legal thievery in blue.

This is a classic asset forfeiture abuse case:

  • Waitress, known to be in a financial bind, is tipped $12,000 via cash in take-out box given to her by a stranger.
  • Waitress takes the cash to police.
  • Cops confiscate it because their drug dog conveniently alerted to pot smell on the box, therefore the cash is seized under  asset forfeiture provisions.
  • Waitress goes public; cops offer her $1,000 “reward”. Waitress turns down the reward and sues.
  • Eventually, PD recognizes the massive PR blunder and unwelcome attention and decides to return the money to her.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the box never smelled of pot, and that if a drug dog ever came close to it, it was prompted by the handler to alert. The fact that they offered her a thousand bucks to shut her up just reinforces that opinion—“finder’s rewards” for asset forfeiture drug money are unprecedented. They saw $12,000 in a box, and decided that OF COURSE it had to be drug money, and don’t we need a new light bar for unit 244?

How’s that War on Drugs coming, America? This kind of stuff happens too often to report. It has turned otherwise law-abiding people—the ones you want on your side, Thin Blue Line—into distrustful adversaries, and cops into something regarded not unlike an occupying army by a lot of people. (What kind of lesson have you taught that waitress and her family, and what kind of attitude will they have toward the police for the rest of their lives? Do you think they’ll ever report anything to you again?)

Asset forfeiture is evil. It was intended to strip assets from drug kingpins, but like RICO, it has been expanded to fit the needs and desires of the state, and now it’s the default position of LE that if you carry more than an average amount of cash on you, it must be drug-related. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that giving the cops a financial incentive to seize property is a very bad idea.

Sadly, nothing’s going to change any time soon, because a.) the War on Drugs is great business for the State at all levels, and because b.) if you oppose that kind of nonsense, you’re clearly a pot-smoking libertarian who’s fine with people driving down the road snorting lines of coke off the dashboard.

And in the meantime, drugs are cheaper and more readily available than ever, our cops dress and arm like the 1st Marines about to invade Iran, and public trust in law enforcement is down the shitter. Getting the government to declare a war on something is a perfect recipe to have that something in abundance a few years later, and yet another edge of the Constitution lit on fire as the new Something Enforcement Agency employs 100,000 and sucks down a few billion in cash every year to keep the racket going.

But hey—legalizing pot would send the wrong message.

who keeps ordering those nightly pepperoni pizzas to corcoran state prison?

The California prison system released new pictures of Charles Manson, now 77. Turns out that a swastika tattoo between your eyebrows doesn’t really dress up your appearance at any age.

I want you to pay close attention to something mentioned in the article, though:

In the past five years, Manson was punished for threatening a peace officer and for possession of a weapon, the latter happening in October when Manson was found with a sharpened pen, Thornton said.

Manson received notoriety when he was found to be in possession of a contraband cell phone — twice — the latest in January 2011.

Read that again, and let’s recap:

This man is one of the nation’s most notorious mass murderers, if not the most notorious one. He is almost eighty, and he has been in prison for over forty years. He is in a place where the government has complete control over him and his environment. The Bill of Rights does not exist for him.

And they can’t keep him from repeatedly obtaining contraband cell phones.

If that doesn’t make you realize that the War on Some Drugs and the TSA security kabuki are complete bullshit, you can’t be helped. If they can’t keep a cell phone out of a septuagenarian’s high-security prison cell, they can’t keep anything out of anywhere.

shoe, meet other foot.

The President is perturbed at the thought of an “unelected group of people” overturning a law he likes. I thought “judicial activism” was just a conservative battle cry?

I don’t know how a former professor of Constitutional Law doesn’t get the fact that the Supreme Court’s unelected nature isn’t a bug, but a feature. If you made the Supreme Court judges and their decisions subject  to the popular vote, there would be no point in having a Supreme Court. A little fuzzy on that whole Checks and Balances thing, are we?

nancy grace syndrome.

In another example of what I’ve come to call “Nancy Grace Syndrome”, a prosecutor team in Alabama has decided to charge someone with capital murder.

This one concerns the grandmother and stepmother of the little girl that collapsed and died after being forced to run outside for three hours after lying about taking a candy bar.

In my opinion (and I am most empathically not a lawyer, so take it for what it’s worth), the charge is a mistake. Just like in the Casey Anthony charge, the prosecution went for the big hammer based on perception and public outrage. In the end, they may be doing themselves and the public a huge disservice by overcharging the defendants and opening the possibility of letting them walk for the offense. (I believe that Casey Anthony’s prosecutor had charged her with manslaughter instead of Murder One, she would not be free right now. But a capital murder charge requires extraordinarily solid proof as to mindset and motive, and they failed to make the jury agree.)

I mentioned in my last post that I was on the receiving end of child abuse when I was a kid. I have no sympathy for child abusers at all, and I think what they did to that little girl was despicable and inexcusable. I think they all ought to go to prison for manslaughter and child abuse. But I don’t think the offense warrants capital murder charges because the prosecution will not be able to prove mens rea, and as a member of the defendant’s jury, I would vote to acquit.

(That is, of course, unless the prosecution had some truly extraordinary proof, something like a diary entry by the grandmother declaring a plan to kill her granddaughter through exercise for, I dunno, profit or something.)

Putting people to death is a big deal, and a capital murder charge requires rock-solid evidence. If that piece of garbage gets to walk, it’ll be on the prosecutor’s head. If we start putting people on death row based on the level of public outrage, sooner or later the yardstick for that most severe of punishments will get lowered, and before you know it, we hoist people from cranes in the village square like they do in Iran.

the ethics of going armed.

Kit is a police officer in Montana. Kit has written a blog post you should read.

http://kitlear.com/?p=420

I have a few notes of my own on the subject of self-defense and mindset, as some of you might imagine. Kit has the practical aspects covered, so I’ll try to tackle the philosophical angle, as I’m known to do on occasion.

I have sort of a split social personality. Half of my circle of friends and acquaintances are gun-toting libertarians or conservatives. The other half are writers, editors, and publishers, most of which are liberals. There’s some overlap between the two groups–a lot of my conservative friends are socially quite liberal, and a lot of my liberal-leaning friends either own guns or are interested in them. Some of them, however, don’t own guns, don’t care to own guns, and don’t think anyone else has a valid reason to own one either.  They think that carrying a firearm is a sign of uneducated, retrograde proclivity for violence, and that even the desire to own one is something that marks a person as mentally unhealthy.

In the last few years, as I have gained a few levels for the Writer class I seem to have rolled in Life:The Role-Playing Game, I’ve been around more people of the second mindset than ever before. I’ve been to conventions and workshops, and due to the strong liberal bent of the publishing world I’ve usually self-censored myself and kept my opinions on the subject under wraps until I was reasonably sure I was with a group of people who were fairly like-minded on the subject–or at least not completely appalled at the notion of armed self-defense. (In contrast, I’ve done the same social dance in reverse whenever I’ve been around the gun blogger community–I generally keep my yap shut about the fact that I’m a pro-choice atheist with very strong small-l libertarian leanings unless someone asks me directly.)

Outing yourself as a gun owner (and worse, a gun toter) to a liberal friend can be very much like coming out of the closet or identifying yourself as an atheist to a strongly religious conservative friend. I can’t believe it! And he seems like such a nice guy! What the hell is wrong with him? Well, I always sort of knew there was something just a little off about him. When I was hanging out with one of my Viable Paradise pals at the end of VP XII, she was visibly shocked when we were talking about the subject, she asked me if I usually carried a gun, and I answered in the affirmative. To be fair, she’s from Canada, where carry permits are about as rare as televangelists on food stamps, so it wasn’t too surprised at her shock of having to mentally sort me into the “violent redneck yahoo” drawer she had reserved in her brain for people who carry firearms. I’ve learned to tread softly on the issue because publishing is really not a very big playground, you see the same faces at cons and workshops all the time, and you really don’t want to push strong opinions on something that can have a negative effect on your career prospects in the future.

Those who know me can tell you that I am not a violent person. I abhor conflict and will go out of my way to avoid it. I was abused by a parent when I was a kid, and frequently bullied in high school, so I have a special dislike for abusers and bullies. Even so, I believe that most of the people I meet are decent and good. I live in a small town, I don’t hang out with people who do stupid shit, and if I keep living the way I do, there’s a 99.99% chance that I’ll never have need for a firearm for self-defense.

That said, while I believe that most people are decent and good, I know–without the shadow of a doubt–that some people aren’t. And here’s the thing about those that aren’t: they are not good to a degree that most of my liberal friends who dislike guns and write off armed people as paranoid hicks can’t comprehend. We’re not talking about “swiping the cash box from girl scouts” bad. Some people have decided to abandon the social contract so entirely that you are not a real person to them. You’re just the thing they need to get rid of to get at the wallet and the car keys in your pocket, like a wrapper around a candy bar that needs to be ripped off and discarded before you can get to the nougat. (My former mother-in-law was one of those people who were aghast at the notion of someone arming themselves for self-defense. When I asked her what her plan was if she ever get mugged, she said, “Reason with them. Everyone wants to be respected.”) Well, some people don’t care about reasoning with you because you’re not a person to them. They don’t give a shit about being respected, at least not in the way you understand the word. You’re a food animal. All they care about is the thing they want from you–your wallet, your car, your body, whatever–and they want it now and with the least amount of fuss. And if they feel that the transaction is taking too long, puts them at risk in any way, they have no compunction about hurting you badly or killing you on the spot. This is not paranoid hyperbole, or some sort of effort to dehumanize muggers and rapists. It’s observed reality, and if you doubt that, all you have to do is to open the “Crime” section of any newspaper. (Better yet, talk to a beat cop.)

Now, some of my liberal friends and acquaintances will take the stance that going armed will not be of use most of the time against people with that kind of mindset. You won’t get to it in time, they’ll take it away from you, you’ll miss them and hit an innocent bystander, the gun in the home is more likely to hurt a family member by accident…the list of counterpoints is long, and I can recite it by rote. We can argue any or all of the points above for hours, but there’s one thing that, on a philosophical level, you will never be able to make me concede:

That intentionally making yourself weaker in the face of danger and aggression is somehow more civilized, moral, intelligent, or enlightened. 

You’re not the better human by not fighting back. You’re not the better human for choosing to have no claws or teeth. You’re not the better human for delegating responsibility your personal safety to some underpaid guy or girl with a tin badge. And you damn sure don’t get to claim a halo for your attitude.

Look, threatening to end someone else’s life for the contents of their wallet or access to their body is the worst kind of social contract violation. Responding to that kind of violation with passivity and compliance only enables and propagates the act. If enough people meekly hand over their possessions, the violator not only has no reason to stop doing what he’s doing, he has a strong incentive to keep doing it. If you could have stopped him but didn’t, then you’re at least partially responsible when he finishes with you and then goes down the street to do the same thing to someone who would have stopped him but couldn’t.

No, carrying a gun is not a guarantee that you’ll be free from harm. But I carry one because it gives me options that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I can use it or leave it in its holster, but the choice is mine. We all take a path every day that’s occasionally frequented by mountain lions, and I choose to walk that path with my own set of teeth and claws just in case. There’s nothing noble or moral about walking that path unarmed and making yourself easier prey. You may respect the mountain lion’s right to live more than you do your own, but he will have forgotten you as soon as you’ve passed through his digestive tract. I’ll still have friendly words for anyone I meet along the road, and I’ll be a happy man if I take all my walks on that path without ever having to use my gun, but I won’t be an easy meal, and I don’t think it’s morally superior to intentionally make yourself one. And I’m amused by people telling me that I am paranoid, because don’t you know how rare mountain lion attacks really are? It’s all just statistics and stuff that happens to other people…until you’re the one that ends up on the menu by chance.

If you don’t like guns, and you don’t want to carry one, that is your choice, and I respect it. If you don’t like the fact that I carry one, it’s your prerogative to judge me according to your system of ethics. But if your dislike extends to supporting laws that would make it illegal for me to carry that gun, understand this: if I mean you harm, trying to disarm me is pointless…and if I don’t mean you harm, disarming me won’t make you any safer.

well, as long as your intentions are pure.

Back in college—meaning “a few years ago” for me—my English teacher was a pleasant older woman who was married to an Iranian national. I had many discussions with her on politics, education, and the general state of affairs in this country.

Once, we were talking about the different mindsets in the Middle East, and the American tendency to go into a place and expect the folks there to think like we do. She told me of a student from an Arab country she once had. One time he didn’t show up for an exam. When she later marked his grade down for the absence, he protested.

“You weren’t there, so I had to mark down your grade,” she told him.

“I was at the library and I was running late. I meant to come to class.”

“Well, you still weren’t there, so I really have no choice. You missed the exam.”

“But I meant to come,” he insisted, quite upset that the teacher wouldn’t change her decision.

When she later discussed the incident with her husband, he explained that it’s a cultural thing. He explained that in the student’s native culture, intent is as important as–and sometimes more important than–results. He missed the exam, but his intentions had been good, so to him, the teacher marking down his grade was profoundly unfair.

I find that this explanation helps me understand the ability of so many people to dismiss the negative effects of certain policy decisions. In some ways, they have adopted the same sort of mindset that intent trumps results. That’s how we end up with rising food prices because so much of the country’s farmers are now growing government-subsidized corn to turn into fuel ethanol, for example. The intent was to help the environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The results are the aforementioned rising global food prices because of all the crop acreage that is now re-purposed for fuel. (The net result for the environment has been negative in the end, because the agricultural runoff from the nitrogen fertilizers needed for all the corn has a bad impact on the Gulf of Mexico.)

That’s how we ended up with egregious systematic abuses of power like RICO and asset forfeiture excess–because the intent of the law was good (reducing or eliminating the negative effects of drugs on society), the people who voted that kind of stuff into place can hold fast to it because the actual results of the policy are not as important as its intent. Conversely, measures specifically designed to eliminate the negative results of the War on Drugs don’t stand a chance of success with the same crowd if the intent of the measure is perceived wrongly. (“You want to make cannabis legal to stop stuffing the jails with non-violent drug offenders? Are you insane? What kind of message does that send?”)

How many public policy measures have been kept in place even though they have achieved the opposite results of those desired because they were well-intended? The list is a long one, and it’s not limited to only liberal or only conservative hobby horses. Gun control, welfare, drug policy, defense policy, education, health care…it seems that too many politicians (and voters) of either party are more interested in doing what sounds right than what’s actually effective. The system is set up to favor the sound bite and the “common sense solution” because it gets more votes—and is more defensible in a campaign debate—than the ideas that are focused on producing results without giving a handy “perceived intent” adapter for the proponent.

That’s how voters can re-elect a guy accused of taking bribes or diddling interns—because his public policy efforts have the proper intent, his private transgressions are irrelevant. And that’s why they can dismiss the good results achieved by the Other Guy’s public policy efforts—because those policies don’t have the proper intent, their results are irrelevant.