You are browsing the archive for 2014 September 09.

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How Cops Seize Billions of Dollars from Ordinary People Who Haven't Even Been Charged With a Crime

September 9, 2014 in Blogs

By Allegra Kirkland, AlterNet

A Washington Post exposé on civil asset forfeiture provides disturbing new details about the practice.

Like many other aspects of policing in America, civil asset forfeiture morphed into an entirely new beast in the paranoid aftermath of 9/11. The program, which allows law enforcement to seize cash or property without charging people with a crime, has existed in the U.S. for hundreds of years, but picked up steam with the start of the war on drugs in the Reagan era. Yet as AlterNet and other outlets have reported, the program is rarely used to confiscate stacks of cash from suspected drug lords or money launderers. Instead, it has become a boon for local police departments, who have seized hundreds of millions of dollars from regular people, particularly motorists, who then have to fight prolonged legal battles with the federal government to get their property back. This week, the Washington Post published a thorough investigation into the rise of civil asset forfeiture, exposing the troubling flaws in this widespread practice.

After combing through hundreds of thousands of Justice Department seizure records and hundreds of federal court cases, and interviewing police officers and victims of asset forfeiture, the Post reporters found that police have seized an incredible $2.5 billion since 2001, all from people who were not charged with a crime. Most seizures follow a familiar script: police pull drivers over for minor violations like improper signaling, check the driver for signs of nervousness and the vehicle for signs of criminal activity, and act on thin pretenses to seize the individual’s assets after finding money in the car. People have had thousands of dollars taken from them en route to purchase homes and cars, pay off gambling debts or pay dental bills. Once the money is gone, it can take over a year and many thousands of dollars to prove in court that it legally belongs to its owners, many of whom do not have the resources to fight back.

The Post feature offers interesting insights into the policing culture that allows civil asset forfeiture …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Classy: Union Leader Giving Speech on Class Divide Cut Off by Royal Baby Announcement

September 9, 2014 in Blogs

By Lynn Stuart Parramore, AlterNet

News of a new aristocrat simply cannot wait!

Frances O’Grady, first female general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, was giving an important speech on the woes of the working class and the growing divide between haves and have-nots in Britain. Just minutes after she warned of a return to a “Downton Abbey” society, the BBC's live coverage of O'Grady's remarks were interrupted for what was deemed to be a critical newsflash that could not wait: the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant.

People watching the speech on the BBC news channel heard, “Are we going to settle for a nastier and poorer Britain—a Downton Abbey-style society, in which the living standards of the vast majority are sacrificed to protect the high living of the well-to-do?”

Next they heard that Prince George was going to get a royal brother.

At a time when the living standards of the vast majority of people are getting crushed so a few at the top can enjoy luxurious lifestyles, you might think salivating over royal goings-on would not be allowed to take priority over the speech of one of Britain's most significant female leaders. O’Grady talks about how chief executives earn 175 times as much as the average worker, about the pain of those who have little being forced to use separate “poor doors” in apartment buildings, and the return of virulent class prejudice. But evidently that is far less interesting than the anticipation of one more aristocrat who will enjoy a gold-plated lifestyle, mostly at public expense.

The royal spectacle does bring in tourist dollars, so there's that. But many object that the monarchy sucks up revenue which might be better spent on, say, unemployed Britons, instead of providing luxuries to people whose activities could only generously be described as “work.”

Recently, the British House of Commons' public accounts committee released a report that said the queen received 31 million pounds, or about $50 million, from taxpayers for 2012-2013. Apparently that wasn't enough, because overspending caused the royal Reserve Fund to shrink to a million pounds during that period. Maintenance of the royal familiy's …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Noam Chomsky: The Real Reason Israel "Mows the Lawn" in Gaza

September 9, 2014 in Blogs

By Noam Chomsky, TomDispatch.org

Like other states, Israel pleads “security” as justification for its aggressive and violent actions. But knowledgeable Israelis know better.

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com The 18-day rampage by the Israeli Defense Forces succeeded in undermining the feared unity government.  According to Israeli military sources, its soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six, while searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000.  Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing five Hamas members on July 7th.

Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 18 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext to launch Operation Protective Edge on July 8th.  The 50-day assault proved the most extreme exercise in mowing the lawn — so far.

Operation [Still to Be Named]

Israel is in a fine position today to reverse its decades-old policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of its solemn agreements and to observe a major ceasefire agreement for the first time.  At least temporarily, the threat of democracy in neighboring Egypt has been diminished, and the brutal Egyptian military dictatorship of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is a welcome ally for Israel in maintaining control over Gaza.

The Palestinian unity government, as noted earlier, is placing the U.S.-trained forces of the Palestinian Authority in control of Gaza’s borders, and governance may be shifting into the hands of the PA, which depends on Israel for its survival, as well as for its finances.  Israel might feel that its takeover of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has proceeded so far that there is little to fear from some limited form of autonomy for the enclaves that remain to Palestinians.

There is also some truth to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's observation: “Many elements in the region understand today that, in the struggle in which they are threatened, Israel is not an enemy but a partner.” Akiva Eldar, Israel's leading diplomatic correspondent, adds, however, that “all those ‘many elements in the region’ also understand that there is no …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Hong Kong, an Aspirational Society to Emulate

September 9, 2014 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn

Richard W. Rahn

Why is Hong Kong succeeding while New York City is receding? They are both world-class cities with about the same per-capita income and great natural harbors. New York is about 15 percent larger in population, while Hong Kong is about one-third larger in area (but unbuildable because of the steep terrain). Both have large immigrant populations who are seeking better lives.

In my column last week, I explained how much of Hong Kong’s success was a result of it having the freest economy in the world, with low levels of government spending, low tax rates, a minimum of government regulation and the rule of law. There is more.

Hong Kong has a murder rate one-fourteenth that of New York (and New York is one of the safest cities in the world) and one-forty-second that of Chicago. There were only 27 murders in Hong Kong last year, while New York had slightly more than 400. Hong Kong is much cleaner than New York and virtually free of graffiti. Unlike in New York, most of the infrastructure is attractive and in good repair. By most measures of human development, Hong Kong scores higher than New York, notably life span, which is a good proxy for the quality of the health care system. Hong Kong ranks at the top for life expectancy, while the United States is well down the list.

Hong Kong, like Singapore, South Korea, Chile and Switzerland are aspirational societies, rather than societies consumed with envy, like France. ”

Hong Kong, like Singapore, South Korea, Chile and Switzerland are aspirational societies, rather than societies consumed with envy, like France. Work, saving and investment are not punished in aspirational societies, and there tend to be less social conflict and a higher level of civility. The United States used to be an aspirational society, but has increasingly become an envious society. (It was U.S. venture capitalist Terry Anker who first used the term “aspirational society” to describe Hong Kong during our meetings in this glorious city this past week. It is a more inclusive term than “opportunity society” that Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp frequently used to describe their vision for the United States.)

Per-capita spending on government in Hong Kong is less than one half of what the average New Yorker spends to support the various levels of government. If you make it big in New York, the government is going to claim about half of your income. If you make it …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Export-Import Bank and Its Victims: Which Industries and States Bear the Brunt?

September 9, 2014 in Economics

The charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States is set to expire on September 30. Proponents of reauthorization claim that by increasing exports and jobs, Ex-Im benefits the U.S. economy. But according to a new study from Cato scholar Daniel J. Ikenson, in that advocacy, the benefits are exaggerated and the costs totally ignored.

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES