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10/01/2006 Archived Entry: "Asset forfeiture laws, this week's new tyrannies, and art therapy"

THURSDAY AFTERNOON I GOT SO DEPRESSED I COULDN'T WRITE. Until then, the week had been swimming right along. The weather was beautiful, my workload light. I had just one more article to write. Even though it was on the nausea-inducing topic of civil asset forfeiture, I knew exactly what I needed to say, so I expected to breeze through it.

Then I tried to answer one little question for the article -- why the BATFE charged Rick Celata a cost bond to challenge the theft of his possessions. The 2000 law CAFRA (Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act) supposedly ended the injustice of forcing people to pay 10 percent of the value of seized goods for the "privilege" of trying to get their possessions back. (And that's before any attorney's fees -- which helps explain why 80 percent of asset seizures go unchallenged.)

I never did get an answer to that question. As far as I can tell, only Customs and UnPatriot Act cases are still subject to cost bonds. But as I read through law-review articles and various asset-forfeiture manuals, I found myself sinking into a moral morass that only a lawyer could understand and only a depraved government could create.

I was disgusted (though of course not surprised) to read that the National Drug Enforcement Officers Association's analysis of CAFRA was concerned solely with questions of power and advantage, not right, morality, or Bill of Rights legality. And of course the very idea of a government stealing goods without due process, using the convenient medieval superstition that a boat or a wine collection can be guilty of wrongdoing, is repugnant, never mind the details. And why is almost nobody indignant about this?

It also seems that every time I delve into legal research I also discover that laws and regulations are even more grotesque than I initially knew. For instance, did you you know that the purpose of the 10 percent cost bond is to pay the government for storing, cataloging, and otherwise processing the stuff it stole from you??? I mean, is that gross, or what?

CAFRA has been called "a sheep in wolf's clothing"; it did nothing to address the real horrors of civil asset forfeiture, and since the very agencies making the seizures profit hugely from the loot, the outrages continue. Brenda Grantland, the country's best-known forfeiture-fighting lawyer, notes that years after CAFRA became law, some places in the south are happily running highway "forfeiture traps", just as corrupt bergs like to run speed traps. Look for a Hispanic driver with out-of-state plates. Stop him. Intimidate him. Search his vehicle. Steal his stuff. Don't bother with the costs and hassles of proving him guilty of anything. And -- voila! -- make a profit for your law enforcement agency with the blessing of the U.S. "Justice" Department.

I read all that crap. And as the mental clouds covered the sun, I was then forced by all of this week's toxic news to think about America also becoming a nation devoted to torture under color of law, detention without trial, the destruction of habeas corpus. A nation of illegal wiretapping. A nation that, in the name of fighting terrorism, slaughters more innocents than the terrorists do. A nation where the rule of law and the legislative process are perverted to serve crude, thuggish lawlessness. A nation whose TV-addled millions don't give a damn that, with their moron-in-chief endlessly repeating the words "freedom and democracy," they're sliding into dictatorship, empire, and corruption of the soul.

Generally, I feel fortunate to make my living as I do. But since Thursday I've been barely able to face putting down one more word about the scum (and I don't just mean the R-party) now running our country or about their vile, immoral, lawless laws. I resent the need to be associated with them and their works in any way, even as a critic.

But sitting in the sunshine under my mental clouds was no way to go, either. That's just another form of surrendering life energies to those creeps. Why should I give those moral lizards the power to make me miserable?

After my happy burst of creativity earlier this summer, I haven't drawn anything in weeks. But I've got two commissions from friends just waiting for me to get busy again with my little boxes of pastels. Friday, to stay sane, I printed out the photo a friend sent of his daughter and started noodling with it. The drawing I began wasn't working well. Rather than throw it out, I started slashing at the paper with my colors, releasing frustrated outrage, breaking several pastels and leaving crumbling chunks of chalk at my feet.

The actual young lady is pretty and the photo my friend sent will lend itself to a softer approach, once I finally get around to doing the version that a father could love. But just as basket weaving allegedly calms the madman in the asylum, really cutting loose and drawing helped put life in a better perspective.

She's just a rough sketch, which doesn't do justice to the real girl. But she sure helped me.

I still don't know whether I can face that forfeiture article. But finding some little patch of goodness and freedom of expression always gives me a calmer perspective. When I do finally return to writing I can be more articulate in my outrage instead of just spluttering. Today, though, I'd like never to have to write another word about the shoddy villains who try to rule the world.

Posted by Claire @ 08:18 AM CST

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