The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator # 184: "One, two, three, look at Mr. Lee"
September 02, 2015 11:15 AM | 271856 views | 0 0 comments | 4239 4239 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator # 184: "One, two, three, look at Mr. Lee"
by Oliver_Halle
September 02, 2015 11:15 AM | 98 views | 1 1 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Once again Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee has made the news, but probably not in a way that he would have preferred. He recently “wrote” a letter to the editor for the MDJ in support of the police following Commissioner Lisa Cupid’s encounter with an undercover officer. It turned out that Mr. Lee’s “heartfelt” LTE wasn’t authored by him. His deputy chief, Kellie Brownlow, actually wrote it and lifted portions from a letter, without attribution, written by a victim/witness advocate in Kentucky. Brownlow then compounded her lapse by offering a disingenuous justification for her dishonesty that couldn’t pass the red face test.

The AJC and a local columnist have also written on this topic, and I am happy to pile on. This is hardly Mr. Lee’s first rodeo with situational ethics. I have written several other commentaries about it over the past year.

What is particularly disheartening is that the letter was supposed to let Cobb police officers know that Mr. Lee has their back. How in good conscience could he ever convince these officers that he is serious when we don’t even know if he read it? My uninformed guess is that knowing Mr. Lee’s cavalier attitude toward the truth, one can easily picture him ordering Brownlow to write a letter for publication that “will make the cops happy” and to let them know that Lisa Cupid is irrelevant as far as he’s concerned. (Recall his duplicitous statements that he did not hire an attorney for the county concerning the drafting of the Braves Memorandum of Understanding, which was later shown to be false by previously undisclosed emails that proved his denials were deceptive.)

Unfortunately for Mr. Lee, one of the experiences he missed in life was putting on the uniform of this country. (There are any number of us who would love to know what deferments he had during the Vietnam draft era, or why, as a conservative patriot, he didn’t volunteer.) Had he been in the military he would have learned by example that even busy generals take time to write personal notes to families that have lost a loved one. I think I am right in remembering that every president has found time to write notes under similar circumstances. But Mr. Lee is apparently much busier---or is just plain flippant.

I’m not sure how anyone in the Cobb PD can take Mr. Lee seriously. He continues to prove that he is not worthy of belief. Brownlow, who makes $105,000/year and isn’t even from Cobb County, has become Mr. Lee’s alter ego. Mr. Lee hasn’t apologized for the letter that he is ultimately responsible for, and he hasn’t disciplined Brownlow that anyone knows. To think, two cops could be hired for real work for what Brownlow is paid. Sadly, too many are blinded by what they see as Mr. Lee’s success in bringing the Braves to Cobb County. That story is a long way from completion, even if everything seems to be going well for now. But having cut out the taxpayers in the decision making process, Mr. Lee’s name will always be associated with it for better or for worse.

“One, Two, Three, Look at Mr. Lee” as he tells you to talk to the hand. Here’s hoping that next year he’ll be looking for a job, and that a real leader who knows how to write, who knows how to lead, who has earned respect by doing, who knows how to work as a team, who knows what integrity and character mean because he learned it from the best---the U.S. Marine Corps---will replace Mr. Lee. The voters have gotten the hand from Mr. Lee. It’s time for the voters to give him the boot.

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uga72
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September 02, 2015
Oliver, well put. The only error in your piece is that the voters have not "gotten the hand" from Mr. Lee....actually, they have gotten the middle finger.

The Agitator #183: JEB is clueless
by Oliver_Halle
August 26, 2015 10:55 AM | 172 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

No matter what Donald Trump says or does, he stays on top in the polls. The interesting phenomena, though, is that the same people who put Trump ahead are the same ones who are convinced that he can’t win the nomination. Yet, if the voters who support Trump actually cast their ballots for him in the primaries despite their “certainty” that he is unelectable, he will be the Republican nominee.

While Trump continues to say all the right things to make the new silent majority feel good---never mind that none of his so-called plans on various issues have any substance---the other candidates are trying to persuade Republican voters that they really do have ideas that will “restore” America to the golden years of Reagan.

Not long ago Jeb Bush got into a heated debate with a college student at a campaign event. Bush tried to explain that his brother George had saved Iraq with the Surge, and that Obama is responsible for the creation of ISIS because he withdrew American troops too soon. The young lady strongly disputed Bush’s revisionist history, and as she tried to cite facts to support her argument, Bush walked off. Since then Bush has stood by his version of events as he tries to convince Americans that he is the right leader to combat ISIS and win the fight against terrorism. Another inconvenient fact that Bush ignores is how the Iraq War created one of the largest refugee problems in history. And refugees with no home, no hope, who are sheltered in tents and provided with bare subsistence, can create huge incubators for more terrorism.

Very brief history, Bush had negotiated a complete withdrawal of combat troops to occur by December 2011. Obama is blamed for failing to obtain a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq that would have extend the time frame of the withdrawal. The argument continues that had Obama made a sincere effort to negotiate a SOFA, ISIS would never have evolved, and a third of the country now occupied by ISIS would never have occurred. What is omitted from this account is that then Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki didn’t want American troops to remain, and he was also under a lot of pressure from different corners, including the Grand Ayatollah, to restore Iraq’s sovereignty.

Bush also conveniently brushes off how his brother’s administration prohibited former Iraqi soldiers under Saddam Hussein, and members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, from becoming part of the new government after Saddam’s overthrow. With nowhere to turn, no jobs, no income, many of these experienced soldiers joined up with al-Qaida and later ISIS. That mistake was foreseeable and probably the genesis of all the bad consequences that we are paying for to this day and for the indefinite future.

There is more that continues to undermine our best efforts to ensure that what remains of Iraq doesn’t fall to ISIS. In addition to the sectarian partisanship that al-Malaki promoted by excluding Sunnis from participating in the government in any meaningful way, he turned a blind eye to rampant corruption if not actually promoting and participating in it himself. And corruption is a country-killer.

Last week the Washington Post reported how the new prime minister is trying to address the corruption problem, which ranges from paying off cops on the low end, to paying sizable sums of money to officials just to get a job that someone is qualified for on the merits. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The corruption did not end with Saddam’s exit, and in fact probably got worse as hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars have gone missing and unaccounted for. Also of note is that we openly paid Sunnis to join the Surge, which is probably not the best way to build any kind of real loyalty to the government we were trying to prop up.

Jeb Bush is likely to be one of the last candidates standing, thus my reason for focusing on him. Like all the other tough talkers who claim that Obama is the cause of the Middle East mess, I ask what Bush’s plan is to turn the area into a nice, friendly, safe place. Included in that question is how he will pay for it without raising taxes, without closing unneeded military bases, without eliminating unneeded costly weapons systems, and without turning the American economy into something that resembles the old Soviet economy where the bulk of spending went to the military. And we know how that ended for them.

Trump is selling snake oil very successfully. Bush is too, but he does it with a softer, confident mien. Neither know what they are talking about, but Trump is more convincing. Neither doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, but the American people will know soon whether they got taken.

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The Agitator #182: "Rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell"
by Oliver_Halle
August 19, 2015 10:45 AM | 300 views | 1 1 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Presidential campaigns have a way of causing divisiveness among families, friends, organizations, and anywhere else where discussion occurs about the candidates. People who pay attention to what’s going on in the world are very passionate about their beliefs, which is a good thing, except when it becomes the reason for relationships to sever after so many years. People, including me, can forget all the other things that we share in common and let political differences become the focus. We should remember that disagreement and dissent are good. Dissent is American. Dissent distills ideas and hopefully crystalizes the best and discards the worst.

Another thing that has occurred is the increasing use of pejorative words to describe those with a different world view. The word “liberal” has become associated with being a Democrat, socialist, leftist, or communist---with all meaning the same thing. These words conjure up memories of the Soviet Union and other communist dictatorships, a gross distortion of what Democrats and liberals represent. Our current president has been accused of all of these things, and worse. When I ask Obama’s accusers what industries he has nationalized, I don’t get a response. Instead, the person will usually say that Obama would take over this country if he could. I haven’t seen the evidence for it other than his exercise of presidential powers that conform with other past presidents.

Religious faith has become more important to many Americans than fulfilling one’s oath to preserve, defend and protect the Constitution. A lot of the Obama haters are convinced he’s a closet Muslim because he lived in Indonesia as a boy, yet there is zero evidence to support that assertion. And even if he was a Muslim, why would it matter as long as he had a record of putting the Constitution before whatever religious belief he held? Should we assume that any German-American living in Germany during WW II is a closet Nazi?

As we get closer to the primaries we will see more professions of faith from the candidates, photo ops of them at church, and trying to subtly suggest that they can be trusted because of their belief in God. And something else that has become more common over the past few decades are outliers who promise to run the government like a business. If you look back more than a hundred years---and maybe longer, you will find no president who came directly from a business background. If precedent holds, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina are going nowhere.

It used to matter that a presidential candidate had served his country in uniform. It demonstrated that he understood the import of sending Americans to war. Now it’s okay for the likes of Donald Trump, a man who took four deferments during Vietnam, to attack John McCain’s status as a POW. It’s okay to continually bash John Kerry’s naval service, which included a year on a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam before becoming an officer-in-charge of a Swift Boat. (I do not defend Kerry’s post-Vietnam tossing of his medals.) And it’s especially obnoxious coming from armchair warriors who never saw the elephant.

General Douglas MacArthur, a man who saw war as few have or ever will, understood in his later years that with the development of technology and weapons systems that are exponentially more destructive than anything previously imagined, the need for diplomacy had become vital if the world wasn’t to be destroyed. Yet, false analogies with the Third Reich are made with Iran from our tough talking Republicans who are only too eager to use our military power as the first option. Eisenhower understood the absurdity of this, and if some of the current presidential crop had been president in the 1950s, we might have had a world-ending nuclear war with the Soviets.

At this point I don’t know who the best presidential candidate is. There is only one Republican that I would consider voting for. It isn’t Donald Trump. Trump makes people feel good. He brings out a lot of latent emotions that people generally prefer not to talk about. I still wonder why conservative media hasn’t called on Trump to tell the American people how he would increase defense spending, triple the number of boarder security personnel, put troops on the ground in the Middle East, take care of our veterans, pay for a wall on the Mexican border---all while balancing the budget. If by some miracle he was elected, I can only imagine him giving the State of the Union address.

The days of holding different political opinions without being accused of the worst things, of injecting religion into the debate in a nefarious way, of being un-American, is probably over. Criticizing the candidates is fair game. But the calumnies laid on those that offer criticism has gotten a lot uglier over the years. That is a sad commentary on who we have become as Americans.

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Ben Twomey
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August 19, 2015
Good thoughts Oliver, but a bit one-sided. you lament the name "liberal" as used to describe Democrats, along with all the bad images it brings out. But, you failed to apply to same lamentation to the Republicans who are called God-freaks,

religious fanatics, flag wavers, gun-toters, ect.

We would get a lot accomplished if we would exercise some tolerance for the beliefs of others. However, the examples we are shown by our political leaders is not meant to inspire tolerance.

Thanks for you, always "straight up" well stated remarks..

The Agitator #181: Corruption versus "corruption"
by Oliver_Halle
August 12, 2015 02:45 PM | 397 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Former state Attorney General Mike Bower’s investigation into corruption in DeKalb County is getting a lot of attention. Last March, DeKalb acting CEO Lee May appointed Bowers to investigate and pursue all leads to identify and root out corruption wherever he found it, from top to bottom. The county appropriated $500,000 to pay Bowers $400/hour, and his investigators $300/hour.

From day one I had three questions that I thought should have been answered before the CEO committed to spending this kind of taxpayer money. First, and most importantly, without subpoena power, how would Bowers pursue allegations of illicit relationships---such as between someone in power and a contractor? For that you need to gather up phone records, emails, bank statements, other financial documents, and other sources of information that can only be obtained with a subpoena.

The second question was where would you start? Would the investigation be open-ended, meaning that every county employee would be scrutinized regardless of whether there was a factual basis to conduct an investigation?

The third question pertains to how you could extract relevant information from a potential witness where some sort of immunity agreement might be necessary? Bowers, not having any law enforcement powers, had no authority to offer anything in return for a witness’ testimony should that witness have exposure himself.

Important to consider is that human nature would almost certainly call for Bowers to find “something” in which to justify spending a half million dollars, especially when his commission all but started out with the conclusion that “we know that there is corruption here, we don’t have any idea where or we would have pursued it, but because you are an expert we expect that you will be able to do what our salaried experts couldn’t do.”

In a letter to May last week, Bowers stated that DeKalb County government was “rotten to the core.” What was not stated were names and specific acts associated with them. Instead, it was noted that P-cards issued to county employees had been used for personal items, at least seemingly so, because May refuted some of these expenses as likely legitimate. Admittedly, Bowers has not submitted his final report, which is due either later this month or October, the date depending on whether you believe May or Bowers concerning a dispute over it. What may prevent Bowers from naming names is the real possibility of being sued for defamation.

There is a big difference between incompetence, negligence, and corruption. My educated guess is that there was a failure of oversight in the various departments to ensure that spending was appropriate, that receipts were obtained and accounted for, and that disciplinary action was taken where any breakdown occurred. The roughly ten or so county officials that have been convicted of crimes, to include the CEO and a former longtime commissioner, all acted independently. Each convict figured out his/her own system in which to steal money from the taxpayers. What has not been reported, and which no evidence has been adduced, is that there was or is systemic corruption, where you had an organized hierarchy of criminals (racketeering enterprise) with money flowing in various directions.

Bowers letter, and all the previous investigations on both the state and federal levels, have not revealed any kind of organized corruption. With what May knew when he appointed Bowers, it seems that it would have made more sense to hire an outside forensic accounting firm to flesh out negligence, lack of oversight, incompetence, and even criminality. The firm could also have recommended changes to minimize future occurrences of mishaps or more serious deviations---all for a lot less than Bowers charged.

In the end, I’m not sure what Bowers’ investigation accomplished that couldn’t have been done by ongoing criminal investigations by the FBI, and that the DA’s office and a forensic audit couldn’t have done. The FBI only opens corruption cases based on specific allegations, not gossip and innuendo. In the political arena, it is all too common for one’s opponents and enemies to create mischief by using an investigative body to conduct an investigation, and then to make it public that their opponent/nemesis is under investigation. Bowers has also stated that a number of sources cooperated in his investigation, but what we don’t know is whether these sources led to anything significant or if they used Bowers to get some “payback” against fellow employees or bosses.

Cobb has not experienced anything like DeKalb. Yet fair and reasonable questions have been raised about the stadium deal. I wrote about many of them in Agitator #137, which was based in part on the investigative report that the AJC did. I am not suggesting that someone is guilty of committing a crime. I am suggesting that there are facts and circumstance that warrant a government law enforcement agency with full subpoena power and the power to immunize witnesses, to get answers to a lot of unanswered questions. The citizens don’t need a special outside investigator to do this. They need and deserve more than they have gotten so far.

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The Agitator #180: The sound of silence is fatal
by Oliver_Halle
August 05, 2015 10:45 AM | 507 views | 1 1 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

When it comes to the Confederate Flag, I don’t have a dog in the fight. My first ancestors in America, to my knowledge, didn’t even arrive until the late 1800s. I appreciate my heritage as much as anyone from the South, but its roots lie elsewhere.

Flying the Confederate Flag on government property has been controversial for a good 20 years or so. It may have contributed to the loss of Governor Barnes’ reelection bid in 2002, and it has been a campaign issue for many candidates throughout the South over the years. We’ve all heard the arguments for and against it, and like the abortion and gay marriage issues, most people have their heels dug in one way or the other.

On Saturday, August 1st, many hundreds of Confederate Flag supporters protested at Stone Mountain Park. They demanded that the flag should continue to fly at the park and other public places. What I can’t seem to grasp is why any group should think it their right for the federal, state or local government to display their flags or religious symbols. The same people that think it their right to have the Confederate Flag fly over tax supported forums are probably the same ones who would vociferously object to a minority group insisting that their religious, political or other flag should also be flown.

To be very clear, I support the right of anyone to fly their flag or display whatever symbol they want over their house of worship, their home, their private school, their car, or their neighborhood. I am about free speech, and symbolic speech in this instance should be interpreted very broadly. But when it comes to anything to do with tax money, I am less supportive, and I take a strong position that the government should be neutral in these instances.

Interestingly, the Confederate Flag only became an icon in the South in modern times going back to the mid-1950s. It was a “poke-in-the-eye” at the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal government following the Brown vs. Board of Education integration decision in 1954. So this notion of the flag being such an important part of one’s heritage really didn’t take on that import until it began to symbolize something different---opposition to integration and the federal government.

Last week someone(s) planted or left Confederate Flags at the MLK Center. I think it safe to presume that the “benefactors” did it as an act of defiance, an in-your-face way of telling black people to pound sand. So much for the heritage argument here.

Then on Saturday at Stone Mountain Park, the AJC reported a conversation between a flag supporter and a group of black men. The man, among others, insisted that they weren’t racists, that the flag honored their ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and that it’s about heritage. This one man, though, paraphrasing, said that neither blacks nor whites wanted intermarrying or integration of the schools. The man went on to argue that “integration and the civil rights movement could be blamed on ‘communist Jews’”, and that the Charleston shooter, Dylann Roof, “should have went to the synagogue, because that’s the enemy of all of us.”

So here’s my question: Where are the “heritage” groups like League of the South and Sons of Confederate Veterans, among others, to denounce the incident at the King Center and this anti-Semite? How about those who were present for this remark---why didn’t they publicly condemn him? Why hasn’t there been shouting from the highest hills and treetops objections to the misuse of their flag by the likes of these troglodytes? Why haven’t they screamed out against the KKK and neo-Nazi groups that also fly the Confederate Flag?

I have heard the argument repeatedly that American Muslims are not vocal enough in protesting against Islamic terrorism. (Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure as I have read any number of accounts that don’t support the accusation.) Why the double standard? I think it fair that if any group allows it’s flag or cause to be perverted without objecting, without a fight, deserves what happens.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups allowed an honored symbol of their cause to be hijacked by racists.

The loud silence speaks volumes, and that no official from any recognized southern heritage group has denounced the likes of the vandalism at the King Center, or the disgusting remarks of the anti-Semite at Stone Mountain Park, among many such incidents---all associated with the flag---deserve to forfeit the hallowed place that the flag once arguably deserved.

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B "The Snack" Lane
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August 17, 2015
Hi, Agitator! I think that we do not really have a disagreement, but I thought your blogpost warranted some comment.

I believe Nikki Haley had every right in the world to remove the flag from the SC statehouse grounds. Especially since the flying of that banner in that particular place--as you rightly point out--had much more to do with an outdated political statement than any homage to history. Let's both applaud the Republican who listened to her constituents and finally reversed a policy that lingered too long as the legacy of an era of Democratic dominance in the South.... ;)

I also don't think a state park should be coerced to fly a Confederate flag beside an American one. You're right! I agree with those men and women who argue moving the flag into more of a museum setting at the park is an appropriate step at this point. And I, for one, am *happy* to in no uncertain terms condemn racists who long ago hijacked a flag to signify values that our society roundly rejects in 2015. If the white dude said all of those things you record here, he was horrible and should be verbally castigated!!!

But I don't think other people have NOT condemned such statements whenever they are called to their attention. Heck. Many of the organizers of the Stone Mountain event were very, very clear that they did not want anything to do with racial slurs or other such forms of hate speech. One of the organizers for the pro-flag side was black! So I see this group of people--and the people that debated with them!--as simply exercising their right to free speech, which we both completely support, yes?

I say this even though I understand that Southerners might be better off to just sip their beer in the same corner as the Hindus who viewed the swastika as a sacred symbol of blessing for centuries. It's simply impossible to take THAT symbol back, too. (No! No! MY swastika tattoo is an ancient symbol associated with an audacious spirit. Why are all these skinheads trying to make friends with me???)

BUT I also think there is a bridge that goes too far and causes people who really do care about heritage and history to push back.

The carving on Stone Mountain, for example. At this point, that is a permanent structure that is part of the historical record.

When there are calls for the destruction of THIS--as well as ANY positive reference to a people who once engaged in what was an exceedingly complicated American conflict--there is a collective WHOA!

Whether or not the cause of the flag is a poor vehicle for protesting such cultural cleansing--and in many ways it is--I think the rally at Stone Mountain was a manifestation of that WHOA.

Is that fair?

The Agitator #179: The balsa wood candidate, Part 2
by Oliver_Halle
July 29, 2015 12:28 PM | 720 views | 2 2 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In an earlier Agitator submission, #174, I wrote about presidential timber and why Donald Trump was the balsa wood candidate. Nothing has changed that opinion. His campaign rhetoric appeals to a very low common denominator.

 

Trump’s personal attacks on John McCain and his status as a POW for five years during Vietnam is something that would normally end the candidacy of any presidential candidate, especially one that took several school deferments and one medical deferment concerning a bone spur on his foot---but which foot he couldn’t remember when asked.

 

Not unexpectedly, Rush Limbaugh is strongly defending Trump. Limbaugh reportedly didn’t wait for his draft notice during Vietnam; he went to the draft board with a doctor’s note concerning some unspecified back or skeletal issue. I guess that these two self-serving “patriots” need mutual support as they bash McCain, who answered his country’s call without hesitation.  There’s an unprintable name for the kind of “birds” that stick together like Trump and Limbaugh.

 

From Trump’s despicable comments came other innuendo from supposed fellow POWs who claimed that McCain was a traitor, that he willingly cooperated with his captors, that he got special treatment, and more. I’m still waiting to learn the names of the fellow POWs who have made such claims.

 

It reminds me of the smears against John Kerry’s Swift Boat service (I am not talking about his post naval service that he should have apologized for). Except for one crew member, the overwhelming majority of the calumnies against Kerry came from sailors who never served with Kerry, weren’t in Vietnam at the same time as Kerry, weren’t in Kerry’s boat division, and had never met Kerry. How many remember Senator Joseph McCarthy’s disgusting accusations against America’s architect of the victory of WW II, General of the Army, George C. Marshall, where Low Blow Joe claimed that Marshall was a communist and responsible for the fall of China? Sadly, one of my great heroes, Dwight D. Eisenhower, went to his grave regretting that he did not defend Marshall against these outrageous, false defamations.

 

I recall from history that something similar happened to General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the remaining forces at Corregidor in the spring of 1942. The Japanese had laid siege to the island rock, and ultimately Wainwright had no choice but to surrender or go down fighting with no more food or ammunition and no hope of resupply. There is a photo of General MacArthur and Wainwright hugging after the war, and Wainwright is not much more than a scarecrow. Wainwright was awarded the Medal of Honor, but like the guttersnipes attacking McCain, they questioned why he deserved the medal in light of having surrendered.

 

To those who question McCain’s patriotism, his loyalty to the U.S., his contributions to the American war effort in Vietnam, I share this personal experience. In May 2008, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association dedicated a granite and brass monument at East Cobb Park in memory of Major James Wise, a native of Atlanta who was a pilot shot down and killed in Vietnam on December 23, 1965. I was on the committee that helped plan the ceremony and got a chance to speak briefly with the keynote speaker, Air Force Col. Bud Day, who earned the Medal of Honor as a POW, and like John McCain, had been shot down.

 

I vividly recall that Day spoke reverentially of McCain, how McCain was a real hero who had endured so much torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese. I have to believe that if Day thought otherwise, and being the gentleman that he was, if he didn’t believe what he said, he would have just remained silent. But he didn’t. And I am glad to bear witness to the memory of the kind words Day had for John McCain.

 

People who are quoted in the media, and people I have talked to myself, tell me that Trump is saying all the right things, that he is his own man, that he is not afraid to speak the truth, and for those reasons they like and support him. Many add that Trump can’t be bought, and considering his own statements about how successful he is with women, it’s not likely that he can be corrupted in either instance.  Yet if you ask the same people how this demagogue would accomplish everything he says he will do if he’s elected, you get blank stares. What neither they nor Trump have figured out is that even if he had both Houses of Congress on his side, he would still have to win over the majority of 535 individually elected representatives who don’t answer to him.

 

No, even this self-serving tough guy can’t fire the very people that he would need if he were to get anything accomplished.  

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Oliver G. Halle
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August 18, 2015
Pat, You couldn't have summed it up any better. Thank you for your post. And you are welcome to fill in for me anytime. You've have seen the elephant, something that none of the current Republicans can claim.

The 'Agitator #178: How much are you willing to pay?
by Oliver_Halle
July 22, 2015 11:00 AM | 690 views | 1 1 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Iran nuclear deal, to no one’s surprise, has stirred up a hornet’s nest with Republicans. They condemned it immediately, although I suspect that they formed their opinions before reading the details of the agreement. Shades of Obamacare, which is 2,700 pages, versus the Iran agreement that is 159. I also wonder if any of the leading Republicans spoke with the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist, to get any technical questions answered. Same for our intelligence agencies that almost certainly had a hand in narrowing down the details of the treaty.

The Iranian government, as opposed to the Iranian people, is no friend of ours. But I find amazing that the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, among some of the Republican candidates for president, to consider Iran to be the biggest sponsor of international terrorism. Have they forgotten that almost all of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia? Iran had no hand in it that has ever been revealed, and if there is evidence to the contrary, it is high time for it to be released.

Consider, too, that while Iran sponsors the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, Saudi Arabia promotes a fundamentalist conservative brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism or Salafism. Some of the extremist groups on the Sunni side have their roots in Saudi Arabia. We all know that Israel is the sworn enemy of Iran, but can anyone say when Saudi Arabia recognized Israel’s right to exist?

Most Republicans, but not all, oppose Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Arguments against recognition include that Cuba is still a communist country, that it does not respect human rights, etc. Yet Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the world when it comes to human rights. As I wrote some months ago, one Saudi blogger who wrote about it is serving ten years in prison and faces 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks until he fulfills the 1,000 given to him for speaking out. I have not seen or heard one voice of protest from the right directed at the Saudi Arabian government over this gross injustice.

Did the Republicans object (some did) when Ronald Reagan proposed giving the technology for the Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Star Wars, to the Soviets once we developed it? How about the Reagan administration’s selling of arms to Iran for American hostages in the Middle East? Nixon’s opening the door to relations with China? Diplomacy with Vietnam? The latter two countries remain communist, both that we warred with unlike Cuba and Iran, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of trading and opening embassies there.

It is past time to put the hypocrisy behind us when it comes to flogging one oppressive government versus another. The alternatives to the Iran nuclear ban treaty are not good for the United States. If the U.S. turns it down, the embargo will still be lifted by the other countries that were part of the agreement. We will go it alone, and to what gain? And then we would have no clout whatsoever with Iran, short of war, if they proceed to build the bomb.

Have not the reactionaries asked themselves why Iran would strike Israel if they developed a bomb? Considering that Israel has over 200, it doesn’t seem like much of a match up. Factor in that the U.S. would also get involved and totally annihilate Iran, what’s in it for Iran to peremptorily strike Israel?

It is ironic that the U.S. Army is cutting its forces to a level not seen since before World War II. Cries of foul are being heard by Republicans who voted for sequestration in 2012, a compromise bill to rein in spending with ten percent budget cuts across the board until the early 2020s. The Pentagon gave fair warning of what was to come, and considering that our representatives will not allow the closing of obsolete bases and cutting unneeded weapons systems, what were the alternatives?

Yet we continue to hear from the reactionaries in the Republican Party that we should bomb Iran to ensure that they don’t develop the bomb. What they haven’t said is how we would pay for this war, one that would be considerably more costly than Iraq, and as always, would include whopping VA costs for the next 70 years. And as I write this, the VA is threatening to close hospitals and other facilities if they don’t get more money to fund all the financial burdens imposed on them by laws that protect veterans.

How much are the American people willing to shell out in additional blood and taxes? We still have the strongest military in the world by far and away. Why not use it if and when we have to, not just to prove we can? Diplomacy has worked with some other pretty bad guys in the past. Alternatively, let chicken-hawks like Donald Trump and Scott Walker lead the charge in a war that they support.

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Ben Twomey
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July 25, 2015
I am presuming, based on your condemnation of all objectors, that you have read rhe agreement including those parts that have been withheld, even from John Kerry, (If we are to believe him) until after the deal was agreed to.

Is it your opinion that the Ayatollah is just messing with us when the says things like, "We will trample America."?

Are you aware that Iran will not allow inspections of military establishments? That no Ameericans will be allowed to inspect anything?

Do you really believe that you, or I, or any other ordinary citizen of this country knows 25% of what this deal really entails?

The Agitator #177: Love it or leave it!
by Oliver_Halle
July 16, 2015 10:40 AM | 751 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

During the Vietnam War it was common for “patriots” to tell war protesters that if they didn’t love America, they could leave it. We heard the same mantra from more recent patriots during the latest wars in the Middle East. I never really understood what one had to do, or not do, to prove that he loved America to be in the club or not get expelled. After all, the Constitution seems broad enough to include people who don’t fit within a majority of current thinking whether it be political, religious, or some other topical issue.

With time and age, I am beginning to appreciate this slogan. Nothing like a Supreme Court decision that legitimizes gay marriages to get one’s attention. I was eight years old when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided, and living in New York City at the time, it had no impact on me. But from reading history, and having gone to college in Georgia from 1963-1965, I derived some understanding of what it means to defy the Supreme Court and the Constitution.

What is puzzling is that seemingly educated people are now calling for a similar defiance of the Constitution as it pertains to gay marriages. Last week a Dodge County, Georgia magistrate said that he would no longer perform any marriages because performing gay marriages goes against his religious beliefs. I assume that he forgot that his oath was to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Georgia, not to his personal faith. If his religious convictions come first, he needs to resign.

One local columnist described the court’s decision as “ringing hollow” because of longstanding religious beliefs, that this debate is hardly over. (I know that he considers himself a patriot because of his conservative views, but a public explanation of why he didn’t suit up during the time of the draft back in the 1960s would go a long way to help me, and others, appreciate his patriotism even more.)

Then there is national columnist Pat Buchanan who recently wrote about this country’s history of civil disobedience. He is right that the constitutional amendment that created Prohibition was so unpopular that it was superseded a few years later by another constitutional amendment---the only time in our nation’s history where that has happened. In other words, there is a mechanism for overturning Supreme Court decisions: change the law if it’s based on the law; pass an amendment if it’s based on the Constitution.

Buchanan talked about Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail in which King eloquently wrote about resisting unjust laws, that it is a moral responsibility to do so. In the abstract, I agree with Buchanan. But what he didn’t mention that King so eloquently wrote, that is included in the definition of a law being unjust, was whether those subject to it had a voice, a vote in the legislative body that created that law. King was referring to the Jim Crow laws that were written by legislators that “legally” excluded blacks from participating in the governing process and society.

When the Constitution was written, our wise forefathers created the Separation of Powers in the Constitution to ensure that no branch of government could take control of the country. We as Americans have all agreed to this not only in the many oaths we take during our lifetimes, but also as part of the social contract that uniquely makes us Americans. And that contract means that we adhere to the rule of law, that we work to change it if we don’t like it, and that we abide by the processes to make this all happen if we are to live in peace.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the Bible is to be used as a reference for resolving constitutional issues. Those who keep on talking about their Christian beliefs being violated couldn’t be more wrong on the law and the facts. No one is telling anyone what they have to believe, and contrary to some of our rabble-rousing state legislators, we don’t need a law protecting clergy members from having to perform weddings that don’t conform to their beliefs. The First Amendment has done that for over 225years. The court’s marriage decision provided for more liberty, something we should all celebrate, and it has no effect on anyone else’s beliefs or religious practices.

Those who don’t like our constitutional process, who would choose to resist and obstruct rather than follow the rule of law, i.e. either to obey it or work for change, should consider moving to another country that conforms to their beliefs and way of thinking. Love it or leave it---I now get it.

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The Agitator #176: "Show" us what you are for
by Oliver_Halle
July 08, 2015 03:10 PM | 793 views | 0 0 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Campaign season is starting to heat up, and the latest Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Healthcare Act and gay marriages have fueled the debate among Republicans. Once again the Republican candidates are talking about dismantling the ACA, and some of them are advocating a constitutional amendment to overturn the court’s decision on gay marriages. A few are even going so far as to say that they would ignore the gay marriage ruling based on their own understanding of judicial review---a reinterpretation of over 200 years of precedent.

Considering that the Republican House has taken almost 50 meaningless votes to overturn the ACA, and the difficulty in getting any constitutional amendment passed, their words fall on deaf ears. Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), head of the House Budget Committee, has been unsuccessful for years in even getting a committee hearing on his healthcare reform proposals.

Then there are promises to overhaul the immigration laws. The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill a couple of years ago that House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t even consider. The Republicans promise income tax reform, but when the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, with bipartisan support, offered substantial changes to the tax code, Boehner said it was dead on arrival. The Republicans all agree to eliminate the EPA, among other cabinet level positions, and to reduce regulations that are “strangling” businesses. And they are unanimous in pledging to restore our “decimated” military.

The one common thread in all of this talk is a total lack of action. When the Republicans controlled both Houses and the White House for six years under Bush 43, the only thing we got was Medicare Part D, one of the costliest government programs in history. To top that off, the Republicans enacted a provision that prohibited the government from negotiating prices for pharmaceuticals. So much for letting the marketplace work its magic when you can take care of those who ensured your election with whopping sums of money.

One thing that I think Americans would like to hear is how we are going to pay for the $89 billion extra that the Republicans want to add to the military budget next year. Republicans say that they will balance the budget in ten years, but if the plan means that they spend money outside the budget process so that it’s not included in the calculations, then it’s a promise built on a lie. And that is exactly how the $89 billion is being spent---in a gimmick where it doesn’t show up in the final budget.

I’m all for having the strongest defense in the world with no other country even coming close to second place. But I’m not okay with a jobs program disguised as defense in keeping obsolete bases open or purchasing outdated weapons systems. I also think that putting so much extra money into defense, much of it wasteful, to the exclusion of domestic programs such as rebuilding infrastructure, is a huge mistake. Recall that the Soviet Union and other countries that were once dominant military powers, spent themselves out of existence because of military spending to the exclusion of spending at home. So when you hear the tough talk from candidates about sending countless thousands of troops to the Middle East, it is fair to ask how it will be paid for. Tell the American people that they will have to dig deeper to pay for it and the 70 years of costs for Veterans Care.

If you shut down the EPA, I would like to hear how we could prevent going back to the days when you could cut the smog with a knife in our big cities, where water pollution was so bad that swimming at the beaches, lakes and rivers could make you deathly ill, and marine life was non-existent. I remember those days growing up in NYC.

We’ve heard the drumbeat from the right for almost seven years that Obama has destroyed America. I don’t agree, and in fact I think our country is better in lots of ways because of his presidency. Others disagree, and that’s fine. Since we will all be voting for his replacement in 2016, shouldn’t we know what the wannabees will do differently, how they will implement their ideas? It’s easy to be a spectator, but Teddy Roosevelt summarized it best with his famous “Man in the Arena.”

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The Agitator #175: The unmaking of America
by Oliver_Halle
June 30, 2015 11:15 AM | 938 views | 0 0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

If I had just landed in America from another planet and had no knowledge of the American Constitution or the country’s history, I would wonder if I arrived at a very bad time. After seeing and reading all the media reports about last week’s two major Supreme Court decisions, I’d have to reconsider whether to leave before it was too late.

First, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal faction of the court to uphold federal health insurance exchanges, which in effect means that the Affordable Healthcare Act is here to stay---plus or minus any tinkering over the next few years. This was a statutory interpretation decision, not one based on the Constitution, and my reading and understanding of the guidelines that the High Court follows in these instances is that Roberts played by the rules.

Yet the conservatives are apoplectic that Roberts has sold them out, that he is another liberal activist judge, another judge who legislates from the bench. I won’t disagree with some of that argument, especially Roberts’ clearly activist opinion in Citizens United, the case that has all but eliminated campaign spending limits. But nary was an objection heard from conservatives when Citizens United was decided.

In February of this year the Supreme Court tossed the criminal conviction of a Louisiana fisherman who threw overboard his undersized catch after being ordered by a law enforcement officer to preserve the fish while piloting his boat into port. The fisherman was charged with a provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) statute pertaining to the destruction of evidence. The Supreme Court ruled that SOX was never intended to reach down to such misconduct, to go beyond financial fraud,---even though the statute itself provided no such limitation. Roberts was in the majority, and fellow conservative Anthony Alito wrote a concurring opinion. The conservatives who think that the federal government has been overreaching for years, were delighted with the decision. But intellectual honesty and consistency should have had them crying foul.

Conservatives weren’t even able to catch their breath when the day after the ACA opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriages were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. Hysteria is what followed. Many clergymen see it as the apocalypse, that their constitutional rights under the First Amendment are being infringed, that their beliefs are under attack, that supporters of gay rights are intolerant---never mind that it is illegal to discriminate in housing and employment against someone because of their faith---a protection not provided to gay people.

Locally, the Reverend Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, along with others, expressed concern that they could be prosecuted for not performing gay weddings. Where they got that idea from is one I am still trying to figure out. Considering that no member of the clergy has ever been required to perform any marriage against their beliefs, what would change? What is the source of this absurd misunderstanding of their First Amendment rights? Why do some Christians think that the First Amendment should only reflect their religious beliefs and not those of others? And no, I don’t see a movement to pass laws allowing for polygamy, marrying animals, or being allowed to marry someone ten years old.

Could churches lose their tax exempt status if they didn’t perform gay marriages, another concern of the hysterical minded? My best guess is no, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if they did. For starters, there is no constitutional right to it. I, and others who share my beliefs, resent having to make up for the taxes houses of worship don’t pay for services that they receive, but I also know that the emotional arguments on this one will supersede any rational discussion.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he would issue some kind of order that would effectively nullify the court’s decision. I assume that it is something new, because I am totally unaware of a president being able to ignore the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Richard Nixon preceded Huckabee in learning that lesson. Then there is the Texas Attorney General who has said that he will provide legal counsel to any government clerk that refuses to issue a marriage license based on his or her religious beliefs. What has this country come to? One has to ask how that kind of legal nonsense would fly if we had to immediately impose a military draft, and anyone could be immediately exempted by just declaring that they didn’t believe in war. The AG’s position also hasn’t worked for folks who have conscientious objections to paying taxes that support one cause or another at odds with one’s religious convictions.

I detest many of the laws and court decisions that I am obligated to obey. But I do it without reservation as part of the social contract we adhere to if we are to survive as a nation. We comply with the rule of law to prevent anarchy. There are mechanisms to change the law and Constitution, and admittedly the processes aren’t easy, but they exist and changes have been made. When any government official takes an oath to support, preserve and defend the Constitution, his fingers aren’t crossed where he silently whispers some self-declared exception. It is immoral to swear such oath and then arbitrarily decide that you hold allegiance to some other unspecified authority. No one makes anyone run for public office or work for the government on any level.

Our country will survive and be better in the long run extending liberty to a group of people who know a lot more about intolerance than the “victimized” clergy. This marriage decision will have no impact on anyone’s individual beliefs. And I am quite sure that there are many houses of worship that will use this decision to proselytize new members. I am fine with that. After all, in addition to the tax exemptions they get, there are a lot of parishioners who are slackers, who don’t pay their fair share, so this could be a win-win for churches. They just need to give it time to figure it out.

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