’t bother the people on the right that I talk with.  It’s class warfare to suggest that something is wrong with this picture.  In light of their defense of this income gap, I would propose that we pay our military officers along the same line.  That would mean a general officer or admiral would get a large seven or eight figure salary worth millions of dollars compared to what the enlisted ranks make today.  It might even deter these officers from seeking employment in retirement with defense contractors.  That’s one way to look at it.     Considering that all too many taxpayers are unwilling to pay for the best medical care for our badly wounded veterans, I expect that all we will hear from our representatives is the same mantra to cut taxes, to cut spending, while taking care of their special interest supporters.
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The Agitator #106: Tax change and other folly
by Oliver_Halle
March 04, 2014 05:25 PM | 421 views | 4 4 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Republicans have complained about taxes since before Ronald Reagan lowered them before raising them again. Any Republican running on a platform of a needed tax hike, any Republican breaking his promise of no new taxes is doomed from the start. That’s a fair political debate that the voters should hear before casting their ballot accordingly.

I am in Representative Tom Price’s Sixth Congressional District. He wrote a letter to his constituents dated February 18, 2014. It was written on congressional stationary, and in small print at the bottom it said that “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense. It is provided as a service to constituents.” Actually it was a highly partisan letter that to my way of thinking should have been paid for out of his campaign funds.

In the letter Price laments, as I do, the “millions of hours complying with the tax code while our businesses face the highest tax rates in the industrialized world.” He continues that House Republicans have included tax reform as part of their budget plan in order to “simplify the system, eliminate special interest loopholes, and make America more competitive.” All well and good and makes for a great campaign slogan. Too bad the reality is that it’s more smoke and mirrors, more red meat show and tell with absolutely no substance.

Juxtapose Price’s comments with fellow Republican Dave Camp of Michigan. Only a few days after the release of Price’s letter, Camp published the results of his research and hard work in proposing a new tax code. It would close the special tax breaks that wealthy hedge fund operators get, compress taxes into three categories, eliminate a lot of deductions that are antiquated and supported by special interests, and reduce the complexity of filing a return. The immediate reaction to Camp’s honest proposal, one that deserves consideration, debate, argument, and perhaps a vote, came from House Speaker John Boehner, who when asked about it said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

If that doesn’t tell you how serious Republicans are about streamlining the 70,000 page tax code, you are indeed a hard person to convince. I wondered where Tom Price’s voice of support for Camp was when Camp first came out with his bill. After all, in light of Price’s letter, Camp addressed the very concerns that Price raised. What we got from Price was the voice of silence. If Americans are watching this game being played out, they should know that they have no hope of tax reform. Republicans have a majority in the House and may even gain the senate in November. But don’t expect change. They didn’t do anything when Bush was president and they had both houses, and it won’t happen if they once again have the chance.

In the meanwhile on the state level, the state House successfully passed some bills to provide tax breaks to help luxury jet owners and other business interests. The proponents defend this by saying that it keeps and creates jobs, and other states grant similar largess. I guess if every state did the same, eventually no business would pay taxes in order to remain “competitive.” Delta was once given a fuel tax exemption when they were going through hard times. An argument can be made for it in such cases, but now that they are making nine figure profits, shouldn’t that tax gift be reconsidered? The state stands to lose $150 million with the latest sweetheart presents, but if you follow the money and who gave to whom just before the General Assembly began, you can see how it played out.

And so my fellow readers and taxpayers, be prepared to continue to shell out more money for your tax accountant or lawyer. There is no relief in sight. Be comforted by Price’s letter funded by your hard earned money, and trust him to lead the charge for tax reform as his letter promises. Then wait for his first word of support of the one Republican, Dave Camp, who at least did the work and came up with a proposal that deserves attention. Several tax cycles will pass and you still won’t hear Price utter one peep as long as Boehner considers it blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s the modern definition of leadership, and Price is the leader of it.

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Ben Twomey
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March 06, 2014
Oliver, the question is "Why do you point out Republican hypocrisy and not Democratic hypocrisy?"

Unless, and I doubt this is the case, you think Democrtic hypocrisy does nto exist.

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Oliver Halle of east Cobb is a retired FBI agent and has law degrees from The University of North Carolina and New York University. He commanded a Swift Boat in Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star with the Combat V for meritorius action. While with the FBI he helped investigate and prosecute members of the Columbo organized crime “family” and later launched the investigation that resulted in the conviction on corruption charges of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell.

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