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.


  1. Shocking post. Years ago, I used to think that Americans would never put up with the things that Canadians historically and meekly tolerated, like silly tax grabs and lame social propaganda - and the things described in this post.
    But it seems Americans are daily becoming more complacent and sheep-like, just like Canadians already are. Shame really. These days, I have to look to the French when I want to see a populace with some stones.

  2. Yeah. It's amazing what is no longer shocking to Americans. Torture. Indefinate detention without charges. Diplomats stealing credit card numbers. Strip searches before boarding a plane. And none of it gets Joe-Beer-Gut-Patriot upset.

    Then there's the French: make them wait until they're 60 to collect retirement benefits and they'll start their protest with a general strike party and finish with a police car bonfire. And they do it with a cool accent.