The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #206: Should judges be elected or appointed?
January 27, 2016 02:55 PM | 396487 views | 0 0 comments | 5304 5304 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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The Agitator #206: Should judges be elected or appointed?
by Oliver_Halle
February 03, 2016 02:53 PM | 112 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There is probably no one best way to select judges in the states. All states adhere to one of three methods: a partisan election, nonpartisan election, retention election. Each has its own set of various laws and procedures that can complicate the process.

In a partisan election candidates align themselves with a political party. A nonpartisan election requires that the candidates run independently and not be aligned with any party. A retention election occurs after a governor has appointed a judge (usually with the concurrence of the state legislature), the judge has served for a prescribed number of years, and the voters then decide whether to retain or reject the judge’s future services.

Arguments have been made for more than a hundred years supporting or opposing one or the other selection means, and there are merits and demerits for all. In this limited space, I would like to highlight a few of the arguments on both sides.

To be clear at the outset, I have no quarrel with any of Cobb County’s judges, all who were elected after an open seat, or who were appointed by the governor because of an open seat, and then had to run for election within a prescribed time. Cobb is a large, highly educated county, and has great depth when it comes to qualified candidates.

Partisan and nonpartisan elections have many overlapping considerations. What is most concerning about a candidate running under the banner of a particular party, is that s/he will be expected to adhere to certain credos. That could conflict with applying the law in a fair and even-handed manner. Examples include stands on social issues, criminal justice, and business related issues. The other downside is that unqualified candidates may run, candidates that lack the education, temperament, or experience to be good judges, yet may be popular among voters for other reasons.

An illustration of the worst case scenario of a partisan election is Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore was removed from the position in in 2002 when he refused to obey a federal court that ordered him to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore ran for chief justice again in 2012 and won, and currently he continues to defy federal courts in recognizing the legitimacy of gay marriages. Admittedly, in this instance, if Alabama held nonpartisan elections, Moore would almost certainly be just as defiant. On the other hand, he would not likely make the cut if the retention method was applicable.

Nonpartisan candidates are in actuality identified by most voters with a particular party. It’s hard to be involved in a political system without having been part of the political process, and voters generally know which party the candidate is most closely aligned.

Of course, elections call for the raising of money---lots of it. The overwhelming number of contributions come from the lawyers, the obvious beneficiaries of currying favor and influence. It’s not illegal, but it demeans candidates to have to ask for financial help, and it puts pressure on potential contributors.

Retention elections, like in New York State, provide for a judge to serve a set period of years (14 in NY), at which time the voters give a thumbs up or down to another term. The one real benefit is that with service for long periods a judge is less influenced in his role from outside pressures. Critics would find this to be a negative factor, and that is a fair argument.

No one method of selecting judges is going to satisfy everyone. All anyone asks in going to court or appealing a case is for a fair shake free of political or other influences.

I would prefer a selection system that involves both major political parties, where elected representatives from the House and Senate choose members from the legislative body to participate in a nominating committee. To minimize cronyism, the committee could rotate members on and off after a period of say, three to five years. Candidates could submit their names for consideration if there is a judicial opening, and each would be vetted for all the qualities that one most desires in a respected, competent judge. The legislature could also decide the criteria to be used by the committee. The committee could then send a list of the top five candidates to the governor, and the governor would have no discretion but to pick from this list.

Whether the judge would serve for a lifetime, provided there is no recall for misconduct, misfeasance or malfeasance, or a period of years followed by a retention vote, could be up to the legislature. Either would be a welcome change.

What do you say?

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The Agitator #205: What's wrong with having a hearing?
by Oliver_Halle
January 27, 2016 09:56 AM | 220 views | 1 1 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Two recent events in Georgia haven’t exactly collided, but they have similar threads that run through them. In both instances I have no opinion as to the final outcome. My argument is with the processes that have led to the end results.

Dax Lopez is a Republican, Jewish, and born in Puerto Rico. His undergraduate and law degrees are from Vanderbilt University. Former Governor Sonny Perdue appointed Lopez to the State Court of DeKalb County in 2010. Lopez was until recently a member of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO). He is also a member of the conservative Federalist Society.

Last summer, President Barak Obama nominated Lopez to become a federal district court judge for the Northern District of Georgia. I haven’t read who his political supporters were, and would be curious in light of the blowback against Lopez. Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee member, David Perdue (R-GA), refused to “blue slip” him, which would have allowed Lopez to undergo hearings to determine his qualifications and fitness. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson has stated that he would have been willing to give Lopez a hearing.

Lopez’ nomination is dead since he won’t get a hearing. The Georgia Sheriffs Association opposed Lopez because of his membership in GALEO. GALEO supports a Path to Citizenship and other controversial immigration issues that are anathema to conservatives. There has been nothing reported that Lopez’ membership in the Federalist Society might also disqualify him, or at least offset any reservations about the affiliation with GALEO. Membership alone in any organization does not necessarily define a person. All organizations experience infighting to shape its goals, and Lopez, for all we know, could have been trying to steer GALEO in a more moderate direction.

On the surface, Lopez appears to be eminently qualified to become a federal judge. In addition to his experience as a State Court judge and stellar academic credentials, he was a clerk to a federal judge, and worked in several silk stocking law firms. A number of prominent conservatives supported Lopez’ nomination, to include right wing radio talk show host, Erik Erickson.

It is fair to debate whether Obama’s executive orders concerning a path to citizenship are legal. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this issue by the end of June 2016. Executive Orders, like all laws, carry the presumption of legality unless and until a court says otherwise. The voters can also decide which candidatae best represents their concerns about immigration in the forthcoming election.

The president is entitled to nominate people to a host of government positions that require Senate approval. He should also be allowed to appoint people that are not only qualified, but also who share his overall views for the country. I think it fair to say that the Senate would be doing its duty if it rejected nominees who were racist, anti-Semitic, gender biased, and other traits and beliefs that did not comport with who we are as Americans. But holding political views that are contrary to the majority party in the Senate, standing alone, should not be a disqualifier.

Lopez has also been smeared by association because the likes of Jane Fonda have served on some board or committee with Lopez. Lopez wasn’t even born when the Vietnam War ended, and I doubt that he has a close relationship with Fonda considering she is almost twice his age. I have any number of conservative friends, many who I have served with in a variety of organizations, and I hope that isn’t held against me. :-)

In the other case, a DeKalb County police officer was indicted for murder in the death of an unarmed, naked Air Force veteran. I don’t know the circumstances of what occurred other than what’s been reported---and neither does anyone else. A group of citizens that sat as grand jurors heard the evidence to determine if there was probable cause that the officer did not act in self-defense, that he intentionally shot the victim.

What was troubling about the indictment is that the District Attorney had publicly announced that he would seek an indictment against the officer. Compound that statement with a group of well-intentioned citizens that protested outside the courthouse demanding an indictment, and you start to have serious doubts that the officer is getting due process. As has happened before in high profile cases like this, can we also expect protesters to demand a guilty verdict while the jury is deliberating?

As I said earlier, I have no opinion concerning the outcome of Lopez’ nomination or the officer’s guilt or innocence. But I think it only right that each be treated fairly, which is the American way. Lopez should have been given a hearing to determine his fitness to become a federal judge, not whether he is an Obama clone. And the officer deserved to have the grand jury hear the evidence without the influence of grandstanding by the DA, or protestors outside the courthouse shouting for an indictment.

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George Middleton
January 27, 2016
The same can be said for the policeman in Cobb County who was suspended w/o pay for two weeks because he allegedly used "racially charged" statements to a black motorist whom he had stopped for doing 65MPH in a 45MPH zone and improper lane changes.

There is no way a rational thinking individual could state that "Go back to Fulton County, I don't care for you people." is a "racially charged" statement. The motorist can be heard all through the dashboard cam clip, being rude, disrespectful and insulting to the officer/ He even called another officer "Gestapo'

Now the officer is losing a half a month's salary, which I presume, he can barely afford based on the low pay our policemen receive.

No impartial hearing for him either. Further, the motorist will npt have to answer for the tickets he was given.

The Agitator #204: "Good lucks to youse," Mr. President
by Oliver_Halle
January 20, 2016 10:50 AM | 239 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It’s way too early to predict who the next president will be. Too many things can happen between now and the conventions, and of course, between then and Election Day. Since Donald Trump is maintaining his lead on the Republican side, and because there is virtually no interest in the Democratic debates, I thought it appropriate to give the title of this week’s commentary a New York flourish.

What I say about Trump could be applied to Cruz or any of the other candidates, but both are way ahead in the polls, so for now it’s fair to focus on how they would exercise presidential authority.

Trump and Cruz know how to work up a crowd. Promising to build a wall on the Mexican border---and get them to pay for it---is pretty impressive if it can be done. Stopping all Muslim immigration, completely overhauling the tax code, forcing illegal aliens to leave the country, and “rebuilding” our military while not raising taxes, among other great sound bites, can sooth the angry soul of many conservatives.

As always, we aren’t told how, in a democratic republic, this would occur. Even with a Republican majority of both Houses of Congress, it doesn’t mean that the representatives will just roll over and go along with the president’s agenda. There are also pesky Democrats to get in the way. Unless Trump or Cruz plans to consolidate power like Vladimir Putin, an unlikely occurrence, the new president is still going to have to win a majority of votes from our 535 Members of Congress, none of whom report to the president, all of whom answer to the voters of their districts or states.

Obama has been accused issuing executive orders as though they were fiats and outside the scope of his presidential powers. It should be noted that the number of his executive orders is far lower than his four predecessors. More importantly, though, his orders apply only to the executive branch of government, and the Constitution provides in Article II, Section 3, that the “President…shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Executive orders comport with that provision.

In other words, a president is well within the scope of his authority to interpret the law and apply discretion where deemed appropriate, unless and until a court says otherwise. The president can’t make law, but there is room for him to determine how to apply the law.

The Republicans have cried foul over some of Obama’s executive orders, especially those dealing with allowing certain categories of illegal aliens to stay in the U.S. Two such orders are currently being challenged in federal court, and there is no doubt that the Obama administration will abide by the final outcome even if contrary to his objectives. That’s the way the Constitution works and has for well over 200 years.

Interestingly, people, especially Republicans, seem to have forgotten something loosely analogous to executive orders: presidential signing statements. When Congress passes a bill and the President signs it into law, it is not uncommon for him to issue a constitutional signing statement. The statement may claim to interpret the law in a different way that Congress intended, and it is a mechanism for a presidential grab of power. George W. Bush issued at least 126 such statements versus Obama’s 18. Yet all was quiet on the conservative front.

To also illustrate how unfair Obama has been treated by the right, he was accused of not being a natural born citizen. There were several arguments to support this position, the most absurd being that he was born in Kenya. But for argument’s sake, since no one disputes that his mother was an American, if Obama was born in Kenya, where were the Cruz supporters to defend Obama since Cruz’ Canadian birth would be under the same circumstances? Their hypocrisy is shameful.

If Trump or Cruz becomes the next president, I plan to sit back and wait for the anger from the reactionaries when things don’t go their way. That’s actually a good thing, because they don’t go the way any of us would like a good part of the time. It demonstrates the strength of our Constitution and form of government, that we agree to live in a society where the rule of law is paramount. May it long live on.

And if it is going to be a President Trump or Cruz, as we might say in Brooklyn, “Good lucks to youse.” You are going to need it. It could be a constitutional rollercoaster.

Section 3 of Article II of the Constitution states that the President "...shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." (This is often referred to as the "take care" clause.) There is concern that signing statements may operate, in a very practical sense, as direction from the White House to federal officials and agencies to disregard, or fail to execute, laws passed by Congress.

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The Agitator #203: Someone has to pay, and it's you!
by Oliver_Halle
January 13, 2016 11:00 AM | 464 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The New York Times recently published a story about how wealthy hedge fund operators pay gobs of money to lobbyists to persuade their elected representatives in Washington to create or preserve special tax breaks. Combine these efforts with sizable campaign contributions, and you have a winning strategy to get what you pay for. For the rest of the taxpaying public, if you communicate with your representative about tax reform, you will get lip service and/or the standard canned letter that says nothing other than that your congressman or senator will carefully consider your request or proposal when it comes up for discussion or a vote.

The article noted that the top earners took home a few hundred million dollars each in 2012, but if their tax rates had been taxed as salary or wages---how most Americans’ income is treated---the tax liability for these individuals would have been double. Those who provide labor or services get IRS forms W-2 or 1099. The higher up you are in the income chain, the more likely that you are being taxed differently and more favorably, and wouldn’t know what these two forms looked like.

These privileged folks have their own public relations firms that put out an endless stream of propaganda. The best known line is that they are the job creators, that we should be grateful to these benefactors for the largess we receive in return for being in their employ. Yet only approximately twenty-seven cents of their tax savings actually goes back into our consumer economy. For the middle class, upwards of one-hundred cents on the dollar of any tax break is spent.

These privileged folks who are kind enough to look after the rest of us are also the beneficiaries of so many government services that keep them in business. Our military, among those services, protects their interests both here and overseas. I always get a kick out of postings on Facebook that question why professional athletes, actors, and others in highly paid professions, make so much more than our service members in uniform. The answer isn’t complicated. It’s because it would cost the taxpayers much more money to pay them what they are worth. And when you have tax loopholes and other creative devices to avoid paying your fair share, that’s money that won’t ever alleviate this unfairness.

Closer to home, in Atlanta and Cobb County, we have billionaire owners of professional sports teams that think it only right for the local taxpayers to subsidize their highly profitable businesses with new stadiums. Compounding the insult is that Republicans voted for the taxes in Cobb County, Republicans who claim to be the party of no new taxes, the party of free markets, of letting the markets work their magic without government intrusion. It’s a sham, and sadly too many voters have bought into this false mantra.

Cobb Commission Chairman, Tim Lee, and the Braves media machine, have repeatedly stated that the stadium will substantially increase the tax revenue for the county because of all the new businesses and spending that the franchise will bring. Maybe it will; maybe it won’t. Yet, it is fair to ask, if it’s such a good deal, where are all the hedge fund operators and other bigtime investors? Why weren’t Arthur Blank and John Malone, owners of the Falcons and Braves respectively, able to draw all that private money? What rational person wouldn’t sink his money into something that is “guaranteed” to provide a very good return?

Similar promises were made to the taxpayers in Atlanta concerning the Beltline. It hasn’t worked out as predicted, and the city owes the Atlanta School System millions of dollars that the schools had committed. In Doraville, there is a push for the DeKalb County School System to commit long term money to develop the land where General Motors once had a factory, but the system is balking. Again, if it’s such a good deal, where are all the big money folks to invest and make a sweet return? Do they know something in each instance that our politicians don’t seem to know?

The middle class in this country is shrinking. Disposable income is dropping. If Macy’s is a microcosm of what is happening in the economy (they announced store closings and laying off 3,000 because of revenue shortfalls), i.e. a steady decline in consumer spending, we are in trouble. The uber rich aren’t the ones keeping your neighborhood stores open. And some stores, like Walmart, are subsidized by taxpayers who supplement low wages with food stamps and other low income benefits.

The Republican candidates are all trying to outdo each other with doomsday scenarios about our country. But not one has said what he would do to reverse course, and how he would get a majority of votes in the congress to convert his promises into law. One thing we can bank on based on past performance: there will be no tax reform. The Big Boys will continue to accumulate more wealth, and the rest of us will be schmoozed into paying for their stadiums---even if the price of admission is beyond our means.

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The Agitator #202: Free speech and unregulated firearms
by Oliver_Halle
January 06, 2016 10:40 AM | 434 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It’s comforting to know that the Republican presidential candidates want to rebuild our military as though it is falling behind compared with the rest of the world. As always, as I’ve written in this space many times before, if you follow the money it becomes obvious why some very costly weapons systems are built whether we need them or not. Same for keeping open unneeded bases. We can defeat any country in the world in a conventional war with our military capabilities. Problem is that we aren’t fighting conventional wars these days.

Where we are losing is fighting an ideological war. We are not winning the fight against ideas that are anathema to our way of life. We are not convincing our enemies that terrorism is not the pathway to a better life regardless of your religious or political beliefs. None of the candidates are talking about this war, and as I see it, if we don’t figure out a way reach people, all the military might in the world won’t matter. We will become like Gulliver to his six inch Lilliputians.

To illustrate how the terrorists are winning, think back to life before 911. I could go back much further, but people born in, say, 1990, will have some recollection of simpler times. We take for granted, other than the usual grumbling, all the airport screening, the multiple documents needed to get a drivers license---or just your own birth certificate. Then there are the intelligence grabs of most of your electronic transactions, and technology that is rapidly eliminating what privacy remains in our lives. How about the hassles to get into any government building to conduct business? And on and on….

Now we have presidential candidates and some legal scholars who are talking about shutting down internet sites that foment terrorism and recruit terrorists. No mention was made of all the neo-Nazi and right wing websites that promote violence, whether to shut them down too since arguably they are legitimate threats, too. Reminds me of the carnival barker as he spins the roulette wheel, “Where she stops, nobody knows.”

Historically, the U.S. has never done well when it has tried to regulate speech. From memory alone, we had the Alien and Sedition Act in the late 1790s. In WW I, some went to prison for promoting draft resistance, the most prominent being Eugene Debs, the organized labor leader. The Smith Act was enacted in 1940, which made it a crime to belong to any organization that advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. And in the 1950s, there was Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, who destroyed a lot of lives because they had once been communists or communist sympathizers.

I hardly relate to people who support the violent overthrow of our government. Yet our country has weathered countless groups that have done just that while not actually taking any overt action to do it. All of the laws cited above have long since been repealed, and the United States still stands.

When ordinary Americans and politicians call for criminalizing political speech, or shutting down internet sites or other avenues of communication, we are in serious trouble. It has never worked. We have to do a better job of educating our younger generation and those to come. We have to refocus and teach what the First Amendment embodies, that it is about freedom of conscience and the right to hold unpopular beliefs.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “…freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth.”

Free speech is not completely free as we all know. It is a crime to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, unlicensed doctors, lawyers, and others who render professional advice violate the law, among two simple examples---even though the First Amendment’s words do not ban such speech. But unlike Saudi Arabia, which just executed a Shiite cleric for supposedly stirring up unrest in the Sunni country, we do not put limitations on political or religious speech other than time, place and manner. The Second Amendment advocates should keep in mind that the First Amendment is the one that really safeguards their right to possess a weapon. It would be good if these advocates were more vocal about the importance of preserving free speech rights if for no other reason than to protect their interests.

I repeat that we are losing, and will continue to lose the war on terrorism if we don’t take seriously the loss of our liberties and do a better job of educating future generations. To quote Brandeis again, “Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent.”

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The Agitator #201: Republican solutions for the economy
by Oliver_Halle
December 30, 2015 11:00 AM | 505 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Compared to late 2007, and through the early years of the Obama administration, our economy has recovered from the recession. To be fair, while the unemployment numbers are very positive, problems remain concerning lagging wages, too few jobs with little to no upward mobility, and people who have to work two or more jobs just to make ends meet. Still, things are much better than when Bush left office in January 2009.

Despite interest rates being almost at zero for the past eight years, and despite mortgage rates being as low as ever---the equivalent of a tax cut---the economy never really caught fire. Consumer spending has been weak largely because of less disposable income, and because of the fear of losing one’s job.

There are valid explanations for the current situation. Unemployment is down for one because many of the baby boomers are retiring and no longer in the work force. Technology has replaced countless jobs. Three workers can do that of a hundred in making more steel today because of computers. Middle management jobs have disappeared as new business models no longer require them. The global economy, something that is here to stay, has forced us to become more competitive, and that has probably increased the quality of manufactured goods while causing a drop in wages. Unions have become almost irrelevant despite what the right wing would have you believe.

The Republican debates have adduced some real tough talk from the candidates. Each tries to outdo the other in proving that s/he can go toe-to-toe with Putin, bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age, and promises of making the strongest military on earth and in the history of the world, even stronger. The way each would pay the whopping bills to go to war and fund our armed services is through variations of tax cuts that will have a trickle-down effect on the whole economy. Problem is that trickle down is a proven failure.

President Reagan cut taxes before he raised them, but his tax cuts didn’t stimulate the economy. What did was the deficit spending and massive government spending that he used to build up our military. The record deficits, up to that time, put a lot of people back to work. Surprisingly, in the last Republican debate, Donald Trump actually made sense when he criticized the three plus trillion dollars that has been spent fighting in Iraq and trying to prop up the Iraq government. Trump said that the money spent there could have rebuilt our decaying infrastructure and put people back to work in good jobs right here. To that Carley Fiorina shouted that Trump sounded like Obama---as if anything coming from Obama is automatically a bad idea and not worthy of consideration.

Then we have the latest spending bills. Included in them is a provision to build a Coast Guard cutter and Navy destroyer. The Coast Guard and Navy both said that the ships are unnecessary and unneeded. Yet the senators and representatives of the shipyards that will construct these ships overruled the military experts. It’s their version of a jobs program under the guise of defense, and no one, ever, wants to look weak on defense.

It’s been hilarious in a perverted way listening to Republicans denounce the very spending bills that they supported claiming that the Democrats got their way despite them being the minority party. That’s great propaganda for the low information voter, but in actuality, the Republicans didn’t fight to eliminate their favorite lard. They just didn’t want to pay for the Democrats’ lard, because lard is different if the Republicans support it. Remember, the Republicans are the party of balanced budgets, so that’s why I am more critical of them.

If a Republican president is elected in 2016, the American people better be prepared for some big changes. War has replaced diplomacy as a means to settle disputes, a very costly way of conducting business. Republicans’ favorite defense contractors, the ones who salt campaigns with mountains of cash, will be the winners. Our infrastructure will continue to decline as funding for it diminishes. Traffic will get worse in all metropolitan areas of the country, and America’s downward spiral will worsen. Real pain is on the way.

I’ve written many times in this blog that tax reform is a favorite topic with no hope of meaningful change. The code is written for the special interests. Sophistic arguments will continue to be presented to our representatives concerning why they deserve special breaks, and with those arguments will come the “lubrication” to ensure that representatives remain advocates for the special interest(s). Deficits will not decrease with a Republican president. How a Republican president with two Houses of his own party will make the economy roar again while balancing the budget is something concerned voters would like to hear. But diverting the voters’ attention from the economy to the never-ending scare talk of terrorists will win the day. And the American people will ultimately lose.

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The Agitator #200: A lifted glass to Joe Kirby and the MDJ
by Oliver_Halle
December 21, 2015 12:20 PM | 605 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Almost five years ago Joe Kirby told me that the MDJ planned to expand their electronic edition, and asked if I would be interested in being one of several bloggers. Joe and I knew each other for a good 20 years, and he well understood from conversation and letters to the editor that my world view was out of sync with most folks in Cobb County. I had no writing experience along this line, but I thought that it would be interesting to stir up controversy and see what happens.

It wasn’t until November 2011 that I was asked to submit the first blog. This one marks number 200. It has been an enjoyable ride. I think I started out with about seven people who agreed with most of my positions in a county of 700,000, and I am now up to almost 20. It’s that kind of progress that has inspired me to continue.

For the most part, the MDJ reflects the community’s conservative thinking, both socially and politically. Its editorial pages have two liberal writers: syndicated columnist Bill Press, and local columnist Kevin Foley, each commenting once a week.

Kevin Foley doesn’t even have to work at it to drive up the blood pressure of most of the MDJ’s readers. But Joe Kirby saw the value in having Foley’s opinions published and debated. I happen to like the vast majority of Foley’s commentaries. Those that disagree have often questioned and criticized the paper for allowing him space. Joe was hardly a liberal, but he saw the value in publishing opposing views, in disagreement, in distilling the best ideas that come from debate and disputation. Without Foley, and to a much lesser extent myself, the MDJ’s readers would be like the story of the fly in the vinegar jug that thought it was the sweetest place in the world because the fly had never been anywhere else.

The beauty of our country, the United States of America, is that we have at least four regions with many different interests, and then subsets within them. And these interests compete against each other all the time. New York could care less about ethanol subsidies to the mid-western corn farmers, and those farmers could care less about transportation subsides for the NYC subways. And so it goes.

Yet this great county, despite the myriad of political and other differences, has never failed to be united when attacked. The Kaiser, Hitler, Tojo, and Osama bin-Laden, among others, learned that lesson the hard way. We are like one big family that has its internal squabbles, but don’t dare allow anyone from the outside to intervene.

In 1943, Justice Robert Jackson wrote the opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia vs. Barnette. The case involved mandatory flag saluting in the public schools, something Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to on religious grounds. There is much language in this opinion that really defines who and what we are as Americans. Among that language is this quote from Justice Jackson, “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

Joe Kirby and the MDJ, despite whatever pressures have been placed on them, understood, and still do, the importance of importance of divergent thinking.

As we get ready to close out the Christmas season and enter into a new year, I would like to lift a glass to Joe Kirby, Otis Brumby, new editor J.K. Murphy, MDJ employee Damon Poirier (the paragon of what it means to do yeoman’s work), and all the other employees of the MDJ who ensure that the paper always gets into its readers’ hands, and say thank you. May the honorable and truly American tradition of dissent live on in the MDJ, a tradition that has served America well from its inception.

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The Agitator #199: Cowardly critics
by Oliver_Halle
December 16, 2015 10:45 AM | 608 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In a perverse way, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have been a gift to the Republican presidential candidates. As I’ve written here before, the American people perceive, incorrectly in my opinion, that Republicans are the stronger of the two parties when it comes to war. It helped reelect Bush in 2004. Since the latest incidents the tough talk has been relentless, ironic as it is that none of the serious contenders ever served in the military. Donald Trump, who has simple solutions for everything, took student deferments during Vietnam, and one deferment for a leg injury, but which leg he could not remember when asked by a reporter.

Ted Cruz has worked up crowds into a frenzy with his plan to carpet bomb ISIS and turn their conquered territory into the equivalent of a glass parking lot. We don’t know, though, who gave him that advice, but we do know that a number of retired flag rank officers have dismissed this loud talk as complete nonsense. Marco Rubio vows to rebuild the military that he claims Obama has destroyed. It doesn’t matter that no country in the world has an armed force that even remotely compares to the lethality of ours, or that spends even close on their defense budget to what the U.S. does.

When George W. Bush was president the reactionaries accused anyone that did not support the Iraq War as being un-American. This probably applied to more Democrats than Republicans, and it didn’t matter that many who opposed the war contributed their sweat equity by serving in uniform when this country needed them.

Recently, a couple of prominent Republicans on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees tried to get House Speaker Paul Ryan to put a bill on the floor that would authorize war against the Islamic State. The legislators rightly felt that if American fighting men were going into battle, they should know that their government supported them. The Congress, which has the power under the Constitution to declare war, refused to vote on this measure, not unlike how they turned down a similar request from Obama to use air strikes when it was determined that Syria had introduced chemical weapons into the fight against the insurgents.

While Obama still operates under the resolution passed after 911 that authorizes him to use military force, for the Republican congress to update it would have showed not only our service members that we are one-hundred percent behind them, but it would have also showed the world that the American people are undivided in our efforts to combat terrorism at its roots.

Trump seems to have resonated with a lot of Americans with his proposal to ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States. It makes me wonder if he understands how divided the Muslim world is, if he understands the political and religious dynamics of the Middle East. There is Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia with each supporting different sides in the Syrian civil war. There is Yemen that is fighting a Shiite insurgency, while Saudi Arabia bombs the rebels in support of the government. How about the fact that Sunni Egypt is one of the largest beneficiaries of American foreign aid? Does Trump know that Jordan is one of our important strategic allies in the Middle East? Does Trump care that thousands of American lives have been lost trying to befriend Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to prop up their governments?

What kind of message are the Republican candidates sending to Muslims around the world? That we are at war with anyone of the Muslim faith, never mind our being joined at the hip with them in so many ways, to include the examples above?

I am under no illusion that there are Muslims in the U.S. today that are attempting one kind of terrorist plot or another. I also know that in WW II, we had Germans, Italians, and Japanese citizens who were surreptitiously working against American interests, which included outright espionage. We can’t prevent every potential harm, but we do have the resources to interrupt it. As an American, I am willing to trade perfect security, to live in a Gestapo like state, to keep the freedoms that we enjoy. It’s not even a close call for me.

It’s time to end partisan politics when it comes to our security. Let’s get real and give this president and the one that follows the support he needs to fight ISIS. And unlike Iraq, if we are going to go to war, if all the tough talking candidates are serious about a significant military commitment, then we should expect to pay for it and the veterans care costs for the next 70 years. Anything less is un-American.

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The Agitator #198: Are you insured?
by Oliver_Halle
December 09, 2015 10:30 AM | 689 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The most recent mass shootings have been very good for the gun industry. According to news reports, the FBI has conducted a record number of background checks for potential firearms purchasers since Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

The San Bernardino attacks by Muslim terrorists may have been the best Christmas gift for the purveyors “ of self-defense.” Fear sells, and right now Americans are scared. If you believe the Republican presidential candidates, you would think that we are living in times not unlike those Americans experienced during WW II.

Ted Cruz is talking about declaring war against ISIS as though ISIS even remotely resembles Japan and Germany. Yet the Republican led Congress won’t even pass a resolution to make a statement that would authorize Obama to take whatever military action against ISIS that he deems appropriate. Instead we get platitudes from the candidates about forming coalitions, dropping endless numbers of bombs, deploying the infantry, the need to fight for our values, and other “wisdom” on how to fight this asymmetrical war. Considering that not one of these military experts ever served in the armed forces, the least they can do is disclose who their military advisers are.

I do not mean to make light of the threat that ISIS and al-Qaida pose. Their ideology appeals to some American born Muslims, but if you look at the murder of abortion doctors, and targeted random shootings by those who professed Christian beliefs, the mindsets are similar and equally dangerous. The U.S. has one of the highest violent crime records of first world countries, and the number of people randomly injured or killed by criminals far exceeds terrorist acts by any ideological group.

Once again, we are hearing from the defenders of the Second Amendment that the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. For sure there are anecdotal instances of someone having a gun that stopped a crime. They are the exception, though, and what we also don’t know is how many people who had a gun didn’t use it for one reason or another.

Action is faster than reaction, and anyone undergoing firearms training learns this. That’s why cops are murdered every year. Despite being highly trained in the use of various firearms, defensive tactics, disarming a criminal, and being in good physical shape, there are all too many situations where a police officer still doesn’t have the advantage. If the bad guy gets the drop first, the likelihood is that there is going to be a shooting victim---and it will be the good guy with a gun.

Anyone who has been in combat, whether it be in the military or law enforcement, will tell you that chaos reigns. If it’s indoors, it’s much worse. The noise is deafening. There is smoke, screaming, people running, fear, overdose of adrenalin, and a flood of other emotions. People in the vicinity may not have any idea where the gunshots are coming from. Anyone pulling out a gun could easily be taken for the terrorist, there could be crossfire, and many more innocents could end up dead by well-intentioned good guys with guns. Cops and soldiers also get killed by “friendly” fire.

That leads to another issue that in my experience is never discussed. What happens, by way of example, if a good guy that lawfully possess a gun gets involved in interrupting a holdup, , and ends up missing and shoots a bystander, or the bullet hits the bad guy but goes through him and hits someone else? Assume that the bystander in either instance becomes a paraplegic.

This is not a question of whether the good guy acted in self-defense or whether s/he will be charged criminally. That is highly unlikely. What is likely, though, is that the good guy is going to be a defendant in a civil suit. You can bank on it that the plaintiff/victim’s lawyer will have the good guy undergo a searing cross-examination that will deal with issues such as his training with the weapon, knowledge of the weapon’s capabilities and limitations---like velocity and effective range, and lots of questions pertaining to what the good guy knows about the bullet.

In all likelihood, most people would come up short on the witness stand by an experienced trial lawyer. The good guy will be left at the mercy of the jury, who will be looking at the plaintiff/victim in a wheelchair. The plaintiff/victim’s lawyer will argue that the good guy acted recklessly, was a cowboy, wanted to be a hero, and his heroics turned the plaintiff/victim into a shell of himself.

The question good guys should ask is if their homeowner’s insurance covers acts that are totally unrelated from protecting the home. If not, and you have no insurance for carrying a weapon, how will you protect all of your assets, to include your life savings, retirement funds, and your home?

Carrying a firearm carries with it a huge responsibility. Knowing more than the nomenclature of the weapon and how to pull the trigger might serve you well if things go terribly wrong despite your best intentions.

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The Agitator #197: Special interests win again
by Oliver_Halle
December 02, 2015 10:55 AM | 774 views | 0 0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

A few months back the congress agreed to increase the budget by upwards of $60 billion to accommodate Republican and Democratic interests involving defense and domestic spending respectively. But providing the specifics of how that money is to be spent has to be completed by December 11th or there could be a government shutdown.

Republicans are trying to attach totally unrelated riders to these spending bills, and that is where the potential for a conflict lies between the Republican congress and Democrat president. Obama won’t sign any bill that eliminates the Affordable Healthcare Act or defunds Planned Parenthood, just two of many of the poison pills that the Republicans are using. Rather than let each of these bills stand alone for an up or down vote, the Republicans would rather risk another costly shutdown, or go on record with their vote that they know is meaningless except for political purposes.

Obamacare continues to be the favorite political punching bag for the Republicans, yet in the past four years there hasn’t been a single serious healthcare proposal put on the table by the naysayers. All we’ve gotten from the Party of No is over 50 attempts to repeal the law. Interestingly, Republicans informally agree that doing away with the preexisting conditions exclusion in the ACA was probably a good thing. What is rarely mentioned, though, is that in order to insure those with known health issues, to make it affordable the pool of insureds has to be increased. The American voters deserve to know how the Republicans would keep the preexisting conditions component in the law and not mandate that all Americans participate.

Senator David Perdue (R-GA) is finishing his first year in office. He has staked out a strong position of getting control of spending. In the abstract I have no quarrel with him. But, as always, the devil is in the details. He is very outspoken about the importance of keeping open Dobbins AFB in Marietta. No question that arguments can be made in support of it, but in past BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) recommendations, Dobbins has come up as a base that is no longer needed. Yet the political pressures are enormous on all of Georgia’s delegation to keep it open.

The question is why spending money for Dobbins and other unneeded bases is supposedly important for defense, when in reality it is the Republican version of a jobs program. Republican logic, though, calls money to rebuild our decaying infrastructure, wasteful. Yet, if we did spend more money on all things related to transportation, schools, and research and development, we would put a lot of people with important job skills to work, and that money would pour into the private sector while preserving those skills which could also be used for our national defense if needed.

We won’t see any serious cuts coming from Republicans despite all the hype of a balanced budget amendment, eliminating fat and waste, and all the other platitudes that the Party of No can dish out. What we will see are attempts to eliminate Obamacare, which they know is doomed on arrival, defund Planned Parenthood, which even if they could, would only be a pittance against the larger cost items. How about getting serious and eliminate insurance subsidies for commercial farmers? Let’s stop subsidizing flood insurance, which mostly benefits a lot of wealthy people who choose to live in flood areas for the views. How about loan guarantees to banks that are in the business of making money?

Then there is the tax code that is written for the special interests. All the noise from the Republican presidential candidates that they will replace the current tax laws is nothing more than cacophony. It won’t happen as long as we don’t have campaign finance reform because of the money that goes into funding campaigns.

David Perdue is part of the cacophony from Washington. He wants you to believe that he’s all about the importance balancing budgets. Look at his campaign funding sources and see who supports him, and you will then know that the powerless are the ones from whom he seeks take money from. Has he gotten involved with the serious problem of rural hospitals closing, largely because the state refuses to expand Medicaid even though the federal government would pick up ninety percent of the cost? These counties are going to lose what jobs they have, and for sure they won’t attract businesses.

When the various appropriation bills are finalized in the next week or so, as the Good Book says, ye shall know them by their fruits. The special interests will have won the day. That’s the way it works---money talks---and you know what walks.

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