Category Archives: Georgia politics

Domestic Enemies

It is with not without an enormous amount of irony that mere days after this country celebrated Memorial Day – the day upon which we honor the fallen soldiers who selflessly gave their lives to protect our freedom – that we learn of yet another way their sacrifice was for nothing. The enemies of freedom are no longer foreign – they are domestic. To wit, a Georgia couple recently lost custody of their son after it was discovered they had been giving him marijuana to treat his seizures. Stated differently: armed men forced their way into someone’s home and kidnapped a child because a roomful of (mostly) men hundreds of miles away think it is bad to inhale smoke from a burning plant. The marijuana had kept him seizure free for 71 days, but since having been “saved” by the state his daily seizures (up to 10 a day) have returned. But hey, what’s the suffering of a child when compared to the public good of knowing someone somewhere is not inhaling microscopic particulate matter. But it gets even better. Not only was their son kidnapped by the state, but they are also now facing criminal charges (reckless conduct), for you guessed it, a victimless crime. Indeed the state action has created victims where there were none previously. The arresting officer in Twiggs County defended his actions, saying, “It is my duty to enforce state law.” Yes – “I was just following orders” – music to the ears of every totalitarian regime that craves an army of mindless automatons that can’t figure out right and wrong for themselves.

 

The arresting officer in Twiggs County defended his actions, saying, “It is my duty to enforce state law.” Yes – “I was just following orders” – music to the ears of every totalitarian regime that craves an army of mindless automatons that can’t figure out right and wrong for themselves.

 

The sad reality here is that the parents would not have had to obtain “illegal” marijuana if the state of Georgia allowed them access to the legal THC oil they needed. It is actually legal in Georgia to possess and use low THC oil – but only if you have a state-issued medical card…which has a six-year waiting list (naturally). But even if you somehow manage to get one of these Willy Wonka golden ticket of a medical card, there is nowhere to obtain said oil in the state of Georgia. Its sale is illegal. Its importation is illegal. But if the stork magically drops it from the sky onto your front porch then you’re golden.This is what snarky good ol’boy lawmakers do when they think they’re being oh so clever – they can satisfy two sets of constituents simultaneously. They can claim to be looking out for those in pain who need help while simultaneously claiming to be “tough on drugs”. As the parent of a child who suffered through a period of epileptic seizures when young all I can say is these folks did what any decent parent would do – whatever it takes to alleviate the suffering of their child. They should be commended, not vilified. To the lawmakers in this state who continue to obstruct access to ANY substance that will alleviate suffering, all I can say is that you are vile and despicable monsters. Anyone who would consign their fellow man to unyielding pain in order that their own peculiar notion of propriety is satiated is a callous barbarian unworthy of being permitted any engagement in civil society let alone the respect they so openly crave.

Anyone who would consign their fellow man to unyielding pain in order that their own peculiar notion of propriety is satiated is a callous barbarian unworthy of being permitted any engagement in civil society let alone the respect they so openly crave.

In a country that purports to be the shining city of freedom on a hill there sure is a colossal lack of freedom here. How does the state despoil freedom? Let me count the ways: civil asset forfeiture, criminalization of all manner of victimless “crimes”, conversion of liberties into licenses necessitating bureaucratic permission to regain what was stolen, formerly forced disassociations, now forced associations, forced labor (jury duty), theft of income and assets (taxation) at levels vastly above that which would be paid to fund basic services in a voluntary model, a quagmire of rules that citizens must follow to simply reenter their own country, the 100 mile “liberty free zone” around the US border where not even citizens are immune to the potential 4thamendment abusing CPB agents.Events like this should open all of our eyes to the reality that we are not free. Constraining your actions to fall within the scope of rules established by those with no authority to establish them does not make you free. Even slaves are “free” by that standard. Rules are only legitimate when there is consent. Voting is not consent. Just because the mafia lets me vote for the new mob boss doesn’t mean I consent to their purported authority over me. If slaves got to vote for the nice slave master or the mean slave master it does not somehow legitimize their condition of servitude. If the exercise of a freedom impacts another then as long as there is consent there can be no legitimate boundaries.

Respect is a Two Way Street

This past week the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 673, which broadens the existing Georgia ban on texting while driving. The bill requires the use of hands-free technology when such devices are in use. The putative goal of this legislation is then to keep more eyes on the road and fewer in the lap. Certainly a laudable goal and for the most part it should have the intended effect (once drivers are pulled over – 99% of people are not plugged into the news cycle and will remain ignorant of this subtle change in the law until they themselves are informed by the local constabulary).

However it seems no new law is complete without smuggling in a perverse incentive clause. Such lunacy is the hallmark of government imposed rules. A perverse incentive produces the exact opposite of the desired outcome. One of the more humorous examples is the one in which 19th century paleontologist in China would pay peasants for dinosaur bone fragments they happened to find when plowing their fields. Win-win, right? Wrong: the villagers, they learned later, were smashing the bones into numerous tiny fragments to maximize the per piece payments. So in similar fashion this new law has a backdoor that will maximize, rather than minimize, eyes in the lap. It does not recognize an exception on the prohibition of device usage even when stopped at a stop light or stop sign. Since it is much more likely to be noticed using your phone while stopped (beat cop, motorcycle cop, or nearby patrol car) this continued prohibition will have the entirely predicable outcome of incentivizing people to clandestinely use their phone in their lap where nearby eyes are less likely to notice phone manipulation. It makes zero sense to disallow use while stopped. When your vehicle is not moving you present zero danger to anyone. At worst you may get honked at for not moving when the light turns green. If people know they can check their phone every few minutes at the next light they will be far more willing to simply wait until that opening arrives. But if that opportunity is proscribed and made even more fine-risky relative to use while in motion, then people will choose the less fine-risky path and do so while in motion.

If we must have road socialism (state ownership) then it shouldn’t be too much to ask that such owners provide the people with a safe product. To encourage a safe environment there needs to exist legal liability for the owners along with a set of fairly enforced and rationally understandable rules. We’ll never have the former but two out of three is better than nothing. When the rules (traffic laws) are neither fair (e.g. letter of the law rather than spirit of the law enforcement), nor rationale (ban on use while stopped) and to top it all off driven by blatant self-interest (fine collection) then drivers lose respect for those rules and the institution that enforces them and that loss of respects hurts all on the road. If people respect the reasons behind the rule, they’ll respect the rule. In Germany speed limits are set to maximize safety, not revenue. Drivers there will be slow down or speed up in unison upon changes – because they respect that the sign is conveying real information about the driving environment rather than a desire to hand out speeding tickets. If the state respects the driver, the driver will respect the rules.

Tyranny of the Do-Gooders

In 2012 Jeffrey Dallas Gay, Jr. (age 22) died of an overdose of prescription drugs. There is little more tragic than death resulting from something so easily preventable. As a parent the instinct is strong to stamp from the face of this earth that which our child became entangled in. But just as setting a national 5 mph speed limit would be a counterproductive response to death by automobile accident, so too are the knee-jerk reaction of legislators when faced with these sorts of drug related tragedies. Senate Bill 81 was recently introduced into the Georgia General Assembly with the stated goal of trying to eliminate opioid overdoses. As with all such intrusions by the state into the lives of individuals, it leaves in its wake the collateral damage of individual lives sacrificed on the altar of the greater good.

The bill preamble first cites a scary-sounding decontextualized statistics (that roughly 30,000 die annually from opioid overdose – context: 0.008% of the US population) it then moves headlong into the “solution.” Now, if 30,000 people a year were dying because some enemy was lobbing bombs at US cities, then yes, the government should do something about that. But we aren’t dealing with an external foe, rather an internal one, ourselves. Laws on gambling, prostitution, drugs, alcohol, compulsory health insurance, etc. all share in common the well-intentioned desire to protect us from ourselves. But such laws undermine the very idea of a free nation built on individual rights. Do you sell your soul to save your life?

SB 81 purports to solve, or at least mitigate, the opioid “epidemic” by limiting first time opioid prescriptions in the state of Georgia to no more than a 5 day supply. Additionally every pharmacist is required to log all such prescriptions into a statewide database (cough, Big Brother, cough) so usage can be tracked to prevent someone buying “too much” (whatever that may be). Just as someone today can hit a wall if they try to buy “too much” Sudafed so too will the unintended consequence be that some must suffer in agonizing pain because their prescription is “too much” under the eyes of “the law.” But hey, who cares about individual suffering if we think our policy might help someone. What’s next, tracking our grocery purchases to be sure we aren’t “abusing” our bodies by buying the food that makes us less healthy and leading to higher health care costs? The greater good of “public health” would surely allow for such reasoning. Yes, laugh now, but it’s coming one day.

Of course these legislators want their cake and eat it too. The paragraph stipulating no more than a 5-day supply is quickly followed by a paragraph supporting the right of a physician to prescribe whatever they deem medically necessary. So once again politicians get to bask in the limelight of “doing something” while not actually doing anything other than adding yet another layer of bureaucracy for doctors who are already over-burdened with a mountain of regulatory paperwork they have to comply with from the local, state, and federal level.

The sad fact that no one wants to face is there no way to solve the opioid overdose problem other than getting people to follow the prescription on the bottle. And that’s not going to happen because people are people and some people just can’t follow directions. People “abuse” antibiotics as well by doing the reverse, not taking enough. This promotes antibiotic resistance. Indeed, nearly as many people (23,000) die each year due to antibiotic resistance. Why no bills designed to solve that “crisis”? Perhaps because no one is getting high off antibiotics? The desire to stamp out any possibility of artificially induced pleasure seems to be the driving force behind drug policy in this country. Anyone who needs a medication should not be made to suffer the hardship of additional hurdles just to get what they need because a handful of people can’t act responsibly. If you want to make a meaningful inroad toward ameliorating this problem, lobby the FDA to remove rules on side effect disclosures that require events with a 0.00001% chance of happening being listed. This leads to information overload and people just tune out everything. If the warning listed only actual hazards – like death from overdose – people would pay attention. Thus unintended consequence of government meddling leads to “solutions” like SB 81 which will invariably lead to more unintended consequences which can only be solved by yet more rules and legislation. The state cannot remake man through the pen. It must stop trying to do so.

Just vote “NO”

Georgia residents will see four ballot initiatives in the upcoming November 8 election. When in doubt you should almost always vote “NO” on any constitution changing ballot initiative. The overwhelming tendency is for government power to expand as personal freedom declines – and ballot initiatives generally reflect this reality. I invite the reader to review the exact wording of the initiatives as well as a more comprehensive overview of the true motivations behind them here. In brief though they follow a formulaic pattern that goes something like this: “Shall bad or disreputable thing, children, children, be fixed by implementing innocuous sounding program?” The new program is invariably a Trojan horse designed to expand the state’s purview of unaccountable authority.

Ballot Question 1 proposes to “fix” “failing” schools by allowing the state to take them over. Sounds good, right? Who could be for failing schools? What is omitted is that the entity proposing to take them over would also sets the standard of what constitutes “failing.” All it takes is a legislative tweak to the standard and suddenly all schools in the state are “failing” and require a takeover. Also omitted is that the state turns control over to private companies in a classic cronyist-fascist-public-private “partnership” model. While there is nothing wrong with private entities running schools, they should do so on their own without help from the government to gain clientele.

Ballot Question 2 is even sneakier. It tries to capitalize on widespread distaste for the sex-industry (prostitution, strip clubs, etc.) to sneak in a new layer of government. It proposes new fines and penalties (there are already fines that are quite high) for illegal activity but then slyly adds a new tax on a legal business type (strip clubs) for the express purpose of establishing yet another program to help supposed “victims” of these consensual activities. Even if you find the sex-industry distasteful, please realize they are using that distaste as a pretext to sneak in constitutional permission to impose a tax on ANY type of business to fund ANY new program (strip clubs are merely the “random” example chosen). That’s picking winners and losers. Legislators don’t like Uber? Ok, new “fee” assessed on it to fund a program to retrain cabbies that lost their job or perhaps subsidize cab companies to “help” them compete with Uber et al. That’s what this is about. It’s not about the sex trade. They just know most people will unthinkingly vote for anything that sounds like it might punish that industry.

Ballot Question 3 just gets even worse. What they don’t tell you speaks mountains. Restating without the omissions, “Shall the independent and not accountable to any branch of government Judicial Qualifications Committee (that is, can’t be influenced by those in government) be abolished and a new one be created that is populated with political appointees who owe allegiance to the very entity they are supposedly overseeing (that is, the government)” Yeah, the foxes are tired of the dog guarding the henhouse – they want a fox to guard the henhouse.

Ballot Question 4 sounds the most reasonable and straightforward; no flowery language here. The deception relies on the fact that most people have no idea how the General Assembly funds programs in Georgia. So they are duped into voting for a less efficient system than the one we already have. And as usual that deception is based on tapping into fear; fear that fireworks are harming untold thousands. So we must DO something! The thing is we already fund the programs they cite. Earmarking funds this way sounds good but in reality is less effective because there is no direct correlation between fireworks sales and public safety services. Creating a special fund means those services could be either over or under funded depending on the vagaries of such sales or the random distribution of injuries

So, to sum up, vote “NO” on all four proposals. Each is nothing more than a deceptive attempt to expand the power and influence of individuals within the state government at the expense of all the citizens.

Equal Treatment

Several local churches in Oconee county have proposed offering elective Bible classes at a new “Christian Learning Center” for county high school students. The CLC would be offsite and thus tight coordination between the county and the center would be necessary (exiting the campus, transportation, returning, etc.). The proposal is currently before the Oconee County School Board who has not yet made a decision. Although proponents say “freedom of religion” and opponents “separation of church and state”, neither of these slogans are useful in arriving at a decision where the question before the board doesn’t fit either narrative precisely.

Were this question before a private school board it would be easy to answer. There would be no “right” or “wrong” answer. The course of action should be whatever those running the school want to do. If parents disagree they are free to take their children, and tuition dollars, elsewhere. In the end it is the parents who have the veto power, a power they can wield immediately.

But this is not a private institution. It is a public one. And that means we parents and/or citizens have zero ability to vote with our dollars by transferring our tuition (property taxes) somewhere else. Sure we can vote, but board members have 4 year terms so one’s child is likely to be graduated before the opportunity to even attempt to do something arrives. Voting itself might be free, but it’s not without costs. You must expend enormous resources trying to convince all those around you to vote the same, otherwise your voice is silenced.

So given the fact that we parent and taxpayers have zero voice in decisions such as these, there must be a different standard when it comes to such curriculum. Non-ideological electives (languages, music, sports, etc.) favor no particular group. But ideologically drive electives, such as the proposed CLC, are an attempt by one group to expand their sphere of influence by co-opting the indoctrinatory power of the state. What advertiser would not love to get their product before a captive audience? Even if one chooses to not take such electives, the imprimatur of approval lends credence to the subject matter; that is de facto state approval.

Like it or not Christianity, or any religion, is ideological insofar as it rests on un-provable beliefs. That is not bad per se. Beliefs are by definition un-provable. But it’s still ideology. So the question here should be no different if a group of Synagogues, Mosques, or Buddhist Temples were proposing similar classes. Political ideology also falls under this umbrella. How would we react if the Democrat, Republican, or Communist parties wanted to offer a class supporting their worldviews? Is it fair to give one peddler of ideas a leg up on the competition? If you let one in, you must let all in. This non-exclusionary principal flows from our inability, under pain of imprisonment, to withdraw financial support of state functions. Whosoever removes choice is obligated to treat all equally.

Stepping Up to the Plate?

Slow internet. No words invoke greater apoplexy in modern man than these. Oconee County, being largely rural, has suffered through its share of less than ideal Internet connectivity over the last decade. So it is little wonder that county officials recently engaged representatives of Corning Optical Communications to discuss the possibility of wiring the entire county for fiber optic Internet access. As a resident myself, nothing would please me more. However, as an ethically consistent human being, I cannot opt to ignore a little thing like theft even when that theft might benefit me personally.

Inroads to high speed Internet have been slow not because of capriciousness but rather due to simple economics. Investments are made only if the prospect of a meaningful return is sufficient to compensate for the risk involved. What would you say if someone asked you to invest your retirement savings into a project that might yield a payback of less than 1% after 75 years? If you’re unwilling to make such a poor investment, then who can blame the telecoms for reaching the same conclusion. Capital intensive projects like running underground cables for miles and miles only to serve a handful of customers just don’t make economic sense unless those customers are willing to pay hundreds of dollars a month. And since nobody is willing to pay that, it doesn’t happen. Local governments don’t help either as various right-of-way statutes heap unnecessary costs on the process (see OCGA §46-5-1(a) and 48-5-423).

In the meeting, according to the Oconee Enterprise, Administrative Officer Jeff Benko observed that, “…in areas where the private sector has not stepped up to the plate, there’s an opportunity for the government to intervene.” In other words, where my parents have not stepped up to the plate by buying me a Ferrari, there’s an opportunity for my bank-robbing uncle to buy one on my behalf. “Stepping up to the plate” is the economic equivalent of providing something at a false cost because no one is wiling to pay its true cost.

This project was estimated to run about $1400/home served. If everyone voluntarily wrote a $1400 check that would be grand. It would be true democracy, marketplace democracy, in action. Consumers vote their preference every time they open their wallet. But we live with a political democracy as well, so as long as 51 out of 100 people want something, then it’s perfectly acceptable to reach into their neighbor’s wallet and take what is needed. Some might suggest paying for it with bonds is ethically sound as someone is voluntarily lending money to the county. But that logic is specious insofar as the bond must eventually be repaid and the only way to do so is with taxes and as we all know, taxes are theft. Indeed bonds are even more cowardly as they shift the repayment burden onto future taxpayers who have no voice in what is decided today.

Repeat after me: just because it is something I want, that does not make it is ok to use political means to force others to provide it for me.

I Don’t Hope

I have a confession to make. I play the lottery. Yes, I understand math implies I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the jackpot, but it’s only a couple of bucks a week and ultimately somebody has to win, so who knows. I reveal this dark secret in order to set the stage for a demonstration of the ineptitude of government agency running a business: The Georgia Lottery Commission. Although to be fair it would appear the Georgia Legislature had an equal hand in the stupidity I am about to reveal.

A few years ago the GLC actually did something beneficial for their customers, they added the ability to buy lottery tickets on line. You can buy nearly everything else on line, why not lottery tickets? The process itself was a bit convoluted, you couldn’t just pay with a credit card or Paypal, you had to open a pseudo-Discover debit card called the “iHope Card” that you had to first fund from a bank account before you could play. However the card acted like a debit card so you could in theory get at your money whenever you needed it. More on that later.

In the beginning the process worked well. Every 3 months I’d buy 26 draws of the same number and then not think about it for another 3 months. Click and forget, very easy. Occasionally if jackpots got huge I might pick up a few more tickets from the comfort of home. Unfortunately that has all ended. In the past few months either a new law was passed or the GLC simply got around to enforcing an existing law. The upshot is that one must now be physically located in the state of Georgia to buy a Georgia lottery ticket. This is where we enter the Twilight Zone. Only government would craft its business model around the ideal of striving toward FEWER sales and LESS revenue by artificially restricting its customer base. I thought the revenue raised by the lottery was for funding in-state education. If people in other states want to send money to Georgia voluntarily to help educate children here, exactly what is the problem with that?

In any event, in order to ensure this asinine edict is upheld the GLC implemented a new software check that attempts to determine one’s computer location based on a combination of IP address and local Wi-Fi networks. Sounds simple enough to the uninitiated, but for those who work in IT like myself it is evident that such an approach will be fraught with false negatives. I know because I was caught up in their net and became intimately familiar with the methods they are using. One must have two (or possibly many more, they really don’t know) Wi-Fi networks nearby (this cuts out anyone not living in a dense urban environment). Likewise, one can’t be running the Mac OS because the GLC software mistakes a core function of OS X (Remote Management) as something that might interfere in location determination (it can’t). The GLC even laughably suggests one buy a Wi-Fi extender to find more networks – that’s like suggesting one buy stronger binoculars to see better in the dark. GLC’s new motto: It is better that a thousand Georgians be inconvenienced than for one Alabaman near the border to buy a lotto ticket. Brilliant.

The second act in this drama gets even more interesting (all lawyers pay close attention to this one). Seeing as how I could not use my account to buy tickets on line anymore, I opted to transfer funds back to my bank account and close the iHope account. Alas, I soon discovered you are only allowed to transfer WINNINGS out of an iHope account to a bank account (this fact confirmed by calling support when I was unable to transfer all funds). Any money that you originally transferred to it from a bank account cannot subsequently be transferred back. So what’s the problem? Well, first, that is an idiotic artificial limitation, but secondly, that information is not disclosed anywhere. I scoured the account agreement (where it should have been) and do not see any mention of this fact. Astoundingly enough their website FAQ clearly contradicts their policy by stating that

 

“CAN I TRANSFER MY WINNINGS FROM MY IHOPECARD ACCOUNT TO MY BANK ACCOUNT? Yes. Transfer your winnings, or any funds originating from your bank account, to your registered bank account.”

 

Repeated attempts to inform their tech support their FAQ was wrong resulted only them parroting the FAQ back to me. I would characterize this blatant omission and ongoing contradiction of a material fact regarding how the iHope account functions as fraud. Any interested class action attorneys – I will leave you to it.

Fantasy Island

Consider the following scenario: You have just received an invitation in the mail from a friend. He is inviting everyone he knows to his beautiful tropical island. All are welcome to visit any time and stay as long as they want. There is just one catch: marauding pirates will attack anyone that comes near the island. The pirates patrol the skies above and the waters below as well as the surface. If you somehow do manage to outwit the pirates and make it to the island, your friend offers an additional warning: he has armed guards that will shoot anyone seen crossing the perimeter beaches. But – if you can make it past all of that – you are quite welcome there.

Now as schizophrenic as this sounds – “please come visit me, I’ll kill you if you try, but please come visit me” – it is not too far removed from the scenario that the government of the state of Georgia has just put into play with the passage of HB1 (also known as “Haleigh’s Hope Act”) and subsequent signing into law by Governor Nathan Deal last week.  HB1 legalizes the “possession” of medicinal marijuana. But only in the cannabis oil form. And, only if it is under 20 ounces. And only so long as it contains less than 5% THC. Caveat, conditions, and exceptions – “you can have this…except when… and only if…and as long as…” The politician’s lawmaking cookbook – liberally sprinkled qualifying conjunctions.

Ok, ok, well at least there is now a glimmer of hope for those that have a medical need for it, right? Well, almost. As long as one’s medical condition is on the short “approved” list of ailments: cancer, ALS, seizures, MS, Chrohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle-cell anemia. Funny, I thought Republicans were opposed to the government interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. In any event, if one is unlucky enough to suffer from one of these ailments that still may not be sufficient to qualify. A patient’s case must be considered severe or terminal… not in the opinion of one’s doctor mind you, but rather in the opinion of some faceless state bureaucracy to whom your doctor must now, on bended knee, plead your case whilst kissing its ring.

If a patient makes it past all those hurdles, then they can qualify for a registration card. This is their de facto “get out of jail free” card if they are ever found by police to be in possession of sub-20 ounce 5% dilutions of cannabis oil. But don’t get caught with 21 ounces or a 6% solution, otherwise it’s off to the big house you horrible menace to society you!

So while HB1 offers an invitation to an oasis of potential pain relief (the tropical island) it does not eliminate the marauding pirates or the armed guards. It is still illegal to grow or buy marijuana in Georgia (you know, the stuff you need to actually make the cannabis oil). It is likewise a violation of both Federal and Georgia state law to cross state lines to buy cannabis oil or have it shipped into the state. So to be clear on this: it is legal, pursuant to numerous conditions, to possess cannabis oil, however, all methods of actually acquiring the oil are still illegal. Well, magic as a method is legal. Perhaps the legislature envisions patients performing a Harry Potter style invocation to acquire their needed oil?

I will assume that the bill’s author (Rep. Allen Peake) and its sponsors did not set out to write a bad bill. I suspect they truly do want to help people suffering from the above (and many other unlisted) conditions. The problem is the compromises one must make in politics that whittle otherwise well intentioned legislation down to hollowed out cores of absurdity. This bill is a prime example of the fallacy that compromises are de facto evidence of a principled balancing of interests. If you believe all illegal aliens should be shot and I believe none should, then it is hardly a principled balancing of interests to say we shall only shoot half of them. Likewise if I believe that any substance that can relieve pain and suffering should be obtainable without artificial barriers but you believe that the risk of even one person getting “high” outweighs the pain and suffering of millions, then it is a meaningless compromise indeed to say patients can legally possess those substances but that actions aimed at possession are illegal. Empty, hollow rhetoric – nothing more.

Mix one part irrational fear with one part representative democracy and you get a society with needless pain and suffering. None should ever be allowed to suffer because of fears of what might be, lest we become prisoners entombed behind the bars of potential acts.

Minority Report

It would appear that the Georgia General Assembly is under the impression that police officers in this state are endowed with wizardry skills, namely the ability to divine the future and see beyond this physical realm into the invisible and incorporeal dimensions. The Georgia House voted last week (the Senate similarly approving it a month earlier) to approve Senate Bill 94.  In broad terms this bill’s stated purpose was to modernize many of Georgia’s statutes under Title 17 relating to criminal procedures. There do appear to be some genuine improvements to the law in this piece of legislation. For example Section 17-20-2 covers procedures for witness identification lineups. It is now forbidden that the person conducting the line up have any knowledge of the identity of the actual suspect. This ensures a true “double-blind” outcome free of unconscious cues directing the witness to the “correct” choice.

However there are other aspects to this legislation which take a decidedly two-steps forward one-step back approach to improving the state of criminal law in this state. Perhaps the most egregious is Section 17-5-22, which now includes language that warrants may be issued if probable cause can be shown that a crime is about to be committed. Yes you read that correctly – about to be committed. Taking a page out of the movie “Minority Report,” Georgia now has a “pre-Crime” clause in its criminal code. We are fortunate that police officers in this state can now exercise a power none of us mere mortals posses: the ability to see into the future. Nostradamus would be proud. So, that leaves an open question – can the state get a conviction for a crime that was about to be committed but then because of the warrant was not? What are the standards of evidence? Is merely possessing a weapon “proof” you were about to commit a crime? If I have a gun or knife on me does that mean I am about to commit the crime of murder? Armed robbery? Assault? Which one? All three perhaps? If I own an analytical balance does that mean I’m about to commit the crime of drug distribution? I wonder how much easier it will be for the police to harass someone they have it in for if any of a number of innocuous items could be used to commit a crime. Let me just interject here now to say I don’t mean the Oconee County Police – they are the best and would never do anything like this! Ok, that was mean to be a bit of levity, but I’m also serious, I am fortunate to live in a county with a police force that does not engage in the sort of shenanigans you sometimes hear about on the news – they truly are top-notch.  So, what am I complaining about you might say, none of these legislative games affect or are likely to affect me? Because I can see beyond my own little world, and I can see how although some officers would not abuse the power granted in this new law, I can also see how it could easily be abused by those with personal vendettas or discriminatory inclinations. We’ve all heard the phrase “driving while black” – can you imagine how much easier it will now be for officers with racist inclinations to concoct suspicion of some “pre-crime” when they fail to find any evidence of an actual crime? I believe the question answers itself.

On the lighter side of inanity contained in this bill, there is a change in the definition of “property”. Section 17-5-1 now defines property to encompass “intangible, … incorporeal… or invisible” things. Hmmmm… so are they going to confiscate my invisible friend? That doesn’t seem very respectful of the rights of invisible, incorporeal beings. Ok, I know what they mean; they are referring to digital media (well I hope that is what they mean, otherwise someone let Casper know about this). The intent here is unclear but one could imagine that it allows them to now collect a physical device (phone, hard drive), copy all the data off, and then erase it and return it to you empty. That way they can say they returned your physical goods and kept as evidence the “incorporeal” digital evidence. Of course if making a copy of someone’s property” is supposedly a crime then haven’t the police just committed the same crime by copying your copy? Perhaps if the General Assembly used the correct definition of property, e.g. scarce, rivalrous resources, it would free up police manpower to go after actual property crimes (theft, rape, murder) rather than acting as referee in disputes that amount to nothing more than schoolyard disputes over who said something first.

Knock, knock – Who’s there?

A pair of nearly identical bills (SB 45, SB 159) has been introduced this session into the Georgia legislature concerning “no-knock” warrants. Apparently all those no-knock raids we’ve heard about recently in Georgia (a toddler nearly killed in Habersham County, the murder of David Hooks in Laurens County) were illegal. Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A 17-5-27) officers must give “verbal notice” before force can be used to execute a warrant. Huh. Imagine that, words on a piece of a paper didn’t stop those in power from doing whatever they wanted – and since there was no accountability in either case, apparently the current law prohibiting no-knocks is of little practical value. So, let’s see, how could we possibly remedy this situation? I’ve got it – make no-knock raids LEGAL! Now when officers engage in this practice they won’t be breaking the law anymore, problem solved.

Why stop there? Why not make rape, murder, and theft legal? That would lower the crime rate in Georgia to the point where there would be no need for no-knock raids. Oh, right that wouldn’t help because no-knock raids aren’t about catching actual criminals (rapists, murders, and thieves). No, they are about nabbing the low hanging fruit of drug “crimes” where mere possession of “stuff” is all that is needed to close a case. Smash, grab, arrest. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Detective work is so tedious – this is much easier. I have a suggestion for these politicians. If you are so keen on legalizing that which was formerly illegal in order to control it better, then try this: repeal all drug laws. Now there is no need for no-knock warrants.

Now, just to clarify, both bills’ proponents claim the bills prohibit no-knock raids. One (SB45) even goes so far as to call itself “Bou Bou’s Law” (after the toddler that nearly had his face blown off). Because both bills would greatly increase the probability of another “Bou Bou” type incident, this particular appellation is about as disconcertingly insulting as naming a rape legalization bill a “Women’s Rights Law”.

What the declaration giveth (“No search warrant shall be issued which contains a no-knock”), the exception clause taketh away (“unless the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”)

“Significant and imminent” are the weasel words that will build the foundation of every manufactured excuse to engage in this practice. Honestly, if the degree of danger is that serious do you really think an extra 5-10 seconds will provide an absolute measure of safety? If the danger level is truly “imminent” no one should be entering, announced or unannounced, if officer safety is the primary concern. Surround and siege is a much less dangerous alternative for all involved. Likewise, the phrase “evidence being destroyed” is code for “drugs flushed down the commode”. Thus upon this rock one may build the excuse for every drug case being a no-knock case.

Opposition to these bills is not “anti-cop”. Quite the contrary. Officers tend to get shot when they break into people’s homes unannounced. That’s just a fact. The goal should be to eliminate such raids, not increase their use through legalization and specious pleading of “oversight.” The only situation where a no-knock raid would ever be warranted is if someone’s life inside the residence is in danger (think serial killer situation). But to risk the lives of officers and innocent bystanders inside in order to potentially get a few grams of dope off the streets – that is simply reckless and the Georgia senate should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to codify under the color of law this outrageous practice. Please contact your Georgia Senator to voice opposition to these bills.