The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #161: Mr. Lee, taxes, and the Braves
March 23, 2015 12:30 PM | 201160 views | 0 0 comments | 3370 3370 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #141: Batter up!
by Oliver_Halle
November 06, 2014 10:45 AM | 1938 views | 4 4 comments | 127 127 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I admit that I did not foresee a nationwide Republican sweep. A large number voted a straight party ticket. It would be pointless to debate whether the country is better or worse off than when Obama took office in 2008. There are arguments on both sides of that question, but obviously more think that we are worse off and demanded change. They got it.

Senate-elect David Perdue said this morning on the Herman Cain show that he would focus on tax reform and eliminating regulations that inhibit job growth. Congressman Tom Price was quoted as saying that he also supports tax and healthcare reform. It’s fair to ask of each what their specific plans are for accomplishing these goals. We know that Price has submitted a healthcare reform bill already, but he should explain why his fellow Republicans won’t even give it a committee hearing.

We should also hear from our new representatives across the land how they expect to balance the budget. We have heard for years now that the government should operate its finances the same way that households and businesses have to, i.e. spend no more than you take in. I don’t agree with that proposition at all; there is a huge difference between micro and macroeconomics, but I am happy to let our new leaders prove me wrong. If they can cut spending, to include more than some of the social welfare programs, to include the myriad of government contracts to private businesses, many of which are boondoggles, and not cause another recession, they could have my vote in 2016.

During the campaign a common complaint against Harry Reid was that he was sitting on 350 bills from the House, many of which claimed to have bi-partisan support. What I found was that many of those bills related to tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses, eliminating Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting abortion, overturning Supreme Court precedents concerning religion, limiting marriage to heterosexuals, enhancing gun rights, and the like. What I couldn’t find were bills directly relating to our quality of life, such as jobs, infrastructure repair, transportation, school loan programs, etc.

From the new Congress we should rightfully expect meaningful immigration reform. Unless and until Obama vetoes any legislation that the Republicans submit, objections fall on deaf ears. The Republicans should go to work and pass legislation in both Houses and allow it to bubble up to the president’s desk. They will have done their job if they do that, and then it’s Obama’s move after that. Two years from now the voters can decide if the Republicans have kept their promises, and they can vote accordingly.

The unemployment numbers are way down from when Obama took office. Admittedly, among the reasons could be that more people have quit looking for work, and others have taken jobs with that pay one-third to one-half of what they were making before the recession. Technology has wiped out a lot of white collar jobs that once paid decently. Can we expect to hear from the Republican representatives how they will restore good, upward mobility jobs? A common lament of Republicans is that the corporate tax needs to be lowered or eliminated to create jobs. If they can convince us that doing so will cause consumer demand, which in turn will lead to new jobs, they will have my support.

The track record until now proves otherwise. Corporations are sitting on $3 trillion because of a lack of spending from the American people. Another thing rarely, if ever discussed, is that investment and dividend income is taxed lower than wages, and that’s because of the double taxation argument. And let’s not overlook the number of deductions that corporations can take that literally cancel out any tax liability.

As one who voted for Republicans for the better part of my life, I can be won over again. No more blaming Obama for things that the two Houses can fix. No more personal attacks on the president about his religion, his citizenship, the despicable pejoratives to describe his wife. Let’s see the Republicans go to work and accomplish a record that America can get behind. If they take their unofficial party chairman’s advice (Rush Limbaugh) and his echo chamber, Sean Hannity, that both offered the day after Election Day, that the Republicans were not sent to Washington to compromise, to cross the aisle, be prepared for two years of failed leadership. Batter up!

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Pat Burns
November 21, 2014
One of your best!

The Agitator #140: It may be your turn at bat
by Oliver_Halle
November 02, 2014 11:00 AM | 2208 views | 0 0 comments | 129 129 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Republicans may take control of both houses of congress in January, and if they do it will be a big start for them to “restore America”, “go back to the Constitution”, and to fulfill other promises like these that there is no way to measure. Perhaps they can move the 350 House bills they claim Harry Reid is holding up in the Senate. Actually, most if not all of these bills are related to repealing ObamaCare or are riders that they know there is no chance that the Democrats would support.

Closer to home, we have four out of five county commissioners that are Republicans. The four hastily voted for a $400 million bond deal to support building the new Braves stadium in Cobb County. Yet I have been unable to figure out how committing tax money in one form or another to subsidize a wealthy, prospering private business squares with the Republican philosophy of letting the free marketplace work. Can anyone cite a developer in Cobb that built a subdivision with government bonds? On the state level, with the Republicans in power, Delta airlines is given a fuel tax exemption, Gulfstream, a manufacturer of private jets, got a sales tax break on all the parts it purchases, and Georgia agribusiness is the beneficiary of a similar tax giveaway. According to Roy Barnes in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, there are some 200 businesses in Georgia that receive special tax breaks.

Yes, I know the arguments for granting these tax breaks, that the companies provide jobs that bring in new revenue. It always sounds better than it is. The shareholders rake in the profits, and the taxes that are waived are made up by the rest of us. There is no free lunch.

Then there is the federal tax code that is a few thousand pages, and the accompanying tax regulations, which is even longer. Very few middle class people are affected by the regulations once you get past some common provisions dealing with IRA’s, some rental income, small amounts of dividends, and the like. The rest are complicated giveaways written in such esoteric language that even a Harvard English professor couldn’t decipher them. Be sure, though, that all of these breaks don’t appear magically. It is the very people who benefit from them that are the hidden hands that write these laws. And their elected representatives are glad to do it in return for the campaign largess that only they can afford to pay.

If the Republicans take control of both Houses in January and the White House two years later, I don’t expect any changes for the better for the middle class. They will cut Medicaid, food stamps, and other low hanging fruit that impact the poor. Will they touch unnecessary defense spending? Highly unlikely. We’ve already seen locally that our representatives are digging in to preserve Dobbins if it makes the next BRAC hit list. And this effort is in spite of any Pentagon studies that might say that it no longer serves the purpose that it once did---like many other bases.

Since Obama got blamed for high unemployment, high gas prices, and a falling stock market---all occurring around the time he took office---where is the credit for the reverses? I don’t blame or credit presidents for gas prices and the stock market, but fair is fair when it comes to the blame game. If Republicans judge their party’s forthcoming results by the same measures, I would be pleasantly surprised.

The two things that could happen fairly quickly to give the Republicans credibility that they bring hope and change of their own would be to come up with a new tax code and a healthcare plan that is demonstrably better than the Affordable Healthcare Act. Considering the Republican House not even giving a hearing to Congressman Tom Price’s bill for healthcare reform, can we conclude that they aren’t serious? Add to that Republican Congressman Dave Camp’s tax reform bill that John Boehner said was dead on arrival, and you have some idea that things don’t look good for those of us squeezed out in the middle---on a local, state and national level.

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The Agitator #139: Mr. Lee and the ethics hearing
by Oliver_Halle
October 23, 2014 10:55 AM | 21867 views | 2 2 comments | 131 131 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

On Tuesday, October 21, 2014, the Cobb County Board of Ethics heard Tom Cheek lay out his case against Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee. This was only a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the board to go forward and consider whether Lee violated various ethics provisions. The board voted to conduct a full hearing. I, for one, thank Cheek for his tenacity, and the board for carefully weighing the evidence. This is not going to be a popular decision with many, if not most, Cobb citizens.

The most egregious allegation against Lee concerns his steadfast denials of having no attorney-client relationship with Dan McRae, the lawyer Lee maintained was essentially a personal adviser to help him better understand the Braves stadium deal. It would certainly be legal, and I know of no one who would object to that relationship if that’s all there was to it But we learned very recently that in an October 8, 2013 email, Lee confirmed that the “county confirms the attorney-client relationship between it and Seyfarth Shaw LLP as its Project Counsel/Bond Counsel for Project Intrepid.” Project Intrepid was the code name for the stadium deal. Yet Lee continued to deny that there was any such relationship between the county and McRae until the email was revealed.

What is remarkable is how the goal posts for dissembling, for fabrication, have been moved back for Mr. Lee. The Braves stadium project is touted as the grand prize that any municipality would like to win. We are told of the jobs that will be created, the development around the stadium that is going to add so much money to our tax coffers, how we in Cobb are the chosen. And all that happy talk has blinded segments of the media and otherwise good, honest, moral, ethical people to overlooking in Lee what they would never do if it was a political enemy or business associate.

Where is the outrage? The same voices that accuse Obama of lying about one thing or another, are noticeably silent when it comes to Mr. Lee. One of my favorite remarks heard from some people is that there isn’t any evidence of wrongdoing to investigate further. I am not suggesting that there is in fact more evidence of misconduct, but I am suggesting that the untruths from Mr. Lee add up to enough information to warrant a lot more probing. To stop now would be like the police finding a body in a house of an otherwise healthy person. Could one argue that that alone is insufficient evidence for the police to conduct an autopsy, to gather all the usual evidence found at any death scene, in order to determine if the death was murder or otherwise?

Lee had no authority to appoint McRae as “Project Counsel”, and the aforementioned email belies Lee’s explanation to the contrary. It defies human rationale that Seyfarth Shaw, a silk stocking national law firm would have permitted McRae to spend weeks providing free counsel to Lee without compensation or the expectation of getting the $4 million bond contract.

The Cobb Board of Ethics should be the starting point, at the least, of a real probe. The board’s powers are too limited, and they are too small to conduct a long term, in depthinvestigation. Subpoena power, as I have previously suggested, is vital to getting to the bottom of Lee’s relationship with McRae, what McRae agreed to provide Lee in the way of advice---or services---and what McRae understood he and his law firm would take out of it. McRae would be a key witness, voluntarily or under compulsion, and the appropriate government agency could grant immunity to him if he declined to testify.

I think the vote on the SPLOST will be an indication of whether Lee continues to have the support of the citizens of Cobb County. I am not alone in tying him to the SPLOST and voting against it for that reason. Let’s play baseball in Cobb in 2017, but let’s do it right. This deal didn’t go down like Lee said it did, it was very quickly approved by the commission with almost no time for serious input from Cobb residents, and all of us deserve to know the truth, to learn from it and ensure that it never happens this way again.

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Oliver G. Halle
October 23, 2014
Jeff, thanks very much for contributing additional information and adding to the debate. You raise some very good points that I hope others will also appreciate.

The Agitator #138: Mr. Lee and the SPLOST
by Oliver_Halle
October 16, 2014 11:35 AM | 11949 views | 3 3 comments | 124 124 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I have voted for every SPLOST since moving to Cobb County in 1985. My three children were born here, attended our local public schools, got a great education, and part of that is due to the facilities that SPLOST money paid for. I have also seen road improvements, sidewalks, parks, and other amenities that were built with the extra penny, and to my way of thinking, we have all benefited from this self-imposed tax. Others may disagree, and that is a fair political debate that we should have.

On November 4th, the voters will decide whether to extend another six years to the SPLOST. In principle, I support it. Certainly I think that the Cobb Police are long overdue to have a new and modern police headquarters. We have the best police force in Georgia, and to maintain the quality of the department, it should also have the best facilities and equipment to do the job. And I am happy to pay for it.

For the first time I will not be voting for a SPLOST. There have been town hall meetings where both sides have laid out their case for and against it. I am not sure which side is the more meritorious, but my inclination would be to support it. A good part of the factors going into my deliberations is that I trust my elected officials unless I have reason not to. In this instance I no longer trust the chair of the Cobb County Commission, Tim Lee. I have never particularly liked his style of governing, but I am sincere in saying that I would not let that alone interfere with my making important decisions. That said, Lee broke faith with the electorate in the new stadium deal. As I wrote in last week’s Agitator, I can live with broken promises and deal with it at the ballot box. Things can change that caused an official to change his position, and that is up to each voter to decide whether it is a deal-breaker for earning that voter’s support.

Lee was caught telling one story about his relationship with attorney Dan McRae, only to have an email completely and factually contradict him. Adding to that was how the email was intentionally written outside the Cobb County government’s email system to avoid having to comply with any Open Records Act requests that might come along. And this particular email goes to the core of how the stadium deal was negotiated.

Cobb County is going to raise the hotel/motel/car rental tax and a few others to support the bond deal that will help pay for the stadium. The public never got a meaningful chance to voice its opposition to it. There are lots of questions about whether all the promises the Braves made can or will be kept, and whether the property owners will ultimately be on the hook if all the happy talk of revenue doesn’t live up to the expectations. By then Lee and many of his cheerleaders will be long gone.

Republicans have touted “trickledown” economics since the early 1980s. Most, including George H.W. Bush believed it to be “voodoo” economics. But I’m always up for a good argument. I read that if the SPLOST fails next month, Cobb’s sales tax will drop to five percent, the lowest in Georgia. Republicans should look hard at that and consider how many more people will shop in Cobb County, but also the number of shoppers from neighboring counties drawn to Cobb’s stores. According to trickledown theory, we should be flooded with additional revenue, money that could be spent paying our police, firefighters and teachers what they are really worth, money that would go into general revenue instead of facing the limitations on the use of SPLOST funds.

I do not trust anything that Lee has said or continues to say about why we need this latest SPLOST. Those who know the devil in the details have expressed concerns, and I have to give them credence at this point. Lee has refused to comment about his previous statements and the email that belies them. No explanation. No apology. No nothing except to hide behind lawyerly wisdom of not saying anything. What is he running from? Perhaps it’s all a big mistake? Maybe the paper trail is all wrong? If Lee had served in the military, he would have learned the importance of trust with his fellow men and women in arms. He would know that once that trust is broken, it is gone forever and he can no longer be an effective leader.

Lee has his many supporters because they like the idea of the Braves moving to Cobb County. I like the idea too. I also like the law and rules to be followed, to include those situations where the deal is so good that you “have to do what is necessary”, even if laws and rules are broken, to make things happen. I wonder if the same supporters would be there for Lee if he did the same thing to get through his Bus Rapid Transit System.

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October 18, 2014
Looking forward to watching the Braves in Cobb in 2017

The Agitator #137: Mr. Lee and his Russian doll
by Oliver_Halle
October 09, 2014 12:15 PM | 11148 views | 3 3 comments | 236 236 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Politicians make promises, most of which I believe they honestly intend to keep. Events and circumstances can change, though, and promises are broken. A common broken promise is to increase spending for a given purpose with the concomitant commitment that there won’t be a tax hike. In this instance it might get a little trickier for a voter to figure out if it’s a legitimate promise. That falls on each of us to sort through conflicting facts and conflicting analyses and opinions. Out of this comes political parties that best line up with our individual views.

Debating issues is energizing and hopefully distills the best ideas and takes us closer to truth. What is illegitimate is for an elected official to knowingly state something as fact when a record, a paper trail, clearly contradicts it. There have been arguments on both sides of building a stadium for the Atlanta Braves in Cobb County, whether public funding should be involved, time set aside for meaningful hearings, etc. The citizens and their county commissioners who represent them deserved to have all the facts in front of them. After that, the board could decide, and the voters could also decide whether to reward or punish their representatives at the polls based on the outcome. It may not be a perfect political process, but it is the best one out there until someone comes up with something better.

For months Commission Chairman Tim Lee has emphatically stated that he did not hire Seyfarth Shaw attorney, Dan McRae, to negotiate a deal between the county and Atlanta Braves. When pressed he even said that there was no attorney/client relationship between him and McRae, and that McRae was merely retained pro bono as an adviser. Now we know from the AJC that Lee sent an email to McRae dated October 8, 2013, an email that went through the Cobb Chamber of Commerce instead of Lee’s county email address, in order to avoid having the message surface under the Open Records Act. In the email Lee confirms “the attorney-client relationship between it and Seyfarth Shaw LLP as its Project Counsel/Bond Counsel for Project Intrepid.” Project Intrepid was the code name Lee and the Chamber gave to the Braves deal.

Until now Lee maintained that there were no promises made to McRae or his firm for the $4 million fee that would be paid to put the $400 million bond deal together. Yet Seyfarth Shaw wrote itself into the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) as the anointed firm. Cobb County Attorney Deborah Dance, who was out of the loop until a draft of the MOU came to her attention, removed Seyfarth Shaw because it had not gone through the appropriate bidding process. And that’s when things began to get nasty.

McRae had put in months of work for free swapping any number of drafts between him and the Braves. Just a modicum of understanding of human nature would tell you that a very experienced lawyer with a national silk stocking firm likely had a reasonable expectation that they would get the bond contract. Why else would they do all the donkey work only to see the ultimate prize go to another firm? What did Tim Lee say or imply that led McRae to believe that his firm would get the contract? McRae tried to clarify the situation with Lee but was met with silence. Dance told an AJC reporter that in a conversation with McRae, McRae wanted to know why he wasn’t selected.

In my opinion, the person who should have been picked as Citizen of the Year in 2013 is Deborah Dance. She didn’t flinch when she saw Seyfarth Shaw listed as the bond attorney in the MOU, and quickly removed them. Dance says that Lee didn’t pressure her to choose Seyfarth Shaw, but what really was said and occurred is probably known only to them. Standing up to her ultimate boss, the commission chairman, speaks highly of Dance. Lee’s house of cards began to topple once she held fast.

Those who are angry at the media revelations concerning what actually occurred vice what Lee told us, are wrong. Their anger is misplaced. Many of us support in concept the Braves relocating to Cobb County. We just wanted the process to be fair and follow all the rules. I wonder if these angry people and Lee defenders would feel the same way if instead of a stadium being built we were told that a private company was going to construct a huge prison. Imagine the same promises of jobs, vendor services, and other benefits to the county, and the same circumvention of the rules. Could anyone seriously claim that they would be just as supportive of a prison as the stadium even if the economic benefits were equal?

It’s time for a real investigation into the relationship between Lee, the Chamber of Commerce, and Dan McRae. Let the subpoenas fly. Let’s see all the documents. Let’s see what else surfaces that was concealed from the taxpayers. Anything short of such investigation is a disservice to Cobb County citizens.

Tim Lee misled the citizens of Cobb County, and my choice of words is intended to be charitable. He is a fiduciary of the taxpayers. I don’t expect a politician to resign, be recalled, or impeached when he breaks a campaign promise. That’s politics for better or for worse. The remedy is the ballot box. But in this instance, how can we ever trust Tim Lee again? He broke that trust by conscious choice. He should resign.

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Larry Savage
October 10, 2014
One more thing: regarding "following all the rules", it has been overlooked by nearly everyone that the Georgia Constitution states in very clear and unambiguous language that a local government cannot incur debt without "the assent of the voters in a referendum". Did you see the referendum? The complete story is too long and complicated for space available, and a bit disturbing, but this is still in the works.

The Agitator #136: This passes for better?
by Oliver_Halle
October 02, 2014 10:35 AM | 1775 views | 1 1 comments | 119 119 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District representative, Tom Price, spoke last week to the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club, a very receptive audience. Price warned of the consequences of not winning both houses of congress in the November election. What was noteworthy about the MDJ article that reported on Price’s speech, was that Price didn’t lay out his party’s proposals or provide a roadmap for “taking this country back”, a favorite expression of Republicans.

I think it fair to ask why, when the Republicans had majorities just a few years ago in both houses, and a president in the White House, there was no immigration reform, tax reform, or budget deficit reductions---and more . Following up on that question, why should we believe Price now when he says that Republicans will act on all of these issues? The article didn’t mention that Price still supports the elimination of Obamacare. We know, though, that he has submitted a plan to replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, yet for some reason his fellow Republicans have never even given it a hearing. The Republican House has voted more than 40 times to eliminate the ACA knowing full and well that it wouldn’t happen. We also know that Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, a Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, submitted a tax plan that even had Democratic support, but John Boehner said that it was dead on arrival. Yet we are to believe Price that we can expect big change if only we give Republicans another chance to lead.

As for Obamacare, the voters are no longer hearing much about it from the politicians. Ask Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, et al, how that worked for them in the Republican primary for the senate. Price talks about tax reform being good for the economy. On that we can agree. But it won’t happen. At least not in a way that the middle class will benefit. A very large percentage of Price’s campaign money has traditionally come from the medical community. They want favors just like all special interests, and those special interests are the ones who influence the tax breaks that their representatives write. Expect a lot of lip service from Republicans about how we need tax reform, then remember Dave Camp who had a real plan, and you can see where it will land: the box for bills dead on arrival.

Price blasted Obama for not supporting the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. According to Price, all we had to do was say, “You go. You go. We’re behind you. We believe in your freedom. We believe in the dream that you have to turn your nation around and overthrow that regime”. Perhaps the good congressman forgot that we did something like that with the Kurds when the first Bush was president. Recall that Saddam gassed and slaughtered them. A little farther back, in 1956, we told the Hungarians that we were behind their revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow the Russians. That led to Soviet tanks and infantry invading the country.

Price then ripped Obama for wanting to support Syrian rebels against the IS. Actually, I think that is a fair debate to have. But Price may have gone off the reservation with this comment in light of John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s statements that they would arm and train rebels. He also might have checked to discover that there are any number of other Republicans and Democrats on both sides of this controversy. In other words, Price doesn’t speak for the Republican Party when it comes to how to fight IS, especially his reluctance to put troops on the ground. His only plan is to say that the military should decide how to fight IS because they have the expertise.

Yet Price would hold back a commitment to introduce infantry, artillery, and whatever else the Pentagon might think it needs. And that passes for giving our military free rein, for a strategy? Does anyone really think that Price is the best that the Sixth Congressional District has to offer? According to the MDJ article, one cheerleader in the audience shouted an emphatic yes.

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Ben Twomey
October 02, 2014
What did the Dems accomplish when they had both houses and an ultra conservative President? Zilch!

Why should we think that they will do anything differentky if given that opportunity again?

Why won't Reid bring any of the 300 plus House bills, all passed by the House with bipartisan support and some unanimously, to the Senate floor for debate?

Because, as long as he sits on them he and the propaganda machine can continue with lie that the GOP is doing nothing to addess these problems and are just obstructionists.

Price isn't perfect, be he is head and shoulders above what the Dems have to offer.

The Agitator #135: Whose definition of voter fraud?
by Oliver_Halle
September 25, 2014 10:10 AM | 1925 views | 3 3 comments | 122 122 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Dinesh D’Souza, prominent political commentator, author, very successful film maker of conservative documentaries (two that have the title “America” in them), and Christian apologist, pled guilty to campaign fraud (a felony) in federal court in May 2014. He admitted to knowingly soliciting money from contributors with the promise of reimbursing them, money for the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York. On September 23rd, he received a fairly lenient sentence requiring no prison time.

D’Souza has a fixation on President Obama and has weaved this fixation into his books and movies to provide pop psychological explanations for what motivates Obama. In 2010, D’Souza was appointed president of King’s College, a small Christian school in Manhattan. It lasted only two years and ended when he was caught spending the night with a woman other than his wife. Admittedly, he was separated from his wife, but the other woman was still married.

This guy could be the poster child for hypocrisy. He openly displays and touts his Christian faith, all the while living a double standard. But he has strong defenders that you will find on reactionary radio. One talkmeister that I heard explained away the campaign fraud by saying that he was targeted by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder because of his Obama bashing. Of course, no facts or evidence were adduced by his accusers to support this allegation. Holder also prosecuted a prominent businessman for campaign fraud involving Hillary Clinton, but I didn’t hear Holder get criticized at the time from any of the reactionary bloviators.

In effect, D’Souza tried to defraud the voters by using illegal means to raise money to help swing an election. Closer to home our Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is going after voter registration fraud. He has gotten huge headlines doing it, and this is probably his first shot at name recognition for his likely 2018 run for governor. Problem is that the fraud he has identified so far has amounted to a fraction of one percent of the registrants. The real voter fraud, the kind that has been identified and prosecuted in Georgia, lies with the absentee ballot, but tightening it up is never considered by Republicans.

Then there is the latest controversy surrounding DeKalb and a few other counties wanting to open the polls on Sunday. Republicans oppose this, but they haven’t articulated a reason that could pass the red face test. I am assuming that their fears lie with church-goers who might be bussed to the polls in large numbers after services, and we all know the demographics in DeKalb.

How can any red-blooded American not support making it easier for more citizens to vote? Expanding voting to Sundays during the election season should be encouraged. If you connect the dots, though, you will also notice that there are efforts underway here and in other states to curtail early voting by shortening the time period before Election Day, and curtailing hours. This affects working class people who punch a clock, people who have little to no flexibility with their hours. And these are the same people who probably vote more often for Democratic candidates.

From all of this I am left shaking my head. All too many Republicans from what I have read have no problem minimizing D’Souza’s fraud. Most profess to be strict constructionists of the Constitution, yet somehow they see in the First Amendment money equated with speech even if it doesn’t even hint at such. But if you are the political party with the cash resources, then it’s okay. And it is equally okay to obstruct by every means possible, increasing the number of voters without resources. Welcome to Dinesh D’Souza’s “America.”

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Ben Twomey
September 25, 2014
Oliver, I can agree with you abotu the unnwecessary opposition to Subnday voting, In fact, it is about as pointless as the oppostion to voter ID. Both are favored by the party that stands to benefit the most and oppposed by the party that stands to lose the lost.

As to cases, I can cite them if you wish.

As to hypocrisy, it is as rampant as voter fraud on both sides.

Buying votes is, as you say, certainly a form of voter fraud. It is most often practiced by lobbyists for votes on bills, but is practiced successfully in elections also.

The Agitator #134: We have to choose
by Oliver_Halle
September 18, 2014 09:10 AM | 1643 views | 0 0 comments | 123 123 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The war drums continue to beat for a much more serious U.S. presence in Syria and Iraq, at least by any number of conservative politicians and radio reactionaries who make up the echo chamber. I think Obama’s policy of enlisting other Middle Eastern and European countries participation to destroy IS makes sense and will work. It is in our mutual interests to work together, to share the costs, to help stabilize Syria and Iraq. IS unwittingly has done more to unite so many countries and religious factions than anyone could have imagined.

While we ramp up our military might to fight IS, the American people, I trust, will understand and appreciate that it doesn’t come for free. No question that we have the capability to take out a lot of high value targets from the air. That includes the trucking of oil to black market sources willing to buy from IS, oil being one of the main sources of revenue for this outlaw state. Military engagement in this instance is in our national interest, and Obama’s handling of it seems to be measured and considered.

The reality is that we have no choice but to confront and crush IS regardless of how they came to be such a potent force. This comes at a time when the military is scaling down to levels not seen in many decades. Technology has obviated the need for as many troops, but the cost for advanced weaponry in the air, on the sea, under the ocean, and on the ground is staggering. Despite what most economists report concerning the recession, ask any small business how it is doing and they will tell you that it is a struggle. Income in today’s dollars is actually lower for most middle class workers than thirty years ago. Fewer dollars in the hands of consumers means less spending, a drag on the economy. Employment may be up, but so is underemployment.

All of this means less money to pay for government services, which includes the Pentagon. Something’s got to give. It’s easy to go after the low hanging fruit of welfare and food stamp recipients, the people with no meaningful political voice. But one should compare the costs of these programs with the number of high dollar government subsidies to private businesses, to include commercial farmers, banks, flood insurance, housing industry, special tax breaks, and more. If we are going to keep the most powerful military in the world, we will have to figure out where some real cuts need to come from or raise taxes.

Our military strength is tied to our industrial might and always has been. But we can’t just keep shoveling money into new weapons without figuring out what kind of wars they will be used in. We’ve been fighting asymmetrical wars now for 50 years, which is a contradiction in terms of supporting a government while trying to kill the people who seek to destroy it, all within the same geographic boundaries. It’s pretty hard to unconditionally bomb everything on the ground in this type of war and not create new enemies. We still haven’t figured out cost effective and new ways to fight these wars.

Meanwhile, those who continue to sound warnings about our failing infrastructure, are ignored. Highways and roads everywhere are overcrowded because we haven’t seriously undertaken other public transportation options. How about all the potholes? Few probably remember that only a few years ago a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. Our rail service is antiquated compared to other first world countries. What incentive is there to use it? It would cost a lot of money to begin to fix these and so many other problems. But cranking up our industrial might, like we did successfully in WW II, would create millions of good jobs, stimulate innovation, and solve a lot of problems. We either get serious and begin to fund these projects or a lot of professionals, businesses and workers will lose their skills and add to the unemployment/underemployment rolls.

The American people will have to choose between the lobbyists for the military-industrial complex and fixing the rot of our aging infrastructure, much of it built during the Depression with tax dollars. Both cost a lot of money. But there should be no mistake in understanding that making our infrastructure a priority will also generate a lot of tax revenue from all the new workers, from purchasing high dollar equipment made in the USA, and the ripple effect of this spending. And that additional money will also continue to meet the needs of our armed forces. General Douglas MacArthur said that the history of the failure of war can be summed up in two words: too late. I think those words could apply to deciding our priorities.

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The Agitator #133: Bravery in suits & behind mikes
by Oliver_Halle
September 11, 2014 09:25 AM | 1600 views | 1 1 comments | 130 130 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There has been a lot of loose talk about how Obama should address the IS situation in Iraq and Syria. If you listen and react to reactionary radio where almost every “expert” never served in uniform, you would either prepare for war on the home front or head for the hills to defend what remains of the USA. Add a few elected representatives to pour gas on the fire of fear, no telling what will happen. My best guess, though, that instead of reasoned solutions, we will continue to get knee-jerk wisdom from these know-it-alls. Recall that certain White House pundits told us that if we didn’t take out Sadam, we could expect New York and other U.S. cities to undergo nuclear attacks.

There are some who blame Obama for withdrawing our troops from Iraq even though neither he nor Bush were able to get the Iraqi government to agree on a Status of Forces Agreement. In reviewing this mess, (without going back to how we ever got into this war) consider that upwards of a trillion dollars later, providing the Iraqi army with the best training and equipment in the world, they couldn’t hold against a much inferior force. Like so many intelligence catastrophes over the decades, this colossal failure should be investigated thoroughly to determine how it happened.

Some of the talkmeister experts, and those in suits and ties who represent us (Senator Lindsay Graham comes to mind), seem to think that we should just bomb IS into oblivion and all will be solved. According to the Pentagon, though, it’s not quite so simple. We aren’t facing an army in uniform from a country with a capital. It’s another asymmetrical war. Sure, taking out tanks and vehicles that you know belong to IS should be relatively easy. But what about all the IS terrorists that mix and mingle with the populace? Do we just take out thousands at a time? A guest on one radio show I listened to said that collateral damage is essentially okay as long as it kills bunch of terrorists.

What I have a hard time understanding is how you win a war if you don’t win over the people. The Civil War and WW II were wars of unconditional surrender against countries that we were at war. The generous terms of surrender that Ulysses S. Grant granted to Robert E. Lee probably saved this country from a Vietnam type insurgency that could have gone on indefinitely. Same for rebuilding Germany and Japan. But in wars where we support the government (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), how do you strengthen the government, win the hearts and minds of the people---which go together--- if we are indifferent to the very populations we want to convince? John Steinbeck’s 1942 novel, “The Moon is Down”, comes to mind, and his metaphor of the flies conquering the flypaper to describe how the natives will ultimately conquer their oppressors.

IS will have more than its hands full trying to hold the territory it has conquered. Who will resupply them once the American weapons they seized run out of ammo or are destroyed? What countries will trade with this caliphate? Right now it appears that all the Middle Eastern countries recognize how dangerous IS is to their own security and are on board with some kind of action. I have to believe that between our own highly trained commandos, the Air Force, and cooperation on multi-levels with other Middle Eastern and European countries, IS will be defeated.

Keeping perspective and a cool head is important in any war. This one is no different. Consider that the hotheads in our country have yet to call for attacks on North Korea, the one country that has the bomb and has repeatedly not only threatened to use it against us and our ally, South Korea, but has also committed any number of terrorist acts and atrocities. There is wisdom behind our current policy, for now North Korea is contained, and in time they will implode.

In no way do I suggest we minimize the IS threat. Not even a little bit. I am only suggesting that there are different ways to defeat an enemy, and one size doesn’t fit all. Let the real experts in the Pentagon and elsewhere prevail. Correct mistakes as they occur, change course as necessary, keeping in mind that it is easier to escalate than to deescalate.

Lastly, we should also be concerned about the domestic terrorist groups in our own country. More cops by far have been killed, more murders have occurred by home grown, anti-government terrorists. They are a growing threat for a variety of reasons, and they openly live among us. Let’s not lose perspective.

(Note: I wrote this column before Obama’s speech. Some things may have changed since, but my premises remain.)

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Ben Twomey
September 11, 2014
Well said, Oliver. I just hope that the President does not choose to play political games with this threat. I can assure you, there is not one damned thing political about it.

The Agitator #132: An unsung heroine
by Oliver_Halle
September 04, 2014 10:45 AM | 1830 views | 3 3 comments | 130 130 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Little attention was paid to the passing of Lillian Gobitis on August 22nd, at the age of 90, in Fayetteville, GA. Almost no one would know her name or have a clue that this woman had a role in framing First Amendment law that we take for granted. What happened to her a long time ago is very relevant today.

Times were very different in 1940. World War II had begun a year earlier, and the United States was gearing up for its inevitable participation. Minersville, PA was no different than a lot of school districts that passed a requirement for school children to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The small town was made up largely of Roman Catholics, and the Gobitis family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Back then Jehovah’s Witnesses were especially unpopular, not only for their beliefs, but also because of what some might consider heavy-handed proselytizing.

At their parents’ direction, Lillian and her younger brother Billy refused to salute the flag or say the pledge, because their faith considers it a form of idolatry. As a result, they experienced horrible insults, violent clashes, the local Catholic Church boycotted the family store, and ultimately the children were expelled from school. A lawsuit followed, and a federal district court in Philadelphia held that the school district had violated their free exercise of belief. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision.

In an 8-1 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, the majority overturned the Court of Appeals. (Skipping the esoteric legalism), Justice Felix Frankfurter declared that the school district policy was a legitimate secular policy to promote patriotism and to unify the country. The atrocities that resulted from this case are too numerous and too graphic to list. Beatings, arson, castration, and other acts of brutal violence were committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses around the country with some 1,500 reported victims. In effect, the Supreme Court had legitimized forced acts of patriotism, and this gave the self-proclaimed patriots excuses to rid their communities of people who were “un-American.”

Following the Gobitis decision, the state of West Virginian enacted a law empowering school districts to mandate reciting the pledge and saluting the flag. A very similar fact pattern developed with the Barnette family, also Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they refused to obey the law. The justices on the Supreme Court were well aware of the violence that ensued from Gobitis. On Flag Day, June 14, 1943, in the case of West Virginia vs. Barnette, the high court overturned its decision from three years earlier. Justice Robert H. Jackson summed it up with these words, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

As for me, I don’t like it when I see people sit during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, or not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance. But as an American, I respect the right of free expression provided it doesn’t violate time, place and manner limitations as defined over the years by the Supreme Court. Protecting their rights protects mine. Lots of speech is offensive, whether verbal or symbolic, but I would much prefer to live with it than to live in a country that suppressed “unpopular” speech or beliefs. Compulsory flag saluting is a first cousin of banning religious faith, which communist and other countries tried, and which we see today in the Middle East, not only with IS, but even in “friendly” countries like Saudi Arabia.

Lillian Gobitis and her brother led the way to affirming freedom of conscience embodied in the First Amendment. And that freedom, the most paramount of all, defines us uniquely as Americans. May each of us pay the debt forward that Lillian and Billy paid in 1940, to promote liberty wherever it is challenged.

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EM Buckner
September 06, 2014
As an atheist (no surprise of course to anyone who's read my letters or other comments to MDJ readers), I cannot pretend to understand or agree with the Jehovah's Witnesses on much of anything. Whether their beliefs regarding idolatry make any sense to Jerry or Ben or Oliver or me is *not* the key, however. As Americans, they retain the right to judge for themselves on this or any other religion-related issue. They don't have to convince me or Jerry; their rights, like my own and Jerry's, are protected by the Constitution (or by implication from the Declaration as "natural," inherent, rights), subject to no man's understanding. Under our secular Constitution and government, I can consider Jerry's Christianity nonsensical and he can consider my atheism anathema, even while both of us retain the right to believe (or not) as we wish and to practice any religion or none as we deem wise. Both of should be proud to have religious freedom, and grateful to Lillian Gobitis, Justice Robert Jackson, and many who fought and fewer (but still many) who died to protect our liberty. That's the basis of real American patriotism.

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