Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: May 21, 2012


Fantasy vs. Reality

Greece’s long vacation from reality is very nearly over. Not that you’d believe it from listening to the country’s politicians. In the aftermath of Greece’s last elections, voters rejected further austerity, and instead sought refuge in fantasy. That fantasy is perhaps best exemplified by Alexis Tsipras, who emerged from the election with the power to block approval of any further austerity by blocking the formation of a government.

Indeed, I now have some doubt as to whether Mr. Tsipras is actually sane:

Leftist Alexis Tsipras, 37, emerged with the power to block them. Greece, he said, could ditch its spending cuts and renounce its debts to EU partners, yet enlist their help in keeping the euro currency some 80 percent of Greeks cherish.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

And everybody with a lick of sense knows it’s not gonna happen. Not in Greece. Nor, apparently, anywhere else on the Euro Zone’s periphery, as money is fleeing it with alacrity.

Foreign bank deposits have fallen 64% in Greece, 55% in Ireland and 37% in Portugal; in Italy, the fall is 34% and Spain 13%. Foreign government bond holdings have dropped 56% in Greece, 18% in Ireland and 25% in Portugal; in Italy the fall is 12% and Spain 18%. So if Italy and Spain were to move to the average for the other three, a further 200 billion euros would flow out.

The Greeks are not being punished by rich Germans. They aren’t the victims of speculators or criminals. They are merely being forced to pay the price that reality is about to impose for decades of enthusiastic socialism, and the attendant corruption, debt, and malfeasance it has encouraged. Their problem isn’t "austerity"; it’s the unsustainable political and economic fantasies that have sustained the county’s political culture.

Greece is a failed state.  Spain is about to become a failed state. No doubt a list of "enemies" will be promulgated to try and paper over whose fault all this actually is. The sacrifice of scapegoats in times of crisis is, after all, a venerated European tradition.

But, that won’t help, or stop what is coming. Reality is relentless. And the really scary thing about that is that there are lessons in all this for us, which I am not entirely sure our own political class will heed—or is even capable of recognizing.

~
Dale Franks
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Obama election campaign: The politics of politics

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the kerfuffle involving the Mayor of Newark, NJ, Corey Booker, but it provides an interesting political point.  Conn Carroll brings you up to date:

The fun started on Sunday when David Gregory asked Booker to defend the Obama campaign ads attacking Romney over his tenure at Bain Capital. Booker responded:

As far as that stuff, I have to just say from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just this–we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, it ain’t–they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.

This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It’s a distraction from the real issues. It’s either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it’s going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.

For that, Booker caught terrific heat from the usual suspects on the left and, has since, begun to walk back this apparent political heresy.

So … what does it all mean? 

Booker’s Meet the Press bungle will probably be forgotten by election day, but it is a symptom of a much larger problem for Obama. He has no positive record to run on. His advisers know he can only win by tearing down Romney. But this strategy is the opposite of the brand he established in 2008. The “Hope and Change” are gone. This is not the last time we are going to see Obama surrogates fail to stay on Chicago’s reelection message. Unlike Obama, many of them will have to face voters again.

Carroll hits the nail on the head. Where politicians of all stripes on the left could and did enthusiastically and unconditionally endorse Obama last campaign, now that he has a record, and a poor one at that, such an endorsement could be a huge political liability for them.  Pushing the talking points could mean electoral trouble.   Keeping a distance from Obama could mean the difference between winning and losing an election.

So … that’s what it all means.  Corey Booker is no fool.  And what he said is surprisingly honest as well as a reflection of how most people feel.  All of this is a “distraction from the real issues”.  But then, that’s the strategy of a president with an abysmal record.

Booker is a political animal and most likely has aspirations for higher office.  He’s begun the inevitable walk back.  But his moment of honesty and clarity signal some potential trouble for the distraction strategy known as the Obama campaign.  When your own party operatives are dissatisfied with how you are conducting your campaign, it isn’t particularly difficult to conclude that most voters feel that way as well.

Somewhere, sometime, Obama is going to have to actually face the political music about his record.  The sooner, of course, the better.  When the focus turns to that, the numbers he enjoys now, along with the slight lead in the polls, will most likely disappear.  And as they do, more and more Democrats are likely to be busy with “previous commitments” on days he visits their states.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Civil asset forfeiture: a legal scam

As I’ve mentioned before, this is one that burns me up about as much as anything that government/law enforcement does.  Again, I want to make it clear – this nonsense exists because of the drug war.

First an explanation:

Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that a piece of property — a car, a pile of cash, a house — can be guilty of a crime. Laws vary from state to state, but generally, law enforcement officials can seize property if they can show any connection between the property and illegal activity. It is then up to the owner of the property to prove in court that he owns it or earned it legitimately. It doesn’t require a property owner to actually be convicted of a crime. In fact, most people who lose property to civil asset forfeiture are never charged.

The laws were created to go after the ill-gotten gains of big-time dealers, but critics say they’ve since become a way for police departments to generate revenue — often by targeting lower-level offenders.

In fact, in the case I’m about to relate, law enforcement has put together as much a “sure thing” as can be imagined.  Read this and be disgusted:

When the Brown County, Wis., Drug Task Force arrested her son Joel last February, Beverly Greer started piecing together his bail.

She used part of her disability payment and her tax return. Joel Greer’s wife also chipped in, as did his brother and two sisters. On Feb. 29, a judge set Greer’s bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. "The police specifically told us to bring cash," Greer says. "Not a cashier’s check or a credit card. They said cash."

So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she’d be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son.

Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers’ cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills — and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money.

"I told them the money had just come from the bank," Beverly Greer says. "We had just taken it out. If the money had drugs on it, then they should go seize all the money at the bank, too. I just don’t understand how they could do that."

The Greers had been subjected to civil asset forfeiture, a policy that lets police confiscate money and property even if they can only loosely connect them to drug activity. The cash, or revenue from the property seized, often goes back to the coffers of the police department that confiscated it. It’s a policy critics say is often abused, but experts told The HuffPost that the way the law is applied to bail money in Brown County is exceptionally unfair.

Indeed it was.  Why?  Because the county demanded cash, and, as Snopes tells us, about 80% of the cash in the US has traces of drugs on them (specifically cocaine):

In one 1985 study done by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on the money machines in a U.S. Federal Reserve district bank, random samples of $50 and $100 bills revealed that a third to a half of all currency tested bore traces of cocaine.  Moreover, the machines themselves were often found to test positive, meaning that subsequent batches of cash fed through them would also pick up cocaine residue.  Expert evidence given before a federal appeals court in 1995 showed that three out of four bills randomly examined in the Los Angeles area bore traces of the drug.  In a 1997 study conducted at Argonne National laboratory, nearly four out of five bills in Chicago suburbs were found to bear discernible traces of cocaine.  In another study, more than 135 bills from seven U.S. cities were tested and all but four were contaminated with traces of cocaine.  These bills had been collected from restaurants, stores and banks in cities from Milwaukee to Dallas.

A single bill used to snort cocaine or otherwise mingled with the drug can contaminate an entire cash drawer.  When counting and sorting machines (which fan the bills, and thus the cocaine) are factored in, it’s no wonder that so much of the currency now in circulation wouldn’t pass any purity tests.

Of course, you can bet Brown County law enforcement is completely aware of this little factoid, thus the cash requirement for bail and, for them, the profitable inevitable outcome.

That’s why I call it what it truly is – a scam to cheat people out of their money perpetrated by the very people whose job it is to protect you from scam artists.  You have law enforcement knowingly setting up a situation in which they’re sure they’ll be able to take bail money under this civil asset forfeiture travesty because it will test positive for drugs.

In this case, it didn’t turn out so well for the thieves at the sheriff’s office:

It took four months for Beverly Greer to get her family’s money back, and then only after attorney Andy Williams agreed to take their case. "The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money," Williams says. "Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money."

In this case there’s a fairly simple way to stop this sort of blatant thievery.  More options for payment (cashier’s check) other than cash.

However, it is civil asset forfeiture that needs to go the way of the Dodo bird:

In 2010, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian law firm, rated the forfeiture laws in all 50 states, assigning higher grades to states with fairer policies. The firm gave Wisconsin a "C." When there’s less than $2,000 at stake, law enforcement agencies in the state get to keep 70 percent of what they take. If more than $2,000 is taken, departments can keep half.

But in all states, police agencies can contact the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), making the case federal, and under federal law, local police departments can keep up to 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds, with the rest going to the Department of Justice. The institute reports that between 2000 and 2008, police agencies in Wisconsin took in $50 million from this "equitable sharing" program with the federal government.

When provided such an incentive, what is the usual reaction?  As demonstrated by this particular case where they took bail money, it has nothing to do with the pursuit of “big-time dealers” does it?  Instead, they’re just after low hanging fruit, which in this case also happened to be low-income people who had to scrape and borrow just to raise the bail.

That’s “law enforcement”?

That’s scamming the public for profit.  And it is an inexcusable breach of trust between law enforcement and the public. 

If anyone should be in jail, it is those who’ve perpetrated this travesty and those who use it to cheat the public.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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