|December 06, 2012||The Agitator #52||no comments|
|November 29, 2012||The Agitator #51||6 comments|
|November 15, 2012||The Agitator #50||3 comments|
|November 07, 2012||The Agitator #49||1 comments|
|October 31, 2012||The Agitator #48||2 comments|
|October 24, 2012||The Agitator #47||6 comments|
|October 15, 2012||The Agitator #46||6 comments|
|October 08, 2012||The Agitator #45||5 comments|
|September 28, 2012||The Agitator #44||1 comments|
|September 21, 2012||The Agitator #43||4 comments|
It has been live theater following the “fiscal cliff” negotiations---if you can call them negotiations---and how most of our elected representatives are oblivious to the American people. One of the more amazing things about it involves one person: Grover Norquist. By now most know that he heads up the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and has secured pledges from most Republican officials that they will never, ever vote for a tax increase under any circumstances. What is more remarkable is that anyone would sign such a pledge. Senator Saxby Chambliss recently said that he was going to do what was right for America and not be bound by a 20 year old pledge. That resulted in a phone call from Norquist in which Chambliss claimed that he did not apologize, and that he stood by his statement. A closer look at his statement, though, would mean having the ability to read a crystal ball, because it was more of a politician’s double speak. I guess a fair question is why would Chambliss or any official take Norquist’s calls or meet with him in person? What gives this guy, who isn’t even from Georgia, more clout to walk through doors than 99.9% of Chambliss’ constituents? Is there someone besides me that finds it galling that if we try to correspond with our senator we have the good fortune of getting a form letter/email response? Where does Norquist derive his disproportionate power to get this kind of access? And he isn’t even a big money player like Sheldon Adelson.
The Republicans are in a bind because of their no tax pledge. And while the fight continues Lockheed announced that it will shift a few hundred jobs to Ft. Worth. Whether this is just the beginning of downsizing the Marietta plant and building up the Texas sight is to be determined. But there is a lot of anger in Cobb County among conservatives at the loss of these jobs. And this is just a microcosm of defense jobs that are going away because of cutbacks and the Defense Department’s own declaration that many ongoing weapons systems are unneeded. It is confusing to try and figure out the logic of those who demand that Obama cut spending, but somehow building unnecessary weapons is important to local and state economies. In effect, what the defenders of this waste decry is that their “stimulus” package is hurting them, but Obama’s proposed stimulus to rebuild infrastructure is major league pork.
Meanwhile the Republicans want to cut back on Medicare payments to doctors, which they attacked Obama for doing during the campaign, and other programs that benefit the middle and lower classes. Student loans and food stamps are just two examples that are small potatoes compared to their sacred cows: Medicare Part D (which costs more than ObamaCare and TARP combined over a ten year period), loan guarantees to banks, agricultural subsidies, flood insurance subsidies, among others. And these are programs that add up to real money. Yet even the definition of “real” money is being revised. Many conservative bloggers claim that restoring the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy will “only” result in $100 billion over ten years. If that isn’t much money to be concerned about, I wonder why the same critics seem to think that cutting subsidies to programs like public broadcasting will have more financial impact, that somehow that is going to make a difference in the deficits.
It will be fun to watch how this all plays out. But the American people are going to pay for it one way or the other.
The demise of Hostess bakery has at least two segments of the American public unhappy: those who will miss the product and those who blame the unionized workers and consider them the cause of this eighty year old company’s ending to be their fault. Just maybe the explanations are a little more complicated and a little more nuanced.
Union bashing has taken on a new meaning since the recession, particularly public sector ones. But union membership is at an all-time low, probably down forty percent from its heydays. Public sector unions may comprise the largest segment of members today. They are really catching it, but overlooked is that many states and municipalities that signed agreements never kept their end of the bargain by paying into the pension funds as promised. I think it fair to ask why unions came to be, and the answer isn’t complicated. Employers created working conditions that were intolerable. Unions not only sought better pay, but they also sought collective bargaining to improve safety, reduce the number of hours, and to protect workers against what we call unfair labor practices. In time the unions acquired power and with it came abuses that we are all too familiar with. In other words, the power and abuses shifted from the employer to the union. That pendulum has in recent years has swung back again. Today on reactionary radio you hear the talk meisters say that workers should be grateful just to have a job, that they should shut up and take whatever comes their way from their employer, that life is tough, and that everyone has to bear the burden. One of these charlatans once made the mistake of disclosing that he is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (have any readers bought a full price Broadway play ticket over the years?), yet here he was blaming the unions for Hostess going under. While these worker bashers tout sacrifice, you can bet that the likes of Rush Limbaugh haven’t given up anything ($40 million/year for His Porkulous) while trashing the working stiffs.
Back to Hostess. A few years ago Hostess went through Chapter 11 reorganization. The unions agreed to pay and benefit cuts in order for the company to survive. Then Hostess was purchased by some private equity investors and new management put in place---none with food service experience but instead, financial engineers. And what was one of the first things the new team did? They doubled their pay and took seven figure incomes. I remember that in officer training we were taught that an officer never eats until the last enlisted man has eaten, and he never sleeps until the last enlisted man has a place to sleep. That is leadership 101. But the Hostess management team went the other direction. While their company was failing they demanded that the workers take cuts while they took more out for themselves. And from what I have read, the management did nothing to try and offset the changes in American eating habits, which was shifting to healthier food products. The big boys made no effort to enter the export market in a meaningful way, something they could have done considering that the product has preservatives that would not have impeded shipping, and they made no effort to produce goods that the public wanted. No, it was too easy to clean the company out at the top and tell the bakers, drivers, and other workers to eat the crumbs that they were only too lucky to get. They overlooked the simple fact that owners and workers have a symbiotic relationship, and setting the example at the top, talking and working with your people, taking care of those that do the daily routines, can produce amazing results. Delta is an example. There are many other unsung American companies that understand good management and good leadership, that they are all in it together, and that happy workers are productive workers.
The income disparity between the C - level managers and employees has grown from roughly 40:1 in the early 1980s to 300:1 today. If anyone thinks that this is healthy, that it is making America better, so be it. I couldn’t disagree more. We grew the largest middle class in history during and after WW II. This substantially contributed to the economy and benefited everyone. Middle class people could afford to send their kids to college, to buy homes, to own two cars, and contribute to the economic growth of our great country. Upward mobility jobs with rewarding careers were the American way of life if you were willing to work for it. With less disposable income today for the middle, there is less money being spent, and our consumer economy is hurting badly. It will get worse if better heads don’t prevail and figure out that we are all in this together, that we don’t ever want to become a nation of haves and have nots, that companies like Hostess could have survived, that Hostess is just a microcosm of a very bad trend.
Dr. Melvyn Fein, professor of sociology at KSU, writes a Monday column for the MDJ. No one will ever be confused about his political leanings. He is an unabashed Obama hater, and if you have read his writings over the years as I have, you will not likely have seen one kind word for the president. Oddly enough I have wondered if they know each other personally since Fein often refers to Obama by his first name. In his most recent column (November 12, 2012), Fein wrote a lamentation about Romney’s election loss. Amazingly, he described the election as the “most sleazy, dishonest, and mean-spirited political campaign… (to) prevail over decency and competence.” I have to wonder if Fein watched the Republican Primary debates in which Romney and his fellow candidates ripped each other to shreds with some of the most vulgar and personal attacks. I watched all of them in disbelief thinking that Obama would have a field day just replaying the sound bytes from them. But Obama didn’t. As is so typical with Fein’s columns, he is woefully short of facts, evidence or documentation for his assertions. Broad smears are a lot easier, although one would think that with his academic background he could do better. I also ask myself whether a student with a different political philosophy than Fein’s can get a fair shake in his class.
Fein says that the voters were “cheated, misled, and manipulated”, that they “opted for ideological purity over common sense.” Where does a PhD professor come up with this stuff? First, this comment---and in fact his whole commentary---is insulting and demeaning and not worthy of a tenured professor. I would ask the good professor to ponder just a handful of issues that some of us considered defining, and to offer a factual retort vice more calumnies against those who see the world differently than him. First, it mattered to many of us that Romney flipped and flopped on healthcare, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and other social issues. Romney stated that he would have let GM and Chrysler go through bankruptcy. What he left out was that there was no private equity capital or venture capitalist money that would have jumped in. Even Ford, which took no TARP, supported the bailouts because they knew that the car parts manufacturers would have gone out of business without the other two carmakers. Second, Romney’s promise to repeal ObamaCare. The provision that has the opponents angriest is the mandatory buy-in. Yet it was Romney who rightfully said as governor that there would be no more freeloaders who got care at the ER and passed along the costs to those who had insurance. Somehow making everyone pay for their insurance is wrong, but many of the same people would insist that even the poorest pay some income tax (on top of whatever other taxes they pay).
Professor Fein seems to believe that those who think like him travel the moral high road, that they are more intelligent, more insightful, better informed, more discerning. Perhaps he forgets that people are people, and even good people make bad choices, do stupid things, and are uninformed. (The priest-pedophile scandal and sexual mishaps in Washington are illustrative.) I wonder if one of Fein’s like-minded thinkers, frequent MDJ LTE writer and blogger, “HFH” represents Fein’s views. In a blog responding to a LTE dated November 11, 2012, HFH stated, “People who think Mr. Obama is a Muslim are ludicrously mistaken. He is almost totally surrounded by far left, secular, socialist Jews. These people are the most hubristic, cynical, and mendacious folks on the planet. They mean no one any good, except themselves and their friends.” These are people from your side, Professor Fein. And there are many more where they came from. It would be interesting and educational if Professor Fein would focus his writing on what he is for and not so much what he is against. Providing facts and evidence---not just conclusions---would advance the ball of debate downfield.
I always enjoy listening to conservative/reactionary talk radio. Actually, I don’t really enjoy it, but I think it is important to try and understand viewpoints that are different than mine for the most part. Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of damage, made people homeless, put people out of jobs whose businesses were destroyed, and otherwise caused devastation to people’s lives. The costs of trying to restore some semblance of normality to the communities affected by the storm are staggering. Amazingly, there are reactionaries out there who don’t think that the federal government should pick up a large share of the bill to do this.
I am from Brooklyn and Staten Island. I have several relatives who still live on Staten Island, and I am intimately familiar with the geography of the island. I have been stunned by the flooding and devastation. It defies my imagination. People who have paid taxes all their lives find themselves facing staggering costs of repair, to rebuilding their homes, to rebuilding their lives. We haven’t heard yet how many people have temporarily or permanently lost their livelihoods, but we will and the numbers won’t be pretty. Reactionary radio and their followers never fail to talk about the need for staying in Afghanistan, to spend money on weapons that the Defense Department says we don’t need, to keep military bases open that the Pentagon says are obsolete, and more. But now there seems to be resistance to having the federal government contribute toward the cleanup costs of the storm. If I understand this thinking correctly, it’s okay to spend money to rebuild countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, but our own citizens are leeches for asking for help, the same citizens that have paid for the these foreign commitments and unnecessary defense costs.
The Bush administration began the bailouts of the banks and auto manufacturers. As distasteful as it was, I supported it. Sometimes you have to do things that go against every fiber in you just because it means survival. The banks have shown their gratitude by their extremely conservative lending policies. Recall too that Rush Limbaugh defended the bonuses that some of the beneficiaries of taxpayer largess took for themselves. But somehow it is “liberalism” and “typical tax and spend” Democrats who are now under attack because the states that have suffered the most from the storm need help from the federal government. Something is very wrong with this kind of thinking. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue; it should be an American issue where all of us support our fellow Americans who are desperately in need at the moment. To offer less goes against what once united us and made our country great.
Donald Trump has made a lot of money from commercial real estate ventures. I applaud him for it. That he is the son of a wealthy real estate developer who gave him a leg up should not be overlooked, and while that does not undermine Trump’s success, it rounds out an understanding of an important component of how he achieved it. And with his success and vast wealth he has been able to acquire a media audience for his political views. Amazingly, Trump was even taken seriously for a while as a presidential candidate. It didn’t last long the more he talked, and even respectable Republicans got chills every time he got in front of a microphone.
Last week, after much touting in the media, Trump delivered a major announcement. I thought that it was going to be something so monumental that all TV and radio broadcasts would be interrupted for it. It turns out that that The Donald wanted to put $5 million on the table for President Obama to direct to the charity(s) of his choice if he would make available his Columbia University and Harvard Law School grades, the sources of his tuition, and his State Department passport file. There was one caveat, though: all the documents would have to meet with Trump’s personal satisfaction. When Obama released his long form birth certificate, Trump seemed satisfied, but then the reactionaries went to work with all sorts of unfounded assertions, and Trump withdrew his acceptance of the birth certificate. I guess anyone with a big checkbook could make similar offers to any public official they have their sights on, which would accomplish nothing.
Now if Trump was really fair and balanced he would make a similar charitable offer to Romney. It would include Romney’s Selective Service records, his tax returns, undergraduate and law school grades, and documentation of who paid for his tuition. So a fair question to Trump is why the information he seeks from Obama really matters? Is it because he is trying to show that Obama is a beneficiary of affirmative action? That Obama was given his grades and admitted to the Harvard Law Review, not on merit, but because of his race? Is he suggesting that Obama’s tuition was paid for by a clandestine foreign power that had a crystal ball to know that one day he would run for president of the United States? How far does this nonsense go? I wonder where Trump was to challenge Clarence Thomas’ qualifications since Thomas admits that he was a product of affirmative action. I don’t recall Trump asking for Thomas’ grades, source of his tuition, or proof of his very heartfelt story of growing up in poverty in Pin Point, GA. Could it be that Thomas’ ideology lines up with Trump’s so it wasn’t important?
Trump is a graduate of New York Military Academy, but despite being in the draft mix during Vietnam he never served his country in uniform. I would ask him to produce his Selective Service records to see what deferments he took advantage of. But a bigger and more important question of this great benefactor is this: why don’t you just donate the $5 million, chump change to you, to the Sheppard Spinal Center’s program in treating severe head and spinal injuries of wounded veterans? This generous contribution would fund the program for five years. That at least would do some immediate good and perhaps assuage his conscience, if he has one, for ducking military service during Vietnam. Until I see his Selective Service records I have no reason to believe that he was nothing but a loud mouth, self-serving patriot who somehow bought his way out of service. I don’t need any more proof for that statement than he seems to need for his.
The MDJ published an editorial from The Macon Telegraph on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, about “Renewing Licenses…and the law of unintended consequences.” The day before I received in the mail my annual business license renewal form. The new Georgia Immigration Reform Act requires that anyone holding a professional license must prove that they are an American citizen each time the license is renewed. I say again---not once---but each time the license comes up for renewal. And that also includes the required annual county business license. Needless to say, this has resulted in a huge backlog in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, where professional licenses are processed. Considering that the governor has ordered each state agency to cut their budgets and personnel, this has caused a lot of people some heartburn. What used to take a matter of days to a week or so can now take months. In the meanwhile new applicants cannot practice their profession, whether it is to cut hair, massage therapy, or any one of a long list of occupations that the state licenses. This really helps the economy. The Cobb County business license renewal paperwork has to be submitted this year by November 22nd to ensure that it will be processed in time to get your license by January 1, 2013. In past years you could complete the process in a matter of days before the end of the year with no problem.
We’ve heard from Republicans on the national and state level for years proclaim that excess regulation is killing small businesses. I’m not sure what regulations they are referring to because they never really say. If it’s the burden of the tax code, I wonder when they plan to do more than talk about it and actually pull together and pass serious tax reform legislation. Perhaps they should consider this immigration law as an example of the wasted time, which means money, that will be spent after proving once that you are legally here in the U.S. What is the logic behind this requirement? I asked two of our elected officials last year who voted for the law, both Republicans, the “why” question. You’ll never guess what they said, and you can’t make this stuff up: they hadn’t read the bill in the detail that might have alerted them to it. I suspect that there will be any number of current small business people and those about to go into business for themselves that will operate under the radar rather than comply with this unnecessary nuisance.
As a final point related to this topic, does anyone remember that the Cobb County commission quietly passed an increase in the business license fees last year? I never saw a word about it in the MDJ. I found out when I got my bill. And I thought that Republicans also supported no tax hikes because it hurt small businesses. My point is that the Democrats (I am not a Democrat) get bashed for tax hikes and increased regulation, but here are two egregious examples of Republicans talking out of both sides of their mouths.
During the vice presidential debate “Jumpin’ Joe” Biden said that neither he nor the White House knew that the consulate in Benghazi had requested increased security. The State Department did not notify the top chief executives of the request for reasons that we don’t know. I won’t second guess the State Department because I don’t know what they knew. What we do know is that the State Department had requested upwards of $300 million for increased security for its embassies. The Republican congress said no, a vote that included Paul Ryan’s. I am going to wait out the results of the several investigations looking into what occurred before concluding that the State Department’s security section got it wrong in how they prioritized which embassies and consulates got what. As for not notifying the White House of the request for a security augmentation, I can only wonder how many “emergency” requests are submitted daily from the Defense Department, Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and other agencies that deal directly with national security, and what the protocols are for kicking them up to the president. Limited budgets cause organizations to do triage, something that shouldn’t happen but does in these times of tight money, and where a large segment of our population doesn’t want to pay for the services that they want and expect.
I agree with Obama’s critics that the first reports about Benghazi concerning the video were wrong. But after that I go in a different direction. Intelligence gathering is both an art and science. We all know some of the incredible technology that our spy agencies use, but sorting through the voluminous information takes people and time. And we also know that HUMINT (human intelligence) is still as important as all the gadgetry. That too takes time to gather and process. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, a lot of moving parts.
I think it is fair to put the Benghazi intelligence failure in perspective. Intelligence failures in the this country are historic ranging from completely missing the North Korean attack on South Korea on June 25, 1950, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Considering the untold dollar amount that is poured into intelligence gathering and spy craft, it’s hard to believe that things like this could happen, but they did and still do. How about the information that was known before 9/11/2001 that some of the terrorists were taking flying lessons but only wanted training in takeoffs? The schools reported this well before that black day, but somehow it fell through the cracks. The Tet offensive caught us by surprise. Anyone recall the great intelligence failure that led to the Iraq war? The two human sources in that fiasco, Ahmed Chalabi and the German source, Curveball, were both frauds and suspected of lying well before the March 2003 invasion. Our spy satellites, which had completely saturated the land mass of Iraq didn’t pick up any evidence of nuclear weapons or their transfer to another country. President Bush later admitted that there was no WMD---this after a few thousand American lives were lost, many more permanently injured, and countless Iraqis killed.
I am not making light of what happened in Benghazi. I am making light of much of the politicized attacks on Obama for it, especially when you put it in perspective of far more serious intelligence failures that have had much larger consequences. I can only wonder if a Romney-Ryan administration would have done things differently with the same budgetary constraints, if they would have been more prescient and able to avoid what happened. Perhaps so, but the historical record of intelligence failures certainly makes it a fair, non-partisan question.
Something has changed over the past few presidencies. The current occupier of the White House seems to be held to a higher standard geared toward a militant response when it comes to foreign policy. This despite Obama being the only candidate in 2008 who said that he would violate the sovereignty of other countries to pursue terrorists wherever they can be tracked down and killed. His record of achieving by far and away more kills in four years than his predecessor is beyond dispute. It is also well known that Ronald Reagan did absolutely nothing when terrorists killed 240 marines in Lebanon. Nothing. Then there is the USS COLE. This U.S. Navy warship was badly damaged with concomitant loss of life by terrorists on October 12, 2000. Clinton was still president at the time, but it wasn’t until late December that the CIA tentatively identified al-Qaeda as the author of the bombing. More conclusive evidence came in shortly after Bush was sworn in as president on January 20, 2001. In June 2001, Osama Bin Laden released a tape bragging that he was behind the attack. I am unaware of one single response that the Bush administration took against al Qaeda or OBL between his inauguration and shortly after 911. And I don’t recall Bush facing the harsh criticism that Obama has met with concerning the embassy attacks. I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt at the time thinking that maybe he was doing something behind the scenes. If he was it is still a very well kept secret. Times change.
Then there was last week’s remark by Mitt Romney about the 47 percenters who receive government benefits. It has been fun to watch all the explanations on talk radio defending what Romney “really meant”, as though they could take his words and divine from them an intent that wasn’t articulated. Romney would have been a little bit more honest if he had included other forms of government largess that would probably bump up the percentage considerably. Government loan guarantees given to banks where heads they win and tales you lose, are common. For starters they include FHA, VA, and SBA loans. Let’s not leave out government subsidized flood insurance and farm subsidies. Then, of course, are the tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to take advantage of code provisions that their friendly Washington representatives vote into law for them. Would I be cynical if I suggested that their whopping contributions and PAC money didn’t have any effect on these representatives? One letter writer and blogger attacked Obama for the 360% increase in Tricare, which benefits military families and retirees. What she left out is that the annual cost for Tricare for a family was set in 1995 at $460/year. It will go up on October 1, 2012 to $538.56/year. That doesn’t include deductables and co-pays, which everyone pays, including Medicare recipients. The cost will continue to escalate on a scale with the cost of living. It is also worth noting that the increased cost was pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by both houses and signed into law by the president. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pushed for the law stating that the medical costs for retirees was taking up much larger portions of the defense budget to the detriment of our fighting capabilities. Gates is a Republican. In a time of deep recession where everyone has to have an oar in the water, Gates got it right.
And speaking of our elected representatives in Washington, many readers have seen the internet claim that they receive lifetime pensions, lifetime healthcare, and other benefits after serving just one term. This is false. They don’t. But here is some of the rest of the story. Our representatives/senators created the current federal employee retirement law in 1984. It allows for a representative to receive a retirement annuity and subsidized healthcare based on years of total government service. But, and here is the big but, our representatives voted to include themselves in the much better retirement plan afforded to federal law enforcement officers. Federal law enforcement officers are provided a larger annuity because they must retire no later than age 57, and because of the special demands and nature of the job. I guess our representatives concluded that facing constituents who may have tough questions is the functional equivalent of what federal law enforcement officers face. I wonder if Romney included them in his 47 %.