Archive for April, 2016

These cops tried to use civil asset forfeiture to steal money from a Christian charity

Friday, April 29th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Civil asset forfeiture, under which law enforcement can seize your property even if you aren’t convicted of a crime or arrested, is a nationwide problem. The state of Oklahoma, however, has a particularly well-documented knack for asset forfeiture abuse.

The latest example comes from the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham. He brings us the story of Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee and American citizen who lives in Dallas, and the volunteer manager of the Klo & Kweh Music Team, a Christian rock band from his home country. Wah had been on a months-long tour with the group, which was raising money for a Christian college in Burma and an orphanage in Thailand.

That didn’t stop Muskogee County cops in Oklahoma from automatically assuming he was tied up in the drug trade—and using that as a justification to steal the Christian rock band’s charitable proceeds.

Writes Ingraham:

[S]heriff’s deputies in Muskogee County, Okla., pulled Eh Wah over for a broken tail light …The deputies started asking questions — a lot of them. And at some point, they brought out a drug-sniffing dog, which alerted on the car. That’s when they found the cash, according to the deputy’s affidavit. …

Eh Wah managed the band’s finances, holding on to the cash proceeds it raised from ticket and merchandise sales at concerts. By the time he was stopped in Oklahoma, the band had held concerts in 19 cities across the United States, raising money via tickets that sold for $10 to $20 each.

So the drug-sniffing dog barks. No drugs were actually found. Yet the cops interrogated Wah for several hours, threatened him with jail time, and took $53,249 allocated to Christian students and orphans in a highly vulnerable part of the world without justification. Then they let Wah go!

If this isn’t a gross abuse of the system—which is directly tied to the countless injustices baked into the War on Drugs generally—then what is?

Luckily, the Institute For Justice, a libertarian civil liberties law firm that represents clients like Wah for free, was on hand to help. This week, Muskogee County finally did the right thing, two months after the initial interrogation Wah faced.

“We are thrilled that District Attorney Loge has dropped the criminal case against Eh Wah and offered to return the money to the band, the church and the orphanage,” said IJ attorney Dan Alban. “The intense public scrutiny generated by this outrageous case led to justice being served.”

But as Alban points out, Wah was a highly sympathetic victim. There are many other people all over the country without his sparkling backstory who have had their basic civil liberties violated through civil asset forfeiture abuse.

The truth is, much work remains to be done. The Oklahoma state legislature recently rejected a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture. But the fact that such legislation even exists, and that reforms have been passed elsewhere, is a step in the right direction. Shining further light on these abuses must continue to be a priority.

As Wah so eloquently says:

This was an experience that no one should ever have to live through. It felt like something that would happen in a third-world country, but not in the United States. I’m just so happy that this is over and I hope that no one else will have to go through something like this.

The results of a new poll of Arab youth reveal a lot about our foreign policy

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

A survey by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller that chronicles the views of men and women between the ages of 18-24 in 16 Middle Eastern and North African countries was recently released, and it contains an interesting common thread.

In the countries where there’s been a great deal of military and political turmoil, youth view the United States negatively by an overwhelming margin.

In Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories – all of which have been embroiled in major conflicts – youth view the United States as an enemy as opposed to an ally by margins of 93%, 82%, and 81%, respectively.

On the other hand, youth in Arab nations with stronger economies and less military strife view the United States in a more favorable light. Young citizens of Arab Gulf states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), collectively view the United States as an ally at a rate of 85%.

As Murtaza Hussain noted at The Intercept, “The results of the poll offer an interesting window into long-term perceptions of the Iraq War by Iraqis themselves. Advocates of the 2003 invasion often justified it by claiming post-Saddam Iraq would be an ally of U.S. interests in the region.”

Added Hussain, “Dick Cheney cited experts who claimed Iraqis would ‘erupt in joy’ over the invasion, predicting it would result in ‘strong bonds’ created between the two countries.”

“But years later, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent and more than a hundred thousand Iraqis dead, the United States is overwhelmingly considered an enemy by young men and women who were children when the war began.”

That view isn’t an entirely monolithic one, however. Rare spoke with Taif Jany, an Iraqi native who serves as the Program Manager for the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C. about this data, along with other issues that plague the Middle East.

Jany explained, “It is important to make the distinction between Iraqi perceptions of the U.S. government and Iraqi perceptions of the American people. The survey does not make this distinction clearly, and it does not ask about distrust, either – only whether the average young person considers the U.S. an ally.”

Jany makes an important point. It’s true that viewing a government negatively is not the same as viewing its people in that same light.

Said Jany, “As a young Iraqi, I can say that most of my friends like Americans and American culture very much, but have reservations about how much the U.S. government is doing to help make Iraq safe and prosperous again.”

“I hope most Americans would agree,” he added.

Rare also asked Jany what he believes accounts for the disparity in a country such as Iraq viewing the United States government as an ally versus opposite perceptions in the Gulf States.

“Iraq experienced a war. I think it’s that simple. Of course, there will be some hard feelings about the governments involved,” said Jany. “Trust me when I tell you that Iraqis are not sitting around Baghdad and other parts of the country lamenting the 2003 war and who is to blame for it. We are trying to move on and create a future.”

While a focus on blame may not be paramount, war-torn countries such as Iraq are in fact picking up their pieces. And the same sentiment about military conflict likely applies in Yemen.

Wrote Hussain, “[In Yemen,] the U.S. conducted an assassination campaign via drones and special forces, and … for the past year the U.S. has supported bloody Saudi bombings [of Yemen.]

What does this mean for the future of countries such as Iraq?

As Jany explained, “The present reality is that 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, and over 10 million Iraqis are in immediate need of assistance – half of them are children. That is where the Iraqi government, Iraq’s allies, and those of us in the humanitarian sector need to focus our attention.”

This is certainly important, because whether or not the Iraq War of over a decade ago was the right move – and it’s almost universally regarded as a mistake today – the Middle East faces a present crisis in the form of ISIS and other terrorist activities.

One piece of good news from the ASDA’A survey is that, across the board, young Arabs have a negative view of ISIS. Half believe the group’s rise is the greatest obstacle the Middle East currently faces, beyond the looming issue of terrorism in general, which was cited as the second most pressing concern by 38% of respondents.

“Millions of Iraqi youth who have been forced from their homes because of ISIS are missing out on a proper education and on their childhoods in general. The government of Iraq and the entire international community need to work together to fix it and fix it now,” said Jany.

As Jany concluded, “Iraqi Security Forces and their allies are working to make Iraq safe, but we need to be thinking about what happens next. How do we rebuild and return to life after cities are cleared of ISIS? How do we involve Iraqi youth in the future of Iraq? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves.”

One of the best congressmen ever just had a birthday party Star Wars fans will love

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Congressman Justin Amash, a great liberty advocate and one of Rare Under 40 Awards honorees, had a birthday this week. Rep. Amash’s staff knows he’s a Star Wars buff, and, according to a Facebook post from the congressman, surprised him with a party that Star Wars fans will appreciate.

It sure looks like Amash’s staff went all out for his 36th birthday!

Not only did they manage to get a Stormtrooper made out of balloons through tight Washington security, but the accompanying “weapon” was allowed into the halls of Congress, as well.

And the best part of the whole ensemble had to be the adorable dog dressed as an Ewok! As it turns out, the cute little guy is Amash’s new puppy! According to a recent post on Amash’s Instagram page, the dog is a Cavanese named Finn.

Amash, who was elected to the Michigan State House when he was 28, first won his seat in Congress in 2010 at the age of 30. Rare presented him with an Under 40 Award for the impact he’s already made.

Not only is Amash a leading voice for strict constitutionalism in Washington, but he’s also a model of transparency.

From Rare’s Under 40 description praising Amash: “Among Republicans, Amash is the only member of his party to explain every vote on Facebook. Not an intern or a staffer. Amash does all the social media posting himself. He tweets regularly, taking on everyone from his own party’s establishment to President Obama.”

Happy birthday to Rep. Justin Amash! We hope that he – and his adorable Ewok – enjoyed the day.

Is this American who joined ISIS now the best tool to stop others from being radicalized?

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Believe it or not, nearly 500 Americans (that we know of) have left the country to fight with ISIS – the terror group responsible for the attacks in Paris and Brussels, along with countless other atrocities.

It’s hard to imagine someone from the United States leaving to join such a radical group, but ISIS has a sophisticated recruitment system. Americans and Europeans alike are being radicalized, and in some cases even coerced, into joining this horrific network of terrorists.

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, the first American to join ISIS, defect, and make it out alive, defines his choice as a “bad decision,” an understatement if ever one existed. After physically running away from ISIS, Khweis was found last month in the mountains of northern Iraq by Kurdish forces, who have been fighting the terror group. He remains detained by Kurdish authorities.

As Public Radio International (PRI) reported, Khweis, a 26 year old from Virginia, said in an interview with Kurdish television that he traveled to Europe, ultimately making his way to Turkey, where he “met an Iraqi woman whose sister was married to an ISIS fighter. She arranged for them to go to Syria and later on to Iraq.”

As Khweis explained, “I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul. I made the decision to go because I wasn’t thinking straight.” He says it wasn’t long before he became disillusioned.

PRI spoke with Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, about what would be in store for Khweis. She explained that if Khweis were returned to America, the U.S. would almost certainly prosecute him, as she believes should be the case.

But Speckhard added, “[Y]ou might want to offer some kind of a plea bargain or reduced sentencing in exchange for going out and speaking to the public [against radicalization].”

While it may seem odd that the government would be even remotely lenient on an American who joined ISIS, there’s a precedent for turning former terror group sympathizers into anti-terror advocates.


Speckhard explained that there’s a member of the Lackawanna Six, a group of young men who were part of a terror cell in the Buffalo, New York, area around the time 9/11 occurred, who now cooperates with the FBI. “[These men] joined al Qaeda, and went to their training camp, and also became disenchanted,” she said. Now, with an FBI agent at his side, “[One of them] gives a very good talk about why he went in and that it wasn’t a good choice.”

In an ideal world, U.S. counterterror efforts would be enough to stop homegrown radicalization. But the attacks in San Bernardino and Boston show that, unfortunately, the system isn’t foolproof. And it’s even harder to stop Americans from traveling to ISIS strongholds in the Middle East or Europe to fight or plot with the group.

This is why there does need to be a system in place to best vet any defectors who regret their actions and want to help the U.S., especially if they can act as informants or are willing, like the former member of the Lackawanna Six, to speak out against radical perversions of Islam.

But it’s not always that simple, of course. In her interview with PRI, Speckhard recounted a story of a Belgian man who claimed to denounce his former ties to ISIS and told authorities he’d cooperate with them. But as the Belgian consulate looked into him further, they found he was just trying to make his way back to Europe to plan an attack from the inside. Clearly, a strong and thorough vetting process in these instances, including ongoing surveillance, is required.

Realistically, dealing with defectors is simply another front in the ongoing fight against terrorism. While what will happen to Khweis remains uncertain, one thing is clear: he’s far better off in the hands of Kurdish authorities, who have a long history of cooperating with the United States, than he is with ISIS. If his defection is genuine, that he made it out alive is, in and of itself, nothing short of a miracle.

Punishing Corporations for Seeking Lower Tax Rates Will Kill American Jobs

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Originally published at EveryJoe

It’s hard to believe, but the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. At 39.1%, this puts our nation high above the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average, which is 24.8%. This inevitably produces stark economic consequences. And for all of the talk we’ve heard this presidential cycle about bringing jobs back to America, the focus has been more on punishing companies for doing business internationally rather than crafting a job-friendly climate at home.

Graphic courtesy of the Heritage Foundation

But the presidential race isn’t the only place we see calls for import tariffs and other protectionist measures that would adversely affect American consumers. Policies aimed at punishing companies that would create jobs at home if the economic climate was friendlier are routinely embraced by federal regulatory agencies; generally with little to no congressional oversight. The latest example of this comes the Treasury Department.

As Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor recently explained at the New York Times, “[T]he Treasury Department issued new regulations in an attempt to limit ‘inversions’ — in which American companies are acquired by foreign companies, legally lowering the tax burden of American companies.”

To a free market advocate, this practice sounds like a good thing. A lower tax burden means a greater ability to invest in job creation and innovation. And can you really blame American companies looking for a better deal when our corporate tax rate is nearly 15% higher than the developed world’s average?

President Obama – who is no foe of corporate welfare; Solyndra, anybody? – has railed extensively against these so-called inversions. Just this week, he praised his Treasury Department for its new regulations, which ended up killing a $152 billion merger between Pfizer and Allergan, an Irish drug company. (Ireland’s corporate tax rate is nearly 27% lower than the United States’, go figure.)

Said Obama, “I am very pleased that the Treasury Department has taken new action to prevent more corporations from taking advantage of one of the most insidious tax loopholes out there, and fleeing the country just to get out of paying their taxes.” He also said that, “When companies exploit loopholes like this, it makes it harder to invest in the things that are going to keep America’s economy going strong for future generations. It sticks the rest of us with the tab. And it makes hardworking Americans feel like the deck is stacked against them.”

Those are nice sounding talking points, but the logic is backwards. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to get rid of tax loopholes too. Give me the flattest and lowest taxes possible, for corporations and individuals alike, especially if you don’t want the “deck stacked” against anybody. But very specifically, if you don’t want American companies, which create jobs here, taking drastic measures to avoid a very clearly onerous tax burden, perhaps you should look at making the economic and regulatory environments more friendly – lest the corporations decide to leave all together – taking American jobs with them!

And beyond the absurdity of punishing American companies rather than lowering their tax burden, let’s take a look at the hypocrisy playing out here. What this really means is that Obama, and most of his fellow Democrats, are beside themselves at the notion of a corporation seeking more fertile economic grounds through the lower-tax option of inversions. But they’re totally fine with throwing countless billions of taxpayer dollars at their favored corporate interests. Funny how that works. It must be an “as long as we’re in control” thing.

Here’s my free market proposition, Mr. President. We’ll close the inversion loophole (and all other loopholes, too) just as soon as you and your buddies in Congress give up your corporate welfare, take a hatchet to the tax code, and lower the corporate tax to a competitive level somewhere below Ireland’s rate of 12.5%. Now I will say to the President’s credit that he has at least paid rhetorical lip service to simplifying the tax code, and even lowering the corporate tax rate.

Despite this, it still seems that nearly every action undertaken by the federal government is more stick than carrot. You can’t scold some corporations for doing what they can do lower their tax burden and attempting to keep jobs in the U.S. while on the other hand, you throw billions in corporate welfare at others. Sounds more than a little hypocritical and power hungry, no?

While the concept of a free market coupled with a low tax burden is far from novel in theory, it often seems drastically, if not absurdly, out of reach in the United States. Want more American jobs? Make it profitable to headquarter and produce here. Punishing companies that use foreign labor with an import tax, as has been suggested during this presidential campaign, would do nothing more than pass the cost on to working and middle class Americans.

Similarly, having a corporate tax rate so high that companies are incentivized to headquarter elsewhere, often taking jobs with them, is a disastrous proposition. As Furchtgott-Roth aptly put it, “The solution is not burdensome new rules, but lower taxes. Inversions are increasing because American taxes are out of line with foreign codes. Until that changes, inversions will continue. Rather than trying to block companies from leaving, President Obama would do better by making America more hospitable to global headquarters.”