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What are the Real Motives Behind Asset Seizures?

Law enforcement veteran says its about the money while a lawmaker works to solve the problem

Maj. Neill Franklin is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Image via LEAP.

“I had a team of people and their only job was to find me money,” said retired Maryland State Police Narcotics Commander Maj. Neill Franklin.

Franklin is the executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He now travels the world speaking on behalf of legalizing marijuana.

It isn’t that the church-going, former undercover officer is a fan of the drug, but his 34 years in law enforcement have convinced him that the war on drugs has failed and is now mostly a money-making arm for police departments small and large.

“At the beginning, we really thought that we could keep drugs out of our communities but when I was assigned to the division of corrections investigative unit, I realized we couldn’t [even] keep drugs out of our most secure buildings in our state, which were our prisons,” Franklin said.

Franklin began reevaluating his views on the drug war after doing his own observations and research and losing his close friend in a drug sting.

Seeing the violence and losing a friend was enough for his about-face but it was not so obvious in the world in which he worked. He started to see why: bad incentives. The drug war gives law enforcement agencies access to federal funding and the opportunity to seize the property of suspected users.

Civil asset forfeitures began under President Ronald Reagan as a tool to cripple the operations of major drug dealers. Forfeitures are separate actions outside criminal warrants and allow police to seize property, freeze bank accounts, and take money suspected as profit from criminal activity.

But “suspected” is a loose term and Franklin began to see police broadening the asset forfeiture net, taking money and property from anybody who had any amount of drugs on them or in their cars.

“We had no indication of them selling or using,” he said. “These were people who were addicted to drugs and we used those civil asset forfeitures to take their belongings.”

He added: “We would use the seized money and property to finance our drug enforcement operations. If I didn’t have that money, it would have been very difficult for me to balance my budget. I may have had to lay some people off.”

He noted that the seizures made little or no impact on drug use, but they did create jobs for the department.

“Since we started this war on drugs, it is 60 to 70 percent of what we do in our communities,” Franklin said. “It’s become our identity and, unfortunately, the law enforcement community has a hard time imagining what we would do if the drug war ended today.”

The Maryland State Police says it does not comment on public remarks by retired officers.

Civil asset forfeitures do not involve only alleged drug crimes. Police can seize property for other suspected criminal activity – a list that gets bigger by the year.  According to an analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan has created an average of 45 new crimes annually over the past six years, a significant percentage of which are administrative in nature and don’t require proof of criminal intent for police to seize assets.

At the federal level, Michigan’s Tim Walberg has introduced the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. The bill, proposed by the representative from Tipton, requires a tougher burden of proof in seizing property, changing it from “preponderance” to “clear and convincing” evidence. It also shifts the “innocent owner defense” from the government to the property owner, making summary judgments for defendants easier. Right now, the onus is on the owners in federal forfeiture cases to prove they are innocent.

Federal reform can be instrumental to state reform because law enforcement in states can resort to looser federal forfeiture laws and split the value of property proceeds with federal agencies.

Walberg is working in conjunction with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has introduced his own legislation, the Fifth Amendment Integrity Reform Act. Both bills are expected to be reintroduced once the new Congress is sworn in.

“I’m certain there will be more than the 20 sponsors that I currently have that cross the political spectrum from libertarians to full-blown liberals,” Walberg said. “I think there is a real interest now that information is coming up on people, like the Dehkos in Michigan.”

Terry Dehko and his daughter run a grocery store in Fraser, Michigan. The Internal Revenue Service emptied the small business’s bank accounts based on a pattern of cash deposits that agents believe were linked to criminal activity. The IRS backed down after the Institute for Justice filed suit and an investigation showed the store owners were innocent, but their­ ­­money was frozen for almost a year.

As for seizing assets for suspected drug activity, Franklin says communities would be much better off if police redirected their focus.

“I’ll tell you what we’d do: We’d fight violent crime, murders, rapes, robberies, and domestic violence,” he said. “We can pay more attention to those and crimes against our children.”

US passport

This article originally appeared on The Sovereign Investor on Nov. 21.

I’ve lived abroad most of my life. I take it for granted that there’s an intrinsic value to spending time in foreign countries, among unfamiliar people. I’m not a gung-ho American nationalist. I respect all nations and people more or less equally. And when the U.S. does something I don’t like, such as spying on its citizens or making war on other countries for no good reason, I criticize Uncle Sam. None of this “my country right or wrong” nonsense for me.

But so far I’ve never seriously considered abandoning my U.S. citizenship and becoming an official expatriate.

Now, however, I’m seriously starting to wonder — and I’m not alone.

A paper exodus

There are a lot of Americans living abroad. The U.S. government doesn’t report official numbers, but estimates are as high as 8 million citizens. That’s almost the entire population of metro Chicago, and double the number of just 20 years ago.

Many of these people aren’t really “emigrants” from the U.S. Instead, like Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson, they are people who happened to be born in the U.S. when their parents were here for some reason. Many are Canadians born in American hospitals near the border because they were closer when Mommy went into labor.

Of course, there are also Americans like me, who went abroad, settled down and made a life for themselves somewhere else. There are lots of us in Western Europe, Israel and Latin America. The one thing most of us have in common (other than me, of course, who returned in 2008) is that we’re already living outside the U.S. We’ve already “emigrated.”

The problem is that we’re still Americans on paper, including our IRS tax 1040 forms.

No fools for FATCA

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires foreign financial institutions to report details of their American citizens at the risk of bankruptcy-level fines, is an unmitigated disaster. Even IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson is aghast. “Why are we doing this to folks? Why are we tormenting them in this way?” she asked at a recent meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Torment is exactly what it is. A recent survey of Americans living abroad speaks of the “intense impact” FATCA is having on innocent American citizens who have done nothing wrong. For Americans living abroad, “their financial accounts are being closed, their relationships with their non-American spouses are under strain, (and) some Americans are being denied promotions or partnership in business.”

The survey found that “nearly one in six respondents had had a financial account closed by a bank or brokerage house. More than two-thirds of the checking accounts that were closed had a balance of less than $10,000. Nearly 60% of the closed investment accounts had a value of less than $50,000. Other people were unable to open accounts.”

When you consider that some of these people are only American by accident, you can see why they’re doing what they are: telling Uncle Sam to get stuffed and turning in their passports. Indeed, a new survey shows that a shocking 73 percent of Americans abroad are actively considering renouncing their U.S. citizenship, largely because of FATCA.

Expatriate taxation: a pound of flesh

Not to be outdone, the U.S. Department of State recently hiked fees for processing renunciation of citizenship to $2,350 from $450. They say that’s the true cost of the “service.” More likely it’s just an indication that the IRS knows that demand for expatriation is exploding, so it can hike its prices.

Under these circumstances, Americans of a sovereign bent would be well-advised to explore other residence and citizenship options. I was on the Caribbean island of Dominica recently, examining its citizenship program.

But there are other ways as well. For example, countries like Uruguay — where I’ll be in March with the rest of the Sovereign team — grant immediate permanent residence to many foreigners and citizenship after a few years.

The bottom line is this: You can’t expatriate without a second passport. The time to start working on getting one is now – so that one day, if you wish, you too can have an IRS-free future. As the Beach Boys used to sing, “Wouldn’t it be nice?”

Kind regards,

–Ted Baumann
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor

Lansing State JournalLansing State Journal

‘Smart meters’ slammed at House committee hearing

The futuristic-looking device in John Holeton’s hand chattered noisily as he waved it over people’s smartphones, generating gasps from the growing crowd gathered at the Anderson House Office Building in downtown Lansing.

The device, a high-frequency analyzer, buzzed to indicate pulsed radiation coming from the phones, Holeton, a retired industrial electrician from Shelby Township and part of a group called Warriors for American Revolution, told the crowd.

He said the high-tech “smart meters” increasingly used by power companies to measure energy usage and broadcast that information to utilities also emit radiation that could be unhealthy. And that’s why he and dozens of other residents crowded two committee rooms Tuesday night to slam the smart meters as a health and privacy risk and to ask lawmakers to intervene.

“No one is representing us and protecting us, and that’s why everyone’s here,” Holeton, 64, said before the start of a state House Oversight Committee hearing on the issue.

Committee Chairman Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills convened Tuesday’s hearing to gather public testimony on the issue, though there is no bill before the committee. A parade of residents from across the state took the microphone to tell lawmakers stories of health problems they believe were caused by the meters.

The committee heard roughly five hours of testimony on the issue, which McMillin at the end said could be “a good catalyst” for the issue to be addressed next session.

McMillin drew applause from the crowd when he grilled representatives of both DTE Energy and Consumers Energy over whether the new meters were necessary.

Noting that some states had banned the smart meters, McMillin told a DTE representative, “Somehow, the sky isn’t falling for them. It just seems like this is possible.”

Numerous utilities, including the Lansing Board of Water & Light, are turning more and more to smart meters as a way to reduce costs because they lessen the need for meter readers and as a way to generate more accurate bills for customers. Utility officials also said the new meters would allow them to remotely turn power off or on to more quickly respond to customers’ needs.

This week, the Lansing BWL is wrapping up installation of 140 smart meters in East Lansing’s Bailey neighborhood. If the city-owned utility deems the $200,000 pilot program successful, they’ll install them for all customers over the next three years.

But the meters, which emit radio frequency (RF) fields as they send information on energy usage to utility companies, have been controversial. Some residents are concerned about health risks associated with RF fields, about having private information transmitted through the air, and about the meters interfering with home electronics or healthcare devices.

The Michigan Public Service Commission requires utilities to allow customers to opt out of the smart meters, though the utilities can charge customers an up-front and a monthly fee to not have the new technology.

The American Cancer Society says RF radiation is “a possible carcinogen,” but “it isn’t clear what risk, if any there might be from living in a home with a smart meter.” It says people get more RF exposure from cell phones than smart meters.

Mike Byrne, legislative liaison for the MPSC, told the committee the MPSC had found the health risk to be “insignificant,” and said the commission had no authority to decide the technology utility companies want to use.

McMillin scoffed.

“Really you could,” he told Byrne. “If it was unsafe and you guys thought it was unsafe, you would intervene, right?”

“We could try,” Byrne said. “There’s nothing explicitly in state law that allows that.”

Bob Sitkauskas, general manager of DTE’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure program, told the committee the new meters were also necessary because the old analogue meters are no longer manufactured, a point repeated later in the hearing by Byrne. As part of scheduled equipment upgrades, the utilities will install new digital meters even for those who opt out and pay the fee, but officials said those customers would receive digital meters that don’t broadcast usage data.

But McMillin drew more applause when he told the utilities “we wouldn’t be having this” if utilities weren’t a monopoly.

“If you had competitors,” McMillin told representatives from Consumers Energy, “one of them might offer the analogue meter.”

And that was one of the biggest complaints from those who drove in for the hearing, that the meters were being forced upon them.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is being destroyed,” Mike Mullen, a 58-year-old Harrison Township resident, said before the hearing.

Personal Libert Digest New

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In the past two weeks, the imperial president, Barack Obama, has delivered two edicts that stretch the mind of a person like me who was taught right and wrong half a century ago. On the one hand, Obama declared he would likely veto the Keystone XL pipeline even after the House passed it and before the Senate fell just one vote short. Five days later, Obama declared he would act without Congress and provide amnesty for up to 5 million Mexican illegal aliens.

I’ve been following the efforts made by the planners of the Keystone XL pipeline on both sides of the border for six years as they were strung along by Obama. The architects of the plan to send oil through the United States from Canada to refineries in the Gulf were deliberate and transparent. They crossed every “t” and they dotted every “i”. In the end, it did them no good.

On the other hand, Mexicans who, by hook or by crook, illegally snuck into the United States by the millions have been rewarded for their surreptitious actions. Obama has declared that America will take them in. As for the millions of Mexican suckers who waited in line for their legal turn to come to America, tough luck.

That got me to thinking — and for this I ask you to suspend disbelief for a moment — what if the Mexicans granted amnesty had waited their turn while the Keystone planners drilled secretly under American soil and just last week Obama discovered that the pipeline had not only been built without anyone’s knowledge but the spigots were ready to be turned on? What if those jobs, whether they be 50 or 5,000 were at hand and the Keystone XL pipeline was set to deliver?

Of course, that’s a ridiculous premise. You can’t tunnel under a country. But you can tunnel under a country’s border. And when you do that, you can get a big fat reward: amnesty! Big government rewards the cheats and punishes the true.

Plenty to be thankful for

I have good news this Thanksgiving. America needs neither the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada nor all those illegal Mexicans. America needs a smaller less intrusive government and no more imperial presidents.

That’s because America is the second-richest resource nation in the world. All it takes is that we the people wake up wanting less government and fewer dictates from presidents. When we do that, we won’t have to worry about being taken advantage of by Mexican illegals, Canadian pipeline companies or our Muslim adversaries.

That is a fact because of our enormous resource wealth across our giant land mass that is home to millions of legal, industrious Americans who have not been brainwashed by the progressive left, those who insist on renewable energy and declare that Muslims have no ulterior motives and only want peace.

Those who proclaim such are the defeatists, the Jimmy Carters and the Neville Chamberlains who want us to elect another imperial president who will take away any responsibility we have for our own free will. They are quite happy with presidents like Obama and George W. Bush who coddle Mexicans and apologize to Islam because of their oil. Instead, we need a president who declares the United States is independent of Arab oil and who, without breakthrough technologies in clean energy, damns the Greens and their taxation schemes.

America’s resource riches

Two years ago, 24/7 Wall St. did a detailed study of the 10 richest natural resource nations on Earth. The financial news site used a country’s total reserves at the then-market value of their resources. It calculated the total value of the proven reserves of 10 of the most valuable resources by country, which included oil, natural gas, coal, timber, gold, silver, copper, uranium, iron ore and phosphate.

Ahead of China, Canada, Saudi Arabia and second only to Russia was the United States. The report estimated that the U.S. has $45 trillion in resource assets and concluded:

The U.S. has 31.2% of the world’s proved coal reserves. Worth an estimated $30 trillion, this is by far the most valuable supply of any nation on earth. There is also 750 million forested acres in the country, which are worth nearly $11 trillion. Timber and coal combined are worth roughly 89% of the country’s total natural resource value. The U.S. is also in the top five nations globally for copper, gold and natural gas.

The U.S. has more than $10 trillion more in natural resource assets than does Saudi Arabia and $12 trillion dollars more than does Canada. As a result, our president shouldn’t be bowing down to anyone.

We know for a fact Obama doesn’t bow to Canada. But his crouching before the king of Saudi Arabia is perplexing and disturbing because it is not needed.

As of today, we could tell Saudi Arabia to take its oil and its radical Wasabi religion and shove it! For a spell, we might need some other imports — but not for long. That is because for the first time since the Nixon administration we are no longer dependent upon foreign oil. New recovery technologies such as horizontal drilling, 3-D mapping and fracking have made the United States once again the world’s oil kingpins. If we can break the grip of the Greens and explore Alaska’s rich petroleum reservoirs, the United States has the opportunity to become a major oil exporter.

The turnaround in U.S. barrels of oil produced has been mesmerizing, and I say this as a writer who two decades ago declared that America could become a petroleum cripple.

Daniel Yergin, the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power” wrote:

For 10 years, the defining factor in the oil market was the growth of China and Chinese oil demand. Now the defining factor is the astonishing growth of U.S. oil production.

Last summer, Bloomberg wrote this headline: “U.S. Seen as Biggest Oil Producer After Overtaking Saudi Arabia.”

The article reported that the United States was producing more than 11 million barrels per day in the first quarter of 2014 and there are more gushers in America’s future. Bloomberg reported that, according to the IEA, a Paris-based adviser, U.S. oil output will surge past 13 million barrels per day by 2019.

So I will borrow a line from a popular war movie, “Apocalypse Now.” It is in the fog of combat when Col. Bill Kilgore is inanely ordering his men to coordinate an attack on a Vietnamese village. In his air cavalry hat and scarf, he declares this after American jets drop napalm on the enemy: “The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like… victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.”

Our ongoing war with Islam, largely over their oil, can be won soon. That is because American oil is being easily pumped from our domestic oilfields and refined into cheaper and cheaper gasoline. To me that smells like victory!

Wishing you and yours a joyous Thanksgiving,

–John Myers

 

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West Bloomfield resident Kathy Warras knew there was something wrong when she started waking up in the middle of the night last May with horrible headaches.

Kathy and her husband Bryan had spent several months away from their Oakland County home, as they do each winter.

Upon returning last year, they discovered that a Smart Meter had been placed on the home they have lived in for the past 25 years — just 10 feet away from their bed.

And Kathy said this is what is making her sick.

“Eventually, I was waking up every night like that,” Kathy said. “I thought, maybe I’m dehydrated … I started filling up a thing with water and I was drinking it everyday. That didn’t help … and the headaches were getting more intense.”

Smart Meters, or advanced meters, use radio frequency networks similar to those in cell phones, wifi signals or microwaves to record the amount of electricity used in a home or business.

The West Bloomfield Township board unanimously supported a resolution on Nov. 17 in support of a residential opt-out of Smart Meters.

West Bloomfield has 33,000 homes with Smart Meters — some homes with two meters, according to Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste. DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons said there are 50 million, advanced meters across the U.S., or 43 percent of homes.

“There’s been a lot of different tests and basically we remain confident and the safety, security and benefits provided by the meters,” Simons said.

Out of those 33,000 in West Bloomfield, only 22 have opted-out and many residents don’t even know they have one. West Bloomfield joins 35 communities across the state to pass these resolutions, Ureste said.

The outcry has prompted the Michigan House Oversight Committee will hold a special hearing on Dec. 2.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, committee chair, called for the hearing after being contacted by many constituents and other citizens about privacy, health and safety concerns relating to the meters.

“With this hearing, we’re giving the people of Michigan an open and transparent platform to not only voice their concerns but hopefully have them addressed by public utility officials” said McMillin, R-Rochester Hills. “Residents have contacted my office, terrified that their power will be shut off after receiving letters from utility companies threatening to do just that if they don’t allow a smart meter to be installed on their home, even though they have a perfectly working analog meter.”

One of those constituents is Clarkston resident Georgetta Livingstone, a former engineering instructor at Oakland University, who said DTE cut her electricity this spring after she paid someone to install an analog meter back on her home.

“When the smart meter went on my home, I had a total breakout on my body. It looked like an allergic reaction,” said Livingstone. “I decided to take action myself, and had the analog meter put on.”

After her power was cut, she was reduced to “primitive life,” she said, having to use the restroom at a nearby Kroger and take showers at a neighbor’s home. When she searched for answers, she connected with the group working with McMillin.

“I was so glad that someone else sees the problem here,” Livingstone said. “These companies should allow the customer to have a choice … I don’t want to be told what to do.”

DTE’s Simons in October said that out of two million meters installed by DTE, there have been 3,200 requests to opt out. He added that DTE takes every case on an individual basis, but “to take our meter and replace it with something else is against the law.”

While many are against the meters, Oakland County resident Pat Priestley said she’s happy to have hers.

“I live in Rose Township where the electric lines are all overhead that run through trees … it’s a very rural area,” said Priestley, a retired Holly Area Youth Assistance worker. “In 2012, my electric went out 19 times. Before the smart meters were installed, if the electric went out, I had to call to report the outage and then wait sometimes 8-12 hours before a DTE truck would show up to find out where the outage was.”

Now, with the smart meters, Priestley said she still calls when her electricity goes down, but “DTE knows quickly where the outages are and sometimes they just flick a switch and we are back with electricity.”

Oak Park resident and President of Michigan Stop Smart Meters David Sheldon is against the meters for three main reasons: Health, safety and privacy.

He said that while DTE Energy does have an “opt-out” program for these meters, it is not a true opt-out. When you opt-out now, the DTE customer has to pay an initial $67 and then around $10 per-month for meter readings.

Simons said: “We’ve completed installation in West Bloomfield. Analogue meters just aren’t available anymore, they’re totally obsolete.”

Additionally, the Smart Meter stays on the home and DTE does not put the old analogue meter back. In turn, Sheldon said this gives the homeowner “dirty electricity,” which can actually be worse.

Trustee Lawrence Brown commented that residents haven’t seen any savings with the new meters and supported the resolution for that reason.

“I don’t think anyone should have to pay (to opt-out),” Brown said.

The West Bloomfield resolution is to encourage DTE Energy to give customers a choice between Smart Meters and the traditional analogue meter.

 

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By Stephen Moore  and Joel Griffith

Republicans are rightly and predictably infuriated by Barack Obama’s immigration executive action power play. What has been remarkable has been the silence from the left to President Obama granting legal status to some 5 million illegal immigrants. Such Nixonian abuses of White House power once elicited howls of protest from Democrats and their lap dogs in the media.

But in this case of Obama defying voters, Congress and the Constitution in one fell swoop, the left has drifted between quiet unease and full-throttled support.

What rank hypocrisy.

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