Week in Review: The Loss of an American Hero

Week in Review is a SubOptimal look at the past week’s political and cultural news that comes out every week between Friday and Sunday. (usually)

The End of an Era

The Friday news dump of the week included some of the saddest news in recent political history. The news marked the end of a 6-month reign of one the nations most profound political thinkers. The defender of liberty and bastion of truth, Sean Spicer, resigned as White House Press Secretary.

His dominant reign at the helm of the White House Communications department began with a brilliant defense of Trump’s record setting inauguration attendance. He defended the President, even in the toughest times, so gracefully with rebuttals such as, “I am going to let the tweet speak for itself.”

His greatest performance came when he gave a riveting defense of Adolf Hitler in order to defend some guy name Asshar Ballassad or Ballad Ashharr Assad, which I guess is some leader in the Middle East whose name Spicer could not pronounce.

It is a tragedy that the Trump White House lost this once in generation communications talent. I hear Spicer’s obviously high IQ and incredible grasp on complex political ideas have landed him an offer to be a host of The View. Good luck Spicey, we will all miss you… NOT.

Conservative Holdouts Getting Bludgeoned For Healthcare Stance

In the last edition of Week in Review, I discussed the new version of the Senate’s Healthcare reform bill. I went over all of the major changes to the bill and why none of them were enough to flip anyone that advocates for free market healthcare from no to yes. At the time I wrote last week’s post, two senators, Dean Heller and Rand Paul, had already come out publicly against the bill. Republicans hold a 52 seat majority in the senate so they could not afford to lose any more votes. Many of the moderates in the Senate such as Shelly Moore Capito and Susan Collins signaled they might pull their support but it was conservatives who came out against it first. Senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran came out against the bill releasing a statement saying about the bill, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

The image that Senator Lee was the sinking vote on the healthcare bill has brought the long knives out for him and Rand Paul. Avik Roy, who is viewed as the most prominent conservative healthcare expert, wrote a ruthless piece entitled “Sen. Lee’s Strategy to Preserve Every Word of Obamacare”. Roy writes, “Indeed, Lee could vote “yes” on Mitch McConnell’s motion to proceed, and then introduce an amendment to the bill with whatever changes he wants, and try to persuade his colleagues to go along.But Lee instead chose the outcome of nothing. He prefers that every Obamacare regulation remain on the books, to passing a bill that repeals and reforms some of them… Sen. Lee has every right to his opinion and his philosophy. If he really thinks tax credits to help the uninsured afford coverage are a terrible idea, he should come out and say so. But the end result of his actions — of blocking the ability of the Senate to consider a GOP health reform bill — is to preserve every word of Obamacare.” Roy’s piece in summary basically accuses Mike Lee of being disingenuous about his opposition to the Senate bill because he claims the bill does not roll back enough of the Obamacare regulations. Roy claims that this is an inadequate reason for opposition because the regulations cannot be repealed under the parliamentary procedure being used to pass the bill with a simple majority instead of the usual 60 vote threshold. It is true that the reconciliation process that the Republicans are using to pass healthcare reform has limitations that will not allow the heart of Obamacare, the regulatory framework, to be completely repealed. What Roy fails to point out is that much more can be done by way of waivers to allow states to opt out of the crippling regulations than Senate leadership and moderates are willing to put in the bill. But put aside regulations for sake of argument, there is still plenty to not like about the Senate bill as I wrote about in last week’s edition of Week in Review.

Notable conservative Jonah Goldberg wrote an article for National Review that was equally as critical of Rand Paul. Goldberg writes, “Sometimes touting your principles is a politically expedient way to avoid accountability. The greatest trick any politician can pull off is to get his self-interest and his principles in perfect alignment. I found many of Paul’s arguments and complaints entirely persuasive on the merits. But there have been times when I had to wonder if the merits were all that was driving him. Was it just a coincidence that the bill was terribly unpopular in his home state of Kentucky, where more than one in five Kentuckians are on Medicaid? This is the problem. When touting your principles is a politically expedient way of avoiding accountability, it’s hard to tell whether principles or expedience is in the driver’s seat.” It is actually not that hard to tell whether principles or expedience are in driving a politician when the same politician just got finished ignoring expedience on the same issue but was reelected overwhelmingly. Paul was pretty unashamed to campaign on making extensive cuts to Medicaid in 2016. He was also very clear on wanting more consumer choice and not wanting insurance company bailouts or pork barrel spending thrown at the Obamacare exchanges. So is Senator Paul taking a stand for political expediency or is he standing on the principles and ideas that he ran on in 2016? You tell me.

Indefensible Expansion of Civil Asset-Forfeiture

The Trump presidency is something I along with other conservative/libertarian types are forced to consume a la carte. Some items on the buffet of the Trump presidency, such as placing a top notch conservative jurist on the Supreme Court and withdrawing from the Paris Climate agreement, I consume happily. Unfortunately, other policy items are much less savory such as the new policy handed down from the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

On Wednesday, AG Sessions handed down a new civil asset-forfeiture policy:

What is civil asset-forfeiture?

It is a police practice in which law enforcement seize the property that they believe may have been obtained illegally such as through drug trade. Does not sound so bad? The problem is you do not have to actually be charged or convicted of a crime for your assets to be seized by law enforcement. This bypasses every American’s right to Due Process guaranteed in the 4th Amendment of Constitution.

David French of National Review wrote a great hypothetical situation that many Americans can relate with:

“The process is called “civil asset forfeiture,” and here’s how it works. To borrow from real-life fact patterns from other cases, imagine that you’re driving through an unfamiliar town in my borrowed truck. You’ve got out-of-state license plates, you’re a little bit lost and confused, and you’re carrying an unusual amount of cash. You’re driving to pick up a couch you’ve purchased on Craigslist, but you think you put the wrong address in your phone. The neighborhood is a little seedy, you’re driving slowly, and soon you see the blue lights behind you. According to the sheriff’s deputy, you’ve been driving “suspiciously” in a “known open-air drug market.” The deputy conducts a search and finds your cash. He’s unimpressed with your explanation, and within a few minutes, a police dog “alerts” that there are trace amounts of cocaine on your money. You’re incredulous. You’ve never even seen cocaine much less snorted it or paid for it. You have no idea that large amounts of currency in common circulation contain traces of coke. The officer next informs you that he’s got “probable cause” to believe that both the cash and the truck were being used for the purchase and transportation of drugs, and he’s seizing both. Come to think of it, he realizes that you probably used your cell phone to set up the alleged transaction, so he’s going to take that also. He lets you make a call to get a cab, and he gives you a few extra minutes to call me, to tell me that his cash and my beautiful full-size pickup are now in the hands of first the Smith County Sheriff’s office and then the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. No problem, right? This is just an inconvenience, right? Neither of us did anything wrong, we committed no crimes, and there is no way that the prosecutor can possibly prove criminality beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, neither my friend nor I is ever charged. What happens next, however, is beyond strange. The government sues my truck, and in the case of United States vs. Cool, Slate-Gray Toyota Tundra, it only has to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that it was used in the commission of a criminal act. Oh, and did I mention that if the government can “prove” that my truck was used unlawfully, then the sheriff’s department (or whatever agency took the vehicle) can sell it and use the proceeds to pad their department’s budget?”

Seems like a crazy situation right? That would never happen to you! It probably only happens in rare situations and probably only to real criminals right? Wrong

In 2014, it was estimated that law enforcement stole more assets through civil forfeiture than criminals stole in burglaries. The Drug Enforcement Agency has reported over $3 billion in assets seized in the last decade from citizens that had not committed a crime when the assets were seized. Also, an inspector general report found that over have of DOJ civil forfeitures were not related to a broader law enforcement purpose. The inspector general report concluded, “When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution.”

The cash and money from sold assets seized by law enforcement are most often added the law enforcement agency’s budget. This fact makes the practice, in addition to being unconstitutional, a massive conflict of interest for officers that could benefit personally from the seizures.

The central question of continuing civil asset-forfeiture is not whether we are tough on crime as a society. The question is not whether we as a society support the distribution and use of drugs. The central question is whether we want to uphold the rule of law and the Bill of Rights or support to confiscation of property from law abiding citizens by the government. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a clear line indication this week that his reign at the DOJ will be one that supports the later. Sessions described the practice in the new order as, “a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed.” Defunding crime and taking ill-gotten gains are important tools of law enforcement when someone has actually been charged and convicted of a crime. If you want to seize the assets of a criminal, make a case against that person, take them to court, and get a conviction. Defunding organized crime does not require undermining the 4th amendment and stealing from innocent civilians.

The new directive handed down from AG Sessions expands practices in which the federal government helps local law enforcement circumvent law preventing civil forfeiture in the 24 states that have restrictions or bans on the practice.

If President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are not willing to stop this unconstitutional practice, Congress should step up and take a stand. (Newsflash: They won’t)

To learn more about the details of the new order check out this short podcast from the Cato Institute.

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