The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #131: Deadly cocktail
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The Agitator #81 - Congressional healthcare
by Oliver_Halle
August 06, 2013 03:10 PM | 1005 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

During the congressional deliberations over Obamacare, our elected representatives, largely from the Republican Party, never stopped touting how great the then current healthcare system was, that the private sector provided the best care in the world, and all sorts of other bloviating comments.  Obamacare never intended, and didn’t, nationalize our healthcare system, but it made for great scare talk.  Not one Republican voted for Obamacare. 

Many people don’t know that it’s not true that our congressmen and senators do not get free healthcare.  It’s also not true that they get free healthcare for life after serving only one term.  In fact they are under the same healthcare system as all federal employees, the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), which is an exchange consisting of private healthcare providers.  The FEHB allows participants to choose different plans from different providers and different costs, but each is subsidized by the Federal Government.  The plans were all (and still are) very generous and did not exclude preexisting conditions. 

For all the lavish praise bestowed on private healthcare providers, only one former congressman, a Republican from Illinois, chose to reject the FEHB stating that he didn’t feel he was any better than his constituents and should purchase his insurance from the private sector.  He did it at great additional cost.  Congressman Phil Gingrey was one of those who trashed Obamcare, which would have eliminated preexisting conditions for everyone, while defending the current system.  What’s interesting is that Gingrey was probably all but uninsurable during this time because of his preexisting conditions.  After Obamacare passed Gingrey was one of those who said that if Obamacare was good enough for the American people, it was good enough for the members of congress. 

Now Gingrey and all our Washington representatives are experiencing the curse of the Greek gods---they got what they wished for---and then some.  They voted to take themselves out of the FEHB and require that they buy their insurance on the state exchanges like everyone else.  What they forgot to do in passing this legislation is to provide the subsidy they had under the FEHB.  Sadly, this works a hardship on congressional staffers who for the most part don’t get paid much.  This should be corrected for them because it would be the right thing to do.  Our elected officials should live with it but are working to restore their subsidy. 

Every voter should know if their elected representative and senator voted themselves this subsidy handout when it comes up after they return to Washington.  I predict that most, if not all, will support the subsidy under the guise of protecting the low paid staff members, but don’t be fooled.  They can protect them while taking the hit for themselves.  After all, if Obamacare is good enough for the American people, it’s good enough for them, and they should experience how most Americans live.  And they don’t live like most of the people we send to Washington.  If the Republicans are successful in repealing Obamacare one day, one wonders if they would eliminate the requirement to ensure preexisting conditions since this is a costly feature and one of the big reasons for mandatory insurance.  If so, here’s hoping that they will be hoisted on their own petards. 

 

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Guido Sarducci
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August 07, 2013
Requiring companies to cover pre-existing conditions is like wrecking your car, then demanding that Allstate insure it.

Pre-existing conditions fall into two primary categroies. Someone who had insurance and the carrier cancelled them because of contracted disease/condition that they no longer wanted to pay for.

I feel there should be requirements that once you have coverage, the company cannot cancel you because you develope a condition that is costly for them. That should eliminate one of the major needs for the pre-existing condition requirement.

The other is case of an individual who chose not to have insurance, until he developes a disease/condition and then wants to buy insurance. In that case, I don't think any company should be required to insure him.

The Agitator #80 - 2014 GA senate race
by Oliver_Halle
July 30, 2013 08:48 AM | 835 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Some political pundits think that Georgia and Kentucky will be in play for the 2014 senate race, and that it is possible a Democrat could win one or both states.  Considering the announced choices so far who will slug it out in the Georgia Republican primary next year, I can only hope they are right.  Little is known about Michelle Nunn at this point, but she could be a change agent for the citizens of Georgia, something that has been long needed.

If you look at the Republican lineup, there are some interesting personalities.  First is Paul Brown, a self-proclaimed practicing Christian who has been married four times, a man who majored in chemistry and became a doctor, and who then goes on to make wild statements that would counter good science.  His views on abortion are even out of sync with most right to life supporters.  Broun is so partisan that he couldn’t form a consensus in congress to declare that America loves apple pie and baseball.  To his credit he served in the Marine Corps Reserves and was a medical officer in the navy. 

Phil Gingrey isn’t that much different from Broun.  I have no idea what he would bring to Georgians if he was to be elected.  He would be 72 years old when sworn in, and 78 if he ran for a second term.  Seniority in the senate matters, and it’s not likely that Gingrey would be there long enough to make a difference.  Also consider that when he has taken bold stances, the minute he comes under fire he falls on his sword to those he “offended.”   Recall the time, among others, when he publicly groveled all over His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) when His Porkulous took umbrage at some comments Gingrey made.  Kind of makes it difficult to figure out what Gingrey stands for.  I don’t speak for any veterans but myself, but I am sure I am not alone in resenting Gingrey’s failure to give something back to his country during Vietnam after getting tax subsidized educations at Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia.  The man has never opposed a war, but he failed to answer the war tocsin when doctors were needed, and I will never overlook that.

Karen Handel, like her fellow opponents, is a strong social conservative.  Somehow passing laws pertaining to individual morality is not “more legislation.”  This same candidate served as Fulton County Commission Chairperson and Secretary of State, but the common denominator for both is that she quit before serving out her terms to run for higher office.  She never found time to finish her college education, which is remarkable in this day and time with all the different ways that it can be done.  Commitment is not one of her virtues. 

Jack Kingston is not much different from the other three.  I will always remember how he got his back up when Nancy Pelosi became House Speaker and required the House to meet for a whole week at a time instead of the two and a half day workweek that they had become accustomed to.  Kingston complained that it deprived him of family time.  It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to a man who supported the Iraq War but never put on the uniform himself.  If he had he would empathize with the troops who have been away from their families for a year or more at a time. 

What I haven’t heard from any of the Republican candidates is anything about tax reform.  They do pay lip service to it, but the three males who currently hold congressional seats have done nothing to actively promote legislation to deal with this one issue that unites American more than any other.  One answer to explain it is that they are too busy dialing for dollars when they are in Washington, building up their campaign coffers from special interests instead of doing the business that the people sent them to Washington to do. 

If Michelle Nunn makes tax and campaign finance reform platform issues along with jobs and the economy, stays away from social issues and focuses on the things relating to our quality of life, she just might pull it off.  And Georgia would be the better for it.  The four Republican candidates have little to nothing to show for the time the taxpayers have been supporting them. It’s time for them to get jobs in the private sector, which they proclaim they love so much. 

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The Agitator #79 - Whose loss of religious freedom?
by Oliver_Halle
July 12, 2013 03:39 PM | 885 views | 1 1 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The religious right and Catholic Church are teaming up to protest that their religious freedom is at stake because ObamaCare requires that secular corporations and businesses cover birth control in their health insurance plans.  To be clear, ObamaCare exempts houses of worship and strictly religious institutions from this regulation.  Yet profit making businesses that engage in interstate commerce, businesses that sell products or provide services to anyone with the money to pay, are claiming that they should be treated the same as strictly religious organizations. 

First, freedom of conscience, which is embodied in the First Amendment and includes the Free Exercise of Religion, has historically been considered an individual right.  If I choose to refrain from using alcohol or tobacco because of my religious beliefs, I have no right to force that belief on my neighbor.  If I choose to refrain from all medical care because of end of life issues, that is my decision, a decision that doesn’t confer on me the right to kill my neighbor because I believe it would end his suffering. 

Hobby Lobby, a large arts and crafts chain store, does not want its health insurer to cover contraceptives for its thousands of employees because it violates the owners’ religious beliefs concerning birth control.  They have taken it to federal court where it is still wending its way through the system.  The Catholic Church has also been involved with the same issue.  Recall Sandra Fluke, who His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) made famous because of her stance involving contraceptives at Georgetown University, a Catholic school with a secular mission, that receives federal money, and whose student population is a mix of religions.   To those who support the churches, they should think it through more carefully. 

I recall several years ago listening on the radio to uber right wing talking head Laura Ingraham.  She spent a good part of her show bashing the Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis airport for their refusal to pick up anyone that appeared to have been drinking or who was carrying alcohol back from a trip.  Ingraham was correct.  But to show how hypocritical and duplicitous these zealots can be, in a different show she defended pharmacists that refused to dispense birth control pills if it violated a pharmacist’s religious beliefs---this despite the person having a prescription for a lawful product. 

We are heading down a dangerous road if the courts change course and allow employers of businesses,  regulated industries, and other entities not actively engaged in religious activity (like a church)  to decide for their employees how they should live their lives.  If that happens we will be back to the Jim Crowe days, and restaurants and hotels will be able to refuse service to people not of the right faith, color, national origin, sex, or ethnicity.  Health plans will be able to exclude blood transfusions, deny inoculations for deadly diseases, disallow surgical procedures, and otherwise take us down a road toward anarchy where anyone can decide to ignore a law based on their religious belief. 

We are all Americans, and we live by the rule of law.  If we no longer believe that we are a nation of laws but rather a nation of exemptions based on personal beliefs that can directly impact others, we are doomed.  I have my own beliefs about how my tax money should and shouldn’t be spent.  It frustrates me that much of it goes for things that I totally disagree with for my own “religious” reasons, but I accept the will of the people through our elected representatives.  This process has worked well for almost 225 years.  Here’s hoping that wisdom and judgment prevail so that the United States of America is around for at least another 225 years. 

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Day After Pill
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July 13, 2013
Hobby Lobby's main contention is with the day after pill, which they see as way to force an abortion after conception. They aren't trying to stop their employees from using this pill. They simply don't want to pay for it.

The Agitator #78 - Free markets--not!
by Oliver_Halle
July 03, 2013 09:08 AM | 921 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Paul Ryan has advocated a new Medicare plan that purportedly cuts costs and allows for more patient choices.  Doesn’t get any better than that. The Republicans have been saying for years that the economy works best and is more efficient when there is competition---except when there are “reasons” why competition is bad and cutting costs would be a terrible idea.

You have to wonder if Republicans are really serious about this in light of their track record.  I am unaware that Halliburton submitted to a competitive bidding process for the multi billions of dollars they made in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A number of economists that analyzed the numbers concluded that the military could have performed the same services for far less.  Then there is Medicare Part D, the drug plan that Bush and the majority of Republicans at the time voted for.  Part D, by law, does not allow for the government to negotiate for the best drug prices.  (The Veterans Administration can negotiate the best deals.)  Not a peep from the Republican Party during the 2012 campaign to eliminate the most costly government program in history.  No, instead it’s about defunding Obamacare, a program that doesn’t come close to Part D in what it will cost over ten years.  Just maybe this is about politics instead of free markets and cutting government spending of a program that the American people never pushed for in the first place. 

The latest example of getting a double banger is Republican protests against requiring the providers of Medicare durable medical devices to compete for the lowest prices, and invoking Obama’s name while doing it.  Great Republican scare tactic.  Reminds me of Richard Nixon checking every night under his bed for commies; perhaps the Obama haters check for him under their beds.  You would think that Republicans would be supportive of saving a projected $43 billion over ten years, but they aren’t.  Congressman Tom Price is one of the vocal opponents of competitive bidding in this instance despite his concerns about the costs of Medicare and Obamacare.  He and the current medical device providers only see catastrophic consequences if the free markets were to work their magic and lower the costs of the products that Medicare pays astronomical sums for.  Those who watch TV see the advertising that goes into urging the elderly to talk with their doctors about prescribing motor scooters.  How many know that Medicare pays for eighty percent of the cost? 

Congressman Price and the current medical device providers are posturing all sorts of doomsday scenarios.  Evidence isn’t needed when you do this.  Success can often be accomplished by scaring the daylights out of a target audience, in this case the elderly.  It boils down to this: free markets are for the other guys, for your competitors. Those who stand to benefit from special tax breaks, sole sources, tariffs, and other advantages don’t want to play by the same rules.  They can offer the most plausible reasons why they should be exempted.  I can assure you that I could come up with very plausible sounding reasons for why I should pay no taxes on my business, and why I deserve to have sole source contracts with government entities at all levels. 

Every time someone gets an advantage in what is supposed to be a free and competitive market, someone else has to make up for it, whether it be through higher taxes, or higher costs to businesses that are forced to pursue other contracts because of markets closed off to them.  Both the consumer and the less favored subsidize those with friends in high and  influential places.  Republicans claim that Democrats are the party of government spending and giveaways, that they represent all that is good with economics.  That’s why I have focused on the Republicans, why I believe that they continue to fool a lot of people into believing their free market mantra.  The American people are the losers for it. 

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The Agitator #77 - Snowden is no Hero
by Oliver_Halle
June 25, 2013 08:29 AM | 897 views | 3 3 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Edward Snowden is an American hero to some.  To others, like me, he is a self-righteous, self-serving do-gooder---and a traitor.  I have been amazed at some of the conservatives that have taken up for him (admittedly not all), and even more astounded at the number of people who have petitioned the White House to pardon him before his likely prosecution. 

Let’s be clear about a few things.  Whether you like it or not, the NSA, the White House, and those on the respective intelligence committees in congress, all knew and supported the intelligence gathering that some now find so egregious.  Moreover, the FISA court signed off of everything that was done.  In other words, there was nothing illegal or criminal about what was done. 

If those  who now protest the NSA intelligence gathering were the same who either voted for the Patriot Act legislation or supported it, I have to ask what their objections are?  They knew that the Patriot Act granted very broad powers to the executive branch of government.  To protest now only because an awful lot of Americans aren’t happy about the activities smacks of nothing less than full blown partisan politics and pandering to the voters. 

Back in 2004, when the NYT exposed the Bush administration’s actual wiretapping of conversations without a FISA court warrant, there were some right here in Cobb County who thought that the NYT should be prosecuted for treason.  What contrasts that case with this one is that the informer in the NYT case was exposing criminal misconduct.  The informer (never identified to my knowledge) was a whistleblower.  Snowden exposed lawful activity that has potentially decimated sources and methods of gathering intelligence that will make it that much harder to identify terrorist conspiracies.  Snowden is not a whistleblower.  He is a leaker.  Leakers make unauthorized and illegal disclosures of confidential or classified information. Leakers are criminals.   

We are a nation of laws.  That means we obey all laws until changed by a legislative body or struck down by a court.  That is who and what we are as Americans.  Snowden is more of an anarchist.  He didn’t like what the NSA was doing, so he took it upon himself to break the law to report sensitive lawful activity at a huge cost to our national security.  What makes him any different than anyone else, such as those evading paying taxes because they don’t like the tax code?  I have no argument with someone who wants to limit the intelligence gathering in this country because of superseding privacy interests.  It’s a debate we should have. But it is disingenuous to go back and cry foul after you supported the very laws that allowed for the NSA to do what it did.  And I recall too during the 2004 presidential race that one of the Republican campaign platitudes was that “Bush kept us safe.”  Didn’t seem to bother them at the time that one of the methods he used was criminal, but when Obama takes advantage of the laws on the books to keep us safe, somehow “it’s different.”

The MDJ recently reported two cases of some miscreants who planted miniature cameras in a bedroom and a bathroom to observe various female activity.  This is becoming more common it seems.  This is a serious invasion of privacy, too, but I’m not sure how we can address the proliferation of these electronic devices that have become small, cheap and ubiquitous.  Perhaps our elected officials should consider increasing the penalties for these violations of privacy to the point that if caught you would face a long prison term.  I am much more concerned about the availability and use of such gadgets, which strike much closer to our personal privacy, than I am of the NSA’s data collection.  And everyone else who cares deeply about maintaining some semblance of personal privacy should be too.

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CoffeeProf
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July 03, 2013
Scott, name-calling does not a rational argument make! And empty statements such as "whatever steps are necessary" get us nowhere -- "necessary" according to whom? You want the NSA to have the final word (which it currently doesn't: members of both parties acknowledge that Congress had been briefed)? Gosh, Scott, you're a poopy-head. There, I've proved my point, I guess.

The Agitator #76 - Scouts and churches
by Oliver_Halle
June 14, 2013 03:44 PM | 1052 views | 2 2 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Two churches in Cobb County are among the five percent in the metropolitan area that said they will no longer sponsor scouting groups because the BSA’s National Council lifted the restriction that denied membership to those who openly identified themselves as gay.  The Rev. Ernest Easley of Roswell Street Baptist Church stated that it “would be a compromise for us to throw an arm around an organization that is openly pro-gay.”  The Rev. Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church declared “…as Bible believing Christians we cannot compromise God’s word, which has a clear call for people…to live a life of sexual purity.” 

I support both clergymen one hundred percent in exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise of their religious beliefs, and their freedom of association.  But that’s as far as it goes.  They have a right to be wrong, and I believe that history will judge them accordingly.  Today they may have the support of any number of their congregations for making this “bold” decision, for taking what they believe is a stance against immorality and defense of their Christian faith, but I think in time their collection plates will reflect a different mood.  The churches and synagogues that have put out the welcome mat to all scouts  deserve praise.  I hope that they   acquire new members from the other two churches and show them a different side of Christianity.  If understanding scripture was black and white, there wouldn’t be so many denominations that interpret it differently, but just as sincerely. 

What stands out are some of the other sins that are ignored.  I have no desire in this blog to engage in a Biblical debate; it’s not the place, although I would welcome one in a different forum.  I am willing to bet that two of the Ten Commandments most frequently ignored are the Third and Fourth pertaining to taking God’s name in vain, and keeping the Sabbath.  They seem to have made the cut to be included in the Commandments, while homosexuality did not. 

Yes, I know that that homosexuality is referred to elsewhere in the Bible.  I also know that Jesus specifically spoke about divorce, and that one of the two grounds for divorce include adultery by the aggrieved party.  I wonder if either minister has ever questioned their parishioners who are divorced and remarried to determine if one or the other spouses, or both, were the adulterers.  Since I never heard of a church, these two included, de-fellowshiping a congregant in this instance, I have to wonder why, in light of the “no compromise” positions by both pastors concerning homosexuality and the scouts.  Jesus said that you have sinned if you lusted after someone not your spouse.  How many parishioners of these two churches are guilty on a regular basis of that sin?  I have heard many times that churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for saints.  Fair enough if that doctrine is applied across the board.  It would be interesting to know how much money scouts bring to churches versus some of the divorced big money members.  Being cynical, I have to think that money may just have some bearing on the double standard.  There are some who resent comparing the gay rights issue with the civil rights movement.  The evidence is pretty strong, though, that no one chooses their sexuality any more than they choose their race.  I also understand that many of faith believe that if homosexuality is genetic, it would mean that one was born with a sin that could not be changed by choice, obviating the core belief that we have free will.     

Allow me to point out that churches don’t pay property taxes while many or most other charitable organizations do. Every time a church buys property the rest of the taxpayers have to make up the tax revenue that is taken off the digest.  Yet these churches receive police, fire, and other municipal services at no cost to them.  People like me who don’t want to support these two churches and their beliefs that are contrary to everything I hold dear, have no choice.  This is another example of redistribution, but sadly there is no outcry from the same people that object to redistribution of their money when it doesn’t suit their purposes. 

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Oliver G. Halle
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June 16, 2013
Nettie, thank you for your nice comment. In light of what you wrote and our complete agreement, I would propose that that the MDJ offer you my slot on those occasions when I am out of town. If they offer to double what they pay me, be careful---it is a labor of love only. No greens come with it. :-)

The Agitator #75 - Government handouts
by Oliver_Halle
June 07, 2013 02:57 PM | 886 views | 2 2 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Through my social media network and the mainstream media there never fails to be a story, LTE, or opinion piece about government handouts. Almost always the focus is on the low hanging fruit of all the “free” benefits given to the undesirables in our society. These undesirables include those illegally in the U.S., single mothers with no job and fathers who don’t meet their obligations, the unemployed who have used up their life savings and now are on food stamps, and others who have had the misfortune of just bad things happening to them through no fault of their own. To be clear, I do not include in this group anyone that chooses their miserable plight when there might be opportunities to avoid it.

It seems that so many who decry the “parasites”, “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”, have either never known hardship or they have at one time or another been the recipients of other government largess. I have known any number of people who are successful only because of the accident of birth, but if it wasn’t for family wealth or a trust fund, they would likely have joined the masses that struggle to make it each day. Take Rep. Stephen Fincher, Republican from Tennessee, who wants to significantly cut the food stamps program. He is even good at citing from the Good Book to support his position, which pertains to those who don’t work don’t eat. Yet this same hypocrite it turns out took $70,000 in farm subsidies in 2012 for doing nothing, and was the recipient of other amounts for a number of years preceding. Michelle Bachmann got caught in the same hypocrisy.

Anyone remember the Wall Street crowd that got taxpayer subsidies to stay afloat, and then used a hunk of the money to pay bonuses to many of the same losers who caused the problem in the first place? Recall too that Rush Limbaugh defended the bonuses while blasting the less fortunate in our society as takers.

Then there are the military commissaries and post exchanges in the U.S. that were set up in times when bases were located far from stores and pay was very low. That began to change with the voluntary military and better wages coupled with the ubiquitous big box discount stores and supermarkets. When former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta tried to eliminate or cut back on many of these facilities, the outcry from all the special interests overwhelmed our elected representatives and the Defense Department had to back off. Far more important to continue this antiquated taxpayer funded program than to use the money for actual defense. My preference would be to use some of this money for the seriously wounded veterans. Private money should never have to support those who paid the price for their country with lifetime injuries. There will always be arguments for why this benefit needs to be continued, but one can make an argument for anything to include why someone should be murdered. But it doesn’t make it right, especially during these tough economic times. There is no constitutional right to any of these benefits, and the congress can take away what it bestows.

How can our elected representatives justify the loan guarantees made to banks? Why do taxpayers continue to subsidize flood insurance? Why did the congress authorize grant money to churches and other houses of worship to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy? Where are the defenders of capitalism and free markets to object to the multi-billions of dollars to those who should take personal responsibility for where they build and buying insurance? Where are those who shout the loudest protesting the “redistribution” of their money when it goes to many of the disadvantaged? They are the voices of silence.

These are tough times, and one can opine whether things are getting better or not. But if we are going to cut deficits and debt, let’s look at some of these programs and grants that I’ve mentioned and be rid of them if you really proclaim to be all about free markets. Those who think they serve worthwhile purposes I suspect are the same people who don’t want to pay the higher prices and fees for goods and services that would inevitably cost more. Seems like the government handouts are just fine when it benefits them personally.

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CoffeeProf
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June 07, 2013
When will people realize that the political contest in the US isn't between Republicans and Democrats but between the have's and have-not's? Social mobility increasingly is a myth: according to the Federal Reserve of San Francisco, if you were born in the bottom 20%, your chances of ending up in the top 20% are about one in 20. Likewise, if you were born in the top 20%, your chances of ending up in the bottom 20% are about one in 20. In other words, the system that you're describing, Oliver, is like a casino: a few people win loud jackpots at the slots, but that's designed to disguise the fact that the casino always wins. Same thing with the oligarchs -- the "loyal" Americans who undermine the most fundamental American principle: we all play by the same rules.


The Agitator #74 - The Constitution
by Oliver_Halle
May 30, 2013 08:41 AM | 1298 views | 22 22 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident last December created a plethora of opinions concerning gun rights and the Second Amendment and all sorts of proposed legislation, such as lifting some of the exceptions to background checks. I don’t recall in my lifetime the volume of commentary, media stories, and coffee group discussions about this subject. The special interest groups were out in full force, especially the NRA, as they poured money into political campaign funds to ensure that their interpretation of the Second Amendment carried the day.

 

Since the most recent debates on the Second Amendment, there have been other constitutional questions to arise, and it has been especially interesting to observe how conservatives don’t seem to view other amendments with the same reverence. Several examples come to mind. One concerns the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause. When Ed Buckner, a strong and vocal advocate of religious freedom protested the placing of Bibles in state operated lodging facilities, he was condemned for bashing Christians. Yet the neutral role of the state concerning religious matters protects all beliefs, and one can only wonder if the same Christians who denounced Buckner would have a problem if the state placed a Koran in every state-run hotel room, even at no cost to the state. It’s also interesting to note how conservatives fall back on the understanding of the Founding Fathers, as though they spoke with one voice, yet they don’t recognize Thomas Jefferson as a Founding Father when it comes to his 1802 letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists in which he described the “Wall of Separation” between church and state.

Then there is Lois Lerner, the IRS official who was subpoenaed to testify by a congressional committee. The Attorney General had already announced that the Justice Department was conducting a criminal investigation into the IRS for targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny when Lerner had the audacity, on advice of counsel to take the Fifth Amendment and not testify. From the denunciations on reactionary talk radio you would have thought that Lerner was a communist for daring to exercise a right under the same Bill of Rights that the Second Amendment can be found. One congressman said that he would consider holding Lerner in contempt, never mind that he would not offer Lerner immunity for her testimony, which is standard procedure for compelling a witness to testify.

Locally was the recent indictment of state representative Tyrone Brooks. Brooks, another audacious American, dared to invoke his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. And even worse, Brooks had the temerity to retain former Governor Roy Barnes to defend him. It doesn’t get more un-American than that to some people’s warped vision of the Constitution. One anonymous blogger underneath the MDJ story described Barnes as a “lawyer scumbag who protects other scumbags.” Another anonymous blogger wrote that Barnes “was just as crooked as (Brooks) was.” Again, the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and requiring the state to meet its burden of proof means nothing to many who call themselves “constitutionalists.”

Surprisingly, or maybe not, a local group that proclaims itself as defender of the Constitution and the rights it affords, didn’t utter a single word in the three instances I cited. Perhaps the group’s political agenda doesn’t fit with unpopular people who exercise their rights. My educated guess is that those who denounce others for exercising their constitutional rights, often the same denouncers who think there is only one amendment, are usually the quickest to discover and claim their other rights when it involves them personally. And that’s the way it should be--despite the utter hypocrisy. All of our rights are sacred even if one’s cause just happens to be unpopular, and all those rights should be defended and protected.

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EM Buckner
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June 07, 2013
Off Balance, like theists everywhere, is perfectly willing to twist words that he insists are from God and whose meaning he will otherwise claim is clear and unambiguous. I invite readers--if there are any left--of these exchanges to go to a site such as biblegateway.com and look up the actual verses OB cites. Doing so will reveal such non sequiturs as claiming that the Bible verse about knowing the truth, which will set you free, is somehow a statement in support of free speech! And other religions all claim their own "sacred" texts are the source that reveal the truth and "set you free," of course.

Any honest preacher (surely there are some) will tell you that biblical freedom is the "freedom" to obey God, not the kind of individual freedom to make up our own minds, speak our own conclusions, etc. The First Commandment quite bluntly contradicts the First Amendment. Does OB honestly think that a God who commands that we have no other gods before Him is OK with each of us having whatever gods--or no god--that we think best?

As Christians tirelessly tell me, those tablets did not give us The Ten Suggestions. Thoughtful readers will find all--not just most--all--of OB's alleged biblical bases for constitutional principles laughable. Twisted meaning and logic that far is as surely torture as water boarding. I'd be delighted to debate, in a public, even-handed, civil debate with OB (or someone more willing to identify himself) as to whether this is--or should be--a Christian nation. And I'd be well satisfied if he tried to use Bible verses like these to make an un-makeable case for his position.

The Agitator #73 - The faux media scandal
by Oliver_Halle
May 23, 2013 03:22 PM | 885 views | 1 1 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It has been a surprise and revelation how much love the media has suddenly acquired, especially from the reactionaries. Up until now the only comments that come to mind from them have related to how they carry the water for Obama (Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and countless other liberals), that they don’t report real news, that unlike Fox, which is “fair and balanced”, the liberal media outlets have any number of agendas, and on and on and on.

It wasn’t that long ago that the New York Times was reviled for publishing stories that some considered breaches of national security. Does the name Julian Assange, the self-proclaimed journalist come to mind and the classified information that was reported by the NYT and other media outlets? The usual cries of treason were shouted out, some demanding criminal prosecutions of reporters and publishers. The outrage is usually very selective, though. Consider too the leaks surrounding the disclosure of Valerie Plame identifying her as a CIA officer. Since she was married to Joe Wilson, an enemy of the Bush administration, there was no outcry demanding that the leak be found and prosecuted Judith Miller of the NYT went to jail for contempt when she refused to reveal her source that identified Plame as a CIA officer. I don’t remember that the new defender of the press, Rush Limbaugh, ever offered to bail Miller out of jail. What I do recall is how he minimized any potential harm to the sources she cultivated in dangerous places.

What is amazing is the lack of understanding of what freedom of the press means. It illustrates another example of how the words of the Constitution most often do not reveal the intent of the Founding Fathers to cover every situation. What does the First Amendment mean when it says that congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press? Nowhere does the First Amendment mention the “public’s right to know.” Is that not just an interpretation, something implied? Is a reporter exempt from prosecution for conspiring with a government official to reveal classified information because of the public’s interest in a given story? Who gets to decide what is in the public’s interest? Why would a reporter be given immunity but not any other American who has an interest in learning government secrets? With today’s internet should not every American be able to claim some journalistic license? Since when is it not a crime to conspire with someone else to commit a crime, in this instance a reporter conspiring with a government source to provide classified information to an unauthorized person?

The Constitution certainly doesn’t provide for such immunity, but to listen to the new defenders of the First Amendment you would think that they either have it or should have it. I personally support a shield law that would protect the media from disclosing its sources except in specifically defined situations. But that is not the law, and the congress has repeatedly voted down any shield law legislation. Some have argued that the Justice Department violated its own rules by not first giving the AP an opportunity to review the subpoena. But there is no law that requires such notice, and the Supreme Court ruled in a 1970s case involving the IRS that an individual has no legal claim against a government agency violating its own in-house rules. In that case an IRS agent failed to provide Miranda warnings under IRS guidelines that were not required by law because there was no custodial situation. The taxpayer made statements that were used against him, and after conviction he tried to fall back on the IRS guidelines to no avail.

We are a nation of laws, and I believe not only in the rule of law, but that if we selectively apply laws because we don’t like one or another of them, we are heading towards anarchy. I have my own favorite laws that I think are outrageous and absurd, but as long as they were duly passed and not overturned by a court, I readily submit to them. Working for change is how to oppose bad legislation. I hate the tax code, and aside from the IRS penalties for failure to conform, these detestable laws and regulations happen to be lawfully in place. For that reason I pay what the government says I owe. The exaggerated fears that the Obama administration is going for you or your neighbor next is grossly overstated. The system is working as it should with congressional hearings (despite all the posturing for the cameras) that may result in needed legislation.

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Kevin Foley
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May 23, 2013
Oliver - the faux outrage expressed by people like McCain, Paul, Issa, and nutty lady, Michelle Bachmann are is transference at work, the GOP angry at itself for losing an election it could have won and blasting Democrats for every ill.

They are like petulant children, incapable of coping with defeat and throwing their baseball bats at the winning pitcher. The current crop of GOP "leaders" is an absolute joke, one I welcome because it virtually guarantees Democratic success.

The Agitator #72 - The IRS
by Oliver_Halle
May 15, 2013 09:38 AM | 997 views | 2 2 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Partisan politics is keeping the Benghazi controversy on the front page, but in time with all the investigations and committee hearings the American people should know, as much as it’s possible to know, what happened, what went wrong, what could or could not have been prevented, and other related issues.  And while Fox News can be counted on to carry this story until at least 2014, if not 2016, in my opinion the much bigger event is how the IRS targeted conservative groups, such as different tea parties that sought a lawful tax exempt status. 

What makes this latest IRS scandal so egregious is that it is hardly the first time that politicians or bureaucrats have singled out their enemies, dissidents, or disfavored groups for “special” tax treatment.  Recall that Nixon’s enemies list included journalists, political opponents and almost anyone of prominence that disagreed with one or another of the president’s policies.  It seems that every few years history repeats itself, and the weapon of choice to destroy your opponent is the heavy hand of the IRS.  And it is as effective as it is scary.  At least in this instance there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that the president knew anything about what some renegade IRS officials apparently decided to do on their own. 

Anyone who has been on the IRS merry-go-round knows how time consuming, costly and difficult it is to get off it.  I’m sure that we can all count on the usual platitudes coming from our elected officials about the abuse of power, how they are going to introduce legislation to prevent future occurrences, and on and on with the same blather.  And this blather is a first cousin of the never ending promises of tax reform.  One of the reasons for the latest scandal is the complexity of the tax code.  The endless paperwork and labyrinthine regulations make it easy for a power hungry bureaucrat to frustrate an applicant for some kind of tax break.  For the ordinary working stiffs that have every good intention of paying what they owe, how often do they get caught up in some official’s scrutiny for reasons that will probably never be known?  The oppressive paperwork of compliance with the tax code is by itself reason enough to get rid of it.  Simplicity alone would go a long way toward many more people paying their taxes, but each year the IRS regulations grow by hundreds of additional pages providing a full employment bill for tax accountants and lawyers. 

I wish I had an answer for how to get our elected officials to begin a serious discussion about creating a whole new tax code that is simple for everyone.  But as long as special interests are willing to fund political campaigns to preserve their tax breaks, what you will get from your elected official is the usual rhetoric of how it’s time to throw out the current tax code coupled with all sorts of talk about a fair tax, flat tax, consumption tax, and other ideas.  Crowds get worked up, scream “right on”, leave filled with some hope, and end up with nothing.  As long as these same political folks can keep the people’s attention diverted over Benghazi and other such controversies, the shell game will continue as the ball of tax reform remains out of sight. 

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Oliver G. Halle
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May 16, 2013
Cobb County Guy, We agree that in an organization the tone is set at the top. The top in this instance appears to be the former acting head of the IRS. Whether some renegade bureaucrats acted in direct contradiction to the chief we don't know yet. To suggest, without evidence, that Obama failed to set the right tone, would be a stretch beyond credulity.

The complexities and ambiguities in the tax code and regulations allows corrupt officials and bureaucrats to manipulate the rules just as it does for taxpayers. It works both ways. That's why tax lawyers and accountants would hate to see the current tax code tossed and replaced by something comprehensible and simple.

I doubt that there would be a "tsunami of corporations seeking to locate and relocate to the U.S." if the corporate tax was eliminated. A lot of factors go into where corporations locate, and tax policy is only one. Maybe cheap labor in places like Bangladesh might be just one influence among others. Florida, a state with no income tax, several major ports, and a good climate has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Could there be something else besides taxes that has not drawn a lot of new businesses?

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