Cleveland family suing on claims CBP seized life-savings at airport

There is a new lawsuit in Ohio – spearheaded by Institute for Justice – claiming Customs and Border Protection seized the life-savings of an immigrant family at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport without charging anyone with a crime. The suit says Rustem Kazazi was headed to Albania to do work on a home when he was accosted by CBP for the $58K in his carry-on. Via IJ:

While going through security, Rustem was detained by a group of CBP agents, who took him to a small room. The agents questioned Rustem in English—a language he only partially understands—and refused his requests for a translator. They stripped him naked and searched him from head to toe, but found nothing illegal. As if these indignities were not enough, the agents then took every penny of the Kazazis’ savings and gave Rustem a receipt for “U.S. Currency” that did not state the amount seized. Rustem was not arrested—he had not broken any law. The CBP agents simply took his money and sent him on his way.

There are plenty of pejoratives to describe this situation: baseless, authoritarian, police state, and un-American. The fact Rustem, who is an American citizen, had his money stolen by the government for the simple reason he had it in his carry-one is asinine. It’s a clear violation of the 4th Amendment because CBP seized the cash without bothering to make a reasonable effort to find an interpreter to establish whether probable cause existed. It’s a major failure on the government’s part, which shouldn’t be surprising because it’s government.

A little background on Rustem Kazazi. He’s a former Albanian police officer who immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 2005. IJ notes he became a citizen in 2010. Why was he carrying $58K on his person? The suit says Kazazi and his family didn’t want to deal with banking fees and figured it was easier to just have cash on hand. You or I might find it a little weird to carry that much money in a carry-on (or anywhere else) but it was his choice.

The suit itself has more details on the bureaucratic idiocy Kazazi and his family are going through. It doesn’t paint the government in a good light. Remember…Kazazi was never charged with a crime or arrested. Via the suit:

While Rustem was still away in Albania, CBP sent him a Notice of Seizure on December 1, 2017 claiming that the amount taken from him had been $57, 330 ($770 less than the amount the agents had seized in October). This document also announced, for the first time, that the agents had seized the money for being “involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.” The notice informed Rustem that CBP intended to seek civil forfeiture of his money using an internal administrative process. And it appraised Rustem of his right to submit a claim to the money and request, instead, that civil forfeiture proceedings be referred to federal court. However, this initial seizure noticed included conflicting deadlines for responding. With [his son]’s help, the family contacted CPB about the conflicting dates, which the agency eventually corrected by sending an amended seizure notice, which set Saturday, January 13, 2018 as the deadline for receiving claims and any demand for federal court action.

So far, the Kazazis are following the process by which people can dispute any civil asset forfeiture seizures. Here’s where things get more fun – if by more fun you mean completely stupid. Court documents say the family didn’t want to go through the administrative process because they wanted a judge to decide on the cash. CBP didn’t want to play ball (which makes sense because better to trust bureaucrats than judges) and the suit claims things went further downhill (emphasis mine).

[O]n March 30, a CBP attorney in Chicago called [Rustem’s son] and left a voicemail, saying she wanted to discuss, “whether you want [the case] to go to court or if we could handle this administratively.” The attorney urged [Rustem’s son] to call back quickly because the agency’s deadline to begin the court process would expire “within the next week”- that is, no later than April 6, 2018. Three weeks later, when still no forfeiture complaint had been filed, [Rustem’s son] wrote to his contact at CBP to ask why the family’s money had not been returned. The response was distressingly bureaucratic: CBP had no idea. For the first, CBP told the Kazazis that it had no control over the case; instead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was in control. When [the son] asked whom he could contract at the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, the agency claimed that it had no contact there and would not know who was handling the case until “a decision is made.”

Today, more than seven months since CBP agents unconstitutionally seized the Kazazis’ money and upended their lives, the government still has not begun civil forfeiture proceedings. It cannot do so now, as the deadline to seek forfeiture of the money expired no later than April 17. For the reasons explained below, the Court should order CBP to return the money.

This is why civil asset forfeiture has to be reformed on a federal level. I’ve written on the awfulness of civil asset forfeiture before and believe the Justice Department’s 2017 guidelines on the issue are obscene. I think it should be made illegal and the only asset forfeiture allowed is criminal asset forfeiture i.e. after a conviction.

Policing for profit needs to stop. Hopefully this case will force Congress to act on reform legislation.

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Poll: majority of Americans approve of NFL kneeling ban

Just this morning I was musing over the new kneeling ban in the NFL and what led to the outpouring of anger from fans. While mulling that over, I concluded that the new policy likely wouldn’t make much of a difference at this point because too much water has passed under the bridge. But a new survey released by SurveyMonkey this week provides at least a hint that I may have been wrong. After a lot of bad polling days for the league, a solid majority of respondents are now saying that they support the new policy.

Americans—and especially NFL fans—are supportive of the league’s recently-announced policy to fine teams whose players kneel on the field during the national anthem. More than half of adults in the U.S. (54 percent) say they approve of the policy, while just 43 percent disapprove. Among those who call themselves NFL fans, 56 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove. Drilling down even further, “big fans” of the NFL approve by a margin of 59-40.

More than four in 10 people (42 percent) say that kneeling during the national anthem “is not related to patriotism.” Nearly as many (41 percent) say that kneeling during the national anthem is unpatriotic–almost three times more than the number of respondents who think it is patriotic (14 percent).

A majority of people (55 percent) say it is fair for teams to be fined for a player’s actions. About as many (57 percent) say that the ability for players to stay inside the locker room during the national anthem rather than kneeling on the field is a fair compromise.

You can read the full results here. There are several clear demographic breaks in the responses. Democrats were far less impressed with the new policy, with 65% disapproving and 67% saying it would be unfair to fine the teams for the actions of the players. But 81% of Republicans approved, with only 19% disapproving.

The racial divide was almost equally stark, with whites approving at a rate of 59% while only 38% of blacks do. That may still prove troubling for the league since an even more interesting question had to do with who considers themselves fans or “big fans” of football. 68% of black respondents said they were fans, while 53% of whites did.

With all that in mind, I have to wonder if the plan among some players which Allahpundit reported on the other day will have much of an effect. If any significant number of starters who will have a real impact on their teams’ prospects decide to “sit out” the games until Kaepernick and Eric Reid are signed, how would the fans of their individual teams respond? I know that if any of the Jets’ starters decided to do that and reduce our already comically low shot at a Super Bowl ring even further, I’d be pretty ticked off at the players, not the league. But then again, am I in the minority there? From the looks of this poll, I’m guessing I’m not.

Anyway, that’s just some recent polling for you to mull over until the preseason kicks off. (Assuming it actually does.)

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Why gays are gay: We’re changing our minds

In reality, of course, it shouldn’t matter what other people think. But as a measure of social change, the Gallup organization has once again uncovered another shift in Americans’ thinking. It’s intriguing despite that unbelievably boring sociology professor I had quite a few years ago.

Back in 1977 when Gallup first asked why people thought gays were gay and lesbians were lesbians — otherwise known as “nature vs nurture” — a substantial majority of Americans knew it was their upbringing and environment. Back then, 56 percent said that and only 13 percent said it was a birth trait.

That thinking didn’t change much until the last decade of the 20th century. But by the middle of Bill Clinton’s two terms, Gallup was detecting a dramatic shift. In 1996, the birth belief had jumped to 31 percent and by George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001 it had climbed to 40 percent.

Now, according to Gallup’s latest pulse-taking, fully half of Americans have bought into the birth belief, while the environment crowd has dwindled to 30 percent. Ten percent attribute both causes while six percent just don’t know.

The growth in the birth believers has come across all political and demographic groups. But over time it is most pronounced among college graduates, younger people (18 to 34), Democrats, other left-leaners and non-churchgoers. It’s also moving among conservatives, Republicans and churchgoers, but less so.

The shifts parallel a similar social movement regarding same-sex marriage. Today, a new high — more than two-thirds (67 percent) — favor same-sex marriages being legal, which is helpful if immaterial because the Supreme Court has already ruled that.

Gallup also recently found the percentage of Americans identifying as bisexual, gay, lesbian or transgender has increased to 4.5 percent, a one point jump since 2012. Of course, that could also represent simply more feeling comfortable publicly acknowledging their orientation rather han an actual increase.

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Parkland shooter: ‘When you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am’

Cell phone videos taken by Nikolas Cruz before the Parkland shooting show that he was planning the attack in detail and looking forward to people seeing him on the news. The Sun-Sentinel reports:

In three chilling cellphone video clips, at least one of which appears to have been recorded on the day of the Feb. 14 shooting, Cruz, 19, calmly outlines his plans.

“When you see me on the news you’ll know who I am,” he says, chuckling. “You’re all going to die. Pew pew pew pew pew. Ah yeah. Can’t wait.”…

“My name is Nik, and I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018,” he said. “My goal is at least 20 people.”…

“Today is the day. The day that it all begins. The day of my massacre shall begin,” Cruz says. “All the kids in school will run in fear and hide. From the wrath of my power they will know who I am.”…

Cruz offered only vague hints about his motive.

“I’ve had enough being told what to do and when to do. … Telling me I’m an idiot and a dumbass,” he says. “In real life, you’re all the dumbass. You’re all stupid and brainwashed.”

It seems to me the author of this piece is skipping over one obvious motive which Cruz mentioned repeatedly in these brief videos. First, everyone in school would know who he was. Second, everyone would see him on the news and know who he was. Third, in the last video below he says, “With the power of my AR, you will all know who I am.” He goes on to say, “You will all see. You will all know who my name is.”

Cruz seems pretty confident he’s about to become famous, so maybe we shouldn’t overlook that as part of his motive. As I suggested here, there’s a good argument to be made that school shooters, especially since Columbine, are inspired by the idea of becoming notorious killers. The media repeating their names and showing their faces on television, essentially making them instantly famous, inspires more troubled kids with few real prospects to aim for similar fame.

Watch this clip and notice that when he says “When you see me on the news you’ll know who I am,” is the only time he smiles. I’m contributing in a small way to that process but I think the larger issue is the network news and cable shows. I’m not looking for a any kind of law but maybe ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and Fox should consider not playing clips like this or referring to these shooters by name. If notoriety, even in death is their goal, maybe denying them that will result in fewer school shooters.

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Memorial Day: “The widow and the orphan”

As another Memorial Day dawns, I’m reminded that around this time last year Ed Morrissey asked the question, Have we forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day? I was doing some reading on the subject over the weekend and found that worries over a failure to properly honor this occasion don’t just stretch back for my entire life. The battle to keep to the intent of Memorial Day is essentially as old as the holiday itself.

Last year, Time Magazine put together a great historical piece on just that subject. The complaints about the fading purpose of the holiday actually began less than a score of years after the close of the Civil War. This was observed early on when the editors of the New York Tribune wrote in 1878, “It would be idle to deny that as individual sorrow for the fallen fades away the day gradually loses its best significance. The holiday aspect remains; how much longer the political character of the observance will linger we dare not guess.”

I suppose that their worries were, at least in some ways, valid. But the complete loss of the Memorial Day message never took place, proven by the fact that we’re still arguing over it 140 years later. Many people still do their best and we delight in telling the stories of folks who hew to the real meaning of the holiday, such as “The Good Cemeterian.” But the fact remains – as observed annually by so many others – that Memorial Day has largely become the opposite anchor to Labor Day. One marks the unofficial beginning of summer, the other the end of it.

This evolution of the holiday should probably give us pause if we’re out there having a barbeque today and partying down without any thought for the two categories of people who it was all supposed to be for. There are the Honored Dead, who fill places like Arlington, and then there are those who are left behind. Keep in mind that Memorial Day – or Decoration Day as it was long also called – was originally put in place as a permanent reminder of the more than 600,000 lives lost in the Civil War, later expanding to cover all the wars that followed.

Those who actually participated in the Civil War understood it best. Shortly after the holiday was made official, Union General John A. Logan wrote, “Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”

The phrase widow and orphan is the key takeaway here. This ties in with some of the observations Ed Morrissey made last year. Following World War 2, most of the country was either directly affected by the losses we sustained in the war or knew someone who was. But the shifting nature of our military leaves us today with only a tiny fraction of families who are connected by blood and tears to those who fight and, to this day, still sometimes die. Memorial Day, as General Logan said, is in place to not only remember the Honored Dead but to comfort those they left behind.

Most Americans can, if so inclined, go out to a cemetery today and stand in awe, seeing the flags marking the “passionless mounds” which cover the fallen. The reverence most feel is of an abstract nature, speaking to a general sense of gratitude and patriotism. But the spouses and children of the Honored Dead experience the day in a far more raw and wrenching fashion. There’s nothing theoretical about their pain and sense of loss. Yet when they see the rest of the nation joining them in placing flowers and flags, observing a moment of silence, we can at least hope that they take some comfort in the communal sense of mourning, assured yet again that their very real and rending sacrifice when they forever gave up their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, was not in vain.

The list of those who join the ranks of the Honored Dead in America has, thankfully, grown shorter year by year. But still, it grows. New names are added and every one of them leaves their own “soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan” behind. If you need a reason to keep hold of the original meaning of Memorial Day today, that should be more than enough.

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Robotic restaurant servers are already here

For quite some time now we’ve been discussing the possibility that a steadily and rapidly increasing minimum wage could drive many employers, particularly in the food and beverage industry, to look at automation and robotics to replace human servers and other staff. At a meeting of the National Restaurant Association in Chicago this week that subject was prominently featured, but it’s no longer being spoken of in strictly hypothetical terms. One company already has robot servers on the job, working in conjunction with kiosks or tablets where customers can place their orders themselves. The future of server jobs is here and her name is “Penny.” (CBS Chicago)

CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports restaurant servers of the future may soon look like R2D2.

The restaurant world prides itself on the personal touch, but Penny, the robotic server, could be moving in.

“They are meant to help servers do a lot of the routine monotonous tasks they have to do,” explains Juan Higueros of Bear Robotics.

The robotic servers can carry orders to tables or bring used plates back and forth to the kitchen. The restaurant’s floor plan is pre-programmed into their operating systems.

Penny is named after the character on the television show The Big Bang Theory who worked as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory. Watch her in action in this short video from the manufacturer, Bear Robotics.

The background on Bear Robotics is pretty interesting. It was founded by John Ha, who used to be an engineer at Google. He bought a Korean restaurant and quickly realized that he could be more efficient and profitable if he could automate a lot of the restaurant jobs. He created the robotic servers and formed Bear Robotics to provide them to the entire industry.

The problem for workers in the restaurant industry is that once the robotic genie is out of the bottle, it’s probably not going back in. Even if wage growth backed off and labor costs weren’t rising so steeply, the companies investing in this sort of technology have almost no incentive to turn back now. The only thing hindering the advancement of this technology in the past was the fact that human servers were cheap enough and the cost of automation was high. But once Penny is on the job, aside from a little downtime for maintenance and repairs, she’s ready to work every shift from here forward, never needing a break or a sick day. She doesn’t ask for a raise or go on strike for better conditions. And if the customers find the system appealing (or at least acceptable) then hiring more servers is pretty much a thing of the past.

I would miss the personal touch if this system came to our local, high-end eateries, but I’d probably get used to it eventually.

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Spain’s government is on the verge of major upheaval

Most of the news out of Spain lately has centered on their problems with the runaway province of Catalonia and their secession-minded government. The recent Catalan elections didn’t alleviate that situation to speak of so trouble is still brewing in that region. But now, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has a new headache to contend with. Rajoy is the leader of the Popular Party (PP) leading the governing coalition in Parliament. Unfortunately, that party was just found guilty of financially benefitting from a massive graft scheme which channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaign coffers.

This has led the opposition Socialist Party to file a motion calling for a vote of no-confidence. If the motion carries and Rajoy loses the vote, he could be facing new elections two years early and an exit from his office. (Yahoo News)

Spain’s Socialist Party on Saturday pledged to hold new elections within months if its attempt to unseat Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy with a parliamentary no-confidence vote succeeds.

The country’s biggest opposition party, led by Pedro Sanchez, filed the motion seeking Rajoy’s ouster in the 350-seat lower house of parliament on Friday.

No date has been set for the vote, but the bid is being taken seriously in Madrid where a legislative election is not due for another two years.

The surprise move came a day after Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a massive graft trial.

“The PP leadership is concerned and does not totally rule out that the number of votes needed to overturn the government could be found,” the La Razon newspaper, considered close to the PP, said on Saturday.

Here’s where things become additionally tricky for Rajoy. The PP coalition majority was never large to begin with and they’ve been losing ground lately. The corruption news sweeping the nation certainly won’t help that. In order to beat the vote of no-confidence, Rajoy may need to get the help of a new block of allies. But one of the only significant voting blocks up for grabs by either Rajoy’s PP or the Socialists is… guess who. The Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists.

How excited do you think the Catalan contingent will be about supporting Rajoy after he’s been busy throwing a bunch of their politicians in prison on charges of sedition following their independence referendum last year? If this motion to hold a vote of no-confidence goes through it’s expected to be tight, but there’s a very real chance that Rajoy could come out on the losing end. One other possibility is that new general elections could be called instead, and some of the other parties in Parliament are indicating they would prefer that choice to a vote in Parliament.

Of course, the last time Rajoy called for new elections they were only for Catalonia. That didn’t work out well for him at all. And after this new graft scandal, national elections might not go much better. It seems that the Spanish have joined the growing club of countries which have lived to see interesting times.

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