Author: eadams13

Eric is a music-obsessed immigration attorney who loves to argue about politics.

Abrams v. Kemp – 2018 Georgia Governor’s Race

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The 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election is upon us, with voting to conclude on November 6, 2018. Stacey Abrams, the democrats’ nominee, faces off against Brian Kemp, the republicans’ nominee. Here, I hope to condense information about the race, the candidates, their views, and the issues facing Georgia voters this year.

Please note that, although I adhere to general ethics rules, I am not a journalist. I have tried to make this article fair and accurate, but I have biases, and this year they tip in favor of Abrams.

I tried to provide reliable evidence and sources to support everything stated in the article. A lot of it comes from the candidates’ own websites, as well as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I highly recommend subscribing to the AJC (right now for only 99 cents a month), because it is the best local news source for Georgia. By subscribing, you’ll support local journalism, avoid the national mainstream outlets, and learn about local issues. In general, local politics matter more to our daily lives than national politics.

The article is broken down into two main parts. The first is devoted to Abrams. The second to Kemp. I’ll provide a biography of each and then move on to the issues.

Here’s a song for listening while you read!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1XKSV7wf2Ikc5WUudHfuCl

Overview

I’ll lay out my opinions and biases up front. After reading interviews with the candidates, reviewing their biographies, and checking out their policy preferences and the decisions they made in their roles as public officials, I have concluded that Abrams is, by and far, the better candidate. I believe this is true whether you are conservative or liberal. God willing and the creek don’t rise, she’ll have my vote in November.

Stacey Abrams presents more specific policy proposals than Brian Kemp. Her website is packed with essays and plans supporting her proposals. She focuses mostly on business growth, government accountability, education, and military service members. She avoids culture war topics, for the most part. She supports LGBTQ+ protections, but it’s more a human rights argument than a culture war argument. She calls her vision for Georgia a “pragmatic” one. Her resume is very impressive. Her parents are both ministers who attended Emory University. She grew up lower-middle-class and became the valedictorian of her high school, going on to get a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies (including political science and economics), a master’s in public affairs, and a law degree from Yale. She was the Minority Leader for the Democratic Party in the Georgia House of Representatives, and at one point served as the deputy city attorney for Atlanta. She worked as a private tax attorney in Atlanta, too. She knows fiscal policy, politics, and economic policy. She speaks eloquently and puts policy above politics. She worked with republicans throughout her many years in Georgia politics and has a reputation as the same type of pragmatist she claims to be. That hurt her with some democrats in the primary, because they see her as too willing to reach across the aisle. It’s certainly a good trait for a public official.

Kemp, sadly, has gone the way of the national Republican Party, prioritizing fear-mongering over policymaking. He would rather point a gun at a teenager to stir up controversy than try to talk about policy proposals surrounding our gun laws. He doesn’t even try to make a rational argument for more lenient gun laws, in fact. He frequently brings up non-existent immigration issues (that he wouldn’t even have any control over as the governor of a non-border state) while failing to provide anything resembling a detailed outline for how to improve our state. He has no vision, except what he calls a “conservative” vision. While he might not have been a caricature of a republican at one time, unfortunately that is what he has become.

Kemp hopes to scapegoat his way into office. He may succeed, and Georgians will be worse off because of it. We have the choice between one candidate who is dedicated to putting aside controversial, yet largely irrelevant, culture war issues, in favor of working to find solutions to the problems facing our great state, and another who does quite the opposite. I hope you’ll vote for Abrams. I think that a strong defeat of the nonsense politics that Kemp has adopted will be a wakeup call for Georgia republicans, so they can get back to focusing on job growth and stop trying to make boogeymen to scare up support. And I think that Abrams will work smarter and harder than him, and we will benefit greatly.

Here’s another song!

Stacey Abrams for Governor

Abrams’ campaign website gives a brief introduction to her overarching vision for Georgia, stating that every “Georgian deserves the freedom and opportunity to thrive, but too many are being left behind or left out.” The site is then broken down into various issues, some of which overlap, so I will combine them for brevity’s sake:

  1. Education. She plans to do this with her “Bold Action for a Brighter Future Plan” to extend access to child care programs and pre-K, as well as improving the livelihoods of teachers and after-school programs.
  2. Government Ethics. She plans to do this by publishing her daily schedule to ensure that she is spending taxpayer funds appropriately, holding listening sessions in each congressional district during her first year as governor, and appointing a director of constituent services to link citizen concerns and requests with her administration, while also creating a “performance dashboard” to allow Georgians to see how we measure up to other states in a variety of subjects, including education, healthcare, transportation, and financial management.
  3. Voting Rights. She plans to do this by fighting voter suppression tactics and expanding access to the voting ballot, while hoping to end the cash bail system and decriminalizing traffic offenses and possession of small amounts of marijuana.
  4. Criminal Justice Reform. She plans to do this with her “Justice for Georgia” criminal justice reform proposal to improve court, jail, and prison sentences and lower incarceration rates and reduce recidivism.
  5. LGBTQ+ Rights. She plans to do this by supporting marriage equality and comprehensive workplace protections to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  6. Economics and Business. She plans to do this with her “Georgia Economic Mobility Plan” and “Georgia’s Advanced Energy Jobs Plan,” and she wants keep Georgia “Number 1” for business and living, touting her “multiple good ratings from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, including an ‘A’ rating from the Chamber and the ‘Friend of Labor’ award in the same year.”
  7. Military and Veterans. She plans to help the estimated 700,000 veterans and more than 120,000 active-duty military members in Georgia by proposing a 6-point plan to protect Georgia veterans and military families from predatory lending, poverty, and healthcare issues, while prioritizing their financial education and economic mobility through supporting incentives for businesses to hire veterans and expanding mental health and substance abuse treatment to them.
  8. Health and Disabilities. She plans to do this by providing services and assistance to persons with disabilities and children in kinship care (being raised by grandparents or other non-parental relatives).

Biography:

Stacey Abrams is one of six siblings, originally from Mississippi, but her family moved to Decatur, Georgia when she was young. Her parents were Methodist ministers. She was valedictorian of her high school. She got a bachelor’s degree in political science, economics, and sociology from Spelman College in Atlanta. She received her master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin. She received her law degree from Yale. She is also a successful romance novelist who writes under the pen name Selena Montgomery.

Abrams worked as a tax attorney in Atlanta, focusing on healthcare and public finance. She was the deputy city attorney for Atlanta in 2002. She was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2007, where she became the Minority Leader.

Gaffes and Scandals:

Abrams has been criticized for working with Georgia Gov. Deal while she was in the Georgia legislature to reform the HOPE Scholarship Program, wherein they sought to decrease the scholarship amount and fund a 1% low-interest loan program.

She owes more than $200,000 in debt due, at least in part, to student loans and family troubles. Roughly $50,000 of that debt is in the form of back taxes, while about $170,000 is in credit card and student loan debt. She has been fairly open about this, and she attributes some of the problem to the fact that she got a lot of degrees, including one from Yale, despite having parents who are both ministers and do not earn very much money. Her brother has struggled with addiction and has been in-and-out of jail, and Abrams says that she has had to help him and her family out, financially, adding to her troubles.

Traffic and Transportation:

Abrams supports expanding infrastructure projects, along with what she claims is the need for a “statewide approach” to transportation issues. Georgia has long withheld state funds from Atlanta, despite the fact that the city is the capital and also the economic hub of the state. The state budget is padded heavily by income generated from the city, but rural areas, understandably, don’t want to use state funds to focus on one particular region. However, they’re happy to reap the benefits from Atlanta’s booming economy, and there are good arguments in favor of bringing in state funding to expand public transit and roadwork projects (like almost every other major city receives from it’s state budget). Abrams appears to support using state funds to help unclog the Atlanta streets.

Business and Taxes:

Amazon still lists Georgia as one of the finalist locations for a second headquarters, and Georgia’s current Governor Nathan Deal has provided a huge incentive package to the online shopping giant. Some are skeptical about the alleged benefits of bringing Amazon to Georgia, especially given that $1 billion in tax breaks have been floated to seal the deal, while others think that the influx of an estimated 50,000 new jobs would help the state grow enough to outpace taxpayers’ investment.

Abrams has called for a “smart combination of tax incentives and purposeful investment” in order to bring Amazon into Georgia, comparing the push for Amazon to Georgia’s film tax credit, which made Georgia the Hollywood of the South. However, she urged caution on the bid, stating that while the prospect of being Amazon’s second headquarters is “wonderful,” lawmakers should make sure that the jobs pay well and that “communities around them benefit from those investments.”

She proposed her “Georgia Economic Mobility Plan,” which she argues would help Georgians “keep more money” in their wallets through an Earned Income Tax Credit. She advocates for a “Cradle to Career Savings Program” to encourage families to invest in savings and credit-building through financial literacy programs.

Abrams proposed her “Georgia’s Advanced Energy Jobs Plan” to expand advanced energy jobs, which she claims is “under-utilized” as a source of economic growth for “every county in Georgia.” This doesn’t include any specific policy proposals. It’s pretty vague.

She provides a detailed outline of what she finds important for a thriving Georgia economy. She wants to grow the film industry and our export business through an expansion of our ports, especially near Savannah. She co-founded “NOWaccount” to help “deploy capital to underserved businesses who need small cap investment to sustain or expand.” She wants to provide assistance to “small businesses and micro businesses” to help them navigate “existing incentives and contract opportunities.”

Abrams hopes to “invest in broadband for affordable, high speed internet access that connects rural Georgia with marketplaces and expands opportunities for students.”

She claims that she will “support our agricultural sector through research and training, technological development and innovations, and state initiatives” like the Department of Agriculture’s “20/20 program,” which seeks to ensure that at least 20% of school meals are Georgia-grown.

Crime:

Abrams proposes her “Justice for Georgia: A Plan for Fairness and Community Safety” program, which is a 5-point criminal justice reform proposal. She wants to eliminate the “cash bail” program and increase pre-trial diversion programs to keep nonviolent offenders out of our jails. This would allow us to cut spending while helping people stay at home with their families and keep their jobs. She also wants to remove criminal penalties for minor traffic offenses and simple marijuana possession, and, instead, to focus on civil penalties for these types of crimes, which would also help people stay out of jail and off the criminal record books, while putting more money into the court systems to increase efficiency.

She wants to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 and to continue the “Juvenile Justice Incentive Grant Program.”

Abrams wants to encourage what she calls “effective community policing” through “engagement with community members to proactively identify and address issues that impact the quality of life in neighborhoods.” She wants to “further assist law enforcement in obtaining the resources – including training and data-driven solutions – they need to protect the communities in which they serve.”

At no point in any of her interviews did she try to fear-monger or scapegoat. She recognizes that we do have crime in the state, but she refrains from trying to scare people into supporting her. This is exactly the kind of approach we need on crime. It’s not our main problem in Georgia. We’re a relatively safe place to live, all in all. But it’s one that should be solved with a cool head and an eye for solutions that work, not just ones that make us feel like we’re “tough on crime.”

Culture and Religion:

Abrams frequently talks about equality and fairness, especially in the labor market. She supports workplace equality for all, including LGBTQ+ persons, to protect them against discrimination in hiring and retention in employment. However, she mostly shies away from hot-button culture war topics, choosing instead to focus on ways to grow our state’s economy and make it a better place to live.

Immigration:

Abrams supports allowing DREAMers (immigrants who were brought to America as children and who don’t have criminal convictions but want to go to school) to pursue their educational goals. She wrote an open letter to Georgia’s immigrant community, stating that her “faith demands that [she] speak up for the voiceless and the vulnerable – that a soul finds rest only by doing the most for the ‘least of these.'” She says that her “soul rests with those who have made Georgia home – those who took the original promise of the Statue of Liberty.” She decries the “anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions” of the current presidential administration, which she calls “cruel” and “inhumane.”

She avoids discussing policy matters on immigration, which makes sense, because Georgia is a state, not a federal entity, and it is not even a border state.

Healthcare:

Abrams claims that Georgia’s “healthcare system is largely governmentally based,” which means that it “heavily relies on federal funding to maintain its capacity.” She states that we must “pursue expansion of Medicaid as both a stabilization and growth model” for healthcare. She supports expanding “telemedicine to support our rural health infrastructure, maternal health initiatives to lower our unconscionable maternal mortality rate, public health initiatives to reduce gun violence, and recruitment efforts among rural areas and communities of color,” among “other” initiatives. However, she doesn’t elaborate in the essay she provides on her website.

She wants especially to help active-duty military and veterans with mental healthcare problems and substance abuse by expanding Medicaid to increase access to healthcare and treatment programs for veterans who are eligible for, but not using, existing Veteran’s Affairs programs.

Education:

Abrams proposes her “Bold Action for a Brighter Future Plan,” which seeks to expand access to “high-quality child care programs, ensure affordable options for children ages 0-3, increase access to pre-K, improve the livelihoods of teachers and expand statewide access to after-school programs.” She claims that nearly 500,000 Georgia children “under the age of six have both parents in the labor force,” with inadequate access to proper childcare. She also says that the average cost of infant care in Georgia is “almost $7,700 annually – more than average in-state public college tuition – and these costs are rising.” She notes that children, particularly in rural communities, live in “educational care deserts.”

To resolve these childcare issues, she wants to eliminate “tax loopholes as well as the $58 million tax handout that diverts public dollars to private K-12 schools.”

Abrams has a 3-point plan involving investment in early childcare and learning, investing in K-12 education, and expanding opportunities beyond high school. This plan is fleshed-out in more detail in the link immediately above. In general, she states that she wants to increase support for “teacher recruitment, student transportation, AP course offerings, 4-H youth development, a strengthened library system, and after-school initiatives.” She supports smaller class sizes and less high-stakes testing, which diminish teachers’ abilities to connect with and impact their students’ outcomes. She also supports increasing salaries for teachers and budgets for schools.

As for higher education, Abrams hopes to reduce student debt by expanding the HOPE scholarship with HOPE 2.0, which is a need-based expansion for less wealthy students. She also wants to restore “tuition-free technical certificates and diplomas for students with a 2.0 GPA.” She calls for the creation of a “Cradle to Career Savings Program” that would create a savings account for children at birth to be used for higher education. She supports a “Student Loan Bill of Rights” to “ensure consumer protections” like are being implemented in other states, which she cites in that proposal. She also supports free SAT/ACT testing statewide, and wants to find a way to use “data-supported best practices” to help schools that find solutions to certain issues to be able to share those solutions with other schools.

She supports current-Governor Nathan Deal’s “Complete College Georgia” program as well as the “Momentum Year” program that offers grants for initiatives that help first-year students stay on a path to graduating on time.

Voting Rights:

Abrams founded the nonprofit New Georgia Project to help more than 200,000 Georgians register to vote. She wants to provide “automatic voter registration when voters interact with state agencies, public colleges, universities, and technical colleges,” find a way to allow online voter registration for everyone, establish same-day voter registration, and make sure that polling places are allocated fairly. She wants to expand early voting and voting on Election Day. She also wants to use “secure ballots, including, at a minimum, ensuring a paper trail for votes cast to increase accuracy, integrity, security, and confidence in our elections.” She claims that Georgia is “one of only a few states that does not provide a paper trail for voting,” which could expose our system to corruption.

She also wants to veto gerrymandered districts, which sounds good in theory, but which is vague and, probably, impossible. It’s hard to tell what she means by this, but I doubt she means anything.

Here’s your last song!

Brian Kemp for Governor

Kemp’s campaign website lists a “4 Point Plan to Put Georgia First.”

  1. Economics and Business. He plans to do this by reducing “ridiculous regulations and burdensome mandates,” working “with business people – not bureaucrats – to cut red tape,” and to stand firm “against healthcare reform that punishes small businesses.”
  2. Reform Government. He plans to do this by implementing a “state spending cap that adjusts with populations and inflation,” determine return-on-investment on state programs and tax incentives, and eliminating “wasteful programs, tax incentives” and bureaucracy.
  3. Help Rural Georgia. He plans to do this by giving “rural communities the same opportunities as the rest of Georgia,” bringing “high-speed internet to rural Georgia,” promoting “economic development and investment across the entire state,” and supporting agribusiness, farmers and small town startups.
  4. Put Georgia First. He plans to do this by defunding “sanctuary cities and campuses,” stopping “taxpayer funded subsidies for illegal immigrants,” protecting life, defending the 2nd Amendment, tracking and deporting criminal aliens, stopping gangs, reforming education and adoption, standing with people of faith, and putting the needs of hardworking Georgians ahead of special interests.

Biography:

Brian Kemp is from Athens, Georgia and is married with 3 daughters. He has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture science from the University of Georgia. He’s an Episcopalian. He was a Georgia State Senator for 4 years, and has been the Georgia Secretary of State since 2010.

He frequently calls himself a “small business owner,” which appears to refer to various investments in agriculture, financial services, and real estate management, although there is not much information about it online. It is not to be confused with Kemp Properties, a property management company from Athens owned by another man named Brian Kemp.

Gaffes and Scandals:

Kemp does not believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite the conclusions made by U.S. intelligence agencies, and Georgia was one of only two states that did not accept federal assistance to secure its election-related systems. No major problems have been reported from Georgia during that election, although apparently Russia did try to attack the state voting system.

Kemp’s tenure as Secretary of State oversaw a giant scandal involving over 7.5 million voter records being compromised due to improper practices. In that instance, he supported federal involvement from the FBI, which seems inconsistent with his views about our election system’s integrity, as well as his frequent calls to increase security into our election system by requiring voter IDs, while admitting that there isn’t any evidence of a problem that the IDs would solve.

Kemp was Secretary of State during a Georgia data security breach that saw over 6 million Georgians’ Social Security numbers and other information given to the public, costing Georgia taxpayers over $1.2 million.  He does not appear to have been at fault or directly involved in any way.

Various complaints and allegations have been made about Kemp, in his role as Secretary of State, failing to properly investigate complaints into businesses that donated heavily to his campaign for governor. Kemp did not investigate numerous sexual harassment allegations against two Massage Envy clinics owned by Dr. Patrick Greco, who hosted a fundraising gala for Kemp’s campaign for governor. There has been no finding of fraud or wrongdoing on his part.

Although Kemp returned donations given by businesses that he regulated, he appears to have kept the donations from the individuals running those businesses, setting up a potential, albeit not certain, conflict of interest. For example, Kemp refunded over $6,000 to Williams and Assoc. Land Planners, but he kept over $10,000 from J. Williams Investments, which has the same address and registered agent, Jon Williams. There has been no finding of fraud or wrongdoing on his part, but I believe an ethics investigation is underway.

Traffic and Transportation:

Kemp notes that traffic congestion is a problem in Atlanta, but not in most areas of Georgia, and he believes that people “in Atlanta clearly will pay for congestion relief,” but he is not “so sure that people outside of Atlanta will.” He appears to side-step the question of whether state funds should be used to assist in Atlanta’s traffic congestion problems, considered one of the worst in the country, and instead talks about private sector innovation. He dismisses expanding MARTA and refocuses the conversation toward the “hyperloop.”

Traffic congestion is a serious problem in Atlanta. The city is the heartbeat and economic hub of the state. Without the tax revenue generated by Atlanta, the rest of the state would be in awful shape. It’s time that the rest of Georgia pitch in to help with the congestion that results from the income that benefits them, just like almost every other state does for their economic hubs. Kemp wouldn’t help the state through that, and we are likely to lose future business opportunities, including Amazon, without improvements.

Business and Taxes:

Amazon still lists Georgia as one of the finalist locations for a second headquarters, and Georgia’s current Governor Nathan Deal has provided a huge incentive package to the online shopping giant. Some are skeptical about the alleged benefits of bringing Amazon to Georgia, especially given that $1 billion in tax breaks have been floated to seal the deal, while others think that the influx of an estimated 50,000 new jobs would help the state grow enough to outpace taxpayers’ investment.

Kemp has publicly vowed to stay out of the courting of Amazon and to allow Gov. Deal to handle the negotiations, at least until the governor’s race concludes and the new governor takes over the reins. This seems to be respectful and wise.

However, Kemp has weighed in lightly on the subject of Amazon, stating that he will not rule out giant tax breaks for Amazon, so long as he can review every tax incentive and repeal those that don’t make economic sense. He also states on his campaign website that he wants to couple “a robust incentive package that benefits hardworking Georgians with a proven track record of pro-business government” in order to bring Amazon to Georgia “without having to compromise her values or sell-out to the special interests.” He fails to explain what any of this means or provide examples.

Kemp acknowledged that Georgia democrats would not vote against business friendly legislation, so it’s hard to see what benefit he would add, from a business perspective, over Abrams.

He talks frequently about cutting government “red tape” and making Georgia #1 for small business through “regulatory reform, targeted economic development, and enhanced connectivity.” He complains about the extensive business licensing requirements in the state, which do seem to be burdensome.

Kemp decries “special interests [that] are getting tax cuts while hardworking folks are stuck paying the bill,” but notes that the state’s film tax credit is “thoroughly vetted.”

He calls for an elimination of the “sales tax on high speed internet equipment for rural counties,” among other tax incentives to get the private sector involved, rather than “expanding government,” although he fails to give any specific examples of what that means. Notably, he and Abrams seem to have similar ideas on this point.

Kemp wants to make UGA the #1 agriculture school in the country and to create an Agricultural Workforce Development Program through Georgia’s technical college system to train future farmers and leaders.

Crime:

Kemp wants to create a new “criminal alien database” in Georgia to track undocumented immigrants who have broken the law, despite the fact that a similar proposal was struck down recently based on concerns about cost and effect, as well as constitutional issues. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, along with an army of Georgia judges, attorneys, accountants, and advocates, helped defeat Georgia SB 452 because it would create an unworkable system that would undoubtedly lead to Fourth Amendment violations and would likely cost over $6 million per year to implement, while leading to no measurable gains for Georgia residents.

He worries about gangs quite a bit, claiming that there are over 1.4 million gang members in America. He also claims that there are 127 gangs in Atlanta with over 40,000 members who cause “more than 50% of the region’s violent crime.” Lagrange “boasts 700 gang members and Savannah has nearly 2,000.” He says that “no one is safe from their wrath.”

Kemp wants to setup a “public awareness campaign to inform citizens of gang activity … and provide public safety resources,” as well as to allow the Attorney General’s office to “prosecute gang cases multi-jurisdictionally” and provide “funding for a specific unit at the state level.”

This is, simply put, scaremongering. I’ve lived in Georgia for 30 years and have never heard anyone (except a prosecutor assigned to gangs) complain about the gang problem, and I have lived in downtown Atlanta, East Atlanta, the westside, and Little Five for many years.

Culture and Religion:

Kemp supports the so-called “religious liberty” style bills that come up regularly in Georgia and across the country. The bills are controversial, with some people claiming that they would allow businesses to discriminate under the false-pretense of “religious” beliefs, while others claim that they ensure that persons can practice their religions freely in the state. There are also concerns about these bills dissuading investment in the state, like what happened in North Carolina with its anti-transgender bathroom bill, which allegedly cost the state more than $3.7 billion in business over a decade.

Georgia’s current Gov. Deal has vetoed religious liberty bills in the past, most recently in 2016, in large part because of it’s potentially negative impact on business investment.

I’ve never heard of a business owner in Georgia being incapable of practicing their religion, so I don’t see the point of such a bill. It mostly appears to be something to get votes, despite having no substance, while running the risk that it would create opportunities for further discrimination against vulnerable populations.

Kemp supports a “tax-free holiday for gun buyers,” although he doesn’t explain why. Despite growing up surrounded by guns, gun owners, hunters, and gun enthusiasts, I’ve never heard anyone complain about needing a tax-free holiday to buy more guns. This seems like a truly stupid idea.

Immigration:

Kemp approved and participated in an advertisement stating that he would personally drive around in a truck to “round up illegals,” which he presumably would not do under any circumstances. He has a flair for the absurd and offensive.

Kemp frequently talks about government policies that prioritize “illegal” immigrants over our own citizens, despite the fact that there are absolutely no such policies in existence, which shows his intention to use fear and prejudice to turnout the vote. Specifically, he says we must “cut off taxpayer-funded benefits like free healthcare for illegal interests,” although no such program exists. The link on his campaign website simply redirects back to the issues page, creating a never-ending loop of nonsense.

He says that so-called “sanctuary cities are dangerous, unlawful, and defy our Georgia values.” However, he does not provide any examples, and I could not find any examples of problems in our state.

Although he is running to be governor of a state, which has no federal oversight or involvement and is not even a border state, he decided to devote an entire page to federal immigration policies. He claims we need a “border wall” and that we should “deport criminal illegal immigrants from our jails and from sanctuary cities.” He supports the RAISE ACT and efforts to reform the H-2A visa program to provide a labor force for Georgia farmers. That would allow Georgia agri-businesses to hire foreign workers at higher rates than is currently allowed. He wants to end DACA (the program that allows immigrants – sometimes called DREAMers – without criminal histories who were brought here as young children to remain in the country without fear of deportation, unless they are convicted of crimes), although he doesn’t explain why.

We have a lot of immigrants in our state. They already face discrimination. Why someone who calls himself a “Christian” would want to use them as scapegoats to rile people up is beyond me. If he believes we have an immigration problem in the state, then tell it to our thriving economy and businesses and low crimes rates. But, still, if he thought it was a problem, he could make his case. He fails to do that. He ignores the fact that we have the toughest immigration court in the country, which deports thousands of people every year, and that we do not have an immigrant crime problem here. He chooses to focus almost all of his energy on this topic, despite the fact that it’s not of any significant concern to Georgians – except super racists.

Healthcare:

Kemp claims that “any noncitizen can walk into health care facilities and not pay a single dime and get services, and then we have Georgians – working Georgians – that are out there that are not able to get good health care or it’s costing a fortune.” He never gives a single example of such a policy, but, presumably, he’s referencing emergency rooms, which service everyone equally, and which he cannot do anything about as governor. I’m honestly at a loss for what he is talking about here.

He wants to grow “tele-medicine services through the expansion of high speed internet,” which appears to mean that he wants to improve internet. He also wants to “end the stranglehold of Obamacare” in favor of “Georgia-focused, free-market based healthcare reform,” although he doesn’t give more detail than that.

Education:

Kemp wants to double “SSO private school Scholarship Tax Credits” and “promote teaching in rural settings,” which appears to be meaningless.

He supports Gov. Deal’s “efforts to expand the HOPE Career Grant Program” in order to include “aviation, construction, logistics, automotive technology, and electrical line work.” He also seeks to add “additional fields to meet workforce needs in agri-business, forestry, and ag-tech.”

He wants to “reduce the number and impact of standardized tests by adopting the federal testing minimum allowed.” He and Abrams seem to agree on this point.

Kemp also hopes to help teachers by “reducing paperwork, unpaid duties, [and] micromanagement so teachers can actually teach.” This sounds like a good idea, although it’s vague, but Abrams has proposed something similar, so they appear to be on the same page, at least here.

Voting Rights:

Kemp has been accused of engaging in voter suppression tactics during his time as Secretary of State. He denies those charges, saying that he wants to make it “easy to vote but hard to cheat.” However, he supports very strict voter ID laws in order to prevent the threat of voter fraud, despite admitting repeatedly that there are no instances of illegal votes in Georgia. Oddly, he wants to require voter ID cards to solve a problem he admits doesn’t exist, but he refuses to acknowledge problems facing our voting system – which does not allow a paper trail to help secure the electronic system – despite that being a real concern.

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Year of Our Lord (2018)

Behold!

My best-of playlist is being released early in the year, so that you lot can follow and comment on it in real time. I won’t list my top 10 albums until year’s end, but at least you’ll have some tasty new tracks to jam all year long.

You’re all blessed to have me providing this valuable public service. I will take payment in whatever form you can provide.

 

 

 

Year of Our Lord (2017)

Behold! My definitive list of the year’s best releases.

I’ve selected one representative track from each album I found noteworthy for the year. It’s a long list, for sure, but there were lots of great albums released in 2017. The first 10 tracks represent my top 10 favorite albums of the year, alphabetically by artist. The remainder of the list is good, too.

Enjoy responsibly.

 

 

November 7, 2017 Atlanta Election Guide

I recently had a friend ask me some questions about the upcoming elections in Atlanta this year, and I have to admit, I didn’t have a lot of answers. So, I found some answers. Here’s your general overview of the 2017 Atlanta elections.

There are four main sets of elections for Atlantans on November 7, 2017:

  1. Mayoral election
  2. City Council elections
  3. City Judge elections
  4. Board of Education elections

To understand these elections, you need to have a basic understanding of how the government of the city of Atlanta works.

The mayor is the top executive branch member of Atlanta’s city government (like the president). Everybody who lives in the city of Atlanta votes on the mayor. The mayor is elected at-large, you might say. The current mayor, Kasim Reed, cannot run for reelection, because mayors are limited by law to serve only 2 terms, and he’s already used up his 2 terms. So, it’s an open race between all parties, with no incumbent.

The city councilmembers are the legislature (like congresspersons). The city council is a bit confusing. The city council website is a good resource for understanding who the councilmembers are, and they offer a pretty concise explanation of how it all works here. Basically, there are 15 councilmembers, and 1 council president (so 16 total). 12 councilmembers are elected by district, meaning that where you live determines which district you’re in and, therefore, which district you vote in. 3 members are elected at-large for “post” positions, and the 1 council president is also elected at-large, meaning that all Atlantans vote on those seats, regardless of where you live in the city limits. To illustrate, I’m in District 6, so I’ll be voting for the 6th District councilmember, the 3 post positions, and the 1 council president position (so 4 total council positions). You can find your district by entering your address here. To answer the question of who is running, you really need to just focus on your district and ignore the other districts, because it can be confusing. Alex Wan is the councilmember for the 6th District, but he’s not running for reelection of the 6th, since instead he is running for city council president. That’s also true for some of the other sitting councilmembers.

The judges are obviously in charge of judging things, and they do this for the Municipal Court of Atlanta.

The Board of Education deals with Atlanta Public Schools. Here’s their website, which explains this stuff. There are 9 total board members. 6 are elected by district depending on where you live, and 3 are elected at-large by all Atlantans. To illustrate, I’m in District 3, so I’ll vote for the 3rd District board member and the 3 at-large members. You can find your district here.

As for the candidates, the AJC has a solid write-up, which can be found here.

To find your polling place, go here.

The Great Debate: A Game Show

The Great Debate Game Show

Tagline: live gameshow where two contestants debate over a hot topic of the times.

Layout:

  • One person for each side of the debate.
  • Each side has two other people in his/her “dugout” whom they can call on for advice; thus, each side has a total of three people: one speaker and two supporters.
  • One moderator.
  • A panel of three judges, separate from the moderator.
  • Each side will have a microphone, and when it is that side’s turn to speak, the other side’s microphone will be silenced to prevent interruption.
  • Eight Sections: (1) The Introduction; (2) The Facts; (3) The Positions; (4) The Main Argument; (5) The Regrouping; (6) Addition of Facts; (7) The Closing Statements; (8) The Judges’ Results.
  • Each side will obtain a Twitter handle to receive input from the audience at large; e.g. in an abortion debate, the pro-abortion side will get @greatdebateproabortion or something like that, so that they can get assistance from the crowd, if they so choose, during The Regrouping round.
  • The Twitter handles will not be announced until The Introduction.

First Round: The Introduction

  • The purpose of this round is to introduce the game and everyone involved.
  • The moderator introduces him/herself, the premise of the game, the rules, the debaters and their teams, and the judges.
  • The moderator will announce the Twitter handles for each side so that the audience can participate in anticipation of The Regrouping round.

Second Round: The Facts

  • The purpose of this round is to do away with any waste in the debate scheme, so that each side does not begin arguing one point, only to find that the other side already concurs.
  • Each contestant takes turns submitting incontrovertible facts that both sides agree on for the remainder of the debate; e.g. in an abortion debate, both sides may concede that killing a human life is wrong, but they may not agree on what “life” or “human” mean, or they may agree that abortion during the third trimester is wrong, but not on whether abortion during the second trimester is wrong.
  • The facts will be used throughout the game to stop any argument that controverts those facts.
  • The facts should be simple and easily articulated.
  • There should be some limit; e.g. 10 facts submitted per side.
  • Any fact may be disputed by the other side, at which point the moderator will decide, subject to an override by a majority of the judges.
  • If a fact is overridden by either the moderator or the panel of judges, the side who submitted the fact gets a redo, capped at 2 overrides; e.g. if Side A has 2 “facts” overridden, she/he forfeits the number of overridden facts going forward; e.g. if Side A submits 3 facts that are overridden, then ultimately Side A only gets to submit 8 facts (10 total facts minus 1 override); e.g. if Side A submits 2 facts that are overridden, then Side A gets 10 total facts submitted.
  • Once the facts are totaled up, the moderator will restate them and they will be numbered and placed on the board.

Third Round: The Positions

  • The purpose of this round is to clarify what each side will be arguing, and to dispel with any confusion about what will be debated.
  • Each side gets to submit a brief introduction to his/her position.
  • The positions should be short and to the point, articulating the overarching argument to be made; e.g. in a debate over abortion, one side would state his opposition to abortion after the first trimester, while the other side would state her opposition to restricting abortion before the second trimester.
  • Once the positions are stated, the moderator will restate the positions succinctly, with each side getting a chance to clear up his/her position if needed, at which point the moderator will then restate the position clearly, to ensure that everyone understands the crux of each position.

Fourth Round: The Main Argument

  • The purpose of this round is to present the heart of the debate and allow each side an opportunity to clarify his/her position and any support for that position, as well as to persuade the other side and the audience to agree.
  • Each side will have a turn to present his/her argument in two steps:
    • Step One: state the main argument.
    • Step Two: state any qualifiers to his/her argument.
  • Once the main arguments have been made, the moderator will restate them succinctly for clarity, with each side having the opportunity to clarify if needed.
  • After the moderator’s restatement of the arguments, then Side A will go again for some set period of time, and Side B will have an opportunity to respond and make his/her own argument.
  • After Side B responds and makes his/her own argument, then Side A will have a chance to respond and make his/her next argument.
  • The cycle between Side A and Side B will continue for some preset timeframe.
  • At the end of the allotted time, the moderator will call the end of The Main Arguments.
  • Each side will go to his/her supporters to regroup.

Fifth Round: The Regrouping

  • The purpose of this round is to allow each side to regroup and to strengthen his/her arguments and counterarguments in light of what was said during The Main Arguments.
  • At the end of The Main Arguments, each side will go to his/her supporters to regroup outside the earshot of the audience.
  • Each side can use books, internet, their Twitter handle, or whatever else at their means to determine how to move forward in light of the arguments made during The Main Arguments.
  • The moderator will try to summarize The Main Arguments to the audience innocuously, just for clarity.
  • At the end of The Regrouping, the moderator will announce that it is time to proceed to the The Closing Statements.

Sixth Round: Addition of Facts

  • The purpose of this round is to clarify the truth or agreement of any information discussed thus far, so that The Closing Statements can be made more effective and to avoid retreading old ground.
  • Each side will have an opportunity to submit additional facts in light of what was said during The Main Argument and based on information gathered during The Regrouping.
  • There should be some limit, e.g. 5 facts, and the rules for fact submission will follow the initial round of The Facts, except that each side only has 5 chances to submit facts; e.g. if Side A submits 5 facts, and 1 is overridden, then Side A ultimately gets to submit 4 additional facts in total.

Seventh Round: The Closing Statements

  • The purpose of this round is to finalize the arguments for each side.
  • Similar to The Main Arguments, each side will have an opportunity to present his/her argument, but Side B will start and Side A will respond and deliver an argument, and then Side B will respond and deliver, and the cycle will continue for the allotted time.
  • At the end of the allotted time, each side will have two minutes to deliver a final statement summarizing his/her position and addressing any unclear points.

Eighth Round: The Judges’ Results

  • The judges will rule on three categories: (1) Style; (2) Clarity; and (3) Persuasion.
  • Additionally, the judges may remark on any disagreements they had, which they have not yet stated, with the rules or any other matter.
  • The third category, Persuasion, will determine the winner of the debate.

Georgia Ballot Measures: 2016

Pretty much everyone knows that the presidential election is on the ballot this November. What you may not know, though, is what else is on the ballot. See below for what’s on the ballot if you’re in Fulton County, City of Atlanta. There’s also general ballot measures for all Georgia residents. Just listen to the sweet, patriotic sounds of Lee Greenwood singing America the Beautiful while you read, and check here to search specifically for your address so you can get a sample ballot to see what’s happening in your county/city. To find your polling place, you can click here.

All Georgia Residents:

Write-ins are available in every category.

Elections:

  1. U.S. President
    1. Democrat: Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine
    2. Libertarian: Gary Johnson, Bill Weld
    3. Republican: Donald Trump, Mike Pence
  2. U.S. Senate
    1. Democrat: Jim Barksdale
    2. Libertarian: Allen Buckley
    3. Republican: Johnny Isakson (incumbent)
  3. Georgia Public Service Commissioner
    1. Libertarian: Eric Hoskins
    2. Republican: Tim Echols (incumbent)

Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot:

  1. Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  2. Multi-part: Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to (1) allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is found guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children, and (2) allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  3. Multi-part: Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  4. Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to provide that the proceeds of excise taxes on the sale of fireworks or consumer fireworks be dedicated to the funding of trauma care, firefighter equipping and training, and local public safety purposes?
    1. Yes
    2. No

 

Fulton County Residents:

Elections:

  1. U.S. Representative for 5th Congressional District
    1. Democrat: John Lewis (incumbent)
    2. Republican: Douglas Bell
  2. Georgia State Senator for 36th Congressional District
    1. Democrat: Nan Orrock (incumbent)
  3. Georgia State Representative for 38th Congressional District
    1. Democrat: Park Cannon (incumbent)
  4. District Attorney for Atlanta
    1. Democrat: Paul Howard Jr. (incumbent)
  5. Clerk of Superior Court of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Cathlene “Tina” Robinson (incumbent)
    2. Republican: Lewis Pittman
  6. Sheriff of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Theodore “Ted” Jackson (incumbent)
    2. Republican: Ben Cowart
  7. Tax Commissioner of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Arthur Ferdinand (incumbent)
  8. Surveyor of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Arnaud Huguet
    2. Republican: William Daniel III (incumbent)
  9. Solicitor-General of Fulton County State Court
    1. Democrat: Keith Gammage
  10. Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor (pick 2)
    1. No Party: Preston Mason
    2. No Party: Alan Toney

Special Elections:

  1. Shall Fulton County be authorized to grant a Freeport Exemption to E-Commerce goods stored in fulfillment centers from taxation?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  2. Shall an additional 0.4% sales tax be collected in the City of Atlanta for 5 years for transportation improvements and congestion reduction?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  3. Shall an additional sales tax of 0.5% be collected in the City of Atlanta for significantly expanding and enhancing MARTA transit service in Atlanta?
    1. Yes
    2. No

 

Why you should support the Libertarian Party, at least until the November election

The premise of this piece is simple: if you don’t firmly support Trump or Clinton, you should openly support Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, at least until you actually vote in November. Also, politics and elections are a big picture long game, so you need to think about your support and vote as not just impacting this election, but the elections to come.

Although I would like to see you actually vote for Johnson in November, all you really need to do is openly support Johnson until then. The reason for this comes down to basic math: Johnson will be invited to the presidential debates if he is polling at a minimum of 15% based on the “average of five selected national public opinion polling organizations’ most recently publicly reported results, at the time eligibility is determined.

Brief History of the Presidential Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates (the “CPD”) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 to regulate presidential debates in the U.S. It doesn’t receive government funding, but it was created by the Republican and Democratic parties for the supposed purpose of ensuring that presidential debates offer the best information to prospective voters. Since the 1988 debates, the CPD has controlled every general election debate and, only in 1992, has a third party been present at them. That year, Ross Perot attended the debates and went on to win 19% of the popular vote.

Why  Debates Matter

Not only do the presidential debates give candidates the ability to participate in high-profile arenas where they can share their views, but they also give the attendees an air of authority and significance. Millions of people watch them, pundits endlessly comment on them, and they expose the attendees to the public at large. Without a spot on that stage, a candidate has almost no chance of reaching the public at large. This means that third parties languish on the sidelines as  topics of interest for only the most politically-attentive Americans.

The debates also provide the only potential opportunity for candidates to directly engage with one another. Outside of the CPD-sanctioned debate stages, candidates tend not to interact directly, opting for indirect opportunities through their campaign machines and media to attack their opponents’ positions. But in the debates, they’re head-to-head, and this sharpens their contrasts.

Why Supporting Johnson Matters…even if you’re not a Libertarian

Getting a third party on the debate stages is important for our democracy. Voters have more than two choices, although most either don’t know that, or think it isn’t significant because the likelihood of a third party winning the election is too unlikely. To some extent, the latter camp is correct, because it would take a political miracle for a third party to win the general election this year. Getting Johnson (or any other viable third party candidate) onto the debate stage is a step towards breaking our country’s dependence on the two-party system. More candidates means more choices, and more choices means a better chance of breaking down the beleaguered beats the two major parties have gotten so good at walking. A third party could shake up the (increasingly transparent) holograms being broadcast by the two major parties.

Think of it this way: if you’re in a fight against one other person, you only have to watch out for attacks from that angle. But bring a third fighter into the mix, and now you’re vulnerable from positions you otherwise wouldn’t have had to defend. This makes it more likely for weaker fighters to get knocked out and strengthens better fighters whose stance can actually hold up against attacks from all sides.

Why You Should Vote for Gary Johnson in November

Put simply, a political party convention is eligible for federal campaign financing in a general election if it wins at least 5% of the popular vote in the preceding election. Getting this funding would be huge for a third party, because one of the biggest barriers to entry into this protected field is money. We have to think ahead, and although you might be right when you say that a third party could never win the election, you’re only partially right. After this election, another will occur in at least four years. After that, at least another four. And so on. To create real and lasting change, you need to play the long game. Your vote in November will have consequences for the next cycle. Don’t waste it on Trump or Clinton, unless you’re in a battleground state like Ohio or Florida and you actually want one of them to win.

 

 

 

If you don’t vote, you’re probably a Donald Drumpf or Bernie Sanders supporter

Mildly provocative title, I know.

Yesterday I went to the Donald Trump rally at The Fabulous Fox theater. The best way to describe the noon day crowd at such a rally is to liken it to a rural Wal-Mart on a busy Saturday night: lots of strange people who you can’t imagine seeing in any other public place, yelling incoherent statements and getting really excited about things that shouldn’t excite adults in the modern world.

I’m certainly not a supporter. I wore all black with a Social Distortion shirt to make sure I wasn’t mistaken for such. I stuck out. I didn’t have a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap or an inexplicably vented, white, synthetic button-up shirt on. I didn’t have cargo pants. I didn’t look like that very uncool kid in your youth group who tries way, way too hard to be cool with his hipster hairdo and vague hillbilly-meets-prep-school attire. I’m not obese. I don’t yell at people I disagree with. I’m generally uncomfortable around televangelists and their fans.

I went for the same reasons that I went to New York’s Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street, tea party rallies in Georgia, and Barack Obama’s campaign stop at Georgia Tech leading up to his 2008 victory. I went for the same reason I’ve stopped countless times to have full conversations with homeless people. I went for the same reason I like to talk to the soapbox preachers on the corner shouting about infidelity and Armageddon. I’m politically and socially curious. I want to know what people think, and why, especially if we disagree. It’s worthwhile to hear someone out on a topic about which you agree, because they may have different reasons for sharing your view. But it’s far more educational to listen to the views of people with whom you disagree. It helps you to sharpen your own opinions and, sometimes, it can change them. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to use what you learn to change theirs.

The First Amendment is awesome in that way. I believe it’s First for a reason. It’s the best amendment. It’s the best because it offers the greatest safeguard for our way of life, and it’s what allows us to enjoy our lives as fully as we’re currently able. Two terrible things would happen if we lost the ability to speak, pray, and assemble freely.

First, our lives would lose their luster. Speaking your mind is one of the most liberating and exhilarating things you can do. Practicing your religion as you see fit gives you satisfaction beyond belief, no pun intended. Assembling peacefully helps you to achieve goals with like minded individuals working towards a common cause to better your lives. Without these things, we would work, play, and die, and life would seem more like a waiting room than a destination.

Second, we would lose our ability to challenge powerful institutions and enemies. We wouldn’t be able to speak truth to lies, hold onto something greater than ourselves during struggles, or gather together in solidarity to stand against tyranny. We would be weaker, and we would lose more battles than we already do.

But some people prefer the Second Amendment as their greatest protector. I get the feeling that the crowd at The Fox theater held that view. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly; it’s not just that they’re very vocal about their love of the NRA and their guns. I think it’s also because, ultimately, they’re lazy.

This laziness is pretty unique among Trump supporters (and probably Bernie supporters, although I haven’t been in a roomful of them yet), I believe. These two candidates appeal to the people who believe that they’ll waltz into the White House and wave a wand (or AR-15) and magically improve their lives, without the people having to lift a finger. They can’t be bothered with any level of civic engagement, save for maybe one day in November every four years. They don’t want to take the time to formulate a coherent explanation for their views. They can’t be asked to articulate, without yelling, why their positions provide the best solutions to the problems of the day. In fact, I doubt they even know or understand their problems. They sure as hell don’t know why their opponents believe the way they do.

This is harsh, I know. But I mean all offense. These are the same people who hardly vote, if ever, and complain about the political system being rigged and corrupt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of these people. And the corruption they’re so vaguely yet intensely mad at, well, it’s probably their fault. Bad political actors get away with metaphorical murder, because they’re not held accountable. And they’re not held accountable because the people tasked with holding them accountable (“We the People”) aren’t paying attention. They’re watching reality television, serving as unwitting participants in the rise of an empty-headed authoritarian. They’ll be his henchmen or his targets if he comes into power, and the rest of us will suffer.They’ll suffer, too, but since they’re so unambitious, the restrictions placed on their freedoms won’t hit them as hard. After all, they never use any of them except for that Second Amendment.

You might think this will hurt some people’s feelings. But it won’t. They’re too lazy to read an article like this, with so many words and no pictures of guns or inspirational quotes or would-be dictators. I mean, come on, I’ve already mentioned two constitutional amendments.

These people are too lazy for the First Amendment. They’re too lazy for the greatest gift to civilization the world has ever known. They don’t exercise their rights; they barrel into rooms, yelling and screaming about God-knows-what, and then leave, feeling satisfied at their righteous indignation

.

They blame the democrats, they blame the republicans, they blame the “establishment” or the “system” or other indefinable words that they don’t realize simply mean “a group of individuals that they can’t describe with particularity but think are the root cause of their problems.” They see people as groupings of physical or financial attributes, and they engage in group-think. These are the people who say, “I hate cops,” or “Rich people are evil,” or “The liberal media,” or “This [race/organization/nationality] all [do/think/say] [something I don’t like].” These people don’t have answers to questions of why, how, or when. All they know is how they feel. People who prefer feelings to thoughts and action are lazy. And people like Trump and Bernie Sanders make them feel a whole bunch.

And I think that’s what they like about it, just sitting there, rocking back and forth, feeling the Bern, feeling the power of potentially violent authoritarianism, feeling like righteous underdogs. Bernie and Trump will do everything for them, and they can go on not paying attention to anything except whatever fad b.s. television show they watch.

But that’s awful and it worsens the world in which we live. The United States is a constitutional republic founded on democratic ideals of self-government. This can be translated thusly: for our society and system of government to work, we have to actually participate in it. We wouldn’t be so vulnerable to “insiders” in Washington if we all made ourselves a little bit more like insiders ourselves. We can’t just piss and moan about our problems. We have to actually find ways to solve them. We can’t simply criticize whomever is in power and assume the next person will kiss it and make it better. We need to propose meaningful solutions in thoughtful ways.

Fittingly, Trump and Bernie are perfectly paired with their supporters. They’re idealistic, but don’t really get anything done. Trump has managed to take his daddy’s money and track inflation by selling a brand, which is just a capitalist term for “a feeling with financial value.” Bernie is a senator from Vermont serving his second term where he sells a drug he can’t actually deliver. These men aren’t problem solvers. They’re salesmen, and they’re slinging “good” vibes.

To demonstrate the caliber of person that we should all strive to be, I direct you to something so exciting, all of the people I’ve disparaged so far will find it boring. In a Supreme Court case concerning a university student group’s ability to deny membership to students who don’t share the group’s core beliefs, a team of people adversely affected by the group’s discriminatory practices wrote an argument in defense of their antagonist’s right to discriminate against them. I read this in law school, and it still brings me to tears for its honesty, wisdom, and courage to stand for something greater than themselves. These people didn’t just “play a card” or drop a platitude; they developed a rational, thoughtful argument to advance an ideal, and their action represents the virtue I wish that all Americans shared. Here’s the link to the whole article, but I’ll summarize it below: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/preview/publiced_preview_briefs_pdfs_09_10_08_1371_PetitionerAmCuGLIL.authcheckdam.pdf

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

A Christian student group at a California university challenged the school’s decision to bar the group’s membership at the school based on the Christian group’s refusal to admit members to the group if those members supported pro-homosexual politics. The group did not advocate violence or hatred towards homosexuals, but they advocated a literal interpretation of the Bible that views homosexuality as sinful. Although they did not deem homosexuals inherently evil or suspicious, the group did not want homosexuals obtaining membership (and therefore voting) rights within the group for fear that they would undermine the group’s causes.

One could easily look at this case and, depending on your leanings, immediately agree or disagree with the Christian group’s position. But, if you immediately agree or disagree, then you are lazy, and you likely support Drumpf or Bernie.

Brief of Gays & Lesbians for Individual Liberty as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner

A group advocating for the advancement of LGBTQ causes submitted an amicus brief, which means a brief from “a friend of the court.” The Supreme Court gets these all the time, where special interest groups join with one side of the case and advocate their own position in favor of that side. It presents a more fully-developed argument (and a more overwhelming one, at times) for the court to consider. In case you’re wondering, the “petitioner” in this case was the Christian group seeking to bar homosexuals from being members. So why did they advocate in favor of a group that sought to prevent their participation in a school-related group? They’re homosexuals, after all? Shouldn’t they be easily lumped into a “progressive” category whose knee-jerk reaction is opposing anything remotely adversarial to their cause? Nope. Because these people aren’t lazy. I doubt they support either of my much-aligned candidates from above. These people articulated their points of view, if you’d like to read them, because they take full advantage of the First Amendment. They didn’t show up with guns and demand membership rights. They didn’t yell and shout and scream about their feelings. They made a solid, moving argument, and they’re heroes of mine because of it. I can still remember where I was when I read it. Well-formulated arguments have that kind of impact on people. Guns just kill them and start a cycle of revenge.

“Rigorous protection of minorities – including gays and lesbians – from invidious discrimination does not require sacrificing expressive associational freedom. To the contrary, these values should complement and reinforce each other.”

A lazy person would simply say, “You’re a racist,” misusing the term. But this group of superheros used words. Powerful, powerful words. Those words are how this case was won. As far as I can tell, no ideological or political battle has yet been won by yelling obscenities. Calm, deliberative words have won them all.

Someone once said that we get the government we deserve. I believe that. I also believe that our government sucks right now. In Georgia, it’s estimated that less than 50% of the voting-eligible population actually votes. But that’s not necessarily bad news. I would argue that, based on knowledge of the issues, less people should be voting right now. Of course, I would advocate that people should learn more about the candidates and issues, and then we should have a much higher proportion of our population voting, which would promote a more just and rational society. But this year, I’ll just keep dreaming. We’ll have President Hillary Clinton, and nothing will improve. That’s better than Emperor Trump, though. Despite what the non-voting nihilists say, things can totally get worse. We’ve got it made, compared with historical standards of human existence go, and a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad president could make things much, much worse. Saying you’d rather have Trump than Clinton because you hate the establishment is like saying that, because school isn’t perfect, you’d rather have your kids sit in a moldy room with an old bigot who just farts out of his mouth for eight hours straight. School ain’t perfect, but at least you get something out of it.

So that’s why I say, if you don’t vote, you probably support one of these candidates. You’re lazy. You don’t realize how much work the rest of us do to keep our heads (and our loved one’s heads) above water. You don’t know what’s going on around you, and you don’t want to try to solve your own problems, much less your neighbor’s. You just want someone to solve them for you, and your lack of action allows the world to remain as frail and messed up as it is. You’ll be the reason that we lose the First Amendment but keep the Second. You’ll be the reason that the film Idiocracy becomes reality. The next incarnation of Trump won’t be saying “Make America Great Again.” He’ll be muttering “Where My Country Gone?

And we won’t be able to speak, pray, or assemble in protest. Thanks, ‘Merica.


 

Feeling lazy and uneducated? Here’s some stuff to read that doesn’t have to do with costumed animals or Kim Kardashian (usually):

https://www.govtrack.us/

http://www.c-span.org/

http://fivethirtyeight.com/

http://reason.com/

http://www.theatlantic.com/

http://www.slate.com/

http://www.cnn.com/

http://www.vox.com/

http://www.npr.org/

 

 

 

Police Shootings: By the Numbers

According to Census data, there were roughly 318,000,000 people in the United States in 2014. A Justice Department report determined that in 2012 there were roughly 750,000 sworn police officers in the U.S. The Washington Post reports that roughly 1,000 people were killed by police in 2015.

Doing the imperfect math on this data, that means that police killed less than 0.01% of the total U.S. population in 2015. Assuming a one-to-one ration of officers-killing-civilians, that means that roughly 0.13% of officers were involved in the killing of civilians in 2015. This doesn’t consider the ratio of people who were engaged in violent behavior when shot, but it’s almost impossible to really break down the numbers of people who were “instigating or escalating” versus “blameless of” their killings.

Although that’s still a troubling percentage, it’s worth keeping in perspective the very low number of officers involved in fatal shootings of civilians. Of course, this doesn’t account for the people that the police shot but didn’t kill, or harmed in other ways not quantifiable by death statistics, but making inferences from this data, it appears that the vast majority of police do not commit acts of violence against people.

Nonetheless, it’s also worth noting that in 2012 black Americans accounted for about 31% of police killings even though they make up about 13% of the total population. That means that blacks are far more likely to be killed than are whites, or any other ethnic group, period. This is true even when you factor out the number of unarmed people killed by police.

In light of the most recent high-profile and disturbing police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it’s distressing to realize just how few officers are ever even tried in court for these killings.

The Takeaway: the overwhelming majority of police don’t kill people at all, but when they do, they’re more likely to kill black Americans.

 

The Statue of Liberty: A Roadmap for Navigating the Syrian Refugee Debate

In the wake of the highly coordinated terror attack in Paris, the U.S. has begun a debate about whether or not to bring in Syrian refugees. Unfortunately, much of this debate has been tone-deaf and devoid of fact or even a cursory understanding of our laws and history.

More disturbing than this stunning lack of context, however, has been the shunning of our most cherished ideals and morals.

The most heinous example of blindness to American values comes to us in the form of republican presidential candidate front-runner Donald Trump. I will make my biases known: I think this man is an idiot. This is a man born so rich that he had the ability to, and did in fact, fail miserably in numerous business ventures with such extravagance that he had to declare bankruptcy on multiple occasions. As to be expected, this made him ridiculous enough to become a reality television star, which is the worst thing a human can be. On top of that, he’s a hypocrite and a liar.

But Trump, not to be outdone by his past self, has decided to up the ante and double-down on reasons to dislike him. Now he’s espousing spectacularly fascist ideas, which aren’t even good ideas. They’re not good ideas because they lack any basis in data, history, foresight, or morality. They will not solve the problems they (allegedly) seek to solve, and instead may exacerbate them. Of utmost concern is the fact that he’s not alone in his ill-advised thinking.

In the opinion of Donald Trump and those who share his views, the greatest nation on Earth – a phrase I don’t say ironically – should (a) shut its doors to Syrian refugees, and (b) create a national registry of mosques and Muslims. Following closely behind him in the asinine-worldview category is Jeb Bush, who wants to admit Syrian refugees, but only if they’re Christian.

These ideas are un-American, unintelligent, and for whatever it’s worth, un-Christian.

I am proud to call myself an American. I’m proud to be well-educated. I’m proud to come from a working-class home. And I’m proud to have been raised in a Christian family that taught me the very best values Christianity has to offer. Each of these elements of my identity cause me to vehemently reject the views of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and their cohort. Then logic and knowledge cause me to reject their explanations.


The argument that we should ban all Syrian refugees from the U.S. because we cannot properly vet the applicants, is premised on a lack of understanding about refugees and the process by which they gain entry to the U.S.

The argument against bringing in Syrian refugees, carte blanche, goes like this: ISIS and other terror organizations are sophisticated enough to implant terrorists into the ranks of the refugees as a means to gain entry into the United States and other countries where they can then wreak havoc. Our immigration system is unable to properly vet these refugees, because Syria is in turmoil and doesn’t have a great history of keeping good records on its citizens. Thus, considering the risk of harm to Americans and the insufficient means of mitigating those risks, we should not bring any any Syrian refugees.

This is flawed on many levels, but it is important to note the few merits to this thinking.

First, it is absolutely a real possibility that admitting Syrian refugees will lead to the inadvertent admittance of some terrorists. However, this risk is blown out of proportion to the actual likelihood of this happening, and it is absurd to attempt to implement a zero risk policy with regards to, well, anything we do. There’s inherent and unavoidable risk in everything, and humans accept some level of risk every single day, all over the world, in every single aspect of our lives. We should never consider banning a choice based on risk where the reward outweighs the risk. Here, the risk is minimal and the reward is maximal. Since September 11, 2001, with over 700,000 refugees being resettled in the U.S., only a tiny fraction of 1% of refugees in the U.S. have been arrested or removed based on terror charges. Although the exact number is in dispute depending on how words like “terror” and “refugee” are defined, one thing is clear: the vast, vast majority of refugees in the U.S. are not implicated in terrorist threats. Barring entry to thousands of human beings posing a risk of less than a fraction of a percent is not based in sound risk-aversion theory.

Second, our refugee and asylum laws are tough. I briefly worked for an organization involved in legal asylum and refugee resettlement, and in that time I came to the conclusion that the process by which we admit refugees and asylum seekers is rigorous. But don’t just take my word for it. You can actually read about the process, for free, to see for yourselves: here and here are good starting points. Basically, both the U.N. and multiple government entities within the U.S. have to approve every refugee’s resettlement in this country. The process can take years. We are not letting people just wash up on shore from Syria with guns and bombs. It just doesn’t work like that. Also, despite the fear that we won’t know enough about the refugees because of the lack of reliable record-keeping by the Syrian government, it is important to note that we do this all the time anyway and, again, refugees aren’t murdering Americans in the streets.

The argument that we should only allow Christian refugees, to minimize the risk of terrorism, fails to appreciate the inherent difficulty in determining who is “Christian” and how many “Christians” commit acts of violence and terrorism.

Jeb Bush is afraid of letting in Syrian refugees due to a lack of proper record-keeping, because we won’t know who they are or what they’ve done; nonetheless, he assumes we can parse out the Christians. Presumably, he thinks that terrorists won’t lie about being Christian to gain entry into our country and kill us all. But something about the premise that they’ll blow themselves up to kill us, but won’t lie to do it, just doesn’t sit right with me.

It’s also important to note that we have plenty of “Christians” committing acts of violence and terrorism every year in this country. Just look at terrorism committed by white supremacist groups claiming ties to Christianity.

Although there is probably some truth in assuming that, if we could somehow only let in Christian refugees, we would expose ourselves to less risk than if we let in both Muslim and Christian refugees (based on sheer volume, if nothing else), it still seems hardly plausible that we can, and even less plausible that we should.

In light of the rhetoric being used by U.S. politicians and political candidates, it seems that the age-old caricature of the French sissy may no longer be relevant, and should be replaced by that of the American wimp.

It would be remiss to fail to appreciate the fact that this debate was sparked by horrific attacks in Paris, France, of all places, and that it has not shaken President Francois Hollande’s resolve to accept Syrian refugees, including Muslims. That, coming from France. And this, coming from the U.S.

We should, above all else, prioritize the words emblazoned across the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” In times like these, that beautiful proclamation should not be forgotten. As we navigate these difficult times, it is of tantamount importance we remember that those words come from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. Picture it: a Jewish woman named Lazarus wrote about the U.S. being a lighthouse of hope for refugees, then we put it on a statue given to us by the French commemorating our determination to proceed forward with liberty and democratic ideals.

And now, in 2015, my fellow Americans have Donald Trump as the front-runner in the race for our nation’s president, vowing to refuse all refugees, women and children included, from a country devastated by religious conflict, sectarian violence, and anti-democratic ideals. Piling on the historical irony, he wants to create a database of one minority group and use the military to force his views. He’s a failure at his first venture, he’s a hypocrite, he has weird hair, and, for some strange reason, a lot of people love him.

When I was growing up in the 20th century, conservatives always used “being French” as shorthand for cowardice. I wonder if the 21st century will reverse that trend, where French people can – rightfully so – call Americans the cowards and make mocking caricatures of us hiding under our blankets in fear of the downtrodden, scared, hurt refugees.

Our country thrives on doing for others, and I believe that we can best defeat evil and hatred through love and courage. Freedom ain’t free, these colors don’t run, yada yada. What happened to that? What happened to my brave, strong countrymen and women, willing to face off against perilous danger and evil overlords to protect the weak?

Or did we ever even exist?