The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #148: The Cuba decision
December 22, 2014 03:00 PM | 162242 views | 0 0 comments | 2874 2874 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #138: Mr. Lee and the SPLOST
by Oliver_Halle
October 16, 2014 11:35 AM | 10802 views | 3 3 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I have voted for every SPLOST since moving to Cobb County in 1985. My three children were born here, attended our local public schools, got a great education, and part of that is due to the facilities that SPLOST money paid for. I have also seen road improvements, sidewalks, parks, and other amenities that were built with the extra penny, and to my way of thinking, we have all benefited from this self-imposed tax. Others may disagree, and that is a fair political debate that we should have.

On November 4th, the voters will decide whether to extend another six years to the SPLOST. In principle, I support it. Certainly I think that the Cobb Police are long overdue to have a new and modern police headquarters. We have the best police force in Georgia, and to maintain the quality of the department, it should also have the best facilities and equipment to do the job. And I am happy to pay for it.

For the first time I will not be voting for a SPLOST. There have been town hall meetings where both sides have laid out their case for and against it. I am not sure which side is the more meritorious, but my inclination would be to support it. A good part of the factors going into my deliberations is that I trust my elected officials unless I have reason not to. In this instance I no longer trust the chair of the Cobb County Commission, Tim Lee. I have never particularly liked his style of governing, but I am sincere in saying that I would not let that alone interfere with my making important decisions. That said, Lee broke faith with the electorate in the new stadium deal. As I wrote in last week’s Agitator, I can live with broken promises and deal with it at the ballot box. Things can change that caused an official to change his position, and that is up to each voter to decide whether it is a deal-breaker for earning that voter’s support.

Lee was caught telling one story about his relationship with attorney Dan McRae, only to have an email completely and factually contradict him. Adding to that was how the email was intentionally written outside the Cobb County government’s email system to avoid having to comply with any Open Records Act requests that might come along. And this particular email goes to the core of how the stadium deal was negotiated.

Cobb County is going to raise the hotel/motel/car rental tax and a few others to support the bond deal that will help pay for the stadium. The public never got a meaningful chance to voice its opposition to it. There are lots of questions about whether all the promises the Braves made can or will be kept, and whether the property owners will ultimately be on the hook if all the happy talk of revenue doesn’t live up to the expectations. By then Lee and many of his cheerleaders will be long gone.

Republicans have touted “trickledown” economics since the early 1980s. Most, including George H.W. Bush believed it to be “voodoo” economics. But I’m always up for a good argument. I read that if the SPLOST fails next month, Cobb’s sales tax will drop to five percent, the lowest in Georgia. Republicans should look hard at that and consider how many more people will shop in Cobb County, but also the number of shoppers from neighboring counties drawn to Cobb’s stores. According to trickledown theory, we should be flooded with additional revenue, money that could be spent paying our police, firefighters and teachers what they are really worth, money that would go into general revenue instead of facing the limitations on the use of SPLOST funds.

I do not trust anything that Lee has said or continues to say about why we need this latest SPLOST. Those who know the devil in the details have expressed concerns, and I have to give them credence at this point. Lee has refused to comment about his previous statements and the email that belies them. No explanation. No apology. No nothing except to hide behind lawyerly wisdom of not saying anything. What is he running from? Perhaps it’s all a big mistake? Maybe the paper trail is all wrong? If Lee had served in the military, he would have learned the importance of trust with his fellow men and women in arms. He would know that once that trust is broken, it is gone forever and he can no longer be an effective leader.

Lee has his many supporters because they like the idea of the Braves moving to Cobb County. I like the idea too. I also like the law and rules to be followed, to include those situations where the deal is so good that you “have to do what is necessary”, even if laws and rules are broken, to make things happen. I wonder if the same supporters would be there for Lee if he did the same thing to get through his Bus Rapid Transit System.

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anonymous
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October 18, 2014
Looking forward to watching the Braves in Cobb in 2017

The Agitator #137: Mr. Lee and his Russian doll
by Oliver_Halle
October 09, 2014 12:15 PM | 10044 views | 3 3 comments | 119 119 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Politicians make promises, most of which I believe they honestly intend to keep. Events and circumstances can change, though, and promises are broken. A common broken promise is to increase spending for a given purpose with the concomitant commitment that there won’t be a tax hike. In this instance it might get a little trickier for a voter to figure out if it’s a legitimate promise. That falls on each of us to sort through conflicting facts and conflicting analyses and opinions. Out of this comes political parties that best line up with our individual views.

Debating issues is energizing and hopefully distills the best ideas and takes us closer to truth. What is illegitimate is for an elected official to knowingly state something as fact when a record, a paper trail, clearly contradicts it. There have been arguments on both sides of building a stadium for the Atlanta Braves in Cobb County, whether public funding should be involved, time set aside for meaningful hearings, etc. The citizens and their county commissioners who represent them deserved to have all the facts in front of them. After that, the board could decide, and the voters could also decide whether to reward or punish their representatives at the polls based on the outcome. It may not be a perfect political process, but it is the best one out there until someone comes up with something better.

For months Commission Chairman Tim Lee has emphatically stated that he did not hire Seyfarth Shaw attorney, Dan McRae, to negotiate a deal between the county and Atlanta Braves. When pressed he even said that there was no attorney/client relationship between him and McRae, and that McRae was merely retained pro bono as an adviser. Now we know from the AJC that Lee sent an email to McRae dated October 8, 2013, an email that went through the Cobb Chamber of Commerce instead of Lee’s county email address, in order to avoid having the message surface under the Open Records Act. In the email Lee confirms “the attorney-client relationship between it and Seyfarth Shaw LLP as its Project Counsel/Bond Counsel for Project Intrepid.” Project Intrepid was the code name Lee and the Chamber gave to the Braves deal.

Until now Lee maintained that there were no promises made to McRae or his firm for the $4 million fee that would be paid to put the $400 million bond deal together. Yet Seyfarth Shaw wrote itself into the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) as the anointed firm. Cobb County Attorney Deborah Dance, who was out of the loop until a draft of the MOU came to her attention, removed Seyfarth Shaw because it had not gone through the appropriate bidding process. And that’s when things began to get nasty.

McRae had put in months of work for free swapping any number of drafts between him and the Braves. Just a modicum of understanding of human nature would tell you that a very experienced lawyer with a national silk stocking firm likely had a reasonable expectation that they would get the bond contract. Why else would they do all the donkey work only to see the ultimate prize go to another firm? What did Tim Lee say or imply that led McRae to believe that his firm would get the contract? McRae tried to clarify the situation with Lee but was met with silence. Dance told an AJC reporter that in a conversation with McRae, McRae wanted to know why he wasn’t selected.

In my opinion, the person who should have been picked as Citizen of the Year in 2013 is Deborah Dance. She didn’t flinch when she saw Seyfarth Shaw listed as the bond attorney in the MOU, and quickly removed them. Dance says that Lee didn’t pressure her to choose Seyfarth Shaw, but what really was said and occurred is probably known only to them. Standing up to her ultimate boss, the commission chairman, speaks highly of Dance. Lee’s house of cards began to topple once she held fast.

Those who are angry at the media revelations concerning what actually occurred vice what Lee told us, are wrong. Their anger is misplaced. Many of us support in concept the Braves relocating to Cobb County. We just wanted the process to be fair and follow all the rules. I wonder if these angry people and Lee defenders would feel the same way if instead of a stadium being built we were told that a private company was going to construct a huge prison. Imagine the same promises of jobs, vendor services, and other benefits to the county, and the same circumvention of the rules. Could anyone seriously claim that they would be just as supportive of a prison as the stadium even if the economic benefits were equal?

It’s time for a real investigation into the relationship between Lee, the Chamber of Commerce, and Dan McRae. Let the subpoenas fly. Let’s see all the documents. Let’s see what else surfaces that was concealed from the taxpayers. Anything short of such investigation is a disservice to Cobb County citizens.

Tim Lee misled the citizens of Cobb County, and my choice of words is intended to be charitable. He is a fiduciary of the taxpayers. I don’t expect a politician to resign, be recalled, or impeached when he breaks a campaign promise. That’s politics for better or for worse. The remedy is the ballot box. But in this instance, how can we ever trust Tim Lee again? He broke that trust by conscious choice. He should resign.

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Larry Savage
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October 10, 2014
One more thing: regarding "following all the rules", it has been overlooked by nearly everyone that the Georgia Constitution states in very clear and unambiguous language that a local government cannot incur debt without "the assent of the voters in a referendum". Did you see the referendum? The complete story is too long and complicated for space available, and a bit disturbing, but this is still in the works.

The Agitator #136: This passes for better?
by Oliver_Halle
October 02, 2014 10:35 AM | 653 views | 1 1 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District representative, Tom Price, spoke last week to the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club, a very receptive audience. Price warned of the consequences of not winning both houses of congress in the November election. What was noteworthy about the MDJ article that reported on Price’s speech, was that Price didn’t lay out his party’s proposals or provide a roadmap for “taking this country back”, a favorite expression of Republicans.

I think it fair to ask why, when the Republicans had majorities just a few years ago in both houses, and a president in the White House, there was no immigration reform, tax reform, or budget deficit reductions---and more . Following up on that question, why should we believe Price now when he says that Republicans will act on all of these issues? The article didn’t mention that Price still supports the elimination of Obamacare. We know, though, that he has submitted a plan to replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, yet for some reason his fellow Republicans have never even given it a hearing. The Republican House has voted more than 40 times to eliminate the ACA knowing full and well that it wouldn’t happen. We also know that Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, a Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, submitted a tax plan that even had Democratic support, but John Boehner said that it was dead on arrival. Yet we are to believe Price that we can expect big change if only we give Republicans another chance to lead.

As for Obamacare, the voters are no longer hearing much about it from the politicians. Ask Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, et al, how that worked for them in the Republican primary for the senate. Price talks about tax reform being good for the economy. On that we can agree. But it won’t happen. At least not in a way that the middle class will benefit. A very large percentage of Price’s campaign money has traditionally come from the medical community. They want favors just like all special interests, and those special interests are the ones who influence the tax breaks that their representatives write. Expect a lot of lip service from Republicans about how we need tax reform, then remember Dave Camp who had a real plan, and you can see where it will land: the box for bills dead on arrival.

Price blasted Obama for not supporting the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. According to Price, all we had to do was say, “You go. You go. We’re behind you. We believe in your freedom. We believe in the dream that you have to turn your nation around and overthrow that regime”. Perhaps the good congressman forgot that we did something like that with the Kurds when the first Bush was president. Recall that Saddam gassed and slaughtered them. A little farther back, in 1956, we told the Hungarians that we were behind their revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow the Russians. That led to Soviet tanks and infantry invading the country.

Price then ripped Obama for wanting to support Syrian rebels against the IS. Actually, I think that is a fair debate to have. But Price may have gone off the reservation with this comment in light of John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s statements that they would arm and train rebels. He also might have checked to discover that there are any number of other Republicans and Democrats on both sides of this controversy. In other words, Price doesn’t speak for the Republican Party when it comes to how to fight IS, especially his reluctance to put troops on the ground. His only plan is to say that the military should decide how to fight IS because they have the expertise.

Yet Price would hold back a commitment to introduce infantry, artillery, and whatever else the Pentagon might think it needs. And that passes for giving our military free rein, for a strategy? Does anyone really think that Price is the best that the Sixth Congressional District has to offer? According to the MDJ article, one cheerleader in the audience shouted an emphatic yes.

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Ben Twomey
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October 02, 2014
What did the Dems accomplish when they had both houses and an ultra conservative President? Zilch!

Why should we think that they will do anything differentky if given that opportunity again?

Why won't Reid bring any of the 300 plus House bills, all passed by the House with bipartisan support and some unanimously, to the Senate floor for debate?

Because, as long as he sits on them he and the propaganda machine can continue with lie that the GOP is doing nothing to addess these problems and are just obstructionists.

Price isn't perfect, be he is head and shoulders above what the Dems have to offer.

The Agitator #135: Whose definition of voter fraud?
by Oliver_Halle
September 25, 2014 10:10 AM | 825 views | 3 3 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Dinesh D’Souza, prominent political commentator, author, very successful film maker of conservative documentaries (two that have the title “America” in them), and Christian apologist, pled guilty to campaign fraud (a felony) in federal court in May 2014. He admitted to knowingly soliciting money from contributors with the promise of reimbursing them, money for the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York. On September 23rd, he received a fairly lenient sentence requiring no prison time.

D’Souza has a fixation on President Obama and has weaved this fixation into his books and movies to provide pop psychological explanations for what motivates Obama. In 2010, D’Souza was appointed president of King’s College, a small Christian school in Manhattan. It lasted only two years and ended when he was caught spending the night with a woman other than his wife. Admittedly, he was separated from his wife, but the other woman was still married.

This guy could be the poster child for hypocrisy. He openly displays and touts his Christian faith, all the while living a double standard. But he has strong defenders that you will find on reactionary radio. One talkmeister that I heard explained away the campaign fraud by saying that he was targeted by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder because of his Obama bashing. Of course, no facts or evidence were adduced by his accusers to support this allegation. Holder also prosecuted a prominent businessman for campaign fraud involving Hillary Clinton, but I didn’t hear Holder get criticized at the time from any of the reactionary bloviators.

In effect, D’Souza tried to defraud the voters by using illegal means to raise money to help swing an election. Closer to home our Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is going after voter registration fraud. He has gotten huge headlines doing it, and this is probably his first shot at name recognition for his likely 2018 run for governor. Problem is that the fraud he has identified so far has amounted to a fraction of one percent of the registrants. The real voter fraud, the kind that has been identified and prosecuted in Georgia, lies with the absentee ballot, but tightening it up is never considered by Republicans.

Then there is the latest controversy surrounding DeKalb and a few other counties wanting to open the polls on Sunday. Republicans oppose this, but they haven’t articulated a reason that could pass the red face test. I am assuming that their fears lie with church-goers who might be bussed to the polls in large numbers after services, and we all know the demographics in DeKalb.

How can any red-blooded American not support making it easier for more citizens to vote? Expanding voting to Sundays during the election season should be encouraged. If you connect the dots, though, you will also notice that there are efforts underway here and in other states to curtail early voting by shortening the time period before Election Day, and curtailing hours. This affects working class people who punch a clock, people who have little to no flexibility with their hours. And these are the same people who probably vote more often for Democratic candidates.

From all of this I am left shaking my head. All too many Republicans from what I have read have no problem minimizing D’Souza’s fraud. Most profess to be strict constructionists of the Constitution, yet somehow they see in the First Amendment money equated with speech even if it doesn’t even hint at such. But if you are the political party with the cash resources, then it’s okay. And it is equally okay to obstruct by every means possible, increasing the number of voters without resources. Welcome to Dinesh D’Souza’s “America.”

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Ben Twomey
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September 25, 2014
Oliver, I can agree with you abotu the unnwecessary opposition to Subnday voting, In fact, it is about as pointless as the oppostion to voter ID. Both are favored by the party that stands to benefit the most and oppposed by the party that stands to lose the lost.

As to cases, I can cite them if you wish.

As to hypocrisy, it is as rampant as voter fraud on both sides.

Buying votes is, as you say, certainly a form of voter fraud. It is most often practiced by lobbyists for votes on bills, but is practiced successfully in elections also.

The Agitator #134: We have to choose
by Oliver_Halle
September 18, 2014 09:10 AM | 588 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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The Agitator #133: Bravery in suits & behind mikes
by Oliver_Halle
September 11, 2014 09:25 AM | 552 views | 1 1 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #132: An unsung heroine
by Oliver_Halle
September 04, 2014 10:45 AM | 749 views | 3 3 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #131: Deadly cocktail
by Oliver_Halle
August 28, 2014 09:45 AM | 671 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Agitator #130: RINO good; DINO bad
by Oliver_Halle
August 21, 2014 12:00 PM | 861 views | 1 1 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #129: Lives of quiet desperation
by Oliver_Halle
August 14, 2014 09:45 AM | 826 views | 3 3 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a nice day.


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