The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #207: "Trust me; I am a man of faith"
February 10, 2016 10:25 AM | 401751 views | 0 0 comments | 5359 5359 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #197: Special interests win again
by Oliver_Halle
December 02, 2015 10:55 AM | 840 views | 0 0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

A few months back the congress agreed to increase the budget by upwards of $60 billion to accommodate Republican and Democratic interests involving defense and domestic spending respectively. But providing the specifics of how that money is to be spent has to be completed by December 11th or there could be a government shutdown.

Republicans are trying to attach totally unrelated riders to these spending bills, and that is where the potential for a conflict lies between the Republican congress and Democrat president. Obama won’t sign any bill that eliminates the Affordable Healthcare Act or defunds Planned Parenthood, just two of many of the poison pills that the Republicans are using. Rather than let each of these bills stand alone for an up or down vote, the Republicans would rather risk another costly shutdown, or go on record with their vote that they know is meaningless except for political purposes.

Obamacare continues to be the favorite political punching bag for the Republicans, yet in the past four years there hasn’t been a single serious healthcare proposal put on the table by the naysayers. All we’ve gotten from the Party of No is over 50 attempts to repeal the law. Interestingly, Republicans informally agree that doing away with the preexisting conditions exclusion in the ACA was probably a good thing. What is rarely mentioned, though, is that in order to insure those with known health issues, to make it affordable the pool of insureds has to be increased. The American voters deserve to know how the Republicans would keep the preexisting conditions component in the law and not mandate that all Americans participate.

Senator David Perdue (R-GA) is finishing his first year in office. He has staked out a strong position of getting control of spending. In the abstract I have no quarrel with him. But, as always, the devil is in the details. He is very outspoken about the importance of keeping open Dobbins AFB in Marietta. No question that arguments can be made in support of it, but in past BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) recommendations, Dobbins has come up as a base that is no longer needed. Yet the political pressures are enormous on all of Georgia’s delegation to keep it open.

The question is why spending money for Dobbins and other unneeded bases is supposedly important for defense, when in reality it is the Republican version of a jobs program. Republican logic, though, calls money to rebuild our decaying infrastructure, wasteful. Yet, if we did spend more money on all things related to transportation, schools, and research and development, we would put a lot of people with important job skills to work, and that money would pour into the private sector while preserving those skills which could also be used for our national defense if needed.

We won’t see any serious cuts coming from Republicans despite all the hype of a balanced budget amendment, eliminating fat and waste, and all the other platitudes that the Party of No can dish out. What we will see are attempts to eliminate Obamacare, which they know is doomed on arrival, defund Planned Parenthood, which even if they could, would only be a pittance against the larger cost items. How about getting serious and eliminate insurance subsidies for commercial farmers? Let’s stop subsidizing flood insurance, which mostly benefits a lot of wealthy people who choose to live in flood areas for the views. How about loan guarantees to banks that are in the business of making money?

Then there is the tax code that is written for the special interests. All the noise from the Republican presidential candidates that they will replace the current tax laws is nothing more than cacophony. It won’t happen as long as we don’t have campaign finance reform because of the money that goes into funding campaigns.

David Perdue is part of the cacophony from Washington. He wants you to believe that he’s all about the importance balancing budgets. Look at his campaign funding sources and see who supports him, and you will then know that the powerless are the ones from whom he seeks take money from. Has he gotten involved with the serious problem of rural hospitals closing, largely because the state refuses to expand Medicaid even though the federal government would pick up ninety percent of the cost? These counties are going to lose what jobs they have, and for sure they won’t attract businesses.

When the various appropriation bills are finalized in the next week or so, as the Good Book says, ye shall know them by their fruits. The special interests will have won the day. That’s the way it works---money talks---and you know what walks.

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The Agitator #196: The real factor for 2016
by Oliver_Halle
November 25, 2015 10:00 AM | 1077 views | 0 0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

My best guess is that the latest terrorist attacks in Paris are the beginning of how the presidential election in 2016 will be affected. Between now and November next year It is probably fair to assume that there will be more bombings and shootings by Islamic jihadists, perhaps in our own country.

I don’t claim to have Donald Trump’s psychic abilities to predict, as he says he did, something on the cataclysmic scale of 911, although his prediction apparently wasn’t sufficiently narrow to alert the FBI concerning the date, time, place, and identity of the perpetrators. His prescience reminds me of what journalist Charles Osgood once said about the color coded warnings Homeland Security created to warn the public of different threat levels: that they were like the signs on highways that warn of falling rocks.

Historically, Republicans are the party perceived as being the stronger on defense. Facts would likely belie that, but when it comes time to vote, it is not unlikely that a majority of Americans will vote for the Republican candidate because they feel safer than with a Democrat. Chris Christie is moving up in the New Hampshire polls as he exploits this card.

Fear sells. Fear can disrupt, skew, and distort our rational side. Keeping a level head in combat or other life threatening situation is a survival skill. The fearmongering candidates are telling us that a small number of Syrian refugees are potential terrorists. All of Islam is being lumped in with violent extremists. It doesn’t matter that relocating any refugee to the U.S. is an 18 month to two year process. Some of our elected leaders are demanding that the FBI guarantee with certainty that anyone allowed to enter the U.S. is not a terrorist now or in the future. Good luck with that.

I recall during the Cold War, when Cuba went communist and was under the protective umbrella of the Soviet Union, the Congress passed a law providing for automatic immigration status for any Cuban refugee fortunate enough to reach any part of the U.S. homeland. Does anyone doubt that some were trained spies and/or saboteurs?

In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union allowed thousands of Jews to emigrate to Israel and the U.S. Does anyone doubt that any number were trained spies or forced to commit acts of espionage because they had family members who were being held hostage? Yet we took these people in.

There is no way to predict human behavior. How many of the gunmen who have committed atrocities such as Aurora and Sandy could have been sufficiently profiled to prevent their massacres? More acts of sheer terror have been committed on our own soil by home grown Americans who had either some grudge or demons that overwhelmed them

Loyal American-born Japanese citizens were interned in camps during WW II with no due process. Many became fierce fighters in Italy, and one U.S. Army unit comprised of Japanese soldiers became one of the most decorated during the entire war. Several hundred thousand Muslims have served in our armed forces, perhaps for the same variety of reasons as others of other faiths---or no faith.

If we have any hope of avoiding panic over the state of the world right now, we can’t give in to fear. Yes, there are things we can do to tighten security, but the Syrian refugee issue is bogus. Consider that since 2004, according to Nicholas Kristof of the NYT, more than 2,000 people on terrorism watch lists have legally been permitted to purchase guns. That’s because our elected officials refused to vote for legislation that would ban such sales. Go figure.

Another risk that can’t be avoided is the use of deep cover spies who enter the U.S. legally, who have a legend that can be confirmed, who have no criminal record in their native country, and who are highly educated. The Soviets excelled at this, and it is almost impossible to discover the “spy next door.”

Blaming Obama, the Republicans’ favorite punching bag, for being soft on pursing ISIS and al-Qaida, is in my opinion, grossly unfair. On the previous president’s watch, the one we dare not mention by name because he’s been gone for seven years, had at least three major terrorist attacks occur: Bali, 10/12/2002, in which 202 died; Spain, 3/11/2004; London, 7/7/05.

All the Republican candidates promise us that they will be tough on terrorism, yet not one has presented to the voters a cogent, realistic, plan that includes more than the use of our military capabilities. Not one word about attacking the problem at its roots, such as going after “friendly” governments like Saudi Arabia that subsidize Wahhabis, Muslim schools that indoctrinate children in the extremism that breeds terrorism.

Fear may decide our next election, and that’s what makes me scared.

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The Agitator #195: Focus on the real enemy
by Oliver_Halle
November 18, 2015 11:40 AM | 1086 views | 0 0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It’s that time of the year when certain paranoiacs come out and declare that they once again are victims of the War on Christmas. Fox bloviator Bill O’Reilly traditionally is the general in charge of leading these picked-on folks. This year Donald Trump may have replaced him.

This nonsense began early when Starbucks made a business decision to remove holiday symbols from its coffee cups. Agree or not, that is their right. So, no snowflakes, reindeer, Santa, or other recognizable imprints of Christmas even if none is the least bit biblical. In past years General O’Reilly focused his fury at businesses that instructed its cashiers and workers to wish people “happy holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. O’Reilly, always a self-proclaimed guardian of the First Amendment, apparently wanted to carve out a Christmas exception for free speech and religious freedom.

Donald Trump, a serious contender for becoming the next president, has assured us that if he is elected, people will be wishing each other Merry Christmas again. He didn’t say how he would enforce his edict, not unlike how he would enforce some of his other bizarre ideas, but I’m sure some of O’Reilly’s soldiers were comforted in knowing that if Trump wins, Christmas is back! I feel better already even if I never noticed that Christmas had ever gone anywhere.

The latest terror attack in Paris has captured the world’s attention, and it would be naïve to doubt that there will be serious consequences for ISIS coming from the U.S., Russia, NATO, and hopefully some of the Middle Eastern countries. I am not a global or military strategist, nor do I have access to the type of intelligence from which major decisions are made. I have to trust that experienced people and cool heads will be involved in going after ISIS. How they do it could involve a lot of different means other than fulfilling the usual cry about bombing them back to the Stone Age.

This is a very different war. No war that we have fought since WW II has been one of unconditional surrender. The world has become much more complicated, and Vietnam was just the beginning of trying to figure out how to fight an asymmetrical war. It is counterproductive to lump all Muslims in with radical Islam or jihadists any more than it is to lump all religious extremists of some faith with that particular faith. Christians and Jews have their share of core believers who interpret their holy books way outside the mainstream, too, and their respective histories of violence against those perceived as infidels is evidence of it.

The world today is much smaller because of global trade, instant communication, and the ability to go anywhere on the planet in less than a day. Everyone, in effect, is our neighbor. We have to keep our eye on the ball and target all extremists of any religious or political belief that would do us harm. Turning against just one group in its entirety will only push the legitimate, nonviolent into aligning with the terrorists when they have nowhere else to turn.

Make no mistake. I am not advocating going soft on ISIS, Al Qaida, or any other violent terrorist organization---not for a millisecond. But I would hate to see history repeating itself where we turned against loyal Americans such as American born Japanese in WW II, and interred them without making any effort to identify potential real dangers. We took the easy way, and one can only guess if we created enemies out of otherwise decent innocents who were just trying to live their lives like any other American.

The likes of O’Reilly and Trump, both Vietnam era draft-dodgers, make their audiences feel comfortable with their tough talk. But while O’Reilly tries to make himself into a religiously persecuted victim, Trump is a modern day Dr. Strangelove, a demagogue and extremist in his own right. His simple bromides for complex problems will give birth to unforeseen monsters with unforeseen consequences.

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The Agitator #194: Life is tough: hope lies ahead
by Oliver_Halle
November 11, 2015 10:45 AM | 1058 views | 0 0 comments | 74 74 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

George W. Bush, after he left the White House, was asked what he considered his greatest regret. If you are trying to stay ahead of me, the answer is not his preemptory war with Iraq. It was, he said, his failure to get the Congress to agree to privatize Social Security.

Until the Nixon presidency (1969-1974), Social Security annuitants did not get a cost of living (COLA) raise unless the Congress decided that over time inflation had substantially eaten into the benefit and voted an ad hoc increase. Nixon pushed through legislation that provided a formula to be applied annually to determine if a COLA was warranted to prevent many on Social Security from becoming totally impoverished. Only twice, I believe, has a COLA not been applied, both times in recent years because inflation has been flat.

The formula is also applicable to other federal annuitants such as Civil Service and military retirees, and VA Disability recipients. It is based, roughly, on the cost of certain goods over the three month period between July - September. This year the cost of gas has dropped significantly, among other items included in the “basket.” Active military and federal employees receive COLAs based on a different formula pertaining to the cost of labor.

Next year, 2016, will be the second time that there will be no COLA for retirees, and reading the MDJ recently, I was surprised at the anger. Many think that Obama and/or Congress is responsible, that they should forfeit their pay for this outrage, and perhaps even boiled in oil. I guess Congress and the president could change the formula, but it has worked pretty well at other times when the cost of gas, by way of example, spiked during the three relevant months. I don’t recall reading or hearing about people saying that it was an injustice to take the extra money despite the formula being skewed in their favor.

I can only imagine what would have happened if Bush had been successful in privatizing Social Security. During the Great Recession, when people’s retirement accounts tanked, whether Social Security annuitants would have preferred their steady monthly checks versus a potentially larger amount when the stock market was roaring, is debatable. At least the Wall Street geniuses, the ones who created the creative paper that got us into the financial mess, would have prospered, so there would have been some winners.

What also crossed my mind is that Social Security was never intended to be the primary source of retirement. It was intended to supplement other retirement plans that either one received from his employer, or one that the individual set up. After all, we have a market economy, and Republican doctrine loudly proclaims that we are responsible for our choices, that the government is not supposed to be our nanny. Yet upwards of fifty percent of those over 50 years of age don’t have even $50,000 in retirement savings.

There are 3,143 counties in the U.S., and Cobb is ranked among the wealthier ones. For sure, Cobb is one of the most Republican counties in terms of voters. Why would so many be so upset that they aren’t getting a COLA next year? What happened to the main source(s) of their retirement? Yes, retirees paid into the system, but there are folks who won’t live long enough to even collect the benefit, mostly the poor, or will die before they get back what they contributed. And then there are those, primarily the better-off, who will be around long after their actuarial time has passed and will receive far more than they paid into the system.

When Obama proposed raising the minimum wage, something that hasn’t occurred since 2007, there was an outcry in Republican circles, especially about how it would destroy businesses and kill jobs. Yet many of the protests were from the same Republicans who think it an injustice that they won’t get their COLA, something that the taxpayers have to pay for. I don’t want to omit that paying for any such COLA with a tax hike would be off the table with this congress. The Republican majority would pay for it by cutting other programs that don’t affect the angry mob, but affects those who have no clout to fight back.

Life just isn’t fair. We are all responsible for taking care of ourselves except when the largess benefits us. I’m sure that if the likes of Ted Cruz becomes the next president there will always be COLAs, and we will all live happily ever after. (Full disclosure: I am a federal annuitant.)

 

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The Agitator #193: Wrapped in the flag
by Oliver_Halle
November 04, 2015 11:35 AM | 1148 views | 0 0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Only one presidential candidate from either party can claim any military service. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of the undercards, was in the Air Force. This is a sad commentary about our political system. Even worse is that Donald Trump was of draft age during Vietnam, took four deferments, and then got away with trashing Senator John McCain, a genuine war hero, for being a prisoner of war. Times change.

All of the candidates could have volunteered to put on the uniform, but for a lot of reasons they chose not to. The toughest talking of the bunch are Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Carly Fiorina. Sad that they don’t have time in service that might give them some perspective, that might actually sober them to the reality that diplomacy is something that should be exhausted before going to war---short of an outright attack on our country.

Bernie Sanders, who had a conscientious objector deferment, spent his honeymoon in Moscow during the Vietnam War. Agree or disagree with whether we should have been involved in Vietnam, there is something not right that an American citizen would expect all the protections that this country affords its citizens, and then celebrate a major life event in a country that was not only our Cold War enemy, but a supplier of military logistics to the North Vietnamese.

I happened to catch Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate, hosting his radio show the day after the Democratic debate. He threw out a teaser stating that he had big news about Sanders, to stay tuned. When Cain finally sprung the surprise it was to blast Sanders for having been a conscientious objector. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a big deal considering how conservative Cain is, but in this instance I was stunned.

Cain’s announcement came at the end of the show, so I couldn’t call in. The rest of the story is that Cain, who will be 70 in December, never suited up himself. He was a civilian employee for the Department of the Navy for a while after college, but it’s anyone’s guess why he didn’t want to participate in the active military. How he could shamelessly attack Sanders under the circumstances probably can be explained by concluding that he has no shame and is the latest posterchild for the consummate hypocrite.

Cain is hardly alone. One of Trump’s deferments had something to do with one of his knees, which one, though, he could not remember. During Vietnam there was a knee epidemic. I still run across many conservatives my age who tell me that they had a knee problem back then. One of my favorite lines is that the person would only go in the marines, and if the marines wouldn’t take him with his bum knee, well, it just wasn’t worth going to one of the other recruiters.

I think that Eisenhower was one of the better presidents of the twentieth century. He understood war. The man was hardly a pussycat, and foreign leaders knew that he was actually tough as hardened steel. Ike didn’t have to prove anything, and he has been proven right when he negotiated a truce with North Korea, didn’t challenge the Soviets in Hungary during the 1956 uprising, and forced the France, Britain and Israel to back down over the seizure of the Suez Canal. Today’s tough talking candidates would probably take different courses, something not pleasant to imagine.

From 1940-1973, our country had a draft. For the past 42 years we have had an all-volunteer military. In my opinion we are the lesser for it. Not everyone is suited, for one reason or another, to serve in uniform. But almost everyone can give something back to the country that has been the land of opportunity for over 200 years. Perhaps there could be a compulsory civilian service for two years in lieu of military service.

During FDR’s administration countless civilians built this country’s infrastructure (although it was not mandatory service), and there remains an untold amount of similar work that needs to be done today. Like the military, this service would provide education and training that would be helpful for transitioning back to the private sector. Benefits for either service, such as a GI Bill, could be provided, on a lesser scale, for the civilian service.

Our current presidential candidates have not experienced the great leveler of sharing a barracks and joining ranks for a common purpose. Just maybe we would have a better crop of presidential timber if this changed.

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The Agitator #192: Let's have more corrupt government
by Oliver_Halle
October 28, 2015 11:45 AM | 1196 views | 0 0 comments | 82 82 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Most people are cynical about their elected representatives at all levels of government. How often does one hear a comment that “they’re all corrupt, they’re all on the take”, or some such. I don’t think that all politicians are lining their pockets, and in fact, I believe that most really try hard to get it right whatever the issue is.

The laws that govern campaign financing and conflicts of interest favor those that are in power. The current Supreme Court, a very conservative and activist group of justices, did the American people no favors with its Citizens United ruling several years ago. In this decision, the court somehow found that the First Amendment equated money with free speech even though there isn’t even a whiff of the Founders’ intent to be found to support that contention.

I wonder how many readers have written to their congressman and gotten one of their standard letters. My bet is that the letter stated that the representative is carefully studying the particular issue, and when it is time to vote, the good fellow will have his constituent’s position in mind. In other words, the response said absolutely nothing and wasted the taxpayer’s money to even prepare and mail.

But if you are Sheldon Adelson (billionaire Nevada casino owner) or some other political playing tycoon with special interests, you will get a whole lot of attention. Guys like Adelson get a phone call from a congressman or senator even if neither of these officials represent him. If you live in the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia, by way of example, and have an issue, you get the form letter. If Adelson calls on the Sixth District rep for a favor, he gets facetime---even though he can’t vote for the rep.

Then there are the conflict of interest rules that are especially odious on the state level. Too many of our state officials don’t have real jobs, so eating on the dime of lobbyists is a way to supplement their income. In recent years the General Assembly has “tightened” up on some of the abuses, but it didn’t take long for lawyers who specialize in this area to figure out the loopholes. You can feel confident, though, that when your elected official in Georgia says that he can’t be bought for a meal or a Falcons’ ticket, he really, really means it.

Last week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker successfully got his Republican legislature to pass a law that substantially undermines the power of law enforcement to investigate corruption of public officials. The law, however, didn’t change anything with regard to other crimes. This is another example of legal abuse by those in power. If anything, there should be certain safeguards to prevent false accusations, but our elected officials shouldn’t need special laws to protect them. They should be as pure as Caesar’s wife.

I recall during my years of working public corruption cases that occasionally an official would say with all sincerity that no one ever tried to bribe him. The official couldn’t understand how someone could get caught up in such a scheme, because the official was projecting his honesty onto others. I replied with the same answer each time---those who test your probity are fairly confident based on what they have observed, that you are a taker. And these same people know how to exploit the takers.

For any realistic hope of change in our system where cash is king, it will take a cataclysmic corruption case, one where the voters express outrage, that they have had enough. In the meanwhile, if the economy turns sour again as many economists are predicting, expect to see the same voters exercising legitimate First Amendment freedoms---to especially include the right to assembly and petition their government.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters, other than some local laws that might have been broken, were expressing their frustrations in the only way they had lawful power to exercise it. Those who speak with their money break laws, too, and if you live in Wisconsin, you get a special pass from the Republican legislature and governor.

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The Agitator #191: Take her down!
by Oliver_Halle
October 21, 2015 11:15 AM | 1254 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I didn’t put quotation marks around the title of this latest Agitator because it would demean the memory of Howard W. Gilmore (1902-1943), commanding officer of the submarine USS GROWLER. Gilmore immortalized the words, “Take her down!”, after the GROWLER collided with a Japanese warship. Those were Gilmore’s last words as he ordered the submarine to dive despite his inability to get to the hatch in time to save himself. For this he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Today those words have a different meaning and describe what the Republican Party is doing to not only itself, but to the American people. The House Freedom Caucus (HFC) consists of approximately 40 representatives, overwhelmingly from the South. They are the product of the Tea Party movement to lower taxes, but since then they have taken on other agendas, to include trying to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood isn’t defunded.

The HFC can lay claim to forcing House Speaker John Boehner to step down and then derailing Boehner’s presumed successor, Kevin McCarthy. Despite former VP candidate Paul Ryan’s popularity and urging from many Republicans to put his name up for a vote to become the new Speaker, the HFC is reportedly opposing Ryan’s candidacy. For them he’s just another establishment Republican, which means that he’s too “liberal.” Lewis Carroll could write an updated version of “Alice In Wonderland” and how the meaning of words has changed.

While the Republicans engage in their internecine battles over who will lead them, there are three major events coming up fast and furious. The first, and probably the most important, is the vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling. The HFC opposes it despite the fact that raising the debt ceiling actually allows the government to pay out the money that Congress has already authorized to be spent.

A default by our government to pay those who hold our debt, i.e. bondholders, as well as creditors who have provided goods and services, would have worldwide consequences, none of them good. It is also questionable whether Social Security and other annuitants will be paid. I’m sure that all those folks affected one way or another by a default will tip their hats to the Republicans for standing strong, for making their point about “out-of-control” spending, and that the Republican Party can count on their support in 2016.

The other two votes concern funding transportation for roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The money is about to run out, and Congress has to vote on whether to increase the tax on gasoline, find other sources of revenue, or allow for major arteries to shut down because of hazardous conditions. Of course, it follows that a lot of people involved in the construction business will be laid off, and all of that money that would otherwise go into the economy will dry up. This should also garner votes for Republicans whose supporters admire them for standing on principle.

Lastly, come December 11th, the House will have to vote on a budget for this fiscal year or pass another continuing resolution to keep the government operating. If they don’t, there will be another government shutdown. That has worked well for Republicans in the past.

It appears that the HFC and a few other Republicans want to take down their party. They demagogue the issues like throwing raw meat at a pride of lions. If the HFC succeeds in obstructing the three big fiscal votes coming up, perhaps after the American people have their say in another year, a new Republican Party will be born, one that was once led by the likes of a common sense president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The party of Ike, and any new party, wouldn’t resemble anything like the HFC or Rush Limbaugh would foist on America.

Thinking about it some more, perhaps the HFC will serve the Republican Party and the American people in unimagined ways, and we will have them to thank. Take her down!

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The Agitator #190: We need to sound the war tocsin
by Oliver_Halle
October 14, 2015 10:45 AM | 1314 views | 0 0 comments | 90 90 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

We went to war with Iraq because Saddam supposedly had nuclear weapons that he planned to use against the U.S. and Israel. In the same time frame North Korea actually did develop the atomic bomb, and they never minced their words about going to war with the U.S. In fact, North Korea has had a long record of committing terrorist acts, to include shooting down a passenger jet and sinking civilian ships. How many remember the seizure of the USS PUEBLO in January 1968?

Yet there was never a word uttered by the Bush administration that we should pay serious attention to North Korea whose geographic proximity to our allies, South Korea and Japan, are a very serious and credible threat. Taking out North Korea might not have been a cakewalk where we would have been greeted as liberators, something Vice President Chaney said that we could expect in overthrowing Saddam. Instead, we upended the balance of power in the Middle East and allowed Iran to divert its attention from Iraq to Israel, the U.S., and any other of its enemies in the region.

In the meanwhile North Korea grows stronger, it launches missile tests with the aim of ultimately carrying a nuclear weapon to reach as far away as California, and continues to threaten to use those weapons against the U.S. Last week North Korea celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party with the largest military parade in its history. Kim Jong Un, the young and rabid leader, used it as another occasion to threaten to destroy the U.S.

Closer to home we have the upcoming presidential election. The Republicans have unanimously denounced the nuclear agreement with Iran that would keep the Iranians from developing the bomb for at least a decade. Candidates Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham have said that they would tear up the accord if elected, and they have not hesitated in threatening military force against Iran. Admittedly, the head Ayatollah has made some verbal threats against the United States and Israel since the nuclear deal, but intelligence analysts agree that it is for home consumption in order to appease the hardliners who oppose the agreement.

But not a word has been heard from any of the Republicans about what, if anything, we should do about a North Korean threat. We have already fought them once, and they proved to be fierce fighters. Bringing a war to them, with China on their border, would be costly in materiel, logistics, and lives, not to mention the staggering amount of money that it would take. This isn’t a threat that we can ignore indefinitely if our Asian allies are going to take us seriously.

Obama has been blamed for the increased deficits and national debt, something of which he has had a lot of help from his fellow Republicans. Bush was able to get a bill passed with his majorities in the House and Senate that would allow for the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to be paid for by an off-line budget that would not be included in the main budget. Recently Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), head of the Budget Committee, proposed whopping increases to fund the Pentagon, but these increases wouldn’t be part of the real budget where they would show up as an increase to the deficits. This gimmickry is a false bill of goods being sold to the American people.

The latest Republican tough guy is Chris Christie, who said that he would shoot down Russian planes over a no-flight zone in Syria that he would establish. Good. Another war in the making. But like the other voices of silence, not a word about North Korea. Not a word about how to pay for such follies.

Discussing costs of going to war is a legitimate debate, especially if you are promising to balance budgets and reduce the national debt. Graham talks the talk, but recently he said that he would vote to approve billions of dollars for his home state of South Carolina for flood damage. He is the same self-serving senator who voted against a $60 billion appropriation to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy a few years ago.

What is really unconscionable is that the American taxpayer is the one asked to dig deeper to pay for every military engagement, whether it be for true defense or for some other purpose. Make no mistake, there are some causes worth the fight. But perhaps if our elected representatives were a little more judicious about when and where to get involved in something, the American taxpayer just might get back some of his own money when there are natural disasters. Republicans who proclaim to be protecting the purse should get their priorities straight. The American people deserve a lot better than they are getting from this current crop of Republicans.

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The Agitator #189: ...and so it goes---again
by Oliver_Halle
October 07, 2015 11:10 AM | 1337 views | 0 0 comments | 95 95 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Another shooting by a deranged person, and within days it’s another yawn. The president makes a statement about guns, he is blasted by those who have memorized the Second Amendment, the NRA, and every “freedom loving” American. And so it goes.

It’s always a crazy or insane person, deranged person, a person with mental health issues, an extremely angry person, et al, who commits these mass murders, and guns have nothing to do with it. It’s the nut behind the gun that is responsible, not the instrument of death itself. That’s what the freedom lovers tell us and sell us. How we identify these dangerous people is another story that the NRA and their members haven’t disclosed. Everyone has aberrational tendencies of one kind or another, but almost all are harmless, or not likely to lead to serious violence, so how to distinguish?

I don’t advocate the confiscation of guns to protect one’s home. Whether that includes high powered assault weapons is another question. It’s probably fair to say that the most vocal defenders of the Second Amendment are politically conservative. And conservatives generally proclaim that we should look to the original intent of the Founding Fathers when they drafted the Constitution. Justice Antonin Scalia is what is referred to as an Originalist. According to him the Constitution should only be interpreted as the Founding Fathers understood it at the time it was drafted.

In light of this strict construction view, I think a plausible argument can be made that in 1787, when there were no automatic weapons, no machine guns, and nothing resembling modern day weapons, we should consider limiting personal ownership of firearms to what was available in that day, or at least a close variation of it. If the American people want to own modern day assault rifles, then we should go through the constitutional process and pass an amendment that changes the original intent.

Citing Justice Scalia again, even he has said that the government has the power to regulate firearms. Since most people agree that guns should be kept away from the mentally unfit, why is there so much opposition to regulating firearms sales at gun shows? It wouldn’t prevent every unfit person from purchasing a gun, but it could stop a few that could potentially cause mass destruction at a school or shopping center near you. How about making ammunition more difficult to get? Perhaps a substantial tax could keep some people from potentially acquiring enough lead to do too much harm if they do snap.

Another argument always heard after a mass shooting is that if the teachers were armed, if the movie theater ushers were armed, if every rent-a-cop at the mall was armed---a good guy with a gun would be able to stop the bad guy. Actually, while an armed person might successfully intervene in a situation, that same person just as likely could add to the confusion and exacerbate it.

Sadly, I think of all the highly trained law enforcement officers in this country that are murdered each year. Invariably, they are cut down because action is faster than reaction, and the victim officer never had a chance to draw his weapon. Those are the situations where the cops are ambushed or surprised, not unlike the shooters at schools, theaters and malls.

Considering that the police face danger every day from someone not afraid to shoot it out, it shouldn’t be surprising that most of our big city police commissioners and chiefs support some kind of gun control. They understand the dangers, they attend the Inspector’s Funerals, and they know firsthand the grieving families.

The firearms industry is big business, and they are the main source of revenue for the NRA, one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington and state capitols. This is another example of following the money.

I see the ubiquitous memes all the time comparing murder rates in a gun control city like Chicago with another municipality with no regulation. But as long as someone can purchase a firearm somewhere in the U.S. without any limitations, like gun shows, or weak enforcement, an oasis of regulation can’t make much difference.

I will not likely live long enough to witness the implementation of any meaningful firearms or ammunition regulation. As with most major social change in our country, some cataclysmic event, or series of events, will have to occur before even those with guns no longer feel safe. And that includes the possibility of a deranged person bringing it closer to home for our politicians who care more about their elected positions of power than they do the electorate.

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The Agitator #188: "Checks" and balances
by Oliver_Halle
September 30, 2015 11:05 AM | 1407 views | 0 0 comments | 101 101 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Stating the obvious, last week was a big week. Between Pope Francis’ visit and House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation, there was a monumental convergence of events. Conservatives are still angry that the pope is speaking out about issues that they regard as political, never mind that the same critics have never objected to Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other men of the cloth being engaged in the political arena. The difference is that the latter have carried the conservatives’ water.

Conservatives also rejoiced at Boehner’s decision to quit. To them, Boehner wasn’t tough enough. He understood that politics is the art of compromise, something anathema to conservatives who think that politics is more like war, that there is only unconditional surrender. The likes of Rush Limbaugh (His Porkulous) and Sean Hannity promoted the “no compromise” line. A few elected representatives found themselves groveling on air for forgiveness to His Porkulous when they strayed from the party line and dared to suggest working out certain deals with Democrats.

Boehner’s successor, likely Kevin McCarthy from California, will probably find himself equally frustrated with his “take no prisoners” faction. These reactionaries have forced upwards of 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, a complete exercise in futility, yet Congressman Tom Price’s proposed replacement plan wouldn’t even get a committee hearing in the Republican House. The House has refused to debate the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate a couple of years ago, yet the Republicans have nothing to offer in its stead.

Somewhere along the way these reactionary obstructionists seem to have forgotten that we have three branches of government. The Founding Fathers, whom the reactionaries proclaim to adore, created a system of checks and balances that has evolved into more “checks” than balances. Today the moneyed interests have more sway over legislation than the voters. Follow the money and you will see who supports building obsolete weapons systems, keeping open unneeded military bases, and most importantly, getting favorable provisions passed in the tax code.

The reactionaries continue to question why Obama would veto any spending bill or continuing resolution that defunds Planned Parenthood. They can’t comprehend how the president could go against them on this issue. This is a fair political debate, and the president has just as much right under the Constitution to veto any law as the House and Senate have to gather the necessary votes to override it. For these reactionaries who never stop professing their love for the Constitution, it seems kind of odd that they “forget” the president’s role in governance.

The usual Obama critics question why it’s okay for Obama to “conveniently ignore the Constitution”, when somehow it’s wrong that Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis is forced to act against her First Amendment protected religious convictions or be jailed for failing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. What is overlooked in this debate is that some functions of government are discretionary and others are ministerial. Obama, as chief executive, has a lot of discretionary powers. Davis, on the other hand, took an oath to perform certain duties as specified by law.

Recent history has demonstrated that when the Republicans control the White House and both houses of congress, the voters should not have high expectations. George W. Bush was in that situation for six years. For sure you can always count on a tax cut with Republican dominance, something that Bush did during a time of two wars (a first in American history). Immigration reform, not exactly an issue that just surfaced, was completely ignored during those six years, as was any attempt to change the tax code to provide some meaningful fairness to it. There was no attempt to fix the broken healthcare system, and despite all the criticism of Obamacare, you won’t ever get so much as an acknowledgment from Republicans that eliminating the preexisting conditions exclusion from insurance policies was a seismic positive change.

Washington politics has become impersonal unlike the years of Reagan and earlier. Representatives today rarely move their families to the capital. There is no socializing among the electors, and spouses aren’t there to organize dinner parties where once upon a time people could get to know each other on a personal level. In the current climate, especially within the Republican Party, being seen having a beer with a Democrat after hours could be a career-ender.

We still may have a government shutdown by year’s end over Planned Parenthood, but also on whether to lift the current debt ceiling to pay for the bills that Congress already passed. For those who advocate shutting down the government if they don’t get their way, I say let it happen. But this time let it be complete. Include the aircraft controllers, public safety employees, and anyone else otherwise usually exempt. And then let the American people decide at the ballot box if standing on “principle”, at least as Republicans see it, was worth the results.

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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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