The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #179: The balsa wood candidate, Part 2
July 22, 2015 11:00 AM | 250408 views | 0 0 comments | 4041 4041 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #179: The balsa wood candidate, Part 2
by Oliver_Halle
July 29, 2015 12:28 PM | 216 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In an earlier Agitator submission, #174, I wrote about presidential timber and why Donald Trump was the balsa wood candidate. Nothing has changed that opinion. His campaign rhetoric appeals to a very low common denominator.

 

Trump’s personal attacks on John McCain and his status as a POW for five years during Vietnam is something that would normally end the candidacy of any presidential candidate, especially one that took several school deferments and one medical deferment concerning a bone spur on his foot---but which foot he couldn’t remember when asked.

 

Not unexpectedly, Rush Limbaugh is strongly defending Trump. Limbaugh reportedly didn’t wait for his draft notice during Vietnam; he went to the draft board with a doctor’s note concerning some unspecified back or skeletal issue. I guess that these two self-serving “patriots” need mutual support as they bash McCain, who answered his country’s call without hesitation.  There’s an unprintable name for the kind of “birds” that stick together like Trump and Limbaugh.

 

From Trump’s despicable comments came other innuendo from supposed fellow POWs who claimed that McCain was a traitor, that he willingly cooperated with his captors, that he got special treatment, and more. I’m still waiting to learn the names of the fellow POWs who have made such claims.

 

It reminds me of the smears against John Kerry’s Swift Boat service (I am not talking about his post naval service that he should have apologized for). Except for one crew member, the overwhelming majority of the calumnies against Kerry came from sailors who never served with Kerry, weren’t in Vietnam at the same time as Kerry, weren’t in Kerry’s boat division, and had never met Kerry. How many remember Senator Joseph McCarthy’s disgusting accusations against America’s architect of the victory of WW II, General of the Army, George C. Marshall, where Low Blow Joe claimed that Marshall was a communist and responsible for the fall of China? Sadly, one of my great heroes, Dwight D. Eisenhower, went to his grave regretting that he did not defend Marshall against these outrageous, false defamations.

 

I recall from history that something similar happened to General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the remaining forces at Corregidor in the spring of 1942. The Japanese had laid siege to the island rock, and ultimately Wainwright had no choice but to surrender or go down fighting with no more food or ammunition and no hope of resupply. There is a photo of General MacArthur and Wainwright hugging after the war, and Wainwright is not much more than a scarecrow. Wainwright was awarded the Medal of Honor, but like the guttersnipes attacking McCain, they questioned why he deserved the medal in light of having surrendered.

 

To those who question McCain’s patriotism, his loyalty to the U.S., his contributions to the American war effort in Vietnam, I share this personal experience. In May 2008, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association dedicated a granite and brass monument at East Cobb Park in memory of Major James Wise, a native of Atlanta who was a pilot shot down and killed in Vietnam on December 23, 1965. I was on the committee that helped plan the ceremony and got a chance to speak briefly with the keynote speaker, Air Force Col. Bud Day, who earned the Medal of Honor as a POW, and like John McCain, had been shot down.

 

I vividly recall that Day spoke reverentially of McCain, how McCain was a real hero who had endured so much torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese. I have to believe that if Day thought otherwise, and being the gentleman that he was, if he didn’t believe what he said, he would have just remained silent. But he didn’t. And I am glad to bear witness to the memory of the kind words Day had for John McCain.

 

People who are quoted in the media, and people I have talked to myself, tell me that Trump is saying all the right things, that he is his own man, that he is not afraid to speak the truth, and for those reasons they like and support him. Many add that Trump can’t be bought, and considering his own statements about how successful he is with women, it’s not likely that he can be corrupted in either instance.  Yet if you ask the same people how this demagogue would accomplish everything he says he will do if he’s elected, you get blank stares. What neither they nor Trump have figured out is that even if he had both Houses of Congress on his side, he would still have to win over the majority of 535 individually elected representatives who don’t answer to him.

 

No, even this self-serving tough guy can’t fire the very people that he would need if he were to get anything accomplished.  

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The 'Agitator #178: How much are you willing to pay?
by Oliver_Halle
July 22, 2015 11:00 AM | 184 views | 1 1 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Iran nuclear deal, to no one’s surprise, has stirred up a hornet’s nest with Republicans. They condemned it immediately, although I suspect that they formed their opinions before reading the details of the agreement. Shades of Obamacare, which is 2,700 pages, versus the Iran agreement that is 159. I also wonder if any of the leading Republicans spoke with the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist, to get any technical questions answered. Same for our intelligence agencies that almost certainly had a hand in narrowing down the details of the treaty.

The Iranian government, as opposed to the Iranian people, is no friend of ours. But I find amazing that the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, among some of the Republican candidates for president, to consider Iran to be the biggest sponsor of international terrorism. Have they forgotten that almost all of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia? Iran had no hand in it that has ever been revealed, and if there is evidence to the contrary, it is high time for it to be released.

Consider, too, that while Iran sponsors the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, Saudi Arabia promotes a fundamentalist conservative brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism or Salafism. Some of the extremist groups on the Sunni side have their roots in Saudi Arabia. We all know that Israel is the sworn enemy of Iran, but can anyone say when Saudi Arabia recognized Israel’s right to exist?

Most Republicans, but not all, oppose Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Arguments against recognition include that Cuba is still a communist country, that it does not respect human rights, etc. Yet Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the world when it comes to human rights. As I wrote some months ago, one Saudi blogger who wrote about it is serving ten years in prison and faces 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks until he fulfills the 1,000 given to him for speaking out. I have not seen or heard one voice of protest from the right directed at the Saudi Arabian government over this gross injustice.

Did the Republicans object (some did) when Ronald Reagan proposed giving the technology for the Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Star Wars, to the Soviets once we developed it? How about the Reagan administration’s selling of arms to Iran for American hostages in the Middle East? Nixon’s opening the door to relations with China? Diplomacy with Vietnam? The latter two countries remain communist, both that we warred with unlike Cuba and Iran, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of trading and opening embassies there.

It is past time to put the hypocrisy behind us when it comes to flogging one oppressive government versus another. The alternatives to the Iran nuclear ban treaty are not good for the United States. If the U.S. turns it down, the embargo will still be lifted by the other countries that were part of the agreement. We will go it alone, and to what gain? And then we would have no clout whatsoever with Iran, short of war, if they proceed to build the bomb.

Have not the reactionaries asked themselves why Iran would strike Israel if they developed a bomb? Considering that Israel has over 200, it doesn’t seem like much of a match up. Factor in that the U.S. would also get involved and totally annihilate Iran, what’s in it for Iran to peremptorily strike Israel?

It is ironic that the U.S. Army is cutting its forces to a level not seen since before World War II. Cries of foul are being heard by Republicans who voted for sequestration in 2012, a compromise bill to rein in spending with ten percent budget cuts across the board until the early 2020s. The Pentagon gave fair warning of what was to come, and considering that our representatives will not allow the closing of obsolete bases and cutting unneeded weapons systems, what were the alternatives?

Yet we continue to hear from the reactionaries in the Republican Party that we should bomb Iran to ensure that they don’t develop the bomb. What they haven’t said is how we would pay for this war, one that would be considerably more costly than Iraq, and as always, would include whopping VA costs for the next 70 years. And as I write this, the VA is threatening to close hospitals and other facilities if they don’t get more money to fund all the financial burdens imposed on them by laws that protect veterans.

How much are the American people willing to shell out in additional blood and taxes? We still have the strongest military in the world by far and away. Why not use it if and when we have to, not just to prove we can? Diplomacy has worked with some other pretty bad guys in the past. Alternatively, let chicken-hawks like Donald Trump and Scott Walker lead the charge in a war that they support.

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Ben Twomey
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July 25, 2015
I am presuming, based on your condemnation of all objectors, that you have read rhe agreement including those parts that have been withheld, even from John Kerry, (If we are to believe him) until after the deal was agreed to.

Is it your opinion that the Ayatollah is just messing with us when the says things like, "We will trample America."?

Are you aware that Iran will not allow inspections of military establishments? That no Ameericans will be allowed to inspect anything?

Do you really believe that you, or I, or any other ordinary citizen of this country knows 25% of what this deal really entails?

The Agitator #177: Love it or leave it!
by Oliver_Halle
July 16, 2015 10:40 AM | 232 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

During the Vietnam War it was common for “patriots” to tell war protesters that if they didn’t love America, they could leave it. We heard the same mantra from more recent patriots during the latest wars in the Middle East. I never really understood what one had to do, or not do, to prove that he loved America to be in the club or not get expelled. After all, the Constitution seems broad enough to include people who don’t fit within a majority of current thinking whether it be political, religious, or some other topical issue.

With time and age, I am beginning to appreciate this slogan. Nothing like a Supreme Court decision that legitimizes gay marriages to get one’s attention. I was eight years old when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided, and living in New York City at the time, it had no impact on me. But from reading history, and having gone to college in Georgia from 1963-1965, I derived some understanding of what it means to defy the Supreme Court and the Constitution.

What is puzzling is that seemingly educated people are now calling for a similar defiance of the Constitution as it pertains to gay marriages. Last week a Dodge County, Georgia magistrate said that he would no longer perform any marriages because performing gay marriages goes against his religious beliefs. I assume that he forgot that his oath was to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Georgia, not to his personal faith. If his religious convictions come first, he needs to resign.

One local columnist described the court’s decision as “ringing hollow” because of longstanding religious beliefs, that this debate is hardly over. (I know that he considers himself a patriot because of his conservative views, but a public explanation of why he didn’t suit up during the time of the draft back in the 1960s would go a long way to help me, and others, appreciate his patriotism even more.)

Then there is national columnist Pat Buchanan who recently wrote about this country’s history of civil disobedience. He is right that the constitutional amendment that created Prohibition was so unpopular that it was superseded a few years later by another constitutional amendment---the only time in our nation’s history where that has happened. In other words, there is a mechanism for overturning Supreme Court decisions: change the law if it’s based on the law; pass an amendment if it’s based on the Constitution.

Buchanan talked about Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail in which King eloquently wrote about resisting unjust laws, that it is a moral responsibility to do so. In the abstract, I agree with Buchanan. But what he didn’t mention that King so eloquently wrote, that is included in the definition of a law being unjust, was whether those subject to it had a voice, a vote in the legislative body that created that law. King was referring to the Jim Crow laws that were written by legislators that “legally” excluded blacks from participating in the governing process and society.

When the Constitution was written, our wise forefathers created the Separation of Powers in the Constitution to ensure that no branch of government could take control of the country. We as Americans have all agreed to this not only in the many oaths we take during our lifetimes, but also as part of the social contract that uniquely makes us Americans. And that contract means that we adhere to the rule of law, that we work to change it if we don’t like it, and that we abide by the processes to make this all happen if we are to live in peace.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the Bible is to be used as a reference for resolving constitutional issues. Those who keep on talking about their Christian beliefs being violated couldn’t be more wrong on the law and the facts. No one is telling anyone what they have to believe, and contrary to some of our rabble-rousing state legislators, we don’t need a law protecting clergy members from having to perform weddings that don’t conform to their beliefs. The First Amendment has done that for over 225years. The court’s marriage decision provided for more liberty, something we should all celebrate, and it has no effect on anyone else’s beliefs or religious practices.

Those who don’t like our constitutional process, who would choose to resist and obstruct rather than follow the rule of law, i.e. either to obey it or work for change, should consider moving to another country that conforms to their beliefs and way of thinking. Love it or leave it---I now get it.

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The Agitator #176: "Show" us what you are for
by Oliver_Halle
July 08, 2015 03:10 PM | 302 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Campaign season is starting to heat up, and the latest Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Healthcare Act and gay marriages have fueled the debate among Republicans. Once again the Republican candidates are talking about dismantling the ACA, and some of them are advocating a constitutional amendment to overturn the court’s decision on gay marriages. A few are even going so far as to say that they would ignore the gay marriage ruling based on their own understanding of judicial review---a reinterpretation of over 200 years of precedent.

Considering that the Republican House has taken almost 50 meaningless votes to overturn the ACA, and the difficulty in getting any constitutional amendment passed, their words fall on deaf ears. Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), head of the House Budget Committee, has been unsuccessful for years in even getting a committee hearing on his healthcare reform proposals.

Then there are promises to overhaul the immigration laws. The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill a couple of years ago that House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t even consider. The Republicans promise income tax reform, but when the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, with bipartisan support, offered substantial changes to the tax code, Boehner said it was dead on arrival. The Republicans all agree to eliminate the EPA, among other cabinet level positions, and to reduce regulations that are “strangling” businesses. And they are unanimous in pledging to restore our “decimated” military.

The one common thread in all of this talk is a total lack of action. When the Republicans controlled both Houses and the White House for six years under Bush 43, the only thing we got was Medicare Part D, one of the costliest government programs in history. To top that off, the Republicans enacted a provision that prohibited the government from negotiating prices for pharmaceuticals. So much for letting the marketplace work its magic when you can take care of those who ensured your election with whopping sums of money.

One thing that I think Americans would like to hear is how we are going to pay for the $89 billion extra that the Republicans want to add to the military budget next year. Republicans say that they will balance the budget in ten years, but if the plan means that they spend money outside the budget process so that it’s not included in the calculations, then it’s a promise built on a lie. And that is exactly how the $89 billion is being spent---in a gimmick where it doesn’t show up in the final budget.

I’m all for having the strongest defense in the world with no other country even coming close to second place. But I’m not okay with a jobs program disguised as defense in keeping obsolete bases open or purchasing outdated weapons systems. I also think that putting so much extra money into defense, much of it wasteful, to the exclusion of domestic programs such as rebuilding infrastructure, is a huge mistake. Recall that the Soviet Union and other countries that were once dominant military powers, spent themselves out of existence because of military spending to the exclusion of spending at home. So when you hear the tough talk from candidates about sending countless thousands of troops to the Middle East, it is fair to ask how it will be paid for. Tell the American people that they will have to dig deeper to pay for it and the 70 years of costs for Veterans Care.

If you shut down the EPA, I would like to hear how we could prevent going back to the days when you could cut the smog with a knife in our big cities, where water pollution was so bad that swimming at the beaches, lakes and rivers could make you deathly ill, and marine life was non-existent. I remember those days growing up in NYC.

We’ve heard the drumbeat from the right for almost seven years that Obama has destroyed America. I don’t agree, and in fact I think our country is better in lots of ways because of his presidency. Others disagree, and that’s fine. Since we will all be voting for his replacement in 2016, shouldn’t we know what the wannabees will do differently, how they will implement their ideas? It’s easy to be a spectator, but Teddy Roosevelt summarized it best with his famous “Man in the Arena.”

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The Agitator #175: The unmaking of America
by Oliver_Halle
June 30, 2015 11:15 AM | 435 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

If I had just landed in America from another planet and had no knowledge of the American Constitution or the country’s history, I would wonder if I arrived at a very bad time. After seeing and reading all the media reports about last week’s two major Supreme Court decisions, I’d have to reconsider whether to leave before it was too late.

First, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal faction of the court to uphold federal health insurance exchanges, which in effect means that the Affordable Healthcare Act is here to stay---plus or minus any tinkering over the next few years. This was a statutory interpretation decision, not one based on the Constitution, and my reading and understanding of the guidelines that the High Court follows in these instances is that Roberts played by the rules.

Yet the conservatives are apoplectic that Roberts has sold them out, that he is another liberal activist judge, another judge who legislates from the bench. I won’t disagree with some of that argument, especially Roberts’ clearly activist opinion in Citizens United, the case that has all but eliminated campaign spending limits. But nary was an objection heard from conservatives when Citizens United was decided.

In February of this year the Supreme Court tossed the criminal conviction of a Louisiana fisherman who threw overboard his undersized catch after being ordered by a law enforcement officer to preserve the fish while piloting his boat into port. The fisherman was charged with a provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) statute pertaining to the destruction of evidence. The Supreme Court ruled that SOX was never intended to reach down to such misconduct, to go beyond financial fraud,---even though the statute itself provided no such limitation. Roberts was in the majority, and fellow conservative Anthony Alito wrote a concurring opinion. The conservatives who think that the federal government has been overreaching for years, were delighted with the decision. But intellectual honesty and consistency should have had them crying foul.

Conservatives weren’t even able to catch their breath when the day after the ACA opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriages were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. Hysteria is what followed. Many clergymen see it as the apocalypse, that their constitutional rights under the First Amendment are being infringed, that their beliefs are under attack, that supporters of gay rights are intolerant---never mind that it is illegal to discriminate in housing and employment against someone because of their faith---a protection not provided to gay people.

Locally, the Reverend Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, along with others, expressed concern that they could be prosecuted for not performing gay weddings. Where they got that idea from is one I am still trying to figure out. Considering that no member of the clergy has ever been required to perform any marriage against their beliefs, what would change? What is the source of this absurd misunderstanding of their First Amendment rights? Why do some Christians think that the First Amendment should only reflect their religious beliefs and not those of others? And no, I don’t see a movement to pass laws allowing for polygamy, marrying animals, or being allowed to marry someone ten years old.

Could churches lose their tax exempt status if they didn’t perform gay marriages, another concern of the hysterical minded? My best guess is no, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if they did. For starters, there is no constitutional right to it. I, and others who share my beliefs, resent having to make up for the taxes houses of worship don’t pay for services that they receive, but I also know that the emotional arguments on this one will supersede any rational discussion.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he would issue some kind of order that would effectively nullify the court’s decision. I assume that it is something new, because I am totally unaware of a president being able to ignore the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Richard Nixon preceded Huckabee in learning that lesson. Then there is the Texas Attorney General who has said that he will provide legal counsel to any government clerk that refuses to issue a marriage license based on his or her religious beliefs. What has this country come to? One has to ask how that kind of legal nonsense would fly if we had to immediately impose a military draft, and anyone could be immediately exempted by just declaring that they didn’t believe in war. The AG’s position also hasn’t worked for folks who have conscientious objections to paying taxes that support one cause or another at odds with one’s religious convictions.

I detest many of the laws and court decisions that I am obligated to obey. But I do it without reservation as part of the social contract we adhere to if we are to survive as a nation. We comply with the rule of law to prevent anarchy. There are mechanisms to change the law and Constitution, and admittedly the processes aren’t easy, but they exist and changes have been made. When any government official takes an oath to support, preserve and defend the Constitution, his fingers aren’t crossed where he silently whispers some self-declared exception. It is immoral to swear such oath and then arbitrarily decide that you hold allegiance to some other unspecified authority. No one makes anyone run for public office or work for the government on any level.

Our country will survive and be better in the long run extending liberty to a group of people who know a lot more about intolerance than the “victimized” clergy. This marriage decision will have no impact on anyone’s individual beliefs. And I am quite sure that there are many houses of worship that will use this decision to proselytize new members. I am fine with that. After all, in addition to the tax exemptions they get, there are a lot of parishioners who are slackers, who don’t pay their fair share, so this could be a win-win for churches. They just need to give it time to figure it out.

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The Agitator #174: Presidential timber made of balsa wood
by Oliver_Halle
June 24, 2015 11:20 AM | 513 views | 2 2 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

For a few days the media had a blast with Donald Trump’s announcement that he was joining other Republicans to be a candidate for president. He probably figured out that this was his last chance since he just turned 69, and that it was the voters’ last chance to acknowledge that he is America’s savior. Many consider him a clown, and considering some of his statements, it’s probably not an unfair moniker. But putting aside whether Trump deserves to be called one, there are other reasons to ask why anyone would take this guy seriously.

Trump is a Queens native who apparently had some difficulties when he was in his yoooot (that’s “youth” in New Yorkese---see “My Cousin Vinnie”). He finished high school at New York Military Academy located just north of West Point, a then prestigious school for those needing some extra attention and adjustment. He graduated from the Wharton Business School and then joined his father’s real estate business.

Nowhere in Trump’s bio do you find that Trump served in the military during the Vietnam draft era. For those who have hung with me these past four years and read my blogs, you know that I consider any conservative of draft age during that time who avoided wearing the uniform, to be a phony hypocrite. I have to ask where the “lame stream” media has been to query Trump about his deferments after his 2-S student deferment expired, and why he didn’t volunteer to serve this country then that he so badly wants to serve now. Fox News might want to ask the same questions since they are the only “fair and balanced” media we have in America today to rely on for the truth.

Since Trump is a member of the Party of Family Values, I find it astonishing, but shouldn’t, that the usual voices who speak for Christians haven’t denounced Trump for his three marriages, especially since he has been known as a serial philanderer, and that in each re-marriage he has traded up (or down depending on your perspective) by marrying a much younger woman. In light of all the noise from the Christian Right about gay marriages, one would think that they would be just as loud about condemning someone who clearly violates Biblical commandments.

If one can get past these issues (non-issues to some), it gets even more interesting. Trump talks about taking out ISIS, building a wall on the Mexican border that the Mexicans will pay for, reigning in the Chinese on trade issues, be the greatest jobs creator in history, and a passel of other hot issues. What he doesn’t say is where the money would come from to execute all his great ideas. Nor does he say how he would motivate the Congress to act on his grandiose visions.

It’s too bad Eisenhower isn’t alive to advise him. Ike, who actually was a war hero and knew a little bit about when and how to engage your enemies, could teach Trump a few things from real experience that Trump wouldn’t know about. Ike would also tell the Great Dreamer that as President of the United States, he has to convince a majority of 535 legislators, none of whom answer to the president, that they should follow him.

Some of Trump’s admirers like his “passion.” They like his tough talk. They like the fact that he will stand up to our enemies, that he is fearless, that he is what this country needs. But at the end of the day he is totally unproven in the political realm. He has no record of having ever run anything except as the CEO where he had a lot of power, power that is not analogous to being president.

I will concede that Trump would make a good president if he was running for the job in Russia. Then he could bully his way into doing what he wants, pick and choose which laws to observe, jail or kill his opponents, and be the dictator that Putin has become. Makes me wonder if Putin is his role model.

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Oliver G. Halle
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June 25, 2015
Ben,

I have been consistent over the years in stating that it is the hypocrisy of conservatives concerning their lack of military service that I condemn. If you claim to be a Christian, I don't think it's unfair to expect you to attend a church and read the Bible. If you supported the Vietnam War, but found the time commitment or other personal reason for not at least joining the military, that troubles me. I don't ask anyone else to share my world view on this topic, but it's mine and I make no apologies for it.

I can't speak for MSNBC or any other media outlet. I just find it amusing that conservatives love bashing what they refer to as the "lame stream" media or liberal media, yet when it comes time for them to prove to be different, they aren't.

Trump will very likely make the top ten cut to participate in the debates, at least as of today. If that's the case, he may knock out someone who really should be there, like John Kasich. The electorate would not benefit from such occurrence. So, yes, Trump is worthwhile writing about, asking questions about his past, and ridiculing him where appropriate.

Thanks for taking the time to write.

The Agitator #173: The new face of chutzpah
by Oliver_Halle
June 18, 2015 11:15 AM | 640 views | 3 3 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There is a well-known anecdote that best defines the word “chutzpah” about the young man who murders his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court pleading that he is an orphan. Maurice “Hank” Greenburg may be the new face of chutzpah to describe his shameless and audacious lawsuit against the government.

Greenburg is the former CEO of AIG (American International Group), the large insurance company that the taxpayers bailed out to the tune of $85 billion during the financial crisis that began in 2007. AIG had insured vast numbers of the worthless collateralized debt securities (CDS) that brokers put together from the purchase of mortgages from lenders that were only too happy to transfer the debt. After all, lenders didn’t care if a borrower was qualified for a loan because the housing market was going to go up in value indefinitely, and they wouldn’t be stuck with any bad paper if they miscalculated. But miscalculate they did, and it led to the Great Recession.

When those holding the CDS fell back on their insurance with AIG, it turned out that AIG couldn’t even come close to covering the losses. CDS weren’t regulated by the federal government, and you can attribute the lack of regulation to the moneyed interests that were able to keep our elected representatives from passing regulations that would have prevented the crisis. Why not? Our Republican officials repeatedly tell us that we need less regulation, that it would be good for business, that it would grow America’s economy. AIG was living proof of what prosperity looks like---until the house of cards collapsed.

The Bush and Obama administrations saw the looming worldwide financial catastrophe if AIG failed, if it could not meet its obligations. To prevent this from occurring the government took over eighty percent of the company’s interest with an $85 billion infusion of cash that grew to $185 billion and ninety-two percent government ownership .

What’s important to note is that many pension funds, municipalities, investors, and private individuals had money tied up in what they believed was guaranteed because of AIG. The ripple effect of letting AIG go under would have trickled down to countless households. As distasteful as the bailout was, and there were good arguments against it, it did have the desirable result of preventing things from becoming exponentially worse.

Greenberg and his fellow shareholders were not happy about the bailout, alleged that the government took their interests without just compensation, and sought $40 billion in compensation from the taxpayers. Never mind that AIG would almost certainly have gone bankrupt had the government not stepped. (AIG has since repaid the money, and the government has sold its shares.) In the U.S. Court of Claims, a judge ruled that the government had overreached, but that Greenberg, et al are entitled to no damages. Greenberg has stated that he will appeal the decision.

Greenberg is someone that earned what he got the old fashioned way: he worked for it. He is a decorated soldier who served in combat in WW II. Somewhere along the way, though, his moral compass began to only point south. It became all about him and the money. He is only the most recent to make a public fool of himself, to spit in the face of the taxpayers who rescued his company. I recall Rush Limbaugh defending bankers that took taxpayer bonuses from bailout money because their employment contracts included bonus provisions.

I wonder how many of these low-lifes, the Greenbergs and their ilk, can justify their hypocrisy of taking public money after they were outed as proven failures. They are also probably among those who criticize the down and out who get crumbs from government programs like food stamps. Corporate welfare for them, cake for the suckers who are stuck with the bill. And so far not a peep from any elected official about the attempted raid on the public treasury.

(A shout-out to Pat, a reader of this blog who came over to me at the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association lunch on Tuesday, to say that she enjoys my commentaries. Pat is a woman who served in Vietnam, and I appreciate knowing that there are some like-minded thinkers in Cobb County who didn’t stay at home during the war. I also am heartened that there are now nine people in Cobb County who share some of my world view. Thank you, Pat!)

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Ben Twomey
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June 20, 2015
Yes, you are a true conservative. Still a tad left of me but necessarily a true conservative.

I didn't know anyone questioned it.

The Agitator #172: It's MY right!
by Oliver_Halle
June 09, 2015 10:30 AM | 588 views | 3 3 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Last week Georgia’s “guns anywhere” law, enacted in 2014 and applicable to airports, was tested at Hartsfield-Jackson IA. A Second Amendment Advocate paraded through the airport with an AR-15 and hundred round drum. This man seemed troubled that the police would dare ask him any questions about sporting the weapon in such surroundings, that as long as he had a legal right to possess it where he did and otherwise didn’t create any sort of suspicion of doing something wrong, he should have been left alone.

First, a police officer has as much right to ask someone a question as anyone else. If the person isn’t being detained in the legal sense, then he can walk away. So like it or not, the police have First Amendment rights, too. So many people who are absolute about defending the Second Amendment are less than supportive of other of our constitutional rights. I shake my head in amazement every time someone exercises his right to remain silent or right to counsel, and so called “constitutionalists” will say that if the person had nothing to hide he wouldn’t hide behind those rights. Lois Lerner, formerly with the IRS, is just one high profile person who comes to mind concerning this, but it happens daily throughout the country.

I can’t argue with the guns everywhere law other than to disagree with it. I wonder how high the paranoia index would go up if a couple of hundred people carried one of these firearms into the rotunda or other crowded surroundings. If just one of these carriers let loose, accidently or intentionally, one can imagine what would happen next. The math isn’t complicated---there would be a lot of bullets let loose very quickly. Those with law enforcement and combat experience well know the confusion that follows from the suddenness of a weapon going off, the incredibly loud noise, the smoke, and panic. In the mix of all that, there may be others carrying concealed weapons who probably wouldn’t have any idea who the one bad guy is out of the mass chaos and would likely be returning fire wherever they thought the shots were emanated.

Being around guns the better part of my life, one thing that I have learned from personal experience is that even trained people can make mistakes. I was present when an FBI agent, inside an office, fired a weapon that he thought was unloaded. I almost lost a foot from an accidental discharge on my Swift Boat when one of my crew members pulled the trigger on an M-16 without meaning to. A similar incident happened on the firearms range. Ask any law enforcement officer, and my guess is that each can tell stories about accidental discharges. How many recall the Cobb County firearms instructor, in a firearms class, who killed a police recruit by accident? The story is not unique.

Yet lawmakers who support the “guns anywhere” law somehow feel justified in restricting firearms at places like the state capitol and Cobb County government buildings, provided that a screening process is in place. In other words, if all guns, excluding law enforcement, are barred in these places, then it’s okay. Looking back at some of the more recent mass shootings, they have occurred mostly in restaurants, schools, and college campuses, but much fewer in government buildings where everyone is screened. Why don’t the representatives who support such liberal firearms carry laws just carry their own weapons to their government offices and eliminate the cost of all the metal detectors and extra police security? After all, the one thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun--at least that’s what we are told.

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Ed From Connecticut
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June 14, 2015
Guns for the purposes of protection may be a valid idea. Walking around an airport with a gun not concealed is not Firearms are not a joke and those who treat them as jokes whether legally possessed or not are a danger to the community.

The Agitator #171: Mr. Lee's latest folly
by Oliver_Halle
June 02, 2015 10:00 AM | 684 views | 1 1 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

On May 27th, the MDJ published a letter from Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, in which Mr. Lee explained why he supports the construction of a fitness center for county employees. As has become Mr. Lee’s wont, we are once again told that it won’t cost the taxpayers any money. Cobbians by now are used to Mr. Lee’s ability to build a stadium, a bridge, a bus rapid transit system, hire a new aide at a six figure salary---and more---all without any additional revenue. (To be clear, I don’t oppose much of what Mr. Lee wants to do for the county; I oppose his obfuscations and other tactics to achieve his goals.)

Mr. Lee cites some figures to support his argument that healthcare costs have dropped since the county implemented a “comprehensive wellness program.” My first question is whether we are talking about correlation or causation. How many employees are taking advantage of the program? Are they adhering to nutrition and exercise regimens that I assume professionals in the health field have provided to each employee? Are there records to show what percentage of employees have taken advantage of the wellness program, and is the county recording whether each employee is following the regimen?

In building the fitness center, has any thought been given to liability issues? Will there be someone available in case of a medical emergency? Has the county attorney provided an opinion concerning whether an individual can legally waive any negligence that could occur associated with the center or its equipment? Will there be a way to monitor and record who uses the facility in case of a medical emergency or a later legal claim for an injury? Every gym I have ever belonged to does this. At the McCleskey-East Cobb YMCA, I have been present on any number of occasions when there was a medical emergency. Staff immediately provided help and called 911, which never failed to respond within minutes.

In the Marietta area you can’t throw a stone without hitting a gym or fitness center. Membership fees are all over the map, but there is a facility that will fit any interested person’s budget and needs. It would seem to make financial sense to not only let county employees decide what is most suitable for them, but also to help our local businesses who pay a lot of taxes to our community.

My guess is that Mr. Lee is not very familiar with the culture attending gym/fitness center memberships. I have been a gym rat for 40 years, starting in Greenville, SC, Manhattan, Atlanta, and the YMCA in Marietta. There is a common denominator to all of them: only serious people regularly use the facilities. January is always crowded because of the Christmas gifts and New Year’s resolutions, but invariably the overwhelming majority of new members quickly drop off. Considering that the Cobb fitness center that Mr. Lee is building will draw from a relatively small number of people, you can almost bank on it that the center will be empty or hardly used most of the time.

If Mr. Lee was really all that concerned about health and fitness, he would put the money toward upgrading or providing equipment for police and firefighters. First of all, their jobs demand that they be fit, and it is fair for the taxpayers to help them achieve that goal. Also, with the odd hours these first responders work, it makes sense to have facilities at their stations and precincts. And these folks do work out and do maintain fitness. They know that their lives and other people’s lives may depend on it.

Mr. Lee, allow me to suggest looking into a YMCA membership for yourself. You are eligible for the senior discount, which is substantial, and you have so many options to choose from to get into shape. Rebecca Shipley is the Y director, a fellow Marietta Kiwanian, who I’m sure would be glad to talk to you. I would guarantee that if you took it seriously you would drop down a few suit sizes.

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Scott Chadwick
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June 02, 2015
I wrote a letter to the MDJ about this--the content was "How do you spell "gobbledygook"? It was not selected for publication, but a later letter by one R.S. Pino in June 2nd's op-ed page sets some very cogent requirements that should be implemented as a matter of course.

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Halle that the money would be much better spent in upgrading the workout facilities for the CCPD and the CCFD.

I wonder if there is anything in the plan for the "fitness center" that includes Bus Rapid Transit?

The Agitator #170: Which is it?
by Oliver_Halle
May 27, 2015 11:00 AM | 725 views | 1 1 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Construction of the Keystone Pipeline was hugely controversial during the 2012 presidential election and for some time afterwards. It seems like a year or more has passed without much, if any mention of it. There were so many issues associated with the pipeline that I could only wonder how many lawyers joined the one percent class.

Very briefly, TransCanada, a Canadian energy company, has wanted since 2005 to build an oil pipeline from Alberta to the gulf coast where there are a number of refineries. Proponents argued any number of reasons in support to include safety, speed, lower cost to move oil, helping to make us energy independent, and the creation of lots of temporary and permanent jobs. Opponents countered with concerns about the environment, substantially fewer jobs than projected, that most of the oil would not go to the U.S. but into the world market, and the very unpopular taking of land from farmers in the U.S. through the legal process of eminent domain.

I suspect that the issue that strikes closest to home, especially Republicans, is eminent domain. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo vs. City of New London, upheld the constitutional power of the government to take the home of a longtime owner and transfer ownership to a private entity that would develop the land and increase the tax base. Many states thereafter passed laws to limit the power of governments to exercise such property seizures. Georgia was one of them.

I had many discussions with conservatives about Keystone. All supported building the pipeline for the aforementioned reasons. When I asked about the farmers who would be affected, the response was, in effect, that the greater good superseded their property interests. Too much upside, not enough downside, they said.

Now comes a similar situation, but one close to home. Actually, it strikes directly at home---our state of Georgia. The AJC reported a week ago that Texas based Kinder-Morgan wants to build a 360 mile pipeline from Jacksonville, FL to a storage facility in Belton, SC. Many of the same arguments in support of the Keystone pipeline were used in this instance.

Keep in mind that many of our own elected officials on the state and federal levels were behind Keystone, bashed Obama unmercifully for opposing it, but now are on the other side.

The Georgia Department of Transportation, according to the AJC article, stated…”’that there is substantial evidence showing that the pipeline would not constitute a public convenience or necessity.”’ “It said there is little evidence of increasing fuel demand in Georgia despite a growing population, and it questioned whether the pipeline would reduce the price of fuel in the region.” It appears that the opponents have adopted many of the same points that the Keystone opposition had articulated.

I hear frequently that there are certain litmus issues that identify one as a conservative, and failing the test either makes one a RINO, liberal, progressive, or Democrat. I want to go back to my Republican roots, but am confused by conflicting ideologies that seem to depend more on whose ox is being gored at the moment than on intellectual honesty and consistency. The Keystone versus Kinder-Morgan controversies is one case in point. The other is the conservative support (not all) for taxpayer money to support a multi-billion dollar business, one that is highly successful and profitable---the Atlanta Braves move to Cobb County---just because of the “promise” of how it will lift all boats with the high tide of money expected from the Braves. Conservatives seem to love free markets as long as it serves their personal purposes.

How many people even know about the Georgia pipeline proposal? How many editorials from conservative media have opined about it? Same for the tax subsidies for the Braves. I haven’t figured out a name yet to describe the counterpart of the pejorative “lame stream” media to represent the voices of silence from the conservative side. In the meanwhile, the silence continues to be deafening.

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Ben Twomey
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May 27, 2015
I can see many benefits to the Keystone and almost as many drawbacks. I do not subscribe to the theory that the "public good" trumps individual rights.

The Kinder-Morgan scheme, on the other hand, is sorely lacking in advantages. except to Kinder-Morgan.

The Braves Stadium fiasco is a bi-partisan orgy of putting the interests of a few over the interests of the many and gilding it with the material they clean up after a bullfight.

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