The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #148: The Cuba decision
December 22, 2014 03:00 PM | 162644 views | 0 0 comments | 2878 2878 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #128: Soap that leaves you feeling dirtier
by Oliver_Halle
August 07, 2014 09:40 AM | 1380 views | 2 2 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There is a soap opera playing out right now and estimated to last for another month. It is the bribery trial of former Republican Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, and his wife, Maureen. The two are right out of central casting. He wears his Christian faith on the outside by profession, although not apparently by deed. The governor was a litmus test conservative who once made it to the top tier of potential vice-presidential candidates. How hard the mighty fall.

Jonnie Williams, the star witness, met the governor during the 2009 campaign. Williams offered McDonnell use of his private jet, which was the beginning of their relationship. Williams is fabulously wealthy, and was trying to promote a non-prescription dietary supplement that had the potential to make him and his company enormous profits. Having the governor speak well of the product and suggest to key figures at the University of Virginia medical school, and other state agencies dealing with health issues, that they should look favorably on the supplement, was a part of Williams’ strategy. For this, Williams gave the governor and his wife things like a Rolex watch, use of his Ferrari, expensive golf outings, a shopping spree for Maureen at upscale Manhattan stores, paying a chunk for their daughter’s wedding---and much, much more. In other words, the governor is charged with accepting multiples of six figures worth of largess in return for official acts on behalf of Williams.

McDonnell has a strong pedigree that includes having served as an army officer, lawyer, state attorney general, and then governor. Amazingly, he didn’t seem to have any common sense to ask himself key questions about his “friend” Jonnie Williams: Why does he want to be my friend? What does he want from me? Does he expect me to use my influence in ways that would be wrong?

I knew some New York mobsters that had a strict policy of not dealing with anyone that they didn’t know since kindergarten. Sad to say, but McDonnell missed learning some real basic street knowledge that could have served him and the people of Virginia very well. Perhaps McDonnell and his wife were just two low life greedy persons, pretenders who wore high dollar suits and mink coats. The two were way overextended on their credit cards and leveraged to the hilt. Yet this governor had no problem talking about fiscal responsibility and propagating it as one of the key issues of the Republican Party.

The people of Virginia are fortunate to have a U.S. Attorney’s Office aggressive enough to pursue this case. Supreme Court rulings have made proving bribery and related cases much more difficult. This case isn’t over yet, and I am not going to predict the outcome. Juries can do anything. For sure, whether McDonnell and the First Lady are convicted, it has been an eye-opener to the sleaze that emanated from the Governor’s Mansion. Interesting too is that McDonnell was offered a face-saving plea deal that did not include a charge related to corruption. The government also agreed not to prosecute his wife. Instead, he rejected the offer, and his trial strategy is to suggest that his marriage was in trouble, that his wife conspired with Williams to do all the dastardly things without his knowledge. McDonnell is the new poster child for a standup guy while Maureen gets tossed over the cliff.

We are seeing a different variety of moral and ethical lapses at the same level in our own state. The previous governor took advantage of retroactive tax breaks that he promoted and that involved personal land deals. He also owned land next to a huge undeveloped forest and made governmental decisions concerning it that inured to his financial benefit. And more. None of it stopped Sonny Perdue from being reelected, and Nathan Deal is still the odds on favorite despite all the revelations of serious ethical lapses and what the polls currently show.

Corruption destroys faith in government. It tears away at our social contract of having a legal system that works for everyone equally. When that happens people resort to extra-judicial means to get justice, to level the playing field, and that leads to anarchy and violence. I hope that Governor McDonnell and his wife have the benefit of setting an example of what happens when you cross lines that are so obvious, that from prison they will write blogs to educate those whose moral and ethical compasses need degaussing.

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Kevin Foley
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August 08, 2014
McDonnell was the guy who wanted to sanction the rape of women seeking abortions using transvaginal probes.

Now he's finding out what that feels like, metaphorically of course.

These right wingers are such phonies.

The Agitator #127: Patriots and taxes
by Oliver_Halle
July 31, 2014 12:00 PM | 1027 views | 1 1 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I don’t like paying taxes any more than most people, but in times like today with all the turmoil in the Middle East and the Ukraine, by way of example, not limitation, I am happy to know that a good chunk of my money keeps America the stable country that it is. It’s not only defense, but our criminal and civil justice system, police and fire protection, highways and infrastructure, public schools, and so much more, that we take for granted and don’t consciously think about and what it all costs. I’ve worked with governments in countries where the police are corrupt, where a businessman has no hope of getting a contract enforced, where a truck has a hopeless time trying to navigate roads not worthy of being called a road, and where the armed forces are a façade. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, and so much of the rest of the world typify these problems.

As I’ve written many times in this space, I consider the current tax code morally bankrupt. Others can disagree, but I think to tax the labor of a person at a higher rate than one who makes a living on investments is wrong. I don’t have any original ideas on how to change the code, but I do know that there are people a lot smarter and more experienced about money than I who continue to come up with great tax revision ideas. But don’t look for any of them to be acted on by our Congress.

The latest gimmick that works for the powerful, not the W-2 guy, is a tax scheme called Inversion. It allows for a company to legally claim that it is owned by a foreign subsidiary, thereby shifting profits to a country with a lower tax rate. According to the economist Paul Krugman, the company doesn’t actually move anything overseas. So Walgreen won’t be moving its drugstores and employees to Zurich; only a paper transaction will occur. Adding up the cost of companies taking advantage of this tax dodge will cost the U.S. Treasury many billions of dollars. Krugman states that corporate taxes provide ten percent of the tax revenue to our treasury. If the 2014 budget in rounded numbers is $3.5 trillion, corporations pay $350 billion, about half the cost of defense.

For years it’s been argued that our corporate tax is the highest in the world. But this tax also provides for a myriad of deductions. GE is only one of any number of corporations that have paid no taxes in given years. Yet GE has made a ton of money from the tax payers for selling all sorts of products to the government. Also, again according to Krugman, the higher corporate tax rate offsets the favored treatment given investment income. When all the calculating is done and the revenue from various corporate tax dodges is added up, someone has to make up the shortfall. Invariably, the ones picking up the slack are the powerless, those with no “cash voices” to persuade their representatives that we need change.

I wonder if supporters of tax inversion would feel the same way if it could theoretically be done on a local level. Imagine if companies like Home Depot headquartered in Cobb County could do the same thing by taking advantage of having their property taxes shifted to a county or state where the rates are much lower. The impact on our schools, public safety, roads, courts, etc., would be catastrophic. You could be sure, though, that HD would expect the same quality police, fire and other services. Reducing this issue to where it hits home more directly I think puts it in perspective.

Lastly, I find it troubling that those with the most to gain, and lose, because of the things I’ve mentioned, find it okay to rely on our military to protect their interests, domestic and foreign, if they were to come under attack. They also rely on our federal courts to freeze the assets of countries that have not played nice, that have nationalized American businesses. Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia are just a few that come to mind. For these protections, for operating in a country that has an educated workforce, for our various infrastructure, it costs money, and in my opinion, in this instance, patriots are honorable people and entities that know not only the price of everything, but also the value---and are willing to pay for it.

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Rhett Writer
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July 31, 2014
Well put, Oliver. Whoever came up with that piece of idiotic nonsense needs a good old country whuppin'.


The Agitator #126: No Plan B
by Oliver_Halle
July 24, 2014 12:00 PM | 1138 views | 7 7 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

This week, just hours apart, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a key provision in the Affordable Care Act.  The language stated that federal subsidies were only available to insureds in states that had set up their own insurance exchanges.  In a precise reading of the statute the subsidies would not apply in states with no state exchanges and where the federal government filled in to provide the exchange.

The congressional drafters of the legislation wrote their obvious intent imprecisely, and the D.C. Court of Appeals held their feet to the fire and interpreted the language exactly as it read, i.e. to exclude subsidies where a state did not set up an insurance exchange.  The Fourth Circuit, in reviewing the congressional record, interpreted their intent by reviewing the entire ACA law, and held that the provision was also applicable to the federal exchange.  Both ways of analyzing the statutory language are legitimate, but the high court could be the ultimate decider of which will prevail.  Unless the D.C. Circuit overturns their decision on review, the likelihood is that the issue will go before the Supreme Court.

Conservatives rejoiced when the D.C. Court’s decision was announced a few hours before the Fourth Circuit’s.  To them it was another nail in the ACA coffin.  They want to kill Obamacare so badly they can taste it.  Yet in the recent primary election and runoff, most of those who ran on the promise of repealing the ACA didn’t do too well at the polls. It’s one thing to continually tear down someone else’s ideas, but it’s another when you have none of your own.

As most readers know, the ACA, under different names, was supported by Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and other conservatives and groups.  As evidence that it’s really about Obama more than the law, consider that the Republican House has yet to come up with one meaningful healthcare proposal of its own.  Sure, Congressman Tom Price touts his plan that would supersede the ACA and “work so much better”, but it’s fair to ask why it hasn’t even gotten a committee hearing.  The Republicans had six years under George W. Bush where they also had both houses of congress, and yet the only healthcare reform the American people got was the unwanted Medicare Part D, which is more costly to the taxpayers than the ACA according to the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office.  I think it’s fair to ask why they didn’t address the health insurance problem when they had a chance.  Same for tax and immigration reform.  We got nothing.

It’s too early to know how the latest court rulings will turn out.  But if the high court ultimately upholds the D.C. Court’s interpretation, the ACA could be substantially weakened, especially if the Republican House refuses to pass a revised provision that clarifies the original intent of the then Democratic congress.  That would mean a lot of people would no longer be able to afford to purchase insurance.  And that in turn would result in a proliferation of ER visits by indigents, something the ACA (and RomneyCare) was intended to get under control.  That begs the question: Do the Republicans have a Plan B for those who could lose their insurance?

The ACA includes specific wellness provisions.  This is a good thing, and healthy workers add to the productivity of our economy, which in turns increases the GDP.  Sick people are a drain.  It makes sense for people to have health insurance, work, and pay taxes that reduce the amount of the health insurance subsidies.  To go back to where we were before the ACA, where insurers could rescind policies for a variety of reasons, deny medical procedures and drugs because they were costly, not because a doctor said they were needed, would be a big mistake.  The focus should be on tinkering with the ACA to make it better each and every day, not to tear it down and rejoice when a court strikes a key provision.  I’ve always liked the man in the arena better than the critic who has no sweat equity in the fight.  Right now our representatives act more like spectators than the players we elected them to be.

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CobbCoGuy
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July 27, 2014
Hi Mr. Halle,

I must say; I'm taken aback. You actually addressed some of my points head on. And you were polite. I'm not accustomed to that.

Me? I'm just a working stiff. If remarks from an anonymous commenter have little or no credibility, then ignore them (me).

Anyhoo, you're exactly correct. Voters put the Democrats in the majority and they passed their bill. And they got a "shellackin'" in 2010. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree that a party line vote is either no big deal or something of concern.

Your columns on MDJ suggest that you're a pretty good armchair historian. Has a party line vote EVER occurred for a major piece of legislation?

Republican healthcare ideas? I guess the easiest way to address this is to point to a Forbes piece: "Seriously? The Republicans Have No Health Plan?, dated 08/28/13, by Chris Conover.

Finally, I am totally gobsmacked that you're defending Pelosi and the idea that it is ok to pass a major bill, that impacted one sixth of the U.S. economy, and no one has any idea what the hell is in the bill. You're a reasonable guy; but the manner in which this bill was passed was utterly indefensible.

To this end, I'll point to the Real Clear Politics poll: Public Approval of Healthcare Law. It is currently plus 15.4 Against/Oppose. Since inception of this poll (11/27/09), it has always been "under water."

The Agitator #125: The Potemkin Village economy
by Oliver_Halle
July 17, 2014 09:00 AM | 421 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The stock market is roaring and unemployment is down. Inflation and interest rates are still very low. These indicators would seem to suggest that the economy is getting better. The reality is otherwise. Not even taking into account the number of people who aren’t considered unemployed because they’ve given up looking, so many of the employed are underemployed, working part time or several jobs just to make ends meet. A goodly percentage are making half or less than they were six or seven years ago. It’s easy to blame Obama for the bad news because he’s America’s favorite punching bag. Even though he’s not responsible for the stock market and low interest rates, you would think that he’d get credit for it since all the negative factors are attributed to him.

Those in the stock market should be making some good money. Sadly, fewer people since the recession are in the market because they don’t have the disposable income to invest. They have nowhere to go to park their money---if they have any---and their current wages are falling further behind those on the upper end who pay lower taxes on investment income and receive salaries way disproportionate to the workers from what they were thirty years ago. The trend is not good for the middle class.

With lower wages and less disposable income comes faltering consumer demand. Corporations are sitting on over three trillion dollars because with demand for product and services down, there is no reason to invest in expansion or to hire. Republicans tout that lowering taxes will stimulate the economy. Has anyone seen a serious effort by the House to come up with a new tax code, one that would lower or eliminate the corporate tax that they say would make the U.S. the center of the universe for businesses? When Congressman Mike Camp of Michigan, a Republican, a few months ago proposed major changes in the tax code, House Speaker John Boehner immediately said that it was dead on arrival and wouldn’t even allow hearings.

What we have today, being the master of the obvious that I am, is a broken Congress. The Republican House offers nothing but investigative hearings, one after another, and over forty votes to overturn the Affordable Healthcare Act. No tax reform, a stall on finding money for the Highway Trust Fund, no immigration reform hearings, no agreement on healthcare reform, no meaningful proposals for dealing with the Iraq situation, false accusations that Obama doesn’t support Israel, and on and on….

All the Obama bashing, which accomplishes nothing, is for political gain in the 2014 and 2016 elections. In the meanwhile the middle class working American will not find his lot improved one iota. If the Highway Trust Fund is not replenished there is no telling how many jobs will be lost in the construction industry along with the ripple effect of that money not going into the economy. On state and local levels, campaign rhetoric focuses on the dire consequences of deficits and the national debt, a fair political debate. But the same politicos promise to keep Dobbins AFB and other bases open whether the Pentagon needs them or not, because these same officials know the loss of the federal dollars will cost a lot of jobs. Doesn’t matter if the jobs don’t add anything to the military mission, only that the local economy needs your tax dollars. These are the same representatives who vote to spend your money for farm subsidies and flood insurance, things that the government has no business being involved with.

Then there is the illegal immigration crisis. Republicans have howled for years that we need to seal the borders. They didn’t seem to mind spending money at a staggering cost to construct and maintain a wall that is only about half complete. Yet when Obama proposed spending $3.7 billion to hire more border patrol agents, increase the number of immigration judges, and add more courts to expedite the hearings that are required by law, it was money that couldn’t be allocated because it would add to the deficits.

Consider this. If the federal government actually cut waste, which would include closing unnecessary military bases, shutting down obsolete weapons systems, discontinued Social Security COLAs, and pared down government payments to the poor through its various programs, we would be in a depression in very short order. Make no mistake. For all the bluster from your representatives, they know this too. They like their government jobs and benefits too much, though, and will do whatever it takes to get your vote even if it’s not good for the country. These are modern day patriots who have mastered the art of deception.
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The Agitator #124: Don't we want a business leader?
by Oliver_Halle
July 10, 2014 01:30 PM | 149 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

For years my Republican friends and right wing news outlets have been hollering for a businessman to occupy the White House. On the state and local levels we’ve heard the same plaint. The argument has an appealing ring to it. Business leaders know how to balance budgets; they aren’t afraid to cut costs and personnel where necessary; they are concerned with spending, especially money they don’t have. And much more.

I am hardly a supporter of David Perdue, but I think the guy deserves better than he’s getting from a lot of conservative Republicans. He’s actually been the CEO or president of several companies. He understands money and has made a lot of it for himself, something that presumably should be admired.

Republicans have also condemned career politicians for years. In the 1994 Contract with America, authored by Newt Gingrich and signed by all House Republican candidates, one of the provisions was that they would only serve six terms. For a number of disingenuous reasons, it never happened. Yet we’ve heard the mantra for years to get rid of the politicians that have been in Washington too long, how they’ve lost touch with their base, and that it’s time to elect business leaders who will turn things around.

The Perdue versus Jack Kingston senate race would have been an ideal one to prove that Republicans are serious. But looking at the endorsements, most if not all of the Georgia Republican congressional delegation are backing Kingston, a ten-termer in Congress who signed the term limits agreement in 1994. Kingston worked in the private sector before he became one of the people he once condemned, but he never came close to Perdue’s experience. Oddly, Kingston has even blasted Perdue for living in a gated community, something once considered “making it” in Republican circles. Times change.

Putting aside Kingston’s ethical issues concerning one campaign donor in particular (a big deal in my mind), he may at least understand that political leadership is a lot different than that of running a business or an army. President Eisenhower once said that he had more power to get things done as General of the Army than being president. As a general he could give an order and move an army across an ocean. As president he had to win over 535 representatives and senators, each with his own voting constituency, each with regional differences at odds and in conflict with other districts and states. I also wonder about people, to include Perdue, who seem to have no understanding of macroeconomics, and think that the government can operate like a household. With that kind of thinking we never would have gotten very far in building the mightiest war machine in the history of the world during WW II.

Perhaps many Republicans fear that if Perdue is serious about cutting waste, Georgia will pay a price. After all, Kingston was once known as the King of Earmarks, a man who knows how to get money into the federal budget for the home team. So the voters are left to decide if they really do want to cut unnecessary spending, if they really do want a guy with budget experience running big companies, or if they want the other guy who has supported countless spending bills that have added to the deficits. Which candidate is serious about cutting the tax loopholes and tariffs that the special interests pay for? Will they support cutting wasteful defense spending, or will it be billed as “being strong on defense” while in actuality being jobs programs?

We already know that Democrats are tagged as the party of taxes and spending. Are Perdue and Kingston different? I seriously doubt it. My guess is that spending is good as long as it benefits special interests and the voters, and bad if benefits someone else. And Kingston is a known commodity who has delivered the pork. In other words, the Republican Party label is a false brand when it comes to budgets, deficits, jobs programs, and special interests.

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on balance
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July 24, 2014
"According to the story, Grigory Potemkin erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. "

However, like most liberal promises the story of Potemkin villages is mostly false.

The Agitator #123: Full employment bill for lawyers
by Oliver_Halle
July 03, 2014 11:00 AM | 776 views | 1 1 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Are corporations people? Mitt Romney famously declared to a heckler that they were. Yet corporations don’t go to prison for their crimes, they don’t pay individual tax rates, they don’t attend church, they don’t go door to door to campaign, and they have no corporeal body. It’s been said that the corporation was one of the single greatest business inventions ever devised. Perhaps so, and I certainly wouldn’t argue the point. To state the obvious, it allowed for people to gather together, create a business, and protect themselves individually from being personally bankrupted. One could argue that this alone has stimulated more new businesses than any other single cause.

In very recent years the current Supreme Court has given additional meaning to the definition of a corporation. They are now people with First Amendment rights that can contribute to campaigns. Even though Congress had said otherwise, this “non-activist” conservative high court said that Congress was wrong. In 1976, the high court said that money counts as speech. Combine corporations and money as people exercising their free speech rights, and you have a whole new chemical solution, one that I don’t think is for the better.

There are those who are rejoicing in the Hobby Lobby decision that said closely held, for profit corporations may ignore a statue providing for birth control under the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) if it violates their religious beliefs. Considering that this was a 5-4 opinion, it is clear that there was and is a lot of division on this issue. The Obama Administration had already conceded that organizations which exist strictly for religious purposes, such as houses of worship, were exempt from the ACA. Then came the challenge from Hobby Lobby, a privately held corporation with more than 700 stores nationwide. The Green family, which owns the bulk of the privately held shares, believed that it violated their religious freedom to have to provide for certain contraceptives. It didn’t matter that the many thousands of employees of Hobby Lobby weren’t hired based on their religious beliefs, that the workers were paid only for their labor and to make money for the company. It also doesn’t matter to the Green family that more than ninety percent of their merchandise comes from Communist China, a country that freely performs and encourages abortions.

Justice Alito, who wrote the Hobby Lobby opinion, stated that the court’s ruling would not affect laws that deal with mandatory immunizations, blood transfusions, and various forms of discrimination. I read that comment to be dicta, or his own opinion that doesn’t go to the actual holding of the case. So there is no guarantee that there won’t be lawsuits claiming that one’s religious faith is violated if forced to comply with the forgoing laws. In fact, I suspect that there will be many new cases claiming First Amendment protections. I wonder if on a local level, if I objected to paying school taxes because I considered it blasphemous for any student of a certain faith to sit with others of different faiths, could I claim a tax exemption, particularly if it was my child?

The trend of the Republican Five on the current Supreme Court is to separate Americans into different groups. Those with deep pockets can spend their money in ways that can literally buy elections. Now a law of general application, the ACA, has had an important component overturned based on the faith of a profit making owner of a large company that sells extensively in interstate commerce. Our national motto, the one that goes back to the founding of our nation was, “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One. Those are magnificent words that once gave meaning to The United States of America.

When we are all subject to the same laws of general application no one points fingers at someone getting a special break. People would have no reason to say that they would/would not shop at Hobby Lobby because of their religious exemptions. I grew up in NYC surrounded by more religious faiths and ethnicities than probably anywhere in the country. Neither got in the way of friendships or commerce. I see that changing with personal religious convictions evolving from being a private matter to becoming more public. The Hobby Lobby and recent prayer case illustrate my point.

All is not lost. There will be lawyers who prosper from the proliferation of lawsuits to challenge what they perceive to be violations of someone’s First Amendment freedoms. And that puts money into the economy. Here’s hoping that some of it will trickle down to a few of us.

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EM Buckner
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July 10, 2014
I've read dozens of commentaries (columns, blogs, LTEs) from a wide variety of sources, both conservative and liberal, about this court decision. Halle's was in many ways the best of the lot--more balanced and informed than national columnists. Some newspaper somewhere, if not the MDJ, should recruit Halle as a regular columnist.

The Agitator #122: Selective due process
by Oliver_Halle
June 26, 2014 10:20 AM | 929 views | 3 3 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There are certain names of individuals or entities that can rile up the masses faster and more furiously than others. One individual is President Obama, and one entity is the IRS. Put the two together and only the chemists can tell you how toxic the mix is, real or imagined. 

This week there were congressional hearings concerning the loss of the IRS emails between the embattled Lois Lerner, the White House, and other potential conspirators who allegedly targeted tea party groups for unfavorable tax review. I saw one video clip of South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy working over IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Gowdy is a former federal prosecutor, and conservatives seemed to enjoy the pounding that he delivered to the witness. It all made for great theater, and perhaps Gowdy is hoping to become the next Attorney General in a Republican administration. 

What Gowdy did, though, either was completely disingenuous on his part, or he is fooling a lot of people that he is knowledgeable in Constitutional and evidentiary law. He accused Koskinen of destroying evidence and then condescendingly lectured him on how a jury can infer that the lost emails contained negative inferences to the IRS and co-conspirators. What Gowdy never said was when the IRS was subpoenaed to turn over the emails, or alternatively, when the IRS was put on notice to preserve all emails pending the congressional investigation. 

My point is that the emails did not become evidence until the IRS was notified by subpoena or other communication that they were to be preserved. All government agencies, including the FBI, have file destruction programs. For the sake of argument only, if the emails were destroyed pursuant to a regulation before notice of the hearings was provided, there would be no wrongdoing. Gowdy continued to interrupt and badger the commissioner, so we really don’t know what the commissioner might have said. No judge in America would have allowed Gowdy to get away with his antics in a courtroom. But this is only Gowdy’s initial appearance at self-promotion and grandstanding. One can only imagine how the Benghazi hearings will be conducted under his leadership. 

I have no more love for the IRS than does any American, but they are a necessary component to our government. Our elected representatives treat the IRS as their favorite punching bag in order to win votes, but they do absolutely nothing about changing the tax system. The congress has the power to defund the IRS or any of their branches, so why don’t they do it? Why are no current congressional or senatorial candidates talking about tax reform with specific ideas on how to change the code? Could it be that the special interests that get special tax breaks also fund the campaigns, and the last thing they want is a code that eliminates their favored treatment? 

Last week the Cobb County police charged Justin Harris with the murder of his 22 month old son who died when he was left in Harris’ car. At first the public was outraged that a distraught, loving father, could be twice a victim. How could the police and District Attorney be so insensitive? I readily admit to being a partisan when it comes to DA Vic Reynolds and the Cobb PD, so my first inclination was that there must be more to this story if they chose to charge Harris with murder instead of something very minor. As the story continues to unfold it appears that the police did their job and have let the facts and evidence do the talking. That is due process, and in my opinion we are fortunate to have such a qualified District Attorney and competent police force. 

It is all too easy to draw conclusions about subject matters that are very personal to us. The IRS hearings, Justin Harris, and soldier Bowe Bergdahl are just a few of the topical cases that have our attention for the moment. No matter how repulsive the initial reports are in any of these stories, as Americans who believe in our Constitution, we owe it not only to these people, but to our families, friends and ourselves to let due process run its course. Anything less is to acknowledge that we don’t mean it when we pledge allegiance to the flag, or take an oath to support, defend and preserve the Constitution. Yet when unexpectedly someone finds himself in a “situation” not of one’s choosing, you can be sure that all rights and protections will be claimed. And rightfully so---but that should always be the case.

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CobbCoGuy
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July 03, 2014
Additional random thoughts...

As appealing as it sounds, defunding the IRS would never happen. Both Democrats and "establishment" Republicans want the Tea Party squashed.

Tax reform? Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced a serious plan earlier this year.

Special interests and their tax breaks? I couldn't agree more. Politicians wield much of their power through the tax code. Want to take away that power? Eliminate corporate taxes altogether. For the low information readers who don't understand this, let me know. I'll return to explain.

The Agitator #121: Humpty Dumpty
by Oliver_Halle
June 19, 2014 10:15 AM | 771 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Eleven years after the war in Iraq began we continue to pay for it.  My guess is that the final payment won’t be in the foreseeable future.  The Bush administration relied on information that may go down as one of the biggest intelligence failures since World War II, although there have been a number of others that rival it.  In this instance we had electronic capabilities that should have revealed that Saddam Hussein did not have WMD, and that Saddam was playing a bluff game with Iran, his arch enemy.  Yes, he had gas and biological weapons that he used against his own people, but he always knew that to use them against Israel or the U.S. would result in his country’s annihilation.

The NSA revelations prove that our government has very substantial spying capabilities leading up to the war.  It’s also hard to believe that we didn’t have a few well-placed sources on the ground in Iraq, both in their government and military, that could have shed some light on Saddam’s real game.  Yet despite other American and foreign intelligence agencies warning Bush that it would be a mistake to rely on certain CIA sources, to believe that Mohammad Atta, one of the 911 ringleaders had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer when Atta was shown to be elsewhere at the same time, the administration went forward with the war.  Later when Bush had to admit that there was no WMD, he said the war was worth taking out a really bad guy, that the Iraqi people could now live their lives in freedom.

This was a war in which the American people were deceived in spades.  It turned out that the Congress did not receive the full intelligence report provided by Bush to demonstrate the urgency to go to war.  Some representatives that voted against the first Gulf War didn’t want to be on the wrong side of that vote again and voted for the war resolution the second time.  Almost 4,500 soldiers KIA, many more badly maimed for life, hundreds or more American civilians dead, six figures of Iraqi citizens killed, we have nothing of consequence to show for it.  Saddam, as bad as he was, did two things: He kept the peace between the two rival religious factions, the Shiites and Sunnis, and kept the balance of power with Iran.  His fall led to Iran’s rise and the potential threat to the West since they no longer have to keep a wary eye on their neighbor.

And now for the big question.  Why was there never a push for congressional hearings to investigate the intelligence failures, to examine whether a blind eye was turned on two questionable sources, Ahmed Chalabi and Curveball---both who had their own agendas for pushing the U.S. to overthrow Saddam.  How about the money from Iraqi oil that Dick Chaney said would pay for this multi-trillion dollar war---no need to ask what happened to that money?  Where was/is the cry from Republicans to investigate some of the war profiteering?  Shouldn’t there be questions asked about all the taxpayer money that went to corrupt officials in Iraq?  No, instead it’s one investigation after another of Benghazi.

The Iraq War did more than cost a lot of unnecessary lives, create a religious civil war, and upend the balance of power in the Middle East. It contributed to the whopping deficits because of the Bush tax cuts and off-line budget to pay for the war.  And let’s not forget the century long tail of veterans care that follows each war, a dollar amount in the trillions.

Some politicians are talking about the U.S. going back in to protect the current Maliki regime.  Perhaps these folks have spent too much time on the Rocky Mountain slopes of Colorado.  Are they really willing to pay the cost in blood and taxes?  Where are all the Middle Eastern countries that we give countless billions to pay for military equipment and training?  Do they ever use the hardware, or is it just for military parades?  Isn’t this their fight in which we could contribute some intelligence and logistical support without a full commitment?  Where are the war hawk voices to demand that the Iraq problem is their problem?

Contrary to what some editorialists have written, Obama did not lose the war in Iraq.  Bush set the withdrawal date for all combat troops that Obama carried out.  What Obama couldn’t do was to get Maliki to agree to a Status of Force Agreement providing for remaining U.S. military personnel there for training and intelligence, to be protected by U.S. laws.  Obama had no choice but to withdraw all servicemen under those circumstances.

Perhaps I am a voice in the wilderness in wondering where the outrage is in our country that we give countless billions to so many countries that do little to nothing for us, but when Obama proposes spending money in the private sector to rebuild our deteriorating infrastructure, it’s called job welfare or some such.  There were many in congress who voted against a 60 billion package to rebuild the devastated areas from Hurricane Sandy two years ago, money that came from taxpayers who lost their homes and more from the storm.  Where are our values when it comes to taking care of our own first? Why no call for hearings on how this all happened?  Could it be partisan politics instead of trying to learn from our mistakes?

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The Agitator #120: Cash is King(ston)
by Oliver_Halle
June 12, 2014 11:05 AM | 988 views | 5 5 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Georgia Senate primary runoff is six weeks from now, a lot of time for allegations of one sort or another to turn up against either of the two candidates, David Perdue or Jack Kingston. Until this year, so it seems, Republicans liked to run as the “outsider”, the candidate not tainted by all the bad things associated with Washington, and if you had a business background, as they say in New York, you were in Fat City. In the May 20th primary you had Karen Handel and David Perdue running as outsiders, and Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun disingenuously trying to distance themselves from the pejorative of being Washington insiders.

The tables have turned and all of a sudden Perdue’s business background is bad, Kingston’s record of obtaining whopping earmarks (before being banned) for his district is good. Gingrey, Broun, and Handel, the three outsiders, now support Kingston the insider. Funny how politics work. (To be clear, I have no dog in this race, didn’t vote for either in the primary, and still don’t know who I will vote for in the runoff.)

I suspect that over the next six weeks I could write six commentaries on the accusations that will be lobbed back and forth between Perdue and Kingston. The current topic pertains to Kingston’s acceptance of $80,000 in bundled contributions from convicted felon, Khalid A. Satary, a Palestinian who served more than three years in federal prison for operating a major counterfeit CD business in the Atlanta area. He is currently fighting a federal deportation order. When this story unfolded, Kingston proclaimed to be surprised and would return the money.

First, I wonder why Kingston, who has not opposed the two recent Supreme Court decisions overturning campaign finance laws, would return the money. After all, the Supreme Court said that it is not a crime to pay for influence, that it is only a crime to bribe a public official. There isn’t even a whiff of a bribe in this instance, and all Satary did was attempt to gain access to Kingston, presumably to get his help to stay in the country. Since politicians take big dollars all the time from wealthy folks, from PACs put together by special interest groups---all seeking access and influence---what makes Sataray’s money so objectionable? There is zero information at this time that Satary asked for anything for his contribution. Perhaps he’s just a good citizen who supports good government, and Kingston is worthy of his largess as the right man at the right time to “restore our country.”

Actually, I am very cynical about this deal and all money in politics. For Kingston to argue that he didn’t know anything about Satary is willful ignorance. A very inexpensive data base search on the man would have turned up that he was a convicted felon and lots more. I’m not suggesting that due diligence be done on every contributor, especially those who can only afford token amounts, but I am saying that for someone that is virtually unknown to come up with $80,000 for a candidate, red flags should have been flying with hurricane force winds. Kingston is hardly new at raising money, and he should have known better. His explanations for accepting the money without some background check ring hollow.

There is currently a bill in the Senate to limit money in federal elections. Since no Republicans are supporting it that I know of, I assume that they agree with the Supreme Court rulings that money in politics is a form of free speech under the First Amendment. For those who claim that we need to go back to the original meaning of the Constitution, I can only ask where in that amendment there is one word or inference that money in politics is a protected form of speech. In America there should be political equality. No one should be able to buy access or pay for influence. Recently, casino owner billionaire Sheldon Adelson had prominent potential Republican candidates for president meet with him one on one for vetting. Surely none of these candidates were influenced by the money Adelson will bring to the 2016 race and his chosen horse. Wonder if any of the candidates would fly to Las Vegas to meet with an ordinary citizen to discuss issues? As long as money pays for access and influence, the rest of us can only hope to influence our representatives through another provision in the First Amendment, freedom of assembly. Remember that when there are more Occupy Wall Street movements.

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Kevin Foley
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June 17, 2014
It figures Twomey would be in favor of a mysterious Palestinian felon handing illegal bundled cash to Kingston, who says he never heard of his #1 contributor.

Twomey, give it a rest.

The Agitator #119: More what ifs...
by Oliver_Halle
June 05, 2014 10:30 AM | 757 views | 1 1 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Pat Buchanan, the conservative columnist, had an excellent commentary published in the MDJ on Wednesday, June 04, 2001. I commend it to those trying to sort through the details of the prisoner swap of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for the five high level Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. In it Buchanan recounts a long history going back to the Korean War where we negotiated with our enemies. That said, whether this was a deal that will imperil our national security, endanger our military forces overseas, put American civilians at risk of being kidnapped in foreign countries, I honestly don’t know and neither does anyone else. Well, perhaps there is a group that monitors all sorts of electronic communications that might know more than the rest of us, but they aren’t saying. This deal was not done in isolation. You can be sure that the Joint Chiefs, CIA, and other intelligence organizations had major roles in advising the president.

I would like to add just a couple of additional uninformed thoughts to this debate. First, to clear any doubts about Bergdahl’s status as either a real POW or deserter, the army should conduct a thorough investigation. If the facts support his desertion, Bergdahl should be prosecuted. Putting his fellow soldiers in unnecessary harm’s way should not be taken lightly. Some question whether Bergdahl should even have been traded at all, especially because of evidence that he did walk off his post.

I stand with those that say we bring our own home and never leave anyone behind. Recall the case of Marine Private Robert Garwood who disappeared in Vietnam in 1965. There were questionable circumstances about what occurred, and after all POWs were returned as part of an exchange, Garwood was alleged to have declined to come home. He finally came back in 1979, and the Marines conducted an investigation that led to Garwood’s court martial. Garwood was convicted of being a deserter and collaborator, dishonorably discharged, and forfeited all pay and VA benefits.

That is how due process works. Save the parades and accolades, if any are due, until after all the facts are in about Bergdahl, facts and evidence that should be obtained by trained investigators and thoroughly analyzed by competent military lawyers. Let the Constitution and its safeguards work their magic. I am confident that the truth will come out.

The other issue surrounds the five hard core Taliban. Considering that the likes of Lindsay Graham and a few other outspoken representatives and senators are in difficult reelection contests, I have qualms about taking their rhetoric seriously. It is fair to ask why the five Taliban, if we know they are so dangerous, haven’t been tried either by a military or civilian court. With the winding down of the Afghanistan war, under international law that we recognize concerning POWs, all our Guantanamo prisoners will probably have to be turned back over. These five have been locked up for a good number of years, and it’s likely that their replacements who are today’s leaders would not be willing to hand back over the keys of power to them. It’s more likely that if these five tried, there would be a very ugly power struggle.

And here’s where I go out on a limb. What if just one of the five Taliban has been coopted by our intelligence services? Years of playing on the mind could have a powerful effect. This would hardly be the first war where something like that has happened. If one of these five has become an intelligence asset for us, it’s hard to deny the high value that he would have. At a minimum, when these five find their way back home, even if they remain hard core Jihadists, the intelligence on the other side will likely be concerned about this same issue. No telling what seeds of dissension they might sow in their former ranks. Again, I’m not inventing the wheel here. And it’s just as worthy to consider these possibilities as all the others that are being thrown out there with an equal amount of evidence.

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Rhett Writer
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June 05, 2014
Excellent analysis, Mr. Halle. The majority of the questions will all have answers eventually. Your "what if" also has merit. Here's another to consider. What if, after spending 5 years with he Taliban, Bergdahl is coming home to plan and execute terrorist activities from inside our own borders. Who do we hold responsible?


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