Friday, February 28, 2014

The Supreme Court just made it easier for the government to take your assets before you even go to trial

Justice for Kerri and Brian Kaley, the Supreme Court held Tuesday, is of the Alice in Wonderland variety: First comes the punishment—the seizure of all their assets—then the trial, and the crime last of all.* “But suppose they never committed the crime?” Alice asks. “It doesn’t matter,” comes the court’s answer, “because a grand jury said so.”

Writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, thus concluded Justice Elena Kagan that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial. In an odd ideological lineup, the dissenters were Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Kaleys’ saga began more than nine years ago when Kerri, a medical device salesperson, learned that she was under investigation by federal authorities for stealing devices from hospitals. Kerri admits she took some devices and later sold them with Brian’s help, but she says the devices she took were unwanted, outdated models that the hospitals were glad to be rid of—in effect, that she couldn’t steal something that was given to her. (It’s not a crazy argument. In fact, it worked for a co-defendant, who was quickly acquitted by a jury after the government failed to find even a single hospital that claimed ownership of the allegedly stolen goods.)

With charges looming, the Kaleys sought an estimate from their lawyers of how much mounting a defense would cost. The answer: $500,000. (That figure may seem high, but sadly the government agreed it was reasonable.) The Kaleys took out a home equity loan and used the $500,000 to purchase a certificate of deposit, which they planned to spend on lawyers.

Then came the grand jury indictment and with it a nasty surprise: an order freezing essentially all their assets, including the CD that was meant to pay their legal bills. The only assets exempt from the order—Kerri’s retirement account and their children’s college funds—weren’t enough to cover the $500,000 estimate. And if the Kaleys liquidated those funds, they’d have owed $183,500 in tax penalties. The bottom line: They could no longer pay for their lawyer of choice even though, as the government agreed, that’s what the Sixth Amendment right to counsel protects.

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Obamacare: Now Appearing On Your Restaurant Bill

That the bulk of Americans (especially those 4+ million whose insurance policies have recently been cancelled as a result of the ACA) have to pay more for healthcare as a result of Obamacare, is now largely accepted and well-known. But did you know that the cost of Obamacare is slowly metastasizing to other places? Such as your restaurant bill.

Several restaurants in a Florida chain are asking customers to help foot the bill for Obamacare. Diners at eight Gator’s Dockside casual eateries are finding a 1% Affordable Care Act surcharge on their tabs, which comes to 15 cents on a typical $15 lunch tab. Signs on the door and at tables alert diners to the fee, which is also listed separately on the bill.

The Gator Group’s full-time hourly employees won’t actually receive health insurance until December. But the company said it implemented the surcharge now because of the compliance costs it’s facing ahead of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate kicking in in 2015.

“The costs associated with ACA compliance could ultimately close our doors,” the sign reads. “Instead of raising prices on our products to generate the additional revenue needed to cover the costs of ACA compliance, certain Gator’s Dockside locations have implemented a 1% surcharge on all food and beverage purchases only.”

The company employs a total of 500 people, with about half working full-time. Currently only management receives health benefits, but the restaurant will have to offer coverage to all full-timers once the mandate takes effect. The fee will allow the company to continue offering full-time hours to many workers, according to Sandra Clark, the group’s director of operations.

“I’m just trying to keep the employees I have that I’ve worked hard to train,” Clark said.

In addition to the costs of providing health care, the company hired one additional staffer and a consulting firm to make sure it is complying with the law and to assist in the additional tracking of workers’ hours and wages required by Obamacare, said Clark.

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Feds seize gold coins worth $80 mln from Pennsylvania family

A federal judge has upheld a verdict that strips a Pennsylvania family of their grandfather’s gold coins — worth an estimated $80 million — and has ordered ownership transferred to the US government.

Judge Legrome Davis of the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a 2011 jury decision that a box of 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle coins discovered by the family of Israel Switt, a deceased dealer and collector, is the property of the United States.

In the midst of the Great Depression, then-President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that America’s supply of double eagles manufactured at the Philadelphia Mint be destroyed and melted into gold bars. Of the 445,500 or so coins created, though, some managed to escape the kiln and ended up into the hands of collectors. In 2003, Switt’s family opened a safe deposit back that their grandfather kept, revealing 10 coins among that turned out to be among the world’s most valuable collectables in the currency realm today.

Switt’s descendants, the Langbords, thought the coins had been gifted to their grandfather years earlier by Mint cashier George McCann and took the coins to the Mint to have their authenticity verified, but the government quickly took hold of the items and refused to relinquish the find to the family. The Langbords responded with a lawsuit that ended last year in a victory for the feds.

Because the government ordered the destruction of their entire supply of coins decades earlier, the court found that Switt’s family was illegally in possession of the stash. Even though they may had been presented to the dealer by a Philadelphia Mint staffer, Judge Davis agrees with last year’s ruling that Mr. McCann broke the law.

“The coins in question were not lawfully removed from the United States Mint,” the judge rules.

Despite this decision, though, the attorney representing Switt’s family says the government has no right to remove their own items and transfer property back to the state.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spy Agency’s False Flag Operations Exposed by Snowden leaks

New Snowden leaks show how spy agencies disrupts, discredits dissent and sets up false flag operations.

In a new leaked document, journalist Glenn Greenwald exposes how the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) uses questionable tactics to infiltrate, disrupt and discredit voices the government doesn’t agree with.

The document, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations,” reveals shady practices like using “honey traps” that may start as Internet dating, but the PowerPoint also points to in-person meetings to discredit the subject.

Other findings include “false flag” operations (undertaking malicious actions and making it look like the work of a group they wish to discredit), the application of social sciences like sociology and psychology to disrupt and steer online activist discussions, lure targets into compromising sexual situations, deploy malicious software and virus and post lies about targets in order to discredit them.

According to NBC News, the British government, when asked about the document, would not confirm or deny the report: “All of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework,” said the statement, “which ensure[s] that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All of our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

Greenwald points out in an article on The Intercept that targets of these aggressive actions did not have to be charged with — or convicted of — a crime.

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Supposedly Fiscally Conservative Republicans Make Exceptions For Defense Spending

Some supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans are upset that the Obama administration has proposed that Department of Defense spending for fiscal year 2015 be limited to roughly $496 billion.

Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), said that the Obama administration’s plans to cut the defense budget were “disappointing,” and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that the proposed defense budget would put the U.S. military’s ability to protect American interests abroad, provide a deterrent to attack, and provide security for allies at risk.

Former Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) issued a bizarre statement in response to the proposed budget, saying that it is being cheered by our enemies and that small cuts to our vast defense budget will “decimate our military capability.”

You would think that those who like to talk about fiscal responsibility would be more open to cutting defense spending, especially given that U.S. defense spending dwarfs any other country’s.

According to the International Business Times, in 2013 the top 20 military spenders spent $1.316 trillion on “defense-related expenditures.” The U.S. was responsible for an astonishing 44 percent of that spending.

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