The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #157: The paragon of a real American
February 25, 2015 10:00 AM | 189743 views | 0 0 comments | 3206 3206 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #157: The paragon of a real American
by Oliver_Halle
February 25, 2015 10:00 AM | 241 views | 4 4 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

We all probably have role models and people we look up to because of their accomplishments, obstacles they overcame to achieve success, or other reasons that inspire us to do better, to be better. I have any number ranging from Ulysses S. Grant and other military giants, to Lewis Brandeis and Robert Jackson, two giants of the Supreme Court. And I could list other names from other professions who left indelible marks on me, for better or for worse depending on who is judging.

My latest “hero” is Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of NYC, “America’s Mayor”, and once presidential candidate. Last week at a dinner in New York for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Giuliani was one of the attendees among the deep pocket participants who are hosting tryouts for who will get their largesse in the Republican primaries. Giuliani spoke briefly, and in his remarks he declared that Obama didn’t love America. The accusation has gone viral, and even a respectable number of Obama haters cringed at it.

It’s worth looking a little deeper into the accuser in this instance. One would think that Giuliani’s background qualifies him to pass judgment on the president. If so, you would be wrong. Giuliani was of draft age during Vietnam. He had student deferments right through law school, and upon graduation he lost his II-S status. For those old enough to remember, he was reclassified by the draft board to I-F, which meant he was immediately available for service. In 2008, when Giuliani ran for president, I couldn’t find anything about his military service or lack of it, so I wrote to the AJC’s Q&A section to see if there was an explanation. There was.

Giuliani’s first job out of law school was clerking for a federal judge in Manhattan. That position did not qualify for any exemptions or deferments, but Giuliani got the judge to write to the draft board that Giuliani’s clerkship was crucial to the functioning of the court. The draft board granted the waiver, probably the only one of its kind.

I am part of a group of Vietnam Veterans or Vietnam era veterans who don’t take lightly the conservative hypocrisy of supporting the war at the time but doing everything possible to avoid military service. The list is long of these phonies, and I remain baffled why so many are forgiving of them. Giuliani didn’t just luck out in not suiting up; he abused the system to gain an advantage. Sort of like a former vice-president who while supporting the Vietnam War said that he didn’t want to serve because he had “other priorities.”

Despite Giuliani’s assertion that Obama doesn’t love his country, the NYT and Washington Post, among other media, have published countless statements from the president where he has openly declared his great love for this country that has given him so much.

It is also worth noting that in his same speech Giuliani also hinted that Obama is a socialist because of his anti-colonialism. This latter accusation stems from prominent Christian conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, who wrote an article that can at best be characterized as pop psychology, saying that Obama’s political views derive from the father he never really knew, a Kenyan who was in fact anticolonial. I don’t think D’Souza’s opinions are worthy of much respect for reasons that include his guilty plea last year to felony campaign fraud and being ousted as president of a Christian college when it was revealed that he thought that the Seventh Commandment didn’t apply to him.

Giuliani has never had a problem dealing with his outsized ego. He was a successful mayor largely because NYC was the beneficiary of economic good times on his watch. The one thing that he didn’t lack for was money. It was there for the taking for all of his programs. Every mayor should be so lucky. His term ended in November 2001, but he tried to hang on past it despite an election that month claiming that it would be unwise to transition to a new mayor in the middle of a crisis. He lost that argument. While professing to be a hawk on terrorism, he had a contract for services with the government of Qatar, a country that had harbored 911 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

I was brought up to believe that it was inappropriate for one person to judge another’s salvation, that only “the one true God” could do that. In light of no obvious acts of treason, burning flags, burning his draft card, verbally proclaiming that he hates America or some such words, I’m not sure why policy differences amount to not loving one’s country. Giuliani should have looked in a mirror first, decided whether he represents everything that is right about America (whatever that is) and then figured out if his smear of the president really was more representative of himself.

Giuliani is a paragon of a real American to some. In my opinion he is a slow learning lout. He didn’t figure out in 2008 that the American people handily rejected him, his personal lifestyle, and his politics.

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Oliver G. Halle
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March 02, 2015
Mr. The Snack,

The MDJ discourages bloggers from commenting to remarks from readers, but yours was civil and reasoned and deserves a reply. First, I have never suggested, hinted, or otherwise expressed any desire to curtail anyone's freedom to say or write what they want. In fact, I encourage the likes of Rudy Giuliani to say what's on their minds and let the public decide if they are buffoons. You never have and never will hear that I advocated any limitation on speech.

Giuliani's sin is that of hypocrisy. He made a conscious choice to take the low road to avoid military service while being a supporter of the Vietnam War, to be a tough talking war hawk today when he never had any skin in the game. I too have made a choice, and it is to dog people like him when they condemn others for what they perceive as lacking patriotism for our great country. Some feel the same way about Jane Fonda. Giuliani's public service as a politician does not mitigate his dishonorable draft avoidance. Others can disagree.

I don't see why anyone should question the president's patriotism. We could debate all day whether he doesn't love this country. I think he does; others think otherwise. What does it accomplish? We all have different understandings of what that word means in a democracy.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

The Agitator #156: Safe no more
by Oliver_Halle
February 18, 2015 11:00 AM | 333 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

One of the campaign mantras of the Republicans in 2004 was, “He kept us safe”, referring to President Bush. It’s actually debatable whether he did or not. There is a lot of evidence that 9/11 was preventable, but that’s a discussion for another day. More immediate is the inability of the House and Senate to come to agreement on the budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Bush created the DHS, not without a lot of controversy, concerning whether it was just another bureaucracy to add to the federal payroll and employment numbers. I don’t have an informed opinion about it one way or another, but from the outside it seems to be working. If nothing else, if federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have improved communications among each other, that is a huge step in a unified fight to prevent terrorism on the home front.

On February 27th funding for DHS runs out unless both Houses pass a bill that the President will sign. The House version defunds monies that would go toward administering the temporary amnesty program that Obama granted by executive order to specified unlawful immigrants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has failed to rally enough votes to fund DHS if the defunding provision remains. Obama has made clear that he will veto any DHS bill that would in effect abrogate his executive order.

McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have been unable to reconcile their differences. In fact, Boehner has made it clear that he did his job in passing a bill, and that it’s McConnell’s problem to uphold his end. Sounds like a good start for Republicans to show Americans how they will work together now that they are in the majority. Boehner knows that there is no chance that the Senate can muster enough votes to include the immigration provision, yet he refuses to try and water down the House bill. There are several Senate Republicans, John McCain included, that understand that Boehner’s bill is dead on arrival in the Senate.

Some will argue that it’s Obama’s fault for threatening a veto. What seems to be overlooked in that argument is that the Constitution provides for the President to issue a veto. Also forgotten is that Obama won reelection in 2012 by a convincing majority. We hear all the time that the voters spoke loud and clear in 2014 in electing sizeable majorities in both Houses, but let’s not be blind to what voters said two years earlier.

Obama has been forthright in stating that he will sign a clean bill to fund DHS. For Republicans to try and force their views on amnesty by threatening the safety of our country is irresponsible and unconscionable. I can only imagine how DHS will operate if it doesn’t get the money it needs to function. I’m sure that we can expect certain emergency services to continue, but at what level? For how long?

Our system of government is messy, but it is the one given to us more than 200 years ago, and despite the myriad of regional and party interests, it has served us well even if it gets bloody at times. But the number one common denominator that unites all Americans despite the foregoing differences is our national security. We have a military that we can be proud of, that does its job exceptionally well. I wonder if Boehner would be so tough if instead of DHS funding it was the Pentagon.

The amnesty issue is one that deserves discussion. Let the debate in both Houses and with the American people occur during the next two years. Tying it to shutting down DHS risks our safety. You can be sure that if there is a domestic attack while DHS operates at a reduced level, the finger pointing will begin immediately. And in 2016 the voters can decide whether the two Houses acted responsibly to score political points.

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The Agitator #155: The rule of anarchy
by Oliver_Halle
February 11, 2015 11:00 AM | 479 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I often hear from conservative politicians and their supporters that we need to get back to our Constitution---or words to that effect. I’m never quite sure what that means, and when I ask for clarification the usual response is along the line of there being too many activist judges who don’t follow the law, who devise outcomes to comport with their personal agendas.

There is probably a grain of truth to this, and I would certainly agree that the current Supreme Court has been quite activist in cases involving campaign financing, religious freedom, and various social issues. That said, I have taken at least three oaths that I can recall (when I became a naval officer, lawyer, and FBI Special Agent) to support, preserve and defend the Constitution and the laws of this country. Supporting unpopular Supreme Court decisions and laws that I don’t agree with is part and parcel of that oath.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has also taken the same oath at least as many times or more (cadet at West Point, when commissioned, lawyer, and twice a member of the Alabama Supreme Court). Our similar educational backgrounds and experiences taught us that in America we observe the rule of law, that the law is supreme over any one person. If we don’t like a law there are peaceful mechanisms in our system to change it. (Admittedly, it is getting harder for the common man to have a meaningful voice in government, which I’ve written about before, but that’s a topic for another day.)

When Moore was on the court the first time, he single-handedly decided to install a granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state Supreme Court. After losing every legal battle to preserve the monument’s presence, Moore refused to remove it despite an order from a federal appellate court. Moore was forced to step down from the bench in 2003. In 2012, he was reelected.

Moore is very open about his professed Christian faith, that he is born-again, and that he fears the United States is becoming a godless country. He is also very open about his belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. As far as his religious views are concerned, he has my support to propagate them all day and all night as an American. Moore goes further, though, in declaring that his first allegiance as a judge is to God and then the Constitution. He has professed that God’s law is supreme. Again, I won’t quarrel with that as long as he makes that claim as a private citizen. I could even support him if he held that belief but strictly observed his oath as a public official to support and defend the Constitution, and faithfully carry out his obligations and duties accordingly.

This week Justice Moore tried to contradict a court order issued by an Alabama federal judge. The judge ruled that that the state’s constitutional provision banning gay marriages violated the U.S. Constitution. Moore then directed all probate judges not to perform marriages of gay couples. Somewhere in Moore’s legal education, study of American history and U.S. government, he missed the blocs of instruction that taught where there is conflict between the Constitution and state law, the Constitution is supreme.

I support what I consider the long overdue right of gay people to marry. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides within the next few months that my ideas on not consonant with their interpretation of the Constitution and uphold Alabama’s and other states’ bans of gay marriages, I will reluctantly abide by that decision. And I will support those who seek to find ways to change those laws through the legal processes that are available under our legal system.

For those who think that Roy Moore’s faith should supersede his obligation to the Constitution and the oath that he took, perhaps they haven’t thought it through. There are a lot of beliefs that people of faith feel are revealed to them by their god, and they don’t all line up. That’s why there are any number of denominations in the Christian religion alone to reflect the various understandings of what they believe God has said or revealed to them.

Justice Moore is no hero. He doesn’t represent American values embodied in the Constitution. The man is essentially an anarchist clothed in the legitimacy of a judicial robe. He’s a dinosaur that still idolizes Jefferson Davis. Perhaps he missed his real calling, to be a clergyman, which would have been fine, but it appears that he didn’t interpret the message correctly when it was given to him.

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The Agitator #154: An interesting week
by Oliver_Halle
February 05, 2015 10:50 AM | 663 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Some weeks are just more interesting than others. New faces in Washington can unintentionally add to our amusement when we can all use a good laugh getting through the cold and dreary winter months. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) has only been in office for a month and already is seeking to compete with some of the other eccentrics looking to make a name for themselves. He may be on the right track if that is his goal

We all know that the Republican Party is known for its opposition to too much regulation, which they claim is a huge impediment to economic growth. We can probably agree that there is too much regulation, but disagreement lies in which ones to reduce or eliminate. I would start with the tax regulations that require endless compliance and paperwork. Perhaps Senator Tillis would agree, but if so, he has been silent.

But Tillis illustrated with an example of what he means by too much regulation. He would no longer mandate that a restaurant post a sign in the restrooms that employees must wash their hands. In its place he would have the establishment post a notice that hand washing is optional, and thereby allow the public to decide if they wanted to eat there. Free markets at work, even though Tillis would be replacing one required sign with another. Can’t make this stuff up.

Then there was the measles controversy. It is comforting to know that Governor/Presidential candidate Chris Christie (R-NJ) had his children vaccinated. I am less comforted though by his first statement that parents should have a choice about this matter. Senator/presidential candidate/Dr. Rand Paul (R-KY) also weighed in with similar sentiments. Both backtracked and “clarified” their positions after an avalanche of criticism from the scientific community. Guess they finally learned about the importance of herd immunity, that vaccinations work and are considered one of the greatest discoveries in history toward improved health.

A little closer to home, Delta CEO Richard Anderson made a pitch to the Georgia General Assembly to tax motorists and air travelers to pay for the transportation improvements that Georgia desperately needs, especially if it has any hope of climbing up from the near bottom of having the worst infrastructure in the country. But Delta has been receiving a sales tax exemption on fuel for years amounting to a huge savings for the company. I am a big fan of Anderson, but his comments don’t even come close to passing the red face test.

To his credit, Rep. Earl Erhart (R-Powder Springs), with whom I share little in common, challenged Anderson’s chutzpah. Erhart had supported the fuel tax waiver during and since Delta’s hard times but thought that it was time to eliminate it. Considering that Delta is once again profitable, which can fairly be attributed to Anderson’s leadership and to a lesser extent, lower fuel prices, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the company to pay sales tax just like everyone else.

It should also be noted that despite profits and lower fuel costs, Delta has not lowered the price of its airfares. I’m okay with that in a free market system, but I also think that in a free market everyone should play by the same economic rules, that no one should get a break that shifts the tax burden to others. I commend Erhart for confronting this corporate giant on a delicate political issue. He deserves the support of his fellow Republicans, although I haven’t seen any come forward yet.

The American people continue to hear that the voters elected vast majorities of Republicans nationwide in 2014 to change things for the better. That is an envious opportunity, one that truly allows the marketplace of ideas to distill some of the best solutions that they claim to have. If, however, we have too many weeks like this past one, and if the Republicans continue to cast vote number 50 something or other to eliminate Obamacare, I sure hope they come up with something better to replace it. In the meanwhile, let’s hope the party of deregulation doesn’t tear down the signs requiring employees to wash their hands.

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The Agitator #153: Citizens "Divided"
by Oliver_Halle
January 29, 2015 10:40 AM | 832 views | 0 0 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

This is shaping up to be an unusual presidential campaign. We are at the end of January of the year preceding the first primary election, and not one candidate of either party has announced their intention to run. The explanation can be found by following the money, which all too often explains a lot of things, not usually for the better. In this instance potential candidates are lining up financial support from wealthy benefactors, who in turn will then pour money into their choices through various organizations that cannot collaborate with a campaign once an official announcement to run is made. All the strategic planning will be completed before the announcement, and the campaigns and super-PACS will no longer have any “connection.”

A lot changed with Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (2010), the Supreme Court decision that overturned settled law banning corporations and unions from spending money in federal elections without limitation. This activist decision by the conservative majority ignored congressional intent and declared that money and speech are part and parcel of the First Amendment despite no language in the amendment to support it.

All this is relevant as we head into 2016. In April, Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson held tryouts for Republican presidential candidates. Some of the most likely contenders met with Adelson one on one to try and secure his blessing and all the money that will flow if successful. This past weekend David and Charles Koch hosted their winter donor retreat at Palm Springs, CA where they committed to spend upwards of $900 million dollars in the presidential race. Some 300 major donors attended this very exclusive retreat, and also in attendance were many of the same big name candidates who met with Adelson. This vast sum of money is more than the Republican National Committee spent in the 2012.

Is anyone so naïve as to think that these tycoons have no agenda other than trying to accomplish what is “best for America?” Adelson strongly opposes internet gambling, and whoever gets his support can be counted on to be a strong voice on Adelson’s behalf. The Koch brothers have any number of financial and business interests. Do you think that their handpicked horse just might carry the Koch water?

Citizens United made it clear that buying access is not a crime as long as there is no quid pro quo. Despite the findings of Congress and a number of state legislatures that had placed limits on money in campaigns because of the inherent corruption, Justice Anthony Kennedy took it upon himself to disagree. According to Kennedy, disclosure of the names of contributors and amounts of money serve as a safeguard against corruption because the people can decide for themselves if there is anything nefarious.

The Citizens United case should be retitled Citizens Divided, because that is exactly what has happened. Those with cash get access. The have-nots get form letters and campaign blather---or ignored. The tax code is the best example of how access gets the special interests the tax breaks that the less fortunate can only dream of. Defenders of this system use the most sophistic and disingenuous arguments to preserve their exalted status to the exclusion of the powerless.

Unless and until we have meaningful campaign finance reform, the ordinary voter will go to the polls to choose the candidates that have already been bought and paid for. All legal of course. And the ones who make the laws are the very ones that are most affected by them. The current Supreme Court will probably lift all caps on campaign financing once a case comes before it. If the average Joe thinks his representatives really care about his concerns, he’s out of touch. We are becoming an increasingly divided nation based on the growing disparity of wealth, income and power. I am not optimistic about our nation’s political future.

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The Agitator #152: Human rights hypocrisy
by Oliver_Halle
January 21, 2015 11:15 AM | 862 views | 1 1 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Most people have never heard the name Raif Badawi. That’s too bad. The media have covered his plight but probably not with the attention it deserves. Badawi is a Saudi Arabian national. He happens to have the misfortune of living in a country that doesn’t believe in freedom of conscience, which is encapsulated in our First Amendment and which we all too often take for granted.

Badawi, a blogger, created a website that satirized Muslim icons, something that would normally find him with his head removed from his body, the execution method used by ISIS. In this instance the Saudi government showed mercy: He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes. In another act of benevolence the court has allowed the caning to be parceled out in 50 increments over 20 weeks.

Saudi Arabia is one of our closest Middle East allies. They provide us with oil, oppose Iran, have flooded the oil market to depress prices in order to help wreck the Russian economy, and are providing the Egyptian government with lots of cash to help prop it up. It is also the same country that produced the bulk of the 9/11 terrorists. When they generously allowed the U.S. to build air bases after Saddam became a regional threat, our service members were prohibited from practicing their faith unless it happened to be that of the only one permitted. And, of course, they are no friend of Israel. The Saudi government opposes al Qaida and ISIS, two terrorist organizations that seek to overthrow them and perpetrate even more violence.

Despite egregious human rights abuses, I have yet to see one prominent conservative speak out against the Saudi government, against our continued foreign aid, which is mostly in the form of military hardware and training. Yet Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) took the lead in blasting Obama for reestablishing relations with Cuba because of Cuba’s ongoing violations of human rights. To be fair, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), has aligned himself with Rubio on this issue. And Menendez’ voice hasn’t been heard, either, against Saudi Arabia’s numerous human rights violations.

The U.S. State Department has protested on Badawi’s behalf, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Amnesty International, a liberal organization, has also injected itself into this fray. After the Paris shootings by Islamic terrorists and all the criticism from the right that Obama hasn’t done enough to fight these people, the voice of silence from the same people concerning Saudi Arabia is deafening.

This should not be a political issue. In this instance we are not talking about extremist groups that are directly linked to a government. We are talking about the government itself that acts in the extreme by today’s international standards. Crimes against humanity were codified into international law after Nuremburg, and we as a nation should do everything possible to highlight Saudi Arabia’s barbaric laws and justice system. If conservatives who oppose anything with Obama’s fingerprints want to prove themselves credible, perhaps they might consider that human rights isn’t just a Cuban problem. Let freedom ring from all corners of the political spectrum.

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Pam Doughty
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January 21, 2015
It is horrific. After the first 50 lashes, they postponed the next lashing because he wasn't sufficiently healed to survive. So, unless there is intervention, he will be lashed to near death, brought back to enough health, and lashed again and again until the 1000 lashes are completed. Beyond barbaric.

The Agitator #151: Character assassination of Ben Carson?
by Oliver_Halle
January 15, 2015 11:30 AM | 1210 views | 1 1 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In May 2012, I heard Dr. Ben Carson deliver the commencement address at Emory University. I told any number of people afterwards that it was the best and most memorable graduation speech I had ever heard. In addition to narrating his storybook rise from poverty to becoming a world renown surgeon, he also talked about the need for our elected officials to work together to accomplish worthwhile things. An analogy he used was how the fuselage of a plane needs two wings to make it fly, the wings representing both political parties.

Since that time Carson has expressed interest in running for president, and he has indicated that he will decide by May. He has many supporters who find him the antithesis of Obama, and who like his very conservative views on social issues. That he lacks experience holding office at any level is irrelevant because he is saying all the right things that overcome being a political neophyte. Unfortunately, many a silk tongued orator has been elected to high office despite lacking real substance. Again, many think Obama fits that description perfectly.

Republicans are especially fond of talking about character, how it is one of the most paramount traits a president has to have. I won’t disagree. Where I have trouble, though, is that all too often the importance of character is minimized when it is one of their horses that seems to lack it. By now I am used to hearing that Democrats are tax and spend liberals, the party that is indifferent to character as exemplified by Bill Clinton. So that among other things leads me to believe that Republicans are better and that I can expect better from them. No excuses, no apologies, unlike Democrats.

Actually, all too many Republicans have character issues. But when they openly seek God’s forgiveness, Republicans are eager to demonstrate that they are forgiving people. Examples include, but are hardly limited to former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, since elected to congress, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, and our own Newt Gingrich. (Interestingly, Republicans are less forgiving when they have a large majority and can afford to cut someone loose. Staten Island Representative Michael Grimm comes to mind. They were much more supportive of Senator Larry Craig when a Democratic governor would have appointed Craig’s replacement.) There is no point in providing examples of Democrats who have had similar problems, because one should not expect much from them.

That takes us back to Dr. Ben Carson. Recently it was discovered that he plagiarized significant portions of his 2012 book, “America the Beautiful.” For some reason the “lame stream” media decided that this story wasn’t worth much attention, which it wouldn’t deserve but for the man being a very potential presidential candidate. If it was reported in our two local newspapers, each with a different political bent, I honestly missed seeing it.

Carson plagiarized from at least five different sources, not including the internet. One very conservative source said that he didn’t mind that Carson used his material without attribution, although in that one instance Carson did write a broad thank you to that author for his assistance. What is an eye-popping opener is that in Carson’s book he discussed how naïve he was in college, that he had lifted material without proper sourcing for a paper, and how it almost got him expelled. A sympathetic professor had to explain to Carson that plagiarism was wrong. Yet decades later he did it again, and convincingly to some, explains it all away by claiming that they were inadvertent mistakes.

Vice President Joe Biden is only one among other high profile people who have also committed plagiarism. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is another recent example. Biden did his damage several decades ago, but it always comes up and will haunt him again if he runs for president in 2016. He’s a Democrat, though, so I don’t expect much. As for Paul, my guess is that almost no one has read about his plagiarism. Ex-parte forgiveness.

I like Ben Carson even if I have strong disagreements with a lot of his beliefs. He is a gentleman, and his brilliance and accomplishments certainly overshadow this latest event. I also like Obama, and I wonder if his upbringing was as it is, had become a Republican, whether those who despise him would have accused him of not being a native born American, a closet Muslim, a communist, a hater of America, having no experience, and much more. For sure Carson has no political experience, something Eisenhower discovered was a lot different than commanding an army. It appears that one’s party affiliation is much more important than character and experience . And if you are a sinner and lack experience, but say all the right things, the Party of Forgiveness will take you in with open arms.

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Kevin Foley
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January 16, 2015
Ben Carson has about as much of a chance being elected president of the United States as I do of being elected Cobb County Commissioner. As a "man of the people," Carson is a great neurosurgeon.

The Agitator #150: The Second American Revolution
by Oliver_Halle
January 08, 2015 11:45 AM | 1177 views | 3 3 comments | 91 91 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

At our last Saturday’s coffee gathering one of my conservative friends asked what I thought would bring on the Second American Revolution. In a New York minute, which is very fast, I responded that the growing gap in wealth and income would likely be the spark. I am not suggesting that this is something that is going to happen any time soon, but I do believe that we have to reverse this trend if we have any hope of maintaining a strong middle class, the backbone of a stable country.

The conservatives I know claim that what is destroying America are the government handouts such as food stamps, Section 8 housing, and other welfare payments. Food stamps are probably the largest cost of them all. The argument continues that there is so much waste and fraud in these various programs. I don’t dispute that there is waste and fraud, but how much I don’t know, and I doubt many of the advocates of eliminating these programs know either. I also don’t know how much waste and fraud there is in government contracts, especially in the defense industry, but I think it’s fair to say that it is substantial. The F-35 fighter plane is a good example.

Currently, one percent of Americans own forty percent of all the wealth. Factoring in inflation, the average middle and lower class workers have seen their wages diminish over the past 30 years or so while the earnings of those in the top tier has sizably increased. In the Reagan years, a C-level executive’s pay was approximately 40:1 with his workers. Today that gap is closer to 300:1 and growing. Golden parachutes are given to failed managers, such as the one that almost drove Belk’s into bankruptcy. The other trend is for more of a company’s profits to go to the shareholders than to reward the workers who made the business profitable.

Some naysayers will accuse me of being a socialist or supporting redistribution of wealth. Well, if they haven’t noticed, we have been experiencing redistribution for years. The special interests that get tax breaks that others don’t get have to be made up by someone. Churches that pay no property taxes that go for police and fire protection, and the roads leading to their churches, also transfer their burden to people like me. Countless other examples abound that I’ve written about before.

How can the problem be fixed? Among the suggestions I would put out for debate begin with campaign finance reform. The activist Supreme Court that we have has decided two cases in the past six years that have dramatically altered limits on how much an individual and corporation can spend on candidates. I foresee in the near future this court lifting all caps on contributions. It is amusing when I see postings on Facebook from people who are upset that s/he didn’t get a response from their representative about a particular matter. Yet if billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who lives in Las Vegas, called anyone of our Georgia representatives, he would get through or have the call returned the same day.

With meaningful campaign finance reform comes a new tax code. Our elected officials would no longer be beholden to special interests, and a rewrite of the tax code could do away with all the provisions that have been bought and paid for with special interest money. One example is the cap on certain investment income at about 15% that benefits the owners of hedge funds. Just maybe the middle class would find themselves paying a lot less than they are today because others would finally pay their fair share. And it would be possible to tighten up on laws that incentivize businesses to locate in other countries.

The NYT recently published a story about mall closings. Some of the big stores that attract middle class shoppers are leaving, which leaves the smaller retailers foundering. Upscale malls are apparently doing well. Those who think it’s okay to pay a worker less than a living wage should consider how that impacts all the businesses that depend on that worker to spend money.

We can do better by closely examining the causes of this problem and making a serious attempt to fix it. For those who see no moral or societal issue, in time they can anticipate living in gated communities and leave only in armed vehicles. And under those circumstances, everybody loses.

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Bob Windholz
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January 11, 2015
Another nice piece, Oliver.

Ralph Nader has a new book published in 2014 called Unstoppable. A clarion call for liberals and conservatives to unite on issues in which they have a common interest.

Seems you have identified many of those interests in this article.

Nader thinks we've become or are becoming both a plutocracy and oligarchical society. How wrong is he in view of what you state?

The Agitator #149: A president for all?
by Oliver_Halle
December 31, 2014 12:00 PM | 1218 views | 0 0 comments | 91 91 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Columnists and radio talking heads are increasing the volume on who will/should be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. (Until Hillary Clinton decides whether to run, speculation on the Democratic candidate is pretty much on hold.) The New York Times recently ran a story that NJ Governor Chris Christie has lost a great deal of popularity at home because of his presidential aspirations. Michelle Malkin opined this week that Jeb Bush would be an awful candidate because he is too moderate. And so it goes.

Obama may go down as one of the most disliked presidents in history. Based on my conversations with people who don’t like the president, something not hard to do in Cobb County, and the assaults on him by opinionators of all stripes, to include a weekly columnist in the MDJ, my sense of impression is that most don’t like Obama based more on emotional arguments than facts and evidence.

My question is whether the Republicans can choose a candidate from the primaries that will be able to govern, i.e. do more than just say all the right things concerning social issues, jobs, the economy, taxes, defense, and trashing Obama. Considering Senator Mitch McConnell’s 2008 statement that his number one priority was to defeat Obama in 2012, that Rush Limbaugh said in 2008 that he was out to destroy Obama---and other like-minded comments from the echo chamber---what will the 2016 candidate look like? Will he be the one that billionaires Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers find acceptable to the exclusion of most other Americans?

The NYT article on Christie pointed out that Christie is attempting to appeal to a much wider audience than his NJ constituents. He has traveled to states that support the Keystone pipeline, something that New Jersey residents could care less about. He also vetoed a popular bill that would have protected pigs but would have alienated many farm state voters. Christie has been a union basher, especially of public sector workers, but he did sign into law a contract that provided for state funding of their pensions under a new agreement, an agreement that he has since broken claiming that the state can no longer afford the payments. NJ is largely a Democratic state, so his reneging on the deal should appeal to states with little or no union presence.

Jeb Bush has staked out positions such as supporting Common Core and a pathway to citizenship, two issues alone that inflame conservatives. Senator Marco Rubio, another potential candidate, is defending a minority viewpoint of opposing Obama’s recognition of Cuba knowing that Florida is a key state in any presidential race.

My point in all of this discussion is that no one can appeal to everyone. For some, if a candidate is on the “wrong side” of the abortion issue, it’s a deal breaker despite anything else about him. Same for so many other issues. New Yorkers aren’t exactly enthused about agricultural subsidies, and Iowans aren’t excited to see their tax dollars go to subsidizing NYC subways. Southerners care more about military bases, where there are many, than other regions of the country whose economies don’t depend so much on them. No relationship, whether it be a strong friendship or marriage, ever finds one-hundred percent agreement, but if there is commonality on the core issues, the relationship will remain strong. Same for candidates.

A good governor or senator may have been successful because of the local common interests of the voters. Any presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, has to figure out which issues will alienate the fewest. If the Republicans nominate someone that meets all the conservative litmus tests, a candidate that will pursue an agenda of no compromise or concern for those who might see a different roadmap to get to the same place, they will have squandered their 2014 victory.

Our two party system works despite the rough and tumble and nastiness. The best ideas are distilled from debate and argument. If one party dominates, creativity dissipates. Our representatives take the voters for granted when they have no opposition; they no longer have to work for your support on Election Day. This is not good for America. One of my wishes for 2016 is that the Republicans will nominate a candidate that understands that if America is really exceptional, it is for reasons that include our two party system.

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The Agitator #148: The Cuba decision
by Oliver_Halle
December 22, 2014 03:00 PM | 1228 views | 1 1 comments | 97 97 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

From the polls I’ve seen, most Americans support President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. This includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I fall into that camp and only wish that it had been done as far back as the Reagan presidency. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is proof that that there is still a lot of controversy in the Cuban community, especially in south Florida where there is a heavy concentration of Cuban-Americans.

Fidel Castro is not a nice guy, and his regime caused a lot of countries in the world a lot of agita for a number of years. But with the passage of time, especially the collapse of its benefactor, the Soviet Union, Cuba has become irrelevant on the world stage. They have a failed economy, and only a small number of countries look to them as a role model, countries that are also only bit players on the world stage.

The younger generation of Cuban-Americans only know of Cuba’s past from studying history or family lore. We have never had a quarrel with the Cuban people themselves. Whatever Castro inflicted on those who fled the country, especially in the early days of his dictatorship, the 1960s, it’s time to move on. We restored relations with Germany and Japan shortly after the most horrific war in history, a war that cost a lot of American lives. We restored relations with China in the early 1970s, only about 20 years after the Korean War where thousands of Americans died on the battlefield. And we have diplomatic relations with Vietnam where 58,000 troops never came home.

China and Vietnam remain communist countries, but they also have developed market economies. Vietnam actually feels more comfortable with the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet patrolling the Pacific because of China’s growing militancy and territorial disputes between the two countries. Our warships are welcome in Vietnamese ports. One of the advantages of having a diplomatic presence in a country is the ability to enhance our intelligence capabilities, especially human intelligence.

The other obvious big benefit for both countries is the opening of trade. Cuba’s manufacturing capabilities are virtually non-existent. With the various international loans that would be available to Cuba, our telecommunications industry could rebuild the country’s network. That translates into American jobs, especially the technical jobs that pay well. The transportation infrastructure needs a complete do-over. Food commodities that the U.S. specializes in growing and exporting will have a huge new market.

The Castro brothers won’t be around much longer. Once the Cuban people experience a substantial increase in their lifestyles it will be difficult for the government to continue operating with tight reigns. It’s a win-win for the U.S. and Cuba. FDR reportedly said that one way to prove to the Soviet Union the supremacy of the capitalist system would be to bomb it with Sears Roebuck catalogs. (John Steel Gordon, “An Empire of Wealth”)

Marco Rubio belongs with one of the dinosaurs I heard call in to a conservative radio show the other day. The caller said that Cuban intelligence officers worked with the North Vietnamese to interrogate and torture our POWs. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Even if it is, it’s time to move on. Our country recruited German scientists after WW II because we needed them---and that was immediately after the German surrender. The Vietnam POWs have been home for almost 42 years.

Remarkably, a number of professed Roman Catholics are upset with Pope Francis for his role in normalizing relations. Many claim that he is acting outside of his religious authority. Yet for those believers it would seem that the Vicar of Christ may very well be acting on divine authority. Is the Pope only right when he agrees with a follower? I would also add that many Vietnam Veterans have returned to Vietnam, met some of their battlefield foes, and have come home with a sense of peace.

One thing for sure is that if Rubio and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are successful in impeding relations with Cuba, other western countries will be glad to fill the gap. There’s too much money to be made. It would be unconscionable for a handful of Republicans and a few Democrats to continue living in the past. Could their atavistic rhetoric have more to do with staying in office or even seeking higher office?

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Ben Twomey
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December 23, 2014
Another good piece, Oliver! I do, however, think this is a non-political issue and the party affiliation of the opposers and supporters is not relevant and could have been left out.

Your last sentence makes this sound like a conspiracy theory piece, which it is not and, I am certain, was not intended to be.

Keep up the good work.

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