This morning I was minding my own business, a rare event for me, and reading the August 12, 2013 edition of the New Yorker magazine. I delved into an article called Taken, by Sarah Stillman. Her quote at the beginning of the article was “Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of the cash, cars, and even homes. Is this all we’re losing?”
This quote failed to include, but she detailed later in the article, an even more frightening occurrence under civil forfeiture. Law enforcement agencies can not only take every scrap of your worldly possessions without even charging you with a crime, but your children as well. As a matter of fact children are held hostage with the threat of placing children in foster care to bully the parents to relinquish their possessions without a fight. If they refuse, they are charged with child endangerment and their children are taken, even infants at the breast.
In my opinion civil forfeiture is state funded pillage and plunder. What happened to being innocent until proven guilty? A pretty neat trick – claim to suspect someone of a crime and then confiscate their money and property so that they have no means to defend themselves. Whatever is confiscated is not returned even if the suspected party is found not guilty or never even formally charged with a crime in the first place. This is robbery pure and simple. The fact that this is perfectly “legal” in America is profoundly disturbing.
As I am writing this my hands are shaking and then the memories came flooding back. This has happened to me not once but 3 times in my life. It’s no wonder that I am supremely pissed. I’ve never heard the term civil forfeiture until today, but I know now that is what it was. And I was never formally charged let alone convicted of any crime whatsoever in my entire life. The worst thing I’ve ever been fined for is a parking ticket.
Anyone who has ever been to New Orleans knows that it is almost impossible to emerge unscathed without at least one ticket. It’s a no win game. The meter maids see an out of state license plate and the game is on. My tires are always covered with neon orange chalk marks when I leave New Orleans. They mark my car and watch it, waiting for the inevitable slip up. One of my tickets was for a tire that was not less than eighteen inches from the curb. That’s tricky because many of the old curbs have a metal edge on them and you risk blowing out a tire and damaging the wheel hub in an effort to get close but not too close to the curb.
The first “forfeiture” I experienced happened when I was 18 years old. A guy I was dating less than 6 weeks turned out to be a thief. The police went to my apartment looking for him and in the process took everything I owned, clothing, furniture, the contents of my fridge, even my toothbrush. I was left with nothing but the clothes on my back. I never got any of it back. I maintained that I had no idea what he was up to and the police even agreed with me saying that they had been watching him. I think taking everything I owned as punishment was taking the saying “ignorance is no excuse” a bit far.
The second time this happened was when I let my 2 little brothers borrow my car to go duck hunting and fishing. This happens in Louisiana, the state motto is “Sportsman’s Paradise” for crying out loud. They got pulled over in a small town for some stupid reason I don’t even remember. Turns out these 2 teenaged boys had a little weed for personal use on them. Oh no, unleash the hounds from hell. (sarcasm mine) The police searched the trunk to find hunting rifles and fishing gear. It was duck season after all. Probably every car and truck in the area contained hunting paraphernalia. My brothers had in their possession the appropriate game licenses to prove that their intention was in fact to hunt and fish.
My brothers were not charged with anything. Instead they impounded the car and its entire contents. MY CAR! I wasn’t even there. We had to go pick them up from some little Podunk town in mid Louisiana. My car and all the possessions there in were not returned to me…ever. I was left with no transportation to get to work because I let my brothers use my car to go hunting and fishing. My brother commented later that the cop who stopped them was wearing my brand new Ray ban sunglasses left in the visor when he let them go. For some reason that ticked me off more than them taking my car.
In the third and worse case they took my child and it took 6 weeks and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to get her back. My crime you may ask? My mother had failed to inform the police that her sons were dabbling in the evils of marijuana. I balked at testifying in court to the effect that she was a terrible and abusive mother. This made me an “accessory” in my Mother’s “child abuse” and they took custody of my child and sent her to a state run foster home. This was not meant to be a temporary placement. They fully intended to take her away from me, but I found the means to fight back and I did, and I won. I was in court that day and heard with unbelieving ears the judge call my mother a “disgusting bitch” and “the worse mother she had ever encountered.” This is an exact quote, not a paraphrase.
So anyway, I think we as a country need to take a long hard look at this civil forfeiture process. I’m extremely pleased that a large national magazine like the New Yorker is outing this heinous practice. Will it help? I don’t know. But, something definitely needs to be done about it. Don’t think it couldn’t happen to you because it could in a heartbeat. Let a troubled relative stay with you and they continue to get in trouble? You could find yourself out on the street and penniless because of your act of charity.
Shares in Microsoft are down this morning after the announcement that the new generation of the Xbox 360 gaming console will not play used games. Yes my friends, the Borg are trying to assimilate our wallets yet again.! I’m not going into a rant about corporate greed because I think that free enterprise is a good thing.
I also happen to be married into a privately owned entity and I don’t think we are in the least bit greedy. If you add up all the times we’ve rescued wacky family members in yet another melodramatic crisis, paid storage fees for friends who just can’t part with their junk…I mean stuff…, helped the house keeper buy an alarm system for her house after she caught a peeping tom looking in her bathroom window, make donations to the humane society, etc. I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Husband and I share and help out where and when we can.
What I am going to rant about today is the some businesses are trying some really dirty rotten underhanded nasty stuff right under our noses. For years now software companies have been playing around with how to squeeze another nickel out of customers. Are they trying to create another software or an update that adds value ? Nope!
They want to turn transform ownership of software, and other digital content into a subscription so that we pay for the same thing, over and over and over again. At least with a magazine subscription we get some new content with each issue. Although it’s hidden in between advertisements and those horrendous smelly scratch and sniff perfume cards. I’m glad the New Yorker magazine doesn’t do the perfume thing. Thank God for small favors.
The main thing that really sets my grits on fire is all this playing fast and loose with ownership. The average consumer generally operates under the increasingly false assumption that once you purchase an item and have the receipt in hand that it belongs to you. You now own it. Au Contriare! The fun has only just begun.
With software, games and music, and now even E books, you do not own it. You may think you do, but all you have done is pay for the right to use it …. X number of times. X = a very small number in this equation. And God help you if your laptop, gaming console, or digital music device decides to crash and burn, jump in the toilet, or jump out of your backpack when walking in a far away land. Also you do not own it in the sense, that since it belongs to you, you can choose to lend it or give away. HA! Gotcha! Can’t do that either. Well you sort of can, but I’m not going to get into that now. It may border on not quite kosher, and the only person I’m willing to lead astray is me, that’s trouble enough.
In some situations you can re-download digital content purchases from Amazon.com or iTunes. But there are limits on the number of times you can do this. That’s ridiculous in my opinion. I have been known to get mad at my malfunctioning Windows operating system and re-install it multiple times in a single day, fall asleep from mental exhaustion, get up the next morning and re-install it a few more times just because I can. What can I say, I’m a closet geek. I gave up putting the screws back on the cover of my computer years ago, because I’m always digging around in there for something to air blast the dust off, improve, upgrade, add-on, re-arrange, or just admire the intricate workings of such a magnificent mechanical work of art.
I know many people just don’t see the trouble in the ownership of digital content hoop dee la. But here me out please. Tinkering with ownership starts out small, but gathers steam. What if you suddenly find out that you can’t lend your favorite paper book to a friend or donate your used clothing and household items to a charity, or give your favorite sweater to a friend, because it’s against the law to sell or use “pre-owned” items? It could happen, stuff like this happens all the time.