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.