The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #134: We have to choose
September 18, 2014 09:10 AM | 132966 views | 0 0 comments | 2487 2487 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #64
by Oliver_Halle
March 14, 2013 10:53 AM | 1113 views | 4 4 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Two separate stories about restaurants were in the local media today (Wednesday, March 13, 2013), one in the Atlanta newspaper, the other the MDJ.  The first was about Manuel’s Tavern, the landmark political gathering spot in Atlanta, and the other Tommy’s Sandwich Shop on the Marietta Square.  Both were more or less human interest stories about the different costs associated with doing business and trying to make it in a tough economy.  I think it is fair to suggest that there were some political overtones between the lines deserving some observation and comment.  

Brian Maloof has 52 employees at Manuel’s, among them ex-convicts that he thinks are worth a second chance.  Rising food costs, which Maloof attributes to varied factors, are eating into his business.  Also affecting his costs will be the federal mandate to provide health insurance to his workers.   For years Maloof provided health insurance, but with rate hikes of thirty percent some years and competitor restaurants not covering their employees, he had to drop it.  Of note is that these premium spikes occurred long before ObamaCare, and from memory it seems like the trend began in the early 1990s.  But with the mandatory ObamaCare getting ready to kick in, Maloof stated that it will level the playing field.  Instead of figuring out a way to cut the number of his employees in order to fall outside the mandatory provision in the healthcare law, Maloof is going forward.  Between his increased food costs and ObamaCare, Maloof had no choice but to raise prices.  And in return his loyal customers have said they will stay with him, that they won’t patronize those establishments that are cheaper.  If ever this man gets it, it is Brian Maloof.  He truly understands the concept of loyalty up and loyalty down, that it matters that you take care of your workers, and that your workers will reward you in turn by giving their all and more to ensure that Manuel’s continues to be a successful business.  And Maloof can be contrasted with all too many business leaders who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, in this case the value of the employees.  

Closer to home Tommy’s Sandwich Shop is closing its doors after 36 years.  The landlord wants a $550/monthly rent increase on a current rent of $1,200.  Considering the relatively small profit margin on this type business I suspect that Mr. Smith had no choice but to shut down.  He built a restaurant with a lot of loyal customers by providing a good product at a good price.  And people rewarded him by coming back, by becoming the regulars that can make the difference between success and failure.  But times change and competition began to erode some of that loyalty, although from the report it appears that he could still eke out a living.  But the landlord wouldn’t budge on the rent hike despite acknowledging that Mr. Smith has been a good tenant.  In other words, the landlord is willing to change horses in the hope that a new horse will be a better deal than the old reliable grey mare.  Loyalty in these tough times and free markets seems not to matter so much to some. 

No one ever said that capitalism and free markets would produce a utopian economy.  No business can survive without making a profit.  But Brian Maloof and Tommy Smith bring another dimension to some of the cold side of capitalism.  In their own ways they chose to take the high road  by factoring into their business models the importance of people to their success.  They care(d) about profits and their workers, and they were never on the starting line to compete in a race to the bottom to cut costs, raise prices, and  enrich themselves.  May our communities know more Brian Maloofs and Tommy Smiths in the future. 

Well done. 
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Barry Schwartz
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March 17, 2013
Both Oliver's and Mike's comments should be the corner stone of business ethics and morals. I am a consultant and far to many times I get to see how owners, managers in small to large companies are only interested in how they can increase their own salary and bonus. I was taught early in life by my mentor, my father, who ran a small luncheonette and then a liquor store, that 1)you have never been in business unless you have had to make a payroll out of your own pocket even before you pay yourself and 2)Your employees are your most important resource, like the front line troops. In case readers take my comments as "bleeding heart" liberal, I want to state that I am an independent who votes for both parties. Once again, thank you Oliver for bringing these articles to the reader.

The Agitator #63
by Oliver_Halle
March 10, 2013 09:12 AM | 1022 views | 3 3 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Republican mantra has always been to lower taxes and cut spending. Deficits have been the bane of Republicans for a long time, and I am fine with that being part of the political discourse. It is a fair argument to debate in order to try and distill truths from it so that we can get our economic house in order. But despite Republican’s concerns over deficits, for the most part their voices were silent or muted when Reagan and Bush ran up the largest deficits in history up until the current administration. One would think that with deficits in the forefront of Republican Party philosophy, with fiscal responsibility being a major part of their platform, that they would rejoice that we are now undergoing the sequester. After all, we have heard so often that there is so much waste in government that federal spending could easily be cut anywhere from ten percent to twenty-five percent across the board. In Friday’s AJC it was reported that the Republican Senate in Georgia voted to support a congressional resolution that would call for a constitutional convention for the purpose of balancing the budget. Now let’s be serious---if we were to balance the budget anytime soon, the consequences of the sequester would look like a walk in the park on a nice sunny day. This is one of those things known as the curse of the Greek Gods, which reminds us to be careful of what we wish for because it might come true.



Fast forward to March 1st when the sequester kicked in. All of a sudden there are Republicans crying foul. (I am leaving Democrats out of this discussion because they are perceived by the Republicans to be the tax and spend party.) The arguments are all over the place, but for the most part can be boiled down to spending cuts that affect them or people/things close to them. Yet, I recall the cries for across the board cuts, which we got. I recall too the unelected Grover Norquist extracted or extorted from Republican candidates across the fruited plane a pledge that they would never vote to raise taxes. The same Norquist said that his goal was to cut government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub. The sequester cuts are a long way from achieving that startling image, but never was there any Republican voice to challenge Norquist.



Now the best for last. His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) has come up with another conspiracy. The man’s imagination knows no limits. In this latest, His Porkulous says that Obama is intentionally inflicting these cuts on America to cause pain so that those feeling it will plead and beg to have the spending restored. And that would allow Obama to tax and spend some more of our money. Evidence for this is lacking in the extreme, but it makes for good programming, deceives the low information voter, and keeps this demagogue’s show going on and on. The bottom line to all of this is that sequestration was a bipartisan agreement that neither House nor Party thought would ever occur. But it did. And I can’t understand why the Republicans aren’t dancing in the streets to proclaim that their prayers were finally answered.

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EM Buckner
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March 12, 2013
Seems as if Mr. Halle has the facts on his side. And he's articulate, too. Just sayin'....

The Agitator #62
by Oliver_Halle
March 01, 2013 04:22 PM | 1050 views | 3 3 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The sequester has struck but it’s too early to know if it will be as consequential as the doomsayers predict. This is the bargain that both parties struck when they couldn’t agree on spending cuts to go along with increasing the debt ceiling. It was a poison pill that the House and Senate agreed to and which the President signed into law. What is curious about all this is how the Obama-haters are blaming him for coming up with the idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Does it really matter considering the bipartisan support in both Houses? What matters is if the sequester will ultimately impact public safety and government services that we all rightfully depend on.

Senator Johnny Isakson submitted to an interview on NPR Thursday evening. Unlike a recent MDJ editorial and MDJ guest columnist, Isakson engaged in a reasoned discussion about the problem and did not substitute reason with mindless Obama bashing. Isakson took the high road in stating that if we are in this situation again, there won’t be a meat axe approach. Instead each governmental department and agency will be directed to cut a certain percentage from their budget thereby allowing agency heads to make intelligent and informed decisions about where the cuts should be. There is no getting around the fact that despite a roaring stock market of late and a slow increase of home sales, our country is still in a difficult financial situation. We are still paying for two unfunded wars and Medicare Part D, both of which substantially added to the deficits, and with unemployment still high there remains a lack of needed revenue. Unfortunately, so many of the jobs being created today are not those that will bring in the taxes that occurred prerecession.

The American middle class continues to shrink, their wages are stagnant, and some things that can be done aren’t. The current tax code needs to go. When you have vacant shopping centers right here in Cobb County because landlords demand more rent despite businesses revenues being off, you have to ask why. Does the tax code incentivize investors of these shopping centers to walk away with some tax advantages to the detriment of the small businesses and communities? If so, something is very wrong with that. Empty shopping centers are not good for anyone except criminals, and of course, the property value also goes down which in turn decreases the local tax collections needed for schools, police, fire and other public services. But despite an overwhelming number of Americans who demand a new tax code, it won’t happen until there is campaign finance reform. When special interests no longer are special because they can’t influence our elected officials with money to keep their tax breaks, we just might see a ray of hope for change.

 

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Devlin Adams
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March 04, 2013
Oliver, I couldnt agree more about the tax code. Seems like the Fair Tax, or the Flat Tax or something along that line would eliminate a lot of the inequitiies in the system. I don't see it happeneing until we get term limits in congress so these A--holes work at thejob they are elected to do instead of campaigning for re-election.

The Agitator #61
by Oliver_Halle
February 25, 2013 02:50 PM | 1095 views | 1 1 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Recently the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy to receive federal disaster aid from FEMA. I wonder how many readers know that this aid is in the form of grants, not loans, which would allow churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious edifices to receive federal tax dollars to rebuild. What I find interesting is that after large, damaging storms, there are loud voices that object to the money FEMA spends to help people who have lost everything. The claim is that these people should have had insurance, they knew the risk of living where they did, they were foolish to choose a home near the beach, flood plain, etc. For the most part I agree with these objections with some exceptions not worth mentioning here. But what I am puzzled by is that the Republicans tout individual responsibility, risk/reward, and that the government shouldn’t be the paymaster for things that go wrong in people’s lives. (Yes, some Democrats voted for this bill too, but according to the Republicans, the Democrats love taxes and spending anyway, so according to them, Democratic support for the bill should be no surprise.) One has to also keep in mind that it was the same House that was reluctant to provide reconstruction money to New York and New Jersey using the same arguments that I mentioned. I, for one, would sure like to know what influenced their voting for this FEMA addition.

In these times of trying to figure out ways to cut spending, eliminate special interest tax breaks, here is another one that seems to be a sacred cow: the special exemption from federal taxation for all “legitimate” clergy for most of the money they spend for housing. And yes, that would include some of the high profile ministers with seven figure incomes when combined with benefits. No secular staff members of nonprofits are eligible for this perk. No teachers or other volunteers that work in ghettos for low pay can claim this deduction. What makes clergy members so special that they get a tax paid housing subsidy? Clergy are also in a unique category that allows them to opt out of Social Security. While I have no issues with Social Security, I know all too many people that have said that they wish they had a choice to leave the system and take their chances with investing their own money. Then there is the question of why churches do not have to file annual paperwork concerning their finances, paperwork that every other tax exempt 501 (C) (3) is required to complete. I have read that preparing the form for the IRS is very labor intensive and costly. Do any readers remember the pushback that Senator Charles Grassley got a few years ago when he proposed auditing some of the mega churches that paid whopping salaries and benefits to their spiritual leaders, and had complexes that would rival something a major corporation would envy? I can only wonder how much money from these sacred institutions is legally and illegally not going into the treasury.

Consider too that churches don’t pay property taxes, but they get police, fire, and other public services that the rest of us have to pay for. And each time a new church goes up on property that a church purchased, it is another parcel taken off the tax rolls. Any guess who has to make up the shortfall? Ironically, The Atlanta Free Thought Society (AFS) purchased on old, historic church. AFS is a 501 (C) (3) that does a lot of charitable work in the community for the small organization that it is. Yet it pays a sizeable sum in property taxes. They don’t object to paying the taxes, but rightfully so, they do have a legitimate claim of disparate treatment. Do you think the churches would complain if asked to contribute to the public services they now get from the taxpayers that subsidize them? Count on it!

The AJC reported on 2/21/2013, that a host of business entities, through their paid lobbyists, are seeking from the Georgia General Assembly special tax breaks. Former Governor Roy Barnes in his 2009 campaign identified over 200 businesses that received special tax considerations. We all know the arguments that are used to protect these interests: they create jobs, they provide incentives for businesses to locate in Georgia, they add to the community’s tax base, they help the poor, and on and on. I can assure you that as a small business owner, if I got the same tax breaks I would hire people and take on jobs that presently I consider too small and not worthwhile because of the taxes. Amazingly, the Tea Party---among others---promotes a policy of no new taxes and cutting spending. Here’s an opportunity to go after some religious and business sacred cows. It’s long overdue. I’ve heard enough canned speeches from our local congressional delegation and Senator Johnnie Isakson to last a lifetime about how we need to change the tax code. But if you asked any of them if they have put together a team of outsiders with tax and business expertise to come up with a draft of some serious tax revisions, the answer would be no. They benefit from the campaign contributions from the very special interests that need to pay up. In the meanwhile, we, the working stiffs, are paying for this outrage.

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Devlin Adams
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February 25, 2013
Spot on, Oiliver,

The Agitator #60
by Oliver_Halle
February 15, 2013 03:32 PM | 1058 views | 2 2 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The other day a Cobb County school system employee (not a teacher) lamented that they hadn’t received a pay raise in several years while their health insurance and other costs have continued to go up.  I expressed some sympathy and asked this person what they thought of Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $9.  Somehow it just didn’t seem right to this person, which was accompanied by all the usual arguments that it would kill small businesses.  What made this conversation particularly interesting was how it illustrates the human side to all of us, that some of us are more deserving than others, that some of us have “earned” their government largess, and that it is the other folks out there who are looking for handouts.  As I pointed out in last week’s commentary, the congress and legislatures decide and define what the word earn means, and it doesn’t always mean the same thing.  

Approximately 15 million people earn a minimum wage.  Statistically, the poor don’t live as long as those better off, and all too many that pay the mandatory FICA on their minimum wage won’t live long enough to collect Social Security or Medicare.  These same people have either no healthcare or the bare minimum, and many use their bodies to make their livings.  By the time they hit their fifties they have all sorts of medical conditions from repetitive motion jobs or manual labor.  But one of the Republican proposals for getting control of the Social Security and Medicare costs is to raise the eligibility age.  Yet the majority of Medicare’s costs occur in the last few months of a patient’s life, and most would be considered old at that point.  In actuality, this suggestion to raise the age is a sham to fool the American people into thinking that their esteemed representatives and senators are doing something meaningful to fix the problem.  

But back to the minimum wage hike that the president has proposed.  I can’t imagine why most reasonable people wouldn’t be willing to pay a nickel or dime more for a cup of coffee, a quarter or half dollar for a pizza, and the same for a movie ticket and every other service industry that employs minimum wage workers.  If you do the math on how little these workers are paid on an annual basis, I can only wonder how they survive.  So as to remove one rejoinder from a reader who would point to the workers who aren’t motivated to do better, I’m not talking about them.  Anyone unwilling to improve themselves should live with their choice.  I am talking about those that for a variety of reasons are stuck in these jobs.  I don’t have a figure for it, but I wonder how many veterans are only earning minimum wages through no fault of their own.  

Raising the minimum wage by all of $1.75/hour would have a multiplier effect.  That money will get spent for sure.  The earner still won’t be able to save any money from it, especially if they have a family.  All of that small amount of cash will go right back into the economy.  There are any number of anecdotal stories of how a hike will kill this or that business, but  I have read that some states which have imposed their own minimum wage have not experienced higher unemployment.  Even Mitt Romney supported raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.  Those people that receive any type of government benefit, those who receive COLAs, if they oppose the less fortunate making a paltry addition to their pay, they should look in the mirror and ask what makes them so special and entitled. 
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Oliver G. Halle
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February 17, 2013
Devlin, Your questions are fair and poignant. I wouldn't focus on the percentage of increase so much. If you double a penny, it's a 100% increase, but not much has changed. Several things worth considering and factoring into all of this: 1. A business can take a tax deduction for the increase. Admittedly it's not a hundred percent tax credit, but the deduction would offset some of the cost. 2. How do businesses and consumers manage when the price of gas goes up? When the price of food products go up? When the myriad of other business costs go up? Why are the bottom end workers the last to be considered?

Up until roughly the early 1980s, the disparity between C-level employees and workers was about 40:1. Today it approaches 240 (or more):1 Who's paying for those whopping costs? As consumers of products and services, we are all paying for those salaries and benefits. And don't forget too that a huge percentage of the C-level income is not taxed as income but structured to gain a much lower tax advantage. Proportionatley, the minimum wage worker is paying a very disproportionate percentage of his wages for FICA even if there may be minimal to no tax consequences.

As you rightly pointed out, this is a complicated issue, one that needs some healthy debate. I just wanted to present another side of the argument. Thanks very much for your input.


The Agitator #59
by Oliver_Halle
February 08, 2013 04:37 PM | 959 views | 3 3 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The stock market went over 14,000 last week for the first time since 2007, a good thing if you are invested in it. But I would hate to judge the economy based on the numbers. The unemployment rate is bad enough, but the numbers who are underemployed is equally alarming if not more so. What can be done about it? Well, some seem to think if that they keep blaming Obama, somehow that will make things better. I assume the real message is that the Republicans have a solution if only they could get rid of the current president. If that was the cure, I would support it in a New York minute, which is very fast. But consider that we have the lowest interest rates in perhaps 75 or more years, yet that hasn’t spurred home ownership or businesses to go out and borrow money to expand. Corporations are sitting on upwards of $3 trillion but not spending it. Why? Some blame Obamacare and excess regulations, but in fact if you ask any business owner the reason is lack of consumer demand for product and services. Lowering the FICA by two percent put some extra cash in middle class people’s jeans, but it didn’t really stimulate the economy. (I remain puzzled that the Republicans blame Obama for not continuing the FICA cut in December, but the Republicans didn’t come out and support it either. In fact, the Republicans pushed for a FICA cut when Bush was president and then opposed it when Obama first proposed it.)

Politicians can argue all day about how the corporate tax needs to be reduced or eliminated to stimulate the economy. So why hasn’t it happened? Could it be that the myriad of tax credits and deductions that many business can take advantage of might get cut, so it’s in their interest to keep it where it is? Remember, GE was only one of the big corporations, despite the 35% corporate tax rate, to pay no taxes a year or so ago. I’m not a tax lawyer or accountant, but I can sit back and say that that is a pretty good deal if you can get it. Of course our military protects American businesses, but the way the tax code is structured, it’s much better to make the shareholders happy than to worry about paying for the hardware and personnel costs of our armed forces. And the social costs of military retirees (not wounded or disabled veterans) is staggering. It is more than twice that of those on active duty. I’m all for either cutting some of these benefits or raising taxes to pay for them. The volunteer military was never projected to be adequately funded. It became law as an emotional response to the draft, something I still think we need. Recipients of this largess claim they have earned it, and I won’t dispute that. I will only say that Congress decides what it means to have “earned” the benefits they bestow, and in these hard economic times everyone has to have an oar in the water and feel some of the pain. (As a federal retiree I am fine with taking a reduction, but to suggest that I should be an “army of one” and take the cut myself as a matter of principle is meaningless.)

Our elected officials face two very real issues as I see it when it comes to fixing the economy. They can dramatically cut spending, which will happen if sequestration occurs. If that happens the pain will be felt by almost everyone. Too many politicians blame spending for all the problems, but there is a revenue side to this equation, and this recession has dramatically cut revenue. The government pumps a lot of money into the private sector, Lockheed being just one example out of millions. Take that money out of the economy and you are now hitting all the stores where these private sector employees shop and buy their morning coffee. The government doesn’t operate under micro economic theories. If every American saved all their money, some would say that’s a good thing. But on a macro level it would put us into a depression. Ask a restaurant owner what they think about politicians or other pundits that urge families to cut their spending and eat more meals at home or brown bag.

To sum it up, our politicians are not addressing how technology has and continues to replace good middle class jobs. On the state level our elected officials are too interested in giving enormous tax credits and benefits to attract individual industries that often fail and don’t come close to making up the advantages they were given to locate here. Instead, spending money on transportation, education, and infrastructure, which would not be cheap, would likely draw many businesses because of the better quality of life we could offer. But consider that a few years ago the voters of Georgia turned down a $10 added fee when renewing a drivers license that would have gone to build new trauma units in rural hospitals. So if you are seriously injured once you get south of Macon, good luck---you will need it because you won’t have a trauma facility near you. And like so many issues related to taxes and spending, it comes down to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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B D Lane
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February 16, 2013
You are right, Oliver. We definitely see things differently.

The Agitator #58
by Oliver_Halle
January 29, 2013 10:40 AM | 1201 views | 6 6 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

All MDJ readers know that the editorial pages, with token exceptions, represent very conservative viewpoints on foreign policy, taxes, social issues and their almost total support of the Republican Party and its candidates. There is nothing wrong with that. I am confident that most of the people that disagree with the paper’s editorials want the same results for our country. It is how we get to the goal post where the main differences lie. But the MDJ’s mantra never varies---it’s always Obama’s fault. Doesn't matter what it is, it’s still his fault. And if Obama should refer to the history of how we got into the recession, unemployment, revenue shortfall, and any number of other issues, he is accused of not accepting responsibility. The January 23rd editorial looked like it was just filling some empty space on short notice. The first paragraph opened with a slam about Obama’s failed promise of hope and change. Is this really a measurable promise, or just maybe could it be called subjective and aspirational ? Do readers recall Bush’s promise of being the uniter? How did that one work out? What did he mean by “compassionate conservative?” What knowledge does the reader acquire in reference “to the new president with the funny name.” How does that advance the ball of information downfield? What does the reader learn from it? How about nothing.

Obama is chastised for paying only cursory notice to MLK or the symbolism of both the swearing in and King’s birthday celebration falling on the same day. Yet if this was such a monumental event, why didn't the MDJ note the occasion on the opinion page with a comment of its own relating its significance? I find it interesting, too, that the “liberal media”, to include the NYT and Washington Post, publish the names and other information about our troops killed in Iraq/Afghanistan, but the conservative “support our troops” MDJ does not. And it doesn't even take up much space, but it would honor and inform the readers of the sacrifices our volunteer military makes and remind them that we are still at war. The editorial falsely asserts that the bailout of the U.S. auto industry did not save it. That statement is contrary to virtually every economist in the country, including the very reputable Alan Blinder, the Princeton University professor who just wrote a book that includes a discussion on this topic. According to the editorial, the U.S. won the war in Iraq because of the surge, something Obama voted against. It’s a fair debate to have concerning whether the surge bought time and ultimately won the war, or whether the surge bought time for the U.S. troops to withdraw before the country collapsed. To call the current situation in Iraq a victory is way premature. And it was Bush, to his credit, who set the withdrawal date. The editorial never once mentioned the unfunded costs of that unnecessary war, which cost this country too many lives and a lot of money, and additional money that few factor in that will be substantial for the next 70 years---VA expenditures. I wonder why the opinion piece takes a shot at Obama while not giving any credit for the president taking seriously how this war is piling up more debt without a lot to show for it. No mention of Pakistan, where the real threat to world stability is shaky, and Obama’s overt and covert activities there. To give Obama credit would unravel the mantra that the president can’t be given credit even when it’s due.

I, among many other MDJ readers, would like to consider, ponder, and debate any worthwhile proposals that the MDJ has and is willing to put on its editorial page about the best ways to get control of the budget. Once upon a time the largest government stimulus package revived almost every industry in America and created the middle class. The impetus for that stimulus was WW II, but the lesson is that it worked. So far, though, it’s the same knee-jerk script, with ObamaCare being the straw man. Never once has the MDJ proposed ridding us of Medicare Part D, which according to the CBO, is leaps and bounds more costly over ten years than the Affordable Healthcare Act. And one of the costs of Part D that was enacted into law was prohibiting the government from negotiating with the pharmaceuticals for the best prices that could be had with volume. Wonder how that happened? Does the MDJ think that there just might be some serious waste in the Pentagon and ask why bases remain open that the military wants to shut, and why some weapons systems are being built that the military says we don’t need? The MDJ is the Voice of Silence when it comes to making an effort to be “fair and balanced”, but then again that slogan never meant what it says either.

All of that said, I appreciate the MDJ providing to me this outlet to voice my opinion, which is not in the mainstream of Cobb County thinking. I am grateful that I live in the United States of America where opinions can be expressed that differ with publishers and editors, that the MDJ affords me space to differ, and that they understand the importance of debating and deliberating ideas that help to reach our common goals.

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EMBuckner
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February 05, 2013
The MDJ is many things to most of its longtime readers (like me), but one of the most consistently reasonable and engaging voices the MDJ brings us--unfortunately, only on the online version--is Oliver Halle's. His voice may be that of an "agitator," but it's one that agitates us with thoughtful, well informed comments, not balderdash and bombast. If the MDJ wants to keep readers like me as subscribers, it would do well to keep--or better, expand--the role of Halle as an opinion writer.

The Agitator #57
by Oliver_Halle
January 18, 2013 04:22 PM | 1057 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Congressman Phil Gingrey spoke to the Cobb Chamber of Commerce last week and must have forgotten that the microphone was flashing red. His recorded comments about “legitimate rape”, and suggesting that some gun reform might be in order have probably brought back some nightmares when he offended His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) exactly three years ago this month. In January 2009, Gingrey dared to defend Republican leaders against a charge by El Rushbo that they were weak. After Limbaugh chastised Gingrey on the air, Limbaugh, in one of his magnanimous moments allowed Gingrey to appear on the show to beg forgiveness for his injudicious remarks. (It’s worth listening to if you want to hear what groveling sounds like.)

Since Gingrey’s flap of a week ago he has tried to explain the legitimate rape comment as an attempt to provide “context” to the issue that resulted in his “position being misconstrued.” This is an experienced politician that has held three different public offices, yet has not learned a few things about politics. Gingrey’s district is very conservative, and he has won reelection by wide margins. He garnered 82% of the vote in last year’s Republican Primary. While I happen to agree with his gun comments, surely he knows that this is a push button issue in his district. (Neither Gingrey nor I believe in banning guns; we probably agree that we need a serious discussion on some balanced regulations.) At first I wanted to believe that Gingrey was perhaps acting as a statesman, a representative who studied the issue, condensed the best information, and boiled it down to an informed, educated position. Alas, that did not happen. He has since backed off the gun comments just like those dealing with legitimate rape, and for his “offensive” statement about the kingmaker (Limbaugh).

Gingrey probably knows now just how fickle his supporters are. This is a congressman who has carried their water very effectively since he entered the congress in January 2005. His overwhelming margins of victory are a clue that he is/was in tune with his constituents. Now they are calling for his head, mostly over the remarks about guns. While I think Gingrey’s position, the one he had before he didn’t have it, was the correct one, I don’t have any sympathy for the way his followers have turned on him. He is the same man that got a tax paid education at Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia, yet despite his conservatism and support of every war in his lifetime, didn’t bother to offer his service as a doctor during Vietnam. He also voted against the most recent Hurricane Sandy relief bill because there was no offset for the spending. I won’t argue that point in principle, but I wonder why he has never suggested offsets to the spending in Iraq and Afghanistan? I have to wonder how he squares the taxpayer gimmees he got with the eat cake attitude he has towards his fellow Americans in the northeast that pay his salary and benefits. Had he joined the military as a medical officer he might have learned something about compassion and leadership, and being decisive. His shifting of positions depending on whether Rush Limbaugh is calling him out or his constituents wanting his head doesn’t sound like a man capable of making decisions when there is a lot of cacophony around him. He has two more years before he runs again or decides to retire. Perhaps in that time Gingrey can figure out what he wants his legacy to be, and either work to make everyone happy while making no one happy, or being a statesman and doing what you know is right after you’ve done everything you can to arrive at reaching a decision.

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Devlin Adams
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January 18, 2013
Well said. Gingrey is in the middle of an ocean, knocking holes in the bottom of his own boat as fast as he can.

A huge disappointment for conservatives.

The Agitator #56
by Oliver_Halle
January 11, 2013 05:31 PM | 1052 views | 1 1 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It was distasteful, if not disgusting when a few years ago the taxpayers bailed out the insurance giant AIG to the tune of $182 billion. The company had made very bad investments tied to mortgages and was unable to meet its financial obligations. No private investors were willing to jump in and rescue the company.  Had AIG gone under, many pundits with a lot more knowledge than I have, believed that it could have had worldwide economic repercussions.   Among the banks and two American automakers that were bailed out, AIG was the largest of the TBTF (too big to fail).  In providing the money to AIG, the government placed what some consider onerous terms on the company.  This was so because AIG was a huge risk, and at the time it wasn’t clear whether the taxpayers would ever get back any of their money.  The bigger the risk, the higher the interest rate.  That’s how all lenders and investors operate and is a basic of free markets. 

Now comes Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, AIG’s former CEO who was ousted in 2005, to file a $25 billion lawsuit against the United States Government.  He had retained a large number of shares in the company and believes that the terms of the aid were oppressive, whcih cost him money.  Of course, without the bailout his shares would have been worthless because AIG would have gone bankrupt.  Greenberg asked the AIG board to join his lawsuit, but to the board’s credit they refused.  A U.S. District Court in New York threw out the claim, but it is on appeal in the Second Circuit.  Meanwhile, Greenberg and his lawyers have filed a second lawsuit in The United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington. 

Greenberg’s chutzpah reminds me of the bonuses that other bailout recipients paid themselves with taxpayer money arguing that it was pursuant to the terms of their employment contracts.  Again, the institutions that did this would have gone belly up without the tax funded largess, but sometimes greed has no limits.  His Porkulous, Rush Limbaugh, always an advocate of lower taxes and bulldog on government waste, was not troubled by the bonuses at the time.  I can only guess that it was because he identifies with people at his income level who have no shame.  If Greenberg feels like he got screwed, perhaps he should look at those responsible within AIG who prioritized their own self interests in making very questionable investments.  And if Greenberg really cared anything about this country that allowed him to prosper beyond imagination, just maybe a scintilla of decency inspire him to contribute some of his vast wealth to  the wounded warrior projects that unfortunately depend on private money.  To say that this man has more crust than a pie factory would be a gross understatement.

 

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Devlin Adams
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January 14, 2013
Well said!!

The Agitator #55
by Oliver_Halle
January 03, 2013 11:14 AM | 1947 views | 3 3 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

To say that the murder of Donna Kristofak is tragic would be a gross understatement. I have no idea what was going on in her personal life and marriage; how her husband, John Kristofak, could so viciously kill her is something incomprehensible. What leads to that kind of anger and premeditated reaction is part of the unexplainable human condition. It’s a safe bet that John Kristofak will almost certainly die in the Georgia prison system.

In reading the blogs associated with this story and listening to comments from various people, there is a lot of hostility directed toward Cobb Superior Court Judge, Adele Grubbs. The focus seems to be that she sentenced Kristofak to four years and five months probation, and seven months in jail. The judge then released Kristofak crediting him with the seven months he spent in the Cobb County jail for aggravated stalking and family violence related crimes. Donna Kristofak pleaded with Judge Grubbs to keep her ex-husband locked up, expressing her fears that Kristofak would kill her.

What the MDJ stories did not report is if the plea the judge took was a deal struck between the District Attorney’s Office and Kristofak. That is an important piece of information to a complete understanding of the sentence Kristofak was given. What sentence did the prosecutor recommend to the judge? What evidence did the prosecutor have that manifested an imminent threat to the victim? What evidence did Kristofak present, other than having no prior criminal history, that he posed no threat? In no way am I pointing fingers at the DA’s office for what might seem to some a lenient deal. I am confident that the prosecutor’s office did their homework and whatever recommendations they may have made were based on interviews, facts, and evidence. I would be surprised if Judge Grubbs deviated from a prosecutor recommendation, but the MDJ did not report any of this so that the readers can draw their own conclusions.

It is a sad state of affairs that in our country there is so much spousal and child abuse, much of which goes unreported. How many women suffer in silence, quietly live in daily fear, do what they can to protect their children and themselves, and no one knows that this could be your neighbor? The MDJ story would also have been much more complete if it had talked with someone in the DA’s office to learn how many stalking/aggravated stalking cases are prosecuted each year, how many result in violence versus the effectiveness of the restraining orders. My uninformed guess is that the DA’s office sees a significant number of stalking cases. Prosecutors and judges probably hear cries for help from tormented women all the time, and from all that I have read over the years, Cobb County is one of the better places where the criminal justice system makes a meaningful difference, where the professionals make a sincere effort to listen. This was a case where things went terribly wrong, but I don’t think it is fair to blame the judge or the system.

For those who are always advocating long prison sentences for virtually every crime, I won’t argue the point. It is a fair perspective, especially if you have been a crime victim. But the other side of that argument is the cost to incarcerate felons. That cost includes more police that are paid what they are worth, more prosecutors, more judges, more training for everyone in the criminal justice system, and more judges. That’s before we get to the cost of building and maintaining jails and prisons. And that cost is staggering. This is another example of wanting a champagne system on a beer budget. Until those who complain are willing to pay for what they expect, they shouldn’t expect perfection. Wars are not won on the cheap, and fighting crime is no different.

Judge Grubbs has been around a long time. She has always enjoyed a solid reputation for fairness and meting out stiff punishment for those convicted of felonies in her court. A bleeding heart she is not. As a 27 year reader of the MDJ, I have read many stories about her. Among them is one involving her own personal tragedy with the loss of a teenage daughter in a car accident some years ago. Judge Grubbs is human with a broad spectrum of experience. She deserves better. Perhaps the MDJ can round out this story by addressing some of the questions I have raised.

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Liora Farkovitz
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January 09, 2013
Mr. Halle,

The part of this story that grieves me, beyond that it is avoidable is this very important detail:

Judge Grubbs was appointed to the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention. Most of us have no idea what this is. But, it's an Executive Branch appointment that was awarded to her by Newt Gingrich in 1998 while he was Speaker of the House. The President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States and the Speaker of the House (who would become VP or President if the other two die); were each allowed to appoint three Juvenile Court Judges. So the three most powerful men in the country hand picked Judge Grubbs to be on this Council.

Each cabinet member of the President has a seat on this council, and it is chaired by the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

The council is charged with the task of giving federal funding, per the legislation passed by the Congress and the Senate, (our federal tax dollars) to the FBI, State Bureaus of Investigation, (like the GBI), and national non-profits - hundreds of millions of dollars every year - to protect our youth. Judge Grubbs has attended these meetings for almost fifteen (15) years now.

You have to work, very hard, to find this information in any of her biographies, because she simply identified it as a "bar activity". Clearly this is not a Summer BBQ. Judge Grubbs has been trusted to protect our nation's children by the most powerful men in our federal government. That means, she is supposed to take protecting our children pretty seriously, I think most would agree.

When I discovered this information, I was a bit flabbergasted. I also went over to the Secretary of State's site, and the State Ethic's site to see what she listed there as her business and property holdings. She's supposed to let the state know of any financial influence she holds beyond her personal holdings too. But there is no mention of this influential or "fiduciary" role in her filing in any of the years since her appointment. Maybe I'm wrong, but if she could influence the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in their receipt of $178,000,000 since 1998 - maybe that should be there. But it isn't. Yet, it does mention she is on their Board of Directors in the neighboring county to their national Head Quarters in downtown Atlanta. That is 99% of the funding for all of the non-profits in the entire state of Georgia for that time period. And, it affects funding to protect children in all of our states.

Judge Grubbs probably knows that Attorney General Holder feels very strongly that children that are witnesses to violence in their own homes are very much at risk, and is promoting studies that would turn the tide of awarding custody and access or visitation to violent offenders. He favors the funding of programs that protect children from domestic violence, not marginalize it. He has been quoted repeatedly about the importance of protecting children from domestic violence. A statistic I used in my book was that in 2008, 911 children were murdered by a violent parent.

This council is designed to provide investigation resources to stop internet pornography and child exploitation - which I includes trafficking and online auctions of our children. Children forced into trafficking are on average between the ages of 9 and 13 years of age. Most have been sexually molested in their own homes by family members to prepare them for the sex trade. And white middle aged men are the most frequent purchasers, not minorities.

The council is designed to fund the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, among many other legitimate organizations. So I would assume that going to Washington DC and having the most powerful men in the country attending to the protection of our "most precious assets" means that Judge Grubbs has a better than average opportunity to understand that violent families (including those that have issues of sexual abuse) can even traffic their own children, or murder their own children.

In fact, according to RealAtlanta.com, this happens to 300 children per month in your fair city - and fully 82% of them were trafficked by a a family member. And 22% of them - by a parent. Additionally, I am deeply disturbed to see publication that Atlanta is now considered the #1 Child Trafficking Hub in the entire nation. Aren't you, also, deeply saddened and disturbed too?

Judge Grubbs probably has a better than average opportunity as a jurist, and an American Citizen, to understand that between September 10, 2001 and June 6, 2012 that 11,766 women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends - and that is more Americans than all of the victims of the World Trade Center Attacks, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

This is a math problem. Any Judge with basic statistical capability has the predictive ability to know that this woman was at risk - regardless of what the District Attorney did. Because any domestic violence advocate will tell you that the single most accurate predictor of violence comes from the victims themselves. There is no lack of data or evidence.

This is a problem of conscience and of values. For whatever reason, that I don't pretend to understand, Judge Grubb's set of values means that she does not believe it is her job to predict the potential murder of a mother. So these poor children were orphaned this past Christmas Day.

I expect better of my elected officials. But more than that, I expect better of my very own judge, and she is, my very own judge in my very own domestic violence plagued custody case. And I could no more count on her to protect me, or my children, than the man in the moon - because she made it glaringly clear that she would not protect me or my children. I am not surprised by Donna Kristofak's murder in the least. I'm surprised it has not happened more often.

I am well aware that Judge Grubbs has had unspeakable loss and horror in her life, and my compassion for her loss is tremendous. I'm so sorry, I know how much that hurts. The love she was bestowed on by her late husband, and her current one as well, is absolutely legendary. They adore(d) her, and probably deservedly so. And while I do not know what it is like to have my only daughter ripped from my life forever - I do know what it has been like to have my three children ripped from my own breast for the last seven years. And it hurts, and in large part it hurts because there is no closure and their father plays with me like a cat plays with a mouse for fun every time I attempt to exercise my right to talk to them on the phone or see them in person. I pray, every single day, for Judge Grubbs to have the blessing of understanding the err or her ways - not for me because I am not coming back to her for help. But for the women that she is supposed to be protecting today. I can't approach her as my judge because I don't have the financial resources to raise the fight, and I can not be confident in my chance for fair treatment. I have been advised by attorneys that representing me in my cause would "risk their careers and it's not worth it". I had someone lie to me and tell me he no longer practiced family law. It is an act of futility, and has left me a lot of time to read through the entire public domain on Cobb County cases like my own.

I think it is disingenuous to hide an important federal appointment like this and put forth the pretense that she is a small town judge in a rather unimportant bedroom community of Atlanta. But I know a dozen women that have suffered a fate like mine, and no matter what, I did not deserve this fate, and neither did they. Every single one of them had to leave the state of Georgia to have safety from the actions of violent ex-husbands, and most lost custody of their children for trying to protect themselves and their children. I live very safety in a relative "ghetto" in New York City, much more safely than I did off of Columns Drive or in Forsyth County.

We should not be put in the position to beg for our lives and/or the lives of our children. The position of Judge is sacred, and Godly, and it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly or made into a political game.

I appeal to Judge Grubbs to please resign from the role of appropriating federal tax dollars, and to stop hiding the role that you have played for the last fifteen years to the general public. I humbly ask you to retire from the bench, and to accept, that while you have no accountability to the Nations family or the Kristofak children, or the city of Marietta, that this was something that you did fail to prevent, and that was in your power to stop from happening.

You have served the city of Marietta and Cobb County for a very long time. You are extraordinarily wealthy and blessed with a loving family. I wish you would work with me to help other families across this country from having the future we, or the Kristofak family now face. Help us, make the family courts the first line of defense from family violence and child trafficking. I believe, from your career, that this is the woman you meant to be. Not the one that condemned so many women to a Holocaust upon our families and our souls.

I don't believe that you did anything to deliberately harm them, or even me, in your rulings. But, your lack of insight on this important issue has caused harm - the kind that will take seven generations for my children and theirs to heal from. Humility is being able to honestly understand your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly. This is no longer your strength, and you are doing a great disservice not just to the small number of people whose lives you touch every single day - but the millions of lives you affect through federal funding each day.

I don't wish revenge on her. I wish she just simply understood the mistakes that she has made so she would stop hurting so many innocent people.


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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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