5 Respected Nations That Straight Rob People Who Live There
People love to complain about the government "taking" our hard-earned money, but usually they're just bitching about high taxes, or the fact that they had to pay a fine for driving 75 mph through a school zone, on a motorcycle, while fully nude. But if they look a little closer, they'll see that there are plenty of cases of the government just outright stealing from people, and it's almost always those who can afford it the least. We're talking about ...
Charging Criminal Defendants for Their Own Trials
Every single person reading this knows that if you're accused of a crime in America, you'll be provided with a lawyer if you can't afford your own (it's in every cop show, shouted by the detective at the dramatic moment of arrest). That's because in the 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forcing poor people to defend themselves in criminal court violates the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to a fair trial and an attorney. So you can imagine people's surprise when they got a bill.
That's right: Today, defendants in criminal cases are required to pay for public defenders, jury trials, and buttloads of other non-punitive court costs.
"There's a $445 surcharge for Justice statue polish, but if that's too steep we can
just use your blood instead."
How in the hell can they get away with that? To find the answer, we must hop in our DeLoreans and revisit the 1980s, when incarcerations increased sevenfold thanks to the wars on crime and drugs, respectively. America quickly discovered that taking care of that many prisoners is fucking expensive. Add in the fact that state legislatures were simultaneously chopping vital dollars from the criminal justice system in order to avoid politically unsavory tax hikes, and suddenly charging defendants for flamboyant luxuries such as their constitutionally guaranteed lawyers and jury trials became an easy way to make up the difference.
As a result, laws in over 40 states have since transformed the criminal justice system into a revenue-generating racket. Criminal defendants aren't only charged for legal representation but also for basic needs such as healthcare, prison stays, ankle monitors, tape to piece America's shredded Bill of Rights back together, and tissues to absorb a bald eagle's tears. If you're too jobless, too homeless, or too sick to cough up the cash, too bad. You should've thought about that before getting accused of breaking the law (the burden of proof is still on the prosecutor, remember).
"The city's totally over budget, sir. We need to cut either Flag Day,
or the values it represents."
In places like Benton County, Washington, about a quarter of the cases heard each day deal exclusively with jailing people who couldn't afford to pay the court costs for such unconscionable transgressions as stealing a $2 can of oat soda. Hell, in states like Virginia, Florida (surprise!), and North Carolina, defendants can be slapped with more than $1,000 per charge filed against them. Confronted with a tidal wave of costs, many simply forego such limousine luxuries as an adequate defense altogether. However, there are alternatives for defendants who can't cough up the money for their defense -- any person facing these fees can perform community service to have the costs forgiven ... provided they can afford the community service participation fee, that is.
Charging People to Report Crimes
Imagine you're a Londoner, and you step out of your flat one morning to do a bit of driving on the completely wrong side of the road, as is your custom. However, you notice that your car is no longer where you parked it -- somebody rode off with it during the night, leaving you with nothing but an empty parking space to stare at in the sober light of dawn. Thinking quickly, you call the cops to report it, thankful that you have enough money in your bank account to report the crime.
That's right -- for years, a third of U.K. government bodies including the police department, city council offices, crime victim support services, and even financial aid helplines, charged a premium rate as high as 45 pence per minute (roughly 70 cents in American money) to anyone with the gall to call them. Imagine if 9-1-1 charged you the same rates as a phone-sex line, except instead of talking to a sexy voice, you're paying for the privilege to call the police about that guy that just broke into your house and refuses to stop stabbing you.
"Could you hang on a minute? I'm having trouble entering my credit card number in this light."
Government agencies raked in a whopping 56 million pounds a year by cashing in on the tears and tribulations of over 130 million callers. That's not a joke, either -- virtually every institution requiring its callers to dial a premium number deals with some kind of personal hardship, including the Victim Support hotline (a charity for victims of crime), the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Bereavement Service, for people struggling with the loss of a loved one. Somehow, it gets worse -- in the first quarter of 2013, the average wait time for a person calling the revenue office for tax help was seven minutes, meaning that a person paying 45 pence per minute would have spent more than 3 pounds to listen to their own exasperated breathing before they even got to begin speaking to someone. That's like the DMV charging you an extra fee to wait in line.
On second thought, maybe it wasn't a good idea to publish that where
anyone from the DMV could see.
Thankfully, the U.K. Cabinet Office finally recognized the shamelessly exploitative practice as being "inappropriate." Now, most important bodies are being forced to charge normal phone rates and offer web-based contact options, so the next time your hypothetical car gets stolen you'll only incur a single 15-pence charge. Other services, like the previously mentioned Victim Support, even offer a toll-free number, provided you aren't calling them from a cellphone. Cellphone calls still cost up to 40 pence per minute.
Straight-Up Robbing Citizens' Savings Accounts
The Australian government took the expression "use it or lose it" as an excuse to go full Swayze on the bank accounts of people who do silly, frivolous things, like put their money into a bank to earn interest. In an effort to help reduce the country's estimated $15 billion deficit, the Australian government seized funds from private citizens' bank accounts that they deemed inactive. This bold moneymaking tactic is more commonly referred to as "bank robbery."
The lesson, as always: The secret to getting away with grand larceny is a power suit.
They've been at this for decades, transferring the money from accounts that went unused for seven years or longer to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission under the premise that it prevented people from losing forgotten funds to bank fees, because apparently they're under the impression that forgetting about a huge sum of money is a widespread issue, and that people would much rather donate their personal fortune to the government than be forced to pay standard operation fees. However, in the face of looming budget problems, the federal government decided to crank that money expiration date forward to three years. That's right -- leaving your money untouched in a bank for just three years, a process generally known as having a savings account, means forfeiting it to the government.
We're estimating that warrants to raid your couch for loose change are about four years off.
This spectacular decision resulted in the Australian government plucking $360 million from over 80,000 bank accounts over a one-year period. Let's put that in perspective -- before the rule change, the government claimed a grand total of $330 million between the years 1959 and 2012. So, in just one year, they've annexed the same amount of money from people's personal accounts that they previously collected over the course of half a century.
Needless to say, this initiative has been a sandpaper handjob for people with retirement funds, college funds, and literally any kind of long-term savings account and other savings. However, you can reclaim your money ... assuming you both received and remembered to record the special transaction number that was sent to you via snail mail; pick the right bank, building society, or credit union to contact from a 28-page list; and present that institution with the requested proof that you're the rightful account holder. Basically, the government takes your money without pretense and makes you jump through hoops to prove that it was your money in the first place.
"OK, almost done. Now I just need you to fill out these forms in triplicate, submit a DNA
sample, and capture a live unicorn, then you're good to go."
Their practice robbed 68-year-old Connie Franze of the $12,000 she had spent 45 years saving up, part of which she intended to use to go visit her mother in Italy, but don't worry -- Franze's mother died soon after, so it turns out she didn't need the money anyway.
On a similarly depressing note ...
Making Children Pay Their Dead Parents' Debts
Mary Grice was expecting a nice tax refund. But rather than opening her tax return to find a check with a series of numbers printed on it that would soon be translated into a flat-screen television (or, you know, food), Grice found a letter stating that her money had been intercepted to satisfy an old debt to the government. An old debt that wasn't even hers, but her dead mother's. It seems Grice's mother had been overpaid for Social Security benefits ... in 1977.
Luckily, that's illegal. Or at least it used to be. See, the thing about Congress is, they get to decide what is or isn't legal. And thanks to a small change in wording while renewing the Farm Bill, Congress heroically agreed to end the government's practice of not holding people accountable for debts older than 10 years. As a result, people like Mary Grice started noticing holes in their tax refunds the size of their dead relatives' debts.
"Steamboat registration late fee?"
"But wait!" you might be saying. "That 'debt' was her mother's, and was actually the government's mistake!" Well, don't worry, the government thought of that, too. Citing the legal precedent of "We make all of the rules in this country," the federal government insisted that Social Security debts could be grandfathered over to a person's children, because the children benefited from those overpayments (incidentally, the payments Grice's mother was receiving were being doled out from her dead husband's Social Security fund to help her raise five children). And, obviously, the best way to collect on this sort of debt is to make a half-hearted effort to contact the newly elected debtor (a notice about the debt was mailed to a post office box Grice had closed 35 years ago) before garnishing both their federal and state refund checks.
"Your loss is our gain on, like, multiple levels."
Jacking people's refunds is big business for the government, and by no means a new practice -- they skimmed over a billion dollars off of refund checks last year to satisfy several outstanding balances of varying legitimacy. Around $75 million of that was from debts over 10 years old -- thanks to that new wording in the Farm Bill, the government went hog wild saddling people with debts that included ones incurred by their parents back when they weren't even old enough to drive. Even better, when countless people called to point out that they had no idea they owed any money, the government couldn't (or wouldn't) provide any actual documents or records of the debts. Grice's total refund was over $4,000, and her mother's disco-era debt was $2,996. Despite the fact that $4,000 is clearly a larger number, the government kept her entire refund to teach her a lesson about being the child of a widow.
Pictured: The easy life, apparently.
Luckily, the practice was exposed by the Washington Post and the government quickly backpedaled, officially agreeing that extorting people for their parents' decades-old debts was a shitty thing to do.
Using "Suspected Illegal Immigrants" as a Massive Pool of Cheap Labor
In recent years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (whom we'll hereafter refer to by their 1990s hip-hop name, ICE) has been cracking down on the practice of hiring undocumented immigrants for exploitative wages, issuing 12 times as many fines to companies caught hiring undocumented immigrants as they did under the Bush administration. On the surface, this might seem like they have the immigrants' best interests in mind. That is, until you consider the fact that, in 2013, the federal government was by far the main employer of suspected illegal immigrants, putting more than 60,000 to work in various private and state-run detention centers around the country. Remember that phrase "suspected illegal immigrants," because we're going to come back to it in a minute.
Hey, it's not like the U.S. holds people indefinitely without charges on suspicion ... right?
See, ICE has teamed up with various detention centers to round up any immigrants who might be in the country illegally and put them to work mopping detention center floors, doing laundry, preparing meals, etc., for about a dollar a day. You might recognize this as "exploiting illegal immigrants for slave wages," which is the exact thing ICE exists to prevent. The practice saves the federal government about $40 million a year, a sum that would have normally been wasted on paying people a fair wage for menial labor.
OK, so remember how we said the federal government was the largest employer of "suspected illegal immigrants"? That word "suspected" is important -- it means that many of the people working in these programs aren't actually guilty of anything, and indeed haven't even been charged with a crime. In fact, almost half of all people held at these centers came to the U.S. legally, and wind up being released after months of working for as little as 13 cents an hour while still being expected to pay any and all legal fees related to their imprisonment and nationalization. Pedro Guzman, for example, was a legal immigrant wrongfully detained due to a clerical error for 19 months in the detention work program, and was finally released only to be hit with a dick-hammering bill of $75,000 in legal fees.
More commonly known as the "Foreign Name" tax.
The government claims that the program is totally voluntary, despite the fact that numerous detainees insist they've been threatened with deportation and solitary confinement if they refuse to be put to work. That's an accusation that, let's face it, is pretty damned easy to believe.
For more bizarre actions by the government, check out 5 Ways U.S. Democracy Is More Rigged Than You Think and 4 Astounding Screw-Ups Government Workers Failed to Notice.
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