US Sues Sprint For Overbilling For Surveillance Services

Monday, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit in a district
court, claiming Sprint knowingly charged $21 million extra in
spying fees between 2007 and 2010.

Sprint, the telecommunications provider, complied with court
orders to wiretap for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, and other government agencies. It charged
the U.S. government reimbursement fees for the costs of complying
with wiretaps and intercepts.

But the government finds fault with this. The U.S. points to the
Communications Assistance in Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a law
that makes wiretapping more manageable for law
enforcement agencies. Associated Press
explains
:

In 1994, lawmakers passed a law requiring communication
companies to upgrade their equipment and facilities to ensure they
can comply with court orders seeking wiretaps of their
customers. 

Section 103 of the law says that carriers are “prohibited from
using their intercept charges to recover the costs of modifying
equipment, facilities or services that were incurred,” U.S.
attorneys wrote in the
complaint. But Sprint did charge for these services, and it led to
a 58 percent hike in expenses for the federal government.

The Electric Frontier Foundation, in a FAQ disputing the law,
argued that
demanding telecommunication companies pick up the tab for
government’s surveillance expenses is unreasonable. Added costs for
the carrier are most likely passed on to the consumer. “Quite
literally,” it reads, “consumers would be subsidizing the
surveillance state.”

Regardless, Sprint thinks that the law rolls in its favor and
that the government must pony up for the added expenses incurred.
Sprint
issued
a statement to Ars Technica:

Under the law, the government is required to reimburse Sprint
for its reasonable costs incurred when assisting law enforcement
agencies with electronic surveillance. The invoices Sprint has
submitted to the government fully comply with the law.

The U.S. seeks $63 million, or triple the costs incurred, if
Sprint is found guilty.

The telecommunications company will
challenge
the lawsuit, “We have fully cooperated with this
investigation and intend to defend this matter vigorously.”

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Alabama House Passes Ban on Abortion After 6 Weeks

The Alabama House of Representives
passed four separate abortion measures Tuesday
, one of which
would practically end abortion in the state by making the procedure
illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can happen as
early as six weeks into pregnancy—i.e., before many women even
realize they’re with child. The other abortion bills approved
Tuesday would: 

None of the latter three measures are likely to significantly
impact the abortion rate in Alabama (their ostensible goal). But
they do make the process more burdensome for those seeking
abortions, in keeping with anti-choice legislators’ punitive
bureaucracy strategy. The
ban on abortions after six weeks
is also unlikely to impact
abortion rates, considering it will almost certainly be stymied by
the courts. Enforcement of similar bans in North Dakota and
Arkansas have been halted by federal judges.

So it’s not time to get all
worked up about lack of abortion access in Alabama
yet—but it
is time for noting that, once again, legislators are wasting energy
on something they know full well is absolutely futile. Good
job, guys!
You’ve made Alabama uteri exactly zero percent
safer for fetuses, all while wasting time and taxpayer
money
… As Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) told her fellow
lawmakers:

“We already know this is unconstitutional before you even vote
on it. But you decide you want to vote on this so you can go back
home and say, ‘Look what I did.'”

Or so their’s can be the match that finally sparks a Supreme
Court challenge. Interestingly, the lawmakers behind the heartbeat
bill are making no qualms about admitting this is their strategy.
Generally, supporters of clearly unconstitutional abortion
restrictions will swear ’til they’re blue in the face that their
sole motive is babies/women/safety in their state. But Alabama
House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) and other supporters of the
measure admitted outright that their intent is to overturn Roe
v. Wade

The four measures will now go to the state Senate. 

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Meet “Goldfinger” – The $850k Motorcycle with “Many Buyers Interested”

Welcome back to pre-financial crisis insanity levels. I recall one of the wildest stories I read back in early 2008 near the height of the oil price bubble was about how the wealthy in the UAE were spending tens of millions of dollars on license plates. Yes, just your regular aluminum license plates. The most insane example of this was the $14.3 million paid for one in particular.

Well the stupidity is back, and this time it’s coming in the form of $850,000 motorcycles.

CNBC reports that:

It wasn’t that long ago that the first $1 million car was news. Now, a two-wheel vehicle is about to hit seven figures.

The motorcycle, called “Goldfinger,” was plated with 24-karat gold and covered with 250 small diamonds totaling more than 7 carats. The seat is upholstered with what the company calls a “unique cognac-colored crocodile skin” and the bike’s parts—859 of them—were individually gold-plated by hand.

It was shown at special events in Monaco and Dubai, before a private buyer snapped it up.

The sale price: $850,000.

Uffe Lauge Jensen, the company’s founder and chief creator, declined to comment on the buyer or even the buyer’s country. But he said there were many buyers interested in Goldfinger despite the price.

“It was very popular,” he said.

But Lauge Jensen said he’s already working on something bigger. Though he’s vague on specifics, he said he’s working with a customer on a motorcycle that could easily top $1 million. Basically, he said, it’s a piece of jewelry on two wheels.

Can we finally stop persecuting the poor billionaire oligarchs already?

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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Meet “Goldfinger” – The $850k Motorcycle with “Many Buyers Interested” originally appeared on A Lightning War for Liberty on March 5, 2014.

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DEA: “Every Single Parent” Opposes Pot Legalization. Except For All the Ones That Don’t.

Thomas Harrigan (above) is deputy administrator of the Drug
Enforcement Adminstration (DEA).

Yesterday, reports
The Huffington Post
, he told the House Services Committee
that “Marijuana destroys lives and
families, undermines our economy, and insults our common
values.” 

When pressed by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) to define those
“common values” -especially since a majority of Americans support
pot legalization – Harrigan softened his stance:

…pressed by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Harrigan said that
“every single parent out there” opposed marijuana legalization.

“Your statement that all parents are against this is ludicrous,”
said Cohen. “What do you think, that people who are in favor of
decriminalization or changing policy don’t procreate?”

Harrigan later adjusted his statement, claiming that “most
parents would be opposed to this.” When Cohen pointed out that 55
percent of Americans now support legalization, Harrigan asked if
all of them were parents. He insisted he had based his opinions on
“medical and scientific fact, and not public opinion.”

“You haven’t kept up with society, you haven’t kept up with
science, it’s part of the problem,” Cohen told Harrigan.


More at HuffPost
.

Even the try-hard prohibitionists at The Partnership for a
Drug-Free America admit that some (read: many) parents
support legalization
.

This seems like a good time to repost our 2010 video, “3 Reasons
to Legalize Pot Now!”

Bonus points if you can identify the music being played during
this discussion of the “hula hoop of the Jet Generation.”

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Ban the Dollar!

What a boring tie.Left libertarianish Rep. Jared Polis
(D-Colo.) has resorted to satire in defense of Bitcoin. In response
to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sending a letter to Federal Reserve
head Janet Yellen and other officials calling on them to
ban bitcoins
because it can be used for illegal transactions,
Polis sent a letter seeking to ban dollars. He
notes
:

By way of background, a physical dollar bill is a printed
version of a dollar note issued by the Federal Reserve and backed
by the ephemeral “full faith and credit” of the United States.
Dollar bills have gained notoriety in relation to illegal
transactions; suitcases full of dollars used for illegal
transactions were recently featured in popular movies such as
American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club, as well as the gangster
classic, Scarface, among others. Dollar bills are present in nearly
all major drug busts in the United States and many abroad.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice study, “Crime in the
United States,” more than $1 billion in cash was stolen in 2012, of
which less than 3% was recovered. The United States’ Dollar was
present by the truck load in Saddam Hussein’s compound, by the
carload when Noriega was arrested for drug trafficking, and by the
suitcase full in the Watergate case. 

Unlike digital currencies, which are carbon neutral allowing us
to breathe cleaner air, each dollar bill is manufactured from
virgin materials like cotton and linen, which go through extensive
treatment and processing. Last year, the Federal Reserve had to
destroy $3 billion worth of $100 bills after a “printing error.”
Certainly this cannot be the greenest currency.

Printed pieces of paper can fit in a person’s pocket and can be
given to another person without any government oversight. Dollar
bills are not only a store of value but also a method for
transferring that value. This also means that dollar bills allow
for anonymous and irreversible transactions.

This sarcastic response is familiar ground for any bitcoin
supporter, but it’s interesting coming from the pen of a
congressman.

As for Yellen, she’s already said the Federal Reserve has

no authority
to regulate bitcoins.

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Baltimore Cops Illegally Delete Cellphone Images: City to Settle for $250,000, Disputes Allegations

this image thankfully not deletedThe city of Baltimore is set to approve a
settlement for $250,000 next week over a 2010 incident where
Baltimore cops confiscated Christopher Sharp’s cellphone and
deleted images from his phone, explaining to him that it was
illegal to videotape people in the state of Maryland. It’s not,
which is why the city government is ready to settle, with
taxpayers’ money, while not accepting legal responsibility.

CBS in Baltimore reports the details of the incident
:

Christopher Sharp was recording an arrest at the
Preakness almost four years ago when officers got angry.

“Do me a favor and turn that off. It’s illegal to videotape a
person’s voice or anything else. It’s against the law in the state
of Maryland,” an officer told Sharp.

It’s not, and Sharp claims officers illegally confiscated his phone
and deleted other images from it, leading him to file suit with the
help of the ACLU.

“If this is happening to me, I can’t imagine what’s happening to
other people,” Sharp said.

Indeed. CBS reported that the ACLU didn’t want to speak ahead of
the actual settlement being approved, but the station did talk to
Carlos Miller, of the Photography is Not a Crime blog, an essential
resource on police misconduct and cameras. Miller told them these
kinds of cases usually don’t settle for more than $100,000. And why
would city officials in Baltimore, and other cities rife with
police abuse, try to pay for mistakes themselves, by accepting
responsibility and firing people, when they can make taxpayers do
it, apparently without fearing retribution at the polls?

Sharp and other Marylanders should consider themselves lucky in
at least this respect: other states, like Illinois,
consider the harmless and actually good-for-accountability act of
videotaping a police officer felony wiretapping.

Reason did a report
on the nationwide war on cameras
in the January 2011 issue, and
you can watch the related Reason TV video below:

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John Glaser: Russia Didn’t Invade Ukraine Because of US ‘Weakness’

Obama and PutinOne of
the more vivid political talking points to come out of Washington
in the midst of Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine is that
Russian President Vladimir Putin carried out such provocative
actions because Obama’s failure to enforce his “red line” on Syria
and commence with a bombing campaign this past fall signaled to
Putin he would not face consequences. Whenever the United States
fails to act with violence abroad—a rarity, writes John Glaser—you
have politicians and pundits howling about America’s “credibility”
being at stake. But anyone who actually believes Putin took
military action in Ukraine because Obama backed away from his plans
to bomb Syria illegally, doesn’t know anything about international
relations.

View this article.

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On Sentencing Reform, Are Libertarian-Leaning Republicans Joining Holder, or Is It the Other Way Around?

A story that ran on the front page of yesterday’s
New York Times describes
an “unlikely” alliance between Attorney General Eric Holder and
libertarian-leaning Republicans that “may make politically possible
the most significant liberalization of sentencing laws since
President Richard M. Nixon declared war on drugs.” The
Times is right that the alliance is significant, but
its gloss on the motivation of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and
other Republican reformers is a bit misleading:

For Mr. Holder, addressing sentencing laws is central to a
second-term agenda that also includes defending voting rights and
same-sex marriage. Black Americans have disproportionately received
lengthy prison terms and are extremely overrepresented in the
inmate population.

Libertarian-minded Republicans see long prison sentences as an
ineffective and expensive way to address crime.

Shorter version: Holder wants justice, while Republicans are in
it for the money. Yet Paul has passionately and eloquently
condemned the injustices caused by mandatory minimum sentences. At
a Senate hearing last September, he
said
:

The injustice of mandatory minimums is impossible to ignore when
you hear the stories of the victims….There is no justice here. It
is wrong and needs to change.

During the same hearing Paul highlighted the racially
disproportionate impact of mandatory minimums:

If I told you that one out of three African-American males is
[prohibited] by law from voting, you might think I was talking
about Jim Crow, 50 years ago. Yet today a third of African-American
males are still prevented from voting because of the war on drugs.
The war on drugs has disproportionately affected young black males.
The ACLU reports that blacks are four to five times more likely to
be convicted for drug possession, although surveys indicate that
blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate. The majority of
illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, but
three-fourths of the people in prison for drug offenses are African
American or Latino.

Paul took up the same theme in an April 2013
speech
at Howard University. Furthermore, the sentencing reform
bill that Paul and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced last March
goes farther than the bill
approved
by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, which is
the one the Obama administration is backing. The Paul-Leahy bill,
known as the Justice
Safety Valve Act
, would effectively make mandatory
minimums optional, authorizing judges to depart from them in the
interest of justice. By contrast, the Smarter
Sentencing Act
, introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
and Mike Lee (R-Utah) last July, would make the 2010
reductions in crack sentences retroactive, cut the mandatory
minimums for certain drug offenses in half, and loosen the criteria
for the “safety valve” that allows some defendants to escape
mandatory minimums. Those are
important reforms
, but they are substantially less
ambitious than the change proposed by Paul, who told the Senate
Judiciary Committee, “I am here to ask that we begin today the end
of mandatory minimum sentencing.”

In short, while Holder deserves credit for
decrying
and seeking to ameliorate the harm caused by our
excessively punitive criminal justice system, he does not have a
monopoly on sympathy for people who do not belong in prison,
outrage at their predicament, or concern about the relationship
between skin color and draconian sentences. If anything, Rand’s
record on these points is stronger.

Looking beyond sentencing policy, the civil libertarian
credentials of Paul and several of his Republican allies are also
impressive, especially when compared to the Obama administration’s.
The Times notes that they “have accused the Obama
administration of trampling on personal freedom with drones,
wiretaps, tracking devices and too much government.” In fact, “Some
Republicans say that they are the ones being consistent on matters
of protecting liberties, and that Mr. Holder’s push for changes to
the sentencing laws is a step in their direction, not the other way
around.”

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‘Avalanche Of Time-Wasting Paperwork For Doctors’ in Government’s ICD-10 Coding Scheme

ICD-10Ready for another bureaucratic
headache? On October 1 of this year, under federal government
rules, most medical providers and insurers will have to switch over
to
ICD-10
, a new coding system for patient diagnoses and inpatient
procedures. The new standard has almost ten times as many codes as
ICD-9, which it supersedes. That’s supposed to allow for greater
precision. It also increases complexity, however,
as I’ve reported
, and has the health industry concerned over
confusion and costs in the course of the massive transition.

The ICD-10 changeover would be daunting no matter what, but the
hard deadline plays a big role in fears. Last week, Marilyn
Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services,
insisted that the deadline is firm and fast
(it was already
delayed once), though CMS may allow for some hardship exceptions.
That’s not really calming anybody, as Grace-Marie Turner and Tyler
Hartsfield of the free-market Galen Institute note in an
op-ed for Investors Business Daily
which refers to
ICD-10 as an “avalanche of time-wasting paperwork for doctors.”

Dr. Susan Turner, president and CEO of Medical Group Management
Association (MGMA), says the transition will be “one of the most
complex and expensive changes our health care system has faced in
decades.”

The ICD-9 has about 17,000 codes, while the new ICD-10 will have
more than 140,000. These cumbersome new administrative
responsibilities will take away from the time doctors can spend
with their patients. …

In a recent letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Dr. James
Madara, CEO of the American Medical Association, said it will cost
a small practice up to $226,000 to comply. And there is no
opportunity to phase in the new system and iron out glitches. (We
saw how this worked out with the ObamaCare website … )

Because this coding system directly facilitates payments,
physicians who do not transition on time will experience a delay or
cessation of payments. To weather this transition, CMS suggests
that small and medium-size practices should have access to “reserve
funds or lines of credit to offset cash flow challenges.”

Turner and Hartsfield refer to Canada’s somewhat speed-bumpy
transition to ICD-10 a decade ago. That changeover,
according to Carl Natale of HealthCareITNews
, was
staggered over the period from 2001 to 2005. Natale cites Gillian
Price, who was a consultant for Canadian healthcare organizations
during the transition.

Speaking of productivity, it tanked. The reduction ranged from
23 percent to 50 percent. And Price said productivity never fully
recovered. There was no way it could given the complexity of the
new codes and the changes needed in the healthcare
organizations.

Natale’s 2011 article doesn’t bash the new coding system, but it
does provide some hard lessons acquired over a phased-in adoption
of the system. It’s hard to see how the American experience,
planned for one day while the system is already reeling from
Obamacare, will be easier.

As it turns out, my wife and her fellow pediatric providers are
spending their lunch today going over ICD-10 changes at the local
hospital. They’re not even affiliated with the hospital—my wife’s
practice is independent—but they round on newborns whose parents
pick them as their pediatricians. In the course of rounding, they
need to know a couple of codes that will update with the new
system. That apparently requires an hour-long meeting.

The rest of ICD-10 my wife is handling in-house, including
training, updating her electronic health records system, and
socking away cash reserves. So far, she’s pretty confident in her
preparations. She’s leaning on payers on whom she relies
(**cough** Medicaid **cough**) to test their
systems.

October 1 is also supposed to be the next deadline after which
health plans must be Obamacare compliant to be renewed,
if that isn’t delayed
.

For people who like watching bureaucratic trainwrecks, this
promises to be an interesting year.

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Sampling the Obama Budget’s Revenue Raisers

President Obama’s budget proposes raising tax
revenue above its historical average over the next decade in order
to pay for federal spending. So where does all the new revenue come
from? Tax hikes and tax-code changes on high earners, the energy
industry, tobacco, and more.

The Cato Institute’s Nicole Kaeding samples a
few of the revenue raisers in the new White House budget
plan: 

  • Buffet Tax” ($53 billion): President Obama resurrected this tax
    that would require high-income individuals to pay at least 30% of
    their income in taxes.
  • Limiting tax teduction ($598 billion): President Obama would
    also limit the value of itemized deductions for high-income
    earners.
  • Changes to the “Death Tax” ($131 billion): The president
    suggests going back to the estate tax rules of 2009 which would
    increase the marginal tax rate on estates and lower the exemption,
    subjecting more assets to taxation.
  • Changes to oil and gas taxation ($44 billion): Frequently
    criticized by the president, these tax provisions are not subsidies
    to oil and gas companies, but instead ameliorate the tax code’s
    improper treatment of capital expenditures.
  • Changes to international taxation ($276 billion): Instead of
    moving the United States to a territorial tax system like the rest
    of the industrialized world, the president proposes further raising
    taxes on corporation with overseas earnings.
  • Cap on 401(k)/IRA Contributions ($28 billion): This provision
    would prohibit individuals from contributing to retirement accounts
    if the balance is greater than $3 million.
  • Increase in tobacco taxes ($78 billion): To pay for his
    universal pre-k proposal, President Obama would increase the
    tobacco tax from $1.10/pack to $1.95/pack.

The folks at Americans for Tax Reform have more detail on the
energy tax changes
here

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