Friday, April 28, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 34)

Wisconsin Bans Ungraded Butter Despite Lack of Health Risk

Source: Pacific Legal Foundation

Minerva Dairy, a family owned cheese and butter dairy that produces handcrafted artisanal butter can sell its products in all 49 other states. Wisconsin has recently begun enforcing a 40 year old statute that requires all butter sold within the state to be either USDA graded or graded by the state of Wisconsin, but not all diaries can afford the process. In order to be graded, Minerva would have to store up a week's worth of butter and pay for a USDA grader to be flown in every week. Minerva already has all of the business licenses required to make dairy products and operates in a USDA approved facility. The dubious grading process ensures every batch meets the USDA's standards for commodity butter, but Minerva doesn't make a commodity butter and most butters sold in the U.S. are not USDA graded. More than likely the Dairy lobby is behind the enforcement of this statute, just as they pushed to ban the 'Milk' label for non-dairy milks, to legislate away out of state competition. Regardless, interstate protectionism is illegal under the dormant commerce clause which prohibits states from discriminating against or impeding interstate commerce. More importantly, moral law grants every person the right to engage in voluntary transactions provided they do not impose a cost of their transaction on an uninvolved third party. It is plain that buying and selling artisanal cheese in no way exceeds the mutual limits of equal freedom while restricting such activity does.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Oregon Imposes $500 Fine On Man For Criticizing Traffic Light Timing

Source: Institute for Justice

The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying fined resident Mats Järlström for making mathematical critiques of yellow light timing and calling himself an engineer without being licensed by the board. The entire debacle started in 2013 when Mats's wife received a traffic ticket in the mail after a traffic camera caught her running a red light. This piqued Mats's interest in traffic light timing. Mats Järlström received a bachelors in electrical engineering in his home country of Sweden after which he worked for the Swedish air force fixing pilot cameras and then Luxor Electronics before moving to the U.S. in 1992. He used his engineering knowledge and skills to study yellow light timing and ultimately came to the conclusion that the original formula for the length of yellow lights, drafted in 1959, did not account for motorist making right turns. Mats spoke to the public about his findings, including the local news, and went so far as to present his findings at a national conference of the Institute of Transportation Engineers in Los Angeles. Eventually the Board of Examiners caught wind of Mats's public outreach and launched a two year investigation at the conclusion of which they fined him $500 for 'practicing engineering without a license' because the state's definition of the law is so vague that it includes mathematical critiques of the length of yellow lights. Mats was also warned to stop calling himself an engineer in public, even though he earned a bachelors in electrical engineering and was licensed in Sweden.

If we were to use this Oregon law as a precedent for other professions it would become illegal to criticize the government without being licensed to practice law. This very article you are reading would be illegal along with the entire site. If this precedent were taken to its logical conclusion the U.S. would become a totalitarian state like Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Freedom of speech entails, among other things, the right to debate and discuss subjects regardless of how technical they are, provided the subject does not entail information that would be injurious to another party or parties if disclosed. Hopefully the District court strikes this down law very quickly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Political Polarity

Originally posted on experience project on February 22, 2016
“Cannot you conceive that another man may wish well to the world and struggle for its good on some other plan than precisely that which you have laid down?”

― Nathaniel Hawthorne
Polarism is the false dilemma ideologues invoke when they want to shame another person into supporting their cause. It's the ancient 'you are either for us or against us' mentality. Do you support this candidate or that candidate? Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Are you for or against a minimum wage hike? In each case the assumptions are the same: there are only two choices and you have to pick one of them (i.e. you cannot be indifferent to the issue at hand or have an unconventional proposal). Your choice between the two false alternatives is further used to make judgments about your character. Do you support this candidate? Well, you must be a racist, sexist, homophobe, and bigot. Do you call yourself a feminist and take the time to talk about 'social justice.' If not you are a sexist, misogynist, rape apologist, transphobe, and shitlord.

A major component of Polarism is entitlement: the ideologue feels entitled to your time and labor. This is particularly true of leftists. They believe that you must stop whatever you are doing and attend to their every demand or else you are a/an (insert epithet). They believe the world revolves around them; there aren't any issues that people might be concerned with outside of their own narrative. The people who fall for this tactic further succumb to the dogmatism inherent to the ideology. It is not good enough that you support their cause and attend to their demands; you must also believe everything they tell you, without question, or else you are an (insert epithet).

Explaining indifference

Ideologues usually don't understand why some people are indifferent to their cause. Their overly simplistic views don't account for people who don't fall into their preconceived binary categories. Instead of accepting this problem as a failure of their worldview, they pretend the problem doesn't exist and assume that the people who aren't in their camp are against them.

So why might someone be indifferent to a particular issue?

No one can concern himself/herself with every issue under the sun because time is a scarce resource. We prioritize the things we care about and omit the issues that are least important to us because it's not physically possible to research every issue and construct an informed opinion on the matter. Every one does this, especially ideologues.

For instance, I do not care about the abortion debate, gay marriage, transgender bathroom laws or really any of the other mainstream social issues. I do however take definitive stances on the drug war, corporal punishment,  police accountability, warrantless surveillance etc. (social issues that usually fall outside the purview of the msm). I do not have time to research every single social issue so I usually prioritize the issues that are the least politicized and most relevant to my own well-being. There are also some economic issues that I don't given much attention to either such as the minimum wage debate. I'd rather focus on occupational licensing, a much bigger job killer that impacts more people than the 4 percent of the labor force that earns minimum wage. The tax debate is another issue where I don't fit into the false liberal/conservative dichotomy. I am not for lower taxes or higher taxes, progressive taxes or flat taxes. I support land value taxes, royalty income taxes and letting people keep what they earn as their rightful property.

The Red Tape Times (article 33)

Trump Plans To Impose 20% Tarrif On Canadian Softwood Lumber

Source: NewYork Times

Link not included because it's pretty much in every major newspaper. I first heard about it from NYT.

The new tax, and that's what it is, is supposedly being levied in retaliation for Canada subsidizing their softwood lumber products. Oddly enough, the U.S. government also subsidizes the U.S. lumber industry but don't let facts get in the way of Trump's protectionist charade. Also keep in mind that this is the same shitbag who wants to take away property rights from American citizens (through eminent domain) so a Canadian company (TransCanada) can export it's tar sands oil here, which will eventually find its way to foreign markets. To think Trump has any principled objection to Canada subsidizing it's lumber industry is laughable and naive; something consigned to mental incompetents who think public officials act from altruistic motives. Regardless of Trump's motives, the new tax on imported lumber serves a purely sentimental benefit for people with incoherent ideas about fairness. In the long run, consumers are always the losers in trade wars and it is American consumers who will pay this tariff in higher lumber and real-estate prices. Protectionism, like it's first cousin socialism, is based on the false notion that the government can create jobs and therefore wealth by taking money from one industry and giving it to another (i.e. the broken window fallacy). We might see a spike in domestic lumber production, but we won't see that there is less disposable income available for other industries. The net difference is zero when we take the latter into account.

Orleans Parish DA: The City Should Jail Sexual Assault Victims

Source: ACLU of Louisiana

And I'll leave it at that because his reason for doing so does not justify it. The means does not justify the end. Losing a week of wages and possibly your job is not a 'mere inconvenience'; neither is the distressed caused by being behind bars, or being put in the same room with actual criminals that may re-victimize you. Spending time in jail is not like getting a traffic ticket or having to do community service on the weekends. The principle of the matter is that no one should be put in jail without being charged with a crime. Making an exception in one case opens the door to making exceptions in other cases as well. When you have a policy of jailing people without charging them with a crime on the basis of expediency (short-term gains), you set a precedent for jailing people not charged with a crime in other cases as well, as long as the 'common good' can be invoked as an excuse. In the long run we will learn that expediency is the mother of despotism, but that doesn't concern public officials who are only worried about getting reelected and leaving office with a golden parachute. Cannizzaro isn't concerned about 'public safety' or the wellbeing of victims; his public image, fragile ego, and salary is a stake if victims don't testify, and that is really the motive behind his policy.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Chlorine, Not Sarin Was Initially Reported As Agent Used In Khan Sheikhun Bombing

Source: Moon Of Alabama

I was skeptical of the news reports that the Syrian air force used sarin gas against the people of Idlib, as any rational person should have, since the primary source for information on the incident came from the highly censored and government controlled Turkish media. It is illegal to criticize the government in Turkey and any journalist that doesn't tow Erdogan's agenda will quickly find himself in a 6x8 cell. I trust reporting from the Turkish media as much as I trust the Wahabbi terrorist state or the maniac across the sea of Japan. It turns out the Turkish state press initially reported chlorine gas, not Sarin, as the chemical agent that killed civilians in southern Idlib on Tuesday, April 4th, but by Thursday they had changed their narrative to Sarin gas. Chlorine is not designated as a chemical weapon under Geneva protocols on chemical warfare, so perhaps they cooked up the sarin narrative to make the situation more shocking. Chlorine gas would certainly fit the facts on the ground better since witnesses reported seeing and smelling the gas (Sarin is orderless and colorless), the so called first responders of the White Helmets were pictured wearing dusk masks and touching victims without gloves a couple hours after the incident (a dust mask will not protect you from Sarin), and the symptoms listed fit the toxic effects of chlorine gas. Symptoms of sarin poisoning include diarrhea, Nausea, vomiting, and convulsions. Victims would be defecating and puking all over the place if they survived but none of this was shown in the White Helmet's neatly edited photography. The Turkish Justice Minister was also caught lying about the World Health Organization conducting autopsies, which WHO rebutted. Evidence from the first sarin incident in 2013 pointed to the 'moderate' Al Qaeda rebels as the perpetrators, so who actually possessed the Chlorine at the time of the incident is yet to be seen.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Red Tape Times (article 32)

Zoning Board Renders Man's Parcel Unusable Without Just Compensation

Should regulatory changes that prevent one from developing their land be considered 'taking property for public use' without just compensation?

Source: Pacific Legal Foundation

Elliot Severson purchased a parcel of commercially zoned land in the city of Sammamish, WA that was large enough to build a restaurant or convenience store on, but the city prevented him from developing this parcel by gradually imposing land use restrictions that made development impossible. From the standpoint of moral law it is clear that the city unjustly denied him the opportunity to enjoy the full use of his property, which he had a reasonable expectation to develop, and imposed an unwarranted economic burden on him without compensating him for the opportunity cost of not being able to use his parcel. The city argues that they are not obliged to reimburse Mr. Severson because he was permitted to develop his nearby parcels in the past. But this is akin to arguing that a government can seize a man's house, through eminent domain, without compensating him for fair market value because he owns another house or two nearby. The constitutionality of their actions is unclear since the constitution provides a weaker conception of property rights protections than what is entailed in moral law. Undoubtedly Severson still legally owns the property and changes in a city's zoning ordinance isn't necessarily an example of regulatory taking, since laws that inadvertently lower property values are not considered regulatory taking under Penn Central Transportation v. NYC. If the supreme court hears this case the outcome may ultimately depend on the ruling in Murr v. Wisconsin, a similar case involving the regulatory taking of a parcel of land by combining the plantiff's two adjacent parcels effectively lowering the land value by 90%.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Supreme Court Upholds Presumption of Innocence For Defendants Acquitted On Appeal

Some Good News For A Change

Source: Institute for Justice

Yesterday, in Nelson v. Colorado, the Supreme court struck down a Colorado statute that didn’t allow people to recover funds seized through court fees, restitution,and costs assessed against them after their conviction was reversed on appeal, unless they proved their innocence in court. The case arose from a petition from Shannon Nelson, who was originally convicted of sexual assault in 2006 and forced to pay court fees and restitution, before her conviction was overturned in a 2013 retrial. When she was acquitted, she sought a refund of the money taken as a result of court fees and restitution, but was denied a refund on the basis that the trial court did not have the authority to compel the state to return the funds to her. The statute was an obvious violation of the presumption of innocence, one of the foundational principles of our criminal justice system, and the due process clause of the 14th amendment. The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Ginsburg, held that Colorado's Exoneration Act created a risk of erroneous deprivation of a defendant's property and that Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, guilty enough for monetary exactions. The dissenting opinion came from Justice Clarence who disagreed with the use of the ruling in Matthews v. Eldridge as a persuasive precedent in the case. The 7-1 decision could have future implications for civil asset forfeiture and lead to its undoing.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Morality Is Not Black And White

Nature isn't black and white, so why do we think that way about morality?

Christianity has implanted in us the idea of moral absolutes: rigid rules that are fixed for eternity. Moral absolutes require the use of abstract reasoning, but our minds are best suited for practical reasoning (i.e. real life problem solving) and very poorly suited for abstract reasoning (i.e. discovering universals) without repeated training. The mind uses mental shortcuts to make assumptions, based on prior experience, about causality even where an inference about causality cannot be made. Furthermore, not everyone has the same use of reasoning. Some people have a better grasp of reasoning than others, and must therefore be held to a higher moral standard by virtue of being more rationally inclined. You would not expect a child to have the same physical abilities as an adult, and by extension you wouldn't expect them to be equal in mental abilities either. The circumstances of our lives is another factor that adds or detracts from our ability to reason. Deficiencies in food, water and security overloads the mind with stress and inescapably leads to deficiencies in the sort of abstract reasoning required to make moral choices; a reasoning wholly detached from the world isn't possible when you're constantly on the brink of death.

Nature fixes limits to species through predation, resource constraints and disease. In nature there are no one size fits all solutions to these problems. A trait that adapts a species to one environment may produce the opposite effect of making them maladapted to another environment. In our social environments, a behavior that adapts us to one social condition may lead to maladaption in another social condition. The contrast between family life and interactions with strangers is one instance. Finding a mate in r-selected populations compared to finding a mate in K-selected populations is another such instance. The real world is filled with nuance, variation, and elasticity and thus our choices must be nuanced, varied, and elastic. The pie in the sky ethics of Jesus are physically and mentally impossible, so it is no wonder christians live in hypocrisy. You can't have property rights, and therefore civilization, without retaliatory violence. An 'eye for an eye' not 'turning the other cheek' makes civilization possible. Giving away your possessions to the poor is usually the worst way to allocate resources and alleviate poverty. A society that followed this dictum would soon find itself completely impoverished. Generosity between family members and reciprocity between strangers and friends, even the poor, is the only way a society can flourish. Christianity is to ethics what communism is to politics. The communistic teachings of Jesus are impracticable and wholly divorced from reality.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Women allegedly raped by UN peacekeepers in Haiti speak out

Source: Bulawayo24 News and Office of Internal Oversight Services

Side Note: the original article is a write up from an AJ English documentary that premiered in late March.

The United Nation's military occupation of Haiti has dragged on for 13 years, starting in 2004 after the CIA coup against Bertrand Aristide, who became the first democratically elected president in 1990 and again in 2000. During this time, 85 allegations of sexual abuse have been made against UN soldiers, but even this is only a fraction of the crimes. In a May 2015 report, the Office of Internal Oversight Services estimated that at least 500 Haitian women have been raped or sexually exploited by UN soldiers. Furthermore, 229 women engaged in transactional sex with UN soldiers in exchange for necessities such as food and water. Most Haitian women do not report being raped since UN personnel enjoy immunity from criminal liability in Haiti; they can only be prosecuted for a crime in their home country. On top of this, the UN 'peacekeepers' have killed 9,000 Haitians by dumping sewage into the rivers leading to a Cholera epidemic from 2010 until 2016.

Why Federal School Vouchers Are A Horrible Idea

10 Reasons Why Private School Vouchers Should Be Rejected Americans United

Why Federal School Vouchers Are a Bad Idea (from Cato Institute during W.Bush admin)

Why School Vouchers Are a Bad Idea (Ron Paul)

Above I have included links to other articles that argue against school vouchers. There are many reasons to reject school vouchers as an education policy, especially if it is enacted at the federal level, but the most pertinent reasons have yet to be summarized in one article and that is my purpose here.

Federal School Vouchers Would Just Be An Expansion of The Welfare State

Before I go any further, I would like to make it clear what vouchers actually are. Vouchers are not, as school choice proponents like to claim, giving parents their money back to spend on a school they think is best fit for their child. In reality, since vouchers are provided to low income children the parents are more often than not getting more than what they contributed in taxes, so vouchers are in fact demand side subsidies, not tax credits as school choice proponents falsely claim. Furthermore, only a select few parents, who fall below the arbitrarily defined poverty line, will have any chance of receiving a voucher, only a fraction of whom will be selected by lottery. If school vouchers were actually about giving parents back their tax dollars to spend on a school they think is best for their children, it wouldn't be exclusively targeted at impoverished parents. Middle class parents and even some wealthy parents also send their children to public schools but they don't stand to benefit from the proposed $20B in federal school vouchers, which is only targeted at 11 million children that live below the poverty line. So the nature of school vouchers is really more akin to benefit payments than it is to a tax credit. School vouchers, even at the state level, are no different in principle than HUD's housing choice vouchers, TANF, SNAP, or any other welfare programs. School voucher programs are simply outsourcing public education to private institutions; it does not make education a private affair anymore than outsourcing military services to private defense contractors makes the war in Afghanistan a private war. The government still decides which schools get the goodies and which parents get to make a choice. On top of that school attendance is still compulsory so the child has no choice in the matter. This doesn't give children and parents more autonomy, it just makes private schools dependent on government funding and introduces the perverse incentive to compete for subsidies. Competing for subsidies is not a market-oriented approach no matter how much mental gymnastics Betsy Devos and other school choice hacks do to frame it as such. The only thing that will result from a federal school voucher program is a Private/Charter School lobby that will petition for more goodies and accreditation requirements to keep out as much competition as feasible.

Federal School Vouchers Would Be Unconstitutional

Among the many reasons why Trump's plan to provide $20B in federal school vouchers as block grants to states should be rejected, the most important reason is that such a program would be unconstitutional. Article 1 Section 8 details a short list of powers delegated to congress and subsidizing private schools isn't one of them. Yes, congress has drastically deviated from what was originally intended of it, but thousands of wrongs don't justify an additional one. The objection that federal school vouchers should be accepted because congress has already exceeded its constitutional limits is simply the tu quoque fallacy writ large. It is akin to arguing that murder should be permissible because people do it anyway, and sometimes getaway with it, despite legal and moral prohibitions. The 10th amendment dictates that powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the State's respectively, or to the people. Education, especially primary education, is a state and local issue that should be controlled and funded at the state and local level. Having a public school system funded by property taxes might still be a bad policy but at least it isn't outright unconstitutional like Trump's federal school voucher proposal.

Separation of Education and State

School voucher programs are not unconstitutional at the state level unless they are written to only benefit religious schools or exclude some religious schools from the program. However, even at the state level they still delegate to the government more control over their citizens' lives than what is necessary to protect their natural rights. Ideally, education should be a completely private affair. A school voucher program, even at the state level, does not make education any more private then replacing government employees with government contractors makes any government undertaking a private one (e.g. private prisons and defense contractors). It is still directed and allocated by the state, but even worse, it subjects private schools to more state regulations such as anti-discrimination laws and laws concerning what they have to include in their curriculum. The best education is self-education. The education you provide yourself is intrinsically motivated and more conducive to learning than education motivated by fear of state violence and negative societal evaluation. Autodidactism has never been easier than in the information age with free E-learning resources, like Khan Academy and Academic Earth, online journal databases, and online Universities. The first step towards making education private is to make school attendance voluntary. A generation that takes interest in it's own education instead of having it hammered into them will naturally become less subservient to the state and work towards a freer society.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Non-combatant Civilian Deaths Caused By U.S. Airstrikes Spike Under Trump


Washington's coalition Has Killed 5,000 Syrian and Iraqi civilians since 2014. This is a conservative estimate calculated by Airwars, a civil society group that tracks civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria. Between 8,000 and 11,700 have been attributed to the U.S. coalition though these claims have yet to be confirmed. The 4,834 fatalities caused by Washington warplanes includes about 700 children and 400 women. Non-combatant civilian deaths caused by U.S. coalition airstrikes has drastically spiked since Trump took office. Thus far, the Trump administration has killed 245 civilian non-combatants in Iraq and 378 civilians in Syria from February till April. This only takes into account confirmed and fair reports where there is a reasonable amount of evidence from multiple sources on the ground and does not account for ongoing investigations which may inflate these numbers. The spike in civilian fatalities caused by U.S. airstrikes is due in most part to the fact that the Trump administration has taken less precautions and, as much as it pains me to say it, has done less thinking and more knee jerk reacting than Obama. Trump has ordered airstrikes at a rate of one per day since he took office while Obama averaged an airstrike every 5.4 days during his two terms. Furthermore, Trump has discarded many rules of engagement that minimize civilian fatalities in airstrikes.

Trump was never less hawkish than his predecessor or Clinton. Even Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail made Obama look dovish by comparison. He used the guilt by association fallacy to suggest that it was permissible to kill the families of ISIS fighters, a statement which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would mean, among other things, bombing families in European countries as well as 'ally' Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It would also mean killing family members that may have shunned their ISIS relatives or just killing random people who Trump claims are related to ISIS fighters. As early as 2015 he suggested drastically increasing military spending which practically translates to more bombing, more boots on the ground, and more boogeymen to fight. To recall that Trump supporters thought this guy was an 'non-interventionist' is laughable on face value not only in light of his past statement on the Iraq war, which he made Howard Stern, or his past statement on the war in Afghanistan, or his flip flopping on the intervention of Libya, which is stuck in a state of perpetual anarchy, but also in light of the more probable motive that Trump simply criticized these police actions to score brownie points against his primary opponents. Trump doesn't really have any principles; his ideology is egotism. Whatever benefits Trump is good and whatever hurts his reputation is bad or FAKE NEWS! That is the extent of his rationale, and if you're too stupid to see that I feel sorry for you.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Update: Civil Asset Forfeiture Is Theft Most Of The Time

I have added data from the IRS forfeiture racket. The original post only included data on the DEA.

Source: Institute for Justice and here

A recent report released by the DOJ's Office of Inspector General has revealed that, in the vast majority of cases, civil asset forfeiture is used to steal property from innocent people. The DEA is responsible for the vast majority (80%) of cash seizures in the past decade. Since 2007, the DEA has seized a total of $4.15B in cash through civil asset forfeiture. 81% of that cash, or about $3.2B, was taken without charging anyone with a crime or any judicial oversight. The DEA could not verify whether they had advanced a criminal investigation in more than half of these interdiction seizures, conducted without a warrant, that the DOJ sampled.

A similar report released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has revealed that the IRS also seized assets mostly from innocent people in their criminal investigations of structuring laws. In a sample of 278 criminal investigations where the source of forfeiture funds could be determined, 91% of the investigations were conducted on businesses and people who obtained their money legally. In other words, the vast majority of the time people had their property stolen for making multiple cash deposits under an arbitrary amount ($10,000), which coincidentally allowed them to avoid an FDIC report. But the vast majority of Americans don't know about the Bank Secrecy Act so it isn't surprising that many small scale proprietors that do business in cash would violate this arbitrary and capricious law. There are numerous examples of small business owners having their bank accounts seized for making deposits in a structuring pattern, several of which I touched on back on January 2nd in Civil Asset Forfeiture, Anti-Structuring Laws And Other Spawns Of The War on Drugs

It does not matter if a single man takes your money at gun point without pretense or if a group of men who call themselves law enforcement take your money at gun point under the pretense of preventing crime; it is theft in both cases. Popular sanction and more guns does not make immoral actions moral. When the police are allowed to become the judge, jury, and prosecutor, the separation of powers written into the constitution is negated, and despotism, by definition, replaces the rule of law. The fourth amendment reinforces the separation of powers by requiring law enforcement to get a warrant from a magistrate before seizing property. The separation of judicial and executive powers is further reinforced in the fifth and fourteenth amendment by guaranteeing every citizen their day in court before law enforcement can take their life, liberty, or property. When the police are given both executive and judicial power, the U.S. slides further towards despotism and further away from the rule of law.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Pipeline Battle On The Atlantic Coast

Source: Indian Country Media Network and NC Policy Watch

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline that will run 550 miles from the fracking fields in West Virginia to Robeson County, North Carolina. It's construction will be undertaken by Dominion Resources and the pipeline will be operated by Duke Energy, with an estimated cost of $5B. Trump expedited approval for the pipeline back on January 25th when he signed EO to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for 50 high priority 'infrastructure' projects, the most prominent of which were the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an environmental impact statement for the project back in December, but has not yet issued a permit for construction.

As with almost all pipeline projects, construction cannot begin without using the guns of the state to steal other people's property. Many landowners along the proposed route have already mobilized and formed coalitions to stop the pending eminent domain seizure of their property. Landowners in Halifax County and Northampton County Virginia have already organized into the Concerned Stewards of Halifax County group to oppose the pipeline. The ACP already filed lawsuits against 27 Virginia landowners, in 2015, for permission to survey land that fell along the proposed route. The pipeline is also planned to run directly through Lumbee tribal lands in Robeson County, North Carolina. The Lumbee tribal council has yet to take a stance on the Atlantic Costal Pipeline. The Lumbee are not a federally recognized tribal nation so it is very unlikely they will be consulted when the pipeline is built through their land and even less so with Trump as president.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trump Signs Away Your Privacy Rights As A Broadband Customer

In what could only be described as a culmination of events that began during the Bush Administration, President Trump signed Senate Joint Resolution 34 into law, which reversed an FCC rule that protects the privacy of Broadband customers. Republicans used the Congressional Review Act to reverse the rule, approved by the Obama Admin back on January 3rd, and prevent to FCC from writing a similar rule for privacy in the future. The FCC rule prohibited ISPs from selling their customers' web browsing history and location data to third parties without their customers' consent. It also prohibited them from delivering targeted ads to their customers and required them to protect their customers'data from hackers. The rule expanded the privacy requirements for telecommunications companies, already established in the Communications Act of 1934, to ISPs, and reclassified them as a telecommunications service. Established telecommunications privacy rules already prohibit telecommunications companies from disclosing individually identifiable customer proprietary network information except with the customer's consent or as required by law.

Except as required by law or with the approval of the customer, a telecommunications carrier that receives or obtains customer proprietary network information by virtue of its provision of a telecommunications service shall only use, disclose, or permit access to individually identifiable customer proprietary network information in its provision of (A) the telecommunications service from which such information is derived, or (B) services necessary to, or used in, the provision of such telecommunications service, including the publishing of directories.

A telecommunications carrier shall disclose customer proprietary network information, upon affirmative written request by the customer, to any person designated by the customer.

The FCC rule on broadband privacy extended these same requirements to ISPs:

The rules require carriers to provide privacy notices that clearly and accurately inform customers; obtain opt-in or opt-out customer approval to use and share sensitive or non-sensitive customer proprietary information, respectively; take reasonable measures to secure customer proprietary information; provide notification to customers, the Commission, and law enforcement in the event of data breaches that could result in harm; not condition provision of service on the surrender of privacy rights; and provide heightened notice and obtain affirmative consent when offering financial incentives in exchange for the right to use a customer's confidential information.

Now that Republicans have repealed this FCC rule, ISPs can sell their customers' browsing history and location data to third parties, mostly advertisers, without their knowledge or consent, which, among other problems, puts broadband customers at greater risk of identity theft.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Judge orders removal of gas pipeline on Indian land in Oklahoma

Some more good news for a change


In another marginal victory for property rights, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, recently ordered energy company Enable Midstream Partners to remove their gas pipeline from a 137 acre Indian allotment after it failed to get consent for an easement and failed to compensate the landowners for 17 years. The 38 plaintiffs from the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache tribes unanimously agreed to a 20 year easement for the pipeline back in 1980 and were compensated $1,925 for the loss of a 3/4 acre portion of their land. When the easement expired in 2000, Enogex offered the plaintiffs $3,080 to renew the easement, but the majority of the landowners rejected this offer because the amount was below the market value of their land. Enogex continued to operate the pipeline without their consent for several years until it handed operations over to Enable Midstream Partners. The BIA, who are supposed to look out for the best interests of the landowners, further undermined their property rights by initially accepting a $1,100 payment on behalf of the Indian owners to cover Enogex's continued use of the land from 2000 until 2002. The BIA continued to accept fee payments from Enogex from 2002 until 2006 and at one point attempted to approve a new easement despite the landowners objections. The Amerindian landowners never saw a penny of the initial $1,100 payment to the BIA or any of the subsequent fee payments that Enogex paid to the BIA. However, the BIA eventually complied with their wishes and advised the company to cease use of the pipeline in March 2010. The 38 Indian allotment owners plant to return to court to file a lawsuit against Enable Midstream Partners for damages to their property.

District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a 10 page decision on Tuesday that details the facts of the case and orders Enable Midstream Partners to remove the pipeline. In her decision LaGrange wrote:

Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, and in light of the facts and circumstances in this case, the court finds that a permanent injunction should be entered in this case," the decision stated. "Specifically, it is plaintiffs’ interests in the exclusive possession of their land which has been invaded by the presence of the pipeline and defendants’ continued use of the pipeline.

Further, defendants have continued to use the pipeline and although they were advised by the BIA on March 23, 2010, more than five and a half years before the instant action was filed.The court finds defendants’ continuing trespass on plaintiffs’ property is clearly not unintentional.

Energy companies have become one of the biggest enemies of property rights in recent years. In light of the eminent domain abuse they have perpetrated through the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline, and similar infrastructure projects, this could be a hopeful sign that may set a precedent for further protection of property rights against the right-of-way claims of private corporations.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Utah Bans Civil Asset Forfeiture When Defendant Is Acquitted

Some good news for a change

Source: Forbes

In a marginal victory for property rights, the state of Utah recently enacted legislation that allows persons acquitted of a crime to reclaim property seized through civil asset forfeiture. SB87 ensures that no defendant acquitted in criminal court can have their property permanently taken in civil court. SB87 also mandates that law enforcement must return property valued under $10,000 to claimants unless prosecutors file criminal charges within 60 days of filing a forfeiture complaint. Before SB87 was signed into law, the two different legal tracks meant that a defendant was presumed innocent in criminal proceedings, but presumed guilty in the civil proceedings, which sometimes meant defendants found not guilty in criminal court could still be punished for a crime they did not commit. Most cash forfeitures were under $1,324 and out of the 393 Utah forfeiture cases that occurred in 2015 only 6% of them (24) resulted in a criminal conviction, a criminal forfeiture proceeding, or a guilty plea. In conjunction with SB87, the Utah legislature also passed SB70 which requires law enforcement agencies to report if any criminal charges are filed and if they result in a conviction or acquittal whenever they use civil forfeiture. The new statute further requires law enforcement to estimate the value of the property they take and the agencies cost for storing the property and litigating the forfeiture claim. This kind of transparency could pave the way for further restraints on the use of civil forfeiture and perhaps it will eventually be abolished except in cases where a person is convicted of a crime.

The Red Tape Times (article 31)

Source: Institute for Justice

The state of Minnesota has an obscure statute that bans wineries from making wine unless the majority of the grapes used in their wine production are grown instate. This statute effectively imposes a trade barrier against out of state grapes. The drawbacks that result from this trade restriction are several fold. It forces wineries to use mostly grapes they grow in the harsh Minnesota weather, which makes it harder for them to expand their business, makes the wine more expensive and reduces the variety of wines they can produce for consumers. But most importantly, Minnesota's interstate trade restriction on out of state grapes is unconstitutional. Article 1 Section 8 gives congress the sole power to regulate interstate commerce. The dormant commerce clause implies, among other things, that states are prohibited from impeding interstate commerce by discriminating against out of state commerce. State's aren't allowed to restrict trade from other states for the same reason they aren't allowed to set their own immigration policies; they are not independent countries. Our federalist system delegates the authority necessary to maintain a country (e.g. national defense, immigration, trade policy) to the federal government and the rest is delegated to the states and municipal governments. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice has filed suit against the state of Minnesota on behalf of a handful of vineyards/wineries to overturn this statute.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Civil Asset Forfeiture Is Theft Most Of The Time

Source: Institute for Justice

A recent report released by the DOJ's Office of Inspector General has revealed that, in the vast majority of cases, civil asset forfeiture is used to steal property from innocent people. The DEA is responsible for the vast majority (80%) of cash seizures in the past decade. Since 2007, the DEA has seized a total of $4.15B in cash through civil asset forfeiture. 81% of that cash, or about $3.2B, was taken without charging anyone with a crime or any judicial oversight. The DEA could not verify whether they had advanced a criminal investigation in more than half of these interdiction seizures, conducted without a warrant, that the DOJ sampled. It does not matter if a single man takes your money at gun point without pretense or if a group of men who call themselves law enforcement take your money at gun point under the pretense of preventing crime; it is theft in both cases. Popular sanction and more guns does not make immoral actions moral.

When the police are allowed to become the judge, jury, and prosecutor, the separation of powers written into the constitution is negated, and despotism, by definition, replaces the rule of law. The fourth amendment reinforces the separation of powers by requiring law enforcement to get a warrant from a magistrate before seizing property. The separation of judicial and executive powers is further reinforced in the fifth and fourteenth amendment by guaranteeing every citizen their day in court before law enforcement can take their life, liberty, or property. When the police are given both executive and judicial power, the U.S. slides further towards despotism and further away from the rule of law.