This week’s column is about civil asset forfeiture, which is a fancy term for legalized theft:

Suppose you decide to buy a used car from a guy on Craigslist. You’ve found the car you want, and you’re going to buy it outright. It’s only $4,000, and you decide to pay cash because it will be more convenient for both of you. So, on the day of the sale, you get the money and go to purchase the car.

On the way there, you roll through a stop sign. Bad luck—a cop saw you. He pulls you over, and while he’s writing up a ticket, catches a glimpse of your bank envelope in the passenger seat. Suddenly, he asks to search your car. You don’t have anything to hide, so what’s the harm, right?

The next thing you know, the officer is thumbing through your twenties. He grills you on why you’re carrying this much cash. It’s suspicious, he says. A check would have been easier if you’re really just buying a car.

“I’m going to have to confiscate this,” he finally concludes. You immediately protest: “On what charge? Am I being arrested? Can I call my lawyer?”

Nope. You’re not being arrested, and you can’t call your lawyer. In fact, you’re not being charged with any criminal activity.

This is called civil asset forfeiture—and you’re never going to see a dime of that money again.

“Civil asset forfeiture” sounds like some obscure legal thing. It’s not. In fact, it’s probably the biggest threat to private property you’ve never even heard of.

Here’s how it works: Civil asset forfeiture is basically a law which allows a police officer who finds you “suspicious” to just take your stuff.

Once your property has been confiscated, the burden of proof is on you, not the police, to show that you didn’t get it from any criminal activity. Even if you personally are cleared of all charges, that may not matter. As the Philadelphia City Paper reports, “Technically, it’s the property—not its owner—that’s being accused of criminality, which means the property can be subject to forfeiture whether or not its owner is ever convicted of a crime.”

In other words, they don’t have to charge you. They don’t have to present any evidence of illegal activity. In fact, you have no right to a lawyer and won’t get a day in court. In some jurisdictions, you actually have to pay thousands of dollars just to be able to contest the seizure.

And guess what? The police conveniently happen to consider large amounts of cash very suspicious indeed—but not too suspicious to dump it right into their own department coffers.

Read the whole thing here.

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Fear and Loathing in Guantanamo Bay

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 12.21 pm

The Guantanamo Bay detention center briefly reasserted its presence in the public consciousness this month with the news that a single Navy nurse refused to participate in the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike. Quietly feted by civil liberties advocates, the story quickly slipped off the radar. The Pentagon confirmedthat the nurse “has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations”—in other words, the torturous force feedings, instituted in 2006, will continue unabated.

Gitmo currently houses 149 inmates. Fewer than 20 detainees have been charged, and 78 are cleared for release—a status some have held for more than half a decade. About 45 prisoners are scheduled for indefinite detention, never to see a day in court.

The tepid response to the nurse’s moral stand is not surprising. Despite the fervor of outspoken antiwar protesters during the Bush years, the broader public has never cared much about the welfare of those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, innocent or no. Support for closing the facility peaked at 51 percent in early 2009. That high corresponded with the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, who took office trumpeting his intentions to put an end to Bush-era abuses like Guantanamo, which he labeled a betrayal of American ideals.

A year after the inauguration, the Obama administration’s now-extensive history of Gitmo excuse-making was well underway. “Political opposition” caused the President to break his promise. Temper your expectations, an anonymous White House official suggested, “The president can’t just wave a magic wand and say that Gitmo will be closed.” But of course—of course!—it’s still going to happen.

Come 2011, we found the President admitting that the facility won’t be closed in the near future. “[W]ithout Congress’s cooperation, we can’t do it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I stop making the case.” And that narrative—the “I really want to close Guantanamo, but Congress just won’t let me!” line—has persisted ever since, typically with a heavy dose of partisan undertones. As Obama moved an issue he once called vital to the restoration of the United States’ moral authority to the backburner, public opinion followed his cue. By 2010, only 39 percent supported closing the prison. Today, just 27 percent are on board.

What’s fascinating about this unwillingness to close Guantanamo Bay as observed in government and citizens alike is the way it encapsulates the charade of modern American politics: a GOP that abandons its support for limited government out of fear, and a Democratic Party whose civil libertarianism is built more on partisan rancor than ethics.

Read the whole thing here.

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This week’s column is born out of frustration with seeing otherwise thoughtful, reasonable libertarians and conservatives alike wasting their breath on stuff which really doesn’t matter. Who cares how often the President golfs?! Let’s look at how often he hand-picks people to die, instead.

I don’t know if it’s a longstanding American tradition to waste political discussion on topics that really don’t matter, but in the last decade or so, we seem to have really honed this skill:

  • The frequency and cost of President Obama’s golfing trips is a favorite topic.
  • Apparently he doesn’t lift heavy enough weights at the gym.
  • Any time the Obama family takes a vacation, the rumblings of criticism instantly begin, with left and right constantly quibbling over whose President took pricier trips.
  • Michelle Obama, too, is a frequent target of criticism. Her dresses cost too much. She eats her food too quickly.
  • And earlier this month we hit a new low, with multiple nationally-known commentators tactlessly suggesting (based on her appearance) that the First Lady is actually a man.
  • There were even complaints when Michelle Obama Skyped into the Oscars, despite the fact Laura Bush and Ronald Reagan both participated in Oscar ceremonies during their own time in the White House.

The current obsession is President Obama’s decision not to visit the United States’ southern border to—let’s be realistic—do photo ops while making some vague comments about immigration policy.

Now, I’m far from a fan of the President—but this critique just doesn’t make sense. It especially doesn’t make sense after all the aforementioned complaining about the cost of his other trips.

Ironically, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who did go to the border, managed to squeeze in an awful lot of photo ops despite declaring, “I’m not interested in photo ops.” He even tweeted the photos…on multiple Twitter accounts. If that’s not a photo op, I don’t know what is.

But here’s the thing: None of this truly matters.

And spending time talking about this kind of frivolous stuff distracts from the very real abuses of liberty and power the Obamas impose on us when they’re not on vacation.

Honestly, I’d like to see the President on vacation more often. At least when he’s on the golf course, he can’t completely override the rule of law with his pen and his phone! Let him vacation all day, every day if it means he’ll stop expanding the size and scope of government at home and abroad. Maybe if he’s occupied elsewhere, the rest of us can get busy actually making our communities and the world more prosperous, safe, and free.

Read the whole thing here.

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