“Innocent until proven guilty” is officially dead

Posted on October 27, 2014 at 2.32 pm

What do a woman in Iowa losing $33,000 and a boy in Yemen losing his life have in common? The U.S. government. This week’s column at Rare:

For nearly four decades, an Iowa woman named Carole Hinders has made regular cash deposits at her local bank. She runs a small Mexican restaurant which doesn’t accept checks or credit cards, so this banking process made sense. Hinders saved up $33,000 to provide some financial security and help keep her business running—but now, her entire savings is gone, confiscated by the IRS.

What crime is she accused of? Well, none.

Hinders is up to date on her taxes, and no one suspects her of money laundering. The sole problem is the size of her cash deposits at the bank: The IRS says they’re too small, and that’s suspicious.

See, there’s a rule that any cash transaction involving more than $10,000 has to be reported to the IRS. Hinders’ deposits didn’t hit that limit, and, nonsensically, the government says that’s a problem.

The rule is theoretically designed to catch drug dealers, terrorists, and other criminals who might deal in large sums of cash. In practice, however, it’s more typically used on normal, non-criminal citizens who have very legitimate reasons for making frequent cash deposits. And increasingly the IRS is not coming down on people who hit the $10,000 limit—but on people who don’t.

People like one Long Island family who sold candy and cigarettes—small items usually purchased with cash. The government confiscated $447,000 from them, the savings of a lifetime which the family has so far been unable to get back.

They’re now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

The IRS has targeted people like Army Sgt. Jeff Cortazzo, who saved for his daughter’s college education in cash, because he (very reasonably) didn’t have confidence in banks during the financial crisis. A bank teller told him to deposit the $66,000 he’d saved in smaller amounts to avoid hitting the $10,000 limit—advice which ended up costing him nearly a third of that amount thanks to government seizure.

His daughter had to delay college for a year.

Carole Hinders had to take out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant running. She’s unlikely to ever get all of her money back. She’ll probably never have the same financial security again.

She’s guilty until proven innocent.

Read the whole thing here.

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Earlier this year, I wrote a column for Rare titled, “Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it needs to be banned.”

This struck me as common sense—a self-evident characteristic of a free society. But bans and harsh regulations on everything from beer to helping the homeless, from gardening to taxi alternatives like Uber and Lyft, suggest that many people have other ideas.

It doesn’t matter to some people that these activities—brewing beer at a small brewery, feeding the homeless, planting a garden, or hiring a non-yellow car to drive you somewhere—don’t hurt anyone. It doesn’t matter that there’s no way these actions could be construed as criminal behavior.

All that matters is that someone doesn’t like this stuff, and they want it banned.

This week, I read a story which inspired this follow-up article based on an equally common sense sentence:

Just because you like something doesn’t mean it needs to be mandated.

Here’s the story: The City of Couer d’Alene, Idaho, is threatening an elderly couple with jail time or fines of up to $1,000 per day. Why? Well, the couple, named Donald and Evelyn Knapp, are both ordained ministers. They own and operate a small wedding chapel called The Hitching Post, where they marry couples in a Christian ceremony that includes a short message and a gift of a CD with several sermons about marriage on it.

The Knapps aren’t willing to marry gay couples, because it goes against their religious convictions. But gay marriage is now legal in Idaho, and Coeur d’Alene has a law which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places of public accommodation, a category which the city says includes for-profit wedding chapels.

And all that adds up to the Knapps facing jail time and/or heavy fines if they refuse to open their chapel to gay couples who want to be married there. The city’s law would also apply to florists, bakers, and other businesses that might want to refuse to provide goods or services for a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Some might see this story as an illustration of why gay marriage should stay illegal. I disagree.

Because the crux of the matter is not whether gay couples can marry in Idaho, but rather whether they can use the force of law to require other people to participate in their marriage.

Read the whole thing here.

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This month’s long article at The Week is about how and why Americans are so much more scared of ISIS than even our intelligence agencies say we need to be—and the damaging consequences that fear has for foreign policy:

I am no fan of America’s national security state, which continues to grow steadily larger, more intrusive, and increasingly dismissive of civil liberties. The NSA has removed all expectations of privacy in digital communications, and the TSA is, at best, inept security theater. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaignimagines a terrorist around every corner, while the CIA is busy spying on Congress and torturing away the rule of law.

But sometimes, America’s intelligence agencies are actually the voice of reason, offering a far less scary view of security threats than public perception or political pontificating provides. But we don’t listen.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in an unjustified level of fear of ISIS, says Karen Callaghan, a political scientist at Texas Southern University who researches framing in political discourse about terrorism. If you listen to our hyperventilating national media and bloviating lawmakers, you’d think ISIS presented America with an existential threat. For instance, pointing to media coverage of graphic acts of terror (like beheadings), Callaghan says that this “hyperpublicizing” makes it “difficult for Americans to separate out the truth, difficult to decipher how worried they should be.”

Americans are scared of ISIS. More than 70 percent believe that there are ISIS terror cells in the United States, while 90 percent believe ISIS poses a real threat to America, and 45 percent label the threat “very serious.”

But that assessment is nowhere close to the reality of the ISIS threat.

Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly announced their consensus that ISIS is not an immediate threat to America. General Martin Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there’s no evidence that ISIS is occupied with “active plotting against the homeland.”DHS reports ISIS is not in Mexico, attempting to infiltrate the southern border. The FBI swatted down any notion that ISIS is planning an attack in the New York City subway system.

This mismatch between public perception and intelligence reports is not unique to ISIS. Indeed, it has been frustratingly consistent in Iran policy for years. No less than 16 American intelligence agencies agreed in 2012 that Iran had no nuclear weapons in development — a conclusion that apparently stands today. But Americans are consistently concerned that the United States is not doing enough to stop the “threat” of Iran getting nukes.

It’s understandable, of course, that so many Americans are scared: We are consistently told that we should be, a drumbeat of fear which Callaghan argues “elevates risk perceptions and diminishes the capacity for rational information processing.”

Read the whole thing here.

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