02/1/15

Will New AG Support Civil Forfeiture Reform?

By: Alan Caruba
Warning Signs

The  Wednesday hearings on the confirmation of a new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, lasted hours because members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were often called away to vote. In the wake of the scandals surrounding the manner in which Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has functioned, the hearing, led now by Republicans, could have been harsh, but it was not. The Wall Street Journal characterized the mood in the hearing room as “cordial.” Watching it on CSPAN, I can confirm that.

In early November the Wall Street Journal, in an opinion titled “The Next Attorney General: One area to question Loretta Lynch is civil asset forfeiture”, it noted that “As a prosecutor Ms. Lynch had also been aggressive in pursuing civil asset forfeiture, which has become a form of politicking for profit.”

“She recently announced that her office had collected more than $904 million in criminal and civil actions in fiscal 2013, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Liberals and conservatives have begun to question forfeiture as an abuse of due process that can punish the innocent.”

That caught my eye because the last thing America needs is an Attorney General who wants to use this abuse of the right to be judged innocent until proven guilty. Civil forfeiture puts no limits on the seizure of anyone’s private property and financial holdings. It is a law that permits this to occur even if based on little more than conjecture. It struck me then and now as a bizarre and distinctly un-American law.

Writing in the Huffington Post in late 2014, Bob Barr, a former Congressman and the principal in Liberty Strategies, told of the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000 “as a milestone in the difficult—almost impossible—task of protecting individual rights against constant incursions by law-and-order officials.” The problem is that civil forfeiture was and is being used to seize millions.

“The staggering dollar amounts reflected in these statistics, however,” wrote Barr, “does not pinpoint the real problem of how law enforcement agencies at all levels of government employ the power of asset forfeiture as a means of harming, and in many instances, destroying the livelihood of individuals and small businesses.”

“In pursuing civil assets, the government need never charge the individuals with violations of criminal laws; therefore never having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty of having committed any crimes.”

As noted above, as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch’s office had raked in millions from civil forfeiture. Forbes magazine reports that she has used it in more than 120 cases and, prior to the hearing to confirm her as the next Attorney General US News & World Report noted on January 26 that Ms. Lynch’s office had quietly dropped a $450,000 civil forfeiture case a week before the hearings. She clearly did not want to answer questions on this or any other comparable case.

Just one example tells you why there is legitimate concern regarding this issue and it appeared in a January 3rd edition of Townhall.com. I recommend you read the account written by Amy Herrig, the vice president of Gas Pipe, Inc, a Texas company that an editor’s note reported as “faced with extinction of a civil asset forfeiture to the federal government of more than $16 million. Neither Herrig nor her father, Jerry Shults, have been charged with any criminal offense.”

Jerry Shults is a classic example of an American entrepreneur. After having served in the Air Force and serving in Vietnam where he earned a Bronze Star, Shults moved to Dallas where he began selling novelty items at pop festivals throughout Texas. Since the first store that he opened had gas pipes exposed in the ceiling, he dubbed it Gas Pipe, Inc. Suffice to say his hard work paid off for him. By the late 1990s, he had seven stores, a distribution company, a five-star lodge in Alaska, and was an American success story. By 2014 the company had grown to fourteen stores and other notable properties.

By then he had been in business for nearly 45 years and employed nearly two hundred people. And then someone in the northern district of Texas, Dallas division, initiated a civil forfeiture seizure against him. I was so appalled by his daughter’s description of events I secured a copy of the September 15 complaint that was filed. I am no attorney, but it looked to me as spurious as one could have imagined, except for the details of Gas Pipe’s assets. On 88 single-spaced pages, those were spelled out meticulously and all were subject to seizure despite the fact that not a single instance of criminality had been proven in a court of law. Imagine having 45 years of success erased by one’s own government in this fashion. It is appalling.

Assuming Ms. Lynch will be approved for confirmation as our next Attorney General, civil forfeiture is the largely hidden or unknown issue that could spell disaster for countless American businesses, large and small, in the remaining two years of the Obama administration. She has a record of pursuing it. The upside of this is that the current AG, Eric Holder, in early January announced that the DOJ would no longer acquire assets seized as part of a state law violation.

On the same day of Ms. Lynch’s hearing, January 28, writing in The Hill’s Congress Blog, former Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA) was joined by Bruce Mehlman, a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush administration, to raise a note of warning. “The topic of civil asset forfeiture should be an important part of the discussion with Lynch. As U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Lynch was the top official in a hotbed of civil asset forfeiture—helping to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars under the program in recent years.”

Ms. Lynch was not asked about civil forfeiture by either the Republican or Democrat members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was a lost opportunity and, if the new Attorney General applies her enthusiasm for it to the entire nation, it will be yet another Obama administration nightmare.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

01/28/15

Obama’s Economic Shell Game

By: Bethany Stotts
Accuracy in Media

Whether in his State of the Union or his recent campaign-like visits to the states, the President has been touting an economic recovery that his policies have supposedly fostered after he inherited a dire recession from George W. Bush. This narrative, repeated over and over through the years, is filled with half truths and exaggerations. Yet a complicit media is more than willing to look the other way from Americans suffering at the hands of a weak recovery with any numbers it can get its hands on.

To add insult to injury, the President’s proposed $320 billion in new tax increases makes it obvious that he’s “not serious about governing,” according to a Washington Post opinion piece by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. But, he argues, this political ploy will only work if the right is distracted by it.

Similarly, John Podhoretz writes for the New York Post that Obama gleefully “trolls,” or enrages his political opponents, to elicit ad hominem, spittle-filled disgust regardless of policy merits and the Democratic Party’s health. So when Americans hear the President proposing new taxes and claiming the country boasts a healthy, recovering economy, they may assume he’s tone deaf. However, he’s deliberately “trolling” for political effect.

The President is also fond of touting that the federal deficit has fallen from 10 percent of GDP to three percent of GDP, but such a claim couldn’t even fool Politifact, which rated the assertion as “half true.” “Obama is laying the blame for the high deficit-to-GDP ratio entirely on Bush, when the figure covers time in office for both presidents,” they say. “The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.”

From where I come from a “half truth” is really a lie. Add to the list of false assertions the evergreen claims by President Obama that a) he has made the best of a terrible recession, and b) that our economy is now going strong because the unemployment rate is now below six percent.

“The widely publicized unemployment rate, eagerly awaited each month by pundits and policy wonks, has become little more than a shell game in which officials keep the public guessing about the real state of the economy,” pointedly wrote Jay Schalin of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy back in 2012.

Reporting by The New York Times exposed that where once someone would have qualified as officially unemployed, they may now remain uncounted as “out of the labor force.” “In particular, there seems to have been an increase in the number of people who once would have qualified as officially unemployed and today are considered out of the labor force, neither working nor looking for work,” reported David Leonhardt last August.

Yet the Times, after the State of the Union last week, congratulated the President for his efforts to “cement an economic legacy that seemed improbable early in his first term, when the country was in near-economic collapse.” What then, is the President’s economic legacy of recovery to date?

Millions of people are not being counted in the most recent official unemployment rate of 5.6 percent. Schalin pointed his readers to a more accurate barometer—the labor participation rate. It currently sits at a 36-year low.

The falling labor participation rate, reports Jeffrey Scott Shapiro for The Washington Times, “translates to more than 7 million fewer workers in the workforce.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that a “U.S. economy that suddenly looks healthy” isn’t “luring back many of the millions who dropped out of the labor market during the down times.”

The outlook for America’s jobless and uncounted is dismal. “Over the past three months, an average of 6.8% of those outside the labor force either found a job or began looking for one,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “That means people are entering the labor force at the lowest pace in records kept since 1990, down from more than 8% in 2010.”

But the media instead carefully misinform the public to boost presidential credibility. The Washington Post, after the State of the Union address, called our President “cautious over the past two years not to gloat over news of fitful economic growth, mindful that the economy remained tenuous and public confidence uneasy.” Now, however, “with the jobless rate well below 6 percent, the stock market nearing record highs and his job-approval ratings rebounding, Obama on Tuesday night dropped his veneer of reserve and appeared to delight in having proved his critics wrong.”

What exactly is the proof?

“Jobs are up, but wages are down,” noted Politico’s Timothy Noah about December’s job numbers. “In five-and-a-half years of economic recovery, the median income should have increased. Instead, it is lower. … Stagnating wages have displaced unemployment as the nation’s chief economic concern, and wages are becoming a central political concern too.”

Ironically, the Post’s own fact-checkers, after taking apart the President’s speech, found that “it is too early to say that this positive response from small businesses means ‘wages are finally starting to rise again.’” In other words, our President lied—again.

“Politicians can lower the U-3 [unemployment] rate—and make things seem better than they are—by making it easier for people to leave the workforce,” noted Schalin.

At a national level, welfare dependency is at higher levels now than under George W. Bush, millions of Americans are signing up for Obamacare subsidies, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer, and median income is now comparable to 1995 levels. “Today median income is on par with where it was in 1995, which is one of the reasons many Americans still don’t feel the economy has truly improved,” reported CNN Money in December in the last line of its article.

The first line touted more positive Obama-centric news: “The Obama recovery was looking a lot better on Friday after a particularly strong jobs report made 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999.” CNN must have thought it could put some positive spin on this official numbers game.

In the last year of Bush’s presidency, 17.1 percent of Americans received welfare assistance. That figure now stands at nearly one in four—23 percent—according to Shapiro.

“A 2013 Pew Research study of U.S. Census Bureau data found simply that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer during the Obama economic recovery,” reports Shapiro. The study stated that our recovery boosted the incomes of the upper 7 percent by over a quarter, while the “mean net worth” of households in the remaining 93 percent “dropped by 4%.”

Chuck Todd of NBC News’ deserves a veritable medal for media bias. He opened his co-authored article, “Telling the Recovery Story: Obama Hits the Road to Tout Economy,” by pointing to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s (D) criticism of the President that “one problem I think that the president has is that he doesn’t tell that story [the “explosive growth in corporate profits, in stock market returns, employment that’s come back strong”] very well or very regularly.”

“Well, Obama is now trying to tell that story a bit better,” comment Todd and his co-authors.

“One reason why the White House feels more confident in touting the economy is that the country has seen its longest stretch of good economic news during Obama’s presidency,” he and his co-authors wrote. “And that’s been reflected in a media that usually emphasizes bad news over good news.”

Todd has said in the past that he found his off-the-record conversations with President Obama “very nourishing.”

Simply put, a lot of Americans can’t—and won’t—swallow economic spin of such mammoth proportions, either from the media or from our President.

01/17/15

It’s the President’s Policies—Not His Team’s Vision

By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media

It’s been a gradual process, but we welcome former New York Times columnist Leslie Gelb to the realization that President Barack Obama’s leadership has been disastrous for this country. Last October Gelb wrote, “While Obama inherited rather than caused many of the world’s current crises, his habitual complacency and passivity prevent him from mitigating or resolving them.”

By November, Gelb had scathing criticism for Obama, writing for The Daily Beast that “The leak suggests that Mr. Obama remains blind to the principal cause of his foreign policy woes… he is the person most responsible for the absence of a U.S. foreign policy strategy, for policy zigs and zags, and for the loss of credibility and power. The essential fault lies not with the stars around him, however dim, but with himself.”

The failure to send a high-ranking member of the Obama administration to Paris for the so-called unity rally was the last straw for Mr. Gelb, whose impeccable establishment credentials include board senior fellow and president emeritus at the Council on Foreign Relations. He even acknowledges it in The Daily Beast title: “This Is Obama’s Last Foreign Policy Chance.”

Gelb said that failing to go to Paris or to send the vice president was more than a “horrible gaffe,” adding that it “demonstrated beyond argument that the Obama team lacks the basic instincts and judgment necessary to conduct U.S. national security policy in the next two years. It’s simply too dangerous to let Mr. Obama continue as is—with his current team and his way of making decisions. America, its allies, and friends could be heading into one of the most dangerous periods since the height of the Cold War.”

But unfortunately, this wasn’t Obama’s last foreign policy chance. Gelb recommends that Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, Denis McDonough, and Valerie Jarrett should go. There is no doubt that these four have helped make an utter mess of American foreign policy, but largely at the direction of their boss.

Gelb suggests that President Obama add establishment Republican Thomas Pickering, who is soft on Iran and also complicit in the Benghazi cover-up as the Chair of the discredited Accountability Review Board (ARB), the State Department creation that didn’t even interview then-Secretary of State Clinton, and informed Mrs. Clinton through her aide, Cheryl Mills, when the vice chair of the ARB became concerned about the testimony of one of the witnesses.

“Pickering has personally explored opening relations with Hamas; pushed peace talks with the Taliban; argued for getting rid of, or removing to the U.S., all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe (and moving Russia’s to east of the Urals); and promoted bilateral talks with Iran without preconditions,” wrote Andy McCarthy. These are the credentials to pull our country out of its foreign policy disasters?

Actually, we may not even agree with Gelb’s belief that the President should replace his current team, or whether that even matters. And that is because of another point he makes: “In the end, making the national security system work comes down to one factor, one man—Barack Obama. He’s the key problem, and he’s the only one who can bring about a solution.”

What Gelb’s column fails to recognize is that this isn’t a problem of President Obama receiving bad advice. It is that he is ideologically driven, and his agenda is clearly antithetical to America’s national security needs and interests. This has been apparent since before the President took office, but it was laid bare in his first year in office. It is just that virtually everyone at The New York Times and other foreign policy establishment institutions either didn’t recognize it, or thought his presidency would be a great antidote to the “cowboy” foreign policy, as they saw it, of the George W. Bush era.

Consider these following presidential actions:

  • President Obama’s Cairo speech in his first months, where he invited the Muslim Brotherhood, and didn’t invite the then-president of Egypt to attend;
  • His hands-off approach to the green revolution in Iran that possibly could have overthrown that dangerous, terrorist sponsoring, corrupt regime;
  • The unilateral removal of our missile defense system from Poland and the Czech Republic;
  • His ongoing pledge to shut down Guantanamo Bay;
  • His immediate demands on Israel that proved both wrong and counterproductive for what he was hoping to achieve;
  • The unnecessary war in Libya, and the ensuing Islamic terrorist attack on our Special Mission Compound and CIA Annex in Benghazi, and the obvious lies and dereliction of duty that went along with it;
  • The current phony war against ISIS, with a plan to defeat them that would be absurd if it wasn’t so tragic;
  • His lies and distortions about the nature of the threat in today’s world, which include the West’s failure to confront Islamist, jihadist terrorism and growing influence of the caliphate.

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal had an article about the Iraqis’ growing impatience with how the U.S. and its coalition are carrying out the war against the Islamic State (IS), with whom we’re supposedly in a years-long process of degrading and destroying. “The swelling disapproval reflects Iraqi impatience at the U.S.-led mission’s multiyear strategy against Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Many Iraqis see the insurgents as an immediate threat pulling their country apart amid immense suffering,” reports the Journal. “Some Iraqis even believe the coalition is aiding the extremists by airdropping weapons into the third of the country they control.”

It has put us in the position of coordinating with Iran, and the Iranian backed militias are doing much of the fighting on the ground. At the same time, we are supposedly attempting to defeat ISIS in Syria, where we are doing some of the dirty work for Syrian president Basher al Assad, another Iranian proxy.

Mr. Gelb, we’ve just outlined how President Obama’s foreign policy team has been mishandling the hard questions—since day one—and Paris was, unfortunately, just a flash in the pan that momentarily illuminated the President’s perverse ideological strategic vision. He wasn’t there, nor did he send Vice President Biden, because he doesn’t stand in solidarity with the views of the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, who said in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left a total of 17 dead, “We’re at war, but not at war against a religion, not against a civilization, but at war to defend our values, which are universal.” He added, “It is a war against terrorism and radical Islam, against everything aimed at breaking solidarity, liberty and fraternity.”

The problem is not a lack of policy, or rearranging the circle of advisers—it’s Obama’s ideology and actual policies themselves that have us in this mess that Leslie Gelb has come to recognize.

01/13/15

Do Not Be Fooled by Recent Struggles. Russia Poses a Direct Threat to America and Her Interests.

By: Benjamin Weingarten
TheBlaze

While the media spikes the football in the face of a Russia hobbled by U.S. sanctions, the decline of the ruble and collapse in oil prices, Vladimir Putin’s protectorate poses a direct threat to America and its interests that we ignore at our own peril.

In the 15 years since Vladimir Putin ascended to his position as de facto czar, Russia has executed a long-term strategy that the West has failed to recognize and effectively counter under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West thought it had defeated the Soviet Union. But unlike in a hot war, the victor did not annihilate its enemy, nor did the enemy’s leaders ever face the gallows.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in fact resembled a corporate reorganization more than the fall of an empire, as heads rolled and the state spun off assets (many later to be “reclaimed”), but the company and its culture endured.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1991 signified the end of Communist rule in Russia.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1991 signified the end of Communist rule in Russia.

In the face of difficult circumstances, Russia, understanding the mindset of its “former” foes, made the brilliant decision to join the West through economic and diplomatic “cooperation.”

This convergence strategy gave the outward appearance of a liberalizing Russia, but consistent with its historical adeptness at subversion and subterfuge, proved a clever way to rebuild, gain leverage over and embed itself within its enemies.

Russia opened itself to trade to raise capital and procure technology that it could use to exploit its natural resources, rebuild its military and enrich Vladimir Putin and his cronies.

In so doing, Russia developed energy pipelines that not only provided it with wealth, but power over not just its “near abroad” — which could literally be made to freeze were it not compliant — but Western Europe. Stated differently, it brought America’s NATO allies into Russia’s orbit.

Russia also allegedly stole a significant amount of information and technology.

Perhaps most terrifying of all, Russia embedded itself in a world business and financial architecture that it could penetrate and exploit.

On the diplomatic front, Russia became a U.S. “partner” in the “War on Terror,” a curious position given that Russia was and is a key ally of Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terror. Vladimir Putin of course was the first world leader to call President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001. We do not know all the ramifications of U.S. and Russian intelligence collaboration.

***

Despite a crumbling civil society rife with corruption, the suppression of dissent, rigged elections and the fact that the average life expectancy of a 15-year-old male is three years lower in Russia than in Haiti, Putin’s kleptocratic regime, aided by its powerful propaganda machine, and deceptive religious veneerremains overwhelmingly popular.

This is in no small part due to the fact that during Putin’s reign, Russia has strengthened itself against a West it portrays as aggressive, which has actually remained largely asleep.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, poses to the press as he prepares for arm wrestling during his visits in the Seliger youth educational forum  near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in the Tver region, Russia, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, poses to the press as he prepares for arm wrestling during his visits in the Seliger youth educational forum near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in the Tver region, Russia, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool)

To wit, leaving aside foreign adventures in Ukraine and Georgia, under Putin:

Layer these data points on top of Russia’s economic and diplomatic relations with other anti-American regimes around the world, and it is difficult to find any trouble spot for the West that you can scratch without finding a Russian apparatchik.

***

While conventional military strength, intelligence operations and economic warfare against the U.S. are potent weapons in Russia’s arsenal, two recent asymmetric operations alone indicate low-cost high reward tactics Russia could employ to greatly damage our nation and her interests: (i) The terror attacks in France, and (ii) The little-noticed second cyber-attack ever to cause physical damage in world history, after Stuxnet.

On terrorism, while it is likely not in Russia’s interest to directly attack the U.S., sponsoring jihadist proxies provides plausible deniability, and maximal gain at minimal cost.

Lest you think this scenario unrealistic, it was Putin’s own FSB that was alleged to carry out attacks on Russian citizens as a pretext for war in Chechnya in 1999. Russia in fact has a long history of support for terrorism, from Yasser Arafat and the PLO, to alleged ties to Al-Qaeda including senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Cyber-terror, to the degree to which it can be masked, could prove equally potent, with the potential to cripple critical U.S. infrastructure and sow chaos at minimal cost.

Again, Russia already has a template from its actions in Estonia, not to mention some of the recent attacks on American institutions alleged to have emanated in Russia.

***

America deludes itself if she does not wake up to the multi-faceted Russian threat.

Russia’s strategic thinking, abundant natural resources and associated economic leverage, defense and intelligence capabilities pose a challenge that sanctions notwithstanding, the West is currently ill-equipped to handle.

Moreover, leaders in the West refuse to acknowledge either out of fear, ignorance, or political correctness (often a combination of the two), that Russian actions to back our enemies, end a dollar-based economy, terrorize those in its immediate orbit, while strengthening its control over Western Europe, all while flexing its muscle in U.S. airspace, indicate aspirations far beyond just rebuilding the Soviet Empire.

This file photo shows President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Ireland in June. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

This file photo shows President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Ireland in June 2014. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

Recent struggles if anything portend even more dramatic actions by the Putin regime — all likely negative for the West and freedom more broadly — by a leader who is now even clamping down on allies, while seeking propaganda victories to rally his people.

In order to effectively deal with Russia, as with the Islamic world, America must understand the country’s goals, strategies and tactics.

Only then can we devise a coherent plan to deter the threat, and with it, preserve Western civilization.

This piece was written to accompany the three-part series “The Root: Red Storm” on The Glenn Beck Program airing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night at 5 p.m. ET on TheBlaze TV.

Follow Ben Weingarten (@bhweingarten) and TheBlazeBooks on Twitter and Facebook.

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