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

01/29/15

Obama ad Nauseum

By: Alan Caruba
Warning Signs

Obama Ad Naseum

I made a promise to myself that I would not write about President Obama’s State of the Union speech because that would require me to watch him deliver it. Like many others I can barely watch him under any circumstance because, to my mind, that means having to watch a psychopathic liar. The problem with that is that he is the President for two more years.

And then I read an article on Politico.com, “Republicans outfox Democrats on climate votes” subtitled “The GOP accepts the notion of climate change, but not in the way the Democrats wanted them to.”

In a rational world, politicians voting on whether the climate changes or not is an absurdity. Of course the climate changes. It always has and always will. But when Democrats use the term “climate change” they really mean “global warming.” And global warming has been the greatest hoax of the modern era, getting its start in the late 1980s and becoming a huge academic industry generated by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Global warming put billions in the pockets of “scientists”, universities, and any think tank that would lie about it, telling the nation and the world that carbon dioxide, a gas that is barely 0.04% of the Earth’s atmosphere was warming it when, in fact, the Earth stopped warming some 19 years ago at the same time the Sun entered a natural cycle of lower solar radiation.

Few of these “scientists” bothered to tell the public that, without carbon dioxide, we and all other life on Earth would die as it is critical to the growth of all vegetation. The fact that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has actually been increasing at the same time the Earth has been cooling is proof enough that all the warming claims were and are pure hogwash.

It turns out that all the computer models that they and others have generated to predict a catastrophic global warming have been wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Obama didn’t have a word to say about al Qaeda and the other Islamic fascists eager to destroy modernity and drag the world back to the Dark Age, but he did lie about 2014 as “the planet’s warmest year on record.”

That lie was initially put out by NASA and National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) two government agencies that shortly thereafter admitted that they might be wrong, seeing that their assertion of the 0.02 degree Celsius increase wasn’t even outside their own margin of error. They could have taken a look at their own satellite data and saved themselves from looking like idiots.

Obama said, “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what—I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all tell us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, long, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger great migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”

This is lying on a galactic scale. The United States doesn’t need to do a single thing to reduce “greenhouse gas emissions”, nor should it bother to do so. Obama’s claims of catastrophic change bears no relationship to the fact that in recent years the planet has had a record low in the numbers of tornadoes and hurricanes, and a record gain in Arctic and Antarctic ice. There has been no change of any significance in the sea levels. Those who study such things note that “Until about 7,000 years ago the rate of rise was about 100 mm/decade. Since then rate of rise has averaged 10 mm/decade.” That’s “mm” as in millimeters.

In late December, the world’s second largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, reported on the losses from natural events in 2014 and, despite predictions that climate change would cause more frequent natural catastrophes due to man-made worsening of the climate, it saw “markedly less damage claims than in previous years” and far less loss of lives.” In terms of the dollars it cost the insurance industry, Swiss Re estimated that costs insurers covered were USD $113 billion in 2014, down from USD $135 billion in 2013. Losses were down 24% from 2013.
<!–[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]–>

That, of course, doesn’t matter to Obama. It should, however, matter to the rest of us because the Environmental Protection Agency has been using those computer models and abjectly phony “science” to wage Obama’s war on the nation’s providers of the energy on which we all depend. From coal-fired plants to drilling for oil and natural gas, anything that might provide energy is under attack by the EPA.

As Katie Tubb, a research assistant for the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, responded to Obama’s claim saying that “The EPA’s proposed regulations would have almost zero impact on global temperatures, but will certainly impact Americans now and for future generations.”

So, when you read about a bunch of U.S. Senators, only one of whom, Oklahoma’s Sen. James Inhofe (R) has a grasp of the real science, spent time voting back and forth over amendments and their language regarding the climate, you were in fact really reading about the debate leading up to the passage of the bill that would remove Obama’s authority to prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Between a President who lies about global warming and climate change, and a Congress composed mostly of lawyers who are clueless about the actual science, the best we can hope for is a Republican Party determined to rein in the EPA and other government agencies; the reason they were voted into office.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

01/28/15

An Auschwitz Anniversary

By: Alan Caruba
Warning Signs

Auschwitz

There was some serious irony when U.S. Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew gathered together with French President Francois Hollande and a Russian delegation led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff, along with leaders from Germany and Austria to participate in the January 27 ceremony commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945 by Russian troops.

I suspect that an entire generation or two born after that year, 70 years ago, may have little or no knowledge of what Auschwitz was. It was a Nazi death camp located in Oswiecim, Poland. Its full name was Auschwitz-Birkenau and it is estimated that one million people, mostly Jews, were killed there.

I say “irony” because Auschwitz-Birkenau was part of a system of six Nazi death camps that included Belzac, Chelmo, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. Each camp was filled with the victims of a widespread anti-Semitism that had existed in Europe for two thousand years, so it was not difficult for the Germans to turn a blind eye or the French and others to provide assistance in rounding up their Jews.

Jewish StarThe camps engaged in large scale murder to fulfill Adolf Hitler’s intention to exterminate every Jew in Europe. In 1933 there had been nine million living in 21 nations that would be occupied during World War II. By 1945, two out of every three European Jews had been killed.

In addition to the Jews, an estimated five million others deemed enemies of the state for political or other reasons such as being Communists, trade unionists, gypsies or homosexuals also died in the camps.

What is rarely acknowledged is that the Europeans of that era were largely educated, had a rich culture of music, literature, and drama, and many were church-goers. In short, you would not have been able to tell them apart from the Europeans of today.

The Nazis wrote the book on the use of terrorism to facilitate their barbaric, murderous theology of death. The Muslims that have moved to Europe have adapted it to their own ends, seeking like the Nazis to become globally dominant. They don’t have death camps—yet—but the widespread and constant slaughter in which they are engaged has a similar feel to it.

In the 1930s those European Jews had few places to which to flee. They were not even that welcome in America where anti-Semitism was widespread. Those that could did emigrate and, again there is irony because several of the German physicists that came to the U.S. were instrumental in the creation of the atomic bomb that ended World War II while others played roles in the Nazi’s defeat during the war. One such emigrant, Albert Einstein, was the first to suggest the creation of the weapon to Franklin Roosevelt.

In response to European anti-Semitism, a movement called Zionism had begun before World War II with the intention of reestablishing Israel as a Jewish state where Jews could be safe. The movement was founded by Theodor Herzl in 1896. Here again there is irony because the movement was dominated by secular Jews who were not motivated by Jewish history or the Torah. What they wanted was to be free of the oppressive antipathy of the nations in which they lived. What they were seeking was emancipation.

By the time World War II occurred they were a force to be recognized in Israel, known at the time as the Palestinian Mandate and run by the British who, as often as not, shared the anti-Semitism that had given life to the Zionist movement. It would take the Holocaust to accelerate the movement of Europe’s surviving Jews to Israel which in 1948 declared its sovereignty and was immediately attacked by the Muslim nations surrounding it.

Fast forward to our times and the Jews of Israel as well as those around the world know one truth. If Iran is permitted to reach a point where it can create its own nuclear weapons and put them on their missiles, Israel will only be minutes away from an extermination that the Iranian leadership and the other Muslim nations of the Middle East have openly called for since Israel came into being and the Islamic Revolution took control of Iran in 1979.

This time, however, the same nuclear weapons that would destroy Israel would also be turned on the United States because the shouts of “Death to America. Death to Israel” are a part of the daily lives of the Iranians, as well as others in the region.

What makes these days so dangerous is that the United States of America is engaged in negotiations with an Iran that has never made a secret of their intention to be a nuclear-armed nation. What makes these days so dangerous is that the President of the United States has barely hidden his own anti-Semitism and animus toward Israel.

One can only pray that seventy years hence some other writer will not be commenting on the second great annihilation of the Jews, literally within the lifetime of people who were alive during the first one. I am one of those people and Auschwitz is not some place that existed a long time ago. It was yesterday.

© Alan Caruba, 2015