Archive for September, 2010
Richard “Butch” Blunt is staying at my house for a 10-day visit and is helping us organize his first cookbook. Naturally he cooked a delicious stuffed-artichoke and chicken meal right off. I anticipate we can have the cookbook completed (organized from his articles printed over the years in BHM, printed, and ready to sell) in six months. Claire Wolfe’s book took too long to get done, so I’m going to crack the whip on this project.
It’s all about the money!
In a guest editorial we will run in the next issue of Backwoods Home Magazine (I was either involved in my defense or in jail, so had little time to write one), issuing traffic tickets is a $7.5-$15 billion business. That’s billion with a “b.” Very little of that money comes from habitual offenders, such as repeat drunk drivers or speeders. Nearly all of it comes from the occasional offender, and very few of the tickets are contested because it is so inconvenient or costly to contest anything against a government agency armed with unlimited resources.
About half of these billions for dollars goes to various government agencies, such as the municipalities that issue the tickets, the courts that administer them, and the agencies that teach the various classes the ticketed are required to attend. The other half goes primarily to insurance companies, which raise rates on many of those ticketed even though there is no statistical evidence linking this multi-billion dollar punishment scheme to lower accident rates. (That’s why the insurance industry is so willing to donate radar detectors, breathaylizer machines, red light cameras, etc. to police agencies; it leads to enormous profits for them.)
Many local municipalities keep the money from the tickets, but others send it to the states, where it is essentially “laundered” and sent right back to the municipalities to fund the cops and courts.
An average cop costs up to $75,000 per year to hire (although that figure is probably much lower in my town), but he will issue at least double his salary in traffic tickets per year. Some towns earn 70% of their budget through speeding tickets alone. I don’t know how much the cops in my town of Gold Beach make, but the local police chief is always advocating for more officers “to protect the public.” In his regular newspaper column in our local weekly, the Curry County Reporter, the chief brags, “We issued 80 traffic citations for August, which according to the officers is a new Gold Beach PD record! Overall this summer (June-August) also produced a record number of citations being issued. …Regarding those 80 citations, the total fine money if all were adjudicated in favor of the City, would be approximately $20,000.”
The restaurant owners and motel owners in Gold Beach are probably rolling their eyeballs at the chief’s bragging, because they know that those citations, many of which were issued to tourists, will cost them far more than $20,000 in future revenue lost because many of those tourists ticketed will not be back to Gold Beach any time soon. Tourists tend to get pretty mad at a town if they get ticketed in it while on vacation. The Gold Beach PD is working directly against the economic interests of the town’s private sector, while making a tidy sum for itself.
And this is just the city cops. The state police, who ticketed me and always lurk just outside of town in ambushes, give even more tickets. And we haven’t even come to the sheriff’s department yet. They run the jail and help out in the courts so they get a big slice of the revenue generated.
In a study of traffic tickets published in 2007 by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the authors, Thomas Garrett and Gary Wagner, concluded that when the economy goes down traffic tickets go up., that government entities consider traffic tickets “an important source of revenue,” and that “a ten percent decrease in negative revenue growth results in a 6.4 percent increase in the growth rate of traffic tickets.”
They also said, “Traffic tickets provide an attractive revenue source for local governments because the amount of revenue that can be generated is often unrestricted, they provide a mechanism to capture revenue from non-residents and non-voters, and most traffic offenses possess a low-strict-liability threshold to achieve a conviction (as opposed to the higher criminal intent standard).
So I expect the local police chief will set more traffic ticket records in the future since the economy is probably going to go deeper into recession. I also expect the local cops to drive many of the local restaurants and motels out of business as they chase away the tourists. The cops, the courts, and the rest of local government will continue to suck any tourist profits out of the town’s private sector. It’s as if they have declared war against local businesses.
But nobody protests! I wonder if they just don’t get the connection!
My 19-year-old son, Jake, moved into the dorm at Portland State University today. He’ll begin his studies in a week. Jake is a young Libertarian who is concerned that the country is headed in the wrong direction. One of his heroes is John Stossel, the Libertarian columnist and Fox Business Channel personality who is an avid defender of the U.S. Constitution.
On his TV show, Stossel is fond of holding up a copy of the Cato Institute’s pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution and declaring, “These are all the laws our founding fathers said we needed to govern ourselves.”
So I asked Jake, “Do you have a copy of the Constitution in your luggage?”
He smiled and said, “Two copies.”
“Good,” I said, “because your fellow students are going to have their copies of the Communist Manifesto with them.” I was just joking, of course, and Jake laughed because he knows he’s in for some political and Constitutional debates with his fellow students and professors at the left-leaning university. But I and people like Stossel have given him a solid foundation in why the U.S. Constitution is so valuable and why we must help educate others so they can, in turn, help us stop Big Government from further encroaching on it.
My recent DUII arrest and conviction is a good example of an area where government has trampled on the U.S. Constitution. As DUII Attorney Lawrence Taylor says: …”the greatest single threat to our freedoms, the freedoms set forth in our Bill of Rights to our Constitution. … I don’t think it’s from the extremists of the Muslim world. The threat as it has always been throughout history is internal. It is from within. I do not think it is from the American Communist party or extremists on the right. …the greatest single threat to our freedoms today is a group of American housewives. They call themselves the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD.”
Taylor maintains, and I vigorously concur, that a person arrested and tried for DUII is often denied Constitutional rights protected by the 4th and 5th amendments, that the main evidence in a DUII case (from the breathalyzer test) is typically destroyed so the defense cannot examine it, and in some states (not Oregon) you don’t even have the right to a jury trial.
The strongest piece of evidence the state uses in court against an accused DUII defendant is the breathalyzer test. In Oregon (and I believe in all the states now), if you register a .08 on a breathalyzer test you are presumed impaired. Interestingly, back 30 plus years ago when the American Medical Association (AMA) was asked by legislators to give their scientific estimate of when a person should be considered to be DUII, they recommended .15. So prosecutors and organizations like MADD used a lot of political pressure over the years to convince legislators to lower the rate, and now we are at .08. (I blew .08, but the breathalyzer expert my lawyer brought down from Portland with her was prepared to testify that I was most likely .06, at most .07, when I was driving.)
There is also a problem with the breathalyzer machine. It is not always accurate, although the state’s expert in my case claimed it was accurate more than 98% of the time. (I am a member of Mensa, which means I’m supposed to be in the top 2% in IQ in the population, so why is it so far fetched to assume that I might be in the 2% of the population for whom a breathalyzer test is inaccurate. If you had a 2% chance of winning the lottery, you would probably play it every day of your life. In an American population of roughly 300 million, that means 6 million innocent people could be convicted of drunk driving by a false reading on a breathalyzer test.)
But the breathalyzer test sample is not saved anyway. Maybe the cop administered it wrong. The state cop who administered mine was a state patrol officer for less than a week (before that he was a recruit in training for about a year), so maybe he made a mistake.
The companies making breathalyzer machines are always claiming their machines are accurate, even though they will not disclose to defense attorneys the algorithm they use for computing results. But they are also always updating their machines, claiming the new machine is more accurate than the old machine. To me that is an admission that the older machine was not as accurate as they had claimed. But, of course, all this is not admissable as evidence in court. You can’t even discuss it.
Another problem with the breathalyzer machine is that it measures how much alcohol is in the mouth, then multiplies it by a factor of about 2100 (they use the term “partition ratio”) to determine how much is in your blood. The trouble is it assumes you are an average person with a partition ratio of 2100 to 1, which fits almost no physiological human makeup, whose partition ratios range from between 1100 to 1 and 3500 to 1, so for many people the breathalyzer machine will invariably read an alcohol level that is either too high or too low.
There are a whole slew of other problems with the breathalyzer. You can read about them in Atty. Taylor’s excellent speech here if you want. But most of these things can’t even be brought up in court. They are inadmissable. So the prosecution in most states is allowed to bring up what amounts to false evidence, and you can’t defend against it. Does that sound like a violation of the U.S. Constitution?
But, of course, I know that most people don’t want to hear the constitutional argument against these DUII laws or breathalyizer machines. They think people shouldn’t drink any kind of alcohol and drive, that a Constitutional Exception is a good idea when it comes to alcohol consumption and driving a vehicle. They also think it’s just the breaks that 2% or so of the population may be getting a bum rap if the breathalyzer test is inaccurate for them. Look at the lives we’re saving, they say, by catching the other 98%.
But I’m going to explore this topic in more detail over the next several weeks. It’s a good example of just one area where our government is stepping on our rights. And my time in jail put me in touch with a related area — drugs. That’s where the our government has turned downright totalitarian by imprisoning a huge portion of our population for doing nothing more than exercising their Constitutional right to do with their body what they want, so long as they are not harming anyone else. That’s a much sadder and more sinister story than the DUII stuff.
BHM a “no-show” at Fort Collins, Colorado Sustainable Living Fair
A quick note to say BHM was a “no show” at the Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins, Colorado this weekend. I hadn’t planned to attend anyway, but was sending my son-in-law, Erik, instead. Erik had a last-minute emergency, after packing his SUV to go, and had to cancel the trip. I apologize to those expecting a BHM booth at the show. We’ve already had reports of disappointed people.
I’ve been trying to put things in perspective since I got arrested for duii six months ago. After I refused to accept “Diversion,” which is an easy way out of your first duii in Oregon but entails an admission of guilt, the state cops began tailing me when I drove, presumably to try and catch me doing something else wrong before I went to trial. Then I was convicted last week at what I thought was a sham trial, with the judge obviously sympathetic to the prosecution, the cops obviously embellishing the facts on the witness stand, the prosecution inserting a last-minute expert witness in an underhanded fashion, and my unprepared attorney resting the defense case without calling any witnesses, including the high-priced duii expert she brought down with her from Portland.
Conviction for a duii in Oregon is a lot different than taking Diversion; the state discourages contesting a duii by making the penalties more severe for an actual conviction. Had I taken Diversion, the case would have been dismissed after a year. But the conviction will stay with me for life and essentially makes me a marked man for a future cop hoping to score some points with his department and the local DA. It also has little fringe penalties like barring me from entry into Canada for the next 10 years, not that I have any plans to visit that socialist country.
As the judge read my sentence at the trial, I felt as though I had been run over by a steamroller. I spent two days in jail, with all the indignity and discomfort that involves, then placed on a two-year probation that entails me having to get rid of any booze in my office or home, even down to my wife’s cooking wine, and having to lock away my firearms, a hobby that gives me great pleasure and relaxation. I cannot possess (awareness of and access to) alcohol or firearms under threat of re-arrest and reimprisonment.
So I’ve accepted my plight and put everything in perspective: I’m not dead, I haven’t killed anyone, I’m not still in jail under the thumb of guards the Third Reich would have been proud of, and I have relatively safe havens in my in-town office and home. (I say relatively because my probation says I have to allow an officer to conduct a search of my home or business if he suspects I may be in violation of my probation, such as having alcohol or a gun on the premises.)
I can also use the next two years to get in shape and write more. I’ve been on a fairly vigorous exercise program anyway, playing a lot of golf (always walking, almost never with a cart). Stopping drinking altogether will probably allow me to shed an extra five pounds since wine and beer have a lot of calories. I’ll also probably write more as a way of winding down for the evening.
Plus I’ve had several very positive experiences as a result of the conviction. As unpleasant as my two days in jail were, I came face to face with the plight of the young prisoners who are caught up in the criminal justice system and can’t seem to get out. These poor hapless dopes with their stupid technical violations of probations from minor past drug convictions are easy pickings for the cops. They keep the jails full and the guards and bureaucrats employed. Silveira and I have written about the absurdly high incarceration rate of American citizens in the past, but this is the first time I’ve had a very personal experience with it. I’m going to try and work to change that situation. I think my magazine and website can be a valuable tool in that fight. In contrast to the plight of these young offenders, my penalty for a DUII conviction is a walk in the park.
Another positive experience was the Victims Impact Panel. We really do need to keep drunks from driving cars, just as we need to curtail all violent behavior. But we need to do it without making all citizens in society criminal suspects.The VIP session gave tragic stories involving people who were highly intoxicated and habitual offenders. We’ve got to keep from mixing those offenders up with the average citizen going about his or her own business.
In my area, cops abound and traffic stops are frequent. A driver runs the gauntlet from Port Orford, 27 miles north of Gold Beach and for years known as a “speed trap,” to Brookings, 27 miles to the south of Gold Beach. While we local businessmen have been trying to lure tourists to our area to help save our jobs, the local cops — state police, city police, and county sheriff’s — stop the tourists, and locals too, sometimes a block from the restaurant they just ate at and bust them for anything they can. It raises revenue for the bureaucracy (even if it does go to the state first, get washed, and get returned through other funding avenues), but it is killing the tourist industry here. Tourists who have been given seat belt violations (a not uncommon occurrence here) will probably not only never return but will tell all their friends never to vacation here. A tourist who has been given a duii for having a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant may have gotten what he deserves in some peoples’ view of the world, but that tourist also will never return to this area except for his court date.
It helps that I’ve done a lot of research during the past six months about duii law, the tragic consequences that result when drunk driver meets innocent bystander, and the unintended consequences that result when the state reaches beyond the reasonable when enforcing drunk driving laws.
I’ll talk about these things in future posts.
Earlier this evening I went to my Victims Impact Panel as required by my duii conviction. Three drunk driving victims and one former drunk driver gave presentations to about 19 people, most of whom were mandated to be there. This was excellent. No in-your-face, finger-pointing lectures, but thoughtful presentations designed to open your eyes.
A 60-year-old lady was broadsided by a pickup operated by a drunk driver when she was 28, and today she still suffers from brain damage incurred in the accident. A beautiful woman in her late 20s got drunk and was ejected from a jeep driven by a companion, also drunk, and now has a prosthetic leg. A middle-age mom lost her 13-year-old daughter in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. The final presentation was from a former young drunk driver convicted of two duiis, but he said he had driven hundreds of time drunk and not been caught. He finally had his friend die in a crash in which they were both drunk and he subsequently stopped drinking altogether.
These were all powerful, moving presentations, so that you got the message. I certainly did. This is the only VIP I had to attend, but I’ve decided to bring my three sons to one they offer in the future. They are on the verge of becoming men, and I think they could benefit from the message. Anyone can attend them, as long as you are over the age of 12. Some of the slides they show are very graphic.
I agree with the inescapable conclusion of the VIP: you should not drive drunk, and you should think twice before driving a vehicle if you’ve had anything at all to drink. Although I was not driving intoxicated for the duii I just got, I have done so on occasion during the past 66 years but was not caught. So I’ll accept this as payback. I certainly won’t drink and drive in the future. Although my doctor told me after my heart surgery that one or two glasses of wine a night for my heart is beneficial, I think I’ll give up booze altogether and take the chances with my heart. This experience with a drunk driving conviction can’t be too good for my heart.
Here are some interesting facts that the moderator, Mindy, gave about drunk driving penalties for a (mostly) first conviction in other countries:
Malaysia — your spouse gets jailed too
Norway — 3 weeks in jail at hard labor
Finland and Sweden — 1 year at hard labor
France — 1 year in jail, lose license for life
Bulgaria — execution for a second offense
El Salvador — execution by firing squad for a first offense
Makes the punishment in this country sound mild. I guess it comes down to a matter of degree and fairness. Is a year in jail or execution fair punishment? It certainly would deter people from driving drunk. But in Iran they are about to execute a woman for having an affair outside marriage, and they’ve already given her 99 lashes. That is also a deterrent, but it doesn’t sound fair to most of us.
Drunk driving laws need to make sense, the test for being drunk needs to be reasonable and accurate, the cop needs to be honest, the courts need to be fair, and the system can’t be rigged just to produce revenue for the state. Otherwise we risk becoming a totalitarian state.
I attended the court hearing this morning of Shon Davis, one of my fellow jail inmates over the weekend. He’s been in jail for two weeks on a parole violation involving a previous drug possession conviction. Shon said a state cop arrested him while he was getting off work at the Wacky Tobacconist, one of two such stores he manages in Gold Beach and Brookings. He has already lost his job over the arrest.
Shon said the parole violation involved his alleged “association with a known drug user” that the state cop said he observed earlier in the day. “How was I supposed to know the guy was using drugs,” Shon told me. “It took me two years to get to where I am today, and they just took it all away from me.”
I don’t know how old Shon is, but I’d guess in his late 20s. He said he wouldn’t even have still been on probation had he finished paying his fines earlier in the year and been released from probation on the scheduled date, but the judge extended his probation for a year so he could finish making payments.
At today’s hearing the prosecutor said Shon had also failed a drug urine test and he had some other add-on crime I couldn’t quite hear. The court scheduled his trial for Dec. 1 and Shon is to remain locked up in that sunless, cramped dungeon of a jail until then. I talked to Jim Gardner, Shon’s lawyer, afterwards and asked why there was no talk of him being released. He said the D.A.’s case has big problems (read that as not very strong) but they won’t let Shon out “even if you had a million dollars.”
I left the court rather depressed about the whole thing and walked the mile back to my office. In jail Shon told me he helped build the greens at Salmon Run, the golf course where I used to be a member and still often play. We knew several people in common at the course, including Felix Calderon, the major figure in the Calderon Group which built the course. I told Shon I’d try to get him a job helping to build the Crook Point Golf Course, the new course proposed for Pistol River near my home.
By the way, I was in jail for duii (driving under the influence of intoxicants). It’s a phony rap as far as I’m concerned. I had two glasses of wine last Feb. 12 with John Silveira while we were working on the magazine at the office, then left and got caught in a speed trap at the edge of town. Speed traps are ubiquitous around here. They are a major revenue-producer for the bureaucratic machine. After six months, $10,000, and a joke of a trial, I was convicted and sentenced to two days in jail, loss of my license for a year, and a couple of thousand dollars more in fines. They also pulled my concealed carry permit.
A few hours after Shon’s court appearance, I went down to the bank and took $400 out of my social security account and put a $100 each into the jail accounts of Shon and three other of my former jail mates. I know some of them have no money so this will help them buy something when they have commissary privileges twice a week. It’ll be an escape from the drab crap they serve to the inmates at lunchtime.
More on this dismal business later. I suppose it will be outrageously funny and absurd years from now, after we rescue this country from the police state it is turning into. Right now it’s just damn sad. Not for me so much, but for those inmates still in jail — all nonviolent offenders and most on parole violations for booze and marijuana. They’re “caught” in the Government System, paying everyone’s salaries with their incarceration. The government can’t aford to let too many of them out. Think of all the guards and bureacratic paper-pushers they’d have to lay off.
I was in jail for the last two days. Not a lot of fun, but very revealing about how the criminal justice system works. I had eight cell mates in a tiny county jail pod in Gold Beach. All were nonviolent offenders and friendly. I interviewed everyone, which is a natural for me because I am a former reporter for daily newspapers in my life prior to founding BHM.
I had an epiphany. For years, Silveira and I have written about why the United States has the highest incarceration rate of its citizens of any country in the world. Now I got to experience that high incarceration rate. We are f—-d up as a country if this is what we got. It was dehumanizing. All the inmates appeared better candidates as friends than any of the guards.
I’ll write about it in detail in future blog posts. Right now I got out of jail just in time to help Annie and Lenie with deadline for the new issue. Looks excellent. Annie is getting very close to doing this magazine alone. She is so good with honchoing it that she reminds me of me when I was her age. Except it still took me another 20 years to launch the magazine. The difference is she got a head start. I’m so grateful I can leave BHM in the hands of someone competent and loyal to the cause of freedom.
This is my first night home. My back is beat up from the concrete floors, the steel cots with their 2-inch mattresses, and the boredom of being locked away for 48 hours without sunlight or anything to do. Most of the guys just slept. I wrote, in tiny script, on the two pieces of paper they issued me.
Here’s a video of Paul King singing at our local 1950s Malt Shop, called Sheriff John’s Happy Days Malt Shop. He’s a pretty good talent to be appearing in a small town like Gold Beach. My little camera does not do his great voice justice, but I thought you might enjoy it.