Georgia legislators channel inner Joel Osteen

In 2015, I said I would never forgive the Georgia legislature for putting forth a bill that put me in a position to defend strippers, but the government overreach and unnecessary taxation was just too much to keep quiet. It was a trying time and even still, if you google my name, you’ll be blessed to see information about strippers – all in the name of liberty.

And here we are, two years later, facing another overreach and another tax. The victim this time? Porn.

State representative Paulette Rakestraw has filed House Bill 509 which would require pauletteretailers to put a “digital blocking capability” on some devices to make “obscene material” inaccessible. Retailers, in this code section, would mean anyone who SELLS or LEASES a device that allows content to be accessed on the Internet. The “blocking capability” is required to make porn, child porn, revenge porn, websites about prostitution, and websites about sex trafficking all inaccessible.

Retailers would be required to have a telephone line where consumers could call to report complaints and it prohibits retailers from giving consumers intel on how to deactivate the blocking program themselves.

Here is the real humdinger: If you are 18 years of age or older, request in writing that you would like to deactivate the program, acknowledge in writing that you understand the dangers (yes, that is really the word they use) of deactivating the program, and pay a $20 fee, you can have the program removed from your device.

You read that correctly. If, as a reasonable, responsible, American adult, you wish to look at obscene material in the privacy of your own home, you have to tell the grandmother at the Wal-Mart check out line that you would like her to delete the program so you can enjoy the device to the fullest extent.

First things first: how does a computer program identify whether or not porn is regular porn or revenge porn? Where does the list of people who consented in writing go? Is the state going to maintain a database of who may one day look at obscene content?

Second, phones, tablets, computers, Smart TVs, AppleWatch, Fitbits – anything that connects to the Internet would be subjected to this $20 fee if you, as an adult, wish to enjoy the luxury of obscenities and adult entertainment. The language is so broad and does not specify what type of content has to be accessible for a device to qualify.

The cover is in the name of the bill. “Human Trafficking Prevention Act.” Your legislators believe that taxing people who watch porn will prevent human trafficking. Say that aloud so you can hear how ridiculous the idea is.

The money will be directed, by way of a Constitutional Amendment, to the “Georgia Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Trust Fund” and then directed to programs for nonpermanent long-term residential mental health and addiction treatment.

Would someone like to explain to me how funding addiction treatment programs is going to help prevent human trafficking?

People who become victims as a result of any violation of the legislation can apply for restitution from the fund for an amount not to exceed three times the amount the original consumer paid the retailer for the device.

At first glance of the bill, I thought the legislation was sponsored by Kim Jong Un, but no, it is our beloved Republicans. Republicans that should obviously hand over their Party cards and get in line for the Communist Express train that is on its way. This is not limited government. This is not low taxation. This is not pro-Constitution.

Let’s once again, run through the reasons why something like this is not only inappropriate, but unconstitutional.

Porn is free speech. This is a tax on free speech. A tax on people who wish to exercise and enjoy free speech.

Here’s another thing: By taxing porn, the government is condoning the industry, “allowing” it to exist, if you will. If the risks are SO high for sex trafficking and child pornography, then all porn should be illegal.

The fact that there is no advocacy for eradication of porn just reiterates the point: This isn’t about protecting anyone or helping anyone. It’s about taxing a vulnerable industry that is considered immoral. There is less resistance. After all, who is going to speak out in favor of porn?

Why does a woman like myself, who sees no value in porn – for education or entertainment – have to take on a cause and try to explain to our legislators why free speech protects obscenities?

Now, Crossover Day has come and gone, which means House Bill 509 cannot pass “as-is,” but the legislature has already passed multiple sex trafficking and sex crime bills in both chambers to which this language could be attached. And then, of course, there is next year due to the fact that a bill can be revived in a two-year period.

I told you this would happen. Anyone who opposed the garbage that was Senate Bill 8 knew this would happen. When you give government the authority to tax a business because of preference, not purpose, you set a precedent. A $5,000 annual fee just to run an adult entertainment establishment leads to a $20 fee if you want the privilege to view the dark parts of the Internet while at home…what is next?

Forests, strippers, fireworks and porn. That would be the Georgia Constitution, y’all.

If passed by the legislature, the Constitutional Amendment to make this permanent would be on the November 2018 ballot. The worst part of all is that they will probably get away with it.

We aren’t winning.

There are two things I hate: when someone takes advantage of their position in government and when The People are silenced. Unfortunately, my job highlights both of those things almost daily.

I remember when I first moved to South Georgia and started working on a corruption case. Someone said to me, “You know they’re not all going to be like this. Not all towns are like this.” Of course I didn’t believe him because I’m no political rookie and it took me all of one month on the council/commission meeting circuit to learn that simply is not true.

Whether people are buying elections, making promises to businesses, circumventing the system checks and balances, discussing votes off the record ahead of time, quietly receiving money, publicly receiving money, ignoring the rule of law, or having prisoners mow their own yard, nearly everywhere you look you will see people losing the battles against their governments.

Sure, there are little victories and things to cheer about, but by and large, problems exist in all corners of government operations. Throw in the courts and the public universities for good measure.

If I had a dollar for every time an interested, informed citizen was made a mockery of or told that a council meeting was not a time for them to address their council members I could build my own town, which I would, of course, name Sunshine USA.

But this is the reality. The reality is that your elected officials hope you aren’t paying attention and they hope you’ll excuse any bad behavior because of a long running friendship or because they sit with you at church.

I am sick and tired of people saying, “He is such a good dad” or “She has given so much to the community.” What’s even worse is when someone says, “Well, they are really trying to do what is best.”

First of all, that is fantastic, but they were not elected because they coach soccer. Second, no, they are not doing what is best for the community at the local, state or federal level. These people who rise to power via election or appointment know exactly what they’re doing. They help facilitate a system that keeps them in control. They lie to you, they twist words, they leave information out because power feels good.

“It’s not a tax increase, it’s a revenue increase,” one Georgia legislator said.
What does that even mean?

I am not saying there are not any good people in politics – I know many of them. But like us, they are losing.

Look at the state legislature. Last Wednesday and Friday the House chamber shoved nearly 100 bills to the floor for a vote. Three of them died, two of which were brought back to pass after strong arming folks to flip their votes, which they did. So out of all of those bills, all those topics, all those industries, and all those groups of people that will be affected, just one time did the people you trust to serve you collaboratively think an initiative was not in your best interest.

I could dedicate an entire blog series to terrible things the legislature does and how ours operates so backwardly, I need the state government to mandate Frontier upgrade my rural broadband before I am able to take on an endeavor like a blog series.

In all seriousness, the Georgia legislature is quietly morphing into a photocopy of the federal level – minus the Democrats who vote NO. There once was a group of legislators who would vote NO, work to reform bad bills, and influence their fellow lawmakers, but between political pressure and a damaged professional life, that movement has dissolved. Few remain, but clearly not enough. Just like one or two commissioners is not enough for change, neither is a handful of legislators when the population of the chamber is 180.

And what is this nonsense about people who vote NO being villains? I can think of more times than not when it is appropriate to vote nay: Perhaps when you did not read the bill, when you do not understand the bill, when an overwhelming number of your constituents request that you do, when you know the bill will do something negative – even to only one person, when you do not know what the bill will do, when the bill benefits a specific group of people.

Besides, if the issue is that important, it will come back soon. I assure you that no one will die while waiting for musicians who produce in Georgia to have a tax credit crafted for their industry. If you wait to approve the legislation adding “llama” to the livestock code section, I promise the world will keep turning.

Voting NO has become taboo. Look at Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz or Congressman Justin Amash. They have earned a level of respect, but they are still outcasts. They vote NO too much, they are idealists, they are unreasonable, and worst of all – they’re just doing it for publicity. That’s right – you’re the media whore if you dare commit the illicit action of voting against something. You’re dangerous and the powers that be will try to damage you to the people who helped elect you. “How dare you vote against my idea” is used more frequently than “Maybe we’ll agree on the next one” or “Explain to me why you voted NO.”

As for whether or not The People help decide whether or not something is going to become law, it’s time to let the air out of the balloon. It just isn’t happening. Haleigh’s HOPE Act for medical cannabis is one of the few initiatives where there was statewide pressure to pass legislation, so they did. But when the people oppose something, you may as well be speaking Yiddish in China.

To our elected officials, it’s about a tangible legacy and what can be left behind. It’s about what can be said about their tenure.

Unfortunately, the local governments are just a microcosm of all of the above. The Commissioner who questions something in a meeting is suddenly a pain in the rear. The city councilwoman who asks to table a tax increase because she thinks it’s too much is “radical.” We praise the bumps on a long who only repeat “YEA” over and over and over because they pick up the phone when we call and they send a card at Christmas.

And what are you doing while all of this is unfolding? You are in the gallery while the surgeons mutilate your organs and swipe the extra cash in your wallet while you’re under anesthesia. We watch from above but we feel every cut, snip, and tuck.

Things are not changing and as it stands, the path forward is paved with disappointment. After a while, you learn that a “win” for The People is often accompanied by the humiliation of someone else and it is likely that the very best you can do is ruin a legacy.

You attend council meetings only to be asked to refrain from commenting. You watch your Commissioners spend your money against the will of the community. You campaign for your state official only to learn that the dollar of a lobbyist is worth more than yours. You call your Congressman to be told “I’ll make note of it.” You see good people sour and succumb to the system. You become the cynic that everyone loves to hate.

But you won’t quit and neither will I. We’ll just complain about it, go to bed, and wake up for another round tomorrow. Because if we don’t, who will?

Ladies, you didn’t march for me.

Many women marched Saturday, but many weren’t marching for me.

I’m always amazed when people can gather in such large numbers. It’s a very powerful

Photo: The Globe and Mail

Photo: The Globe and Mail

thing and shows a considerable effort and movement. Between news headlines and Facebook friends, we were all able to get a real-time view of many of these marches around the country. I watched all day and saw a grave disconnect between purposes.

First, it is very difficult to believe the march wasn’t an “anti-Trump” gathering when it happened the day after the inauguration. This is coming from someone who many most would label “anti-Trump.” None of us believe you. The narratives were blurred as some women said it was only about equal rights while others said they marched because Friday they were suddenly with fewer rights than on Thursday. Some activists said the march was in no way a partisan thing, however, several high profile speeches, i.e.Madonna and Ashley Judd, make it evident that that simply isn’t true. And don’t even get me started on some of the financial sponsors of the march. It was partisan. Full stop.

By the way, how are rights partisan? If this is about a Republican president, then why, after eight years of a Democrat president, are women not in the perfectly equal position that feminists believe we should be?

So, we’ve acknowledged that for many (not all) the march was a political resistance, can we discuss how the marches came to organize?

I will never deny that President Trump has made some distasteful, downright inappropriate comments about women, but I struggle to distinguish how some of these signs, statements, and slogans aren’t any less degrading to women. How does a sign that reads, “Eat ***** not grab it” promote equality?

I’ve spent the last 18 months blasting Trump on every word and he’s made no mention of restricting the rights of women. We will still vote, we will still own property, drive vehicles, dress as we please, work, and even protest. His daughter, Ivanka, is a successful, powerhouse entrepreneur who doesn’t seem to back down. While you may not agree with their ideologies, Trump’s cabinet and administration is plush with women in high ranking positions. I don’t think they are there to pour coffee and straighten ties.

The media is at a greater risk of losing access and rights than women are.

While I don’t necessarily consider myself a traditional “feminist” in any sense of the word, it’s not even the issues or battles they’re fighting, but how they’re battling those fights. I love my freedoms and will stand to protect them any day of the week. I’ll stand beside others to fight for their freedoms, but I will never understand what is gained from this type of “resistance.” What exactly are they resisting?

The vulgar, non-policy driven rhetoric has got to stop. The disservice you are doing to

Photo: CNN

Photo: CNN

women who have actual concerns grows by the day. The women marching for equal pay, the glass ceiling, or paid maternity leave should be ashamed of these other women. I am. We can all agree there are chauvinist men. I live in rural Georgia where some men are still behind the times. I promise you I’ve seen it. I still see it. “Be seen, not heard,” they say. But I’ve also seen women force those walls to crumble because of their hard work, their integrity, and their brilliance.

Some of that hard work, integrity, and brilliance is demonstrated here:

But if you believe you are, in fact, equal, stop isolating yourself in an activist group by gender.

There’s a gross misunderstanding between “different” and “equal.” Women are, and always will be, different from men. Whether you believe in a God who created us in His vision or a spontaneous creation followed by years of evolution, we. are. different.

How does getting free birth control paid for by someone else demonstrate that you are a strong, independent woman? How does personifying your genitals legitimize your cause? How does a generation of young girls benefit when you teach them that their bodies make more statements than their brilliant, untarnished minds?

All of the rights that are afforded to ‘man’ are applicable to women without clarification. Free speech, the Second Amendment, due process, speedy trials, voting, property rights – these rights apply to us. We are equal under our the reign of our government.

I don’t know what was accomplished yesterday. I don’t even know what they wanted to be accomplished yesterday. My hope is that many female activists gathered and connected for future work, for efforts, for organizations…not for headlines. My hope is that these women made themselves known so they can become, or stay, engaged in the political process.

But I’m engaged and I didn’t march yesterday. I don’t need a pink hat to demonstrate that I am equal. The only thing under my clothing that empowers me is my heart. My brain and my dignity do the rest. I am equal because I believe I am equal. The very fact that millions gathered around the nation, and world, Saturday without any kind of barrier is evidence of just that.

Many of you marched Saturday, but many of you didn’t march for me.

We’ve already ruined any real chance of eradicating “fake news”

It was at the top of the list for 2016 election rhetoric and whether you ended up on the winning side or the losing side, you’re probably still talking about it: fake news.

Fake news, by definition, is something that is not real – hence the term “fake.” The actual definition reads:

“News satire, also called fake news, is a type of parody presented in a format typical of mainstream journalism, and called a satire because of its content. News satire has been around almost as long as journalism itself, but it is particularly popular on the web, for example on websites like The Onion or Faking News, where it is relatively easy to mimic a credible news source and stories may achieve wide distribution from nearly any site. News satire relies heavily on irony and deadpan humor.”

But no one is slamming The Onion or Faking News or El Mundo Today. Most are slamming CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS, ABC, The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, or any other source that isn’t CSPAN or a personal blog where someone reaffirms the reader’s exact beliefs. This is happening because people are angry and, more often than not, their anger is justified. The mainstream media on both sides, in print and in television has a slant. These outlets race to be first instead of accurate. During crises, we get wrong information. The key word is “wrong,” not “fake.”

But slants and mistatements of facts do not mean something is “fake.” It isn’t fake news to say that 20 students on a school bus died when only 6 did. It’s wrong. Because of this misunderstanding, we’ve completely obliterated any opportunity to teach people who may not understand the difference or even how to assess media sources.  In a matter of months, people have overused the term so much that the majority of people believe everything they see from a news outlet is fake.

Let’s take a look at an example that can be broken down without including partisan politics:

This past Wednesday it was announced that JonBenet Ramsey’s older brother is suing CBS News (and others) for $750 million after a series aired and insinuated that Burke may have had something to do with JonBenet’s death. Friday, his lawyer came out slamming CBS as “fake news” because of the series. Sound the buzzer because that. is. wrong. (For now, we’ll set aside the irony of perpetuating a story that is supposedly so defamatory, it’s worth $750 million)

FACTS: 1. JonBenet was killed. 2. Police have considered Burke a person of interest at some time or another. 3. 20 years later, law enforcement officials have no real leads on who actually committed the crime.
ASSUMPTIONS: The mother and father were ruled out, the ransom note is believed to be forged, and the brother was the only person left in the house “so it had to be Burke.” (Don’t lie, you know this thought has gone through your mind on at least one occasion.)

The assumption is a statement that may or may not be untrue. It isn’t fake, it just might be wrong and at this time, it isn’t something that can be substantiated. CBS has a duty to distinguish the facts they were able to prove and then present alternative possibilities that may or not be true.  Burke very well may have a case for defamation, but his lawyer is making a mockery of the real issue and instead trying to garner attention by equating the case to the rhetoric currently on the national stage.

“Fake new” in this instance would be a headline that reads, “Burke Ramsey picked up by aliens who say they were witness to him murdering his sister.”

“Fake is defined as not genuine or something that is counterfeit. “Wrong” is defined as something that is not correct. There is a very big difference. YUGE. Bigly.

Reporting that Brad Pitt was shot in the streets of L.A. by Russian insurgents when he is actually sitting at a local coffee shop reading to elementary school children is fake news. Certainly not all instances are as extreme as this, but fake news is something that can otherwise be verified by a reader or viewer…if they wanted to make the effort.

It is truly terrifying to me that individuals want someone to censor the Internet for them and impose some sort of regulation and restriction on entities so “someone” can make sure they’re seeing the news a company thinks they should see. That doesn’t sound like the United States at all. Why would someone who doesn’t trust MSNBC or CBS or ABC trust Google or Facebook or Twitter to take on the task of sorting through what is and is not “accurate” news? Better yet, why is any individual incapable of determining for themselves whether or not information is fake.

If individuals would look at what is wrong and where it can be proven wrong, a change may actually be made in how we absorb and share information.

That starts with a change the tone of the conversation. Instead of calling everything we don’t like “fake news,” tell your friends and followers why and keep it specific. “This article from [X] is not correct. I read the official report myself and this is actually what happened…” or perhaps, “I’ve seem {blank tv station} repeatedly get the facts wrong in {x types of situations} so I’ve just decided that they aren’t a reliable source of information during [x].”

One of the very best things about America is the free flow of information – good or bad, politically correct or not, genuine or fake. Besides, the most dangerous fake news headline is the one that perpetuates the idea that just because we don’t like or agree with something, there is no possibility it could be true.

 

The End of the Sanctity of Libraries.

As you read the following blog entry, please play the Jaws music in your head.

I recently moved out of my rental house and am “in transition” as a finalize my next residence. Because I work from home, the chaos has doubled as I’ve struggled to find a place to work during the day that’s quiet enough to think. I started at McDonald’s because the wifi is free, but despite the hatred of their food, the constant smell of french fries was just not conducive to my dietary needs and the fact that there’s only one electric outlet available in the place – and it’s usually in use by an employee – I went to the library.

What a mistake that was.

On the blazing hot Tuesday morning, I traveled to the library for the first time in many years. After arguing with the desk clerk about whether or not I was qualified to have a library card or not, I ventured to an open table in the atrium. The tables each had signs on them that read, “QUIET ZONE. NO TALKING.” Understandably, since the atrium had high windowed ceilings that would carry the noise of a nickel dropping as if it were a church bell. I set my computer up, got out my notes, and began to work.

It wasn’t fifteen minutes before someone came into the atrium from the book section of the library to use their cell phone. As the woman carried on her conversation about what she wanted her friend to bring her for lunch, another call beeped in. I just tried to breathe deeply, and the woman, of course, took the call and shared her evening plans, giggling and laughing it up.

I tried to be patient and remember that I’m not the only person who uses a library – this is everyone’s library, I told myself. That lasted about 30 seconds because the gentleman at the table next to me whipped out his ramen noodles and started crunching them on the table. He pulled out a bowl, used water from a water bottle and proceeded to make the noodles right there on the table. When water isn’t warm, noodles don’t soften. It was a loud next few minutes. (And I have that disorder that makes you want to commit violent crimes when you hear other people chewing.)

Once lunch time was over, I managed to get in a solid hour of work done without anyone atriumusing the phone booth atrium. I was feeling good about my production when a woman wearing a name badge came into the atrium with two other people. She proceeded to pick up the “QUIET PLEASE. NO TALKING.” sign and move it to the window sill. She encouraged the people to sit down as she explained what is necessary to host an event at the library. I spent the next 10 minutes listening to where you can set up tables, what kinds of beverages are permitted on library premises, and what areas will be roped off for the organizations events. That’s right – a woman who works at the library moved the “QUIET PLEASE. NO TALKING.” sign so she could carry on a seminar, talk employment history, and chat about the storms coming through. Now I know why they have metal detectors at the front door.

Around 4:00 p.m., a man started circling the tables in the phone booth atrium. “Hey girl. What’s your name? Where you from? You got a boyfriend?”

“I’m working.”

“What’s your name? Your boyfriend here?”

It would have been easier to hear what he was saying under his breath if children weren’t racing up and down the stairs, screaming, while their parents sat on Facebook at the computers. I was literally sweating…and wondering if they were just short staffed that day. I packed up my stuff and left. Luckily I had somewhere to be.

The sun set and rose again as Wednesday was upon me. I was optimistic that Tuesday’s library ordeal was simply a fluke and today would be better. Wrong.

When I arrived, the parking lot was full and all the tables were taken. What? It’s 11:00 A.M. on a Wednesday in the summer. One table was full of people playing Monopoly. There were children eating McDonald’s at another, toying with their Happy Meal toys as a mom said, “Okay, I’ll be back in about an hour.” Apparently the county library doubles as an unsupervised daycare.

Over the course of the next few hours, I listened to cell phones ring rap songs, videos on social media, complaints about the Monopoly game, employees arguing over who would answer the phone, and even a girl play a new song on her phone for her boyfriend. I could have powered a windmill with the amount of effort I put into saying, “SHHH!!!” Someone came by to vacuum and that was the quietest part of the day.

It was complete anarchy. It was what you would see if you combined DisneyLand with a FEMA camp fire drill. And the employees never batted an eye. They pushed the book carts around, stepped over children rolling around on the floor, and smiled at patrons across the room as they talked on their phones.

I left to go get a late lunch and enjoy the peace and quiet of my own vehicle. I contemplated going to WalMart to buy a whistle and a vest so I could direct things myself, but I was already developing an eye twitch from the stress of it all. Oh, how I’d love to issue some sort of citation inside the walls of the bibliotheque. When I returned from lunch, I was bumped from the atrium to the genealogy section because people were napping at the “QUIET PLEASE. NO TALKING.” tables. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

I cranked out a little more work before heading to dinner with a friend. What a sigh of relief to know my 2 of 3 of my days at the library were done.

I’m not going to get into today’s debacles here at the book box. It started and ended with the a line for the ladies restroom because some woman was on the phone in the stall. The ONLY stall. We all waited, and waited, and waited – just like they do on Orange is the New Black. When she exited, she acted as if we were disturbing her. I don’t know why all the safe spaces in the library are also phone booths, but it’s transitioned from ‘weird’ to ‘scary.’

genealogyI’ve written this vent piece from the genealogy section where the sign reads, ‘No food or drink allowed in Genealogy.’ As I’ve typed, I listened to two children eat sunflower seeds and spit them into a solo cup. Signs mean nothing around here, but when they told me their mom had to the run errands, I wasn’t about to get onto them. And remember the whistle I wanted to buy? No need. During editing, a child was actually blowing a train whistle upstairs. May God bless all the little children. Jesus loves them, but right now, I don’t.

Growing up, I loved the library. In college, it was the quiet place where I actually got things done. The only sounds you ever heard were squeaking shoes and laptop battery warning alerts. That’s not the case anymore and I can’t wait until I never have to come back here again. Over the course of 72 hours, I’ve developed an eye twitch, spent a decent portion of those hours swearing and sweating, and I’m pretty sure the blemish on my neck is actually a hive.

The sanctity of our libraries are dead. It’s quieter at McDonald’s.

Partisanship is failing taxpayers on justice reform

They say if you’re not a liberal at 25, you have no heart and if you’re not a conservative at 35, you have no brain. I think I’ve actually mixed those two up, judging by how ‘soft’ I’ve become with regard to the corrections system in America. When it comes to justice reform, I’m a hard moderate who can find flaws in almost everything we have in practice. But I haven’t always been this way. I used to be a lock-em-up, throw away the key, anti-drug, pro-death penalty Republican. I just had no reasonable explanation for that ideology.

Over the few past years, I’ve worked for a criminal defense attorney, run a district attorney’s race, and had a friend who was wrongfully convicted of heinous crimes. I’ve seen judicial discretion usurped by higher-ups while prosecutors and police sometimes work too closely. I’ve seen the system fail from many different viewpoints.

More recently, the failures and my political ideologies have piqued my interest in the Georgia Department of Corrections, legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly, and the advocacy of organizations on the national level. I wish there was more to see out of Congress, but many of the justice reform bills are at a constant stalemate.

Why, though? Why is there little to no movement? It’s because Republicans are unwilling to move and scared to lose their “tough on crime” reputation. The biggest misconception still today is that those who believe in criminal justice reform are just liberal hacks or pro-drug hippies. That’s simply not the case. Incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people on the state and federal level who have not committed a crime against a person is not conservative. Spending 25% percent of the Department of Justice annual budget on prisons is not conservative. Having 1 in 31 Americans behind bars, on probation, or on parole is not conservative. Saying you’re “pro-family” but allowing 1 in 28 children to have a parent who is incarcerated is not conservative. Allowing legislatures to set standards for justice and sentencing instead of elected and appointed judges is not conservative.

In 2012, as taxpayers we spent $60 billion on prisoners, with federal prisoners costing Americans nearly $30,000 each every year – if they aren’t on death row. Interestingly, it costs $80.25 per day for a federal inmate, while Georgia inmates are said to cost about $46 per day. It may seem small until you consider there are 218,000 federal inmates and far too many are nonviolent drug offenders. Regardless, mass incarceration is costing a fortune, especially when you consider hidden costs not originally appropriated in budgets.

Since 1980, our federal prison population has increased by 800%, but the biggest problem of all is that “tough on crime” doesn’t actually make communities safer. It’s a false sense of security that we’ve fallen for in an effort to feel like we are holding society to a moral standard even though we aren’t actually getting hardened criminals off the street. After all, there are more than 400,000 acts that carry a criminal penalty in the United States.

According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group seeking to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, 92% of drug offenders in federal prisons didn’t play a leadership role in the crime they committed, meaning they aren’t the kingpin. Without the kingpin, it’s unlikely the drug operation ceased after arrest. Further, 83% of those had no weapon involved in their crime. Those numbers are based on the 20,600 federal drug offenders sentenced in 2015 alone and only 4% of those 20,000+ sentenced received a sentence of probation. Worse, incarceration is said to cost 8X as much as probationary supervision.

Even so, we’ve come a long way from where we were.

In Georgia, we’ve made decent strides as Governor Deal pushed to “ban the box” for state agencies and licensing boards who used to require criminal history to be disclosed on applications, we’ve reduced the availability of criminal records for some low-level first-time offenders, added education programs in prisons to reduce recidivism, and allowed some convicted persons to maintain their drivers licenses – all of this with the vision in mind that those who are willing and able to obtain and maintain a job after serving time are more likely to succeed and less likely to return to prison. Considerable foresight and an open mind has saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But here, we face a massive culture stigma that is hindering progress more than anything.

Unfortunately, the Georgia General Assembly passes legislation with mandatory minimum sentences nearly every year. Our elected officials lack the understanding that not all crimes are created equal and that those chosen to serve The People may not be the best decision makers when it comes to the legal system. The legislature continues to expand the supervisory authority of the state with agencies like the Georgia Department of Community Supervision and the extension of private probation companies around the state. Georgia is also home to 5 private prisons – another issue for another day – but a problem nevertheless. It seems, above all, our elected officials are unwilling to step up to the plate and explain to voters why less prison is more efficient.

On the federal level, there is no parole – something that went into effect in 1987. Prison terms are served until completion because there is no supervisory agency. While “good behavior” can take time off the back end, it doesn’t do much for inmates once they’re released. There’s also a shortage of violent criminals in federal prisons. Most murderers, rapists, child molesters, and the like are in state prisons. Mandatory minimum sentences are still a major hindrance to justice on the federal level as well. Drugs are measured by the amount of plants or in grams with strict definitions set in black and white, essentially eradicating all judicial discretion. Without even utilizing or brandishing a firearm during the commission of a federal drug offense, mere possession of a weapon with a silencer can put someone away for a mandatory 30 years for the first offense and for life on a second offense. Those sentences don’t include the punishment for the actual drug offenses. Do you want someone serving life in prison on your dime for growing weed in their backyard?

The conservative, limited government answer is NO.

I supported Rand Paul both in his presidential run and his Senate re-election because I believe he is right on crime. He has a massive platform to articulate how fiscally responsible it is to reevaluate how we’re running the criminal justice system. He joins Senator Mike Lee and Congressmen Justin Amash and Thomas Massie in a quest to change the mentality surrounding the correctional system in America. Surprisingly, I stood with President Obama as he reduced the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders who had already served out the minimum sentences, something that’s far too often considered taboo for conservatives…for no good reason.

The justice system doesn’t have to just be about punishment, and it can include reform and rehabilitation. It should never be about politics, partisanship, or profit.

Organizations like FreedomWorks, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress, Right on Crime, and the Faith & Freedom Coalition, are illustrating that political ideologies across the political spectrum can see rewards in justice reform and benefits to our communities. We, The People, just have to open our minds to it and allow our elected officials to cross party lines to work together.

The Angry Mob.

I’ve lived in Georgia since I was old enough to have an opinion. That means just about every opinion I’ve ever had has been formulated based on circumstances and influences of my peachy roots. Just recently, I was pressed with the question of whether I was part of the angry mob that’s tanking everything good in politics or just a subject of their shenanigans. I realized that at one point I was, but I have long grown out of that.

I’ve made a career out of saying and doing things that are unpopular. Speaking truths FullSizeRender (22)when they didn’t want to be heard or even when they were deemed inappropriate. It’s been a journey that has gone over mostly well across the state as I’ve worked in politics and established a writing portfolio. I’ve watched as the general public becomes more angry and disenfranchised with the government and the political system as a whole. My career of off-the-cuff thoughts and tidbits usually places me in the category of “unpopular” thinking, and I’ve come to terms with that.

But just because something is unpopular, doesn’t make it any less true and that’s why an angry mob is dangerous.

I’ve been faced with the challenge that every time I write an article or a column, I’m starting from scratch. I must assume that no one knows who I am, where my heart is, or the consistency I have demonstrated over the last 5 years in my writing. I can’t fault people for their lack of knowledge in that territory -it is my responsibility to articulate my thoughts and beliefs on paper without invoking too much emotion or heart. But the lack of emotion ticks off the angry mob and invokes a new emotion-based campaign that is a complete and utter derailment…and it happens nearly every single time.

If you think I’m talking about Donald Trump supporters, you’re sort of right. I am. But it goes so much deeper than that. This trickles down to our state and local governments, too. It has penetrated every aspect of discussion of politics and religion, or the lack thereof.  This is personal because I’m seeing what it’s harming.

The emotional campaigns spread like wildfire because humans have hearts and humans thrive off of drama, not fact. The emotion and the drama culminate into a volcano of rage, grudges, and vendettas and begins formulating in pockets and factions in communities across the country. Soon enough, the angry mob forms.

The angry mob can be two people, two hundred people, or two million people. The angry mob can, and has, included elected officials. The number or profession of people in the mob isn’t as important as the M.O. of the mob.

You see, the angry mob doesn’t listen. They won’t hear reason and they won’t allow justification. The angry mob is incapable of understanding that a “different” opinion doesn’t mean a “wrong” opinion. The angry mob has emotion cycling through the rudder so fast that everything else is just noise.  

The angry mob chastises those who are offended by everything from Indian rituals to confederate memorials and atheist thoughts, but is the first to say the opinion of someone else is offensive to them. The angry mob shouts at the TV because the mainstream media  is feeding them lies. This same angry mob praises social media and alternative media outlets for offering a different perspective – when they share that perspective.

The angry mob is selective in their battles in the sense that they do what is politically or professionally expedient. They may stand for transparency in one instance, but back down when the controversy turns a corner or spreads because they may know someone, they may have a vested interest or one of dozens of other reasons, but the angry mob is not consistent. The angry mob wants the lights shone on their neighbors so long as that light doesn’t cross the property line. The angry mob, mistakenly, protects their own and nearly always finds someone else to lynch.

The angry mob sends “anonymous” emails late at night, harasses people they don’t know on social media, has to apologize for the nasty things they said behind a computer screen when the time comes to meet in person, and uses the Internet as a crutch to say they’re doing something and affecting change. But they are not.

The angry mob says they want transparency, change, hope, freedom, consistency, openness, accountability, and every other buzz word. They do…until it’s their town, their issue, their industry, or their guy. They do until the tables are turned and the mirror reflects the reality that, just like everyone else, they are imperfect.

In reality, the angry mob want clouds and baby photos. They want Instagram shots of champagne, fancy shoes and delicious dinners. The angry mob isn’t ready for anything better because better requires discomfort before pleasure.

The angry mob doesn’t show up when it counts or when it hurts. The angry mob is a group of hypocritical Monday morning quarterbacks who won’t fill the stands in the rain. The angry mob runs off of emotion alone and never offers a solution. The angry mob establishes a villain in every story. The angry mob lobs bombs because it’s the only way to retaliate for hurt feelings.

The angry mob is destroying us because they’re silencing the very truth they’re demanding.

The 11 Most Ridiculous Bills to Pass in 2016

While expanded medical marijuana legislation that would help thousands of Georgians failed to get a vote in the Senate and little victories like the “brunch bill” died, both chambers spent most of Day 39 & 40 passing bills that will have little to no positive impact on 99% of our lives.

Here’s my list of the most outrageous bills of the 2016 legislative session. Note: This is the short list. There are dozens of dozens more.

  1. HB 798  – Joyce Chandler

This bill allows homeschooling students who meet all the necessary state-mandated requirements to apply for the HOPE scholarship. While this looks like a good idea, the problem lies in that homeschool students, despite meeting all the same standards as public school students, have to score higher on the SAT & ACT in order to qualify. (93rd percentile for homeschool students, 85th percentile for public school students) And the reason? The sponsor said from the floor of the House that she just “came up with the number on her own.)

  1. HB 838 – Shaw Blackmon

Co-sponsored by a representative whose day job is selling insurance, this bill sets a 5% “floor” for Commission rates for certain health insurance policies. Paging Captain Conflict of Interest.

  1. HB 979 – Johnnie Caldwell, Jr.

HB 979 makes it “more illegal” to commit a crime against a person who is a healthcare worker or EMS personnel. With additional fines and criminal punishments, we’re telling the state of Georgia that these people have more value than regular citizens. Like the ridiculousness of “hate crimes,” this does nothing to deter violence. A crime against a person is the same – regardless of the employment status of the victim.

  1. HB 509 – Jesse Petrea

This bill creates an entirely new stem of government thanks to a Republican sponsor and, of course, a Republican majority. HB 509 creates a Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council which allows the state to study and assess end of life care measures while working with nursing homes and assisted care facilities – something that is absolutely, definitely NOT the role of the state.

  1. SB 331 – Bruce Thompson

SB 331 has good intentions. The goal of the bill is to prevent rapists from having parental rights should a baby result in “non-consensual” sexual relations.

The problem is that “non-consensual” doesn’t exclusively mean rape in legal terms and the bill doesn’t even call for a conviction of rape…just clear and convincing evidence. What does that even mean?

  1. SB 402 – Jeff Mullis

This bill places a temporary moratorium on narcotic treatment centers in Georgia. New licenses cannot be issued until July 1, 2017. The bill calls for a study of the centers across Georgia and for the Commission to decide whether further legislative action is necessary.

Here’s my question: Under this bill, the number of narcotic treatment centers does not change. If a problem exists, this doesn’t solve it for at least TWO years. One year to study and then another year to pass and implement any changes – something that unscrupulous persons will find a way around anyway.

  1. HB 840 – Ron Stephens

The Georgia legislature took time out of their short 40 day legislative session to redefine the definition of a “feral hog” and then change the wildlife code to require a permit for commercial film purposes that must be obtained by paying an annual fee. Rep. Stephens said the bill was necessary to “honor wildlife” and keep film companies in our state. If that’s true, we don’t need to tack on a fee to entice them to stay.

  1. HB 808 – Wendell Willard – Repealing the Judicial Qualifications Commission

The Judicial Qualifying Commission has long been an oversight committee for judges across the state of Georgia. Unfortunately, it’s also long been victim to grudges in the legal community, and because of such, has been dissolved thanks to the Georgia legislature. The solution is to reinstate a new Commission with new appointees – ones from the Speaker and the Governor – and try to “restore the independence” of the Commission. The problem, though, is that the bill will allow all JQC files and hearings to be closed to the public in an even more private process than before.

The Constitutional Amendment to establish a new form of the JQC will be on the general election ballot in November. I urge you to vote NO.

  1. SB 323Mike Dugan
    This bill will change the law to allow ANY state agency working on an economic development project to keep any and all records pertaining to the project confidential until the

The bill is a slap to the open records process and demonstrates our lawmakers are moving away from transparency, instead of towards it. An amendment that was added in the final days will also allow public colleges’ athletic departments 90 days to respond to open-record requests, when the timeline under the law is a mere 3 days.

  1. SB 369 – Brandon Beach (℅ Jeff Mullis)

In a last ditch attempt to address MARTA following the overwhelming failure early in the session, the initiative was offered a glimmer of hope. In a shameful political move, the Senate stripped a bill originally addressing fireworks and replaced it with MARTA language. That’s right. fireworks to MARTA.
[Similar to the former TSPLOSTs in North Fulton County and South Fulton County as well as the City of Atlanta up to .75% increase  (on the sales tax).]

  1.   HB 757Kevin Tanner

What started as a harmless, do-nothing, feel-good “Pastor Protection Act” quickly spiraled into a discriminatory bill that would allow organizations that receive tax dollars from the state to discriminate against not only same-sex couples, unwed mothers, and divorced parents. Remember the pregnancy resource center bill ? Take that one for example: A pro-life, Christian organization that receives grant money funded by our tax dollars can quickly – and without legitimate cause – turn away a pregnant teen by claiming it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill, because of its harmful language, has made for unlikely bedfellows, including the big business Georgia Chamber “establishment” folks who rallied against the bill alongside those in the the limited government liberty movement.

The most unfortunate part of this process, however, has been watching men and women of God claim this discriminatory bill is an act of good faith – of their faith – and has tarnished the open arm picturesque Christian.

Something good that passed but may not see the light of day is the campus carry legislation. Unfortunately, there are concerns that Deal will veto the measure after he raised concerns after the bill’s final passage from both chambers without significant opposition.  

Governor Nathan Deal has until May 3 to decide whether or not he will veto the legislation passed by both Chambers over the last 40 days.  

Today I got new health insurance…

Today, after a series of chaotic calls to my health insurance provider and a perusal of Healthcare.gov options, I finally got new health insurance.

I was notified in mid-January that I would be dropped because of a “business decision by Humana to eliminate plans like [mine].” After 7 static years, I was told that even though I liked my plan, I could not keep it.

Not looking forward to the process of obtaining new insurance, I did sign up for the Healthcare.gov to see what plans were available for me. What I found was that I could get the exact same coverage for a doubled monthly premium and a deductible twice what I currently had. Joy!

So, in all my procrastination and consideration for different companies, I called Humana Monday morning with just 18 hours until my coverage was to lapse.

After a ‘brief’ hold time of just 11 minutes, I was connected a man named Hernando. My recently acquired friend Hernando had such a thick accent that I found myself squinting every time he spoke, but considering the timeliness of my call, I knew I would need to give Hernando the benefit of the doubt. He seemed to have a good attitude and called me “Miss Jessica.” Still, despite being 8:15 a.m., I felt like I needed to pour myself a glass of sangria.

Hernando asked me to confirm my Social Security number as well as my most recent address on file. I offered him my current address, the one I held in 2015, the addresses of my the homes I lived in in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010. None of them matched. Why? Because despite my requests, which Hernando confirmed were noted in my file, Humana had not updated my address since 2009. After 8 guesses and an offer to mail a blood sample to confirm my identity, we unlocked the treasure chest of plans for which I qualify.

Or so I thought. Turns out Hernando wasn’t all that good with the system, so he had to place me on hold to ask a colleague. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a rendition of the song below, the circus tune, is what played when I was on hold. How fitting.

 

Hernando returned after another ‘brief’ hold to let me know that there were 5 plans for which I was eligible, and we discussed them at length.

If I wanted the same coverage as before with the same deductible – which was already $3,500-, I could pay a premium three times as high as my last one. If I wanted to keep my premium the same, I could raise my deductible to $6,850. Not to delve too far into the personal side of things, but I’m not exactly at a point in my life where I can fork out thousands a month for health care coverage.

Hernando, despite working for Humana, wanted to emphasize that I could go on the exchange, still have Human coverage, but instead pay a subsidized amount and receive credits.

I would rather die

I asked him if, under the plan I was considering, women’s annual visits were covered. Hernando replied, “Like, you mean a check up?” No, an actual annual visit to a doctor only women see. “Oh Miss Jessica!! I do not know. You can see a primary care doctor for $25 co-pay three times under this plan.”

“Hernando, I’m sitting here drinking a protein shake that tastes like grass. I do everything I can to avoid the doctor. I don’t like doctors and I don’t like medicine. I just want to visit my doctor once a year to make sure that when the time is right, I can procreate. I don’t really want to explain to you what that entails, but it’s not a primary care check-up. That is the only reason I’m getting health insurance.”

“Okay, Miss Jessica. If I may, place you on a brief hold again.” Hernando had to call his supervisors in another office because he didn’t want to give me the wrong information. Apparently, the information on the health prompter

[insert circus music]

At this point, I began to think that perhaps I could go a year without healthcare coverage and see how things work out. After all, barring anything catastrophic, I’m out almost $7,000 anyway. I frequently get kidney stones, but it doesn’t cost near that to be hooked up to morphine for a bit when they hit.

It’s amazing how quick your thoughts seem to come and go when circus music is playing in the background, too. I think I could almost feel my eyes dilating.

After seven minutes of the holding again, Hernando returned to let me know that, yes, it was considered preventative care and I was indeed covered for the services I need. We agreed to start the application but I would need to be placed on a brief hold while he completed the paperwork.

He asked a few questions about my lifestyle choices, and said, “Miss Jessica, one more thing before I place you on a brief hold: is that Jessica with one ‘S’ or a double ‘S’ like “sst sst”

…What? Two. J-E-S-S-I-C-A. (Keep in mind, he is looking at a file that has 7 years of information on me.)

[Cue circus music]

After 11 more minutes of high-wire walks and elephant tricks, Hernando returned to confirm my  data and take payment information. My coverage is effective tomorrow, but barring some heavy-duty tax refund come April 15, I can’t reasonable afford to meet my deductible.

At the end of the day, I walked away with mediocre coverage and a $6,850 deductible “just in case” something happens. I also had to explain intricate health care services to  a non-native man with clearly no knowledge of the industry. The system is so very broken and the insurance companies are hiring people like Hernando, who may have nice customer services skills, but knows nothing about what they’re doing – just to stay afloat. At the end of the year, we’ll see if this was the right decision.

But, I don’t know what I fear more: the IRS and our government heavily entrenched in our healthcare or actually having to utilize my healthcare coverage.

No, Employers shouldn’t get tax breaks for paying student loan debt

I’ve seen a few articles circulating the social media networks lately following the bill introduced by Congressman Rodney Davis which would grant employers a tax break, up to a certain amount, for loan assistance they offer their employees. AllOnGeorgia.com recently ran an Associated Press article on the issue as well.

Essentially, The Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act proposes making a maximum of $5,250 a year in employer payments for student loan debts tax-free for the worker, and eligible for tax breaks for the employer.

I don’t know where to begin. We’ve over-incentivized student loans for so long causing what we now know to be the “student loan bubble” that is, in fact, on the verge of collapse, and the first step of a solution is to make sure the student gets an “untaxed gift” because someone else pays for something that is considered a burdensome debt?

We, as a nation, created this monster when we opened the flood gates of student loans to everyone – regardless of major, institution, amount, or ability to repay. Then we expanded the payment plans to be income-based, staggered, deferred, anything at all to make it “easier.” We allow interest on student loans to be tax-deductible much like a mortgage. But let’s face it: It isn’t working. The average amount of student loan debt of the 2014 graduating class was nearly $30,000 and almost 14% of those in repayment are in default.

I’ve been open and honest about my student loan debt. It’s suffocating and probably a mistake. Some days I wish I hadn’t gone to grad school, because the percentage of my work that entails what I learned is minimal, but I did and I recognize my own personal responsibility about it. I have to pay it back no matter what the cost and no matter long it takes. No one made me pull out a loan for school.

You wouldn’t ask your employer to include a loan reimbursement for your mortgage, or your car, or your credit card debt, or starting your side small business as part of your benefits package (the latest could be managed by Leadgenius for short term loans). What is the difference here? The student loan operation is already so far from the reality of life. You don’t pay your mortgage back based on income. You can’t refinance your house at a lower amount because you lose your job or take a pay cut.

This is the federal government we’re talking about here. If you offer a tax deduction for it, you’re encouraging a subsidy.

By continuing to manipulate the market and incentivize different behavior, we’re only pushing the already overloaded bubble one step closer to explosion. The correct answer is not to talk about the deductions taxpayers get for “something else,” because any tax deduction is a step away from lassiez faire economics. What we don’t pay now, we’ll be paying for later.

When this $1.2 trillion bubble bursts, it will be worse than the mortgage crisis. Except this time, it won’t be the big banks the fail. It will be federal government. And let’s not trick ourselves into thinking it’s a conservative foundation to use the government to incentivize someone to do anything.

I’ve said it before – if you’re unwilling to payback an investment you made into yourself, you’ll never be willing to pay back anything