The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #171: Mr. Lee's latest folly
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The Agitator #71 - Guantanamo
by Oliver_Halle
May 06, 2013 10:44 AM | 1571 views | 1 1 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The president has stated again that he wants to close the Guantanamo prison, that it is costly, and makes the U.S. look bad in the eyes of the rest of world.  He campaigned on this promise in 2008 but could not get enough votes to see it through.  Here’s hoping that this time he has better success. 

I’ve not seen the figures associated with operating the prison facility, but I have read that it is expensive because of its remote location, the need to fly everyone in and out that has a reason to be there, supplying the logistics to operate the facility, and more.  In these times of budget constraints we should consider these costs and ask ourselves if they can be justified.  For all the talk about money being cut from the Pentagon and national defense, this is a savings that makes sense.  I would much prefer to see the savings diverted to the Pentagon’s more immediate needs. 

The argument I hear most for keeping Guantanamo open is that the prisoners are too dangerous to keep locked up on the mainland.  There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support it.  These prisoners could be very safely lodged in any one of the maximum security facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  I am unaware of a single escape from a federal maximum security prison over the past fifty years or more.  Another argument is that somehow these inmates, who have been convicted of nothing, are more dangerous than our own homegrown variety.  It’s not worth responding to such nonsense.  I can only say that a handful of Islamic adherents, some of whom might very well be dangerous, would be no match for most of the hardcore residents of these institutions.  In fact, their lives would be exponentially worse than Guantanamo because they would no longer be surrounded by their fellow countrymen. They would also discover that U.S. prison conditions are much harsher than at Guantanamo. 

Any number of the Guantanamo detainees have been held for years without the benefit of basic due process.  I wonder how many are there because a neighbor, ex-spouse, personal enemy, et al, took advantage of an opportunity to fabricate phony allegations.  I saw this after 9/11 right here in the USA.  The FBI call center received countless calls from people out to settle personal scores.  At least the people being accused went through different levels of filtering to ensure that the criminal justice system wasn’t used for someone’s idea of getting revenge.  I wonder if any doubters would feel differently if they or one of their family members visiting or working in a foreign country was arrested and detained indefinitely based on false allegations, and to compound it, could not get any kind of due process hearing.  Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that every major convicted terrorist in this country has pled guilty or been convicted after a trial in federal court---and received a very long sentence.  There hasn’t been a single incident of attempted escape or some kind of terrorist action to impede the process.  That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but I think over the years our law enforcement agencies have learned a lot about security.  Our courts are a model of fairness to the world.  We have always kept them open to the public so that those interested can not only follow the proceedings, but serve as guarantors through the media and First Amendment that the system works as it should.   

Secret trials and proceedings out of view of the public have no place under our Constitution and open government.  One of the reasons so many people have immigrated to the United States is because of our openness, our lack of fear to show our strengths and weaknesses to the whole world.  Keeping Guantanamo open works against everything that we as Americans believe in.  This should not be a political issue; it is one of the things that defines us as Americans, who we are, and what our values are.

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Kevin Foley
May 08, 2013
Oliver, the GOP House won't let Obama close it. Another Bush-Cheney "legacy".

The Agitator #70
by Oliver_Halle
April 26, 2013 02:43 PM | 1709 views | 2 2 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I never ceased to be amazed at how a crisis produces the best and the worst in humans.  As I wrote last week, all the regional rivalries and politics were put aside to come together as one America.  The guardians of respective law enforcement turfs joined forces and brought the Boston bombing case to a quick and successful resolution.  For a brief period in time things couldn’t get any better. 

As the case drew to a close, at least in identifying and apprehending the one remaining subject, things returned to normal.  I got a kick out of one conservative radio talk show host with his usual union bashing.  What he probably didn’t realize is that the Boston Police Department, like most police departments in the northeast, is unionized.  The union bashers usually hurl  insults at the unionized workers with pejoratives of how lazy they are, that they are underworked and overpaid, can’t be fired, etc.  (To be clear I am well aware of union abuses, most now in the past and which needed to be corrected.  The pendulum of power had drifted too far at one point to the unions advantage, but that same pendulum has swung in the other direction in our history too, and is in that direction now---a subject for another blog.)  Can anyone say that the police officers in Boston acted with anything less than full professionalism despite being unionized? 

Then there was the conservative talk show host with absolutely no background in law enforcement, the study of law, or experience with the criminal justice system, who condemned the “liberals”, “lefties”, ACLU and anyone else who had a problem with not giving the surviving terrorist Miranda warnings.  Most criminals in the custody of law enforcement waive their rights.  Surprisingly, even thugs experienced with the system will very commonly waive their rights.  As I write this I understand that the Boston terrorist asked for a lawyer after he was giving Miranda warnings.  What I am unclear about is whether those warnings were given to him by the magistrate judge at the hospital at the terrorist’s initial appearance.  While we don’t really know how much the terrorist has revealed, we do know that a very strong prosecutable case can be made without a peep from him.  We also know from a very thorough investigation by the FBI, CIA, and other law enforcement agencies if these two terrorists had any sponsorship from foreign countries or al –Qaida. 

The same “expert” on Miranda and the Obama administration’s failure to understand the law in this area, also argued that the terrorist should be water-boarded and tried by a military tribunal.  What he doesn’t know is that the federal courts have dished out justice far harsher than the tribunals have to date, and that the trials have occurred much more swiftly.  As for his advocacy of water-boarding I have to wonder how he considers himself such a great American with his disregard for using torture as a legitimate technique to get information.  I know many out there don’t consider it torture, but I do and have seen it done when I went through survival school.  A local journalist once wrote that he did not consider water-boarding torture.  I found a half dozen people who offered to pony up $10 each, after the first two seconds, for each second he could hold out undergoing the treatment.  I even suggested that we make it a big news event so that he could prove that it wasn’t torture.  He declined. 

We need perspective on what happened in Boston.  I am all in favor of executing anyone who plants bombs or engages in mass murders of any kind.  But I also believe that if we are to call ourselves a nation of laws, a nation that has been the envy of the world because we do follow the rule of law, then we must never stoop to the tactics of the evildoers and ignore one of the things that has made our country so great.  I might add that the Waco, TX ammonia plant explosion that occurred the same day as the Boston bombings killed far more people and did exponentially more property damage.  I heard not one peep from the same radio pundits about how safety regulations were seemingly not observed, and that no inspections had occurred for years.  I guess it’s because safety regulations kill jobs, not people.    


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a writer
May 03, 2013
I think I'd like to try this so I can make an informed decision.

The Agitator #69
by Oliver_Halle
April 19, 2013 12:43 PM | 1623 views | 2 2 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Boston Marathon bombing showed the worst that could happen in a free society, and it highlighted the best in Americans---the first responders, all those who immediately jumped in to help the injured at the risk to their own lives because of the possibility of other bombs, the doctors and medical staffs, and so much more. Watching all the law enforcement resources and expertise come together to find the perpetrator(s) was truly amazing. And from coast to coast, border to border, Americans were all Bostonians. I’m not sure that any other country with the geographical differences and political rivalries like the United States has a record of uniting during a time of crisis. The Kaiser, Hitler, Tojo, and many others found out when they tested the resolve of Americans.

Regardless of who or what group committed this bombing, we will soon be faced with another issue because of similar terrorist acts over the decades. That issue is the loss of freedoms that we still enjoy that could be sacrificed on the altar of safety and security. I recall a former congressman giving a speech about this conflict, and a person in the audience challenged the speaker saying that he would rather give up his freedoms to live without fear of some random attack. I wonder how many Americans feel that way. I certainly don’t. Over a lifetime we have been like the frog that is slowly boiled to death without realizing it. I recall the days when people actually used cash for most things. In any number of establishments today you are looked at like you have three heads if you offer to pay cash. And depending on the circumstances, paying cash might generate an IRS or law enforcement inquiry. Suspicious Transaction Reports that banks and other institutions file with the government can have an individual playing defense if an inquiry is begun. Every phone call, text, and email can be retrieved. GPS systems can reveal a lot of personal information. Credit card payments leave a detailed history of purchases. And on and on and on.

So what does all this mean? My guess is that there will be some legislators who will try to get laws passed that will further restrict our freedom. I can see the day when all backpacks will have to be transparent. Many venues don’t allow backpacks inside. But what about the rotundas of airports where everyone has a suitcase or backpack---all unexamined before going through security. If a bomb is detonated by a cell phone, will some law or regulation mandate that no cell phones be permitted inside any sporting event, concert, arena, or other place with a large gathering? Where will each terrorist incident take us in limiting the freedoms we still take for granted? Will the day come when no matter where you go, including stores, that you will go through an airport type search? I hope not. We as Americans have to be willing to accept some of the risks of enjoying our way of life without sacrificing our way of life to be safe, something that can never be one hundred percent. If that happens the terrorists of all stripes will have won, and Americans will come to study the Constitution and our history as better times, as a memory gone with the wind.

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Barbara L.
April 19, 2013
I, for one, will want to run more races, Oliver. (I hope at this point, I can call you this?)

After 9/11, my first reaction was to book a trip to Boston--after the airports opened again, of course--so that I could fly into Logan.

I think our government can use common sense, but I personally have no desire to trade freedom for security.

On this, I think we have finally found a firm point of agreement between us. :)

The Agitator #68
by Oliver_Halle
April 11, 2013 02:03 PM | 1552 views | 1 1 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Republican Party is trying to find its moorings and figure out how to take back the White House and Senate. Statistically, the Republicans are in shape to win the Senate in 2014. There are more Democrats retiring from that chamber, and the six year mark for an incumbent president usually results in the voters looking for a change. My guess is that 2016 will be the year that will determine whether the Republicans have any meaningful expectation to regain its power and influence. Between now and then they will have to come together and choose who their leaders and spokespersons will be. Then the chosen will set the course for the party on social issues, taxes, spending priorities, healthcare, immigration, guns, and other areas of interest to the American people.

In my lifetime I don’t recall the Republican Party being so divided. Anyone in the party that dares to stray from its “core” values is labeled a RINO. But who gets to decide who is a RINO? What makes one person’s views more adherent to the party than another’s? Without question Eisenhower would be considered a RINO by most of today’s Republicans. (Back then Republicans like Joe McCarthy and his acolytes even accused Eisenhower of being a communist sympathizer.) Those who look at Reagan’s record carefully and airbrush out the mythologies that have been built around him would consider him a RINO too. Yet in my opinion both were good presidents that confronted the issues of their times. No politician will ever make everyone happy all the time, no more than in a marriage do the respective partners agree on everything.

Illustrative of the internecine feuding within the Republican Party are some of the upcoming primaries in Georgia and elsewhere. The 2012 presidential primary was as nasty and divisive as it could get as most of the candidates tried to outdo each other in demonstrating who was more extreme on any given issue. Also illustrative is a local writer who summed up well, from his point of view, why the Republicans are becoming more divided. The writer says that there can be no compromise on homosexual marriages. His basis is a belief that some truths are absolute, and that absolute truths can never evolve. Since he is a self-professed Christian, I wonder what he thinks about the evolving truths of the Bible. Polygamy and slavery were accepted in the Old Testament (and slavery in the New Testament as well), violations of the Sabbath and children disrespecting parents were punishable by death, and other examples. If truths were so absolute with people of faith there wouldn’t be so many denominations that disagree over abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, and other social issues.

If one issue Republicans think it’s worth fighting to protect that issue above all else, so be it. I don’t think I am outside mainstream America in being concerned about our economy, jobs, and other issues that affect all of our day to day lives. I too worry about the continuing breakdown of the American family but attribute causes other than homosexual marriages. I am amazed that a larger priority doesn’t focus on spousal abuse, child cruelty, and the causes of poverty. There was a time that southern Democrats were determined to maintain Jim Crow laws because they protected traditional southern values. Those Democrats became the Dixicrats of the Democratic Party. In the 1960s they began the trend of morphing into Republicans. The rest of the country moved in a different direction. If the Republicans choose to make social issues their number one priority, particularly southern Republicans, they could end up being marginalized like the Dixicrats. Time will tell if they represent the majority of thinking in the U.S., and if their world view will attract industry and jobs from other parts of the country and world.

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EM Buckner
April 11, 2013
Halle's well reasoned and well written piece leads me to wonder--again--why he is not in the print version of the MDJ while other far less consistent and thoughtful columnists are featured there.

Were I to add anything to this latest, it would be that the Republican Party has strayed ridiculously far from its origins in the mid- to late-19th century, when Republicans took the lead in struggling for the civil rights of racial minorities and women, in abolishing slavery, in opposing monopolistic capitalism, and in fiercely defending secularism and protecting religious liberty for all. --Ed B.

The Agitator #67
by Oliver_Halle
April 05, 2013 02:12 PM | 1542 views | 2 2 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

North Korea has been in the news recently with its threats to fire up their plutonium making facility, and to once again annihilate South Korea and the United States. If I took seriously some of the reactionaries on talk radio, these self-professed military know-it-alls (none come to mind that served in the armed forces) would have me building a nuclear bomb shelter like the 1950s. Make no mistake---I don’t doubt for a millisecond that North Korea could inflict some very deadly damage on its southern neighbor. Considering the number and proximity of the North’s missiles to Seoul, Seoul would probably be obliterated if those missiles were unleashed.

In my blog last week I asked the question of the Iraq war defenders why Iraq needed to be conquered but not North Korea? Using the same criteria that was applied to the Iraq invasion, North Korea had all of them plus one: they actually had the atomic bomb. I’m not suggesting that Bush should have preemptively attacked North Korea, only that he used specious reasons to go into Iraq that he didn’t apply to North Korea. I don’t recall the reactionaries ever challenging Bush for these different standards to similar situations. But Obama is the one at the helm now, and as usual, because it’s Obama the reactionaries will go after him, even if he declared that he loved his mother. One self-proclaimed reactionary pundit said on the radio today that North Korea’s threats amount to an act of war, and that Obama should have responded accordingly. It’s not enough for these tough talkers that Obama flew stealth bombers to South Korea to drop dummy bombs on an unoccupied island off its shore. It’s not enough that Obama has implemented the Pentagon’s recommendations to position the navy’s anti-missile warships to defend the South, and to place anti-missile batteries on Guam. One radio expert didn’t think much of the dummy bombing run. I wonder if the Chinese Air Force was to simulate an attack on some Central American island, whether that same expert would be concerned. Only a full blown preemptive strike would satisfy these big talking strategists who make more money by far with their brilliant insight than any admiral or general that just might know a little more than these guys.

I have no way of knowing what secret weapons the United States has. I suspect that we have some very powerful conventional weapons that might obviate the need for nukes in a lot of situations. I don’t know, but suspect that we have monitoring technology that is keeping up in real time how serious the threats from the North really are. I also suspect that we have some military satellites that can do things that are out of science fiction stories. What I do know is that these war mongering talking heads don’t know any more than I do. And if they do, they and whoever leaked to them should be prosecuted. My opinions about the possibility of secret capabilities is based on having been part of things at other times in other places with the service and government. Some of the things our country could do was dazzling, and it is understandable that those not in the know would be concerned that we might not be taking the appropriate action in a given situation. But that is not the same as some of the treasonous calumnies that have been said about Obama.

By far and away Obama has shown strength as commander-in-chief in ways that we never got from Republican administrations. Reagan never retaliated for the deaths of the 240 marines killed in the Lebanon barracks attack. Bush could have used the torpedoing of the USS COLE as grounds to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen. He didn’t. Obama has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia---and who knows where else---to pursue terrorists. And while I agree that it is a fair debate on whether the president is doing this without certain due process protections, I find it remarkable that the reactionaries are suddenly concerned about the constitutional rights of terrorists. Considering our economic situation right now, if there weren’t other reasons not to preemptively go to war with North Korea (and likely bring in China), the reactionaries who are always concerned about spending might want to consider how much it could cost them in taxes if this got out of control. And when it comes to taxes, reactionaries listen.

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Oliver G. Halle
April 08, 2013

Thanks very much for your comment and past support. And I also want to thank you for being one of the few who is not afraid to publish your name. Allow me to try and briefly address your concerns. First, we are going to have to agree to disagree on whether I have cited facts to support my conclusions. As for how and why we got into the Iraq war, all of the issues I raised were well known by the administration at the time the decision to preemptively strike was made. That is documented.

I use the term reactionaries more frequently because it counter-balances the labels "lefties", "socialists", "libs", and others that most, but not all, anonymous bloggers use. Personally, I don't like the use of labels because they really don't fit. If you doubt that, look at the internecine disputes in the Republican Party today as to who is or isn't a RINO.

I think that it is important to know just how we got into the economic mess we are in today, why we warred with Iraq, and more. We can have an honest debate whether the Bush administration is to blame for most of it or not. I believe they are and have repeatedly written factual accounts to support my opinions. Reasonable people can differ and disagree, and that's what makes America great.

Lastly, if you read the blogs that people write to not only the MDJ commentators, but also to other opinion writers and below various stories, you know that some of the most vicious, nasty, personal, vindictive things are said---and most hidden behind anonymity. If you listen to conservative talk radio, and I do, you will also hear the same.

In principle I agree with you that ad hominem attacks are inappropriate. But sometimes when responding to some nastiness out there, to be very honest---it just feels good. I hope you will feel free to agree or disagree with me. Debate is good, distills the best ideas, and takes us a step closer to truth.

The Agitator #66
by Oliver_Halle
March 27, 2013 09:27 AM | 1581 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The Iraq war is behind us, at least our military participation.  Some pundits still believe that our involvement was right, necessary, and appropriate, and that  whether there was WMD is just tired talking points.  I couldn’t disagree more.  There were any number of prominent conservatives who opposed going to war, George Will and William F. Buckley among them.  Marine General Anthony Zinni was a prominent opponent, a man who served with distinction in Vietnam and who was intimately familiar with the politics of the Middle East.  Both supporters and opponents of the war can cite any number of reputable people for their side, and I only mention these three because there are those who will name well known liberals who supported the war.  It doesn’t matter.

The WMD was the main reason for invading Iraq.  Two sources in particular were relied on: Ahmed Chalabi and a German asset known as Curve Ball.  Chalabi, an Iraqi national, had been in exile in London for many years and on the CIA payroll.  He had a very clear personal agenda, and that was to replace Saddam Hussein as the new Iraq leader.  Some of our own intelligence agencies warned against taking Chalabi seriously, but the White House and Defense Department weren’t interested in hearing anything but what they wanted to hear.  The Germans said that Curve Ball was not a reliable source and a known liar.  But let’s look at other evidence.  The NSA (National Security Agency) had Iraq saturated with electronic vacuum sweepers and monitored virtually every communication into and out of that country.  Yet the NSA never picked up any serious evidence that Saddam had the WMD.  (One of the colossal failures of intelligence was that the CIA did not know that Saddam’s WMD bluff was directed at his more immediate enemy, Iran.)  Consider too that our satellites covered all of Iraq and then some, and there is no evidence that they detected movement of WMD to Syria  as some have alleged.  The other reason for going to war was based on a photograph purportedly showing Mohammed Atta (911 hijacker leader) meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in the spring of 2001.  The FBI conclusively proved, before the invasion of Iraq, that the meeting had not occurred.  Again, those hell bent on war ignored the evidence and proceeded.  Some still believe that we also went into Iraq to pursue al-Qaeda.  Saddam and al-Qaeda had common enemies---Israel and the United States---but Saddam was a secularist, something that was at complete odds with Osama bin Laden.  Had Saddam armed al-Qaeda he knew that they would turn those same weapons back on him at the right time.  Al-Qaeda only became a force in Iraq after the U.S. invasion and overthrow of Saddam.  

Years after the war began George Bush said that no evidence of the WMD had turned up.  He justified the war instead by claiming that it was worth the price to rid the world of a tyrant  who used chemical and biological warfare against his own people, and that the Iraqi people were now free.  No doubt Saddam used those horrific weapons against fellow Iraqis, but to ignore that he never used them against Israel or the United States is to ignore the reality  of Saddam who was a survivor; he knew that his country would be annihilated if he had.  The same apologists who believe that getting rid of the dictator was worth the price never, ever mention Kim Jong Il, the then dictator of North Korea.  And North Korea had the bomb, had committed genocide, had starved its people, had blown up commercial airplanes, and was/is an immediate threat to South Korea and Japan.  Yet for some reason North Korea didn’t make the cut to go to war with to rid the world of this horrible human being and to liberate their people.  The reasons should be self evident.  

It won’t be that many years from now when the parades and accolades for our Iraq veterans will be a memory.  Older generations will want to forget and younger ones won’t care.  Those of us who experienced Vietnam never really went through it to the extent these warriors will.  And that’s because we knew it was a hated war, a war that divided the country, and we didn’t expect anything when we came home.  (Ronald Reagan made being a Vietnam Veteran an honor, something I will always be grateful for.)  The cost in lives, destruction of families, lifetime physical and mental wounds, and the staggering VA costs over the next 60 years must be factored into whether a war fought for all the wrong reasons was worth the price.  
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The Agitator #65
by Oliver_Halle
March 21, 2013 04:17 PM | 1444 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
It’s financial crunch time again in Washington as our elected representatives either pass another continuing resolution by March 27th, or they submit a budget approved by both Houses of Congress.  Probably a safe bet that there will be another continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.  But the same congress is also trying to address the hardships of the $85 billion that sequestration will take out of the economy.  Today’s newspapers (Wednesday, March 20, 2013) reported that both sides are trying to restore spending in places that serve their interests, but cutting deeper in other places in order to comply with the $85 billion figure.  It’s a simple zero sum game with some winners and some losers.  The irony is how hard the Republicans are fighting to protect their interests despite all the proclamations of the past that all federal spending has been too high, that there is too much waste and fat in all departments, and that all agencies could take a hit of at least ten percent or more.  (Again, I leave Democrats out of this discussion because they are known by the reactionaries as the tax and spend party.)  

One of the Republican arguments has always been that government should be run like a business.  I don’t buy into that line of thinking for a lot of reasons, but it’s still a fair argument that we should debate.   There are several ongoing opportunities for these proponents to support their business model.  But brace yourself, dear reader, for the big surprise when you learn that it’s more convenient to mouth a grand idea than put your political career on the line and actually vote like a statesman.  Example one is the U.S. Postal Service.  They are going broke for the reasons we all know.  The Postal Service has proposed ending Saturday mail delivery and closing a lot of post offices that serve only a handful of people at a cost disproportionate to the number of people in the area.  But there is some serious pushback going on, and any number of Republicans (and Democrats) are resisting the cost cutting measures that the Postal Service insists it needs to balance its budget.  My bet as of this writing is that Saturday mail delivery will continue, and that the number of proposed post office closings will be substantially reduced from the list.  So much for supporting a business model for a failing concern.  

Then there are the military bases.  It was reported this week that the congress will almost certainly not vote to create another BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) committee to review the long list of bases that the various branches want to close.  Sequestration has brought out a  lot of flag waving, about how the president is hollowing out the military, that we won’t be prepared for the next big mission, etc.  As I’ve written before in my commentaries, the money from cutting antiquated bases, military social spending, excessive travel, and extravagant treatment of flag rank officers, could be used to enhance the fighting capabilities of the uniformed services.  The reality, though, is that bases and unneeded weapons systems are nothing more than jobs programs that our elected representatives support in return for votes.  It has always amazed me to hear some bloviating congressman or senator talk about the need for a base or weapon made in their state or district that the experts in the Pentagon oppose as unnecessary.  In this awful economy the pain has to be felt everywhere, and protecting special interests under the guise of the flag is wrong.  If these reps will  admit that what they want to defend is government job programs, the voters could decide if that honesty deserves sending them back to congress.

Another example of Republican hypocrisy is the number of special tax breaks or tariffs that are given to special interests.  Free market advocacy makes for great campaign speeches, but in reality the Republicans no more believe in free markets than communists.  It’s a matter of degree.  These special interest groups don’t want to compete; they want the government to help them eliminate their competitors or get an edge over their competition.  And tax breaks and tariffs are the way to do it.  Note the flag waving that is used to defend the breaks the favored get.  But I’ll bet that many remember that American cars only improved once the Japanese were able to produce a quality product that our native manufacturers could no longer keep out.  Funny how that works.
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The Agitator #64
by Oliver_Halle
March 14, 2013 10:53 AM | 1635 views | 4 4 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Two separate stories about restaurants were in the local media today (Wednesday, March 13, 2013), one in the Atlanta newspaper, the other the MDJ.  The first was about Manuel’s Tavern, the landmark political gathering spot in Atlanta, and the other Tommy’s Sandwich Shop on the Marietta Square.  Both were more or less human interest stories about the different costs associated with doing business and trying to make it in a tough economy.  I think it is fair to suggest that there were some political overtones between the lines deserving some observation and comment.  

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #63
by Oliver_Halle
March 10, 2013 09:12 AM | 1483 views | 3 3 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #62
by Oliver_Halle
March 01, 2013 04:22 PM | 1509 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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


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

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