Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Response to Dennis Prager 'If There Is No God, Murder Isn't Wrong'

An Introduction To Christian Sophistry

Usually, I have very little interest in the God debate between atheists and christians, but a particular concern, the origin of morality, is pertinent to my cause because moral facts are just about the only thing I talk about here. When I condemn government policies, and especially those of my own government, I usually do so on the grounds of moral law when constitutional law is not applicable, and even where constitutional law is applicable I still back up the statutes in question with moral law. This leaves the further question of where moral law comes from, which I will address below. I am an agnostic deist and as you may have guessed from the blog description a rational utilitarian on the issue of interpersonal morality. I don't think Dennis Prager made this video with my worldview in mind, much less even knows that it exists. I am replying because Prager seems to imply in the video that his Judeo-Christian worldview has a monopoly on morality. It also dismisses every form of utilitarianism outright, by implication, since utilitarian theories are inherently secular theories of ethics. Before debunking his conclusion, we should first examine his premises. His conclusion is based on a number of logical fallacies. This doesn't necessarily mean that his conclusion is false, but it does necessarily mean his premises are false.

Fallacies of Christian Sophistry

Ambiguity Fallacy

From the start of the video until the end, Prager fails to define his terms. Good, evil, right, wrong, and God are never defined. Without defining his terms Prager is simply playing a semantics game. He doesn't prove that you can't justify moral claims without belief in God; he just throws around ambiguous words, which vary in meaning depending on culture and time, loosely associating them with one another until he reaches his desired conclusion.

False Dilemma

Prager disingenuously implies in the opening that there are only two approaches to morality: the Judeo-Christian one and the secular one. This is a false dilemma on face value not only because other religions exist but also because there isn't a monolithic secular theory of ethics. Secular means they have at least one thing in common; they are not religious based. Other than that it's logically unsound to jump to the conclusion that they share the same values. There isn't a common set of secular values anymore than there is a common set of non-American values. Secular denotes the absence of religious/supernatural claims and nothing more. There are egoists, humanists, utilitarians, egalitarians, and libertarians. We don't have shared values. We only share one thing in common: a lack of supernatural basis for our claims.

False Equivalency

Prager's entire argument hinges on the premise that you can't provide any objective measurements or scientific facts that prove murder is wrong. This is not only a red herring, it's also a false equivalency. Physical units of measurements like the SI units themselves were invented by humans so they hardly serve as an example of something that's objective in the sense that Prager is trying to convey; something independent of any human's opinion. Furthermore, scientific facts aren't proven. The term proof is exclusive to the realm of logic and mathematics; a priori knowledge. Scientific facts and theories refer to organized bodies of a posteriori knowledge that even when corroborated by many studies and backed by mountains of evidence are still tentative at best. A scientific explanation is only objective in the sense that it was discovered through a uniform set of procedures called the scientific method (another invention of the human mind), has yet to be falsified (by another human mind), and offers the best established explanation for a specific phenomena (observed by the human mind usually by the aid of human inventions). Aside from the laws of physics, scientific facts and theories are rarely universal, unlike moral facts, and cannot be known a priori, unlike moral facts.


You can't point to any pictures, objective measurements or scientific facts that demonstrate murder, theft, and rape is wrong; therefore, God made it wrong. This is a logically invalid conclusion because it is not implied in any preceding premise. In order for a conclusion to be both valid and sound, it must be implied in at least one of the preceding premises and all the premises must be true. The only conclusion that would logically follow here is that there are no objective moral facts in the sense that they can be demonstrated through the scientific method. The criteria itself isn't appropriate to the claim; it's like saying you can't prove water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius using Euclidean geometry.

Circular Reasoning

At about the 1:30 mark Prager finally gets around to defining wrong. Apparently it's whatever God says is wrong. How convenient, the desired conclusion is defined in the premise.

So How Do I Know Murder Is Wrong Without Invoking God?

Moral law can be logically deduced from the objective facts of human nature and principles of life. There is no need to invoke God to justify moral law, even if God exists. First, I should note that despite what Prager claims in the video the prohibition against murder is not a moral absolute. Murder as an act of retaliatory violence against a murderer who let's say killed your family member is just, but in a civilized society we would have to defer this act of retaliation to the state and call it capital punishment. When capital punishment is appropriate is an even more nuanced issue than when killing another person is just; there are exceptions to be made in both cases. Now murder as an act of initiatory violence against an innocent person, which I think is what Prager had in mind, is unjust. The difference between these two examples is that in the former the affliction is reciprocated while in the latter it is unprovoked. The sentiment of justice is ultimately derived from the norm of reciprocity. The norm of reciprocity is a social instinct. It's not anyone's personal opinion. No one discerned it through conscious thought. It is hardwired into human nature and therefore is as much an objective fact as the fact that a person cannot survive without water. People also have an instinct to preserve their own lives, and subsequently their own autonomy since a threat to the former is also a threat to the latter. However, the innate desire to preserve one's autonomy is a purely selfish one. Only when the desire to preserve one's autonomy is coupled with mutual sympathy for every other person's desire to preserve their autonomy do we arrive at a moral sentiment and only in this way can we maintain a functioning society. A society in which people only pursue disparate self-interest would 1) be at a fitness disadvantage to societies where members were cooperative (i.e. a society in which the pursuit of self-interest is restrained by consideration for others) and 2) would become dysfunctional and quickly collapse harming all of it's members in the long rung. In our transition from nomadic societies to civilized societies common concrete ends (e.g. hunting) must be supplanted by common abstract rules to ensure sufficient cooperation. Abstract rules such as do not murder and do not steal must require reciprocity in our transactions with one another and mutual restraint from pursuing self-interest in ways that reduce other people's autonomy or capacity to preserve their own lives. The sentiment of justice is thus a sympathetic affection of the instinct to preserve personal autonomy. Moral law, the law of equal freedom, is deduced from these considerations of the objective facts of human nature and principles of life. That every person should have the freedom to gratify only such desires that do not prevent others from having the same freedom to gratify their desires obliges both reciprocity in our transactions and mutual restraint from reducing the autonomy of others.

Happiness, prosperity, and the well being of one's family and friends are the only things people pursue as ends in themselves. Abiding by moral law leads to greater happiness in the long run, while violating moral law leads to greater misery in the long run. Murder, rape and theft may be individual acts but they have societal consequences. Murder, rape, theft and other violent crimes tend to make societies more unstable and thus it's members more miserable, even for the murderers, rapists, and thieves themselves. It is no wonder why cities with higher violent crime rates also tend to be more impoverished and have a more miserable existence than cities with substantially lower violent crime rates. The same is generally true of countries. The countries with the most despotic governments also tend to have the most impoverished people, while wealthier nations tend to have more freedoms, especially more economic freedoms and stronger property rights. Violating and abiding by moral law have real world effects at the societal level, in the long run, and does not require divine intervention for people to recognize it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Update: Charlestown Mayor Leaves Evicted Residents Homeless After Giving Their Property To A Private Developer

Source: Institute for Justice

Last month, I posted about the city of Charlestown, Indiana seizing homes from Pleasant Ridge residents so they could sell their property to private developer Neace Ventures for a fraction of fair market value, which they accomplished through a petty code enforcement scheme that amounted to extortion.
The Red Tape Times (article 20)

Mayor Bob Hall, who green lighted the abuse of eminent domain on behalf of a private corporation, promised to enroll evicted Pleasant Ridge residents in a USDA program to help them find new homes, but so far he has failed to keep his promise. Thus far, only four residents have been approved for the program, only two of whom were able to secure rental apartments.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Amazon Land Battle Pits Indigenous Villagers Against Might of Ecuador State

Source: Amazon Watch

Amazon Land Battle Pits Indigenous Villagers Against Might of Ecuador State: Military drones and police helicopters circle above the Shuar indigenous village of El Tink, an Amazonian community in Ecuador where a high-profile dispute against a Chinese copper mine has become a standoff and a siege.

This is an update from my previous post on the conflict between the Shuar tribe and the government of Ecuador here.

The Shaur families that fled their village, Nankints, after being forced out by the military have been encircled at the village of El Tink, which is on the other side of the Cordillera del Condor mountain range from the former Nankints. El Tink is isolated by the Zamora river, so the military has been unable to access the village, but the Shuar have been prevented from leaving for fear of being arrested. This has severely strained their food supply and left them with no choice but to forge for food within the village.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Never Back Up An Unverifiable Claim With Another Unverifiable Claim About Someone's Intentions

In short, this is an ad hominem fallacy. I first noticed preachy Christians using this sophist tactic. If you don't believe in God its because you hate God or you have a 'hardened heart' or you're rebelling against him (and whatever other ridiculous hypotheses they like to put forth). But I've begun to notice it more in political discourse. If you oppose the welfare state (particularly food stamps) you must hate poor people. If you criticize U.S. foreign policy, you must hate America, or the new one: you must be an agent of the Kremlin. If you criticize the law enforcement you must hate cops and want total anomie. If you voted for Donald Trump your a (insert litany of gender studies buzzwords). Well, you get the point by now. It's 1) not an argument, 2) a logical fallacy and most importantly an unverifiable claim. You can't know another person's intentions unless they tell you their intentions, especially if you're arguing with them on the internet anonymously. You can't read minds and you're not psychic, so more than likely if you assume what someone is thinking, in the midst of a heated debate, and especially if its on the internet, you're making an unverifiable claim that doesn't actually demonstrate your point. Try harder. Try again.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 30)

Thuggish District Attorney Refuses To Return Family's Life Savings Even After Dropping Forfeiture Case

Source: Institute for Justice

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Last January, the San Diego DA took $100,000 from the Slatic family's savings account based on the accusation of one officer that James Slatic, who runs a medical marijuana business called Med West Distribution, had engaged in unlawful chemical extraction of THC. Since January of last year, neither James Slatic nor anyone associated with his business has been charged with unlawful extraction or any other crime, and San Diego police have failed to conduct any additional investigations into the accusations or make formal criminal allegations against the Slatic family. The San Diego DA dropped the forfeiture case against the family's savings, but in a recent court filing, the DA alleged that the Slatic family's savings was evidence of money laundering, an allegation he pulled right out of his ass. In the same incident, the DA failed to make criminal allegations against James Slatic for supposedly engaging in money laundering, much less charge him with money laundering. He would have been able to at least do the former if the $100,000 itself was actually evidence of money laundering. In most first world countries you are not punished unless you are charged and convicted of a crime, but here in the land of the free, you can be deprived of your property if any government thug arbitrarily says you have committed a crime, without having to back up his claim that you actually did commit a crime with you know evidence and a procedure for examining that evidence.

The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villanies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves “the government,” are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman

-Lysander Spooner, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Indigenous Leaders Denounce Ecuadorian Government Over Mining Conflicts

Source: Amazon Watch

Indigenous Leaders Denounce Ecuadorian Government Over Mining Conflicts: We are being persecuted by the military and the police who are invading the territories of the Shuar communities,' Elvia Dagua, a local indigenous member of CONFENIAE told the media Thursday. 'They have destroyed homes. So the Shuar people, women, men, and children have had to flee.

The Ecuadorian government forcibly removed 100 Shuar families from the region of Santiago de Panantza, Ecuador's southern Amazon region, destroyed their homes and handed the land over to Chinese mining company Explorcorbres S.A.. EXSA plans to construct an open pit copper mine on the land. The president of Ecuador claims EXSA legally purchased the land; however, that does not make their actions morally justifiable. Every person has a natural right, deducible from moral law, to use the earth without which he or she could not live. When landed property denies some this right, it becomes an immoral institution and an impediment to human progress in the long run that must be abolished and returned to a state of common property. In a city, this would mean recapturing rents and putting them towards public expenditures. In this case, the Ecuadorian government should have asked for the prior and informed consent of the Shuar communities that inhabited the region, and at least compensated them for the loss of their property. Ecuador is a signatory to ILO Convention 169, which prohibits such unilateral confiscation of land and destruction of indigenous communities. Article 14 Section 1 obliges signatories to recognize indigenous ownership and possession over the lands they have traditionally occupied and cultivated. Section 2 states Governments shall take steps as necessary to identify the lands, which the peoples concerned traditionally occupy, and to guarantee effective protection of their rights of ownership and possession. Furthermore, where governments retain subsoil rights for the purpose of leasing them out to extraction industries, Article 15 Section 2 obliges them to establish and maintain a procedure for consulting indigenous communities effected by any extraction project. By forcing Shuar communities from Santiago de Panatza, the criminal government of Ecuador has violated both moral law and international law. I would think an indigenous tribe would have a better claim to the land than a foreign mining company, but when governments are run by criminals the laws are often perverted to justify lawless ends.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 29)

Seattle Robs Landlords of Their Right To Choose Tenants

Source: Pacific Legal Foundation

Back on August 9th, 2016, the Seattle city council passed the first in time rule, which mandates that landlords of any capacity must rent to the first qualified candidate who applies for a unit. The statute went into effect on January 1st. Since landlords are no longer allowed to assess the risks involved for candidates who meet broad criteria like not having pets and being able to pay, this has raised rents and made it harder for candidates to meet the criteria for tenancy. Small scale landlords who rent out units on their own residence have been saddled with the greatest burden since they are more dependent on rental income from one tenant than corporate landlords who rent out hundreds of units. One sketchy tenant could make them lose a month's worth of rental income and put them in the hole. Their personal safety would also be put at greater risk, especially for female landlords, since they are no longer able to assess the character of prospective tenants. A few small scale landlords have spoken out against the new mandate. Their grievances run the gamut of issues from personal safety to the financial risks of renting to delinquent tenants. The Pacific Legal Foundation has filed suit against the city of Seattle on behalf of Marilyn Yim, a small scale landlord who lives in one of her own triplex units with her family.

We are, literally, mom-and-pop property owners renting our home to make Seattle affordable for our family and our tenants, and the council’s actions hurt not only us but the very people they keep saying they want to help,” said Mrs. Yim. “We aren’t corporate landlords sitting on large capital reserves or with hundreds of rentals to spread our risk. One bad tenant could take us years to recover from financially. The primary way we have to manage our risk is by carefully selecting tenants and collecting adequate deposits up front. The new city rule deprives us of that flexibility. With this added, undue risk, we can no longer afford to charge below-market rents or give a break to good people who are just starting out or rebuilding from their own setbacks.

No business would be told they have to hire the first person to show up with a decent resume,” said Ms. Lyles. “This law would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so frightening!I inherited a small amount of money — and used the food bank for several years — in order to purchase my rental,” she recounts. “Now, as a female landlord, I’m very concerned about the ‘first in time’ mandate. Women are taught from childhood to ‘trust our gut’; I’m now denied that option. I am terrified of no longer having a choice over whom I entrust with the majority of my yearly income (and life savings), not to mention my personal safety. There are preexisting laws on the books protecting tenants from discrimination; this new one comes at too high a price: robbing landlords of protection from potentially dangerous situations.

The city’s first in time mandate puts an undue burden on small landlords who manage their property after-hours and on weekends, and do not have the capital to hire a management company or absorb the cost of an expensive eviction,” said Scott Davis. “We will be forced to make strict screening requirements to protect our investment, exposure and liability, since we are no longer able to use our best judgment and reasonable discretion in selecting a tenant. The result will be to exclude good tenants who are able to make a good impression.This legislation only rewards the fastest applicant and does nothing to protect the people it seeks to help,” he continued. “As a result of this new rule, we have substantially raised our rents across the board with the anticipation of being forced to hire a property management company and avoid the future sting operations of the city and the convoluted rules that are being implemented.

The intention of the first in time rule was to eliminate unconscious bias against protected classes in the rental market, even though there are already anti-discrimination laws on the book. The statute, though perhaps well meaning, had the opposite effect of what was intended. One of its unintended effects is that it put lower income earners at a greater disadvantage than before the statute was enacted. Another unintended effect is that it favors native english speakers over immigrants, who are more likely to be disadvantaged by a language barrier in the application process. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is not the intentions of policies, but their effects in the long run that make them good or bad, and all of the long run effects of such sweeping policies as this statute cannot be accurately predicted. For this reason, governments of any level should stick to simple and straightforward measures that do not unnecessarily burden their citizens. Shifting taxes onto the unearned increment from land would make rental housing more affordable, and thus more readily available, than forcing landlords to take tenants on a first come first serve basis. The latter merely covers up the symptoms while the former strikes at the root of the problem.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trump Is Wrong About The Snoop Dogg Video Being A Crime

I am no fan of rap. I despise rap for many reasons of which the glorification of a criminal life style is one, but I am a big fan of constitutionally limited government and the freedom to engage in artistic expression no matter how grotesque the expression may be. The latter is protected by the first amendment of which the former should not violate.

The video in question doesn’t even depict Snoop Dogg assassinating Trump. The video shows him firing a bang flag gun at the Trump impersonator, and the following scene shows the Trump impersonator tied up with a chain, implying that he was not assassinated in the video. Of course, Trumpbot hacks like Mark Dice, a professional shock jock, cut the rest of the scene and only showed the flash of the toy gun before descending into an incoherent diatribe about the 2 second clip.

Even if Snoop Dogg had advocated violence against the President, which it is not clear he did given that the Trump impersonator was not shown dead, it would still be protected by the first amendment. Music videos are recognized as Symbolic speech under Stromberg v. California, which first recognized non-verbal gestures as a form of speech. Furthermore, the ruling in a case concerning the advocacy of violence, Brandenburg v. Ohio, protects the advocation of violence and criminal behavior under the first amendment, except when it incites imminent violence or is likely too do so. Since Snoop Dogg did not explicitly tell people to assassinate Trump and his music video will not likely cause Trump to be assassinated, it logically and inescapably follows that his music video is protected by the first amendment.

Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

When arguing about whether an action should be legally permitted, the argument should not be contingent on whether it is already legally permitted, but whether it should be legally permitted. Moral law, the law of equal freedom, is independent of and superior to the laws of nation states. We can only have constitutionally limited government if we start from the premise that the role of government is to be an agent of justice not an inventor of justice, since absolutism logically follows from the latter. Advocating violence in a music video may be reprehensible, but it does not violate the law of equal freedom. Snoop Dogg did not aggress against Trump’s person or property nor did he clearly incite others to do so, nor was violence against Trump’s person or property imminent. Thus, while his actions may have been imprudent and tasteless they were not unjust. However, the feds would violate moral law if it imprisoned Snoop Dogg for making the video.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pennsylvania Borough Circumvents 4th Amendment With Administrative Warrants

Source: Institute for Justice

The Borough of Pottstown, PA has repeatedly searched Dottie and Omar Rivera's rental home without probable cause of any violation of the law or their landlord's consent. This is part of the borough rental inspection scheme, which allows them to search rental houses without any evidence that there is something wrong with a house or that the renters have done anything wrong by obtaining an administrative warrant. The fourth amendment dictates that warrants should not be issued unless they are based on probable cause and describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Unless borough officials have a fair probability of finding evidence of wrongdoing or negligence on either the renter's or landlord's part they do not have probable cause to search Omar and Dottie's home. If they haven't found anything in previous inspections and continue to search the renter's home with an administrative warrant, then they definitely do not have probable cause and are conducting an illegal search.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 28)

The Dairy Lobby Is Threatening To Ban Almond, Soy, and Coconut Milk Labels

Source: Institute for Justice

The Dairy Lobby is pushing for a bill, called the Dairy Pride Act, that would force the FDA to ban products from being labeled as milk that do not fit the legal definition of milk. Milk is legally defined as the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows (notice the term was exclusively defined to the benefit of the dairy industry) ;however, the FDA has thus far refused to enforce this definition as evident by the fact that we can buy almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and other dairy substitute products in the grocery store. Supporters of the bill claim that it would prevent consumers from being deceived by dairy substitutes that are labeled as milk, but I'm pretty sure people who drink almond milk and soy milk are aware that it doesn't come from cows; besides, cows aren't the only animals that can produce lacteal secretions. Will the Dairy Lobby not be content until the term breast milk is also illegal? As IJ notes, consumption of dairy milk has declined 37% over the past four decades while Almond milk sales have risen 250% just in the last five years. Other non-dairy milks have also risen in popularity so I think this is more of a case of sore loser-itus.

Trump Administration Escalates Illegal War In Syria

Sources: 21st Century Wire, Army Times

Five days ago, the 3rd Ranger Battalion was spotted heading towards the city of Manbij. The U.S. rangers were presumably deployed to join the SDF, a coalition of Kurdish militias operating in Northern Syria, in their siege against the ISIS occupied city of Raqqa. At around the same time, the Pentagon deployed 400 marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to also join the Kurdish forces fighting to push ISIS out of Raqqa. 6,000 U.S. troops are currently operating between Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon plans to deploy an additional 2,500 troops to Kuwait as backup for the forces in Iraq and Syria.

The invasion was started by the Obama administration in December of 2015. By the end of his last term, Obama had deployed a total of 500 Special forces into Syria to assist the SDF. The recent deployments are thus not a change in policy, but simply an expansion of an Obama era policy. Obama also sent special forces to three other countries (i.e. Yemen, Iraq, and Libya).

Article I Section 8 Clause 11 of the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war; being the commander and chief does not give the executive office the prerogative to start wars on a whim because the president does not have the power of the purse (for obvious reasons). Furthermore, the War Powers Resolution statute requires the president to notify congress within 48 hours of deploying troops and to remove all troops within 60 days if the commitment does not receive formal congressional approval. In this capacity, both president Obama and Trump have violated the law.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 27)

New England Fisherman Challenge Obama's Marine National Monument

Source: Pacific Legal Foundation

Author: Jonathan Wood

On September 15, 2016, President Obama declared 5,000 square miles of the Atlantic ocean, 130 miles off of the coast of Cape Cod, a national monument, setting it off limits to the fishing industry in New England. Obama claimed that he was using the 1906 Federal Antiquities Act to protect coral reefs, but as Jonathan Wood has aptly pointed out, the law only applies to federally owned land and 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod is international waters. Furthermore, this may have the unintended effect of concentrating commercial fisherman into less sustainable fisheries and increase the risk that their gear may injure whales. Commercial fisherman have a vested interest in preserving fish populations and the coral reefs they live around since their livelihoods are dependent on it. Obama, like any other crook in Washington, is only concerned about coral reefs in so far as it provides him political capital to pad his own public image.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trump May Create A Secret Police To Spy On Muslim Citizens

Sources: The New York Times, Associated Press, ACLU, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat

To Put this in context, the first tweet from April 2014 is in reference to the NYPD discontinuing the Demographics Unit (later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit),which was created a year after the 9/11 attacks to conduct suspicion-less, blanket surveillance of Muslim communities in New York City. The New York Times put out an article about this a week before Trump sent out a tweet lamenting the end of the surveillance program. The Demographics Unit sent informants to infiltrate mosques and muslim student groups as well as plainclothes officers, called rakers, into the muslim community to eavesdrop on conversations at muslim owned establishments, which they considered hotspots for radicalization.They would ask provocative questions about U.S. foreign policy in an attempt to elicit what they would consider indicators of radicalization. The intelligence gathering effort also included conducting video surveillance outside of mosques, and noting who was entering and leaving and recording their license plate numbers. The information gathered during these investigations was used to compile a database of where muslims that wore traditional Islamic clothing shopped, ate, prayed, and worked as well as documenting their conversations. The Demographics Unit went so far as to designate entire mosques as suspected terrorism enterprises, which allowed them to record sermons, conduct video surveillance outside the mosque, and record license plate numbers of people who went to the mosque. According to the NYPD, and contrary to what Trump believes, the surveillance program never led to charges that any mosque or muslim organization was a terrorist enterprise, and it never generated a lead.

The Strategy of the Demographics Unit was based on the report Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report touted the notion that homogenous muslim communities were fertile breeding grounds for radicalization andserve as ideological sanctuaries for the seeds of radical thought.

The Demographic make-up of a country, state, city, or town plays a significant role in providing the fertile ground for the introduction and growth of the radicalization process. Enclaves of ethnic populations that are largely Muslim often serve as ideological sanctuaries for the seeds of radical thought(22).

A bit further down, we are informed that anyone who lives within an ethnic, muslim community is suspected of being a jihadist, that is to say, just for being muslim in a homogenous muslim community.

Individuals, who are attracted to radical thought, usually live, work, play, and pray within these enclaves of ethnic, Muslim, communities - communities that are dominated by Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian cultures(22).

In theory this could have led them to target specific individuals who advocated violence against Americans online, but the criteria for radicalization provided in earlier pages was so vague that it could apply to just about any muslim who lived within a homogenous muslim community. This was even more true of what they considered to be locations that are rife with extremist rhetoric, which included cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah bars, butcher shops and bookstores; just about any place non-jihadists would hangout as well, except for prisons. It is no coincidence that Demographics Unity targeted certain demographics, as the name implies, for blanket surveillance.

Trump sent out the second tweet after being interviewed by a Yahoo News reporter who at one point asked Trump if he would create a muslim registry if elected. As usual, Trump was short on policy specifics and gave an ambiguous answer. The FBI already maintains a terrorist watchlist and the DHS maintains the No-Fly list. Furthermore, Americans are already under constant surveillance by multiple alphabet soup agencies (not just the NSA) so its not clear what Trump would do that’s new. Although Trump has never explicitly called for blanket surveillance that targets muslim communities, I wouldn’t put it past someone as unprincipled and egomaniacal as Trump to implement a program like the Demographics unit. He would only have to wait for the right opportunity to present itself. If there is another major terrorist attack in the U.S., like the one in San Bernardino, in the next four years, I would expect Trump to use it as leverage to implement a secret police that spies on muslim communities.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 26)

Feds Shutdown Cannabis Festival on Tribal Land

Source: Indian Country Media Network

On February 16th, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden sent a letter to the Moapa Paiute Tribe, who would host the event, warning them that their planned event would violate federal law if they allowed attendees to bring marijuana to the event, which defeats the purpose of holding the event in the first place. The event in question, the High Times Cannabis Cup, has been hosted in other states that legalized recreational use of marijuana in the past few years, such as Colorado and Washington, without much fuss from the leviathan. Since Nevada, which is where the Moapa Paiute tribe’s land is located, recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana in November of last year, the tribal council probably figured that they could host the event without much trouble as it had been hosted in other states that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the past few years. The problem here is that Indian tribes lack the sovereignty to determine their own drug laws since 1) they are still dependent on federal spending for revenue and 2) they are under the plenary power of congress, which means the CSA still applies to tribal land. Ultimately, no government should have the power to regulate what individuals can put in their own bodies, but taking that power away from the federal government and handing it over to state and tribal governments is a step in the right direction. Thus far, eight states have taken that step by legalizing the recreational use of marijuana while twenty-eight states have flirted with the idea by legalizing medicinal marijuana. The High Times Cannabis Cup was still held, though in name only. It was eventually demoted to a music festival with arts and crafts on the side.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 25)

Proprietors in Emerson, NJ Fight A Pending Eminent Domain Seizure of Their Businesses

Source: Institute for Justice

Small scale proprietors and residents of the Central Business District in Emerson, New Jersey have formed a coalition called Stop Emerson Eminent Domain to prevent the Borough council from condemning their properties and handing them over to private developer JMF Properties. Eighty-two properties fall within block 419, which has been designated a condemnation redevelopment area, but in response to public backlash the borough council removed twenty-four properties from consideration. The Borough council claims that it has to seize these properties to meet its affordable housing obligations, but the developer’s agreement does not require JMF Properties to build affordable housing in the Central Business District, but rather explicitly says they will explore alternative sites. Furthermore, New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law does not include affordable housing as one of the criteria for establishing an Area in Need of Redevelopment. The current study of block 419 relies on New Jersey's vague legal definitions of ‘obsolete’ and ‘underutilized’ conditions, which are often used to simply transfer property from one private owner to another private owner (i.e. legal robbery). A few proprietors have spoken out against the pending eminent domain seizure of their property that would destroy their livelihoods; their comments are included below.

“The borough wants development at any cost, and will violate my rights as a hard-working small-business owner to get it,” said Dan O’Brien, owner of Academy Electrical Contractors, Inc. “They’re using affordable housing as a smokescreen for this development, and they’re abusing the state’s redevelopment law in the process.” Dan moved his business to Emerson five years ago and poured $150,000 into his property with hopes of one day handing it over to his children after he retires. “I’ve helped countless people in this borough with their electrical needs. I have 14 employees, half of whom are residents of this borough—if I lose my business, these Emerson residents lose their jobs. Our properties clearly aren’t blighted, and they are not for sale,” Dan continued.

“We invested heavily in Emerson at a time of economic downturn. Our property is essential for our small business, my livelihood and retirement. It’s a horror to watch eminent domain crush other small businesses, homes, and lives,” said Todd Bradbury, owner of Bradbury Landscape in Emerson. “No court ordered this—it was an elective move by the governing body. We are not going to sit back and watch the next block fall. Just imagine if this happened to you.”

“I came to Emerson in 1977, when I was 24 years old. Since then, I’ve built two buildings and renovated two on Chestnut Street, with no tax breaks, no special treatment, without a dime, nothing—I worked hard seven days a week, often until 1am,” said small-business owner Bob Petrow, who owns Star Properties. “I’ve contributed to many community causes. Now I depend on these buildings that I bought, built and maintained to sustain me. They’re my retirement. Now all that’s threatened.”
“Mayor Lamatina recently said in a media interview that ‘downtown sorely needs new blood,’” said Toni Plantamura-Rossi, who owns the Dairy Queen on Kinderkamack Road, which was built in 1952. “But they’re attempting to squeeze small-business owners out of the borough. We’re part of a small-business franchise and are proud to be blue-collar workers. We all need electricians and auto-mechanics…what’s wrong with these services if we’re helping everyone’s needs? When did building a successful local business that caters to the community become something to be looked down upon and not patted on the back?”

Trump Skirts His Own Ethics Rules

Source: ProPublica

It should come as no surprise that a man who does not have any ethics will ignore even his own rules. Recently, Trump hired three former lobbyists to work on the ‘specific issue areas’ they had previously lobbied for. However, since the term ‘specific issue area’ is not defined in executive order ‘Ethics Commitments By Executive Branch Appointees’, this section of the ethics rules is ultimately unenforceable. Shahira Knight lobbied for Fidelity on a range of retirement and tax policy issues before becoming Trump’s special assistant for tax and retirement policy. Michael Catanzaro was a lobbyists for American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers on fuel standards and greenhouse gas regulations just a few months ago before becoming Trump’s special assistant for domestic energy and environmental policy. George Banks, though not a registered lobbyists, lobbied on environmental issues for the American Council for Capital Formation before becoming Trump’s special assistant for international energy and environment. There is no record of any of these three receiving an ethics pledge waiver and even if they had the OGE would not have to disclose this information to the public since Trump eliminated the requirement that they publish a report disclosing the waivers and public interest justifications for them.

As discussed in previous posts (here and here), Trump has done the exact opposite of what he promised to do during his campaign in regards to appointing and hiring lobbyists to his administration. Time and again, Trump used the narrative that his opponents were all beholden to lobbyists and special interests as a stick to beat them with, but since then he has ‘pivoted’ on his campaign promise like every other politician does once they are elected to office.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Does Trump Really Support The Right To Bare Arms?

Do you remember Trump's response to the Orlando shooting back in June 12th of last year? He had a lot to say about the incident including that he 'appreciated the congrats for being right on radical islamic terrorism', a comment that received the most media attention. A few days later he made the less conspicuous comment above. For a guy that bills himself as a defender of the 2nd Amendment and the constitution he consistently does neither aside from providing lip service like every other politician. In this instance, he condoned the same gun control policy being pushed by House Democrats and Hillary Clinton, but despite his agreement with Hillary Clinton and House Democrats the 2nd Amendment is not really the issue here. It is the 5th amendment, not the 2nd amendment, that is at stake here.

'No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.'

'No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.' When a person is placed on a watchlist without their knowledge, the chance to contest that decision or any other requirements of 'due process of law' and that watch list is used to prohibit them from purchasing a firearm, that person is deprived of liberty without 'due process of law.'I wouldn't put it past a guy who thinks the constitution has 12 articles to lack concern for the fifth amendment or any other part of the bill of rights. Trump doesn't care about the 2nd amendment anymore than he puts on the appearance that he does to placate his GOP base. Just like a typical politician, Trump is an unprincipled man that uses the constitution when it is convenient to further his own egotistical ends, but otherwise discards it when it becomes an obstacle.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 24)

Never Enough Regulatory Barriers

Source: Institute for Justice

‘Five years ago Marshall began washing cars outside the Hibachi Grill. Soon enough, he was asked by Memphis Police if he had permission to work there. He responded with signed letter from the restaurant granting him permission to operate, which he showed to FOX13. Next, Marshall was informed that he needed a business license, so he maneuvered through the County bureaucracy and obtained one. A couple of months later, code enforcement again visited his business, this time saying that he needed a draining system to prevent the waste water from entering the Memphis sewers. “I bought this machine that cost a little over $15,000 to collect all the water. 100 percent of the water and everything we use is earth friendly,” Marshall said. As he continued to bring his business into compliance with the County’s demands, Marshall was issued court orders twice to cease operating and accumulated nearly a dozen citations, just for washing cars in a parking lot.

After all this, a recent statement issued by Code Enforcement Administrator Allen Medlock says that Marshall now needs to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy and a Special Use Permit which would stipulate what is needed to operate a car wash. That statement also claimed that Marshall could be taken into custody if he does not obtain them.’

    The cost of complying with city regulations just to wash cars was the following:

  • Business License: $30

  • Draining System: $15,000

  • Certificate of Occupancy: $69

  • Special Use Permit: $100

  • Total: $15,199

    Had Memphis Police forced him to comply with all of these regulations at once, he probably would not have even been able to afford to start his business.