The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #183: JEB is clueless
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The Agitator #103: Taxes and campaign issues
by Oliver_Halle
February 14, 2014 11:10 AM | 1665 views | 1 1 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There are two very significant federal races for office underway right now. The U.S. Senate election could be decided in the May 20th primary, but it’s still too early to know if Democrat Michelle Nunn could pull an upset. The winner of the primary for the congressional 11th District, currently occupied by Phil Gingrey, will almost certainly take office in Washington next January since no Democrat can overcome the Republican dominance for this seat.

Sadly none of the Republican candidates are talking about the real issues that affect our daily lives. We are being bombarded with why Obamacare is killing America, the assault on your Second Amendment rights, religious freedom and birth control (a thoroughly bogus argument in my opinion that I hope the Supreme Court will put to rest), gay marriages, and deficits among the higher profile arguments. All are fair game for political discussion, and I am all in favor of having that debate, but when you look at your paycheck, prepare your taxes, and otherwise try to figure out how to make ends meet, are you really thinking about any of the foregoing issues? Does it not bother enough taxpayers to scream out in protest against having to pay accountants and lawyers to figure out what they have to pay the government? This is not a pitch against taxes; we need taxes, and as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.

The tax code’s complexity is outrageous. It is a full employment bill for CPA’s, tax preparers, and tax lawyers. All we ever hear from our elected officials is that the code needs changing, but when has there been a meaningful effort by one party or the other to gather the necessary support and actually do something about it? Write to your representative to complain and you will get a nice response about how s/he supports change, is a sponsor to some bill, all of which is meaningless blather. The ones who write the tax code are the special interests seeking a credit, deduction, tariff, deferred payment, etc. And they get to write the code because they are the heavy contributors to our representatives’ campaigns. The person benefiting from a credit due to insufficient income to pay taxes certainly didn’t write that provision into the code. When you live hand to mouth you don’t have money to give to politicians. But this credit is pennies on the dollar compared to the gimmees the tax writers of the tax code get. When you are a serious campaign contributor, you are on the “team.”

We the voters are responsible for the mess we are in. We elect the masters of smoke and mirrors. They can denounce Obamacare all day and night, but it’s very unlikely to be rescinded. Instead there should be bipartisan effort to make it work better. What you will hear, though, from Republicans is about all their healthcare reform bills in the House that they control. What they won’t tell you is why none has even made it out of committee. Congressman Tom Price touts his bill as the panacea for reform, so why hasn’t he even gotten so much as a hearing on it? Obamacare has become a red herring. It is and should be an issue for debate, but to run on repealing it, as Phil Gingrey’s empty promise to do, is not going to make one difference in our daily lives. The likes of Gingrey love to throw out red meat and red herring to the voters, but neither is all that appetizing.

Republicans have traditionally been the party of business. Perhaps if some of the leaders put together a bipartisan team of professionals---accountants, lawyers, business executives, state and local government officials, and more, they could come up with a new tax code that would not only make the U.S. more attractive as a place to set up shop, but it would inure to all Americans. My best guess is that it won’t happen, and the whipping boys of campaigns will continue to be Obamacare, guns, religious “persecution”, and other issues de jour, issues that won’t make one dime’s worth of difference when you stroke your check to the IRS and try to meet all your other financial obligations.


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EM Buckner
February 14, 2014
Mr. Halle is perhaps our best local writer, but I fear his insights will not be taken advantage of by Georgia Republicans. Since I'm not a Republican, perhaps I should be glad of this--eventually the GOP will pay an electoral price for their demagoguery--but I'd rather the Republicans tackle real issues and put forth candidates with honest positions, even if doing that might lead to victories by a party I generally disagree with. Odds are the other comments Halle draws for this blog entry will help to prove his points rather than help persuade the GOP candidates to be more honest an wiser. We'll see.

The Agitator #102: Deja vu all over again
by Oliver_Halle
February 06, 2014 10:52 AM | 1428 views | 4 4 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The media has been all but silent about the upcoming debt ceiling issue that will become relevant on February 7th. Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew, says that he can find money here and there to borrow in order to pay the nation’s bills until about the end of the month. Contrast the national attention of last fall when we hit the debt ceiling and congress was unwilling to budge. I suspect that the voice of silence we are hearing this time may be a hint that a deal to raise the debt ceiling is in the works.

It is unlikely that the opponents to raising the debt ceiling in the Republican Party are going to submit quietly. What little I have already heard on the topic is that tea party Republicans are insisting on corresponding cuts in spending. That sounds good if you are trying to fool the American people into believing that raising the debt ceiling is like getting another credit card to go on a spending spree. In fact this Republican controlled House worked out a bipartisan budget agreement recently that increases spending, particularly for defense, over the next several years by restoring money that had been cut by the sequester. Raising the debt ceiling allows for the government to pay for the spending that has already been incurred, not future spending.

All of this makes for great political rhetoric, and you can be sure that you will hear a lot about Obama spending us into oblivion without one word of acceptance of responsibility by the responsible parties: our elected representatives. Obama can’t spend what hasn’t been authorized even if he wanted to. So as long as we keep unneeded military bases open, build weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want or need, continue the social costs of defense at current levels, and tout how defense is the main priority at all costs, then we need to pay for it. If some of this amounts to a jobs program under the guise of defense, so be it, but the taxpayers ought to know that it doesn’t come for free.

It was comforting to know that our two U.S. senators from Georgia voted for the latest farm bill that will cost over several years approximately a trillion dollars. Included in the bill are insurance subsidies and price supports for various crops. Farming has become largely a big business enterprise, and as such these businesses should bear the risks and rewards as any other business. But Johnny and Saxby don’t want to tell their constituents that food prices may rise as a result, and conservative taxpayers who complain about government giveaways don’t want to pay the real cost of farm products despite touting that free markets should be allowed to work their magic.

Another giveaway program is the subsidy that taxpayers provide for flood insurance to those who choose to live in a flood plain. Many, if not most of those that live along the beaches, rivers, and other waterways, have the money to pay for their spectacular views, but somehow they can rationalize that the rest of us should help them pay for it. If Republicans insist on government cuts, three ripe areas are wasteful defense spending, farm supports, and flood insurance subsidies. It won’t happen, though. My preference would be to put some of that money into paying for the rehab programs funded by the private sector for our seriously injured war veterans. That too won’t happen. The constituency isn’t large enough.

On an unrelated topic, I tip my hat to the Cobb County police officer who was shot the other day while making a traffic stop. Few tasks are more dangerous for a cop than pulling someone over. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. These men and women who risk their lives daily without the public realizing it deserve a lot more than they get. I hope that when the economy improves our uniformed services will be first in line for a much deserved pay raise. It’s long overdue and shameful that we aren’t doing better by these loyal public servants.

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February 07, 2014
Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. What are we gonna do with you?

Folks, our progressive friend often pats himself on the back for presenting facts. And, it's true. He accurately cited an article from Forbes.

Here's the rub. Presenting a fact is one thing. Presenting all the facts is another. Presenting all the facts in context is yet something else.

See the Forbes article by Rick Unger, dated May 24, 2012, "Who is the Smallest Government Spender since Eisenhower? Would You Believe it's Barack Obama?"

Unger's article is based on an analysis, er, creative numerology, first presented by Rex Nutting, MarketWatch, May 22, 2012. Compare the dates.

Nutting's analysis is based, not on spending, but spending GROWTH. A rebuttal can be found here...

It's kinda like this - Nutting, Unger, and now KF, are saying that Billy Bob, who is 5' 6" and weighs 355, only gained 3 pounds last month.

The Agitator #101: Snow and politicians
by Oliver_Halle
January 31, 2014 11:25 AM | 1613 views | 3 3 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

One of my good friends recently said that Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal looked like two Soviet bureaucrats while making their comments to the press about the snowstorm. As I spent 20 hours in my car (Peachtree Dunwoody Rd. and Hammond Drive to lower east Cobb), I felt better listening to Deal as he took full responsibility for the lack of preparedness while blaming the weather forecasters. Then Mayor Reed added to my level of comfort as he assured us that they learned from the January 2011 ice storm and all would be okay.

I thought it amusing to read comments and listen to interviews from people affected by the storm. Invariably they discussed how their elected officials and appointed bureaucrats failed, how they were unprepared, made bad decisions, and otherwise let the people down. Certainly there is some merit to the criticism. I just find it ironic that so many voters in Georgia who believe that government is the problem, that we need less government and fewer government workers, are the same ones that expect their government to work miracles in a time of crisis. I am sure many of the same people also think that the private sector could do a better job in these circumstances, yet I wonder how they would coordinate their efforts with all of the municipalities involved, and what the companies would do to stay profitable in between crises.

This storm, while bad, was nowhere near as bad as so many I have lived through. But it produced the single greatest mess impacting so many people, and you have to ask yourself why? As I see it the biggest problem is that we live in a state where the car is king. People generally don’t like public transportation and prefer the freedom that their cars bring even if they are stuck in traffic all the time and have to plan their lives around traffic. Now some of the opponents to the TSPLOST are proposing to allow individual counties to work with a neighboring county to come up with transportation alternatives. TSPLOST would have focused on the region, and being that the latest storm hit a wide region, I’m not sure how more localized fixes would alleviate our traffic problems. Consider that there is strong opposition to bringing MARTA rail service just to the new Cobb stadium, while at the same time the biggest concern with the new home of the Braves is the additional traffic it will bring.

The whole world saw on CNN what a small snowstorm can do to Atlanta. If anyone thinks that it won’t influence companies in whether to relocate to the Atlanta area, open a branch, or to start a business here, they are clueless. The world also watched how the governor handled it, and that too will factor into their thinking. Among the questions that will be asked are whether the Atlanta metropolitan area has a good, reliable transportation system, and whether Georgia produces the kinds of political leaders that makes things happen and solves problems. If this governor or any other candidate for public office thinks that just lowering taxes is going to draw businesses from all over the map, they are either drinking Kool-Aid or returning from a vacation in Colorado.

If anyone thinks that help may be on the way with alternatives to Governor Deal in the upcoming Republican primary, consider this. One opponent, David Pennington was quoted saying that Deal “failed miserably”, but never offered a syllable about how he would deal with weather crises in the region. His only mantra is about taxes. The other candidate, John Barge, said that he would have “taken the heat” for closing the schools early, “especially when it involves safety. Yet Barge, the state school superintendant, said that he did not urge the schools to let students out early out of fear of “overreaching.”

Nothing will change or improve until we solve our transportation problems. There isn’t enough asphalt to hold all the cars in the Atlanta metropolitan area. So all we can do is sleep well knowing that the governor has arranged for more salt bins to be strategically placed around the state. I wish that had consoled me the other night, but it didn’t. At least some consolation came from knowing that our underpaid uniformed public servants were out in full force doing the real work. To them I say, thank you!

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Craig Kootsillas
February 05, 2014
Nice piece.

There is a lot of support for transportation - and transit funding across the political spectrum.

There is no appetite for the creation of revenue streams without strict controls, some view these as slush funds.

Consider PolicyBEST's initiative.

Nothing stops governments from cooperating now. A number of methods exist such with a Inter-Government Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding.

From a funding standpoint,this is what the SPLOST law was designed for - large, well-defined projects that cannot be paid for by general revenue.

Instead, SPLOST has evolved into something much different.

PolicyBEST's goal, in my view, is to get that extra one percent of the gas tax.

The Agitator #100: Corruption and reform
by Oliver_Halle
January 22, 2014 04:05 PM | 1344 views | 3 3 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The very recent former governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen, were charged in a 14 count federal indictment with wire fraud and other criminal violations involving misuse of his office.  The indictment reads like a condensed crime novel that would also make a great movie.  Sadly, though, whether the pair is convicted or not, the citizens of Virginia are the losers.  They trusted this self-righteous politico, who wore his Christian faith on his sleeve and then betrayed those that believed in him.

As is so common with officials who end up charged with crimes related to their office, the person bestowing all the largess on the governor and his wife was a wealthy businessman that McDonnell first met when he campaigned for the high office.  Amazing how some politicians never learn that people who you first meet and become your “best friend” after you acquire some power or potential power, are the ones most likely to bring you down.  I recall a mob guy in New York saying that if he didn’t know someone in kindergarten, he didn’t know him now.

In my opinion, corruption by any official, elected, appointed, or in the civil service is much more serious than its counterpart in the private sector.  Citizens at all levels of government rightfully expect their governors, judges, prosecutors, police, inspectors, and other functionaries to act honestly and in their constituents’ best interests.  When that doesn’t happen the system breaks down on all different levels.  If someone doesn’t think he can get an honest shake in court, he could resort to self-help and violence.  People will act outside the law on all levels where they feel that government is broken, where money has influenced an official in a way that benefits one person(s) to the detriment of another person(s).  When that happens our society breaks down and we end up living in a third world environment.

Robert and Maureen McDonnell confided in their benefactor that they were broke, that their credit card debt was essentially out of control.  In return the benefactor was only too happy to submit to every request from the pair ranging from contributing to their daughter’s wedding costs, gifts that included luxurious dresses and a Rolex watch, access to an exclusive country club for golf outings, and so much more.  In return the businessman got the governor to support some bogus medical research to be conducted by the University of Virginia Medical School to validate a questionable health product the businessman manufactured.

The governor issued a non-apology apology.  He said that he regretted using bad judgment, but his fellow Virginians could be assured that he never sold out his office.  Too bad he didn’t say that he was sorry he engaged in what was essentially bribery and extortion, that he was sorry he violated the public trust, and that he was motivated by greed.  Perhaps we’ll hear something like that at his sentencing if he is convicted.  I wouldn’t bet on it.

The bigger story in all this is the absolute necessity for campaign finance reform.  It likely won’t happen though for two reasons. First, the special interests will ensure that their representatives never vote for it. And secondly, and more importantly, as long as the Supreme Court equates money with speech, cash will be king.  For those who proclaim to be “constitutionalists”, who say that we need to get back to the Founders’ intent and literal meaning, I would ask where in the First Amendment it says anything about cash and speech going together.

Today’s shrinking middle class is pretty much ignored by our Washington representatives. They don’t have the money to contribute any meaningful sums to campaigns.  They don’t have access to big donors that they can tap into on behalf of a representative.  One figure I read is that the average senator must raise $10,000/day in order to prepare for the next campaign.  With that kind of pressure it’s not hard to figure out where the representative is paying attention and to whom.  The middle class’ alternatives to get attention all too often lie with movements like Occupy Wall Street.  The right likes to portray this as a communist conspiracy, but there will always be extremists in every group including the civil rights movement whose message ultimately prevailed.

One proposal for starters, not original with me, is to limit contributions for congressional representatives to people living in the district.  For senators, limit them to the state.  It won’t stop all corruption, but it would be a beginning.
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February 03, 2014
ObamaCare is probably a big mistake but the charge of corruption is totally misplaced and solely designed for improper purposes. I would suggest Mr. von Mises concentrate on something useful like electing Republican officials in 2014 rather than helping the liberals by his baseless comments.

The Agitator #99: Tax exemptions & free markets
by Oliver_Halle
January 17, 2014 01:15 PM | 1307 views | 2 2 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
It is human nature to shift one’s costs and taxes to someone else.  Everyone looks for a break ranging from shopping for discounts, using coupons, responding to special offers, etc.  On a larger scale businesses typically look for tax breaks, tax credits, tax abatements, tax incentives, special tariffs, non-compete laws, and more.  Churches get special tax treatment at all levels ranging from paying no property taxes to all sorts of federal, state and local exemptions.  While the recipients feel justified and deserving of their special statuses, what is too often overlooked is that others have to pick up the slack.  As congressman and senate candidate John Kingston would say, there are no free lunches---unless you are like him and one of the favored.
John Williams’ Riverwalk project should be a winner by any measure considering its location in the Platinum Triangle and proximity to the new Braves stadium.  Yet Williams, with the help of Cobb commission chairman Tim Lee and other prominent Republicans who tout free markets, want to give Williams a tax abatement that would have cost the school system millions of dollars over a decade.  But there is more---building this complex would require more police and fire protection, but Williams didn’t want to pay for it, and Lee seems to think that somehow that’s okay.  (I haven’t seen Lee’s campaign contribution reports, but I would bet that Williams is a big supporter and maybe even a fundraiser for Lee too.)  Instead , Cobb County homeowners and all of us who pay sales tax would have subsidized the services that Williams would have gotten virtually for free when he called 911.
There has been lots of talk about the additional number of police officers that will be needed once the stadium is built, but Lee hasn’t said how he will pay for them.  All we are being told is that it won’t cost   property owners any additional money.  Maybe the Braves stadium and surrounding development will produce enough revenue to pay for everything; maybe not.  No one will know until the projects are complete.  Then we will know if the projections were in the ballpark or if the taxpayers are on the hook. By then Lee will be long gone.
For all the talk about small businesses being the backbone of the country’s economic power, you wouldn’t know it if the measure is tax breaks.  Big business is where the political power is, and the federal and state tax codes are written around their special interests.  The argument we always hear from our officials is that if we don’t play this game, we will lose businesses to other municipalities or states that do.  The problem is that all too often the businesses that get the tax incentives don’t live up to their promises, and the taxpayers have to make up the shortfall.  Perhaps if the state spent more money on infrastructure, public transportation, public safety, education, and healthcare among the big issues, we wouldn’t have to incentivize individual businesses to locate to Cobb County and other parts of Georgia on an ad hoc basis.  They would want to come here because of our friendly and attractive business environment.  And that would add good paying jobs and a growing tax base to pay for the amenities and improved quality of life for all Georgians.
We the voters are going to have to think differently if we have any hope of change.  I thought Governor Deal was right to push for the TSPLOST that went up in flames.  We were told by the opponents that there was a Plan B.  To date that plan remains known only to those that touted it.  About four years ago we had a referendum asking if the voters would support a $10 fee paid every four years when you renewed your driver’s license with the money going to pay for trauma hospitals in rural Georgia.  Opponents defeated it with most of them arguing that they were taxed enough already.
We are going to see more of the likes of John Williams.  The Weather Channel didn’t waste any time looking for their “me too” largess.  I wish I could understand how Republicans, who hold the local and state power, can claim to support free markets and then interfere with them with handouts that come from other people’s pockets.  I wish I could understand how they can bloviate about how important small businesses are to the economy and then do absolutely nothing for them.  I guess we deserve the officials we are foolish enough to elect.
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Ludwig Von Mises
January 22, 2014
Oliver - It's good to read that you are supporting classic liberal, libertarian views. I'm proud of you for once.

Yes, the Republicans "bloviate" for free markets and small government, but when they're in power, the use the government to control the economy, the schools and the bedrooms.

And I always thought that you, Oliver, were the biggest Bloviator of all.

The Agitator #98: Where have you gone, Randi Rhodes...
by Oliver_Halle
January 09, 2014 11:03 AM | 1337 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

A lot of interesting events have occurred over the past ten days or so, some still ongoing.  I am always relieved when I read that the Republicans are protecting America from the socialist/communist Obama.  It saves me the trouble of looking under my bed for commies who might be hiding there but for our  Republican representatives.

Over and over on the conservative/right wing/reactionary radio waves I hear how the “liberal media” is destroying our country.  If I am to believe Rush Limbaugh, he alone has a daily listening audience of over 20 million.  Add Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck, Mark Levin, and many more, and we are talking about some serious numbers.  Those numbers probably add up to far more listeners than the NYT and Washington Post, among other liberal media, have reading their newspapers.  We already know that FOX has a wider viewing audience than CNN.  In Atlanta there are no stations that I am aware of that carry any well known liberal talking heads.  Randi Rhodes, who I rank among the best of them and who is virtually unknown to most Americans, is no longer heard in Atlanta.  Air America, which carried her and several other liberals, disappeared some years ago with no replacement.  Same for many other cities in the U.S.

So for those who rely on the reactionary talking heads for “news”, it has been interesting.  Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, a Republican who served under Bush and Obama has a new book out.  I haven’t read it yet, only the newspaper accounts of it.  The talking heads have been touting Gate’s opinion of how Obama is essentially responsible for our failure to bring peace to Afghanistan.  Yet Gates took Bush apart too for abandoning Afghanistan while winning that war in order to engage in a war with Iraq.  Not a mention of that on any of the talk shows I have listened to.  No mention either of Gates’ praise for Hillary Clinton, or even a passing comment that Condoleezza Rice sought to close our detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  And for sure there wasn’t even a tip of the hat to Gates’ statement that Obama’s decision to send in the SEALS to capture or kill Osama bin Laden was the most courageous political decision that Gates had ever seen.  To hear these “fair and balanced” bloviators one would believe that Gates’ only agenda was to rip Obama and Joe Biden.

The same commentators have also been heavily critical of Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana.  That’s a fair political debate in my opinion, but their position seems to be at odds with their mantra of states’ rights.   Not one reactionary bloviator that I heard mentioned Mitt Romney’s healthcare law in Massachusetts that was the blueprint for Obamacare, or the Republican argument frequently heard that states should be laboratories to experiment with new ideas.  Last week listeners were subject to days of critical commentary of the conservative version of what free speech is with reference to Duck Dynasty actor Phil Robertson.  But all went silent when Gun & Ammo magazine columnist Dick Metcalf proposed some regulation of firearms and lost his job as a result.  (See Kevin Foley’s blog concerning this, a very well done piece that explains the conservative hypocrisy concerning speech.)

To close the week out we can’t overlook the debate concerning extending unemployment benefits for three months at a cost of $6 billion.  The Republicans insist on an offset, cuts from somewhere else in order for them to support the bill.  Our own two U.S. senators, Johnnie Isakson and Saxby Chambliss insist on the offsets.  While this is going on, the next farm bill is coming up soon for a vote that will cost $500 billion over ten years.  Yet not a whisper from our two senators that just maybe we can find $6 billion from the “unemployment bill” for farmers who get paid not to grow crops, receive insurance subsidies, and much more.  I have to believe that the unemployed who need additional help right now don’t fill the campaign coffers like Big Agriculture does.  In other words, there is a solution, but cash is king, and the voice of cash speaks much louder than the voices of the down and out.  It’s just more of the same…

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The Agitator #97: Michelle Malkin's "Cruciphobia"
by Oliver_Halle
January 02, 2014 01:25 PM | 1548 views | 1 1 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Anyone reading Michelle Malkin’s nationally syndicated columns in the MDJ knows without question that she is a far right conservative---or maybe reactionary would sum up her political world view better.  Her December 29th column about “cruciphobia” doesn’t miss a beat in using every negative adjective to describe atheists who oppose a 43 foot cross in a public park in San Diego that has stood there since a veterans group donated it in 1954.  She even quotes a Jewish rabbi who lives nearby and says that the cross doesn’t bother him.  Of course, though, Malkin makes no mention of Christians, among others, who also oppose the cross being planted in a tax payer supported entity.  Malkin continues a certain relatively new tradition of being “fair and balanced” but with a different understanding attached to it than the plain meaning of the words.
Christians like to  ask about the harm of placing their religious symbols in the public square or public buildings.  Same for their sectarian invocations at government meetings.  Hey, if someone is offended, well “they can either avert their eyes or leave the room.  This is America where majorities decide.”  There was a time when the Christian faith overwhelmingly dominated, but those times have changed, and with each passing year there are more people of other belief systems and non-believers of different stripes.  In case Malkin and others haven’t noticed, America doesn’t look quite the same as it did in 1954.
Our Founding Fathers were truly brilliant.  They understood from experience the importance of drafting a secular Constitution, one that starts out with, “We the people…,” and makes no mention of a Christian god or any other deity.  The closest the Constitution comes to mentioning religion is in Article VI where it is provided that no religious test shall be required to hold public office.  It also states that the various elected officials shall be bound by “oath or affirmation”  to support the Constitution.
There is a segment of our country that refers to themselves as “Constitutionalists.”  I’m not exactly sure what that means, because I have taken a number of oaths in my life to support and defend the Constitution, but my interpretation of it seems to be at odds with those who insist that we are a Christian nation just because a majority of the population professes to be Christian.  Somehow the inarguable fact that the Constitution nowhere created a Christian nation is beside the point.  Is this a variation of the conservative term for judges they don’t like, i.e. activism?  Could it be that these conservatives are very activist in reading into the Constitution that we are really a Christian nation despite no language in this grand document to support it?
This whole topic has reached a point of absurdity.  Consider that Justice Antonin Scalia, in another case involving a cross placed on public land in the desert to honor the war dead, made one of the most amazing comments imaginable.  In Salazar v. Buono decided in 2009, Scalia stated from the bench that the cross, in effect, honored all the war dead.  It was pointed out to Scalia that the cross is not found in the cemeteries of Jewish war veterans.  I’ve never heard of a cross being a universal symbol of anything other than to represent the Christian faith.
I can only wonder if Malkin would defend a majority Muslim community that honored its war dead by placing a 43 foot Star and Crescent in a public park.  (I would oppose it as vehemently as I do the cross or any other religious symbol.)  Malkin never mentioned that this 43 foot cross could just as easily be planted on the grounds of one of the local churches.  I, for one, would have no problem with that whatsoever, and none of the unbelievers or non-Christians that I know would have a problem with it either.  The danger in allowing this cross to remain in the public square is encroachment and the demands of other religious groups for free space at taxpayer expense to propagate their faith.
In my opinion, no Supreme Court case better defines who we are as Americans, what the Constitution and Bill of Rights mean, than those written by Justice Robert Jackson in 1943 in West Virginia vs. Barnette:  “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
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January 03, 2014
Oliver, "reactionary" is the precise word to describe Malkin.

Again, this is all part of the far right narrative to portray progressives and anyone else who doesn't agree with them as anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-religion as part of the larger canard that we're all Communists. There's nothing new here. There were Malkins in the 1950s doing the same thing.

The Agitator #96 - Jobs vs. Obamcare
by Oliver_Halle
December 20, 2013 01:59 PM | 1750 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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The Agitator #95 - Who are the real Republicans?
by Oliver_Halle
December 11, 2013 09:25 AM | 1264 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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. 

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Barbara D L
December 16, 2013
Politics, sadly, are built on hypocrisy, Oliver. I wish it wasn't so, but this is why we have a third estate... to shed sunlight on some of the doublespeak that occurs in a murky world beyond the handshakes and kissing of babies. It is good to make people think about the actions of those they put in charge.

However, In the end, conservatives understand more than anyone else that their candidates will be flawed because--as you show some fondness for the Bible, a book many of them revere--they know men are fallen. This is, perhaps, a great reason to limit the power of government, no? One chooses representatives who are closest to an ideology one can support. But when representatives inevitably disappoint in some way (for none of them are perfect), one must point this out and hold those representatives accountable.

Additionally, having a debate about what is and what isn't a "Republican" occurs in the party itself on an almost daily basis as voters call out for consistency and factions jockey for control. (The same thing happens on the other side as well though they Democrats do appear better at walking in lockstep.) This is actually healthy in a republic.

Regardless, you make some very good points in this piece, and I think the writing here is exceptional. Cobb Republicans should look at your challenges and really process them... not dismiss them as if they don't matter.

To do otherwise would be like a Democrat dogmatically defending Obamacare as a great program just because it suits an ideological desire to expand government control of healthcare.

Well done.

The Agitator #94 - Unpopular spending cuts
by Oliver_Halle
December 03, 2013 09:42 AM | 1376 views | 2 2 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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?

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Guido Sarducci
December 05, 2013
Kevin, I love it when you run off at the mouth about things of which you know nothing.

The DOD budget for 2013 is 614 billion (which is down 73 billion, or about 10.6% from 2011.)

Are you truly ignorant enough to think that you could cut that budget by over 65% (400 billion would be 65.1%) and still have an efficient Defense Department?

If you do, maybe you can provide some verifiable documentation indicating what your rationale for that thinking might be.

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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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