A 28-year-old hacker named Fidel Salinas is currently serving a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of computer fraud and abuse. What’s interesting is that only a few months before, he was faced with 44 felony charges of hacking and cyber stalking. All of his felony charges were later dismissed, and now that his case is dealt with, he feels he can tell his side of the story.
FBI Approaches Salinas
In January of 2012, police executed a search warrant and raided Salinas’ home for allegedly attempting to hack the Hidalgo County official website. He was arrested, with all of his computer equipment seized and later released on bail. Salinas says that in May of 2013, the FBI told him to come and retrieve his seized equipment. However, when Salinas and his wife arrived, he claims to have been put in a room and questioned for six hours, while his wife, who was pregnant at the time, was left to wait in the lobby.
During his interrogation, Salinas claims that they asked him to use his skills to gather information on Mexican drug cartels, and government officials who had taken bribes from the cartels. In an interview with Wired, Salinas recited the following account with and agent.
Agent: “We think you can help us. You can help us stop some of this corruption and stop the cartels.”
Salinas: “I’m not going to snitch,”
They insisted that they weren’t asking him to inform on his friends or Anonymous associates.
Agent: “Think of it like this, you have a superpower, and you should use your superpower to help us help people.”
Salinas refused to cooperate.
Four months later, the first charge was brought upon him. Six months after that, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, adding 13 more counts. And a month later, 30 more counts were brought before him, making it a total of 44 felony charges, 18 of which were for cyberstalking an unnamed victim. Each of those charges were based on a single instance of Salinas submitting junk text in a contact form on the victim’s website.
All of the felony charges were dismissed, and Salinas ended up only being charged with a misdemeanor. After being charged, Salinas says that the FBI did not contact him again, but he believes that the charges were meant to change his mind about their request for information on the cartel.
“The message was clear,” Said Tor Ekeland, a lawyer who took the case pro bono last year, “If he had agreed to help them, they would have dropped the charges in a second.” Ekeland believes this is a case where his client was threatened by the FBI and scare tactics were used.
In a statement, The Department of Justice spokesperson pointed out that “at no point during the case did the defense ever present any testimony or evidence to show that any of the defendant’s hacking attempts had been made at the behest of the government or at the request of any alleged victim.” Ekeland responded by saying Salinas refrained from testifying about these claims because there wasn’t a trail. Fearing that this story would scuttle their plea deal, Ekeland advised Salinas not to go public with the story until after his sentencing.
To be clear, these allegations against the FBI are just that – allegations. None of what Salinas can be proven since there was no lawyer present for his interrogation. Of course, the FBI denies all claims against themselves, but this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve pushed the limits of their power. One thing is for sure though, if Salinas’ claims are true, and he was targeted after being asked to cooperate, this is a case were the FBI is recruiting by indictment, essentially threatening people to work for them or go to jail.
Images from Shutterstock.
House Pushes Forward With Trump Tax Plan Amid Dissent
The U.S. House of Representatives is pushing hard to move President Trump’s tax proposal through the legislative process, even as growing dissent rattles confidence in the landmark bill.
An analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded Tuesday that tax cuts for lower- and middle-income Americans would fade over the next decade at a faster rate than those for high earners. The analysis found that four out of every five tax filers earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would receive tax relief from the bill in 2019. However, by 2027, that figure would drop to 60%.
Meanwhile, those earning more than $1 million would also see their tax savings fade, albeit at a slower rate than the smaller income brackets. In 2019, about three-quarters of those earning $1 million-plus will get tax relief, a figure that drops to two-thirds in 2027.
The conclusion could spark another round of debate as the Trump administration seeks to push forward on tax reform this year. The tax plan has faced attack from both sides of the political divide, with high-tax state Republicans criticizing individual deductions for state and local taxes.
The reform bill, which promises to reduce the number of tax brackets, cut the corporate tax rate and implement a one-time repatriation fee, has been described as the most ambitious since the Reagan administration. Through Reagan’s tax reform, the U.S. economy managed to grow by an average of 3.4% annually until the beginning of the Obama administration. And that includes three recessions between the two presidents.
To his credit, President Jimmy Carer before him implemented the biggest regulatory overhaul in postwar history.
Republicans have good reason to raise questions about Trump’s tax reform, especially those in high-tax states such as California. Already faced with a difficult re-election next year, California’s GOP Representative Darrell Issa said he wouldn’t endorse changes that “may make it the tremendous burden felt by California taxpayers even worse.”
Republican Ed Gillespie of Virginia was defeated in state elections on Tuesday, a clear sign that the GOP-controlled Congress is under attack. South Carolina is seen as an important barometer of the Democrats’ chances of winning in crucial swing states ahead of next year’s midterms.
Democrat Ralph Northam will be the next governor of Virgina, various news outlets reported late Tuesday.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Libertarian Speaks: Ron Paul Says U.S. Government Should Not Intervene in Cryptocurrency
The U.S. government has no place intervening in cryptocurrency, according to former U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul.
In an interview with Kitco on Oct. 27, Paul said the government should “stay out” of bitcoin if people want to use it. The former Congressman acknowledged that he didn’t know much about cryptocurrency, but that he was “amazed” by the market’s growth.
“I take some very strong political positions on competing currencies,” Paul said, when asked if he was a believer of cryptocurrency. “And if you can come up with a competing currency, and there is no fraud, I think it should be.”
Although a lot has been said about bitcoin’s black market roots, Paul says government involvement shouldn’t be a given. That message has been lost on several nations, which have grown uneasy about the growth and widespread adoption of cryptocurrency. Major economies like China, South Korea and Russia have already stepped in to halt the expansion of crypto-assets. However, most policymakers appear to be open to regulating cryptocurrency insofar as its criminal elements can be controlled.
Libertarians like Ron Paul are very weary of government involvement in all aspects of life. It should therefore come as no surprise that bitcoin and its altcoin competitors have received strong buy-in from the libertarian, free market community. While the United States has a strong libertarian presence across key segments of its society, this has largely failed to translate into meaningful political reform.
Bitcoin’s market capitalization climbed back above $100 billion over the weekend, with the sum of all coins valued at around $179 billion. Cryptocurrency is by far the fastest growing asset class of 2017, dwarfing stocks, crude oil and other traditional financial assets.
“I am amazed,” Paul said, ” at all the capitalization on these cryptocurrencies. It’s a huge amount of money.”
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Draft of U.S. Tax Bill Coming Within Days, According to GOP Lawmaker
It won’t be long now before congressional Republicans table their first draft bill to reform the U.S. tax code, according to House conservative Mark Meadows. GOP lawmakers are under the gun to meet President Trump’s ambitious goal of delivering a major tax overhaul by the end of 2017.
Draft Bill Coming in Less Than Ten Days
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows says the House Ways and Means Committee has promised to release a preliminary tax bill about seven days after this Thursday’s vote on a budget resolution. Based on that timeline, the tax bill should be published on or before Nov. 3, according to Bloomberg.
Last week, Republicans stuck together to pass a 2018 budget plan that many say is the preamble to tax reform. The budget resolution was approved by a 51-49 vote. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone GOP member to vote against the measure.
Before giving the final approval, lawmakers must go through another voting process that will begin Thursday and run into Friday morning.
The new plan, which was first unveiled by the White House this past spring, is pursuing drastic changes to the tax regime. This includes reducing the number of tax brackets, slashing the corporate tax rate and instilling a one-time repatriation tax to encourage multinationals to bring offshore profits back home.
President Trump and fellow Republicans face numerous challenges implementing the most ambitious tax reform of a generation. This includes balancing promises of major overhaul against a self-imposed $1.5 trillion limit on the size of those cuts over the decade.
Analysts say that President Trump has considerable leeway to influence the proposal, but that the ultimate penning of the bill is a legislative process. This means it will be Congress, not the president, that will put the final details together.
Tax overhaul was a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign. Combined with deregulation of key industries and massive infrastructure spending, tax breaks are expected to boost economic growth and make the U.S. more resilient to cyclical downturns.
That’s exactly what happened under the Reagan tax cut more than three decades ago. Although often maligned today, the Reagan tax plan laid the foundation for 25 years of strong, noninflationary growth. The U.S. economy grew an average of 3.4% annually between Reagan and Obama despite three recessions. To be sure, President Carter also helped lay the foundation by leading the biggest deregulatory effort in the postwar era.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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