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Deadly California Wildfires Spark Debate About Government Spending: New at Reason

The debate over spending in the wake of the California wildfires is already contentious.

Steven Greenhut writes:

In the days before Facebook and other social media, it was a matter of course to wait a few days after tragedies strike before making political and policy points about the latest event. We always need to show compassion for the suffering—and wait until more of the facts roll in before getting up on that soapbox.

At the OC Register, we used to refer to the late editorial writer Alan Bock as “Reverend Bock” because he was so good at offering condolences rather than lectures. But, ultimately, it’s the role of opinion writers to provide constructive policy advice after destructive events. We see this following the Las Vegas massacre this month, where gun availability became an understandable topic, and after recent hurricanes, where relief efforts received scrutiny.

Now, it’s time to think about wildfires. It’s hard not to think about them in northern and Southern California. My house is 80 miles from Napa Valley, yet the air is thick with smoke. Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. At least 41 people have died and hundreds are missing as 16 fires engulf more than 160,000 acres in a heavily urbanized area. More than 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, including wineries.

This is terribly sad. Anything one says about other people’s misery comes across as inadequate or trite, but we should have heavy hearts for what our fellow Californians are going through. Wildfires are, of course, a regular occurrence. The fields and woods typically are dry this time of year. It gets windy. Power lines fall. Wildfires spread like, well, wildfire.

What should we learn for next time?

View this article.

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Brickbat: Such Teeth, Dear

A man dressed as a shark to promote the new McShark electronics store in Vienna was fined under Austria’s new anti-burqa law. The man received a $176 fine when he refused to remove his shark head for having his face covered in public.

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Was Your Phone Used in Connection with a Crime? Then Federal Agents Can Steal Your House.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has offered up a new twist on “asset forfeiture,” the practice of taking property from citizens not convicted of a crime (the horrible, unjust uses of that policy is something one can read about here at Reason with great (and depressing) regularity).

The Intercept reported this month laughable (if it couldn’t harm so many innocent people) guidelines in an ICE manual for agents to maximize the amount they can steal from citizens without ever convicting them of any crime in a court of law.

ICE is part of Homeland Security, which, as Intercept reports, “seizes millions of dollars in assets through the course of investigations — everything from cash and houses, to boats and cars….the revenue is also used to award and reimburse state and local law enforcement agencies that participate in federal seizure-related investigations, which those agencies then use to purchase equipment, weapons, and other law enforcement technology.”

ICE “leads the way both in seizures feeding into the fund and in payments doled out to state and local law enforcement.”

That is, law enforcement can institutionally profit by stealing property from citizens who may not have ever been convicted of a crime. The handbook Intercept intercepted has “extensive discussion of how agents should painstakingly determine whether a property is valuable enough to make seizure worthwhile.”

The manual describes, in telling and infuriating detail, the niggling level to which agents are instructed to make a quasi-legal excuse for blatant theft:

The manual instructs agents to perform drive-by viewings of property, as well as “post-and-walk” viewings — a measure ICE calls “potentially one of the most important steps in the seizure/forfeiture process.” In the case of post-and-walk viewings, ICE agents obtain a warrant allowing them to search a property’s premises, and are instructed to bring along a private real estate expert to help appraise the property’s value…

And if the house wasn’t connected to any crime, well, maybe, just maybe, the agent can find a phone on the premises that was.

If so, a big hurrah for the cops and their campaign against crime (and against citizens’ property)! Connecting the phone to a crime, in and of itself, can be enough: “The manual instructs agents seeking to seize a property to work with confidential informants, scour tax records, and even obtain an interception warrant to determine whether ‘a telephone located on the property was used to plan or discuss criminal activity’ in order to justify seizing the property.”

While the handbook was dated 2010, Intercept confirmed with ICE that it represents up to date policy and practices, which continue to be evil.

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