Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Your money or your freedom!

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


Ever since we've had, and every time we do have a Democratic president, we hear about how we're losing our freedom and because the trope usually constitutes little more than Republican propaganda, those allegedly moribund freedoms aren't well  described and all the jejune yet fulsome polemics appear to relate to little more than the usual dispepsia about safety standards for oil rigs, restraints on proselytizing in schools and toxic waste dumping in our water supplies, about protecting our kids against preventable diseases -- and of course about rising taxes, whether they are in fact, rising or not.

It's not that our rights aren't being infringed upon, our protections under the law aren't being twisted out of shape and used against us.  That we are bombarded incessantly with carefully orchestrated and dramatically publicized scandals and outrages and endless preaching of crusade is part of the problem. The recent Florida case in which a young mother was given 20 years in prison because she fired a warning shot to chase off her violent and estranged husband got practically no attention and why? Because with the lucrative Zimmerman case filling the showcase windows, nobody wanted to suggest that someone under violent attack might ever have the right to warn off an attacker much less a right to self defense.
The American stage is occupied with cheap and endless burlesque and because of it, all sorts of  invisible horrors await in the wings and in the green room and out in the parking lots and we don't know and we don't find it entertaining enough to pay much attention even when we hear or smell it.  I've been bitching and whining and agitating to an unconcerned, short attention span audience jaded on its diet of  stage managed, sugar coated outrage for far too long and I've been wasting my time while our constitutional protections erode away in the name of security.

The fourth and fifth amendments have been abridged almost to the point of uselessness and justified by our war on "terror" but that our property can be seized without due process, that we can be searched without legitimate reason, without knowledge or permission or court supervision, that we can be blackmailed into paying police departments to avoid prosecution for things we didn't do or weren't illegal is commonplace, that we can involuntarily forfeit property without due process and without evidence is outrageous in the extreme and and yet no one seems to give a damn as long as it can be, as it is, justified by fighting drugs and/or terrorism.  There's always a justification, a war, a danger, an enemy to excuse it.

The August 12th edition of The New Yorker has a scary investigative piece by Sarah Stillman describing a case in which an interracial couple who set out for the dealer in a nearby town to buy a used car with $6000 cash in hand.    Followed and then stopped, ostensibly for spending too much time in the left lane, they were accused of being drug transporters even though there were no drugs and were threatened with felony charges for child endangerment and money laundering They were  told by the County DA that their children would be sent to foster homes unless they forfeited their cash. So much for the fourth and fifth amendments. So much for this being a free country. Your money or your freedom.

If you have cash you're fair game. If you have cash, you're legally presumed to be breaking the law.  If one is within 100 miles of a US border, the government is no longer required to pretend there is probable cause.  Thus half of our population lives in a constitution-free zone.  If one owns a boat, one accepts the risk of random Coast Guard searches, often at gun point and often it's only a training exercise. The guns are real, of course, and if they rip up your boat, it's your problem. 

In the America we sometimes still sing about, that's called extortion, that's called unconstitutional abuse of our right to due process, but that's the America we live in.  No, I'm not cherry picking isolated examples and dressing it all up as typical.  It is typical and forced forfeitures to avoid false charges are commonplace.  One truck driver who disliked banks had his life savings extorted from him  by New Mexico police at a weigh station and all because of  the unconstitutional presumption of guilt we now live with.  If you're caught with more than $10,000 in cash, and sometimes much less, you go to jail as a drug dealer and money launderer or you lose it all immediately to buy your freedom. Why burden the taxpayer after all if we can provide letters of marque to law enforcement and allow them to be pirates, corsairs and freebooters?  According to the New Yorker article:

"In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.
There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. "

Cars, cash, firearms, real estate, children and even domain names can be and are regularly seized upon suspicion or accusation by entities as widespread as  small town police officers confiscating cars and money, to the DEA and ATF, funding their war, to private corporations -- even private contractors posing as police officers.
Lawless greed by police and government law enforcement personnel and the helplessness of the public to do anything about it is what I associate with third world countries and not the sort of thing I can be proud of as an American. 

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