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“Something Obscene About Civil Asset Forfeitures”: A Practice That Incentivizes Police To Steal From Law Abiding Citizens

Imagine this:

You get pulled over by police. Maybe they claim you were seven miles over the speed limit, maybe they say you made an improper lane change. Doesn’t matter, because the traffic stop is only a pretext.

Using that pretext, they ask permission to search your car for drugs. You give permission and they search. Or you decline permission, but that doesn’t matter, either. They make you wait until a drug-sniffing canine can be brought to the scene, then tell you the dog has indicated the presence of drugs — and search anyway.

Now imagine that no drugs are turned up, but they do find a large sum of money and demand that you account for it. Maybe you’re going to a car auction out of state, maybe the money is a loan from a relative, maybe you just don’t trust banks. This is yet something else that doesn’t matter. The police insist that this is drug money. They scratch out a handwritten receipt and, without a warrant, without an arrest, maybe without even giving you a ticket for the alleged traffic violation, they drive away with your money.

You want it back? Hire a lawyer. You might be successful — in a year or two. Or you might not. Either way, it’s going to cost you and if the amount in question is too small, getting an attorney might not be practical. Would you spend $5,000 to (maybe) recover $4,000? No. So the police keep your money — your money — and you swallow the loss.

You find that scenario far-fetched? It’s not fetched nearly as far as you think.

Just since 2008, there have been over 55,000 “civil asset forfeitures” for cash and property totaling $3 billion. And for every actual drug dealer thus ensnared, there seems to be someone like Mandrel Stuart, who told the Washington Post last year that he lost his business when police seized $17,550, leaving him no operating funds. Or like Ming Tong Liu, who lost an opportunity to buy a restaurant when police took $75,000 he had raised from relatives for the purchase.

So one is heartened at last week’s announcement from Attorney General Eric Holder that the federal government is largely abandoning the practice.

The civil asset forfeiture has been a weapon in the so-called “War on Drugs” since the Nixon years. Initially conceived as a way to hit big drug cartels in the wallet, it has metastasized into a Kafkaesque nightmare for thousands of ordinary Americans. Indeed, the Post reports the seizures have more than doubled under President Obama.

Now the administration is pulling back. Not that Holder’s announcement ends the practice completely — state and local governments are free to continue it on their own. What ends, or at least is sharply curtailed, is federal involvement, i.e., a program called “equitable sharing,” under which seized property was “adopted” by the feds, meaning the case was handed off to Washington, which took 20 percent off the top, the rest going into the local treasury.

Ask your local law enforcement officials if they will be following Holder’s lead. And if not, why not? Because — and this should go without saying — in a nation with a constitutional guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures” there is something obscene about a practice that incentivizes police to, in essence, steal money from law-abiding citizens and leaves said citizens no reasonable recourse for getting it back.

Yet, this is precisely what has gone on for years without notice, much less a peep of protest, from we, the people — proving yet again that we the people will countenance great violence to our basic freedoms in the name of expedience. The insult compounding the injury? The expedience didn’t even work and has had no discernible impact on the use of illegal narcotics. To the contrary that usage has thrived under the “War on Drugs.”

Sadly, the Constitution has done less well.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist For The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 21, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | Eric Holder, Law Enforcement, Police Abuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paths To The Presidency”: John Kasich And The Road Less Taken, Because It Goes Nowhere

Last month I spent a few minutes mocking a Cleveland Plain Dealer story that suggested big donors might hunt down Ohio Gov. John Kasich as he traipsed around the Mountain West plumping for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, and beg him to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. I half-thought the story was the product of somebody in Kashichland funnin’ a local reporter. I mean, really, a guy as seasoned as Kasich didn’t really think that was a viable strategy for becoming Leader of the Free World, did he?

But now we have a Wall Street Journal piece from the veteran national political reporter Janet Hook reporting the same madness:

If Ohio Gov. John Kasich is thinking of running for president, he’s taking a very circuitous route. Mr. Kasich, one of several Republican governors seen as potential candidates, is spending much of this week traveling through six sparsely populated Western states to promote balancing the budget.

Fresh off his inauguration to a second term as governor, Mr. Kasich is travelling from South Dakota to Wyoming to Idaho in a tour that ends Friday. He is trying to round up support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget — even as fiscal issues seem to be fading in Congress.

But then, after reporting that Kasich doesn’t admit this odd out-of-state travel schedule means he’s running for president, Hook cites it as one of several “paths to the presidency,” alongside those more conventional candidates are pursuing:

Mr. Kasich is part of a distinct posse of potential candidates — Republican governors that include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who are angling to use their states’ records as calling cards in a bid for national office.

Mr. Kasich is proud of Ohio’s economic turnaround, and of his 2014 re-election by more than 30 percentage points. He has been trying to espouse a new brand of compassionate conservatism, supporting an expansion of Medicaid in his first term and saying in his second inaugural address, “Somehow we have lost the beautiful sound of our neighbors’ voices. Moving beyond ourselves and trying to share in the experience of others helps us open our minds, allows us to grow as people.”

But he is pairing that big-hearted message with fiscal conservatism, his trademark issue during his 18 years in Congress when he played a lead role in crafting a 1997 deal to eliminate the federal budget deficit.

So Ohio Record (including the kryptonite-to-conservatives Medicaid expansion) plus Balanced Budget somehow equals viable candidacy. It’s not easy to understand how, mechanically, anyone would win the nomination this way, unless Hook is buying the idea big donors will track him down somewhere in the Rockies and beg him to run.

You know what I think? A lot of MSM types think Kasich ought to be the kind of candidate the Republicans nominate, and that fiscal hawkery–the only part of the Constitutional Conservative ideology they understand–could be his ticket to ride.

Beyond that, there are an awful lot of people who think the current presidential nominating process, and particularly the role of the early states, is absurd, and would love to see someone defy it. But it keeps not happening. The last two serious candidates who tried to skip the early states–Democrat Al Gore in 1988 and Rudy Giuliani in 2008 (well, he didn’t originally plan to skip the early states but shifted away from them when support was not forthcoming) went nowhere. Perhaps someone with a massive national following and special credibility with the conservative activists who view the early states as their God-given choke point on the GOP nomination could get away with starting late and elsewhere. But not John Kasich.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John Kasich | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Absurdity Of The Argument Is It’s Greatest Strength”: Republicans Know Their Obamacare Case Is Bogus; Here’s The Proof

On Thursday, the government filed its brief to the Supreme Court in the case that will determine whether Obamacare subsidies disappear in three dozen states. Its argument is comprehensive, but one part of it speaks directly to the political history of the law, and the fact that everybody, including Republicans in Congress who now claim out of convenience that the law plainly limits subsidies to states that set up their own exchanges, always understood it to authorize subsidies everywhere.

The government confines this part of its argument to the legislative debate in the run up to the law’s passage in early 2010, but it could make the point more succinctly (and perhaps convincingly) by fast forwarding to early 2011. These days, Republicans up to and including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confidently pronounce that “the language of the law says … subsidies are only available for states that set up state exchanges.” But that’s not what they believed four years ago.

When Republicans took over the House in 2011, the political environment in Congress changed dramatically. Obamacare couldn’t be repealed, but it became fair game for damaging modifications, and the GOP took aim at it and other domestic spending programs whenever opportunities to offset the cost of new legislation arose. One of the first things Congress did back then was eliminate an Affordable Care Act provision that would have significantly expanded the number of expenses businesses are required to report to the IRS. Even before the law passed, business associations were livid about the “1099” requirement, and created such an uproar over it that the question quickly became how, not if, it would be repealed. Even Democrats wanted it gone.

The only problem was that the reporting requirement was expected to raise over $20 billion. Under GOP rule, it could only be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. As it happens, they found those spending cuts elsewhere in the ACA itself. Specifically, Republicans paid for repealing the 1099 provision by subjecting ACA beneficiaries to stricter rules regarding when they have to reimburse the government for subsidy overpayments. Make more money than you anticipated, and the government will claw back your premium assistance come tax season.

The congressional budget office scored the plan as essentially deficit neutral, and Republicans voted for it overwhelmingly. But you see the problem here. If the ACA plainly prohibits subsidies in states that didn’t set up their own exchanges, then there would be no subsidies in those states to claw back. And by April 2011, when the clawback passed, we already knew that multiple states were planning to protest ACA implementation and let the federal government set up their exchanges, including giant states like Florida, which now has a million beneficiaries. They would have needed a different, or additional, pay-for.

Obamacare’s legal challengers might chime in here to insist that their case is impervious to revelations like these. CBO’s analyses were premised on the idea that every state would set up its own exchange, and Republicans (and many Democrats) based their votes on what CBO told them. Other Democrats who actually understood the scheme may have simply pretended not to notice the problem. Nevertheless, they’d say, the law was designed to withhold subsidies from people whose states didn’t establish exchanges, and to ruin the individual and small-group insurance markets in those states, without providing any notice to either. In a perverse way, the absurdity of the challengers’ argument is it’s greatest strength. Because the scheme they insist Congress intentionally created was so far from Congress’ mind, it’s hard to find contemporaneous evidence that Congress absolutely didn’t mean to condition these subsidies. In much the same way, we can’t be sure that Congress didn’t mean to denominate those subsidies in Canadian dollars. A $ isn’t necessarily a $ after all.

But this familiar line of defense crumbles here. It is facially plausiblethough incorrectto posit that at the time the law passed, CBO believed subsidies would be available everywhere because it simply assumed every state would set up an exchange. But that assumption didn’t hold in April 2011. Something else must explain CBO’s 1099-repeal score, and the Republican votes that followed it. What we have in the form of this bill is clear evidence that everyone who voted for it (including every single Republican, save the two GOP congressmen and one GOP senator who weren’t present) understood the Affordable Care Act to provide subsidies everywhere.

Congress repealed the 1099 provision at an important momentafter multiple states announced that they would step back and let the federal government establish their exchanges, but before the IRS issued its proposed rule stipulating that subsidies would be available on both exchanges. The only thing Congress had to go on when it stiffened the clawback mechanism was its own reading of the Affordable Care Act, and Congress behaved exactly as you would expect. It operated with the understanding that subsidies were universal.

Today, many Republicans will tell you that the law plainly forecloses subsidies through the federal exchange. Six senatorsJohn Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubioand nine congressmenMarsha Blackburn, Dave Camp, Randy Hultgren, Darrell Issa, Pete Olson, Joe Pitts, Pete Roskam, Paul Ryan and Fred Uptonhave even filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, which begins, “The plain text of the ACA reflects a specific choice by Congress to make health insurance premium subsidies available only to those who purchase insurance from ‘an Exchange established by the State….’ The IRS flouted this unambiguous statutory limitation, promulgating regulations that make subsidies available for insurance purchased not only through exchanges established by the States but also through exchanges established by the federal government.”

All of them, save Cruz, who was elected in 2012, voted for 1099 repeal.

In its brief, the government argues that “it was well understood that the Act gave ‘States the choice to participate in the exchanges themselves or, if they do not choose to do so, to allow the Federal Government to set up the exchanges.’ And it was abundantly clear that some States would not establish their own Exchanges.“ It was more than well understood. Congress actually endorsed that very proposition.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Sense Of History”: John McCain; ‘Everything I’ve Predicted … Has Come True’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reason to be pleased with his recent promotion. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, his party is not only in control of the Senate, but the Arizona Republican is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post he’s reportedly wanted for quite a while.

But when the senator looks around the world, he isn’t pleased at all.

“We are probably in the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime,” said the 78-year-old Republican from Arizona, whose control of the committee is the culmination of decades of tenacious advocacy for a muscular foreign policy. “Everything I’ve predicted, unfortunately, has come true, whether it be in Iraq or whether it be Syria.”

The notion that all of John McCain’s predictions have “come true” isn’t just a bizarre boast, it’s also laughably and demonstrably untrue. As Rachel put it on the show awhile back, “Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that.”

But it’s this argument, which McCain has made before, that we’re seeing “the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime” that seems especially odd.

As we discussed the last time the senator made this assessment, McCain’s lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. To suggest turmoil is greater or more “serious” now may be politically convenient – one assumes McCain is both eager to blame President Obama for unrest and anxious to make the case for more wars – but it’s also completely at odds with reality when considered in a historical context.

Dylan Matthews noted last week, “If anything, the world is safer than it’s ever been. The threat of nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union has lifted. Great power wars of the kind that plagued Europe until 1945 are a thing of the past. Peoples’ odds of dying from violence, including warfare, have never been lower.”

I’m also reminded a good piece from Fareed Zakaria along the same lines, noting conditions in 1973, the year McCain was released from a Vietnamese prison. That year, Zakaria noted, several hundred thousand people died as a result of the war in Vietnam, tens of thousands died in the Yom Kippur War, OPEC imposed an oil embargo, and Cold War tensions pushed the United States literally to DEFCON 3.

Today’s world is unpredictable, but it doesn’t compare with the kinds of geopolitical dangers that existed for decades during the Cold War, not to mention before that period. […]

For all the problems, let’s keep in mind that we live today in a world with considerably fewer dangers. Nuclear war is unimaginable. The Russian-American nuclear arsenals are down to one-fifth their size in 1973 and at a much lower level of readiness. In 1973, Freedom House published its first annual account of political rights around the world. At the time, countries listed as “not free” outnumbered “free” countries. Today that is inverted, with the number of “free” countries having doubled. Open markets, trade and travel have boomed, allowing hundreds of millions to escape poverty and live better lives.

Of course there are crises, problems and tensions around the world. But no one with any sense of history would want to go back in time in search of less turmoil.

Around the same time, President Obama delivered remarks to White House interns and stressed the same point: “[D]espite how hard sometimes the world seems to be, and all you see on television is war and conflict and poverty and violence, the truth is that if you had to choose when to be born, not knowing where or who you would be, in all of human history, now would be the time. Because the world is less violent, it is healthier, it is wealthier, it is more tolerant and it offers more opportunity than any time in human history for more people than any time in human history.”

This isn’t to say that peace and stability reign around the globe. That’s never been the case, and it probably never will be. But to see alarming developments, here and abroad, as evidence of a world unraveling is to focus far too much on the trees and not enough on the forest.

McCain has been around for real periods of international turmoil. It’s easy, and perhaps ideologically satisfying, to insist conditions are worse now, but by literally no measure is that assessment accurate.

It’s likely that the senator has a political goal in mind: if Americans believe the world is coming apart, and that instability is scary, maybe the public will blame the president and reward McCain and his allies. Perhaps McCain will even persuade people that a few more wars will ease global tensions and paradoxically reduce violence.

But reality suggests no one should take his rhetoric seriously.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, John McCain, War Hawks | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Leaving Republicans Even Deeper In The Trap”: Obama Didn’t Give Republicans The Speech They Wanted

My initial impressions of the State of the Union Address and Joni Ernst’s official GOP Response were posted last night beginning a bit before the 9:00 EST start time, if you’re interested. The next day I continue to be impressed with Obama’s success in wrong-footing Republicans with this speech, changing what could have been a nasty scene of GOP triumphalism over a president begging for “relevance” into an occasion when they looked to be bystanders.

That’s the topic of my TPMCafe column on the speech, which was written late in the night. But I’d say my impressions were best confirmed by the day-after reactions of the conservative commentariat, which in a word are petulant. A case in point is from Byron York, who generally tries to act like a reporter, not a pure partisan pundit. But his Washington Examiner column today is a long whine:

Perhaps the most striking thing about the 2015 State of the Union address was not the president at the podium but the audience in the seats. The joint session of Congress listening to President Obama Tuesday night included 83 fewer Democrats than the group that heard Obama’s first address in 2009 — 69 fewer Democrats in the House and 14 fewer in the Senate. The scene in the House Chamber was a graphic reminder of the terrible toll the Obama years have taken on Capitol Hill Democrats.

Not that the president would ever acknowledge that. Indeed, in more than an hour of speaking, Obama never once acknowledged that there was a big election in November and that the leadership of the Senate has changed. Obama’s silence on that political reality stood in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, in which he graciously and at some length acknowledged the Democrats’ victory in the 2006 midterms. Bush said it was an honor to address Nancy Pelosi as “Madam Speaker.” He spoke of the pride Pelosi’s late father would have felt to see his daughter lead the House. “I congratulate the new Democrat majority,” Bush said. “Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities.”

If one cannot imagine Obama saying such a thing — well, he didn’t.

Aside from the hilarious implied suggestion here that Obama should have done some sort of “gracious” shout-out to Mitch McConnell, the man more responsible than any other for the obstructionist tactics of the GOP from the day Obama would first elected, York is reflecting the apparent anticipation of conservatives that Obama would crawl to the podium for this speech and spend an hour or so of national television time identifying issues on which the two parties could achieve “common ground,” which GOPers could then deride as too little and too late. And that’s why they are particularly infuriated by his apparent ad lib (though I thought it looked more like a planned trap given the predictable Republican applause at his remarks that his own elections were in the rear-view mirror) reminder that he’s been elected twice.

In conservative-land, you see, Obama’s first election was a fluke and his second a calamitous accident, both canceled by the ensuring midterms and both destined to be remembered as incidental interruptions of the Long March of Movement Conservatism towards total power. The idea that 2008 and 2012 are just as significant as 2010 and 2014 (maybe a bit more significant insofar as far more Americans participated) is outrageous to the Right, and so Obama mentioning them was the defiant act of a political nonentity.

Beyond that, the basic framing of Obama’s remarks on the economy left Republicans even deeper in the trap they’ve been in ever since conditions began improving. The main criticism available to them for the performance of the economy is the one Democrats (and Obama himself) have been articulated: sluggish wage growth and growing inequality. But Republicans have little or no agenda to deal with that beyond the usual engorge-the-job-creators stuff dressed up with attacks on the few corporate welfare accounts they’ve agreed to oppose, and then the Keystone XL Pipeline. On this last point, Obama was very clever in dismissing Keystone as one controversial infrastructure project we’re spending too much time fighting over as hundreds of others languish. It made Joni Ernst’s plodding Official Response sound all the more foolish for spending so much time on that one project.

The underlying reality was nicely captured by TNR”s Brian Beutler:

If Mitt Romney had won the presidency in 2012 and caught the wave of economic growth we’re now experiencing—after cutting both income taxes and domestic spending, and eliminating the Affordable Care Act—conservatives would have draped him in Reagan’s cloak, and the public would have warmed once again to the kinds of policies that George W. Bush’s presidency briefly discredited.

Or as Ezra Klein put it:

Imagine if Mitt Romney was giving the State of the Union address amidst these economic numbers. The cheering wouldn’t stop long enough to let him speak.

No wonder Republicans are still sore about 2012, and can’t decide whether to regard Mitt as the Great President Who Should Have Been or the bozo who couldn’t seal the deal.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | Economy, GOP, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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