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 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.

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(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.