Fixing Asset Forfeiture

I discussed civil asset forfeiture in “Spoils of War” and also discussed the IRS seizure of assets for “structuring” deposits in “Repeal the Bill of Rights” under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.  I won’t say these policies should be eliminated because, in some cases, they do serve to disrupt cash flow for criminal activities, however when the NYPD boasts that they seized more cash than they can count they sound more like Blackbeard’s pirates than civil servants.  When innocent citizens have to file expensive lawsuits to recover wrongfully seized property the system is broken, so let’s fix it.  Here’s one way.

Assets seized from people not charged with a crime must be returned to the owner within one business day if criminal charges are not filed within a reasonable time, e.g., 48-72 hours.

Assets seized from people charged with a crime must be held in escrow pending outcome of the trial.  If the defendant is found “not guilty” the assets must be returned to the owner.  If the asset was cash it must have been held in an interest-bearing account and the cash returned with accrued interest.  If lawfully acquired real property (buildings, vehicles, firearms, etc.) was seized the state must preserve and maintain that property such that it can be returned intact and without loss.  If the individual is found “guilty” the judge will determine what happens to the seized property.

I think this is a reasonable balance between the needs of law enforcement to disrupt criminal activity and the rights of citizens to keep their lawfully acquired property.  When police departments consider themselves to be profit centers the entire concept of law enforcement is maligned.

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Retroactive Laws: A New Assault on Private Property

A retroactive law is a law that criminalizes a past action that wasn’t a crime at the time.  Known as “ex post facto” laws, they are strictly and unambiguously prohibited by Article I, Section 9 (for Congress) and Section 10 (for states) of our Constitution.  They can be used to punish a person and/or to seize their property which is why such laws are banned.  Progressives, however, see the Constitution as an obstacle to their agenda.  I’ll look at one example of how they’re being used and then discuss the very slippery slope of ex post facto laws.

The state of California has passed some restrictive new gun laws.  One bans the manufacture and sale of high capacity magazines; the other (SB1446) prohibits possession of such magazines (hence requires confiscation) that were legally purchased in the past.  The constitutionality of the first law may be under debate everywhere but the second one is clearly unconstitutional.  It’s a retroactive ban, therefore it’s a ex post facto law.  Those who don’t submit to a mandatory “buyback” will be criminalized for what was a legal activity at the time of purchase.  The term “buyback” itself is a misnomer.  The government can’t buy back something it never owned.  If the government asserts ownership of all private property it’s a communist government.  Unless the government is paying full retail value for confiscated items it’s also theft.  Obviously confiscation of items obtained illegally or used for criminal purposes is a different matter that doesn’t involve ex post facto laws.

OK, you don’t care about the Second Amendment, but let’s look at just how slippery a slope ex post facto laws against private property could become.

The EPA has issued increasingly strict tailpipe emission and gas mileage requirements for cars and other light vehicles.  Tier I took affect in 1994, Tier 2 in 2004, and the Obama administration has approved even stricter mileage requirements in the future.  The standards that took effect in 1994 and 2004 effectively banned the future sale of new vehicles that didn’t meet those standards but they didn’t ban the ownership of older vehicles.  Suppose, however, that our progressive government, influenced by the socialist UN, decided to confiscate all vehicles that didn’t meet Tier 2 standards?  Of course they’d pay owners some token sum for surrendering their means of transportation but it would impose the greatest hardship on those who could least afford it.  Do they care?  NO!  Most politicians are rich.  As  I said once before, rich elitists will always live above the messes they cause for the masses.

You don’t think this could happen?  Don’t make me say “I told you so” again!  Over a year ago I predicted that we might someday see an environmental impact tax on meat.  Now the UN is actively recommending such a tax and Denmark is considering one.  Socialists are as relentless as ISIS when it comes to imposing their will on everyone.

The concept that private property that is obtained legally and not used for criminal purposes belongs to individuals, not the government, is fundamental to our freedom and our entire way of life.  Don’t let socialists incrementally deprive us of that freedom.

Repeal the Bill of Rights?

In “The Freedom Triangle” I explained how freedom is defined by three components: democracy, rights, and responsibilities.  Our basic inalienable rights are found in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights.  Every one of them is important.  Every one was included because the authors of the Constitution, in their wisdom, had seen how authoritarian governments had abused their subjects and sought to protect us.  In fact the Constitution doesn’t talk about “subjects”, it talks about “We the People”.

Now the Constitution can be changed by the deliberately cumbersome process of amendment.  It’s long and tedious and the outcome is uncertain, but in this case that’s a protection, not an inefficiency.  Democrats, socialists, and other progressives, however, have found ways to weaken our rights by DE FACTO means.  That term simply means “that’s how it is”.  If you don’t like a law but can’t easily change it, find ways to circumvent it.  These tactics might be unofficial, like intimidation, or official, through restrictions or taxation.   In this article I’ll look at how several amendments are being attacked.

First Amendment:

Intimidation (aka Bullying):  At this time intimidation is the primary weapon against free speech.  It began with political correctness, a crybaby concept that has grown from a minor nuisance into a state religion.  We see intimidation on college campuses where students complain about “micro-aggression”, demand “safe spaces”, and are even told to call police if they hear something “offensive”.  Now that’s intimidation.  On a larger scale, political correctness stifles communication to a point where serious issues can’t even be discussed.

Intimidation also threatens religious freedom by erasing religious equality.  When Christian churches remove exterior crosses so they don’t “offend” Muslim immigrants they’re not accommodating newcomers, they’re surrendering their right to exist as a public entity; doing exactly what is required in Muslim countries.  From a Christian point of view they’re denying Christ just as Peter did.  When a restaurant owner is bullied into removing a sign advertising bacon for breakfast his free speech is suspended.  Jews don’t eat pork either but they’ve never tried to impose their dietary rules on others.

Legal Action:  Can the USA have laws against free speech beyond the “don’t yell fire in a theater if there isn’t one” and “don’t threaten violence”?  Maybe, because it’s happening in European countries that guarantee free speech.  In Germany a comedian has been arrested for insulting the president of Turkey, and In Sweden people can be arrested for ethnic slurs.  Some in the US are saying that “climate change deniers” should be arrested and oil companies should be sued because they “knew” their products would cause climate change.

Second Amendment:

Propaganda:   No amendment is under heavier public attack than this amendment, even though self defense it a fundamental human right.  It’s in common law because historically only the un-free (prisoners, serfs, slaves) were denied the right to protect themselves and their families.  We hear anti-gun propaganda everywhere, much of it funded by billionaires who are surrounded by armed bodyguards.  Their message: “be rich or be dead”.  They blame the NRA for Chicago violence, not the gang members doing the shooting.  They make their case with bogus logic that anyone who has learned how to think can spot as invalid.  Any criminal act is the act of a person, not an object.

Legal Action:  In addition to funding propaganda campaigns, billionaire Mike Bloomberg spends millions to buy local elections for anti-gun candidates who will then enact restrictive laws.  The result is a confusing patchwork system of laws that turn honest people into criminals while doing nothing to stop crime.  Liberal San Francisco’s laws are so tough that the last legal gun shop had to close, yet they did nothing to stop an illegal immigrant with a stolen gun from murdering an innocent young woman.  Chicago’s tough gun laws can’t stop the endless gang wars that have made it the murder capital of the US. The latest effort to drive gun makers out of business is to attempt to sue them for gun violence.  No company has ever been held liable for criminal use of their products because the company has no control over the consumer.

Taxation:   Everyone has heard Chief Justice Marshall’s statement that “The power to tax is the power to destroy” and liberals know punitive taxes can be used to deny “little people” their rights while preserving “billionaire rights”.  Seattle has a $25 tax on guns, a US territory has a $1000 tax per gun, and Hillary wants a 25% tax on guns (all for more money to squander).  What part of “right” don’t they understand?

Health care:  President Obama and his British-born Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy want to draft doctors into their war on legal gun ownership.  They have decreed that “gun violence” is a public health problem (but gang violence isn’t) so doctors should question patients about gun ownership, presumably to then evaluate their mental fitness to own a firearm while simultaneously creating a national gun registry in those digitized medical records.  Since doctors don’t get “gun violence” training (they don’t get knife or fist violence training either) they’ll be fed the far left agenda and sent out on a mission to declare as many people “mentally unfit” as possible (it’s already happening at the VA).  That won’t work on doctors who are also hunters but it will on many.  The answer is “no”.

Intimidation:  I discuss the DOJ’s “Operation Choke Point” under the Fifth Amendment.

SCOTUS:  In the case “D.C. vs. Heller” the Supreme Court upheld the right of honest people to own a firearm for self defense.  Progressives would love to get this ruling overturned.  That would effectively repeal the Second Amendment.

Fourth and Fifth Amendments:

Legal Action:  The fourth Amendment protects private property from unreasonable search and seizure without due process.  The fifth Amendment protects individuals from being deprived of “life, liberty, and property” without due process.  Government departments are using often dubious tactics to deprive people of their property without adjudication.  Here are two of them.

The IRS can seize bank assets of individuals or businesses if they suspect small deposits are being “structured” to avoid reporting requirements of amounts in excess of $10,000.  They don’t need any evidence of criminal activity, indictment, trial, or conviction to proceed.  Victims are often small businesses that deposit money regularly just to avoid being a robbery target.  Even innocent people must file an expensive lawsuit to get their money released.

Police can seize property under “civil asset forfeiture” if they suspect criminal activity, and that includes “untainted” assets, i.e., those not associated with the suspected activity.  Again the word is “suspected”; no indictment, trial, or conviction required.  Asset seizure can make it difficult for an accused person to hire attorneys and prepare a defense; a right guaranteed by  the Fifth Amendment.

Eminent Domain:  Eminent domain was included in the Constitution to allow governments at all levels to take private land, with compensation, for public projects that would benefit the community.  The intent was to support construction of roads, bridges, schools, and other public facilities.  That concept has unfortunately been expanded to allow taking of private property for private developments under the guise that they will expand the local tax base.  This “public good ” is nothing but a gift for wealthy developers at the expense of the people.

Intimidation:  The DOJ has initiated a process of intimidation not supported by any law called “Choke Point” to cut off “high risk” businesses from having bank accounts and obtaining credit.  Basically banks are threatened with legal action so they cancel the accounts of many honest businesses that pay taxes and wages.,  High risk businesses include firearms dealers, short term lenders, used car dealers, and adult entertainment.  So, what constitutes “high risk” is determined by politically motivated bureaucrats, not the law.  Congress has been urged to outlaw this practice but liberals support it because it furthers their agenda of control of the people.

Ninth Amendment:

Legal Action:  This amendment protects “unenumerated rights” of the people, i.e., those not specifically guaranteed by the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights.  The most important right that has been asserted under this amendment is the right of privacy.  As the Federal government demands more an more tracking of peoples’ lives privacy is being lost, often in the name of the “common good”.  That is collectivism, the antithesis of what the Constitution stands for.  To make the situation even worse, neither the government nor various private data collection agencies can adequately secure their data against hacking or insider misuse.

Tenth Amendment:

Congress:  This amendment says that all responsibilities not specifically assigned to the Federal government by the Constitution remain with the states or the people.  Congress has been more than happy to de facto repeal this amendment with “one-size-fits-all” programs.  Nothing in the Constitution allows the Federal government to control public schools yet Congress created the Department of Education and has given it unlimited power over the states and parents.  This has allowed billionaire Bill Gates to fund development of Common Core, his vision of an ideal system, and coax the government to enforce it.  Nothing in the Constitution allows the Federal government to use the IRS to enforce health insurance yet it approved the ACA.  All the promises associated with this program were lies: costs will go down, you can keep your doctor, etc.  Even the insurers are losing money on this one.  Rising health care costs are a problem but the ACA does nothing to solve it.

Intimidation:  The Department of Education uses threats of withholding education money from school districts that refuse to comply with it’s directives.  Simply put, it uses our tax dollars against us.

So, that’s the picture, and it isn’t a good one if you value freedom because without rights you are not free.  Can the Bill of Rights be saved?  Yes, but time is running out.  The 2016 elections will pretty much determine whether your children will stand in freedom or kneel in servitude.

 

If you like your rights you can keep them… NOT.

Spoils of War

Has the “War on Drugs” become a secret war on private property?  This “war” is a war with vague rules of engagement and little obvious success in reducing drug use.  It offers the rather perverse incentive that law enforcement can collect “spoils of war” in the form of property confiscation, even if it harms innocent people.  A wife might not know her husband is dealing drugs but she and her children could wind up homeless if the house is raided.  The property might even be destroyed in the raid, and even if property is destroyed during a “wrong address” raid the government has no liability to compensate innocent victims.  You might not know a friend is dealing drugs but if he’s caught in your car you could lose it.  A person traveling with a large amount of cash can find it seized “on suspicion” without other evidence of drug-related activity, and getting it back means hiring a lawyer to file an expensive lawsuit.  Why do laws provide for spoils of war under the name of “Civil Asset Forfeiture”?  Even the military can’t loot captured territory.

Parts of these laws also seek to stop money laundering by requiring banks to report deposits over $10,000.  The law also prohibits “structuring” by making regular deposits of lesser amounts to avoid that reporting rule.  If the IRS sees regular deposits into an account of somewhat lesser amounts it can confiscate the account without due process and without any evidence of criminal activity.  It is then up to the depositor to prove innocence rather than the government to prove guilt.  A simple reality is that small businesses make frequent deposits of lesser amounts just because they don’t want to keep a lot of money around to entice robbers.  Another reality is that, thanks to pervasive drug abuse, a significant portion of our currency is contaminated with drug residue that can be used as evidence against innocent people.  Can’t those high paid desk jockeys figure that out or are they just enjoying a power trip?

A fundamental principle of our legal system is “innocent until proven guilty”. The drug war shouldn’t be exempt from that concept.

Laws should deter criminals, not create them.

Laws are supposed to deter crime and punish criminals, not persecute honest citizens.  An increasing number of laws favored by liberals do nothing to stop crime but do restrict, and in some cases criminalize, formerly legal behavior.  It’s a liberal power grab, and it’s about control of the people, not law enforcement.

Start with the proposed ban on virtually all ivory trading.  Ivory has been worked into beautiful art for centuries, and is prized by collectors, but sculptors of past centuries didn’t provide “certificates of authenticity”.  The ban would prohibit trade, and even estate transfers, of most ivory items with the stated goal of protecting elephants from poaching.  There is, and has been for years, an illegal ivory trade, with much of today’s demand coming from Asia (like the prized rhino horns).  The ban will do nothing to stop it, but it will criminalize honest collectors.  Some will move their trades underground and become criminals.  Others will see their private property seized and destroyed with the same blind zealotry that the Taliban showed in destroying ancient Buddhist statues.  How does destroying antiquities protect elephants?  It’s just another way socialists seek to subjugate the population.

Now consider the mandatory firearms registration in Connecticut and New York.  This won’t stop the next armed robbery, gang fight, or psycho rampage.  It does, however, criminalize honest people who legally bought guns but fail to register them.  Registration doesn’t stop crime, but it does pave the way to confiscation next time some nutcase shoots people, thus denying the basic human right of self defense in one’s own home to honest citizens.

Some see the second item as a 2nd amendment issue, but both are issues regarding private property.  The notion that legally acquired property is not really yours, but that it can be taken by the government at any time, is the antithesis of freedom.

While on the subject of property, a disconcerting recent liberal statement says that the state owns our children.  Maybe that was true in Nazi Germany but it’s not true here.  No one owns another human being, but parents own the responsibility to raise their children.  The state has no right to step in unless the parents are criminally negligent or abusive.  Locking your kids in a cage and starving them is criminal abuse; letting them enjoy a “Happy Meal” is not.  Sorry, libs.

You have the right to remain silent; if you give up that right you will be silenced.

If you think that’s a line from a cop show read it again.  Chilling, isn’t it?  Yet that’s exactly what opponents of free speech are saying.  The right of free speech isn’t unlimited.  You can’t yell fire in a theater if there isn’t one and you can’t threaten someone without expecting a visit from the police.  You can’t expect your employer to smile if you badmouth the company or reveal trade secrets.  Beyond that you have the right to your opinion.  You also have the right to pepper your remarks with expletives but you won’t impress anyone.

Free speech is under attack by the unofficial law (or is it a religion?) of political correctness, or “PC”.  Any opinion that isn’t PC is promptly censored.  PC obscures communication and delays problem resolution.  It’s phony and everyone knows it.  You have to watch every word you say and apologize profusely with every slip.  It avoids holding people responsible for their actions.  It not only assumes that everyone is the same, but that their motives are the same.  How can you solve a problem that you can’t even accurately describe without offending someone?

A rational alternative is “civility”.  If you have an opinion, state it but keep it clean.  Civility improves communication and helps problem resolution.  Civility doesn’t mean that people can’t disagree, even heatedly.  It means that they state the issue clearly, stick to the issue, hold people responsible for their actions, and don’t indulge in false accusations, ethnic or racial slurs, threats, bullying, or random curses.

Pro-this, Anti-that; Whose choice is it?

Labels pigeonhole people, but we love ’em.  Let’s look at the idea of “choice” on both sides of the aisle.

Conservatives who oppose abortion on demand call themselves “pro-life”.   Unless they’re also pacifists, however, “pro-life” is too broad a term and they’re really just “anti-abortion”.  Liberals who support a woman’s right to abortion on demand call themselves “pro-choice”.  That’s too broad a use of the word choice.  They’re really “pro-choice on abortion”, hence simply pro-abortion, right?  They certainly wouldn’t call themselves “anti-life”.

Choice is a freedom word and it’s political opposite is control.  Most “pro-issue” people are actually “pro-choice” on their issue; it’s the “anti” folks who want to restrict everything they don’t like.  While liberals demand choice on abortion they’d rather control and limit choice on everything else.

We’ll start with school choice.  Why do parents line up for hours to register their children for charter and magnet schools, both of which are public schools that operate outside of the mainstream?  Why do they spend money on private schools while paying taxes for public schools?  They want a quality education, discipline, and in some cases values that reflect their own, that’s why.  They realize that “one size fits all” doesn’t work for all, that education and indoctrination are not the same thing, and that dumbing down won’t help the US compete globally.  Fundamentalist religious schools that “don’t teach science” are often used as the example against school choice, but they’re a small part of the private school sector.  Secular private schools and most church-affiliated schools have full science departments and often enviable AP programs.  Clearly many parents are “pro-school-choice”,.

People who are labeled “pro-gun” don’t want to arm anyone who doesn’t want to be armed; they just don’t want their freedom of choice restricted.  The “anti-gun” faction, however has an agenda to restrict that freedom.  Anyone who simply doesn’t like guns simply doesn’t own one.  While both sides argue over interpretation of the 2nd amendment they forget that self defense is a fundamental human right that existed long before the Constitution.

What about health care choice?  Many people can’t keep their choice of plans, doctors, or hospitals, but they can pay more because the ACA is “one-size-fits-all”.  Everyone has access to birth control whether they need it or not, but some have lost access to cancer centers that they need to stay alive.  What’s the point of having world-class treatment centers if they’re only for multimillionaires?

Labels get weirder on the immigration issue.  Except for xenophobes, the majority of people who are labeled “anti-immigration” are actually “pro-legal-immigration”.  They want the immigration process to be fair, equal, and secure for the immigrants and the nation.  Anyone who is “pro-immigration” in the sense of opening our borders to the world doesn’t understand that bringing all the starving people in the world into one country would just create one more starving country.

So, what’s your label?