|December 20, 2013||The Agitator #96 - Jobs vs. Obamcare||no comments|
|December 11, 2013||The Agitator #95 - Who are the real Republicans?||1 comments|
|December 03, 2013||The Agitator #94 - Unpopular spending cuts||2 comments|
|November 19, 2013||The Agitator #93 - Myths and reality||1 comments|
|November 07, 2013||The Agitator #92 - Cobb County lobbyist?||no comments|
|October 31, 2013||The Agitator #91 - Whose America?||3 comments|
|October 23, 2013||The Agitator #90 - It's gonna get worse||no comments|
|October 14, 2013||The Agitator #89 - Obama the ogre||4 comments|
|October 04, 2013||The Agitator #88 - Shutdown and priorities||1 comments|
|September 30, 2013||The Agitator #87 - Government shutdown madness||1 comments|
It appears that a budget agreement is at last going to happen. Finally a majority of our elected representatives have restored some sanity to the process in order to prevent another chaotic situation in mid-January. But there are still some tea party Republicans or those with tea party primary opponents who didn’t vote for it. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that he would not support the budget. He also has a tea party opponent in Kentucky. It would be funny if it wasn’t for real that there is a faction in Kentucky that doesn’t think McConnell is conservative enough.
It is probably fair to expect that all Republican candidates will run on a mantra of Obamacare, how it is the worst legislation in history, that it is the opening salvo to turn the USA into a third world socialist country---and much more of the like. Of course we have never gotten a single Republican healthcare plan even when the Republicans had both houses and the White House---unless you count New Gingrich’s, Mitt Romney’s and the Heritage Foundation’s plans that looked much like Obamacare. Congressman Tom Price’s bill hasn’t even been taken seriously by his fellow Republicans, so we can’t expect much from Republicans on this score unless you count criticism and rhetoric.
In the meanwhile Republicans continue to flail away at government spending. The proposed House budget, though, increases spending for a few years before over time there is a net reduction. Believing that the reductions will occur requires an act of faith, and I personally am not a man of faith. Already the proposal to reduce military retirement COLAs until age 62 is coming under heavy fire from every veterans group and will not likely survive. Don’t expect the corporate farmers to take any torpedoes on their multibillion dollar subsidies. If you think the tax code is going to be overhauled to create some fairness, to reduce paperwork, to eliminate complex regulations, you are living in Walter Mitty land.
During the upcoming primaries and ensuing general election, if someone asks a question about jobs, among many legitimate societal issues, expect the response to circle back to blame Obamacare for the problems. This legislation may even be accused of causing cancer and heart disease. But in the end things that could help to create jobs (revised tax code, focus on higher education, rebuilding infrastructure, etc.) won’t get serious attention.
The next big political event occurs in February when the congress has to vote to raise the debt ceiling. Interesting that many reactionary radio talk meisters spin this as though it allows Obama to spend more money instead of the truth that it allows the government to pay the bills for spending that congress already authorized. The real irony will be if any Republicans vote against raising the debt limit while favoring increased spending in the proposed budget.
This is going to be a show to watch over the next ten months or so. If tea party Republicans prevail in the elections, there will be a hard shift to the right in this country. That would have a dramatic effect on what legislation gets passed or stalled out. If mainstream Republicans prevail, there would be hope that just maybe we could expect more compromise by both parties, more crossing the aisle to work together for the good of the country. Next year is going to be a very interesting political year, one that could have enormous influence on who the presidential candidates will be and what their platforms will look like
It’s gotten real crazy out there with local Republicans accusing each other of straying from the fold with one faction even talking about pursuing some kind of recall against Tim Lee. It’s hard to tell who the real Republicans are because each faction has its own guidelines that are considered gospel. There are always the social conservatives that put social issues above all else. Then there are those who profess that the free markets must be free, that government involvement in the marketplace can only corrupt it, and that cutting taxes and regulations is the best way to put people back to work. These are all legitimate positions for political debate, but it doesn’t help to figure out who the “real deal” Republicans are.
Locally there are two transactions going on simultaneously. The first is the new Braves stadium, and the second is the ten year tax abatement given to prominent developer John Williams just in time for Christmas. I’m not questioning whether either of the taxpayer supported enterprises will be beneficial for Cobbians: I don’t know. What I do question is why, in each instance, we are told that both are such good deals, yet those pushing these ventures want government gimmees. (As I’ve written many times before, I am an Eisenhower Republican that believes some private/public ventures can be beneficial, but I am challenging modern day Republicans who reject that notion. Eisenhower Republicans are extinct. ) I would think that there would be no shortage of investors willing to put up their money on what they tout as a sure win. In John Williams’ case, he’s building a massive office/condominium complex in a very desirable area, one conveniently located near the site of the new stadium. It’s not like we are talking about a potentially risky urban redevelopment project.
Tim Lee is a prominent Republican, but I’m not sure what that label means anymore since he is identified with both of these taxpayer enterprises. For two years, and especially the past two months, we’ve heard nothing but condemnation of Obamacare. It’s the most convenient punching bag out there today. I can’t wait for Lee and some of his supporters to remind us just how bad Obamacare is as he tries his hand at three card monte to keep our attention off of his political maneuvering in both deals. One recent letter writer to the MDJ, a very conservative Republican to all who know him, defended John Williams’ tax abatement with a novel argument. With zero evidence to support his conclusion that Williams’ project will have “obvious and immediate benefits” to the county, the writer continues in effect stating that Williams deserves the break because of all of his generosity and charitable contributions to the community.
The letter writer seems to overlook that Williams has justifiably prospered for his labor. For those biblically inclined for guidance, perhaps Luke 12:48 says it best: For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” I’m willing to bet that there are countless small business owners in Cobb County that contribute mightily to payrolls and also pay the full freight of their taxes. They just don’t rise to the level of Williams in financial success, but arguably they too deserve tax abatements for contributing to the economy and providing jobs. Where is Lee, et al to suggest some breaks for them?
On the national level, we have budget negotiations that continue. The Republicans support another farm subsidy bill that may be a sticking point with Democrats, and rightfully so in my opinion. The same Republicans, though, want to cut the food stamp program known today as SNAP. One Republican congressman from Tennessee said in support of the food stamp cuts, quoting the Bible, that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. It took the media to disclose that this same hypocrite has taken upwards of a million dollars in farm subsidies while not lifting a finger to sow his fields.
There are so many more examples of Republican hypocrisy when it comes to handouts, subsidies, and tax breaks for their special interest groups. It’s a target rich subject. And it’s a subject that should make all voters angry, especially those that adhere to the belief that their political party is about free markets unfettered by these handouts. At least that’s what they want you to believe.
We are nearing the first of three dates when our elected representatives in Washington have to make some tough budget decisions. The sequestration bill that went into effect earlier this year will cut several trillion dollars through 2021. The unfortunate byproduct of these cuts is that they are indiscriminate and hurt all federal agencies equally. That’s not a good recipe for our government or country as it will impact two among several of the more important government functions: Defense and law enforcement.
I never want the armed forces of the United States to be second best to any country. For now that isn’t likely to happen. One of the most important factors in making us the power that we became is our economy and industrial might. Our WW II enemies were very capable fighters, but they could not out produce us, they could not keep up with our ability to throw planes, ships and logistics against them in incomprehensible numbers. It has been that way ever since, but the recession that began in 2007 has begun to change how we must think, prepare, and plan.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), personnel and healthcare costs for the military are greater than ninety percent of their civilian counterparts---and rising. I am familiar with the usual arguments of how cutting some of these costs would be a breach of faith, but two things to consider. First, I am not talking about costs for wounded and disabled veterans. Second, our economy is in trouble, and most civilian workers, not to mention state and local government employees, have paid a heavy price. Everyone has to have an oar in the water if we are to get through these tough times. The only exception I would make to this argument is to raise taxes to keep the spending at the current levels. I’m sure, though, that what I’ll hear instead is how we should cut government waste first, which means cutting anything that doesn’t affect the person making this argument.
Something else to consider is the need to be more judicious in deciding when to use troops. Every military engagement has another component that doesn’t get much mention---the staggering costs to fund the Veterans Administration. I am astounded at some of the crazy talk about bombing Iran before giving diplomacy a chance. And yes, there are very credible people in the Israeli government, military and intelligence who support the six month agreement and lifting of sanctions with Iran. Few seem to remember that Benjamin Netanyahu said in 1995 that we had to bomb Iran now because their development of the bomb was imminent. Forgotten too is that no country in the world has the right to make foreign policy for the United States.
One of the difficulties in cutting defense spending is having a volunteer military. Very few members of congress have ever worn the uniform. No doubt many feel a certain guilt in sending others into harm’s way, especially those who lived through the draft and took advantage of every deferment they could get. Perhaps having a perfect record of always “supporting the troops” is their way of showing patriotism and assuaging any negative feelings about their lack of service . Maybe a two year mandatory public service requirement, which could be civilian or military, with greater benefits going to the military, would be one solution to spiraling personnel costs facing the Pentagon.
Some economists predict that our current situation is likely to last for decades for a lot of reasons that make sense. Our congress is going to have to work harder, smarter, and get down to the real work of tax reform. They are going to have to stop the nonsense of paying farmers hundreds of billions in various crop support programs, providing loan guarantees to banks, and propping up other segments of the private sector that so many claim works much more efficiently than the government. Tougher times lie ahead regardless, but it’s time to find officials who will make the tough choices independent from special interests. Any bets on the likelihood of that happening?
The computer glitches associated with signing up for Obamacare have not been the president’s finest hour. There are lots of “experts” who claim that it all could have been avoided if the job had been turned over to one of the big boys in the private sector. Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m not a computer expert and neither are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, among others, who could fool some people into believing that they were. At least their listeners know that getting their information from these Obama haters is always going to be fair and balanced. Funny how none of these experts have said one word about how successful the state exchanges have been in those states that chose to go with their own insurance programs.
Not one Republican voted for Obamacare in either chamber. I wonder if Romney or Newt had been elected president in 2008 whether their plans, which mimicked Obamacare in just about every way, would have passed into law in a Republican congress. With the conservative Heritage Foundation’s previous support of mandatory participation in healthcare, it’s probably a safe bet that we would have a healthcare law called Romneycare or Newtcare.
Both sides are presenting endless anecdotal evidence in support or opposition to Obamacare. Some claim it has helped them and lowered their premiums, others object because it offers fewer benefits and higher costs. Maybe we should hold a special election to determine which side is in the majority. To hear Republicans and the reactionaries on the radio, Obamacare is one big horror story. Maybe it will play out that way, and maybe it won’t, but for sure it has yet to be implemented in full to know. We Americans are a fortunate lot, though, to know that these pundits all have crystal balls. It reminds me of Newt’s prediction that Bill Clinton’s tax increase in 1994 would take us into a depression.
There are things that we do know because we’ve had many years of experience. We do know that there are all too many horror stories associated with health insurance prior to Obamacare. For one, a large segment of the population were shut off from getting insurance because of preexisting conditions. One of the most common and egregious things insurers did was to approve an applicant’s policy after much review, and then years later when there was a major claim the insurer would go back and conduct an investigation into whether there were unreported preexisting conditions. If the insurer found a minor problem that might not even be related for the current problem, they could and would retroactively cancel the policy and deny coverage. Let’s not overlook the number of times that insurance companies denied a patient a recommended surgery because the carrier considered it experimental. Or the insurance company might have insisted that an alternative procedure be done that was cheaper but less effective.
Then there were the small businesses with perhaps a hundred employees who the company insured. If one of the workers came down with a very costly illness, the company had a choice of either finding a way to let that worker go or paying a whopping premium increase. Nice choices.
Obamacare is for sure not perfect, but in time it can become much better. If Republicans had some real solutions both yesterday and now in fixing the computer glitches, just maybe the problems could be fixed without all the finger pointing. When Romneycare went into effect, which is very successful in Massachusetts today, about 123 people signed up the first month. But it’s much easier to tear down the other guy for political gain than to offer real solutions. Congressman Tom Price says he has healthcare plan that is better than Obamacare. I don’t know if it is or not, but I do know that he has had no luck finding other Republicans to support it.
And then there is always Dr./Congressman Phil Gingrey to the rescue. He has blasted out a campaign email promising that if elected to the senate he will “repeal or replace” Obamacare in his first term or not seek reelection. What he doesn’t say is how he will garner enough Republican and Democratic votes to do that, especially if the senate remains majority Democratic, and he doesn’t say what his health insurance plan would be. Considering his legislative record over the past decade I wouldn’t put a lot of faith into this promise. In fact, a better promise would be to drop out of the race and promise to provide medical services to war veterans who actually did deliver on their promise when they took an oath to serve their country.
The MDJ reported on Monday, November 4th that Cobb County commission chairman Tim Lee plans to send out a request for proposal for a lobbyist firm that can handle lobbying on both the state and federal level. The article stated that $125,000 is budgeted for lobbying, but it is not known what the final cost will be since no contract has yet been negotiated.Surely I can’t be one of only a few Cobb taxpayers that is troubled and bewildered by this expense, but as I write this there have been only two comments on the MDJ website to the story, and no LTE’s as of yet. If Chairman Lee can pull this off I can only wonder if all the anger over political issues has been used up on Obama.
Lee says that it is about who can build relationships with elected officials. Really. All along I thought that local elected officials built relationships not only with other officials on the state and federal level that serve Cobb County, but also various administrators and officials that can affect our county. Not only are there Republican Party Saturday breakfasts that seem to be well attended by the Cobb delegation and our federal representatives, but there are countless other gatherings and meetings where business can be discussed. If Lee is not attending these breakfasts and gatherings (I don’t know what his participation record is), then as a full time commission chairman he is not engaging in one of the functions that the taxpayers have a right to expect from him. One would think that he would have more credibility discussing issues with elected officials than a paid shill.
Lee rightfully pointed out that it is not possible to know every committee chairperson at the state capitol, chairpersons that may have significant power over legislation that impacts Cobb residents. But it is hard to believe that our state representatives don’t have relationships with these people. Why can’t Lee have them “lobby” the appropriate chairperson? Isn’t that something that goes with the job of being a state rep? Would a contract with a lobbying firm put limitations on money it spends working to get some desired result? Or would a lobbyist be able to bill for expenses that are exempted from the new state ethics law governing what monies can be paid to officials? Would the lobbyist be required to file reports to the commission that could be obtained under the Open Records Act? Is the lobbying firm going to consist of former state representatives that are part of the “club” that gets access?
To sum up, I can’t figure out why the taxpayers should pay for someone to do what Lee should be doing himself. One would think that Lee would have developed good working relations with the Cobb delegation by now, and if he hasn’t maybe it’s time for him to seek other employment. In fact, maybe that’s what he ultimately has in mind, to become a lobbyist himself after ingratiating himself with whichever firm was to get this contract. This should not be allowed to happen, and with all the negativity about spending, this is one spending item that the commissioners should vote down. If there is all this extra money to pay for a lobbyist, perhaps instead it could be better spent by hiring three more police officers who do real work and individually get paid about a third of what Lee proposes.
The cry on the right stays on track, that we are spending too much money and bankrupting our great country. You can’t leave out the children in this plaint and they don’t. The same folks never lose an opportunity to express their concern that tomorrow’s children will bear the burdens of our spending today, and that it’s all about them. In the next breath, though, they want to cut taxes that fund education. In some counties in America, to include Cobb, seniors are exempted from paying school taxes. Many of the same concerned citizens are among this group, but if you tried to eliminate this tax break to fund the future captains of industry, you would be run out of town.
Students are drowning in debt unless they won the genetic lottery and can get an academic scholarship, or were born into families with financial resources. What this often means is that an otherwise intelligent person may not be able to pursue a post graduate study that could lead to a professional career. This is because of the golden handcuffs of a current job that pays down student loans. Any number of other countries consider the young an investment in that country’s future and put education at the top of their priorities. Not in the land of opportunity, though, the greatest country on earth. As a result we are not producing the engineers, scientists, and other creators in the numbers that are needed to sustain our nation’s record of accomplishments. Many who “got theirs” because of the largess of tax paid educations, to include public schools, don’t blink at cutting this form of government spending. There are the usual objections to all the waste, as though waste and fraud don’t happen in the private sector.
As the congress and senate try to come to agreement on a budget resolution, one thing that is not likely to change is the multiples of spending on the elderly versus the younger generation. Seniors vote and are a very powerful force. I have been at political gatherings where they are vocal about the runaway spending, about the kids being shortchanged, but if asked to sacrifice and pay more for their Medicare or Social Security, you hear all sorts of objections on why that would be unfair. While Obamacare continues to be today’s popular punching bag, you won’t find one person on Medicare who would be willing to give it up to buy insurance in the private sector. Could it be because of preexisting conditions that might exclude them, coupled with the cost of paying premiums that reflect the real costs of the services they get?
There is a lot of room to cut big budget items, but you don’t read much about it. I’ve mentioned getting rid of Medicare Part D, the drug portion that is costlier than Obamcare. Agricultural subsidies, bank loan guarantees that taxpayers fund, and a tax code that favors investors and other wealthy over people who earn their living doing real work, may get passing lip service at best. Same for unneeded defense contracts and obsolete military bases. How often do you hear about multibillion dollar cost overruns and fraud in defense contracts? When you do it’s hardly the lead story or front page news. When was the last time your representative talked about it? It’s become a game where both the contractor and Pentagon point fingers at each other, and the taxpayer hasn’t a clue as to who really is responsible. But since it’s defense money it’s not popular to bring it up in one of the typical canned speeches your rep gives at the local civic club.
To sum this all up no one could do it better than Texas Republican representative Blake Farenthold. He is a man of the people and wants to “reduce the size of government, lower taxes, and increase freedom.” During the government shutdown a disabled veteran told this patriotic American that he was concerned about losing his disability check. Blake responded about freedom not being free and the need to make small sacrifices. I bet readers would be shocked to know that Farenthold never wore the uniform of this country and got a tax subsidized education at the University of Texas-Austin. If this guy and other like-minded types are reelected in 2014, we will get what we asked for. And it won’t resemble the America that many of us once knew.
I think most Americans, and that includes Democrats (despite self-righteous “patriots” thinking otherwise), could find no logic or reason behind the closing of national monuments that were open and part of the landscape. I haven’t read anything to date, other than a lot of uninformed opinion and statements without evidence, that Obama was behind it. Sometimes I wonder how he gets anything done with all of his micromanaging of the most minute details of governing. Oh well, when you hate someone enough you can make it up and swear it’s true. But to be clear, I didn’t support the closing of national monuments to WW II veterans or anyone else. It was a bad move for sure, but as bad as it was, there are other forgotten Americans who got caught up in the government shutdown that didn’t get the same media attention.
The shutdown reduced our nation’s GDP, which is not a good thing during an economy that is still in recession to most people despite statements to the contrary. No restaurant, food service purveyor, gasoline wholesaler or retailer, by way of example, can make up for lost business, and there are lots of other businesses that also depend on daily traffic. Those who condemn federal workers as being lazy, underworked and overpaid should make a statement and not accept the cash of anyone they know to be on the “government dole.” Too few probably don’t realize that for every dollar anyone spends, it gets circulated four times.
But things are gonna get worse. Now that new target dates have been set to pass a budget and approve raising of the debt ceiling, the fighting has just begun. Every special interest group from all segments of our society will be lobbying for the taxpayers to continue paying for or subsidizing this, that or the other government program. Now is a good time to be a lobbyist in Washington. This may be the best of times for them.
Consider that defense contractors will pound away at our reps to continue to fund weapons systems that the pentagon says we don’t need. And our reps, who proclaim to have more expertise about weapons than our career service members who actually wear a uniform, will prevail because in the end it is really about federally funded jobs programs. But that’s an unpopular term with Republicans. Defense sounds better. The same arguments will be used to keep unneeded military bases open. With all the experts in congress, most who wear flag lapel pins but never served their country, it would seem that we don’t need a Department of Defense.
Let’s not leave out other special interests that have deep pockets to protect their government gimmees. I don’t recall Ted Cruz talking about the antiquated agricultural subsidies that have outlived their once valid purpose. He has been silent, too, about the taxpayers that provide loan guarantees to the banks, which I thought was part of the free market system of risk and reward. Let’s not leave out flood insurance that the government subsidizes. Think about all the folks with homes on lakes, rivers and beaches that for some reason can’t afford what it would really cost to ensure their dwellings without taxpayer help. And then there are the grab bag of goodies in the tax code for those who make enough money to take advantage of them. But again, not a peep from Ted Cruz and his followers. Nope, Obamacare is their low hanging fruit right now despite the fact that it hasn’t even been fully implemented yet. The computer glitches have nothing to do with the law itself, and I won’t disagree with anyone that those problems shouldn’t have happened. That said, though, it will be fixed.
By the time all the special interests pound away at our representatives in Washington, when they throw mountains of campaign cash their way, some of the choices will be made easier. The unspoken for, those on food stamps and Medicaid, among other services for the down and out, will be the ones to take the torpedoes. In a country where cash is king, where legal bribery is part of our national ethos, those who can pay get results. The rest take shaft. As I’ve written here before, this is a three card monte game. And folks like Ted Cruz will have you focus on the one thing that has everyone’s attentions while emptying your pockets when you aren’t looking.
The government shutdown continues with no end in sight as I write this. Sure, an agreement will be reached, but it will be because of a crisis, whether a consequence of not raising the debt ceiling, or because the Republicans will see their poll numbers drop like a sack of rocks. In the meanwhile Obama is the ogre responsible for everything that is wrong with America. The failure to create jobs, the shrinking of the military, increasing welfare benefits to the poor (corporate welfare is off the table among ideologues), and a host of other things gone south. Never mind that congress is the one that passes spending bills. That’s an irrelevant detail when you want to accuse Obama of being a dictator, a socialist, or a Nazi.
Right now Obamacare is still the favorite punching bag of conservatives. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when it is characterized as socialized medicine. The fact that I will still be choosing my own doctors and specialists within my private plan is irrelevant. Also irrelevant is that their payments will come from private insurance companies. My three main doctors all accept Medicare, but you wouldn’t know it if you listen to the horror stories from reactionary radio. His Porkulous, Rush Limbaugh, never fails to demonize Obamacare and Medicare, yet he wouldn’t have any experience with either, especially because he admitted one time that he doesn’t need health insurance. Lucky him.
Obamacare has been mythologized like Ronald Reagan (whom I voted for twice with no regrets). Whether the cost of healthcare is going up or down seems to depend on who you talk to. I have read countless accounts from both sides. For sure, though, you can’t depend on reliable information from people that you should trust, like our state insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens. He should be neutral on the subject and provide real facts instead of declaring outright that he is out to destroy the program. Recently the AJC interviewed people representing different segments of society for their views of Obamacare. One woman said that she opposed it. She continued that she liked the provision that eliminated preexisting conditions and the one that kept her son on the family plan until he reaches 26. Yet she declared that she couldn’t support the mandatory provision, the one component that Obamacare needs if it is to work.
I haven’t forgotten that my healthcare costs have risen dramatically each year since about 1993. I have also experienced the hassle of my doctors arguing with my insurance carrier on whether they will pay for a certain drug that the doctor says is more effective than the alternate one the insurance company wants prescribed, or whether or not the insurer will pay for a needed MRI. So much for the myth of the doctor/patient relationship in the private sector. But that’s what the Obamacare demonizers want you to believe, that you really do have a doctor/patient relationship in the private sector vice an insurance company relationship versus the patient and the doctor.
As the government shutdown continues, in addition to the attacks on Obamacare, federal employees are also confronting the public firing squad. What most don’t know is that the good paying jobs are those that require education, skills, experience, drug testing and background check that are usually more extensive than in the private sector. Many have skills, such as the nuclear engineers with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would pay in the private sector multiples of what they make working for the government. And that’s just one example. If this shutdown continues, more people will feel the immediate effects, and the ripple will become more of a tidal wave with time.
Perhaps an illustration of why the two sides can’t come to agreement can be summed up by a guest column in the MDJ. The columnist said, “Obama and the Democrats hate the military, they infantilize, punish and use the troops as political pawns regularly.” There was a time when being a member of one political party or another didn’t infer that you were un-American or some kind of lout. I wonder if Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, hates the military? I am not a Democrat but vote mostly Democratic today, but I loved my time in the military and tell the world that it shaped my life. With this kind of incivility that is shared by many on the right, we are probably in for some hard times ahead. Modern day American politics at its worst.