The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #134: We have to choose
September 18, 2014 09:10 AM | 133196 views | 0 0 comments | 2495 2495 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #134: We have to choose
by Oliver_Halle
September 18, 2014 09:10 AM | 105 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The war drums continue to beat for a much more serious U.S. presence in Syria and Iraq, at least by any number of conservative politicians and radio reactionaries who make up the echo chamber. I think Obama’s policy of enlisting other Middle Eastern and European countries participation to destroy IS makes sense and will work. It is in our mutual interests to work together, to share the costs, to help stabilize Syria and Iraq. IS unwittingly has done more to unite so many countries and religious factions than anyone could have imagined.



While we ramp up our military might to fight IS, the American people, I trust, will understand and appreciate that it doesn’t come for free. No question that we have the capability to take out a lot of high value targets from the air. That includes the trucking of oil to black market sources willing to buy from IS, oil being one of the main sources of revenue for this outlaw state. Military engagement in this instance is in our national interest, and Obama’s handling of it seems to be measured and considered.



The reality is that we have no choice but to confront and crush IS regardless of how they came to be such a potent force. This comes at a time when the military is scaling down to levels not seen in many decades. Technology has obviated the need for as many troops, but the cost for advanced weaponry in the air, on the sea, under the ocean, and on the ground is staggering. Despite what most economists report concerning the recession, ask any small business how it is doing and they will tell you that it is a struggle. Income in today’s dollars is actually lower for most middle class workers than thirty years ago. Fewer dollars in the hands of consumers means less spending, a drag on the economy. Employment may be up, but so is underemployment.



All of this means less money to pay for government services, which includes the Pentagon. Something’s got to give. It’s easy to go after the low hanging fruit of welfare and food stamp recipients, the people with no meaningful political voice. But one should compare the costs of these programs with the number of high dollar government subsidies to private businesses, to include commercial farmers, banks, flood insurance, housing industry, special tax breaks, and more. If we are going to keep the most powerful military in the world, we will have to figure out where some real cuts need to come from or raise taxes.



Our military strength is tied to our industrial might and always has been. But we can’t just keep shoveling money into new weapons without figuring out what kind of wars they will be used in. We’ve been fighting asymmetrical wars now for 50 years, which is a contradiction in terms of supporting a government while trying to kill the people who seek to destroy it, all within the same geographic boundaries. It’s pretty hard to unconditionally bomb everything on the ground in this type of war and not create new enemies. We still haven’t figured out cost effective and new ways to fight these wars.



Meanwhile, those who continue to sound warnings about our failing infrastructure, are ignored. Highways and roads everywhere are overcrowded because we haven’t seriously undertaken other public transportation options. How about all the potholes? Few probably remember that only a few years ago a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. Our rail service is antiquated compared to other first world countries. What incentive is there to use it? It would cost a lot of money to begin to fix these and so many other problems. But cranking up our industrial might, like we did successfully in WW II, would create millions of good jobs, stimulate innovation, and solve a lot of problems. We either get serious and begin to fund these projects or a lot of professionals, businesses and workers will lose their skills and add to the unemployment/underemployment rolls.



The American people will have to choose between the lobbyists for the military-industrial complex and fixing the rot of our aging infrastructure, much of it built during the Depression with tax dollars. Both cost a lot of money. But there should be no mistake in understanding that making our infrastructure a priority will also generate a lot of tax revenue from all the new workers, from purchasing high dollar equipment made in the USA, and the ripple effect of this spending. And that additional money will also continue to meet the needs of our armed forces. General Douglas MacArthur said that the history of the failure of war can be summed up in two words: too late. I think those words could apply to deciding our priorities.

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The Agitator #133: Bravery in suits & behind mikes
by Oliver_Halle
September 11, 2014 09:25 AM | 114 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There has been a lot of loose talk about how Obama should address the IS situation in Iraq and Syria. If you listen and react to reactionary radio where almost every “expert” never served in uniform, you would either prepare for war on the home front or head for the hills to defend what remains of the USA. Add a few elected representatives to pour gas on the fire of fear, no telling what will happen. My best guess, though, that instead of reasoned solutions, we will continue to get knee-jerk wisdom from these know-it-alls. Recall that certain White House pundits told us that if we didn’t take out Sadam, we could expect New York and other U.S. cities to undergo nuclear attacks.

There are some who blame Obama for withdrawing our troops from Iraq even though neither he nor Bush were able to get the Iraqi government to agree on a Status of Forces Agreement. In reviewing this mess, (without going back to how we ever got into this war) consider that upwards of a trillion dollars later, providing the Iraqi army with the best training and equipment in the world, they couldn’t hold against a much inferior force. Like so many intelligence catastrophes over the decades, this colossal failure should be investigated thoroughly to determine how it happened.

Some of the talkmeister experts, and those in suits and ties who represent us (Senator Lindsay Graham comes to mind), seem to think that we should just bomb IS into oblivion and all will be solved. According to the Pentagon, though, it’s not quite so simple. We aren’t facing an army in uniform from a country with a capital. It’s another asymmetrical war. Sure, taking out tanks and vehicles that you know belong to IS should be relatively easy. But what about all the IS terrorists that mix and mingle with the populace? Do we just take out thousands at a time? A guest on one radio show I listened to said that collateral damage is essentially okay as long as it kills bunch of terrorists.

What I have a hard time understanding is how you win a war if you don’t win over the people. The Civil War and WW II were wars of unconditional surrender against countries that we were at war. The generous terms of surrender that Ulysses S. Grant granted to Robert E. Lee probably saved this country from a Vietnam type insurgency that could have gone on indefinitely. Same for rebuilding Germany and Japan. But in wars where we support the government (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), how do you strengthen the government, win the hearts and minds of the people---which go together--- if we are indifferent to the very populations we want to convince? John Steinbeck’s 1942 novel, “The Moon is Down”, comes to mind, and his metaphor of the flies conquering the flypaper to describe how the natives will ultimately conquer their oppressors.

IS will have more than its hands full trying to hold the territory it has conquered. Who will resupply them once the American weapons they seized run out of ammo or are destroyed? What countries will trade with this caliphate? Right now it appears that all the Middle Eastern countries recognize how dangerous IS is to their own security and are on board with some kind of action. I have to believe that between our own highly trained commandos, the Air Force, and cooperation on multi-levels with other Middle Eastern and European countries, IS will be defeated.

Keeping perspective and a cool head is important in any war. This one is no different. Consider that the hotheads in our country have yet to call for attacks on North Korea, the one country that has the bomb and has repeatedly not only threatened to use it against us and our ally, South Korea, but has also committed any number of terrorist acts and atrocities. There is wisdom behind our current policy, for now North Korea is contained, and in time they will implode.

In no way do I suggest we minimize the IS threat. Not even a little bit. I am only suggesting that there are different ways to defeat an enemy, and one size doesn’t fit all. Let the real experts in the Pentagon and elsewhere prevail. Correct mistakes as they occur, change course as necessary, keeping in mind that it is easier to escalate than to deescalate.

Lastly, we should also be concerned about the domestic terrorist groups in our own country. More cops by far have been killed, more murders have occurred by home grown, anti-government terrorists. They are a growing threat for a variety of reasons, and they openly live among us. Let’s not lose perspective.

(Note: I wrote this column before Obama’s speech. Some things may have changed since, but my premises remain.)

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Ben Twomey
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September 11, 2014
Well said, Oliver. I just hope that the President does not choose to play political games with this threat. I can assure you, there is not one damned thing political about it.

The Agitator #132: An unsung heroine
by Oliver_Halle
September 04, 2014 10:45 AM | 284 views | 3 3 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Little attention was paid to the passing of Lillian Gobitis on August 22nd, at the age of 90, in Fayetteville, GA. Almost no one would know her name or have a clue that this woman had a role in framing First Amendment law that we take for granted. What happened to her a long time ago is very relevant today.

Times were very different in 1940. World War II had begun a year earlier, and the United States was gearing up for its inevitable participation. Minersville, PA was no different than a lot of school districts that passed a requirement for school children to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The small town was made up largely of Roman Catholics, and the Gobitis family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Back then Jehovah’s Witnesses were especially unpopular, not only for their beliefs, but also because of what some might consider heavy-handed proselytizing.

At their parents’ direction, Lillian and her younger brother Billy refused to salute the flag or say the pledge, because their faith considers it a form of idolatry. As a result, they experienced horrible insults, violent clashes, the local Catholic Church boycotted the family store, and ultimately the children were expelled from school. A lawsuit followed, and a federal district court in Philadelphia held that the school district had violated their free exercise of belief. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision.

In an 8-1 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, the majority overturned the Court of Appeals. (Skipping the esoteric legalism), Justice Felix Frankfurter declared that the school district policy was a legitimate secular policy to promote patriotism and to unify the country. The atrocities that resulted from this case are too numerous and too graphic to list. Beatings, arson, castration, and other acts of brutal violence were committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses around the country with some 1,500 reported victims. In effect, the Supreme Court had legitimized forced acts of patriotism, and this gave the self-proclaimed patriots excuses to rid their communities of people who were “un-American.”

Following the Gobitis decision, the state of West Virginian enacted a law empowering school districts to mandate reciting the pledge and saluting the flag. A very similar fact pattern developed with the Barnette family, also Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they refused to obey the law. The justices on the Supreme Court were well aware of the violence that ensued from Gobitis. On Flag Day, June 14, 1943, in the case of West Virginia vs. Barnette, the high court overturned its decision from three years earlier. Justice Robert H. Jackson summed it up with these words, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

As for me, I don’t like it when I see people sit during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, or not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance. But as an American, I respect the right of free expression provided it doesn’t violate time, place and manner limitations as defined over the years by the Supreme Court. Protecting their rights protects mine. Lots of speech is offensive, whether verbal or symbolic, but I would much prefer to live with it than to live in a country that suppressed “unpopular” speech or beliefs. Compulsory flag saluting is a first cousin of banning religious faith, which communist and other countries tried, and which we see today in the Middle East, not only with IS, but even in “friendly” countries like Saudi Arabia.

Lillian Gobitis and her brother led the way to affirming freedom of conscience embodied in the First Amendment. And that freedom, the most paramount of all, defines us uniquely as Americans. May each of us pay the debt forward that Lillian and Billy paid in 1940, to promote liberty wherever it is challenged.

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EM Buckner
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September 06, 2014
As an atheist (no surprise of course to anyone who's read my letters or other comments to MDJ readers), I cannot pretend to understand or agree with the Jehovah's Witnesses on much of anything. Whether their beliefs regarding idolatry make any sense to Jerry or Ben or Oliver or me is *not* the key, however. As Americans, they retain the right to judge for themselves on this or any other religion-related issue. They don't have to convince me or Jerry; their rights, like my own and Jerry's, are protected by the Constitution (or by implication from the Declaration as "natural," inherent, rights), subject to no man's understanding. Under our secular Constitution and government, I can consider Jerry's Christianity nonsensical and he can consider my atheism anathema, even while both of us retain the right to believe (or not) as we wish and to practice any religion or none as we deem wise. Both of should be proud to have religious freedom, and grateful to Lillian Gobitis, Justice Robert Jackson, and many who fought and fewer (but still many) who died to protect our liberty. That's the basis of real American patriotism.

The Agitator #131: Deadly cocktail
by Oliver_Halle
August 28, 2014 09:45 AM | 316 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed several times in recent years that money and politics are okay as long as there is no quid pro quo. They have even opined that campaign contributions that, in effect pay for access, are okay. And I recall a justice stating that there is no evidence that money necessarily corrupts. That last comment was in connection with a Montana case where the state’s legislature passed a law limiting contributions based on their findings that money can have a corrupting influence. An activist conservative Supreme Court overturned the Montana law despite the will of the people of that state.

Where does one start when it comes to corrupt public officials that have made the news just in the last 12 months alone? I have already written in this space about former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, currently on trial on multiple counts of taking money and gifts from a businessman seeking the governor’s support to promote his product. Following that trial has been like watching a movie. A seemingly decent man and his wife couldn’t resist the largess their new friend bestowed on them, largess that amounted to $177,000. In fact, the governor claims that he thought they were friends even though they met for the first time during the governor’s campaign when the businessman offered the use of his private jet with “no strings attached.” Nary a red flag was raised in McDonnell’s mind. Just a nice guy wanting to be helpful. And don’t forget that McDonnell cloaked much of his governing style under the self-professed guise of being a good Christian.

I don’t think that McDonnell is an evil man. He better fits the pattern of someone living beyond his means, someone with a certain sense of entitlement to a lifestyle that he couldn’t afford. He has admitted to receiving the money and gifts, but has been trying to assure the triers of his fate that he didn’t give the businessman anything for it. In following this case very closely, I am very dubious that the jury is going to be persuaded by that argument. At least I hope not.

Closer to home, former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer has waived being indicted on corruption charges and will plead guilty to an information. U.S. Attorney Sally Yates has stated emphatically that there will be no deal that doesn’t include a prison sentence. I never doubted for a New York minute that Yates would submit to lawyer blandishments of why incarceration was not appropriate. She has never wavered in her 25 years as a federal prosecutor from seeking harsh penalties for those who put their public positions up for sale.

Boyer was as bad as they come. She egregiously misused the government credit card provided to her, and she created a scheme in which a self-professed “man of the cloth” became a consultant for her, but in fact provided no services, and then kicked back close to a hundred thousand dollars to her. Sadly, Boyer and her husband had come upon hard times, but to assuage the pressures she was under, she used taxpayer money to pay for expensive hotels, ski trips, her cell phone, and so much more. Cold cash compresses at the public’s expense made her a better commissioner---at least in her own mind. To compound her venality, she touted herself as the taxpayer’s advocate in cutting spending. She has brought new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

Corruption cases are very difficult to make and to prove. There are rarely smoking guns. Deals are cut in secret, and almost always both parties to any agreement are happy with the arrangements since each is getting some kind of benefit. Investigations, like the two I cited above, often begin because things are out of the ordinary, and facts and circumstances create a reasonable suspicion that something doesn’t seem quite right. There is no proof of wrongdoing at that point, but in connecting the few factual dots that are available, there could be enough information to warrant an investigation to probe deeper, to flesh out additional details---or not---to determine if any laws were broken.

The Braves stadium deal, in my opinion, deserves to be analyzed more closely. It would take an investigative body with subpoena power to do it any justice. There are any number of records that should be reviewed to examine and compare key dates, phone records, emails and texts, calendars, memoranda, letters, and more. There is no attorney/client privilege between Commission Chairman Tim Lee and Dan McRae, who Lee has acknowledged was merely an advisor or consultant and not his or the county’s attorney. Each could testify and provide a narrative of events.

I support the Braves coming to Cobb County. Like many other Cobb taxpayers, though, I have questions about how the deal was done. Why not put these concerns to rest for once and for all? Perhaps a good place to start would be the State Ethics Board, a civil body. If their findings lead to something more, they have the power to refer them to another appropriate body. If I was Tim Lee, I would welcome such investigation to remove all the controversy for once and for all. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it would restore confidence in our local government.

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The Agitator #130: RINO good; DINO bad
by Oliver_Halle
August 21, 2014 12:00 PM | 461 views | 1 1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Ever since the Republican Party evolved to where today it is far more conservative than it even was during the Reagan years, it has become popular to refer to a Republicans who strays from the new orthodoxy as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). The hard part for me is trying to figure out who is the appointed chieftain(s) that gets to decide whether one is the real deal Republican or not, and how was this head knocker coroneted.

It was like watching a movie listening to the candidates for the U.S. Senate in the Republican Primary tear each other up, the common theme being that one or the other was too liberal on one issue or another. You would have thought that the object of their invective was Democrat Michelle Nunn. Now that David Perdue is the candidate, all of a sudden the others have rallied behind him to oppose Nunn, declaring that she is all the things that fellow Republicans once said about Perdue---and each other. I ask again, how can a voter know what he is getting with a Republican candidate these days?

I think it is fair for any Republican to question the bona fides of someone else who claims to be a Republican but in fact supports mostly Democratic positions. So why is it that Zell Miller, a lifelong Democrat, is a hero among Republicans? This is a man who became governor and senator because of the connections he made in the Democratic Party (recall that it was Governor Roy Barnes who appointed him to the vacant senate seat), who brought him up in the party, who promoted him, and did everything to help advance his career. Then, as a Democrat, in 2004, Miller gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention that nominated George Bush for his second term.

Miller has used the trite expression that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left him. The big difference between him and Ronald Reagan, though, is that Reagan at least changed parties. Miller has not only not changed parties, he maintains that he is still a Democrat and always will be.

A week ago Miller decided to prove his Democratic loyalties by endorsing Michelle Nunn. At the same time he endorsed Republican Nathan Deal for a second term as governor. Miller did one good thing for Georgia that I can think of, and that is the one thing he will always and forever be remembered for, the one thing that will always be said whenever his name is spoken, and that is to create the HOPE Scholarship. I applaud him for that. As for Nunn, I would try to distance myself from this duplicitous politician as gracefully as possible.

I find it puzzling that Republicans hold Miller in such high esteem. He is a traitor within his own party. What about that makes him a hero? What about that makes him a man of high moral character? The best analogy that I can come up with is to imagine that Miller’s wife worked to put him through school, waited patiently at home while he was serving in the Marine Corps, and gave up her career to raise their children. Then Miller acquires a mistress, but he doesn’t have the decency to at least be discreet. No, he flaunts his mistress in his wife’s face on national TV and public gatherings, all the while poking a finger in his wife’s eye for the whole world to observe. That is how I perceive Miller, a man who was an adroit politician, a man who abandoned his family (Democratic Party), a man who has played Republicans, a man who has no credibility remaining, a man who personifies the word treachery, a man who deserves to be remembered for the HOPE, and a man who should know that it’s time to fade away.

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Rhett Writer
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August 21, 2014
Quite simply, Zell Miller is more a statesman than a politician. He votes the way he feel is best for Georgia. Ergo, his endorsement of Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican Nathan Deal.

That, in a nutshell, is why he is admired by Dems and Republicans alike.

Nobody has really ever found anything bad to say about him. Anything that was not polically motivated, as opposed to fact motivated, that is.

The Agitator #129: Lives of quiet desperation
by Oliver_Halle
August 14, 2014 09:45 AM | 489 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Henry David Thoreau once wrote about the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation. The sad death of actor Robin Williams on Monday reminded me of that quotation, how so few words capture so well what goes on unnoticed by all of us concerning our family, friends, co-workers, and other associates. Little do we know of their daily struggles, whether it be financial difficulty, business failure, health issues, addiction and substance abuse, and so much more.

Based on my own inquiries, most people don’t know that three times more people commit suicide than murder. That is a staggering number. This is something that became personal to me when my father abruptly ended his life in 1966; in his own mind he could not outrun the demons that chased him from the Third Reich. Suicide of a close relative or friend never leaves you. Many believe that it is an extreme act of selfishness, that the person cared more about himself than his family, friends, and others affected by his death. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I have known personally way too many people who have committed suicide. And I’ve learned a lot about the subject over a lifetime. One thing I am absolutely convinced of is this: The person choosing to end it all, most of the time, is in extreme, incomprehensible pain---mental or physical. They have a laser beam focus on escape, and that focus is so narrow that they don’t see anything whatsoever on either side of the beam. The target at the end of that beam is relief.

I am reminded of the 1964 Bobby Goldsboro song, “See That Funny Little Clown.” Everyone thinks he’s happy because on the outside he’s laughing, not knowing that on the inside he’s dying. I’m sure many people who knew Robin Williams would not have known that he was in mental extremis, that whatever tormented him was about to do him in. How many people do we know who could be a Robin Williams?

One observation frequently made by those left behind is that the person seemed calm, like nothing was wrong, that up to the end everything was normal. Little do they know that many of these victims have already made their decision, that it’s a done deal. The only things remaining might be the date, place, and method. It is the finality of that decision that provides the person a sense of peace.

The single greatest presumption we make in this world is that life is worth living. No one has crossed the great divide and come back to say that that presumption is wrong---or not. We take it on faith that we are fortunate to have been born and lived. What each of us can do is to try and make everyone’s life just a little more meaningful. A smile to a stranger having a tough day can work wonders. Generosity where it can really help could save someone’s day. A kind word at the right time can be uplifting. As Maya Angelou said so eloquently, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Perhaps being our neighbor’s keeper, committing random acts of kindness in small ways, could save lives that we will never know about, lives that can’t be statistically measured.

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Pete Borden
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August 15, 2014
Oliver, you would be surprised how often we agree. However, as a columnist, I am sort of uncomfortable blogging another person's writing, whether it is to agree or disagree, so generally I don't.

However, the loss of so close a friend recently, combined with other brushes with suicide in my life made it a subject in which I am profoundly interested.

I found your comments to be sensitive to the human misery that results in suicide and to the human misery that is the result of suicide.

Keep up the balanced blogs. Even those I disagree with, I find balanced and fair.

Have a nice day.


The Agitator #128: Soap that leaves you feeling dirtier
by Oliver_Halle
August 07, 2014 09:40 AM | 827 views | 2 2 comments | 18 18 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 | 699 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 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 | 852 views | 7 7 comments | 17 17 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 | 234 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 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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Oliver Halle of east Cobb is a retired FBI agent and has law degrees from The University of North Carolina and New York University. He commanded a Swift Boat in Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star with the Combat V for meritorius action. While with the FBI he helped investigate and prosecute members of the Columbo organized crime “family” and later launched the investigation that resulted in the conviction on corruption charges of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell.

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