The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #126: No Plan B
July 24, 2014 12:00 PM | 116810 views | 0 0 comments | 2240 2240 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #106: Tax change and other folly
by Oliver_Halle
March 04, 2014 05:25 PM | 422 views | 4 4 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Republicans have complained about taxes since before Ronald Reagan lowered them before raising them again. Any Republican running on a platform of a needed tax hike, any Republican breaking his promise of no new taxes is doomed from the start. That’s a fair political debate that the voters should hear before casting their ballot accordingly.

I am in Representative Tom Price’s Sixth Congressional District. He wrote a letter to his constituents dated February 18, 2014. It was written on congressional stationary, and in small print at the bottom it said that “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense. It is provided as a service to constituents.” Actually it was a highly partisan letter that to my way of thinking should have been paid for out of his campaign funds.

In the letter Price laments, as I do, the “millions of hours complying with the tax code while our businesses face the highest tax rates in the industrialized world.” He continues that House Republicans have included tax reform as part of their budget plan in order to “simplify the system, eliminate special interest loopholes, and make America more competitive.” All well and good and makes for a great campaign slogan. Too bad the reality is that it’s more smoke and mirrors, more red meat show and tell with absolutely no substance.

Juxtapose Price’s comments with fellow Republican Dave Camp of Michigan. Only a few days after the release of Price’s letter, Camp published the results of his research and hard work in proposing a new tax code. It would close the special tax breaks that wealthy hedge fund operators get, compress taxes into three categories, eliminate a lot of deductions that are antiquated and supported by special interests, and reduce the complexity of filing a return. The immediate reaction to Camp’s honest proposal, one that deserves consideration, debate, argument, and perhaps a vote, came from House Speaker John Boehner, who when asked about it said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

If that doesn’t tell you how serious Republicans are about streamlining the 70,000 page tax code, you are indeed a hard person to convince. I wondered where Tom Price’s voice of support for Camp was when Camp first came out with his bill. After all, in light of Price’s letter, Camp addressed the very concerns that Price raised. What we got from Price was the voice of silence. If Americans are watching this game being played out, they should know that they have no hope of tax reform. Republicans have a majority in the House and may even gain the senate in November. But don’t expect change. They didn’t do anything when Bush was president and they had both houses, and it won’t happen if they once again have the chance.

In the meanwhile on the state level, the state House successfully passed some bills to provide tax breaks to help luxury jet owners and other business interests. The proponents defend this by saying that it keeps and creates jobs, and other states grant similar largess. I guess if every state did the same, eventually no business would pay taxes in order to remain “competitive.” Delta was once given a fuel tax exemption when they were going through hard times. An argument can be made for it in such cases, but now that they are making nine figure profits, shouldn’t that tax gift be reconsidered? The state stands to lose $150 million with the latest sweetheart presents, but if you follow the money and who gave to whom just before the General Assembly began, you can see how it played out.

And so my fellow readers and taxpayers, be prepared to continue to shell out more money for your tax accountant or lawyer. There is no relief in sight. Be comforted by Price’s letter funded by your hard earned money, and trust him to lead the charge for tax reform as his letter promises. Then wait for his first word of support of the one Republican, Dave Camp, who at least did the work and came up with a proposal that deserves attention. Several tax cycles will pass and you still won’t hear Price utter one peep as long as Boehner considers it blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s the modern definition of leadership, and Price is the leader of it.

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Ben Twomey
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March 06, 2014
Oliver, the question is "Why do you point out Republican hypocrisy and not Democratic hypocrisy?"

Unless, and I doubt this is the case, you think Democrtic hypocrisy does nto exist.

The Agitator #105: Religious freedom bill that isn't
by Oliver_Halle
February 26, 2014 06:30 PM | 313 views | 4 4 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The General Assembly has joined with a handful of other states to ensure that all Georgians’ religious freedom is protected, especially from the mean spirited Obama administration that has no regard for the Constitution. The two bills working their way through the legislative process are H.B. 1023 and S.B. 377. I wish I felt better and safer, but in fact I feel a lot worse.

The first question that comes to mind is whether there really is an attack on our religious freedom, which is part of our freedom of conscience. I am unaware of the government monitoring the sermons of clergymen. I know of no churches that the government has closed. I’ve never seen or read about army tanks surrounding a single house of worship in America. In fact, as I’ve written about before, religion is much favored in this country with special tax benefits that only clergymen can claim, property tax exemptions, and breaks from tax reporting exclusive to houses of worship. To be sure, and rightfully so to my way of thinking, some churches have come under IRS scrutiny for openly and blatantly endorsing political candidates, a violation of the tax code. Then again, any church is free to support a candidate of its choice if it decides that giving up the tax break is worth it. America has always been about choices, and this isn’t an onerous one.

There have always been and always will be bigots when it comes to race, religion, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, and other categories of people. The 1964 Civil Rights Bill outlawed outright discrimination based on race and most of the foregoing classifications. No law is going to be perfect, and proving discrimination is not easy. Most challenges go nowhere because it’s hard to prove someone’s real intent unless you have strong evidence. If Georgia were to allow a business to refuse service because of someone’s sexual orientation based on the businessman’s religious beliefs, the door will open for an affirmative defense for anyone to discriminate for any reason and to fall back on their “religious” convictions. Try proving that the person is lying.

On March 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether the government can mandate that birth control be included in the health insurance a corporation provides to its employees. The issue will include the question of whether or not corporations are people. Mitt Romney said they were, but he never addressed how a corporation could have a conscience, how it could serve time in prison for committing crimes, why it doesn’t pay the same rate of taxes as individuals, or other things that constitute a living, breathing being. The court will have to decide if the Plaintiff in this case, Hobby Lobby, is merely the legal fiction that corporations are, or if they are more. Interesting side bar on Hobby Lobby is that while they profess that their religious freedom is being violated because they don’t believe in certain forms of birth control, they purchase most of their wares from China, which has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Makes me wonder about their sincerity.

If Georgia’s religious freedom bill were to pass, all sorts of other defenses would be used to deny blood transfusions to patients undergoing surgery, medications could be eliminated from health insurance policies on religious grounds, and countless other consequences, many unforeseen. Imagine that such a bill was the model for a federal law. I wonder if soldiers could claim, as crazy as it sounds, that they didn’t have to fight because it would violate their beliefs.

Lastly, one has to wonder about how such a law squares with all the hype from our elected representatives who tout the importance of creating good jobs and attracting business to Georgia. Can they really believe that this law promotes those objectives? Have they considered how many businesses have gay C-level executives? Some companies might publicly state that Georgia is off their lists, but many would probably just passively go elsewhere. It is sad to think that our state, which has come a very long way since the 1960s, that has built an international reputation for being progressive, could undermine all that with a law that smacks of something out of the 1950s. Have these elected officials no shame?

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EM Buckner
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February 28, 2014
Mr Twomey (and my thanks for using what appears to be your actual name and for keeping it wholly civil in tone)--

Surely the question is not the sincerity of the religious beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby that are in question here. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt their sincerity. But no one--them, me, Halle, or you--has or should have the right to discriminate against others based on religious beliefs when such actions are counter to public policy and the generally accepted public good.

I have no doubt at all that some--maybe even most--of the opponents of what they called "race-mixing" in the 1950s and 1960s were sincere. And some of them undoubtedly based that opposition, sincerely, on what they believed to be religious, biblical principles. In this nation all such people have very close to an absolute right to hold such beliefs, however abhorrent they appear to others. But they do not get to act on such beliefs to the detriment of other American citizens, whether those others are gay or lesbian citizens, women seeking birth control, employees of Hobby Lobby, black or hispanic people seeking services at a lunch-counter, etc. If public policy can be set aside based only on sincerely held personal beliefs (religious or otherwise) , there can be no meaningful public policy at all.

Religious liberty (including the freedom to not be religious at all) is the quintessential American way; but anarchy is not the American way.

The Agitator #104: Cigarettes, Merry Christmas, price gouging
by Oliver_Halle
February 20, 2014 10:30 AM | 566 views | 3 3 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

This week alone I heard two conservative radio talk show hosts blasting regulations in the marketplace for impeding business growth. I can’t recall any conservative over the years defending any regulation as being good. Makes me wonder if zoning laws that protect a nice subdivision from having a box store move in next door would be an exception.

Recently CVS announced they would be discontinuing the sale of cigarettes in their chain of drugstores. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been, at the outcry of this decision. Among the arguments attacking the drug company was that cigarettes are a lawful product and therefore it is wrong to have a self-imposed ban on them.

Each December Bill O’Reilly becomes a “victim” of the secularists who he claims are trying to wipe out Christmas in the public sector. His favorite argument to prove his point is to highlight some businesses that don’t allow employees to wish customers Merry Christmas. What he never mentions is that there is no government involvement in a company’s decision to instruct employees that they are not to use this greeting. Again, it is strictly a business decision. If customers don’t like it they are free to shop elsewhere. Just maybe if there is a noticeable drop in sales the company might change its policy. Amazing how the marketplace works when it’s left alone to correct imbalances, especially those that don’t really affect anyone’s quality of life like the zoning example.

And then there is price gouging. It never fails that following some natural event that causes shortages, like the two recent snowstorms, some businesses will significantly jack up their prices. The screams I heard on the radio were deafening. Yet I wondered why. I thought the marketplace was all about supply and demand. And if folks don’t want to pay the exorbitant price at the moment, they can do without for the time being or find another place to buy a product where the owner might see a business opportunity to gain new customers now and in the future. Free markets at work. Nary a word from the conservative complainers that just maybe gouging occurs because a business has to make up for lost sales during the emergency, his costs may have gone up, or other economic considerations.

I saw a Facebook posting of a Delta ticket that went up from a few hundred dollars to $8,000. I won’t disagree that this is outrageous, but the person objecting is a very strong conservative. The solution is simple if you don’t like the price: find another way home and perhaps discontinue your support of the airline. Same for baggage fees. Lots of complaining about them, but again, the solution for these conservatives is to leave the markets alone and take your business to an airline that doesn’t charge them.

I am not suggesting for a minute that I support gouging or some of the business practices that conservatives object to. What I am saying is that the hypocrisy of the free-marketeers reeks. They are fine with free markets and no regulation as long as it doesn’t impact them. Most don’t live near a coalmine and never even saw one. So mining safety regulations don’t really matter to them. All of us take our clean water for granted without giving a thought to the laws and regulations that ensure its safety. Same for the myriad of safety regulations when we fly, purchase food, the clean air we breathe today, and so much more. I grew up with the stench of polluted rivers and beaches in NYC, and air that was dangerous to your health. A WW II veteran on my first ship was from Manhattan. He told the story of swimming in the East River as a boy, but before anyone jumped in they decided whose turn it was to be the “sludge” breaker. The creation of the EPA in the early 1970s changed all that. The young today who object to the EPA wouldn’t know what those days were like.

The marketplace works just fine when businesses decide things for themselves like selling cigarettes or what holiday greetings are appropriate. As for government regulations, it’s a fair political discussion to debate whether there are too many. What is absurd is the notion that agencies like the EPA should be abolished despite the measurable improvements in our healthier quality of life. Perhaps whenever such arguments are raised we should do as we were taught starting in high school: follow the money.

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Oliver G. Halle
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February 20, 2014
Reverend Sarducci,

Thank you for your comment and the civil tone.

First, you are correct that I lay the hypocrisy at the feet of the conservatives for a very simple reason: they are the ones that tout free markets, how capitalism and our economy would be so much better off but for all the regulations. It is their hypocrisy that I am addressing.

Since your readers have no idea who you are, it is impossible to know whether you really go to stores yourself and mix with the working man, or if you live in a palace, ride in a chauffeured limousine, and have valets that shop for you. Your readers don't know if you are a member of the Klan, a communist in disguise, or anything else in which to judge your credibility. My bio is out there for the readers to figure out where I fit into everyday society and my sincerity.

As for whether a business can decide what clientele it will accept or not, I say again that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, interpretation of the interstate commerce clause by the Supreme Court, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution have decided the issue. A business cannot discriminate against someone because of race, creed, age, religion, national origin, sex, and in many states--sexual orientation. That's the law, agree with it or not. No one should have to hide who they are to receive service.

You should also know that the SC has interpreted whether a business is engaged in interstate commerce very liberally. In a 1960s case, the court ruled that Ollie's Barbeque, a small shack in Alabama, was engaged in interstate commerce even though they only sold their sandwiches locally. The court said that the wheat in the buns had come from Kansas or the Midwest, and Kansas farmers would sell less wheat if Ollie's didn't sell to black customers, which would have an effect on interstate commerce.

There are other discrimination cases bubbling up to the SC as I write this dealing with whether a business can be forced to sell, by way of example, a wedding cake to a gay couple.

Individual freedom is just as important to me as it seems to be to you. But the America I want to live in doesn't discriminate on things that one has no control over like those specified in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, et seq.

The Agitator #103: Taxes and campaign issues
by Oliver_Halle
February 14, 2014 11:10 AM | 890 views | 1 1 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There are two very significant federal races for office underway right now. The U.S. Senate election could be decided in the May 20th primary, but it’s still too early to know if Democrat Michelle Nunn could pull an upset. The winner of the primary for the congressional 11th District, currently occupied by Phil Gingrey, will almost certainly take office in Washington next January since no Democrat can overcome the Republican dominance for this seat.

Sadly none of the Republican candidates are talking about the real issues that affect our daily lives. We are being bombarded with why Obamacare is killing America, the assault on your Second Amendment rights, religious freedom and birth control (a thoroughly bogus argument in my opinion that I hope the Supreme Court will put to rest), gay marriages, and deficits among the higher profile arguments. All are fair game for political discussion, and I am all in favor of having that debate, but when you look at your paycheck, prepare your taxes, and otherwise try to figure out how to make ends meet, are you really thinking about any of the foregoing issues? Does it not bother enough taxpayers to scream out in protest against having to pay accountants and lawyers to figure out what they have to pay the government? This is not a pitch against taxes; we need taxes, and as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.

The tax code’s complexity is outrageous. It is a full employment bill for CPA’s, tax preparers, and tax lawyers. All we ever hear from our elected officials is that the code needs changing, but when has there been a meaningful effort by one party or the other to gather the necessary support and actually do something about it? Write to your representative to complain and you will get a nice response about how s/he supports change, is a sponsor to some bill, all of which is meaningless blather. The ones who write the tax code are the special interests seeking a credit, deduction, tariff, deferred payment, etc. And they get to write the code because they are the heavy contributors to our representatives’ campaigns. The person benefiting from a credit due to insufficient income to pay taxes certainly didn’t write that provision into the code. When you live hand to mouth you don’t have money to give to politicians. But this credit is pennies on the dollar compared to the gimmees the tax writers of the tax code get. When you are a serious campaign contributor, you are on the “team.”

We the voters are responsible for the mess we are in. We elect the masters of smoke and mirrors. They can denounce Obamacare all day and night, but it’s very unlikely to be rescinded. Instead there should be bipartisan effort to make it work better. What you will hear, though, from Republicans is about all their healthcare reform bills in the House that they control. What they won’t tell you is why none has even made it out of committee. Congressman Tom Price touts his bill as the panacea for reform, so why hasn’t he even gotten so much as a hearing on it? Obamacare has become a red herring. It is and should be an issue for debate, but to run on repealing it, as Phil Gingrey’s empty promise to do, is not going to make one difference in our daily lives. The likes of Gingrey love to throw out red meat and red herring to the voters, but neither is all that appetizing.

Republicans have traditionally been the party of business. Perhaps if some of the leaders put together a bipartisan team of professionals---accountants, lawyers, business executives, state and local government officials, and more, they could come up with a new tax code that would not only make the U.S. more attractive as a place to set up shop, but it would inure to all Americans. My best guess is that it won’t happen, and the whipping boys of campaigns will continue to be Obamacare, guns, religious “persecution”, and other issues de jour, issues that won’t make one dime’s worth of difference when you stroke your check to the IRS and try to meet all your other financial obligations.

 

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EM Buckner
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February 14, 2014
Mr. Halle is perhaps our best local writer, but I fear his insights will not be taken advantage of by Georgia Republicans. Since I'm not a Republican, perhaps I should be glad of this--eventually the GOP will pay an electoral price for their demagoguery--but I'd rather the Republicans tackle real issues and put forth candidates with honest positions, even if doing that might lead to victories by a party I generally disagree with. Odds are the other comments Halle draws for this blog entry will help to prove his points rather than help persuade the GOP candidates to be more honest an wiser. We'll see.

The Agitator #102: Deja vu all over again
by Oliver_Halle
February 06, 2014 10:52 AM | 638 views | 4 4 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The media has been all but silent about the upcoming debt ceiling issue that will become relevant on February 7th. Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew, says that he can find money here and there to borrow in order to pay the nation’s bills until about the end of the month. Contrast the national attention of last fall when we hit the debt ceiling and congress was unwilling to budge. I suspect that the voice of silence we are hearing this time may be a hint that a deal to raise the debt ceiling is in the works.

It is unlikely that the opponents to raising the debt ceiling in the Republican Party are going to submit quietly. What little I have already heard on the topic is that tea party Republicans are insisting on corresponding cuts in spending. That sounds good if you are trying to fool the American people into believing that raising the debt ceiling is like getting another credit card to go on a spending spree. In fact this Republican controlled House worked out a bipartisan budget agreement recently that increases spending, particularly for defense, over the next several years by restoring money that had been cut by the sequester. Raising the debt ceiling allows for the government to pay for the spending that has already been incurred, not future spending.

All of this makes for great political rhetoric, and you can be sure that you will hear a lot about Obama spending us into oblivion without one word of acceptance of responsibility by the responsible parties: our elected representatives. Obama can’t spend what hasn’t been authorized even if he wanted to. So as long as we keep unneeded military bases open, build weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want or need, continue the social costs of defense at current levels, and tout how defense is the main priority at all costs, then we need to pay for it. If some of this amounts to a jobs program under the guise of defense, so be it, but the taxpayers ought to know that it doesn’t come for free.

It was comforting to know that our two U.S. senators from Georgia voted for the latest farm bill that will cost over several years approximately a trillion dollars. Included in the bill are insurance subsidies and price supports for various crops. Farming has become largely a big business enterprise, and as such these businesses should bear the risks and rewards as any other business. But Johnny and Saxby don’t want to tell their constituents that food prices may rise as a result, and conservative taxpayers who complain about government giveaways don’t want to pay the real cost of farm products despite touting that free markets should be allowed to work their magic.

Another giveaway program is the subsidy that taxpayers provide for flood insurance to those who choose to live in a flood plain. Many, if not most of those that live along the beaches, rivers, and other waterways, have the money to pay for their spectacular views, but somehow they can rationalize that the rest of us should help them pay for it. If Republicans insist on government cuts, three ripe areas are wasteful defense spending, farm supports, and flood insurance subsidies. It won’t happen, though. My preference would be to put some of that money into paying for the rehab programs funded by the private sector for our seriously injured war veterans. That too won’t happen. The constituency isn’t large enough.

On an unrelated topic, I tip my hat to the Cobb County police officer who was shot the other day while making a traffic stop. Few tasks are more dangerous for a cop than pulling someone over. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. These men and women who risk their lives daily without the public realizing it deserve a lot more than they get. I hope that when the economy improves our uniformed services will be first in line for a much deserved pay raise. It’s long overdue and shameful that we aren’t doing better by these loyal public servants.

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CobbCoGuy
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February 07, 2014
Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. What are we gonna do with you?

Folks, our progressive friend often pats himself on the back for presenting facts. And, it's true. He accurately cited an article from Forbes.

Here's the rub. Presenting a fact is one thing. Presenting all the facts is another. Presenting all the facts in context is yet something else.

See the Forbes article by Rick Unger, dated May 24, 2012, "Who is the Smallest Government Spender since Eisenhower? Would You Believe it's Barack Obama?"

Unger's article is based on an analysis, er, creative numerology, first presented by Rex Nutting, MarketWatch, May 22, 2012. Compare the dates.

Nutting's analysis is based, not on spending, but spending GROWTH. A rebuttal can be found here...

http://keithhennessey.com/2012/05/31/obama-spending-binge/

It's kinda like this - Nutting, Unger, and now KF, are saying that Billy Bob, who is 5' 6" and weighs 355, only gained 3 pounds last month.


The Agitator #101: Snow and politicians
by Oliver_Halle
January 31, 2014 11:25 AM | 741 views | 3 3 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

One of my good friends recently said that Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal looked like two Soviet bureaucrats while making their comments to the press about the snowstorm. As I spent 20 hours in my car (Peachtree Dunwoody Rd. and Hammond Drive to lower east Cobb), I felt better listening to Deal as he took full responsibility for the lack of preparedness while blaming the weather forecasters. Then Mayor Reed added to my level of comfort as he assured us that they learned from the January 2011 ice storm and all would be okay.

I thought it amusing to read comments and listen to interviews from people affected by the storm. Invariably they discussed how their elected officials and appointed bureaucrats failed, how they were unprepared, made bad decisions, and otherwise let the people down. Certainly there is some merit to the criticism. I just find it ironic that so many voters in Georgia who believe that government is the problem, that we need less government and fewer government workers, are the same ones that expect their government to work miracles in a time of crisis. I am sure many of the same people also think that the private sector could do a better job in these circumstances, yet I wonder how they would coordinate their efforts with all of the municipalities involved, and what the companies would do to stay profitable in between crises.

This storm, while bad, was nowhere near as bad as so many I have lived through. But it produced the single greatest mess impacting so many people, and you have to ask yourself why? As I see it the biggest problem is that we live in a state where the car is king. People generally don’t like public transportation and prefer the freedom that their cars bring even if they are stuck in traffic all the time and have to plan their lives around traffic. Now some of the opponents to the TSPLOST are proposing to allow individual counties to work with a neighboring county to come up with transportation alternatives. TSPLOST would have focused on the region, and being that the latest storm hit a wide region, I’m not sure how more localized fixes would alleviate our traffic problems. Consider that there is strong opposition to bringing MARTA rail service just to the new Cobb stadium, while at the same time the biggest concern with the new home of the Braves is the additional traffic it will bring.

The whole world saw on CNN what a small snowstorm can do to Atlanta. If anyone thinks that it won’t influence companies in whether to relocate to the Atlanta area, open a branch, or to start a business here, they are clueless. The world also watched how the governor handled it, and that too will factor into their thinking. Among the questions that will be asked are whether the Atlanta metropolitan area has a good, reliable transportation system, and whether Georgia produces the kinds of political leaders that makes things happen and solves problems. If this governor or any other candidate for public office thinks that just lowering taxes is going to draw businesses from all over the map, they are either drinking Kool-Aid or returning from a vacation in Colorado.

If anyone thinks that help may be on the way with alternatives to Governor Deal in the upcoming Republican primary, consider this. One opponent, David Pennington was quoted saying that Deal “failed miserably”, but never offered a syllable about how he would deal with weather crises in the region. His only mantra is about taxes. The other candidate, John Barge, said that he would have “taken the heat” for closing the schools early, “especially when it involves safety. Yet Barge, the state school superintendant, said that he did not urge the schools to let students out early out of fear of “overreaching.”

Nothing will change or improve until we solve our transportation problems. There isn’t enough asphalt to hold all the cars in the Atlanta metropolitan area. So all we can do is sleep well knowing that the governor has arranged for more salt bins to be strategically placed around the state. I wish that had consoled me the other night, but it didn’t. At least some consolation came from knowing that our underpaid uniformed public servants were out in full force doing the real work. To them I say, thank you!

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Craig Kootsillas
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February 05, 2014
Nice piece.

There is a lot of support for transportation - and transit funding across the political spectrum.

There is no appetite for the creation of revenue streams without strict controls, some view these as slush funds.

Consider PolicyBEST's initiative.

Nothing stops governments from cooperating now. A number of methods exist such with a Inter-Government Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding.

From a funding standpoint,this is what the SPLOST law was designed for - large, well-defined projects that cannot be paid for by general revenue.

Instead, SPLOST has evolved into something much different.

PolicyBEST's goal, in my view, is to get that extra one percent of the gas tax.


The Agitator #100: Corruption and reform
by Oliver_Halle
January 22, 2014 04:05 PM | 604 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
The very recent former governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen, were charged in a 14 count federal indictment with wire fraud and other criminal violations involving misuse of his office.  The indictment reads like a condensed crime novel that would also make a great movie.  Sadly, though, whether the pair is convicted or not, the citizens of Virginia are the losers.  They trusted this self-righteous politico, who wore his Christian faith on his sleeve and then betrayed those that believed in him.

As is so common with officials who end up charged with crimes related to their office, the person bestowing all the largess on the governor and his wife was a wealthy businessman that McDonnell first met when he campaigned for the high office.  Amazing how some politicians never learn that people who you first meet and become your “best friend” after you acquire some power or potential power, are the ones most likely to bring you down.  I recall a mob guy in New York saying that if he didn’t know someone in kindergarten, he didn’t know him now.

In my opinion, corruption by any official, elected, appointed, or in the civil service is much more serious than its counterpart in the private sector.  Citizens at all levels of government rightfully expect their governors, judges, prosecutors, police, inspectors, and other functionaries to act honestly and in their constituents’ best interests.  When that doesn’t happen the system breaks down on all different levels.  If someone doesn’t think he can get an honest shake in court, he could resort to self-help and violence.  People will act outside the law on all levels where they feel that government is broken, where money has influenced an official in a way that benefits one person(s) to the detriment of another person(s).  When that happens our society breaks down and we end up living in a third world environment.

Robert and Maureen McDonnell confided in their benefactor that they were broke, that their credit card debt was essentially out of control.  In return the benefactor was only too happy to submit to every request from the pair ranging from contributing to their daughter’s wedding costs, gifts that included luxurious dresses and a Rolex watch, access to an exclusive country club for golf outings, and so much more.  In return the businessman got the governor to support some bogus medical research to be conducted by the University of Virginia Medical School to validate a questionable health product the businessman manufactured.

The governor issued a non-apology apology.  He said that he regretted using bad judgment, but his fellow Virginians could be assured that he never sold out his office.  Too bad he didn’t say that he was sorry he engaged in what was essentially bribery and extortion, that he was sorry he violated the public trust, and that he was motivated by greed.  Perhaps we’ll hear something like that at his sentencing if he is convicted.  I wouldn’t bet on it.

The bigger story in all this is the absolute necessity for campaign finance reform.  It likely won’t happen though for two reasons. First, the special interests will ensure that their representatives never vote for it. And secondly, and more importantly, as long as the Supreme Court equates money with speech, cash will be king.  For those who proclaim to be “constitutionalists”, who say that we need to get back to the Founders’ intent and literal meaning, I would ask where in the First Amendment it says anything about cash and speech going together.

Today’s shrinking middle class is pretty much ignored by our Washington representatives. They don’t have the money to contribute any meaningful sums to campaigns.  They don’t have access to big donors that they can tap into on behalf of a representative.  One figure I read is that the average senator must raise $10,000/day in order to prepare for the next campaign.  With that kind of pressure it’s not hard to figure out where the representative is paying attention and to whom.  The middle class’ alternatives to get attention all too often lie with movements like Occupy Wall Street.  The right likes to portray this as a communist conspiracy, but there will always be extremists in every group including the civil rights movement whose message ultimately prevailed.

One proposal for starters, not original with me, is to limit contributions for congressional representatives to people living in the district.  For senators, limit them to the state.  It won’t stop all corruption, but it would be a beginning.
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Ed CT
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February 03, 2014
ObamaCare is probably a big mistake but the charge of corruption is totally misplaced and solely designed for improper purposes. I would suggest Mr. von Mises concentrate on something useful like electing Republican officials in 2014 rather than helping the liberals by his baseless comments.

The Agitator #99: Tax exemptions & free markets
by Oliver_Halle
January 17, 2014 01:15 PM | 546 views | 2 2 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
It is human nature to shift one’s costs and taxes to someone else.  Everyone looks for a break ranging from shopping for discounts, using coupons, responding to special offers, etc.  On a larger scale businesses typically look for tax breaks, tax credits, tax abatements, tax incentives, special tariffs, non-compete laws, and more.  Churches get special tax treatment at all levels ranging from paying no property taxes to all sorts of federal, state and local exemptions.  While the recipients feel justified and deserving of their special statuses, what is too often overlooked is that others have to pick up the slack.  As congressman and senate candidate John Kingston would say, there are no free lunches---unless you are like him and one of the favored.
 
John Williams’ Riverwalk project should be a winner by any measure considering its location in the Platinum Triangle and proximity to the new Braves stadium.  Yet Williams, with the help of Cobb commission chairman Tim Lee and other prominent Republicans who tout free markets, want to give Williams a tax abatement that would have cost the school system millions of dollars over a decade.  But there is more---building this complex would require more police and fire protection, but Williams didn’t want to pay for it, and Lee seems to think that somehow that’s okay.  (I haven’t seen Lee’s campaign contribution reports, but I would bet that Williams is a big supporter and maybe even a fundraiser for Lee too.)  Instead , Cobb County homeowners and all of us who pay sales tax would have subsidized the services that Williams would have gotten virtually for free when he called 911.
 
There has been lots of talk about the additional number of police officers that will be needed once the stadium is built, but Lee hasn’t said how he will pay for them.  All we are being told is that it won’t cost   property owners any additional money.  Maybe the Braves stadium and surrounding development will produce enough revenue to pay for everything; maybe not.  No one will know until the projects are complete.  Then we will know if the projections were in the ballpark or if the taxpayers are on the hook. By then Lee will be long gone.
 
For all the talk about small businesses being the backbone of the country’s economic power, you wouldn’t know it if the measure is tax breaks.  Big business is where the political power is, and the federal and state tax codes are written around their special interests.  The argument we always hear from our officials is that if we don’t play this game, we will lose businesses to other municipalities or states that do.  The problem is that all too often the businesses that get the tax incentives don’t live up to their promises, and the taxpayers have to make up the shortfall.  Perhaps if the state spent more money on infrastructure, public transportation, public safety, education, and healthcare among the big issues, we wouldn’t have to incentivize individual businesses to locate to Cobb County and other parts of Georgia on an ad hoc basis.  They would want to come here because of our friendly and attractive business environment.  And that would add good paying jobs and a growing tax base to pay for the amenities and improved quality of life for all Georgians.
 
We the voters are going to have to think differently if we have any hope of change.  I thought Governor Deal was right to push for the TSPLOST that went up in flames.  We were told by the opponents that there was a Plan B.  To date that plan remains known only to those that touted it.  About four years ago we had a referendum asking if the voters would support a $10 fee paid every four years when you renewed your driver’s license with the money going to pay for trauma hospitals in rural Georgia.  Opponents defeated it with most of them arguing that they were taxed enough already.
 
We are going to see more of the likes of John Williams.  The Weather Channel didn’t waste any time looking for their “me too” largess.  I wish I could understand how Republicans, who hold the local and state power, can claim to support free markets and then interfere with them with handouts that come from other people’s pockets.  I wish I could understand how they can bloviate about how important small businesses are to the economy and then do absolutely nothing for them.  I guess we deserve the officials we are foolish enough to elect.
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Ludwig Von Mises
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January 22, 2014
Oliver - It's good to read that you are supporting classic liberal, libertarian views. I'm proud of you for once.

Yes, the Republicans "bloviate" for free markets and small government, but when they're in power, the use the government to control the economy, the schools and the bedrooms.

And I always thought that you, Oliver, were the biggest Bloviator of all.

The Agitator #98: Where have you gone, Randi Rhodes...
by Oliver_Halle
January 09, 2014 11:03 AM | 629 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

A lot of interesting events have occurred over the past ten days or so, some still ongoing.  I am always relieved when I read that the Republicans are protecting America from the socialist/communist Obama.  It saves me the trouble of looking under my bed for commies who might be hiding there but for our  Republican representatives.

Over and over on the conservative/right wing/reactionary radio waves I hear how the “liberal media” is destroying our country.  If I am to believe Rush Limbaugh, he alone has a daily listening audience of over 20 million.  Add Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck, Mark Levin, and many more, and we are talking about some serious numbers.  Those numbers probably add up to far more listeners than the NYT and Washington Post, among other liberal media, have reading their newspapers.  We already know that FOX has a wider viewing audience than CNN.  In Atlanta there are no stations that I am aware of that carry any well known liberal talking heads.  Randi Rhodes, who I rank among the best of them and who is virtually unknown to most Americans, is no longer heard in Atlanta.  Air America, which carried her and several other liberals, disappeared some years ago with no replacement.  Same for many other cities in the U.S.

So for those who rely on the reactionary talking heads for “news”, it has been interesting.  Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, a Republican who served under Bush and Obama has a new book out.  I haven’t read it yet, only the newspaper accounts of it.  The talking heads have been touting Gate’s opinion of how Obama is essentially responsible for our failure to bring peace to Afghanistan.  Yet Gates took Bush apart too for abandoning Afghanistan while winning that war in order to engage in a war with Iraq.  Not a mention of that on any of the talk shows I have listened to.  No mention either of Gates’ praise for Hillary Clinton, or even a passing comment that Condoleezza Rice sought to close our detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  And for sure there wasn’t even a tip of the hat to Gates’ statement that Obama’s decision to send in the SEALS to capture or kill Osama bin Laden was the most courageous political decision that Gates had ever seen.  To hear these “fair and balanced” bloviators one would believe that Gates’ only agenda was to rip Obama and Joe Biden.

The same commentators have also been heavily critical of Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana.  That’s a fair political debate in my opinion, but their position seems to be at odds with their mantra of states’ rights.   Not one reactionary bloviator that I heard mentioned Mitt Romney’s healthcare law in Massachusetts that was the blueprint for Obamacare, or the Republican argument frequently heard that states should be laboratories to experiment with new ideas.  Last week listeners were subject to days of critical commentary of the conservative version of what free speech is with reference to Duck Dynasty actor Phil Robertson.  But all went silent when Gun & Ammo magazine columnist Dick Metcalf proposed some regulation of firearms and lost his job as a result.  (See Kevin Foley’s blog concerning this, a very well done piece that explains the conservative hypocrisy concerning speech.)

To close the week out we can’t overlook the debate concerning extending unemployment benefits for three months at a cost of $6 billion.  The Republicans insist on an offset, cuts from somewhere else in order for them to support the bill.  Our own two U.S. senators, Johnnie Isakson and Saxby Chambliss insist on the offsets.  While this is going on, the next farm bill is coming up soon for a vote that will cost $500 billion over ten years.  Yet not a whisper from our two senators that just maybe we can find $6 billion from the “unemployment bill” for farmers who get paid not to grow crops, receive insurance subsidies, and much more.  I have to believe that the unemployed who need additional help right now don’t fill the campaign coffers like Big Agriculture does.  In other words, there is a solution, but cash is king, and the voice of cash speaks much louder than the voices of the down and out.  It’s just more of the same…

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The Agitator #97: Michelle Malkin's "Cruciphobia"
by Oliver_Halle
January 02, 2014 01:25 PM | 880 views | 1 1 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Anyone reading Michelle Malkin’s nationally syndicated columns in the MDJ knows without question that she is a far right conservative---or maybe reactionary would sum up her political world view better.  Her December 29th column about “cruciphobia” doesn’t miss a beat in using every negative adjective to describe atheists who oppose a 43 foot cross in a public park in San Diego that has stood there since a veterans group donated it in 1954.  She even quotes a Jewish rabbi who lives nearby and says that the cross doesn’t bother him.  Of course, though, Malkin makes no mention of Christians, among others, who also oppose the cross being planted in a tax payer supported entity.  Malkin continues a certain relatively new tradition of being “fair and balanced” but with a different understanding attached to it than the plain meaning of the words.
 
Christians like to  ask about the harm of placing their religious symbols in the public square or public buildings.  Same for their sectarian invocations at government meetings.  Hey, if someone is offended, well “they can either avert their eyes or leave the room.  This is America where majorities decide.”  There was a time when the Christian faith overwhelmingly dominated, but those times have changed, and with each passing year there are more people of other belief systems and non-believers of different stripes.  In case Malkin and others haven’t noticed, America doesn’t look quite the same as it did in 1954.
 
Our Founding Fathers were truly brilliant.  They understood from experience the importance of drafting a secular Constitution, one that starts out with, “We the people…,” and makes no mention of a Christian god or any other deity.  The closest the Constitution comes to mentioning religion is in Article VI where it is provided that no religious test shall be required to hold public office.  It also states that the various elected officials shall be bound by “oath or affirmation”  to support the Constitution.
 
There is a segment of our country that refers to themselves as “Constitutionalists.”  I’m not exactly sure what that means, because I have taken a number of oaths in my life to support and defend the Constitution, but my interpretation of it seems to be at odds with those who insist that we are a Christian nation just because a majority of the population professes to be Christian.  Somehow the inarguable fact that the Constitution nowhere created a Christian nation is beside the point.  Is this a variation of the conservative term for judges they don’t like, i.e. activism?  Could it be that these conservatives are very activist in reading into the Constitution that we are really a Christian nation despite no language in this grand document to support it?
 
This whole topic has reached a point of absurdity.  Consider that Justice Antonin Scalia, in another case involving a cross placed on public land in the desert to honor the war dead, made one of the most amazing comments imaginable.  In Salazar v. Buono decided in 2009, Scalia stated from the bench that the cross, in effect, honored all the war dead.  It was pointed out to Scalia that the cross is not found in the cemeteries of Jewish war veterans.  I’ve never heard of a cross being a universal symbol of anything other than to represent the Christian faith.
 
I can only wonder if Malkin would defend a majority Muslim community that honored its war dead by placing a 43 foot Star and Crescent in a public park.  (I would oppose it as vehemently as I do the cross or any other religious symbol.)  Malkin never mentioned that this 43 foot cross could just as easily be planted on the grounds of one of the local churches.  I, for one, would have no problem with that whatsoever, and none of the unbelievers or non-Christians that I know would have a problem with it either.  The danger in allowing this cross to remain in the public square is encroachment and the demands of other religious groups for free space at taxpayer expense to propagate their faith.
 
In my opinion, no Supreme Court case better defines who we are as Americans, what the Constitution and Bill of Rights mean, than those written by Justice Robert Jackson in 1943 in West Virginia vs. Barnette:  “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
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KFO
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January 03, 2014
Oliver, "reactionary" is the precise word to describe Malkin.

Again, this is all part of the far right narrative to portray progressives and anyone else who doesn't agree with them as anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-religion as part of the larger canard that we're all Communists. There's nothing new here. There were Malkins in the 1950s doing the same thing.

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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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