The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #206: Should judges be elected or appointed?
January 27, 2016 02:55 PM | 396566 views | 0 0 comments | 5306 5306 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #166: A different culture war
by Oliver_Halle
April 29, 2015 09:40 AM | 1917 views | 0 0 comments | 133 133 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week concerning legalizing and recognizing gay marriages.  There are some conservatives who are apoplectic at the thought that marriage might be redefined in a way that goes against their religious views.  Then again, in other times in our nation’s history, there were those who also believed that the Bible justified slavery, and that the nation would suffer God’s wrath if the races were allowed to mix and marry.    

The good news is that the United States is still going strong despite the never ending cultural wars.  Some believe that permitting gay unions and/or marriages, and the legalization of abortion have already brought God’s vengeance on the United States.  Recall that the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said that we got what we deserved after 911 because of these two issues, feminism, and other social changes in our society.  

Personally, I could care less what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes.  No clergy can be forced to perform a gay marriage any more than a Catholic priest can be forced to officiate at the wedding of a couple in which one or both are divorced.  I don’t see a slippery slope, as many prominent Christians claim will occur, if gay marriages are legalized.  Polygamy, marrying children or even animals isn’t about to happen.  There are legitimate state interests that would override such concerns.   

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over gay marriages and abortion, I remain mystified how in reality it would affect any religious believer’s personal life.  Yet the scare talk, the fear mongering and appeal to the basest of emotions continues full bore.  

In my book the real culture war lies with very different issues.  How about the thieves of Wall Street that led to the 2008 financial crisis?  Do you hear much talk from the pulpits around the country concerning respected people in communities who commit white collar crimes that devastate large numbers of victims?  Not really.  I still shake my head in disbelief that Rush Limbaugh defended corporate executives who claimed that the taxpayers owed them bonuses when their financial institutions were bailed out---never mind that they would have gotten nothing but for the bailouts.  

Financial greed of all sorts is endemic in our country.  The number of people convicted of inside trading probably only scratches the surface.  Same for mortgage fraud, healthcare fraud, tax fraud, government contract fraud, and countless other non-violent crimes committed by people we trust.  And I include many of our public officials on the federal, state and local levels who undermine the citizens’ faith in government with their crimes.  How about campaign finance laws that have in effect legalized bribery?  Where is the outcry from those who claim to support our troops when it comes to pressuring our congressional delegation to fund the Sheppard Spinal Center’s special unit that cares for veterans with serious spinal and brain injuries?  Why should this be paid for with private donations?  Where is the moral outrage that we send people to war with the best weapons but don’t follow through with the best tax paid treatment? 

These are just some of the issues I see that have a real impact on the lives of all Americans.  I don’t worry about people losing sleep over the liberalization of social issues except for those that just feel it’s their duty to control everyone else’s life.  But I do worry when people no longer trust our government at all levels, our financial institutions, the unfair tax code, and when we as a people fail to adequately treat our wounded veterans---among so many social ills.  This is the other culture war that is largely silent.  And that’s too bad.

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The Agitator #165: Part-time surgeons?
by Oliver_Halle
April 22, 2015 11:20 AM | 1936 views | 1 1 comments | 141 141 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Last week, in Oklahoma, a tragedy occurred when a reserve police officer named Robert Bates shot and killed an unarmed man on the ground who was being restrained by police officers. Bates is 73 years old and admitted that he mistook his firearm for what he thought was his Taser.

A number of questions seem apparent. The first that comes to my mind is what was a 73 year old retired insurance executive doing accompanying fulltime police officers on an illegal gun purchase in this instance, but also working with a violent crimes unit and drug task force? It was reported that Bates had donated substantial sums of money to the Tulsa PD, and that he had a long history of being a reserve officer in Florida and Tulsa. He had once been a police officer in Tulsa, but that was for one year in 1965.

I can’t help but wonder how many people would feel confident going to a surgeon for a major procedure knowing that he only practices part time, that surgery was secondary to the doctor’s “other” business profession. Admittedly, the surgeon would have to maintain a certain number of professional continuing education requirements each year, but would that assuage your concerns about his professional competence? Add to that that the surgeon is 73 years old, and I doubt that there would be many people lining up for this guy to operate.

I am not in any way minimizing the role and importance reserve officers play in augmenting police. New York City has had a Police Auxiliary for almost 100 years, and seven auxiliaries have been killed since 1975 in the line of duty. That said, New York, while providing mandated training, to include certification in unarmed self-defense and use of a baton, does not permit the auxiliaries to carry a firearm---even if they have a carry permit. The officers are also prohibited from doing anything that would resemble what Bates did, i.e. accompanying fulltime police on a sting.

The NYC Auxiliaries are primarily used for crowd control at parades and various events, direct traffic where needed, provide emergency medical assistance if qualified, and to serve as the eyes and ears for the police by using their radios, calling for help, and recording their observations. In other words, these may be wannabe cops, but they aren’t directly engaged in the serious day to day work of police who do it fulltime for a living.

Thomas Jefferson purportedly said that “if any man should come to my home to do me positive good, I should run for my life.” Bates seems to fit that description. He is a self-proclaimed do-gooder, and I am sure that he is a good man. But good men can be over-zealous, and in this instance Bates’ zeal cost a man his life.

Policing has become much more professional and demanding over the past 30 plus years, both physically and academically. It is not something that anyone can do just because they went through the basic required training when they were young, and then keep up with annual requirements. Like a good surgeon, being out on the streets every day, putting your knowledge and skills to use, is something that takes a lot of time and continuous hands-on.

There is a place for reserve officers, and I think the NYC model is an ideal one. It frees up more police officers to do the more challenging work while allowing the auxiliaries to perform much needed community functions. The potential civil liability that Bates and the Tulsa PD could face may be enormous. Perhaps this case will cause police departments nationwide to review their current polices vis a vis the reserves, and to consider changes in light of changed times.

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Ben Twomey
May 06, 2015
Very good comments. But, why mention the Koch Brothers without also mentioning, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and George Soros?

The number one reason we need statutory term limits is the utter complacency of the people. We could impose term limits easily, but we aqre too wrapped up in DWTS, and other mindless trash on TV, to even care who gets elected.

The Agitator #164: A new Republican Party
by Oliver_Halle
April 15, 2015 11:30 AM | 1980 views | 0 0 comments | 152 152 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There is an old canard that the Democratic Party was anti-civil rights in the 1960s. In fact a near unanimous majority of northern Democrats voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and approximately 85% of northern Republicans supported it. In the South, a handful of Democrats supported the law, and no Republican did.

The late Senator Strom Thurmond from SC was a Democrat when he voted against the Civil Rights Act, and very shortly afterwards he changed parties to become a Republican. It’s also important to note that that Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican standard bearer for the presidency, voted against the bill, and that of the six states that he won, five were from the Old Confederacy.

Sometime after the Civil War the Democratic Party began to unofficially split. Southern Democrats became the Dixicrats, and they voted against any law that would undermine the status quo of racial segregation. FDR was unable to get a federal anti-lynching law because of southern opposition. Today we all know that the Republican Party is the predominant political power in the South.

I am not suggesting that southern Republicans are racists. What I am saying is that the Republican Party of the South holds conservative views that are not aligned with Republicans elsewhere in the country. One can debate whether that’s a good thing or not, I am only pointing it out. I was a lifetime Republican voter, and when I lived in New York where you had to register with a political party, I was a registered Republican. Since 1985, when I moved to Georgia, I have seen the Republican Party move further and further to the right. The wrong positon on social issues can kill a Republican candidate. The move in the General Assembly for a law guaranteeing religious freedom to me is a sham to protect bigotry of every sort.

The 1964 Civil Rights Bill was a monumental change in how we viewed individual rights, and the Interstate Commerce Clause in the Constitution took on expanded meaning to encompass protection of rights that heretofore had not been recognized. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), an announced presidential candidate, said that he would have voted against the 1964 law. While I believe his reasons are not racially motivated, I also believe that they would make America a lesser country, one that other countries would have no reason to look up to, a country that would be a throwback to a time when the Constitution was not all inclusive.

On Staten Island, NY (and a portion of Brooklyn) there will be a special election for the congressional seat vacated last year by Republican Michael Grimm who resigned after pleading guilty to tax fraud. The Republican nominee, Dan Donovan, is the odds on favorite to win. In a recent debate Donovan stated that he would support Loretta Lynch to become the next Attorney General. Donovan “…suggested that members of his own party were cynically delaying Ms. Lynch’s confirmation as a political bargaining chip.”

In the debate Donovan was also quoted as “positioning himself as a centrist Republican opposed to cuts to Social Security and Medicare, critical of the House GOP budget, against allegedly anti-gay ‘religious freedom’ laws in states like Indiana, supportive of ‘fair trade’ rather than free trade and in favor of a number of provisions in the Affordable Care Act. Just because an idea comes from the other side doesn’t make it a bad idea.”

Dan Donovan would be run out of the Republican Party of Cobb County and Georgia with his refreshing, outspoken political views. Contrast those views with our southern Republicans and you can see that there is hope for a rebirth of the Republican Party. Or, perhaps to many, he represents everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. Donovan, like me, is from the party of Eisenhower, which many of us hope will one day see a wind change to bring it back.

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The Agitator #163: Do we have our eye on the ball?
by Oliver_Halle
April 08, 2015 11:00 AM | 2175 views | 2 2 comments | 159 159 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Iran nuclear agreement is not going to make everyone happy, not even by a country mile. I have read and heard a lot of hysteria about it, mostly from the right wing echo chamber, and of course, Benjamin Netanyahu, but there other legitimate perspectives worth considering if you remove some of the politics.

Comparisons of Obama with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain are absurd. In 1937, Chamberlain was dealing from a position of weakness. His country was broke, virtually demilitarized, while Hitler and the Third Reich cranked up the war machine. Does anyone really think that the United States, vis a vis Iran, is dealing from a position of military weakness? For real? Where are the voices of concern over Pakistan and the Islamic extremists trying to overthrow the government, and what would the extremists do if they had access to Pakistan’s bomb? Not a pleasant thought.

Few people are talking about the other component needed when you have the bomb: a delivery system. Doesn’t do much good to have this WMD if you can’t get it to where you want it to go. If Iran built missile silos or somehow acquired planes with the capability to drop the bomb, I don’t think it unfair to conclude that the U.S. and Israel would know about it well in advance. With that knowledge and our military capability, I am confident that any threat from Iran would be quickly eliminated.

I have yet to hear from the Republican side what they would do to constrain Iran’s ability to build a bomb. Actually, we have heard from John McCain and a few other crazies who talk about bombing Iran and turning it into a parking lot, but there are enough sane Republicans who also don’t take him seriously. Some Republicans also want to strangle Iran’s economy completely. We’ve done that with North Korea, but somehow they have built both the bomb and developed a missile capability.

Making the Iranians angry and desperate at the same time is not a good recipe. They could easily block the Strait of Hormuz by sinking a few of their own ships, and watch what would happen to the price of oil overnight as tankers couldn’t get in or out. If we went to war with Iran, a country several times the size of Iraq, one military strategy I read would have us bombing the country 24/7 for six months to achieve any desired results. Do the words deficits and taxes come to mind? Haven’t we learned anything about warring with countries with weak militaries? Do Vietnam and Iraq bring back memories? The Soviets could add Afghanistan to the list.

The Middle East today is everyone’s worst nightmare. Sunnis and Shiites war among each other, al Qaida and ISIS have different interests, and now we have the Houthis in Yemen. Some believe that Jimmy Carter should have done everything possible to prop up the Shah of Iran, and that Obama should have done the same with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. What the believers actually believe is that we could have done it. Both leaders had not only become oppressive beyond acceptable limits, they were so corrupt that unemployment among the educated young was sky high. At some point, to use John Steinbeck’s metaphor, the flies are going to take over the fly paper no matter what the U.S. likes.

Ronald Reagan was excoriated by conservatives for the arms limitation agreement that he reached with Mikhail Gorbachev. It was a good deal despite all the doomsday naysayers. I doubt that many people who have read the agreement between the U.S. and Iran really understand all the terms, restrictions and limitations that will be imposed on Iran if Iran hopes to have economic sanctions lifted. I know that I don’t, but at some point you either trust the officials on our side that the deal will work, or you move to some country and live in a cave.

Iran, unlike North Korea, still has residual western influence. Lifting the sanctions could raise the standard of living of Iranians, who are highly educated and industrious people. Most people who have moved up the economic ladder don’t like to go back down. In the highly unlikely event that Iran had the bomb and decided to use it against Israel, the Iranians would know that if the Israelis didn’t decimate their country with some of the 200 atomic bombs they possess, the U.S. would. This agreement is worth a try. And unlike Neville Chamberlain, we have many options if it doesn’t work.

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Oliver G. Halle
April 09, 2015

The President has until the end of June to finalize the deal with Iran. I am perfectly fine with the Congress being involved as long as it's a legitimate effort to work out a good deal. If it's nothing more than a political forum for presidential wannabees, that's a different matter.

I don't know if Iran has a delivery system in place, and neither do you. But if they did I think it's fair to assume that the Pentagon would be letting their voice heard, and we'd know from satellite coverage and ELINT by now. For those who think that our flag rank officers are too intimidated to speak out, they have their own channels through retired generals and admirals that do go on national news all the time to say what's on their minds---which in reality is what they've been fed from their former colleagues. So far their voices have been silent.

I am not concerned about the rallies in Iran. There are a lot more sane people there whose voices you don't hear. They have their crazies just like we do.

I think that this deal is important enough that negotiating for American prisoners can be done separately. If we open a door to Iran, not unlike we did with China, there is no telling what other things can be accomplished.

We can agree to disagree.

The Agitator #162: A false choice?
by Oliver_Halle
April 01, 2015 02:45 PM | 2380 views | 3 3 comments | 171 171 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Politicians can be puzzling, at times making no sense whatsoever. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), promised a new day when the Senate turned Republican in January. We know that the Democrats are out to destroy America, that they want to turn it into a socialist/commie country and welfare state, tax the rich, weaken our defense, and do other damage. Republicans always promise better; but it just never seems to work out that way.

One of the ongoing controversies in the Senate is the delay in holding a vote to confirm Loretta Lynch to become the Attorney General. McConnell is not going to schedule a vote because of a dispute with Democrats over a funding provision concerning abortion in a human trafficking bill. In other words, McConnell is holding Lynch’s nomination hostage to a totally unrelated matter. As of today the only Republicans on board to vote for Lynch are Lindsay Graham (SC), Orrin Hatch (UT), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Susan Collins (ME).

There is more to this story. Lynch is an undergraduate of Harvard and its law school, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, twice a U.S. Attorney, and a former partner in a silk stocking law firm. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and many police unions have endorsed Lynch based on her being a competent and aggressive prosecutor and being easy to work with. Obama, in naming her, could hardly have picked a better choice.

But it isn’t about all the qualities that Lynch brings to the table. During the confirmation hearings Lynch was questioned about her support of Obama’s immigration amnesty program, and she dared to respond that in her opinion the president’s actions were legal. No appellate court has ruled against Obama, so agree or not, Lynch gave the only answer that made sense. How could she declare on her own, as the president’s appointee, that his Executive Order was illegal?

Any president has the right to appoint competent and qualified cabinet members subject to approval by the Senate. The Senate’s job is not to reject nominations until one is found to fit within their political ideology. No CEO, no military unit, no organization could function if the leaders didn’t have some say in the top people that work for them in order to carry out the plans and strategies of the respective entity. Would Mitch McConnell appoint a Democrat to be his chief of staff?

Locally, our two U.S. Senators, Johnnie Isakson and David Perdue, have said that they plan to vote against Lynch because of her support of the president’s Executive Order providing for amnesty. Yet consider this: Last week Sally Yates, Obama’s nominee to be the Deputy Attorney General and the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, got a very warm welcome from Isakson at her hearing. Isakson introduced her to the committee as a “double dawg”, referring to her UGA degrees, and couldn’t say enough good things about her. As for the good things, I couldn’t agree more. Yates is eminently qualified for the position.

Yet who is Isakson kidding? Yates is a Democrat, and you can be sure that she too supports the president’s Executive Order. If Lynch’s nomination doesn’t get a hearing, or if she is rejected---a real possibility---Yates will be the Acting Attorney General. What will be different?

Perdue promised Georgia voters that he would be his own man if elected, that he wouldn’t support McConnell to his leadership position. Well, he voted to elect McConnell, and he has so far shown that he is a “go along, get along” guy. Isakson served in congress before becoming a Senator, and he is preparing to run for a third term. He knows better than to hold up Lynch’s nomination for strictly political purposes. Or did I just commit a logical fallacy by suggesting that his vote is only about politics? Could there be other reasons that one dare not mention? If you compare his support of Yates with his opposition to Lynch, I think my question is fair. Isakson’s position on Lynch doesn’t pass the red face test.

Isakson and Perdue owe their constituents and the country better than they are giving them. The right thing for them to do is join the other sensible Republicans to confirm Lynch to one of the most important cabinet positions in America.

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Ed From Ct
April 23, 2015
Mr?s Mercer

How dare you question the Agitator's patriotism. I know the Agitator for almost 49 years. While he is misguided from time to time he is more of an American than 90 percent of the people I know. He was willing at the risk of his life to stand up to the threat of communism and did much other work for the benefit of the country. Disliking Holder and Lynch makes sense but questioning someone's patriotism without facts makes no sense.

The Agitator #161: Mr. Lee, taxes, and the Braves
by Oliver_Halle
March 23, 2015 12:30 PM | 2242 views | 0 0 comments | 187 187 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee should be put on the Atlanta Braves payroll as head cheerleader. No one comes close to being so publicly vocal in supporting the team, the financial benefits the county will reap, and all the other wonderful things that have occurred, and will occur since construction began of the new stadium. I honestly think that most people, including me, look forward to completion of the stadium and the revenue and entertainment that it will bring to the county.

If only everything was so perfect. The Georgia Supreme Court has yet to rule on the legality of the revenue bonds that Cobb citizens will have to pay off over 30 years, and despite assurances from Mike Plant, Braves VP of business operations and his head cheerleader that the parking logistics will be resolved, the public has only heard about vague plans. I heard Plant speak at Marietta Kiwanis a few weeks ago, and in his talk he mentioned how irritated he gets when someone reminds him that the Cumberland Mall landlord has said that they will not allow Braves spectators to park there. Plant assured his audience that their parking plans to not encompass Cumberland Mall, which he said is not conveniently close to the stadium.

Perhaps Plant and Mr. Lee should coordinate their public statements a little more closely. Last week the commission chairman hosted a town hall meeting that he used to demonstrate why he is the unofficial head cheerleader for the Braves. In addition to talking about all the financial rewards Cobb is already getting before the April 2017 opening day, Mr. Lee addressed the parking issue promising that the Braves will have a solution by the first quarter of 2016.

Mr. Lee also said that plans include a circulator bus that would operate inside the Cumberland area to transport passengers to and from the stadium. What wasn’t reported, so I assume wasn’t addressed, was where the people taking the circulator will park. Cumberland Mall? Just asking. Mr. Lee’s comments may not have been coordinated with the Braves front office, but one should not be shocked. Curious people are asking why Mr. Lee was noticeably absent from the photo in the MDJ (that Governor Deal was in) of the announcement that Comcast is going to be the sole tenant with 1,000 employees in the nine story building adjacent to the stadium. By any measure that’s a big deal, and it’s hard to believe that the commission chairman had more important business than to be there for the announcement.

Cobb County is one of the most Republican counties in the entire country. Yet our Republican officials had no problem committing $397 million of taxpayer money to a private entity that is highly profitable, and which the owner, John Malone, is worth upwards of $8 billion. We are told over and over by Plant and Mr. Lee what a great deal the Braves relocation is, and I have no doubt about it. I just want to know why if it’s such a good deal private investors aren’t exclusively paying for it. Corporate welfare should be based on need just as any other welfare program.

One would think that the Braves would be happy with all the goodies the public has committed to them, but apparently not. Also occurring last week was a report in the MDJ that Plant is once again annoyed at critics of a state sales tax exemption for construction material that the Braves feel entitled to. This benefit is provided to businesses that will have a development with a significant regional impact. After all, Plant argues, “the long term economic benefits outweigh the short-term savings.” Plant also talked about the business risks the Braves are taking with not only the stadium, but the development they promise to build surrounding the stadium. Again, I ask, whatever happened to Republican Party principles that bespeak of risks and rewards?

I am confident that Cobb will be the beneficiary of the Braves relocation. I am also confident that the Braves will continue to prosper, that the move was a good business decision. But I await with thirsty ear how doctrinaire conservatives support the way this deal was done and the use of the public treasury for a prosperous private concern. I can’t wait for Mr. Lee to tout his conservative and business credentials when he runs for reelection in 2016. The good news for the Braves is that the fertilizer coming from his mouth can be used for free to nourish the lush green grass at the new stadium.

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The Agitator #160: I now believe in magic
by Oliver_Halle
March 18, 2015 11:20 AM | 2326 views | 1 1 comments | 192 192 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) has put forth his proposed 2016 budget. If Price can successfully execute this plan that among other things, balances the budget in ten years, I am a new found believer.

Price’s budget will increase defense spending, cut food stamps, convert Medicare into a voucher system, change Medicaid to a block grant system, and of course---eliminate Obamacare. According to the NYT, Price calls this, “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America.” It should be obvious without me mentioning it that all of this will occur without a tax hike---but even better---there will be tax cuts(!)---largely for the “job creators.”

I’ve said many times in this space that I stand with anyone that believes America’s defense capability has to remain the best in the world. The argument lies in what it takes to be the best and the baddest. The fact that politicians in Washington get to overrule our career military experts in the Pentagon who know just a little more than our elected representatives, is what I see as the problem when it comes to waste. Keeping unnecessary bases open, obsolete weapons systems rolling, are nothing more than jobs programs. Heaven protect an honest politician who calls it like it is unless he’s not running for reelection. Price and other Republicans are silent about the increasing social costs of the defense budget. Do they plan to address this problem raised by the last three Defense secretaries?

Cutting the SNAP (formerly food stamps) program is low hanging fruit. Anyone getting government assistance hardly has political clout to object. But I wonder if Price and his acolytes will be able to resist the pressure that will surely come from the likes of Walmart and other food providers that depend on the revenue for a lot of their bottom line. Whoever said to follow the money understood that as a proven axiom.

No question that Medicare and Medicaid need some kind of overhaul. I wish I had the elixir. Interesting that Price continues to advocate his own program to replace Obamacare, but House Speaker John Boehner has refused to give it so much as a committee hearing. Price’s healthcare plan includes tax credits to purchase insurance, and a tax on plans that exceed $30,000 per annum. Tax credits sound an awful lot like the current subsidies, and the proposed tax is one that he and others condemned when Obama wanted to apply it to “Cadillac” plans.

Price’s budget boils down to whopping increases for defense spending and reducing government programs that help the poor and disabled. This will result in surpluses beginning in 2024. It’s fair to ask how he came to that conclusion, and the answer is simple. It’s called “dynamic scoring”, a relatively new Washington buzzword. It allows for subjective tinkering of information to go into a model to come up with a conclusion that the author likes. In this instance the tax cuts would generate so much money that would go back into the economy, and the new money would more than make up for the lost taxes. Sound familiar? It was once called trickle-down.

The Soviet Union spent themselves out of existence; the money went for the military, not the rest of the country’s needs. Any number of former empires bankrupted from being overextended militarily. If Price’s budget, or anything resembling it gets passed, I can’t wait to hear the howls from Republican voters when government spending dries up millions of small contracts. The ripple effect of the money not going into local economies will be catastrophic.

Consider that Obama did two things to really annoy Republicans. He passed a health insurance law, and he used an executive order to grant amnesty to a select group of illegal aliens. In the first instance the Republicans failed to come up with a health insurance plan of their own during the six years they had both Houses and the White House under Bush II. The House also failed to pass an immigration law then or when they again had a majority after 2010 despite the Senate having passed a bipartisan immigration bill.

Price’s budget bill is smoke and mirrors. It sounds good to anyone who doesn’t understand macroeconomics. Meanwhile, immigration reform, tax reform, and alternative healthcare reform go unaddressed. It will take magic to change this recipe for accomplishing nothing.

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The Snack
March 18, 2015
I will grant you that this budget is difficult since you have to get a certain number of Democrats on board to exclude the president's healthcare catastrophe, but I am surprised you are focused on defense spending as the biggest problem. Even the president recognizes that sequester has cut too deeply into the military in what is a time of global unrest. Though there is always waste--and how in all segments of government, most especially those social spending programs and pyramid-scheme entitlements that call for such destructive redistribution--the status quo is not addressing this much. I'm fine with getting rid of corporate welfare programs. But if you're not, then you have to ask yourself if the military industrial complex isn't a better Keynesian investment.

The Agitator #159: "Typical politicians"
by Oliver_Halle
March 11, 2015 11:00 AM | 2475 views | 0 0 comments | 203 203 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I always laugh when someone refers to an official as a “typical politician”, because the person wouldn’t get elected if he wasn’t one. Politicians have to appeal to a lot of different interests unless you are a Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) and have a very homogenous congressional district. I understand that, but America has had politicians who were also statesmen, men and women who did the right thing when the right thing was called for.

Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has known since she was First Lady that she would make a run for the White House. Not unlike most presidential candidates, her ambition has consumed her, and her every move appears to be cold and calculating. The latest revelation is that when she was Secretary of State she bypassed the State Department’s email system and created her own server. From all that I have read her actions were not illegal at the time. President Obama changed the rules governing emails since then. However, not everything that is legal is moral or ethical.

Since Clinton has been silent about her motives, until a week after the NYT broke the story, it is fair to draw negative inferences from her conduct and let her refute them. I am satisfied that she did it to avoid any potentially embarrassing communications that would later be used against her during the 2016 campaign. At this point no one really knows if she violated national security, and we also don’t know what we don’t know. We only know two things from her own lips, both self-serving and unverifiable: that it was more “convenient” not to use the government email system, and that she has disclosed everything except private correspondence.

I have never been a Hilary fan and have hoped for years that someone with some real gravitas could challenge her. That hasn’t happened, and considering her potential Republican opponents, I don’t even like to think about who will lead our country in two years. But Clinton also did a disservice to the Democratic Party. This selfish escapade will not go away, and coupled with other recent revelations about her fundraising for the Clinton family’s charitable foundation, could cost Democrats the election.

There are good reasons for the government to preserve all communications generated by officials and employees relating to their jobs. While I don’t believe for a millisecond that Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who heads the most recent committee investigating Benghazi will find anything, Clinton just threw an intercepted pass to him. Gowdy can now prolong the investigation almost indefinitely claiming missing emails. Just what the country needs. Thanks, Hillary.

Freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is off to a running start to prove that he is another self-aggrandizing politician. Cotton and forty-six other Republicans wrote a letter to Iran warning the leaders there that concerning any nuclear deal, “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

The Executive Branch makes foreign policy, although with congressional input. What possible reason could Cotton have for writing this letter other than to draw attention to himself? Whether future congresses can alter the terms of the agreement is debatable. But either side can always breach an agreement with the attendant consequences. So the letter merely states the obvious and pokes a finger in the eye of the president, undermines his ability to negotiate a deal with Iran, and otherwise accomplishes nothing worthwhile. Where do our foreign partners fit into an agreement that Cotton decides one day should be cancelled? The message the letter sends is that our word, as a country, is subject to the political climate at the time, and that no nation should rely on it. Several prominent Republican Senators refused to sign the letter, and I tip my hat to them.

Hillary Clinton and Tom Cotton represent today’s politicians at their worst. The first is of the baby-boomer generation, and the other a young upstart. Let’s hope that they aren’t “typical politicians”, that the typical politician still has the heart of a statesman when called for. But what I fear are the words of Benjamin Franklin who said that if you live on hope, you will die of starvation.

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The Agitator #158: We're in real trouble
by Oliver_Halle
March 06, 2015 08:30 AM | 2498 views | 0 0 comments | 213 213 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

No sane person would argue that our country faces some serious foreign policy issues. The one du jour that is on people’s minds most right now concerns preventing Iran from getting the bomb. No argument from me that this is a legitimate concern. I wonder, though, why Americans don’t seem to worry as much about North Korea having the bomb, especially since they repeatedly threaten their neighbor South Korea and the United States. North Korea is a much more repressive state than Iran, a country that never had the western influences that Iran once had. Kim Jong Un has proven to be a lot more unstable as a dictator than the mullahs in Iran, and no telling what madness he is capable of unleashing on a whim.

Then there is Pakistan. I heard a retired diplomat speak several years ago at Kiwanis, and he said that Pakistan was the one country that keeps the president up at night. Abdul Kahn is the Pakistani scientist who developed the atomic bomb and then cooperated with North Korea to assist them with their program. There are reports that Kahn has also worked with Iranian scientists. Meanwhile, the Taliban and al Qaida remain a threat to the stability of the Pakistan government. Does anyone wonder what India might do, as another possessor of the bomb, if the Pakistan government fell and was taken over by Islamic extremists?

I am only scratching the surface in this limited space in mentioning some of the dynamics of U.S. foreign policy when it comes to countries that pose one threat or another to our interests. In addition to a lot of academic debate on what we should or shouldn’t do to protect American interests, there is highly classified intelligence that affects decision making at the highest levels of our government. This intelligence can influence any president in ways that the ordinary citizen can’t understand and that may seem counter-intuitive.

All of that said, we Americans have to begin to sort through the various presidential candidates and narrow down our choice to one over the next 18 months. Recent comments from two contenders don’t do much to make me feel good that either could be the leader of the free world. (This isn’t about my choice in 2016. It’s about what current candidates are saying, which should help all of us figure out who can provide us the most confidence in their ability to think and try to make the best decisions.)

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was one of the speakers at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference last week in Washington. Like all the speakers, he didn’t miss an opportunity to denounce Obama. It was a conservative gathering, so it was expected and I have no problem with it. But Rubio proved again that he’s a mile wide and an inch deep. We already know that he is in a minority of Americans that don’t support restoring relations with Cuba. Geez, I wonder why! Now comes his accusation that Obama has no military strategy to pursue ISIS because Obama doesn’t want to alienate Iran during the sensitive negotiations over limiting their nuclear program. Rubio is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, and apparently didn’t know that Iran and U.S. interests are aligned in destroying ISIS. I suspect that Rubio doesn’t know which countries and terrorist groups are Sunni or Shiite based.

Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) got a chance to have his foreign policy mettle challenged last week by a group of deep pocket conservatives in Palm Beach holding tryouts for some of the Republican candidates. Unlike Rubio, Walker isn’t privy to intelligence briefings and doesn’t sit on committees that deal with foreign policy. But I presume that Walker can read even if it’s the WSJ and National Review, and books by conservative authors who know something about history and government.

One of the attendees in Palm Beach asked Walker what he was doing to prepare for the presidency concerning foreign affairs. Walker responded that the most significant foreign policy decision in his lifetime was Reagan’s 1981 decision to fire the striking aircraft controllers. I won’t disagree that this was a monumental decision for a lot of reasons, but the most significant foreign policy decision? Walker explained that it sent a message throughout the world that Reagan was decisive, and that the U.S. wasn’t to be “messed with.”

For the sake of our country, let’s hope that candidates from both parties have their feet put to the fire during the campaign. We can do better, or at least I hope we can. A lot depends on it.

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The Agitator #157: The paragon of a real American
by Oliver_Halle
February 25, 2015 10:00 AM | 2730 views | 4 4 comments | 220 220 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

We all probably have role models and people we look up to because of their accomplishments, obstacles they overcame to achieve success, or other reasons that inspire us to do better, to be better. I have any number ranging from Ulysses S. Grant and other military giants, to Lewis Brandeis and Robert Jackson, two giants of the Supreme Court. And I could list other names from other professions who left indelible marks on me, for better or for worse depending on who is judging.

My latest “hero” is Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of NYC, “America’s Mayor”, and once presidential candidate. Last week at a dinner in New York for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Giuliani was one of the attendees among the deep pocket participants who are hosting tryouts for who will get their largesse in the Republican primaries. Giuliani spoke briefly, and in his remarks he declared that Obama didn’t love America. The accusation has gone viral, and even a respectable number of Obama haters cringed at it.

It’s worth looking a little deeper into the accuser in this instance. One would think that Giuliani’s background qualifies him to pass judgment on the president. If so, you would be wrong. Giuliani was of draft age during Vietnam. He had student deferments right through law school, and upon graduation he lost his II-S status. For those old enough to remember, he was reclassified by the draft board to I-F, which meant he was immediately available for service. In 2008, when Giuliani ran for president, I couldn’t find anything about his military service or lack of it, so I wrote to the AJC’s Q&A section to see if there was an explanation. There was.

Giuliani’s first job out of law school was clerking for a federal judge in Manhattan. That position did not qualify for any exemptions or deferments, but Giuliani got the judge to write to the draft board that Giuliani’s clerkship was crucial to the functioning of the court. The draft board granted the waiver, probably the only one of its kind.

I am part of a group of Vietnam Veterans or Vietnam era veterans who don’t take lightly the conservative hypocrisy of supporting the war at the time but doing everything possible to avoid military service. The list is long of these phonies, and I remain baffled why so many are forgiving of them. Giuliani didn’t just luck out in not suiting up; he abused the system to gain an advantage. Sort of like a former vice-president who while supporting the Vietnam War said that he didn’t want to serve because he had “other priorities.”

Despite Giuliani’s assertion that Obama doesn’t love his country, the NYT and Washington Post, among other media, have published countless statements from the president where he has openly declared his great love for this country that has given him so much.

It is also worth noting that in his same speech Giuliani also hinted that Obama is a socialist because of his anti-colonialism. This latter accusation stems from prominent Christian conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, who wrote an article that can at best be characterized as pop psychology, saying that Obama’s political views derive from the father he never really knew, a Kenyan who was in fact anticolonial. I don’t think D’Souza’s opinions are worthy of much respect for reasons that include his guilty plea last year to felony campaign fraud and being ousted as president of a Christian college when it was revealed that he thought that the Seventh Commandment didn’t apply to him.

Giuliani has never had a problem dealing with his outsized ego. He was a successful mayor largely because NYC was the beneficiary of economic good times on his watch. The one thing that he didn’t lack for was money. It was there for the taking for all of his programs. Every mayor should be so lucky. His term ended in November 2001, but he tried to hang on past it despite an election that month claiming that it would be unwise to transition to a new mayor in the middle of a crisis. He lost that argument. While professing to be a hawk on terrorism, he had a contract for services with the government of Qatar, a country that had harbored 911 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

I was brought up to believe that it was inappropriate for one person to judge another’s salvation, that only “the one true God” could do that. In light of no obvious acts of treason, burning flags, burning his draft card, verbally proclaiming that he hates America or some such words, I’m not sure why policy differences amount to not loving one’s country. Giuliani should have looked in a mirror first, decided whether he represents everything that is right about America (whatever that is) and then figured out if his smear of the president really was more representative of himself.

Giuliani is a paragon of a real American to some. In my opinion he is a slow learning lout. He didn’t figure out in 2008 that the American people handily rejected him, his personal lifestyle, and his politics.

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Oliver G. Halle
March 02, 2015
Mr. The Snack,

The MDJ discourages bloggers from commenting to remarks from readers, but yours was civil and reasoned and deserves a reply. First, I have never suggested, hinted, or otherwise expressed any desire to curtail anyone's freedom to say or write what they want. In fact, I encourage the likes of Rudy Giuliani to say what's on their minds and let the public decide if they are buffoons. You never have and never will hear that I advocated any limitation on speech.

Giuliani's sin is that of hypocrisy. He made a conscious choice to take the low road to avoid military service while being a supporter of the Vietnam War, to be a tough talking war hawk today when he never had any skin in the game. I too have made a choice, and it is to dog people like him when they condemn others for what they perceive as lacking patriotism for our great country. Some feel the same way about Jane Fonda. Giuliani's public service as a politician does not mitigate his dishonorable draft avoidance. Others can disagree.

I don't see why anyone should question the president's patriotism. We could debate all day whether he doesn't love this country. I think he does; others think otherwise. What does it accomplish? We all have different understandings of what that word means in a democracy.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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