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 as part of your benefits package. 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

Let the Klan have their damn road.

The battle between the Georgia Department of Transportation and a north Georgia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan has been raging on for over three years now, usurping valuable resources, time, and money of taxpayers.

It’s made for unusual bedfellows, including legal representation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for…the Klan. While it speaks to the integrity of the ACLU and equitable protection under the law, the criticism has not been spewed sparingly.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years, here’s a quick rundown:

Because of the controversy, the Georgia Department of Transportation has stopped accepting new applications for the ‘Adopt-a-Highway’ program. They are supposedly planning to restructure their policy. If I were them, I would wait to restructure anything until the courts have ruled once and for all.

To me, it seems like the solution is fairly simple. If the problem is the use of tax dollars to provide the sign and print names of organizations and groups that the state doesn’t endorse, then allow the organization to adopt the highway and then have them pay for and install their own sign.

If the GDOT, a state agency, cannot fairly and equitably apply the program policy to all applicants, the program should be suspended indefinitely, any already adopted roads should be revoked, and the signs should be taken down. Maintenance should resume being performed by GDOT.

The First Amendment – and all the others – were crafted with the intention that they would be protected even when it made us uncomfortable. Free speech isn’t always pretty. If the previous ruling is overturned, the Court is essentially saying that the concern over the possibility of hate speech trumps Constitutional rights. The Klan is responsible for indefensible things, but if they are cleaning up trash and erecting a sign, those are not illegal activities. What is the grounds for denial? You also muddy the waters between what an actual chapter is responsible for versus the people participating within that chapter.

The purpose of the program was to bridge the gap where the DOT fell short and allow the community to participate in keeping roads clean. ANYONE from the community should be able to do that – even if we don’t like them. I would imagine if you had the opportunity to get to know everyone in the state who adopted a road, there would be others you didn’t like, too. That isn’t grounds for denial.

This isn’t about the Klan. It’s about the proper role of government. The Klan should be allowed to adopt their stretch of highway.

A Domestic Violence Database? No, thank you.

It’s hard to see any story detailing domestic violence. The pictures, the comments, and the police reports all illustrate a complete violation and misappropriation of trust. It’s difficult to understand. Luckily, the number of organizations dedicated to stopping or slowing domestic violence in our communities is growing – which is beneficial since most of it boils down to the resources that are readily available. Lately, though, there’s been an even greater push to create a database of domestic violence offenders. We’ve seen one at the national level, but what about as organized through the state? What does that entail and what are the unintended consequences?

It’s an interesting concept in and of itself and a demonstration of what we’ve evolved into as a society. Some guy (or girl) asks you out, you say yes, and then head to the desktop to google whether or not they’re on ‘the database.’ How…romantic.

I’ve long battled with the idea of the sex offender database, specifically here in Georgia, because of the ‘catch-all’ nature of it. I wholeheartedly believe the public should have the most access to information as possible – and crimes against persons (excluding minors) are all public information. But our database for sexual offenders is inherently flawed as it is defined in the law. How would a domestic violence database be any different?

  1. Trying to catch those guilty of domestic violence charges will be about as effective as using a hammock to catch water. In Georgia, we call it ‘family violence’ in the Georgia code and it blankets any felony or “offenses of battery, simple battery, simple assault, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass.” Sometimes people are charged with crimes that may be similar to what they did, but not exact. Will you include people who are convicted? Or just charged? Or those who have a report filed against them? Does it have to be a first hand report? What’s the burden of proof?
  2. There is grey area in the law. We’ve seen the unintended consequences of the 17-year-old sleeping with the 16 year-old spending the rest of his life on the sex offender registry. How do we ensure this doesn’t happen with this second database?
  3. Databases create an entirely different class of people. By placing them on a database, we’re essentially saying they are too dangerous for society and we should all ‘watch out.’ If the public is endangered, should those people not still be in prison? And are we declaring that there are absolutely no exceptions and that no one can ever change? Are we also going to place domestic violence offenders on the same playing field as those who commit sexual offenses of a high and aggravated nature?
  4. Who will pay for it? If it’s a nonprofit or third-party organization, the buck stops there. That can’t even be regulated – there is no penalty from making a public record more public. But if it is run by the state, or local agencies, someone has to maintain those records and verify the information provided in the records, which is costly.
  5. It’s hard to say that a database will cut down on the the occurrence of domestic violence. Setting all judgment aside, domestic violence happens for reasons beyond the scope of what a database could ever prevent. Circumstances, internally and externally, make some women more vulnerable and keep many domestic violence victims from leaving. I personally know this to be true.

I am of the belief that we have a moral obligation to weigh who will be harmed in the process of ‘doing good’ and trying to protect victims. The possibility of negative consequences should be addressed before a database is constructed, especially if done by the state, since “fixing” problems is almost impossible. As we’ve already seen, attempting to alter the sex offender registry in any capacity is political suicide.

The idea may seem like a good one, but for now, we should hold off. In the meantime, women (and men) will have to be responsible for types of people they date.

Are the police being properly policed?

When I moved to South Georgia, I decided there wouldn’t be much I would say “no” to. I was going to try new things, keep an open mind, and learn as much as I could about everything. One of those things was participating in the Citizens Police Academy near my town. I joined for many reasons, but one reason in particular was my fascination with how much people in smaller communities love their police officers. Writing for All On Georgia, we frequently share articles about the police department and the sheriff’s office and comments usually never stray from ‘Way to go!’ and ‘Great job, guys!’ I was like a bug to the light on this issue, especially coming from Metro Atlanta where the public-police partnership is basically non-existent.

Personally, I’ve never had a terrible experience with any law enforcement officer. I grew up in a community where the cops talked to kids, came by the neighborhood pool, and talked to you about listening to your parents. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk several courteous officers with a mild sense of humor out of giving me a traffic ticket – or ten. But it’s amazing what the media can do when they have the ability to push an agenda 24/7.

Like most, I was mortified by the story of the DeKalb officers who entered the wrong home and ended up shooting the homeowner and fatally wounding his dog. Like most, my heart aches to see the calls for violence against officers around the nation for no reason other than their employment status. Like most, I have read the news articles, seen the live coverage, and watched on social media as the respect for the thin blue line fizzles into an untouchable pixie dust while all-things-policing have become racially charged and politically motivated. There’s a huge problem between the public and police right now.

361517-officer-frost-injuries-518ee

(Photo: Lansing State Journal)

Just recently, I saw an article out of Michigan go viral. A “well-behaved” teenager was pulled over by an officer for flashing his lights. The article, which included body camera footage, was cluttering my Facebook feed for days, featuring the officer as some sort of animal who yanked a kid from a car, threw his phone into traffic, and emptied his weapon. SEVERAL news articles would have you think that. CNN’s headline read, “Cop kicks teens phone out of hand, shoots 7 times.” HuffingtonPost’s said, “Unarmed Teen Flashed Lights at cop and ended up dead.” The body camera footage might even have you thinking that, too, considering what was released is cut off as soon as the actual scuffle begins, but an independent Google search shows you images of the officer in the hospital, bruised and bloodied. That picture didn’t appear in one viral article, but it isn’t a hoax and certainly changes the dialogue about the incident.

I don’t know the full extent of what happened there. I can only draw conclusions from the information that is available, but it’s getting old watching people draw conclusions from a single source with one issue when in other aspects of life, they’ll trust anyone but the mainstream media. Many of my anti-government friends who question everything else reported by the media are quick to jump to the defense of anyone but the officer when a scuffle emerges.

In the story from Michigan, the teen may have been unarmed, but I’m not sure how that’s relevant in a physical fight. You don’t need a weapon to kill someone and being a police officer doesn’t make you any less of a person. If it were your husband, or son, or father, how long would you want them to wait before fighting for their life? ‘Public servant’ doesn’t translate to ‘public sacrifice.’

Consider this video from Laurens County back in the late 1990’s. The dashcam video shows three and a half minutes of heartwrenching and gruesome footage of a standoff between Deputy Kyle Dinkheller and a deranged veteran who ends up loading a rifle in front of the deputy, charging him, and emptying the magazine – killing Deputy Dinkheller. All of this is on the video. If you watch it, you would stare -dumbfounded- wondering why the deputy didn’t fire sooner.

(WARNING: The video is graphic and horrific in language and content)

It’s difficult to place ourselves in their shoes, and I am glad we hold our public servants to such a high standard of integrity and expertise, but I also know that I am not cut out to be a cop. Are you? I think back to a few weeks ago when my CPA class had to use a gun simulator on a traffic stop that escalated. We were given a gun and had to decide when to ‘use force’ on our aggressor. It was a computer game, essentially, and the ‘perpetrator’ scared the living daylights out of me when he started moving and shaking and whipping his hands in and out of his pockets. I KNEW what was coming on a game and I still reacted by firing all six bullets in my gun. And on my ride-along, we responded to a call in an area that I know that if I lived in it, I would probably walk around with my gun drawn 24/7. So, I ask again…your judgement casts easy, but would your glass house weather the storm if the shoe was on the other foot?

I also have to wonder if the people who are so angry about law enforcement officers have actually had a bad experience themselves, or if they are just living vicariously through stories and victims in the media. These stories are happening – there is no denying the incidents – but is it as often as we are led to believe?

It is almost cliche now to say ‘there are bad people in every industry,’ but it’s true. It’s just not every industry that has open records requests and the media breathing down their neck on a daily basis. When I make a mistake in my job, I fix it and the world keeps spinning. When an accountant doesn’t properly balance a sheet, the world continues turning. When a board of elected officials votes to do something unscrupulous, the world. keeps. turning.

What I’ve found is that when an officer does do something wrong, other officers are quick to point that out or condemn the action. Very few of them are looking to cast the wide net and taint the entire force or industry, if you will. And if you talk to your local officers, you’ll find that most of them don’t look at the world the way the media portrays them to be looking at the world.

This isn’t a defense of the bad ones, but rather a question of whether or not we are fighting the right fight, or just fighting to fight. I don’t know what the answer is. We cannot disarm law enforcement officers and we certainly cannot disarm the media. The difference is that the media comes out unscathed while exacerbating what is a very bad time to be a police officer in the United States. Perhaps the activists who would like to see reform on aspects of policing should save their energy for stories which expressly show wrongdoing, so not only can proper action be taken, but when there is a ‘victory for the public,’ it is not at the expense of the integrity of a movement.

Why Are Conservatives Against Early Release for Drug Offenders?

In a few weeks, the bi-partisan panel put together to assess the drug sentences of thousands of prisoners will release the first 5,500 federal inmates.

The news headlines would have you worried thousands of murderers and rapists will soon return to the streets of our hometowns and utter chaos will ensue. But that simply isn’t the case.

The offenders who are set to be released have been vetted by a judge who weighs whether there is a threat to public safety. Many are non-violent offenders who are serving time for crimes without a victim. Some are serving under mandatory minimums and could be facing decades in prison for simple drug charges that happened in their late teenage years. In many of the cases, however, the average sentence will be cut by a little over two years.

Even those conservatives who do not believe the United States is suffering from the ‘War on Drugs’ can give credit to the fiscally conservative and limited government arguments in favor of releasing many of these inmates. Here are just a few:

  1. It saves taxpayers millions of dollars every year. The cost of incarcerating non-violent offenders is astronomical. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said in 2014 that the average cost of annual incarceration of federal inmates is $30,619.85.
    • For just the 5,500 released in phase 1, consider this:
    • $63,791.35 (avg 25 months of incarceration shaved from sentenced) X 5,500 (No. of inmates) = $350,852,425.
    • It’s estimated that nearly 40,000 inmates could benefit from early release. Just considering the average of 25 months off the sentence, that’s $2,551,654,000.
  2. It makes taxpayers money. Inmates released early are placed on parole or probation, both of which have fines associated with them on a monthly basis. City and state governments both stand to gain financially from those fees. The average is about $100 per month on probation.
  3. Conservatives are supposed to oppose federal control. Aside from trafficking across state lines, why do we have federal drug laws? If conservatives feel that drug laws are absolutely necessary to the degree they are in place today, why at the federal level? Should it not be left up to the state? Shouldn’t each state have the authority to govern their drug laws as they see fit?
    • Remember: Everyone in Georgia who is benefiting from the CBD oil under Haleigh’s HOPE Act is committing a federal offense by bringing it here and possessing it. The State of Georgia simply granted amnesty for those possessing it under Georgia law. Are conservatives for or against that?

Currently, nearly 50% of the U.S. prison population is made up of non-violent drug offenders and as of September 2015, over 200,000 people sat in federal prison and more than 93,000 of them because of drug offenses. Just in federal prison.

Conservatives cannot deny the issue that smacking both taxpayers and the legal system in the face: we’re spending too much where it doesn’t count and we’re allocating resources and responsibilities to the federal government where we shouldn’t be.

Where did our souls go?

Saturday morning I covered the Wiregrass Festival in Reidsville for work and true to form, I got lost leaving to head home. I went east, instead of west, and ended up out on Highway 147 outside Reidsville city limits.

If you’re not familiar with Reidsville, it is home to two of Georgia’s prisons: Georgia State Prison – a maximum security facility and former home to the electric chair for Georgia – and Rogers State Prison – a medium security prison with just under 1,500 male inmates. Both are visible from the highway, but there is nothing to see.

The large white stone sign on Wikipedia is nothing like the real life image. Surrounded by high, sharp fences, the outdoor areas were a dusty brown. The brick was faded and even the sidewalks on the outside were dilapidated. Guard towers in every corner shadowed the buildings and the grounds. The parking spots for the Warden and just about every powerful position below him were vacant, and even though it was a humid 85 degrees outside, the premises just looked cold. It’s nothing like you see in the movies.

It was upsetting and brought tears to my eyes. If it’s this ugly and dingy on the outside, what is it like on the inside? I was upset for the *one* person I personally know to be in there wrongfully. I was upset for everyone who has been in there after a wrongful conviction – or even serving time for a crime without a victim. I was even upset for the ones that are guilty – “the monsters.”

Before we go any further, this isn’t an anti-prison post. I am not a bleeding-heart liberal. I am not anti-punishment. I believe in a justice system – maybe not ours – but I believe we should have one. I think there should be a system of restitution, but as it currently operates, I don’t believe our system is one of reformation. There are dangerous people in the world and laws are in place to handle them. Prison shouldn’t be a cake walk. It shouldn’t be luxurious with high-thread count sheets and delicious foods and personal trainers. It should, however, be used sparingly.

But I want to know when we decided we wanted to forget these people and why we stopped praying for these people? When did we start saying “Hooray!” when someone’s life is changed because they chose not to make good decisions or are incapable of doing so? We all want beautiful communities filled with wonderful people and souls as good as ours. Does prison accomplish that? For some, the punishment probably isn’t nearly harsh enough, for others, it changes the course of their lives forever. Should we revel in that?

Not far from the beautiful sprawling farmland and the quaint downtowns of Small Town America are people we are ignoring as part of our society. We place them out on a county road to pretend it isn’t happening. No one has to see it. No one has to hear it. No one has to think about it.  And we do it in the name of justice. On a Saturday, the small parking lot sits half empty because even the family members of some of these inmates have forgotten them.

Yes, the Bible tells us “an eye for an eye, but it also tells us much about our enemies – and many consider the prison population to be our enemies, across the board terrible. In Acts 7: 60 – And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” and Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

It didn’t used to be like this. We’ve always believed in punishment, yes, but we didn’t find it heartwarming or rewarding to watch someone be locked away. What’s changed? Surprisingly, it’s society – not the victims. If you turn on the television, forgiveness and compassion are overflowing. The families of the victims of the Charleston Church shooting were publicly offering forgiveness within days of the massacre and that doesn’t seem to be uncommon. It’s us – the regular people – that are the problem.

The criminal justice system will not see any reform until perception changes on the outside – and that starts with you and me. It’s interesting: the description of Georgia State Prison says renovations and expansions have taken place because of the “growing crime rate,” but the only thing that’s grown is the number of things we’ve made punishable by prison time. We’ve allowed that.

There will always be terrible people in this world and many of them belong in prison for their crimes. No one can deny that. But just because they belong there doesn’t mean we should banish them from our hearts and minds forever. That’s what leads to social injustice…for everyone.

Military Pension Tax Exemptions a Terrible Idea

Freshman legislator Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) announced earlier this week that he plans to introduce a bill that will exempt military exemptions from Georgia income tax. According to Walter Jones, Petrea “said he would pay for his plan by boosting the tax on cigarettes 28 cents per pack, leaving the 65-cent total below the national average of $1.60. That shouldn’t put Georgia retailers at a disadvantage, but it would help discourage some youngsters from taking up smoking and developing an unhealthy habit.”

So, not only will this bill help veterans and help attract retiring veterans to Georgia, it’s going to help the children as well. Great.

As a purist, I am against any more income tax exemptions or sales tax exemptions. And I am againsteye roll every single one we have on the books. Exemptions don’t provide for limited government – they actually make for more government. “Exemption” essentially means special treatment, and while I firmly believe our veterans should always be our first priority, this is an instance where the “solution” either needs to be applied broadly or not at all.

The tax code in Georgia is already overflowing with exemptions. Pipe organ sales. Mercedes-Benz. Film industry tax credits. They all serve a purpose at some point, but never sunset and then the tax code just complicates more and more and more.

The worst part about this is that no one in their right mind will have the ability to vote NO unless they want to see a primary opponent sending mail pieces claiming they ‘voted against veterans.’ The horror of principles of limited government.

The logic is circular and only perpetuates a problem we continue to face every cycle.

  1. Man introduces feel-good tax exemptions for a class of people
  2. Exemption reduces revenue
  3. Budget doesn’t get reduced
  4. Shortfall
  5. Need more revenue
  6. Create new tax
  7. Complicate tax code

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I am not advocating for the Georgia General Assembly to continue to raise taxes, and I am certainly not pushing for our veterans to be punished. But sin taxes cannot be our fallback, unless the plan is to have alcohol selling for $120 a liter and pack of cigarettes to be priced at a mere $25/pack.

All this will do is create more problems somewhere else on down the line. But on a positive note, it will give anyone who voted for the $900 million tax increase for transportation a little boost with constituents.