|November 19, 2013||The Agitator #93 - Myths and reality||1 comments|
|November 07, 2013||The Agitator #92 - Cobb County lobbyist?||no comments|
|October 31, 2013||The Agitator #91 - Whose America?||3 comments|
|October 23, 2013||The Agitator #90 - It's gonna get worse||no comments|
|October 14, 2013||The Agitator #89 - Obama the ogre||4 comments|
|October 04, 2013||The Agitator #88 - Shutdown and priorities||1 comments|
|September 30, 2013||The Agitator #87 - Government shutdown madness||1 comments|
|September 20, 2013||The Agitator #86 - Guns and mental illness||no comments|
|September 13, 2013||The Agitator #85 - Obama's worst hour||3 comments|
|September 05, 2013||The Agitator #84 - Budget gridlock||no comments|
The computer glitches associated with signing up for Obamacare have not been the president’s finest hour. There are lots of “experts” who claim that it all could have been avoided if the job had been turned over to one of the big boys in the private sector. Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m not a computer expert and neither are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, among others, who could fool some people into believing that they were. At least their listeners know that getting their information from these Obama haters is always going to be fair and balanced. Funny how none of these experts have said one word about how successful the state exchanges have been in those states that chose to go with their own insurance programs.
Not one Republican voted for Obamacare in either chamber. I wonder if Romney or Newt had been elected president in 2008 whether their plans, which mimicked Obamacare in just about every way, would have passed into law in a Republican congress. With the conservative Heritage Foundation’s previous support of mandatory participation in healthcare, it’s probably a safe bet that we would have a healthcare law called Romneycare or Newtcare.
Both sides are presenting endless anecdotal evidence in support or opposition to Obamacare. Some claim it has helped them and lowered their premiums, others object because it offers fewer benefits and higher costs. Maybe we should hold a special election to determine which side is in the majority. To hear Republicans and the reactionaries on the radio, Obamacare is one big horror story. Maybe it will play out that way, and maybe it won’t, but for sure it has yet to be implemented in full to know. We Americans are a fortunate lot, though, to know that these pundits all have crystal balls. It reminds me of Newt’s prediction that Bill Clinton’s tax increase in 1994 would take us into a depression.
There are things that we do know because we’ve had many years of experience. We do know that there are all too many horror stories associated with health insurance prior to Obamacare. For one, a large segment of the population were shut off from getting insurance because of preexisting conditions. One of the most common and egregious things insurers did was to approve an applicant’s policy after much review, and then years later when there was a major claim the insurer would go back and conduct an investigation into whether there were unreported preexisting conditions. If the insurer found a minor problem that might not even be related for the current problem, they could and would retroactively cancel the policy and deny coverage. Let’s not overlook the number of times that insurance companies denied a patient a recommended surgery because the carrier considered it experimental. Or the insurance company might have insisted that an alternative procedure be done that was cheaper but less effective.
Then there were the small businesses with perhaps a hundred employees who the company insured. If one of the workers came down with a very costly illness, the company had a choice of either finding a way to let that worker go or paying a whopping premium increase. Nice choices.
Obamacare is for sure not perfect, but in time it can become much better. If Republicans had some real solutions both yesterday and now in fixing the computer glitches, just maybe the problems could be fixed without all the finger pointing. When Romneycare went into effect, which is very successful in Massachusetts today, about 123 people signed up the first month. But it’s much easier to tear down the other guy for political gain than to offer real solutions. Congressman Tom Price says he has healthcare plan that is better than Obamacare. I don’t know if it is or not, but I do know that he has had no luck finding other Republicans to support it.
And then there is always Dr./Congressman Phil Gingrey to the rescue. He has blasted out a campaign email promising that if elected to the senate he will “repeal or replace” Obamacare in his first term or not seek reelection. What he doesn’t say is how he will garner enough Republican and Democratic votes to do that, especially if the senate remains majority Democratic, and he doesn’t say what his health insurance plan would be. Considering his legislative record over the past decade I wouldn’t put a lot of faith into this promise. In fact, a better promise would be to drop out of the race and promise to provide medical services to war veterans who actually did deliver on their promise when they took an oath to serve their country.
The MDJ reported on Monday, November 4th that Cobb County commission chairman Tim Lee plans to send out a request for proposal for a lobbyist firm that can handle lobbying on both the state and federal level. The article stated that $125,000 is budgeted for lobbying, but it is not known what the final cost will be since no contract has yet been negotiated.Surely I can’t be one of only a few Cobb taxpayers that is troubled and bewildered by this expense, but as I write this there have been only two comments on the MDJ website to the story, and no LTE’s as of yet. If Chairman Lee can pull this off I can only wonder if all the anger over political issues has been used up on Obama.
Lee says that it is about who can build relationships with elected officials. Really. All along I thought that local elected officials built relationships not only with other officials on the state and federal level that serve Cobb County, but also various administrators and officials that can affect our county. Not only are there Republican Party Saturday breakfasts that seem to be well attended by the Cobb delegation and our federal representatives, but there are countless other gatherings and meetings where business can be discussed. If Lee is not attending these breakfasts and gatherings (I don’t know what his participation record is), then as a full time commission chairman he is not engaging in one of the functions that the taxpayers have a right to expect from him. One would think that he would have more credibility discussing issues with elected officials than a paid shill.
Lee rightfully pointed out that it is not possible to know every committee chairperson at the state capitol, chairpersons that may have significant power over legislation that impacts Cobb residents. But it is hard to believe that our state representatives don’t have relationships with these people. Why can’t Lee have them “lobby” the appropriate chairperson? Isn’t that something that goes with the job of being a state rep? Would a contract with a lobbying firm put limitations on money it spends working to get some desired result? Or would a lobbyist be able to bill for expenses that are exempted from the new state ethics law governing what monies can be paid to officials? Would the lobbyist be required to file reports to the commission that could be obtained under the Open Records Act? Is the lobbying firm going to consist of former state representatives that are part of the “club” that gets access?
To sum up, I can’t figure out why the taxpayers should pay for someone to do what Lee should be doing himself. One would think that Lee would have developed good working relations with the Cobb delegation by now, and if he hasn’t maybe it’s time for him to seek other employment. In fact, maybe that’s what he ultimately has in mind, to become a lobbyist himself after ingratiating himself with whichever firm was to get this contract. This should not be allowed to happen, and with all the negativity about spending, this is one spending item that the commissioners should vote down. If there is all this extra money to pay for a lobbyist, perhaps instead it could be better spent by hiring three more police officers who do real work and individually get paid about a third of what Lee proposes.
The cry on the right stays on track, that we are spending too much money and bankrupting our great country. You can’t leave out the children in this plaint and they don’t. The same folks never lose an opportunity to express their concern that tomorrow’s children will bear the burdens of our spending today, and that it’s all about them. In the next breath, though, they want to cut taxes that fund education. In some counties in America, to include Cobb, seniors are exempted from paying school taxes. Many of the same concerned citizens are among this group, but if you tried to eliminate this tax break to fund the future captains of industry, you would be run out of town.
Students are drowning in debt unless they won the genetic lottery and can get an academic scholarship, or were born into families with financial resources. What this often means is that an otherwise intelligent person may not be able to pursue a post graduate study that could lead to a professional career. This is because of the golden handcuffs of a current job that pays down student loans. Any number of other countries consider the young an investment in that country’s future and put education at the top of their priorities. Not in the land of opportunity, though, the greatest country on earth. As a result we are not producing the engineers, scientists, and other creators in the numbers that are needed to sustain our nation’s record of accomplishments. Many who “got theirs” because of the largess of tax paid educations, to include public schools, don’t blink at cutting this form of government spending. There are the usual objections to all the waste, as though waste and fraud don’t happen in the private sector.
As the congress and senate try to come to agreement on a budget resolution, one thing that is not likely to change is the multiples of spending on the elderly versus the younger generation. Seniors vote and are a very powerful force. I have been at political gatherings where they are vocal about the runaway spending, about the kids being shortchanged, but if asked to sacrifice and pay more for their Medicare or Social Security, you hear all sorts of objections on why that would be unfair. While Obamacare continues to be today’s popular punching bag, you won’t find one person on Medicare who would be willing to give it up to buy insurance in the private sector. Could it be because of preexisting conditions that might exclude them, coupled with the cost of paying premiums that reflect the real costs of the services they get?
There is a lot of room to cut big budget items, but you don’t read much about it. I’ve mentioned getting rid of Medicare Part D, the drug portion that is costlier than Obamcare. Agricultural subsidies, bank loan guarantees that taxpayers fund, and a tax code that favors investors and other wealthy over people who earn their living doing real work, may get passing lip service at best. Same for unneeded defense contracts and obsolete military bases. How often do you hear about multibillion dollar cost overruns and fraud in defense contracts? When you do it’s hardly the lead story or front page news. When was the last time your representative talked about it? It’s become a game where both the contractor and Pentagon point fingers at each other, and the taxpayer hasn’t a clue as to who really is responsible. But since it’s defense money it’s not popular to bring it up in one of the typical canned speeches your rep gives at the local civic club.
To sum this all up no one could do it better than Texas Republican representative Blake Farenthold. He is a man of the people and wants to “reduce the size of government, lower taxes, and increase freedom.” During the government shutdown a disabled veteran told this patriotic American that he was concerned about losing his disability check. Blake responded about freedom not being free and the need to make small sacrifices. I bet readers would be shocked to know that Farenthold never wore the uniform of this country and got a tax subsidized education at the University of Texas-Austin. If this guy and other like-minded types are reelected in 2014, we will get what we asked for. And it won’t resemble the America that many of us once knew.
I think most Americans, and that includes Democrats (despite self-righteous “patriots” thinking otherwise), could find no logic or reason behind the closing of national monuments that were open and part of the landscape. I haven’t read anything to date, other than a lot of uninformed opinion and statements without evidence, that Obama was behind it. Sometimes I wonder how he gets anything done with all of his micromanaging of the most minute details of governing. Oh well, when you hate someone enough you can make it up and swear it’s true. But to be clear, I didn’t support the closing of national monuments to WW II veterans or anyone else. It was a bad move for sure, but as bad as it was, there are other forgotten Americans who got caught up in the government shutdown that didn’t get the same media attention.
The shutdown reduced our nation’s GDP, which is not a good thing during an economy that is still in recession to most people despite statements to the contrary. No restaurant, food service purveyor, gasoline wholesaler or retailer, by way of example, can make up for lost business, and there are lots of other businesses that also depend on daily traffic. Those who condemn federal workers as being lazy, underworked and overpaid should make a statement and not accept the cash of anyone they know to be on the “government dole.” Too few probably don’t realize that for every dollar anyone spends, it gets circulated four times.
But things are gonna get worse. Now that new target dates have been set to pass a budget and approve raising of the debt ceiling, the fighting has just begun. Every special interest group from all segments of our society will be lobbying for the taxpayers to continue paying for or subsidizing this, that or the other government program. Now is a good time to be a lobbyist in Washington. This may be the best of times for them.
Consider that defense contractors will pound away at our reps to continue to fund weapons systems that the pentagon says we don’t need. And our reps, who proclaim to have more expertise about weapons than our career service members who actually wear a uniform, will prevail because in the end it is really about federally funded jobs programs. But that’s an unpopular term with Republicans. Defense sounds better. The same arguments will be used to keep unneeded military bases open. With all the experts in congress, most who wear flag lapel pins but never served their country, it would seem that we don’t need a Department of Defense.
Let’s not leave out other special interests that have deep pockets to protect their government gimmees. I don’t recall Ted Cruz talking about the antiquated agricultural subsidies that have outlived their once valid purpose. He has been silent, too, about the taxpayers that provide loan guarantees to the banks, which I thought was part of the free market system of risk and reward. Let’s not leave out flood insurance that the government subsidizes. Think about all the folks with homes on lakes, rivers and beaches that for some reason can’t afford what it would really cost to ensure their dwellings without taxpayer help. And then there are the grab bag of goodies in the tax code for those who make enough money to take advantage of them. But again, not a peep from Ted Cruz and his followers. Nope, Obamacare is their low hanging fruit right now despite the fact that it hasn’t even been fully implemented yet. The computer glitches have nothing to do with the law itself, and I won’t disagree with anyone that those problems shouldn’t have happened. That said, though, it will be fixed.
By the time all the special interests pound away at our representatives in Washington, when they throw mountains of campaign cash their way, some of the choices will be made easier. The unspoken for, those on food stamps and Medicaid, among other services for the down and out, will be the ones to take the torpedoes. In a country where cash is king, where legal bribery is part of our national ethos, those who can pay get results. The rest take shaft. As I’ve written here before, this is a three card monte game. And folks like Ted Cruz will have you focus on the one thing that has everyone’s attentions while emptying your pockets when you aren’t looking.
The government shutdown continues with no end in sight as I write this. Sure, an agreement will be reached, but it will be because of a crisis, whether a consequence of not raising the debt ceiling, or because the Republicans will see their poll numbers drop like a sack of rocks. In the meanwhile Obama is the ogre responsible for everything that is wrong with America. The failure to create jobs, the shrinking of the military, increasing welfare benefits to the poor (corporate welfare is off the table among ideologues), and a host of other things gone south. Never mind that congress is the one that passes spending bills. That’s an irrelevant detail when you want to accuse Obama of being a dictator, a socialist, or a Nazi.
Right now Obamacare is still the favorite punching bag of conservatives. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when it is characterized as socialized medicine. The fact that I will still be choosing my own doctors and specialists within my private plan is irrelevant. Also irrelevant is that their payments will come from private insurance companies. My three main doctors all accept Medicare, but you wouldn’t know it if you listen to the horror stories from reactionary radio. His Porkulous, Rush Limbaugh, never fails to demonize Obamacare and Medicare, yet he wouldn’t have any experience with either, especially because he admitted one time that he doesn’t need health insurance. Lucky him.
Obamacare has been mythologized like Ronald Reagan (whom I voted for twice with no regrets). Whether the cost of healthcare is going up or down seems to depend on who you talk to. I have read countless accounts from both sides. For sure, though, you can’t depend on reliable information from people that you should trust, like our state insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens. He should be neutral on the subject and provide real facts instead of declaring outright that he is out to destroy the program. Recently the AJC interviewed people representing different segments of society for their views of Obamacare. One woman said that she opposed it. She continued that she liked the provision that eliminated preexisting conditions and the one that kept her son on the family plan until he reaches 26. Yet she declared that she couldn’t support the mandatory provision, the one component that Obamacare needs if it is to work.
I haven’t forgotten that my healthcare costs have risen dramatically each year since about 1993. I have also experienced the hassle of my doctors arguing with my insurance carrier on whether they will pay for a certain drug that the doctor says is more effective than the alternate one the insurance company wants prescribed, or whether or not the insurer will pay for a needed MRI. So much for the myth of the doctor/patient relationship in the private sector. But that’s what the Obamacare demonizers want you to believe, that you really do have a doctor/patient relationship in the private sector vice an insurance company relationship versus the patient and the doctor.
As the government shutdown continues, in addition to the attacks on Obamacare, federal employees are also confronting the public firing squad. What most don’t know is that the good paying jobs are those that require education, skills, experience, drug testing and background check that are usually more extensive than in the private sector. Many have skills, such as the nuclear engineers with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would pay in the private sector multiples of what they make working for the government. And that’s just one example. If this shutdown continues, more people will feel the immediate effects, and the ripple will become more of a tidal wave with time.
Perhaps an illustration of why the two sides can’t come to agreement can be summed up by a guest column in the MDJ. The columnist said, “Obama and the Democrats hate the military, they infantilize, punish and use the troops as political pawns regularly.” There was a time when being a member of one political party or another didn’t infer that you were un-American or some kind of lout. I wonder if Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, hates the military? I am not a Democrat but vote mostly Democratic today, but I loved my time in the military and tell the world that it shaped my life. With this kind of incivility that is shared by many on the right, we are probably in for some hard times ahead. Modern day American politics at its worst.
It seems that each time there is a mass murder involving some kind of firearm, every pop psychologist and special interest is ready with an answer. I doubt that any two subjects can work up the American people to take a position on one side or the other that guns and abortion do.
Lots of things went wrong in the current case of Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter. For starters, his military record, which included a less than honorable discharge should have been a red flag. Then there were two reported shooting incidents, neither of which ended with a prosecution. One involved an “accidental” discharge of Alexis’ weapon into his upstairs neighbor’s apartment as he was “cleaning” it, despite evidence that the two were feuding. The second involved shooting out someone’s tires. Both would seem to have deserved to go the distance in the court system, but for whatever reasons they didn’t. There was also an arrest in DeKalb County that somehow got disposed of. Arrests don’t show up on data base searches; only convictions do.
But law enforcement and its components have access to computerized arrest records that would have picked up all of Alexis’ arrests. How that got passed the agency that did the background check for Alexis’ security clearance is a mystery. It was also documented by police in Rhode Island that Alexis thought that he was being bombarded with some kind of rays by people out to get him. That should have prompted a little more digging, but it didn’t.
What I have provided here is nothing more than a little background, which is really a red herring that the reactionary radio spinmeisters are using to deflect the problem of ready access to weapons to almost anyone who wants to get their hands on one. The talking heads are blaming the whole shooting on Alexis having some sort of mental illness, that mental illness is the cause of these shootings, that if the security clearance check had been properly done all the victims would be alive. Oh really? How do they know that Alexis, without access to the Navy Yard wouldn’t have displaced his anger and taken it out somewhere else that had no security? Another point they have repeatedly hammered at is how the “liberal media”, (never mind that Fox was part of the same reporting), initially broadcast that the shooter was armed with an AR-15, when it turned out to be some kind of shotgun. I’m sure the victims and their families are relieved that the killer weapon turned out not to be the assault weapon that only “liberals” want to eliminate.
The focus de jure among Second Amendment defenders is mental illness and how we need to do something about it, how this is the real problem, and that most of these mass murders wouldn’t occur if we just dealt with the “real problem.” I’m fine with that if only the same opinionators would come up with a solution instead of just identifying the problem, if they would realize how silly they come across as masters of the obvious.
I don’t advocate gun confiscation, and I do believe homeowners and others with legitimate needs have the right to possess firearms. However, I stand with Justice Antonin Scalia’s position that the government has the right to regulate and control certain weapons. But as long as those who believe in the unbridled right to own and possess any kind of weapon, and as long as these people feed the campaign coffers of our elected representatives, just eliminating some of the gigantic loopholes in the current gun laws won’t happen. Despite polls after the Sandy Hook shooting that showed a majority of Americans wanted to close or tighten these loopholes, our two Georgia senators voted against such legislation. Then I saw a chart of how much money they got from the special interests to defeat the legislation.
Yet there are those who believe that politicians can’t be influenced by campaign contributions. The past victims and future victims (to include their families) of these shootings deserve better, but they won’t get it. Congress only moves when it’s to their advantage, when things affect them. Recall that when the sequester first kicked in and the FAA reduced the number of aircraft controllers at airports. This hit our peripatetic representatives directly, so what did they do? They passed a law that allowed the FAA to prioritize how they cut their budget and to eliminate the furloughs for the controllers. You can expect the same immediacy if the worst happened and a gunman went off on our legislators and their families at some gathering. That would be tragic beyond imagination, but it would be a game changer overnight.
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to get up in the morning. As careful as presidents are, and have to be with making speeches and off-hand remarks, they are still human. Obama proved that with his red line comment a few months ago, and I’m sure he has wished many times that he could take it back. His best explanation, or what some would call spin, couldn’t do enough damage control to keep the ship of state upright on the topic of Syria.
I recall well during the Vietnam era one of the mantras from the right, “My country, right or wrong.” I didn’t know at the time that the words belonged to the great naval hero, Stephen Decatur, that they were out of context, and that the rest of it included the hope that our country would always be right in dealing with foreign nations. With reference to Syria, to get involved at this stage would be wrong for a lot of reasons, and Obama’s speech to the nation did nothing to dispel that belief.
Obama made a strong emotional argument that mentioned children victimized by the illegal use of gas. No argument from me on that point, but he did not include any mention of children and other innocents killed and maimed by artillery or outright executions. The issue I had hoped he would address concerned the “imminent” or at least “immediate” threat to the United States or any of our interests. He rightfully pointed out that Assad would not use gas against Israel or the United States any more than Saddam Hussein used it against Israel or the United States. While I don’t think a limited strike of the type Obama proposed would have any effect, even less so do I believe it considering all of the telegraphing Obama has done concerning the type of mission it would be, promises of no boots on the ground, no planes crossing Syria airspace, and what the targets would be. I’ve never seen anything crazier. If we were going to do a very limited and targeted strike, it should have been done with no warning, and it should have been fast and furious to accomplish the mission. In this instance I am reminded of General Douglas MacArthur’s words, that every battle that has ever been lost can be summed up in two words, “Too Late.”
To suggest that even a limited mission as Obama proposes isn’t an act of war is the height of disingenuousness. Imagine some country striking one of our bases in the U.S. and trying that explanation. The notion that we can support a “friendly” insurgent group is another lesson that we should have learned from. We tried it in Afghanistan in the 1980s when we supported the Mujahedeen against the Soviets only to have our own weapons later turned on us. And even if we helped an insurgency aligned with U.S. interests, who’s to say that they won’t be overthrown by another group? The communists and nationalists in China come to mind, as does our support for a lot of dictators in countries that were later overthrown. How many were alive in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson said that he wouldn’t send American boys to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves. We know how that turned out.
It’s time that our vast sums of money propping up Arab nations with military hardware and training be put to good use. Syria is in their backyard. Let the Arab League undertake the mission of destroying Assad’s gas capabilities, and overthrow him if they think they will be better off with a new government. Why should we take the lead? The unintended and unforeseeable consequences of the U.S. leading this charge make no sense without there being a real threat to our country.
This is going to be an interesting six weeks or so. First, there is the subject of the upcoming new fiscal year that begins October 1st. Will congress pass continuing resolutions to keep government functioning, or will it shut it down, as some Republicans are threatening, if Obamacare isn’t defunded? And then there is the debt ceiling that will be reached about two weeks later according the Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew. Again, a number of Republicans have said that they will not vote to raise it despite having voted for the spending of monies whose bills are now due. Recall that the last time a debt ceiling compromise was reached we got sequestration.
In case anyone has forgotten, the current sequestration involving cuts across the board is supposed to continue until 2022. So far it has affected mostly programs that impact the poor. When the FAA had to furlough aircraft controllers, our elected reps didn’t like having to wait at airports because of delayed flights, and somehow the funding was restored. Robins AFB in Warner Robins was about to get hit hard with layoffs of civilian contractors until money was somehow found. What many don’t realize is that laid off contractors spend a lot of money in the local economy. A lot of other smaller communities that rely on the money that federal contractors bring are going to be in for some very hard times. Cobb County will likely feel the pinch too with work related to Lockheed.
The ripple effect of fewer dollars in the economy is coming our way. My spending is your income, and vice versa. When the money’s not there, guess who is going to get hurt? I heard a financial radio talk show host the other day who gave some good advice to a caller about the need to cut nonessential spending and save more. This was sound microeconomic wisdom, but I could sense the howling from the restaurants, coffee shops, house painters, cleaning services, the MDJ that relies on subscribers, and all the other small businesses that depend on the money that this person and others similarly situated will not put into the economy, which is what macroeconomics is all about. What may good for the individual can be devastating for the larger community.
We know from the experience of WW II that government spending is absolutely essential to the economy. It was the single largest cause of ending the Depression. Immediately after the war, when the government dramatically cut spending, many businesses suffered. We also know that the costly GI Bill from that war was one of the biggest reason this country experienced prosperous times, that people who never could have afforded an education not only got one, they became the captains of industry and leaders of our great country. Yet we have legislators who will never miss a stump speech to talk about our national debt and deficit spending, but vote for every spending bill that only benefits their constituents, particularly unnecessary weapons systems, and then denounce Obama who is responsible for ensuring that the invoices for these things get paid.
For those who support Republicans because they promise to vote to defund Obamacare, you are the victim of their version of three card monte. What have you heard lately about IRS hearings? Any news from your congressman or senator about what they are doing to change the tax code? When it comes to taxes I have to believe that despite differences in political thought, especially with most people in Cobb County, we can agree that the tax code has got to go. But it won’t. And it won’t because the special interests like their credits and exemptions that give them an advantage, and they pay for it through campaign contributions and lobbying. Meanwhile, as the three card monte of politics continues, once again we are all the losers. One thing for sure: As long as the same losers are reelected, we should not be surprised when things get a lot worse.