Before the vitriol-filled comments begin, let me say that I do not believe that one group’s religious views are a sufficient basis for denying other Americans their civil rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution.
In a San Francisco federal court today (see NPR, The Washington Post), a challenge to the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage will be heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, in a that case focuses on the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The United States Constitution provides the framework from which our civil liberties are derived, yet in the case of same-sex marriage, these rights are ignored and result in the violation of one group’s rights. Opponents argue that marriage is an institution of the church, and thus must be protected, but this argument is at odds with present-day legal realities and simultaneously conflicts with the First Amendment. At an even more basic level, denying one group a right afforded another violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
Continue reading A Constitutional Argument For Same-Sex Marriage
Last week, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case testing prosecutors’ immunity from lawsuits where misconduct, or outright fraud, is concerned. Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported on a lawsuit that seeks to test the limits of judicial immunity. While the two cases deal with very different circumstances, the potential outcomes raise many of the same concerns and highlight the need for reform.
Continue reading First Prosecutors, Now Judges – Is Reform Needed?
In the IRS’ ongoing battle against tax evasion, a key deadline is approaching. Individuals with previously-unreported offshore bank accounts have until next Wednesday, September 23, to disclose the accounts’ existence and pay both back taxes and penalties without facing criminal charges. The deadline comes as UBS prepared to turn over 4,450 account-holders’ names to the Department of Justice as part of the ongoing tax evasion investigation. Besides avoiding criminal penalties, individuals who voluntarily disclose their offshore accounts will not be subject to penalties for failing to file a Foreign Bank Account Report.
As Wendy Kaufman reported for NPR’s Morning Edition today, however, tax evasion cases can be hard to prove, making the decision to provide voluntary disclosure a particularly difficult one. Nonetheless, considering that the 4,450 names to be disclosed by UBS are just the starting point in the agreement between the Swiss and US governments, holders of undisclosed offshore accounts have reason to be concerned. Reflecting that concern, more than 400 voluntary disclosures were made in a single week in July of this year, more than were made in all of 2008.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, UBS plans to release the names of 4,450 Americans holding UBS accounts as part of its settlement with the US and Swiss governments. The initial release of 4,450 names represents only about half of the total identities the US hopes to receive from UBS. With this information, the IRS and Department of Justice can begin criminal tax-evasion proceedings against these individuals. At issue is an estimated $10 billion on which US income taxes were never paid. Simultaneously with the announcement that UBS was releasing the names, the Swiss government moved to sell shares it held in the bank. This is largely seen as a move to distance the Swiss government from UBS at a time when it is increasingly interjecting itself into the banks affairs.
While the release of names was not unexpected (see “UBS, Swiss Government Reach Settlement with IRS” and “UBS Troubles Spread to Hong Hong“), it represents a significant weakening of the once-infamous Swiss bank privacy laws. To combat this problem, the process by which the IRS will receive the names is a bit tedious. UBS will first turn the names over to the Swiss government’s tax administration for review, after which the names will be forwarded to the IRS and Department of Justice. To begin, 500 names will be released, with the remaining provided in batches in future months. For the thousands of American clients of UBS who now find themselves in the government’s crosshairs, there is a bit of hope.
Until September 23, 2009, the US government is accepting voluntary disclosure of the accounts not previously reported to the Treasury. Theoretically, those who volunteer their information will face less-stringent prosecution than those the IRS discovers on its own. Either way, many individuals are likely to face criminal prosecution for tax evasion. Given that the average size of the UBS accounts in question is approximately $1 million, the fines and penalties can be substantial. Already, the IRS has begun prosecuting some former clients of UBS and reached settlements with others.
For more detail on the settlement and more information regarding the ongoing negotiations between the US government and UBS, see the Journal’s original article, “UBS to Give 4,450 Names to US.”
Dow Jones Newswires reported yesterday that the U.S. Trade Commission is opening an investigation into potential patent infringement in the flash-memory market. According to the report, Pennsylvania-based BTG International, Inc. claims that Samsung Electronics infringed on its patents in the design of its flash-memory chips. If BTG’s claims are found to be true, Apple, Research in Motion (maker of the BlackBerry), Dell, Sony, and Lenovo (purchaser of IBM’s personal-computing line) could all find themselves paying royalties to BTG.
The core of BTG’s complaint, according to the Newswires report, is that it Samsung is infringing on its “patented methods by which flash memory can store multiple pieces of information per cell without becoming larger or more expensive.”
Given the lengthy nature of patent infringement disputes, this move is unlikely to have an immediate impact on either Samsung, BTG, or the companies using the allegedly-infringing devices. If, however, BTG’s claims are found to be true, Samsung and its customers may be forced to pay substantial royalties to BTG some time down the road. Samsung and its customers may be well-advised to take a page from Echostar’s book and redesign or replace the chips before the dispute ends up in court. Such a move would not necessarily end the litigation, but it could limit the monetary impact a finding in BTG’s favor might have.
Following the settlement between the IRS, UBS, and the Swiss government, the IRS probe now widens to include UBS’ operations in Hong Kong. According to court documents filed by the US government, UBS used Hong Kong-based entities to launder funds received from its American clients. As The Wall Street Journal reports, recent plea agreements negotiated between American clients of UBS and the US government are beginning to reveal how the Swiss bank serviced its US clients in its ellaborate efforts to help clients evade US taxes. As these plea agreements continue to be publicized, we should begin to better understand the extent of UBS’ illegal activities and, hopefully, the extent to which the Swiss bank swindled the American public. Remember, the evaded income tax revenue has to be made up somewhere, be it through borrowings (sales of US Treasury bills) or other taxes.
If you’re a fan of Fox’s Lie to Me or generally have an interest in detecting deception, NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston did an interesting piece for Morning Edition entitled “Spotting Lies: Listen, Don’t Look.”
For more information on the science behind detecting deception through facial expressions, see Dr. Paul Ekman’s site. Dr. Ekman is the forefather of the study of microexpressions. His site includes microexpression training exercises and a column breaking down the real and embellished aspects of Lie to Me.
As more and more aspects of our daily lives become dependent on technology, the US government is faced with mounting challenges surround cyberattacks that hearken back to last century’s nuclear arms race.
Cyberattacks, put simply, are any type of attack aimed at some type of technology, be it a computer network in an office building, the Internet, or telephone and satellite communications systems. Because so many of these technologies are integrated into everything from banking to communications to defense, cyberwarfare represents a potentially significant risk.
The New York Times featured an interesting article earlier this month about the US government’s 2003 deliberations and concerns regarding cyberwar entitled “Halted ’03 Iraq Plan Illustrates U.S. Fear of Cyberwar Risk.” As the article discusses, both cyber- and nuclear war present many similar concerns.
According to a federal jury in Boston, $675,000.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University student originally from Providence, RI, was ordered to pay between $750 and $30,000 per song for the 30 downloads, resulting in the $675,000 fine. Mr. Tenenbaum should be grateful though, as federal copyright law allows for up to a $150,000 fine per occurrence of infringement in this case. Had that been the case, the fine could have been as much as $4.5 million.
Compared with Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesota woman fined $1.9 million in June for downloading 24 songs, Joel Tenenbaum got off easy. In Thomas-Rasset’s case, she was originally fined a total of $220,000. Upon appeal, the jury awarded the music industry association, RIAA, the much larger fine of $1.9 million.
Of the 30,000 copyright infringement lawsuits brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), only these two cases have gone to trial according to the Associated Press.
As part of its Friday News Roundup, Jackie Lyden and guests will discuss the White House beer summit. Listen online starting at 10 am EDT.