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Property as Persons

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Think “corporate personhood” is bad? Well, there’s a far stranger notion in American law: civil forfeiture. That’s where corporeal property is said to have personhood, and thus can be sued — rather than its owner. This goofy doctrine allows governments — state and local, as well as, of course, federal — to take property from people without establishing that the owner had done anything wrong by strict standards of evidence and rules of culpability.

The property is just nabbed, really.

It’s a horrible atavism, an old idea from the bad old days before a rule of law was established. And it encourages governments to be kleptocratic. Whole law enforcement agencies fund their luxuries and perks by this method.

A typical example? “In 2003 a Nebraska state trooper stopped Emiliano Gonzolez for speeding on Interstate 80,” writes Jacob Sullum at Reason, “and found $124,700 inside a cooler on the back seat of the rented Ford Taurus he was driving. Gonzolez said the money was intended to buy a refrigerated truck for a produce business, but the cops figured all that cash must have something to do with illegal drugs.” So the government took the money.

This sort of takings — confiscation — helps drive the drug war, of course.

But it often takes from the innocent as well as the criminal.

Since “suing the property” conforms to neither normal civil nor criminal law, it’s all rigged in the government’s favor. It’s scandalous that courts have ruled it constitutional. Something has to be done to curb its use in America.

Rand Paul wants to reform civil forfeiture. Seems like an awfully small step. How much better to abolish it!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

When the State Spanks Parents

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Be a parent, go to jail?

Should it be normal for parents to get arrested for making normal parental decisions — just because someone else believes it’s a mistake?

I’m not talking about demonstrable child abuse. I’m talking about the kind of decisions Radley Balko cites in a column on “the criminalization of parenthood.”

In one case, a South Carolina working mom was jailed for “unlawful conduct toward a child” — for letting her nine-year-old play in a well-attended park while she worked at McDonald’s. Social services took the child.

In another case, an Ohio father faces six months in jail because, unbeknownst to him, his eight-year-old son skipped church to play with friends in the neighborhood.

In a third, an Illinois woman was arrested for leaving a stubborn eight-year-old in her car for a few minutes while she dashed into a store.

We may disagree with what the parents did here (to the extent they could have done anything different). But arrest? Jail?

For six months?

One minute?

In the world that these incidents prefigure, the only way for parents to be “safe” in using our judgment will be to stop using it.

This would be life under the tyranny of “experts” and busybodies: to always project what the most skittish and punitive “authority” would require — and to do that instead of what we ourselves consider appropriate given all relevant, sometimes difficult circumstances.

Final question: What lesson does this brave new regime teach the children?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Overkill America

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Islander, by police chokehold, not only sparked in me the usual combination of sadness, anger and frustration — there was an additional element: would this do it?

Would the nation’s shock, incredulity, indignation amount to anything?

Lots of questions. But one thing not being focused on in the standard reports was noted by Scott Shackford of Reason. It’s not merely a question of why the bust went so violent. Why, he asks, a bust at all? “We should be concerned that the reason why the police swarmed Garner in the first place is getting lost. He allegedly possessed ‘untaxed cigarettes.’ That is it.”

A tax matter.

The police are arresting people — and going into overkill mode in the process — on tax matters.

Couldn’t this such issues be handled by mere citation, followed by a court summons? With an arrest the last resort?

Why go all violent when violence is not really in order?

But maybe it’s not just about the taxes. Or “contraband.” Maybe this is also about “drugs.” (Yes, tobacco’s a drug.) We’ve long had a “War on Drugs” in this country. It has not gone well. As I suggested last week (as well as yesterday, on Townhall), the effects have not only been wide and deep, but inevitable.

War is like that. Expect the “unintended consequences.”

Scott Shackford suggests that New York lower the city’s high sin taxes on cigarettes.

But maybe the whole mindset of the modern state needs changing. Big things, like murder, slavery, etc., those are worth fighting about. Let’s not go to war over the little things.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Free Talkers Now

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Ah yes, “criminal schemes.”

The Weekly Standard reminds us that when partisan Democrats declare Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to be “at the center of a ‘criminal scheme’ in which Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated political activity with outside organizations,” they neglect the fact that two judges have already determined that the “case” against Walker is worse than bogus.

“Political coordination” seems to be an infinitely elastic category of pseudo-crime applicable to anyone a political apparatchik chooses to target. You “politically coordinate” if you’re a) political active, b) share political values with any other activists, and c) read the newspapers, talk on television. If “political coordination” is criminal, so is freedom of speech and freedom of association. It’s all the same species of delinquency.

Wisconsin district attorneys abused power to harass reformers like Governor Walker, my colleague Eric O’Keefe, and others into (what they hoped would be) silence and ineffectuality. Despite a gag order intended to shut up the victims, though, Eric has spoken out; and he’s sued Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm.

In May, federal Judge Rudolph Randa observed, for one thing, that the “theory of ‘coordination’ forming the basis of the investigation, including the basis of probable cause for home raids, is not supported under Wisconsin law and, if it were, would violate the United States Constitution.” Randa granted a preliminary injunction (pdf) to stop the probe.

I’m hopeful that the bad guys won’t win here. We still have the First Amendment.*

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

* Though, 44 U.S. Senators are proposing to repeal it.


IRS Says We Wuz Wrongish

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The IRS has a “Love Story” relationship with citizens. Being the IRS means never having to say you’re sorry.

Actually, in real life, as opposed to cinematic catch phrases, people who care about each other do often feel a need to genuinely apologize about actual wrongs. But the IRS doesn’t care about us except insofar as we have wallets. And doesn’t feel sorry about anything they do to get our cash or to protect their turf except insofar as they get caught.

Getting caught isn’t so bad. The worst is a little public embarrassment and maybe having to fork over some of the money provided by all taxpayers to a subset of all taxpayers. Example: the agency has agreed to pay $50,000 in damages to the National Organization for Marriage, whose tax return and donor list the IRS illegally divulged to an opposing political group two years ago.

The guilty IRS employee has still not been identified. And the IRS is not really regretful. All spokesman Bruce Friedland will say is that privacy law “prohibits us from commenting.”

This isn’t the only recent occasion on which IRS has divulged private tax-return info for ideological purposes. What about an employee’s abuse of the private tax information of U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell during a political campaign? What about Lois Lerner’s illegal provision of tax data on tax-exempt organizations to the FBI?

Yes, the IRS targets us ideologically, in addition to the other ways they target us. And they’re not sorry.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Dog-Ate List

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

It’s hard to keep track of things. It helps to make a list.

I’m trying to follow all the IRS-scandal stonewalling, the latest example of which is how emails inculpating Lois Lerner and others have mysteriously disappeared; with, allegedly, no server backups (see my latest Townhall column, “The Dog Ate My Country”).

How many ways have fedgov officials fudged, fabricated, prevaricated, and otherwise non-cooperated with investigators after news broke that IRS had targeted for special harassment sundry conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status?

  • When the head of IRS’s department overseeing nonprofit applications, Lois Lerner, felt compelled to admit that IRS had specially targeted right-leaning organizations applying for nonprofit status, she and others put the main blame on a few low-level clerks.
  • Lerner twice formally refused to testify to Congress about the doings of her own department. Yet she also asserted, formally, that “I have not done anything wrong.”
  • IRS says it’ll take many years to comply with congressional requests for relevant documents. IRS was prompter when it handed abundant confidential information on conservative nonprofits to the Justice Department so that they could be selectively prosecuted.
  • DOJ selected an “avowed political supporter”  of President Obama to lead a meaningless “investigation” of the targeting of Obama’s critics. No prosecutions of wrongdoers are in the works.
  • Initially professing outrage at the IRS’s “inexcusable” targeting, Obama later airily dismissed the affair as a “phony scandal.” On which occasion was he lying? (Hint: both.)
  • Major media outlets do all they can to abet the stonewalling.

What did I miss?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Gun Control of the Very Best Kind

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

The headline: “Husband and wife shoot gunmen who try to enter their St. Louis home, killing 1, police say.”

They acted when two thugs tried to force their way into their home by using the St. Louis couple’s 17-year-old daughter as a shield. She had been outside fetching something from her car when the men grabbed her.

Inside, the father happened to see what was happening and pulled out his gun. His wife also retrieved a gun. Home invader Terrell Johnson entered first and received the first bullets. He didn’t survive. His partner Cortez McClinton — arrested in 2010 on a murder charge, but eventually released because of uncooperative witnesses — managed to escape, if only briefly. His brother took him to a hospital for chest and thigh wounds. The police picked him up there.

Mom had also gotten off a shot but did not hit either intruder, leading one blogger to opine that although her heart is in the right place, she needs practice. A reader replied, rightly, that when your own daughter is directly in harm’s way, your shooting skill is hardly the only variable.

Besides, the goal in brandishing a weapon isn’t necessarily to wound bad guys, but better yet to scare them off. There’s a deterrent effect in owning guns.

I am surprised that advocates of gun control and their compatriots in the national MainStream Media are not all over this story. For here is yet another dramatic proof of the need for effective gun control on which they constantly insist.

The gun used to thwart the invaders was very effectively controlled indeed.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.