The Agitator by Oliver_Halle
The Agitator #161: Mr. Lee, taxes, and the Braves
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The Agitator #111: Ozzie was right
by Oliver_Halle
April 10, 2014 03:50 PM | 1005 views | 5 5 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

On August 22, 1979, Philadelphia Congressman Ozzie Myers took an envelope with $50,000 from an undercover FBI agent. He was filmed stuffing the envelope into the inside of his suit coat pocket, and while doing so he was heard to say, “Money talks and bull----walks.” It’s highly unlikely that Myers was the originator of that expression, but he certainly popularized it.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 opinion that any American has a First Amendment free speech right to give as much cash to as many candidates (within the limitations of each individual candidate) as he chooses, perhaps Myers’ words take on an expanded meaning. Somehow this conservative decision smacks of the very judicial activism that Republicans love to lay on liberal judges. The congress passed a law after much debate and deliberation that set limits on how much any one individual can contribute in an election cycle. They did this because of the obvious corrupting influence of money, and that a handful of very wealthy individuals could potentially swing the outcome of an election and which party would be in the majority. Yet the five conservative justices overrode that of the will of the people.

The justices equate spending money with free speech, but if you read the First Amendment there isn’t a single mention of money. Since strict constructionists like to argue that we need to “go back to the Constitution”, how had this “unconstitutional” law undermined anyone’s right to speak? Laws should not be overturned unless they clearly violate the Constitution. Otherwise the high court becomes an unelected super-legislature. The Constitution has to be interpreted because most of it doesn’t, and can’t possibly, define every situation. For example, there is nothing in the First Amendment that says a person can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. But we all agree that the courts have it right that this is not protected speech. The question then is what is protected?

The Court ruled that the current limits of how much an individual can contribute to each candidate remains in force. But why? If money is the same as speech, why should there be any caps under any circumstance? What is the reasoning behind upholding this part of the law but overturning the other? Draw your own conclusion as I have drawn mine, but it should be pretty clear.

Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the ruling does not create a corruption issue. In the very strict sense of the law I would have to agree with him. In other words, trying to prove that someone’s contribution was a quid pro quo, an element of proof in a bribery case, is very difficult. But if you’ve ever tried to get a call returned from your elected representative in Washington, or a letter that is directly responsive to yours, it won’t happen unless you are a major player. Just a week ago a stream of potential Republican presidential candidates met with multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson one on one in Las Vegas so that Adelson could determine who would be the recipient of his campaign largess. Is there a doubt that Adelson can get a call returned from any Republican representative anywhere in the USA? Anyone doubt that if Adelson has some concerns to discuss about tax laws, for example, that he will be heard and likely get some support for his special issue?

The very wealthy will sneer at those who exercise their freedom of assembly, a First Amendment protection, when they “occupy Wall Street.” These protestors, with no power, no voice, but with legitimate issues about the unfairness of so many things in government, can only be heard if they rally in unison. But then the right wing media trashes them for being communists, nare-do-wells, lazy, people just looking for handouts and government welfare---and many more pejoratives. Those seeking corporate welfare can pay to do it in private.

Ozzie Myers, a convicted crook, proved to be a sage with his immortal words. He just didn’t know at the time of his gift of prophecy.

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Oliver G. Halle
April 16, 2014
Kevin, it's actually going to get worse. Justice Thomas stated that he wants to eliminate all money caps on individual candidates. Roberts has staked out his position that only quid pro quo transactions can be illegal. Paying for influence or access is protected speech under his view. This was another incremental decision that will ultimately lead to unlimited spending and no regulation. Not hard to figure out who the politicians will target for money and all that follows.

The Agitator #110: Men of principles
by Oliver_Halle
April 02, 2014 04:35 PM | 904 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Last week the Republican candidates to replace Saxby Chambliss in the senate met for a debate in Savannah. It is interesting to observe how the experts that identify less than doctrinaire Republicans (RINOs) would have classified the various candidates. I was left wondering who in the bunch was the real Republican. Republicans love to accuse Obama of class warfare, yet here was Jack Kingston saying that “no gate separates your house from my house.” This was in reference to the big money candidate David Perdue who made his money in the private sector as a successful businessman. Sounds like Kingston is trying to create a divide between those who choose to spend their wealth however they decide in a free society, which makes me ask whether underneath Kingston’s professed conservatism he is really a RINO.

Then Kingston, who is polling number two behind Perdue, acknowledged having voted in the House to cap federal flood insurance premiums. Kingston defended the tax subsidy, which affects a disproportionate number of one percenters who own mansions and palaces on beaches, rivers and lakefronts. One would think if you profess to believe in free markets, then these folks should buy their insurance from the private sector---except that Kingston pointed out that the private sector won’t handle coastal property. Jeez, then maybe if the marketplace worked like Republicans claim it should, these “poor” homeowners shouldn’t live where they can’t get insurance. Could it be that insurance companies have sized up the risk and figured out that they can’t make a profit because the premiums might dissuade people from living on the coast or in flood plains? To the experts who “out” RINOs, Kingston is sounding more like one all the time.

Karen Handel, who abandoned the two elective offices that she has held in order to run for higher office---and lose---denounced the federal flood insurance program, but when pressed wouldn’t say how she would have voted. Now that’s bold leadership, yet she touts her leadership skills and how as a U.S. Senator from Georgia she will lead the charge to balance the budget, rid us of Obamacare, and create good jobs just because she says she can.

Meanwhile, all of the aforementioned candidates pay glancing lip service to tax reform. But not one has publicly supported Republican Representative Dave Camp from Michigan who a few weeks ago proposed a substantial revision to the tax code. In fact, House Speaker John Boehner, when asked by a reporter about the plan, replied “blah, blah, blah.” The low hanging fruit, at least for now, remains the promise to repeal Obamacare, something highly unlikely to happen. Senate candidate and current congressman Phil Gingrey has promised not to run for reelection in six years if he isn’t successful in repealing the law. There are people who are not happy with Obamacare, but there are also many who are, and time will allow some tinkering to work out the bugs. But speaking for me and most of the people I associate with, there is more anger at the tax code, the complexity of it, the unfairness---especially to the middle class---and the bigger bite it takes from working stiffs than those at the top of the economic ladder.

The senate race is another one of those three card monte games. They want you to focus all of your attention on Obama and anything to divert your attention from issues that affect your daily life. How many reading this column get a tax break for trying to put their kid(s) through college? Recently Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an editorial about tax breaks that most don’t know about. They include write-offs for owners of private jets; mortgage deductions for second homes and yachts; lower tax rate for hedge fund operators; loan guarantees for banks; and tax breaks given to corporations that relocate to certain areas. Then there are the property tax exemptions for churches. Make no mistake, whatever argument one wants to make to defend these tax breaks, in the end it is the rest of us who make up the shortfall.

Robo calls by the candidates has already begun. They are annoying to start with, but after you hear what they say, and what they don’t say, it should be pretty clear: not one offers a specific plan to do something to help the middle class or the small business owner. If attacking Obama makes you feel good, then vote for the one who makes the most noise. But once the election is over, one thing will not have changed: the middle class and small business owner will continue to take shaft.

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on balance
April 05, 2014
It is and has been clear where your politics and sentiments lie. What you think or feel about a conservative candidate carries no meaning to a conservative voter.

The Agitator #109: Medicaid and onions
by Oliver_Halle
March 27, 2014 03:25 PM | 917 views | 2 2 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The General Assembly just passed a law that will take away the power of the governor to expand Medicaid into Georgia. It seems more like a gift to the incumbent in this campaign year allowing Nathan Deal to shift the blame to the legislature when it becomes a hot issue to see who gets to live on West Paces Ferry Road next January. A lot has already been written on this subject, so I will only add a couple of thoughts. First, it is remarkable that the taxpayers of this state aren’t screaming outrage for declining the Medicaid expansion. Georgia will turn away one hundred percent of the funding for the next three years, and then a minimum of ninety percent in the ensuing years. That is our money that would have come back to our state, provided for countless jobs, tax revenue from those jobs, and given the down and out a chance at getting minimum health care. The money that we send to Washington on April 15th will go to other states.

The second point is that without that federal money to bring in more people, to include not only patients, but doctors, nurses, equipment providers, and other associated business in the medical field, hospitals, particularly in rural areas, will close. It is the smaller communities north and south of metropolitan Atlanta that will feel it the worst. Consider that there will be almost no incentive for medical school graduates to set up shop in these places because there won’t be enough money to provide a living and to pay off their education debt, and they won’t have hospitals nearby that provide them privileges. Makes you wonder why any business would possibly think about relocating or expanding where medical services are non-existent. Actually, they won’t consider it, and we may see more small towns and communities disappear.

Then there is the controversy being litigated over Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black’s decision dictating to growers the earliest date that they can ship their Vidalia onions to market. A judge ruled that Black did not have that authority, so Black is appealing. He argues, among other things, that in recent years some farmers have tried to be first in selling this trademark onion, and the lower quality from not having reached maturity has adversely affected the Vidalia’s reputation. What is funny about Black’s argument is that if I recall correctly, he ran on a Republican platform of fewer regulations and less government.

Now I’m all in favor of protecting the Vidalia onion and it’s singular reputation. But as someone who believes in free markets, I thought that if a farmer sent a poor quality product to a store, that the consumer would make the decision on whether to buy from that source again. Apparently Black has decided when the Vidalias are ready to be shipped for all farmers. Yet I haven’t heard any labels attached to Black like czar, dictator, fascist, socialist, or communist that the current occupant of the White House is accused of every day. I won’t disagree that Black might have some meritorious arguments for his position, but it seems a tad hypocritical to campaign on fewer regulations, less government, free markets where the consumer decides, and then impose a pretty harsh regulation on the growers. Makes me wonder if there isn’t a hidden agenda in there somewhere considering how much of the state’s money he will spend appealing it. It also makes me wonder how Republicans pick and choose which regulations are in the public interest---at least in their opinion.

Georgia voters should know by now that the Republicans they elect aren’t serious about reducing regulations or tax reform. Unless you are a big business that threatens to leave the state without tax breaks just for them (Gulfstream comes to mind), or a business that promises to come to Georgia and play Santa Claus to get a tax advantage, you will continue to pay the full freight and abide by all the rules and regulations. No waivers for you. Struggling small businesses will make up the difference. It’s only during campaign season that the empty promises of reform are made, but once in office---as they say in New York---fuhgetaboutit!

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March 28, 2014
The Agitator is correct and Black and the onions. Just a reminder Onions are the only commodity for which futures cannot be traded. Onion people are very protective. But why attack the entire Republican Party. Bias

The Agitator #108: What would Reagan do?
by Oliver_Halle
March 20, 2014 10:40 AM | 953 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Because Obama is so disliked by conservatives and most Republicans, the question frequently comes up how Ronald Reagan might have done things differently with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, our military, taxes, and everything else a president has to deal with. (I voted for Reagan both times.) This is a counterfactual, and with all counterfactuals, change one thing, let one of the moving parts fail, and there could be a very different outcome. I think it fair, though, within this limited space to try and sort through some of the issues and see if things would be a lot different. Certainly, many of the readers of this column will differ (most in Cobb for sure), but it makes for an interesting discussion.

Obama is being ridiculed for his fecklessness in Crimea, for not standing up to Vladimir Putin. Yet all of my conservative friends readily acknowledge that we should not do anything to provoke a war with Russia over it. Obama and European leaders are talking in unison about applying a number of financial sanctions, but the Russians have options too, and Putin is probably more willing to let his people suffer than any American president would if either side is to apply heat. Only John McCain and Lindsay Graham seem to think that we should consider some kind of military intervention.

While this is going on and still to be played out, the Pentagon is looking at huge cuts in size of our manpower levels for all the services. While many complain about the shrinking military, they don’t want a tax hike to pay for one that they want. Considering the Great Recession and its ongoing aftermath with lower revenue, money is a more important factor than it was during better times.

Obama has been blistered for the death of our ambassador and four civilian security personnel in Benghazi. Yet I haven’t heard a single word from the right about the failed security precautions that resulted in the deaths of over 240 marines in their barracks in Lebanon in October 1983 when a suicide bomber rammed his truck into it. There was active intelligence that such an attack could occur. Despite that, marine sentries were not permitted to have loaded magazines in their weapons. The bomber was subsequently identified as an Iranian national. Yet Reagan never retaliated against Iran, and he was never held to account for the security lapses. I personally wouldn’t hold him accountable, but since Obama is somehow accountable for Benghazi, I would think that the same rules for where the buck stops should also apply to Reagan.

Reagan inherited a very bad economy, and several years into his presidency the high unemployment rate dropped very significantly. What is rarely discussed in connection with how Regan got unemployment under control is the record setting deficits he created. His deficits were off the chart compared to all of his predecessors with the exception of FDR, who had to deal with the Depression and WW II, and who Reagan considered one of America’s best presidents. Reagan spent money that we didn’t have to build up our military that had deteriorated after Vietnam for a lot of reasons. I don’t have an argument with what Reagan did---it got results by pouring money into the economy---but when Obama suggests spending money to stimulate the economy, he is a “tax and spend” liberal. WW II and Reagan’s deficits proved that there are times that government spending can work to prime the pump of the private sector.

People forget that Reagan substantially increased taxes when he was governor of California, and while he was successful in lowering taxes as president, he also raised them several times. But the right doesn’t remember these inconvenient truths. Nor do they like to bring up the amnesty that Reagan got through for some three million illegal aliens. I think Reagan proved to be a sober president, a man who understood politics on a national and international level, who at first was considered a traitor by the right for negotiating arms limitations with the Soviets, and only later proving to have been bold and wise.

Reflecting on Reagan’s historical record, I have a hard time thinking that he would have been so different than Obama today. I also don’t believe that the same Ronald Reagan, using a pseudonym, could get very far in today’s Republican Party based on his record. He would be considered a RINO and persona non grata. Reagan may have projected being a better leader than Obama, but his record doesn’t support the mythical icon that he has become in far right quarters.

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The Agitator #107: Defense spending and more
by Oliver_Halle
March 13, 2014 11:45 AM | 863 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Shrinking military budgets should concern everyone.  There should never be a debate about the military we need, only about the military we want.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, recently painted a pretty grim picture of our current armed forces in the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  To quote Dempsey, it will become “increasingly difficult to balance the competing demands of protecting allies abroad, securing Americans at home and deterring future wars.”
The latest budget cuts $13 billion from defense.  By itself that is a lot of money, more than half of the state of Georgia’s annual budget. Former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and now Chuck Hagel have all pointed out that the social costs associated with the defense budget are out of control.  Proposals to cut commissaries in a time of ubiquitous discount stores off base meet with all sorts of cries of foul from special interest veterans groups.  And that doesn’t even get into how much taxpayers supplement the cost of TriCare for military retirees with no service connected disabilities.  Any attempt to tinker with these costs meet with shouts of “breach of faith” with the troops.
I don’t for a second propose cutting the pay of active service members.   Yet if I recall correctly from a lot of reading, military pay was cut during the Depression.  We are in hard times now, and some economists think it could be decades before our economy returns to anything like it was before the Great Recession.  All too many civilians were promised pensions and retirement benefits that have been cut because they became unsustainable with the drop in business or government revenue for state and local public sector employees.  That includes our front line police, fire and other uniformed services.  Just because the federal government can run deficits doesn’t mean that entitlement recipients shouldn’t also feel some of the pain.  Sacrifice has to be across the board.
Dempsey rightfully pointed out in the QDR  that we can’t have it both ways: either the slashing of the defense budget is directed at unneeded military bases, obsolete weapons systems, and social costs, or we face a military that will no longer be able to meet all its commitments.  But as long as we have elected representatives that know more about these “priorities” that amount to jobs programs for their constituents and defense contractors who fund campaigns, we have no hope for change.  Another component of this discussion is the incestuous relationship between retired flag rank officers who go to work for defense contractors.
Since the topic of increasing the minimum wage has been in the news along with the associated claim of class warfare being waged by liberals, perhaps we should consider a few factoids.  My own anecdotal experience is that Social Security annuitants never fail to claim that not being granted a COLA in a given year will have a devastating impact on their household budgets.  However, I wonder why so many are bothered by the equivalent of a COLA in raising the minimum wage that hasn’t been increased since 2009.  Interesting that their COLAS won’t result in inflation, but for fewer people making a minimum wage it would.
Lastly, it’s important to point out that the disparity of income between C-level executives and their workers has grown  from approximately 40:1 in the 1980s to about 425:1 today.  That doesn’t bother the people on the right that I talk with.  It’s class warfare to suggest that something is wrong with this picture.  In light of their defense of this income gap, I would propose that we pay our military officers along the same line.  That would mean a general officer or admiral would get a large seven or eight figure salary worth millions of dollars compared to what the enlisted ranks make today.  It might even deter these officers from seeking employment in retirement with defense contractors.  That’s one way to look at it.     Considering that all too many taxpayers are unwilling to pay for the best medical care for our badly wounded veterans, I expect that all we will hear from our representatives is the same mantra to cut taxes, to cut spending, while taking care of their special interest supporters.
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The Agitator #106: Tax change and other folly
by Oliver_Halle
March 04, 2014 05:25 PM | 585 views | 4 4 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #105: Religious freedom bill that isn't
by Oliver_Halle
February 26, 2014 06:30 PM | 337 views | 4 4 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #104: Cigarettes, Merry Christmas, price gouging
by Oliver_Halle
February 20, 2014 10:30 AM | 850 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oliver G. Halle
February 20, 2014
Reverend Sarducci,

Thank you for your comment and the civil tone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agitator #103: Taxes and campaign issues
by Oliver_Halle
February 14, 2014 11:10 AM | 1397 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Agitator #102: Deja vu all over again
by Oliver_Halle
February 06, 2014 10:52 AM | 1175 views | 4 4 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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