Saturday, November 27, 2010

We've Got You Surrounded!

I had some time to ponder two totally unrelated events from last weekend. One was a craft show, and the other was a traffic stop. The only connection between the two events was the re-enforcement of the feeling we are surrounded, 360 degrees, by government force.

The craft show was held at Cape Girardeau. This was our fourth attempt to sell my wife's dyed silk garments for a profit. This one worked out pretty well because, unlike the first three shows, we reacted to our economic environment by changing our prices downward after the first two hours. The other vendors at this venue were selling handmade Christmas oriented stuff...santas, wreaths, ornaments, pillows, etc., cheap. The average price was around $20. Our product average was around $40. By taking the prices down $10 per piece, we were more in line with our customer's expectations even though our product was still among the most expensive in the room. I suggested we needed to lower our prices, but it was my wife who had to make the decision to do so. After all, this was all her work. Hours and days of standing in her studio wrapping, clamping, dying, rinsing, squeezing, ironing. Then the committent of renting booth space, the gas expense of getting there, the food and drink to keep us going for two days.

Every sale of every piece she had slaved over required the collection of sales tax. 7.99%. I have gotten used to the idea and I barely give it a thought anymore. However, I had some time on my hands and I reflected how twenty years ago my wife and I sold some handmade toys at craft shows and nobody paid or collected sales tax. Technically we were required to do so by the state, but as a practical matter it was disregarded by all concerned. Most crafters make their goods and offer them for sale as a break-even proposition. Between all of the show expenses, the travel, the hotels, the food, there's not much left over to compensate for the time spent creating the products. One crafting friend of ours had not made back her booth fees at the three previous shows, and except for this show at which we had to take a reduced margin, we barely scraped by also.

Now, however, the craft fairs are monitored by the state. As part of your 'show packet' that the fairs hand out, you receive a copy of the local sales tax tables. You WILL collect sales tax. The State, having done none of the work, taken none of the risk, was still making about 8% (more in some places). When one has dreamed up the concept, bought the materials, made the product, and sold it to the end-user, the tax seems like such a slap in the face.

(Update): my wife just received a threatening letter from the State of Missouri because she paid her sales tax without a valid State of Missouri tax license. Penalty: $500 for the first day, and $100 per day thereafter. There seems to be a 20 day grace period to straighten this out, so we are not too worried. But the tone...)

Unrelated. On the first day of the craft show, my son was driving with two friends to a state park to do some camping. However, he has a heavy foot and was pulled over by the state police for speeding. The cop, seeing three 19 year olds in a car, told my son he smelled pot in the car. This was an outright lie. I own the car, I have driven the car as recently as that morning, and it had no smell. Additionally, the three young people in the car do not smoke pot. Still, the cop insisted he smelled pot and asked for permission to search the car. My son mentioned that the cop did not have a warrant, then quickly backed down and agreed to the search. After all, he said, he knew there was no pot in the car. Besides, he thought, if he cooperated maybe the cop would go easy on him for speeding.

The the cop did something no one expected: he stood my son and his two friends by the side of the road, handcuffed them, and told them to look away from the car as it was searched. No one has any idea what the cop looked at or in during the five minutes he was going through the car, but after about five minutes the cop came back and released everybody. And he gave my son a speeding ticket. All three of the young people were shaken up by the experience, and when I heard about it later that day, I was furious. It just seemed so wrong! Handcuffing people for speeding 10 mph over the speed limit!

It turns out that the cop did something completely legal. It was called a "Terry Stop." If the cop has reason to be concerned about his own safety, he can immobilize you for a short period of time while he assesses the situation. You are not under arrest, but you are not allowed to leave. This cop told the three kids that because there was only one of him and three of them, he had to cuff them. That explanation makes sense, but it doesn't change the humiliation these kids felt standing along the side of a major interstate highway handcuffed with their hands behind their backs for all the world to see. Implication: these kids must have done something bad. Implication: the cop just made a good bust. Implication: can't trust young people and thank god we have cops to keep them in line.

Ironically, if my son had simply refused to give permission for the search, he would have gotten the ticket and been sent on his way. Additionally, it seems to me that, with 10,000 laws on the books, who knows what laws we are violating every single day? The search simply allowed the cop to find something else for which to fine or arrest my son.

The state seems to be all around us all the time. Like walls closing in. Like a noose tightening. Remember: you're not paranoid if they really are out to get you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"There's Something Hard in Your Pants"

The title is a quote from a TSA screener when he patted down my brother at a Washington D.C. airport. It seems my brother went through the body scanner, but the results were inconclusive so he was pulled aside for the full body grope, too. The TSA agent kept pushing on my brother's lower abdomen below his belt and asking what was in his pants. My brother took it good naturedly and replied that there was nothing there. The screener kept prodding and asking what was in his pants. My brother kept saying 'nothing' in an increasingly irritated tone.

"There's something hard in your pants," said the TSA agent one more time. My brother finally responded, "keep pushing and there will be!" The agent quickly decided it must be a fold in my brother's shirttail and let him continue on his way.

Great response.

Update to the Great Fizzle

A few days ago I mused on the Daily Paul that the TSA could defuse the National Opt-Out Day by simply turning off the full body scanners for the day. No scanners means nothing to opt-out of means protest fizzles.

Lookie here:

I should take up sooth saying.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Great Fizzle

Today, National Opt-Out Day, has been a snorer. A few scattered protests. Some opt-outs. It was mostly business as usual.

Was it a total bust? Maybe not. The number of people who flew today is supposed to be up 3.5% over last year. We will not know the real number for a few more days. If the number of people actually went down, then maybe people decided to opt-out completely by driving instead of flying. Time will tell.

Other than that, it appears Americans lined up to do away with their human dignity and the Constitution for the sake of feel-good security theater. Their unwillingness to confront the government over a policy with such personal aspects as being required to display themselves naked before being allowed to fly means that they will absolutely not take on the government over less concrete violations. First Amendment? A luxury! Second Amendment? A potential threat to security! Fourth Amendment? Unnecessary! Tenth Amendment? An anachronism!

Not only will Americans not fight to take back the freedom that once was theirs, but they have signalled in no uncertain terms that they will not fight against future intrusions. That will embolden the statists to consolidate their gains, grab and exercise more power, and take control of more of our lives.

The protest fizzled. Americans are going to get a lot more of what they refused to refuse.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Has the Sleeping Giant Awakened?

I used to wonder what it would take for Americans to rise up, enmass, and confront their government. If the news reports are any indication, it is the stories, the voice recordings, and the video of people, some as young as three years old, or as infirm as a disabled cancer patient, being put through a full body scanner or being groped as a prior condition for getting on an airplane. One man, to prove a point, refused the scanners, then refused the pat-down, but willingly stripped to his bike shorts so the TSA could see he had nothing to hide. He was told to put on his clothes so they could pat him down! Then they arrested him for not following instructions!
Indignation at the overreach of the TSA has gone viral. Someone started the call for a National Opt-Out Day, and over the course of two weeks it has snowballed into a fearsome threat to on-time air travel on the day before Thanksgiving.

The TSA reacted this past weekend. They stated that anyone who disrupts the scanning process or the pat downs will be arrested and fined $10,000. The pat-downs and the scans would go forward as planned, said Mr. Pistole, the head of the TSA. His tough guy attitude struck the exact wrong cord, and the calls for opting out of the naked body scanners intensified. Today, he was somewhat more concilliatory by saying they were looking at procedures to see if they could be made more palatable, and pleading with air travellers to cooperate with the TSA out of consideration for other travellers.

On my way home tonight, my Congressman, Russ Carnahan, got some airtime by saying he was reviewing TSA procedures to see if they couldn't be modified. Russ has never demonstrated the slightest concern for the Constitution. His concern was strictly to make TSA procedures less of a lightning rod. He doesn't want to kill the beast, he wants to tame it.

Debates have raged on TV between civil libertarians, who oppose the very idea of the TSA as well as the security measures they have put in place, and the Safety First crowd that repeats the mantra "anything for safety." One of their best critiques is "if you (libertarians) don't want the TSA to do body scans to keep us safe, what would YOU do to keep us safe?" The best response to that critique is: "it is not the government's job to keep us safe in the air, it is the airlines job to keep us safe in the air." That doesn't directly answer the question so much as it tries to reframe the debate: it's not WHAT will keep us safe, but WHO. I'm not sure most viewers get this.

Nevertheless, there is extensive buzz on the internet and in the mainstream press. We'll know in two days if it has any teeth. It seems to me that the easy way for the TSA to defang the entire threat is to turn off the machines for a day. No machines and no pat downs means no opt-out. The whole protest fizzles. They can always put the rules in place at another time when everyone has gotten a little tired of the arguments.

Personally, I hope the TSA sticks with its' hardline position. That could be the catalyst for a nationwide reality check, some citizen activism, and maybe for some citizen empowerment. If people see the TSA run away from one of their cherished programs because of an incensed public, maybe the public will sense their own power and continue spontaneous challenges to other programs, bureaucracies, and government institutions.

I wonder if the sleeping giant has awakened.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Scanner Update

Just an update to my earlier post about the backscatter machines at airports:

I flew out of St Louis Lambert on Monday. The scanner was there, but it was not being used. Everyone in the very, very long security line was put through the old metal detectors. No drama here.

I flew back out of Phoenix Sky scanners in sight.

From stories I have read elsewhere, the TSA is dealing with the 'opt out' crowd by doing simple pat-downs. No cavity searches. No genital probing. Some of the overheated rhetoric on some websites accuses the TSA of almost demonic procedures, yet the evidence is that the TSA are being careful and respectful. I'm sure there will be exceptions, and those will be publicized repeatedly. People will 'opt out' to avoid being seen naked, and they'll fear getting a pat-down and a feel-up at the same time. I think they are worrying about the wrong stuff. They ought to be considering the fear-mongering that is at the core of the whole scanning/probing issue. They ought to 'opt out' while dreaming of the Fourth Amendment.

The good news is that the dilemma I felt in an earlier post is somewhat muted now. Of course I will 'opt out,' not because I might be seen naked, but because it's all just wrong.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Communicating with a Pol

I wrote the following letter to Ed Martin, Republican candidate for Missouri's 3rd Congressional District:

Dear Ed,
This is to inform you that I intend to vote for you on November 2nd.
However, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: this is not an endorsement. I cannot know what you are really going to do when you get to Washington. The words you have written indicate at least a cursory knowledge of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and the libertarian philosophy of liberty. Whether or not you truly understand those words...that is to be seen. You may have won my vote, but you have to earn my trust.
At this time I have no reason to trust you.
Most Republican candidates are going to benefit from the rising wave of anti-Obama revulsion. The Republicans will win many seats and they will pat themselves on the back and say "see, they love us." Nothing could be further from the truth. Republicans forget that they were thrown out just two years ago amid similar disgust with Bush and his run-amok cronies and Congressional lapdogs. Voters are looking for something else, a different way of governing. They didn't get it with the Bush Republicans, they tried the Democrats and were deeply disappointed; now they're trying to find what they are looking for with the Republicans again. I fear we will be shafted again.
I have no illusions about the daunting task of reversing the course of government. It is likely that the new 'tea party' congressmen will constitute such a small part of the overall Congress that they will have little direct influence on day-to-day legislation. They will be considered to be irrelevant by the mainstream. The pressure will be to go along to get along in hopes of having influence somewhere in the future. This is a pipe dream. This is the reason the Republicans were thrown out two years ago, and the reason the Democrats will be thrown out this year.
What I am voting for is a Congressman who will stand up, even if all alone, and say: this is contrary to the Constitution. Even if you never vote with the majority, even if you forever are marginalized by the people who have caused the mess in this country, you will be representing me and people like me every time you take those hard, principled, difficult-to-explain-in-soundbite stands. All alone.
If you do that, you will be representing people like me. And you will win the kind of devoted following enjoyed by statesmen, but never by politicians.
I wish you luck in the upcoming election.

Ron Johnson

Later that same day, I received the following reply:

Thanks for this note. I agree with you: vote for me, hold me accountable, and, if I falter, vote me out!
Thanks for your vote.
All the best.
Ed Martin