Monday, January 29, 2018

Epicurus On Worrying About The Future

The gist of it is live in the present moment, but I think it’s much deeper than that. It is like the stoic concept of prosoche or mindfulness, the practice of which consists in freeing your mind of value judgments about the future and past. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t plan, only that you should not become emotionally invested in your expectations, whether they are favorable to you or not.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New Jersey Spent $42 Million Protecting Crooked Cops

Source: Asbury Park Press

In aggregate, municipal governments across the state spent a combined $42.7M covering up a range of police misconduct, from wrongful deaths and false arrests as well as use of excessive force and sexual assault, over the past decade. These New Jersey cities used a litany of secret settlements and out of court non-disclosure agreements with the victims to deny wrongdoing and keep their constituents in the dark about the ‘few bad apples’ on the force.

Often these lawsuits are settled before a jury can resolve the critical question of facts – was excessive force used or were the officer's actions justified? After a citizen files a lawsuit, lawyers for both sides and the judge frequently agree that police documents reviewed in the case will be kept secret, preventing public scrutiny of an officer's history.

Over the course of their two year investigation, Asbury Park Press reviewed 30,000 pages of legal and internal affairs documents, that reveal a history of badge abuse and subsequent cover ups that included 19 wrongful deaths, 130 injuries, and 7 sexual misconduct cases. Often, internal affairs didn’t even investigate complaints of police misconduct and abuse. Out of the 64,353 complaints filed since 2011, 37,470 have been thrown out and 7,674 are still pending. When police misconduct does lead to a settlement, the accused officer sometimes remains on the job.

Of the 531 officers named in suits alleging abuses, at least 231 remain on the job after their employer settled with their accusers, a Press review of employment records found. Many others normally retired years after an allegation.

This happened in the case of Sterling Wheaten, who despite costing Atlantic City $4.5M in 5 lawsuit settlements, remains on the force with a chusy annual salary of $108,548.

Still others were allowed to abuse their power for years before finally being brought to justice, such as in the case of Sgt. Philip Seidle.

Neptune Police Sgt. Philip Seidle has an internal affairs record that tops 600 pages and spans two decades, with several complaints known to involve domestic disputes between him and his wife. He was considered enough of a risk to the public that his service weapon was taken from him, but he was later rearmed. He used that gun to fatally shoot his ex-wife in 2015 in the middle of an Asbury Park street, in front of their 7-year-old daughter.

There is also the slightly less disturbing case of Jersey City cop MD Khan, who was arrested for assaulting his brother-in-law in 2016 but only received a 40-day suspension as a result. In the following year he assaulted another innocent man that got caught in a high speed car chase.

The June 4, 2017, chase ended tragically for Miguel Feliz, 28, an innocent victim caught in the mayhem. The father of a 6-year-old was driving home from his Peapod grocery delivery job when the suspect ran Feliz's aging Toyota off the road. The car burst into flames after slamming into a utility pole. With his clothing on fire and choking on the acrid smoke, Feliz needed help from the police. He got Khan. Khan and another officer kicked Feliz as he laid burning on the ground. Feliz was struck in the face, a cellphone video shot by a passerby showed. Months later, both officers were indicted on aggravated assault charges. The officers have pleaded not guilty.

Naturally this is what happens when you allow the police to investigate themselves. Sure, requiring settlements to be publicized might make police misconduct more transparent and requiring police to be licensed might disincent this behavior but It won’t stop the bleeding. Our form of government is supposed to be based on checks and balances of power. Oversight of the police department shouldn’t come from the same police department. This would be akin to the president having his cabinet investigate him during an impeachment trial. Oversight of executive officials should come from an independent elected body that has the power to subpoena the police department, just as it does at the federal level.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Epicurus On Living Pleasantly

This quote comes from Epicurus in his Letter to Menoeceus, which succinctly explains the doctrines of hedonism. In hedonism, the virtues are seen as instrumental goods necessary for the obtainment of enduring happiness and tranquility, rather than ends in themselves as they are viewed in Stoicism and other schools of virtue ethics. This state of enduring happiness is called 'ataraxia' or inner tranquility. The practice of virtue leads us towards inner tranquility by limiting or eliminating the self-destructive behavior that often results from the pursuit of vain and empty desires. For example, the virtue of temperance keeps us from over indulging in sensual pleasures that may cause more pain for us in the long run. Similarly, the virtue of prudence guides us to make the right choices about which pleasures we should pursue and which pleasures we should avoid. Hopefully, this will help clear up any misconceptions about hedonism in mainstream society.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Washington School District Steals Couple's Home

Source: K5 News

Everett Public School District intends to forcibly take Bruce Gutschmidt and Christine Messer’s home, through eminent domain, in order to build a second school building. Bruce Gutschmidt and Christine Messer have lived on the 1.8 acre property for the past 14 years, and the property has been in Gutschmidt’s family since 1967. It’s fair to say that the property has both a real and sentimental value to Bruce which the school district has failed to take into account. To rub salt in the wound, they have refused to compensate him for its full appraised value or help him with relocation expenses. Unless the couple has relatives and friends in the area, they could very well end up homeless as a result of the school district’s belligerence. The couple has until March 30th to pack up their belongings and move out.

While this eminent domain seizure is for a public use, it violates the just compensation part of the 5th amendment takings clause. Not only are they offering him less than half of his property’s appraised value, they’re also refusing to compensate him for relocation costs. Regardless of how noble their ends are, forcing someone out of their own home, and especially without fair compensation, is always wrong, but that has become the norm in the USSA, where no one has property rights apart from government agencies. The actions of this school district are really no different than the eviction of pygmy clans from the forests of the Congo. Sure, Bruce Gutschmidt and his girlfriend aren’t repressed minorities in a third world country, but the actions are morally equivalent. In both instances, the government claims to use violence for some noble and lofty goals. In the Congo it’s to create national parks to preserve wildlife or the ‘world’s heritage’ as Europeans like to call it. Similarly here, it’s to educate children. In both instances, the government uses these lofty goals to justify violence, but politicians always have ulterior motives, which are impossible to have any certainty of unless you can read minds. That is why actions should be judged by their means, not their ends. The means doesn’t justify the end.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Michigan Man Finally Gets His Life Back After Civil Forfeiture Case is Dropped

Source: Traverse City Record Eagle

For those unfamiliar with the subject of civil asset forfeiture, I would suggest you read my previous posts on the subject including Police Use Civil Forfeiture To Rob Small Businesses, Civil Asset Forfeiture Is Theft Most of The Time, and my earliest post on the subject from January of last year Civil Asset Forfeiture, Anti-Structuring Laws, and Other Spawns of The War on Drugs. I’ve written at least a dozen articles on the subject, which you can find scattered on my blog page. If you look into the subject long enough you won’t be surprised when you come across cases where people have been found not guilty of the crimes they were charged with, but still lost their property. You see civil forfeiture takes the presumption of innocence and flips it on its head, when it comes to the deprivation of property (see 5th amendment to the Constitution). Unlike convicting someone of a crime, ‘seizing’ their property for suspected involvement in a crime requires a much lower standard of evidence. For a criminal conviction, the defendant's guilt must be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, and he/she is assumed innocent until this is done; the burden of proof squarely falls on the prosecutor. Police use of civil forfeiture only requires the preponderance of evidence, which is primarily used in civil cases (hence the name). Furthermore, the burden of proof is reversed in civil forfeiture cases; the person who is deprived of their property becomes the plaintiff and the state becomes the defendant. It was originally created during the peak of the war on drugs to make it harder for gangs and cartels to operate, but like most ‘well intentioned’ government programs it grew into a multi-billion dollar monstrosity that mostly deprives innocent people of their cash, cars, and homes.

In this case, the victim was an elderly man that operated a few medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Grand Traverse County Michigan. A couple of years ago, his home was raided by the local drug task force and he was charged with multiple felonies and a couple of misdemeanors. All of the felony charges were eventually dropped and the man only ended up spending a day in jail. However, despite lacking the evidence necessary to prosecute him on the trumped up felony charges, they still accused him of purchasing his home with the proceeds of criminal activity and subsequently filed a civil suit too take his home and two bank accounts. Luckily, they didn’t even have enough evidence to say that his home and bank accounts likely resulted from the proceeds of criminal activity. It was mostly guesswork and fabrication, but that didn’t stop the Traverse Narcotics Team from tormenting him for years. They conducted multiple raids on his home, supposedly searching for illicit drugs, but they were really there for the money.

Court records detailed numerous raids from TNT, a multi-jurisdictional task force aimed at curbing drug trafficking in northwest Michigan. Murray contended several encounters were more focused on cashing in on his assets than enforcing the laws against drugs.

When they raided this house at 2 a.m. I must’ve heard it ten times: Where’s all the money? … That’s all they were here for,” Murray said. “That’s all their motivation: Money. It’s always money.

Civil forfeiture itself creates an incentive for this behavior. Why spend the time and money trying to prosecute people when it’s more expedient to just take their property and directly use it to fund your own agency. The purpose of civil forfeiture isn’t really to ‘curb’ drug trafficking so much as it is to generate revenue for police departments. In fact, this is the most common argument for civil forfeiture nowadays. But the root of the problem isn’t the underfunding of police departments or other state agencies. This policing practice is a result of the war on drugs and will continue expand until the federal government ceases its hostilities against our constitutional and natural rights under the pretense of keeping people safe from their own bad choices.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Conservation Is A Pretext For Genocide (part 8)

Conservation and Pygmy Slavery

Read: Pygmies in the Congo treated like pets, Slaves of the Congo, The Pygmies Plight

The last article was written by a foreign correspondent for the Smithsonian about a decade ago, but the information he provides in his first hand account is still relevant today. Since the French colonial era, pygmy clans in the Congo basin have been gradually forced out of their ancestral forests, which they are adapted to living in, and into villages inhabited mostly by Bantu tribes. As a result of being dispossessed of their land and forbidden to hunt or forge in the newly designated ‘protected areas’, pygmies live in extreme poverty. Their only option to survive is to perform hard labor for Bantu landlords for next to nothing in compensation, although a few enterprising clans have made a meager living growing cannabis, which is illegal in countries like the Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. Even though slavery is illegal in all African countries (on paper), the Bantu landlords treat the pygmies like property and give them only enough subsistence to keep them alive. Instead of eating bushmeat and wild herbs as they had done when they occupied the forest , the main staple of their diet now consists of a starchy plant called cassava root. This diet provides very little protein and has resulted in increased malnutrition and the outbreak of disease among pygmy clans, which has taken a toll on their numbers. European ‘human rights’ observers have acknowledged all of these problems to some extent, but they have failed to acknowledge the role their own civil societies and governments have played in creating them. Illegal logging and civil war have certainly played a role in forcing pygmies out of the forest, but so has the creation of so called ‘protected areas’ and national parks, which has been done, in no small part, with enticement and financing from USAID, the EU, the World Bank, as well as multi-billion dollar conservation groups like WWF and WCS.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Conservation Is A Prextext For Genocide (part 7)

European Union Continues To Fund Persecution of Sengwer People

Source: Forest Peoples Programme, Call to respond to the threats to the Sengwer

Location: Nairobi, Kenya

This very topic was previously covered in Conservation Is A Pretext For Genocide (part 6)

Between December 25th and 29th, the Kenya Forest Service, which is partially funded by the EU, conducted another wave of evictions of the Sengwer communities in Cherangany Hills. 100 armed KFS guards were deployed to the Sengwer communities in Cherangany Hills and Embobut forest to force them to leave, arresting community members and burning their homes down. Despite being the indigenous inhabitants of Cherangany hills and Embobut forest, the Sengwer have faced decades of persecution by the Kenyan government simply for living there, even though the 2010 national constitution recognizes their right to occupy ancestral lands (Article 63.2.d.ii) and the supreme court of Kenya granted an injunction against the evictions in 2013. Oddly enough, the same region is the site of a joint conservation effort between the EU and Kenyan government: the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. The KFS and their parent agency, the Ministry of Environment, have used the presence of a water tower in the region as an excuse to terrorize the Sengwer, claiming to be protecting the water tower for Kenya. The video below is from a similar eviction conducted a few years ago.

UN Convention 1021 defines genocide as: a) Killing members of the group;(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hedonism As A Journey

There are two kinds of pleasures that differ in duration, stability, and intensity. They are what I would call euphoria and eudaemonia. The former is short lived, induces erratic behavior, and brings about very intense feelings of happiness; the latter is long lived, is conducive to reasonable behavior, but brings about a less intense feeling than euphoria. Euphoria is the dopamine rush of sex, drug use (particularly hard stimulants), eating rich food, or any other activity that satisfies immediate desires without prolonged effort. Eudaemonia is the pleasure that is brought about through achievement, good habits, and the pursuit of knowledge. It is sometimes called pride, joy, or satisfaction with life, but they all refer to pleasures of the same kind.

However high or low we are at any time, we always eventually return to baseline. This is true even of people going through depressive or manic episodes. If our goal in life is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, then we should not elevate ourselves above baseline by seeking euphoria, but elevate our baseline itself by seeking eudaemonia. The explanation for this is simple. The pleasures that elevate us above baseline are sensual pleasures caused by external stimulation, and they cannot persist without constant external stimulation. The pleasures that elevate the baseline itself are the more enduring intellectual pleasures and moral sentiments that rely on internal stimulation i.e. conscious thought. For this reason, they persist even when the external stimuli that aroused them is far removed in the past. Of course this is not to say that all sensual pleasures should be avoided and only intellectual pleasures and moral sentiments should be pursued. What is meant here is that the latter should be prioritized over the former as the foundation of a meaningful life.

Maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain in the long run is not as simple as it seems on paper. In this pursuit we are bound to stumble upon obstacles of our own invention; obstacles that result from our very nature. In these instances we are required to sacrifice the immediate gratification of our base desires for greater pleasure in the long run. To maximize pleasure in the long run we have to overcome our instincts by learning to exercise restraint over them through habituation, that is, we have to learn and practice the four cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, courage and prudence. All four cardinal virtues refer to some restraint on instinctive behavior. Temperance is a restraint on sensual indulgence of our appetites. Prudence is a restraint on reflexive behavior. Courage is a restraint on our instinct to avoid situations that elicit fear, and justice is a restraint on emotional impulse. The cardinal virtues become ingrained through repetition over time, the result of which is a stable character that is less susceptible to the emotional ascents and descents of life.

Michigan Uses Forclosure Process To Steal Property Over Small Tax Debts

Source: Pacific Legal Foundation

In the state of Michigan, county governments can evict people from their own homes and sell their homes for a profit if the homeowner pays even a little bit under what they ‘owe’ in property taxes. Case in point, Oakland County foreclosed on Uri Rafaeli’s rental property and sold it for $24,500 because he underpaid his property taxes by $8.41, but the county pocketed the entire profit from the sale and left Rafaeli with nothing. In a similar case, Oakland County foreclosed on Andre Ohanessian’s home and sold it for $82,000 because he owed $6,000 in taxes and penalties. In this case too the county kept the entire profit from the sale, again taking more than what the homeowner actually owed them in taxes. Local governments in Michigan use foreclosure laws much like civil forfeiture except the victims of the theft aren’t even accused of a crime. The problem with property taxes aside, no one should be forced to pay more than what they owe for local services. Taking more than what you are owed is theft, even when the government does it. Furthermore, the takings clause of the fifth amendment explicitly prohibits the deprivation of property rights without just compensation. This requires county governments to pay back in full any amount over what is owed.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Necessity of Being Guided By Principles

I finished the last entry, ‘Rational Hedonism Explained’, without fully explaining the last categorical distinction between hedonistic ethics and the hedonistic attitude. Of particular interest is an explanation for the necessity of being rooted in a discernible ethical principle rather than estimations of future costs and benefits (i.e.pains and pleasures) or reliance on good intentions.

Experience has taught us that every action or choice has not only an immediate and intended effect, but several distant and unintended effects. This is true of isolated incidents and even more so of habits that form when the same actions are repeated often enough over time. Since the human mind often succumbs to various cognitive biases, prejudices, and logical fallacies, it more often than not fails to account for some or all of the distant effects of its choices and thus makes calculation errors in estimating costs relative to benefits. Without an objective frame of reference, the mind chooses whatever happens to be the most expedient and immediately gratifying. To a great extent, people have been programmed to seek immediate gratification by a consumer culture that demands quicker services and the elimination of more inconveniences, but also it is a result of our base nature or Id. Errors in reasoning (e.g. cognitive biases, prejudices, and logical fallacies) can only be avoided by basing our judgments in discernible principles drawn from consistent observations. For instance, in science these errors in reasoning are avoided by deferring to a uniform scientific method and adhering to a number of basic principles such as studies must be replicable (i.e. uniformity of nature), hypotheses must be falsifiable (i.e. empiricism), that the influence of variables that are not of interest should be controlled for or diminished to the greatest extent possible (i.e. scientific validity), that the best explanation for a phenomenon is usually the one which makes the least number of assumptions (i.e. law of parsimony) etc. Therefore, a hedonistic ethics (or any other theory) is only practicable when guided by discernible principles such as the cardinal virtues.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

City Appeals Injunction Ending Their Illegal Property Confiscation Scheme

Source: Institute for Justice

I haven’t been keeping up with IJ as of late, so I was surprised to see that an Indiana judge had granted a temporary injunction against the City of Charlestown’s use of eminent domain on behalf of private developer John Neace. I have made previous posts about this story which you can read here: Indiana Mayor Steals Property From Homeowners To Give To A Private Developer and hereBombshell Documents Reveal Collusion Between Charlestown Indiana and A Private Developer

The original story about the Indiana judge granting a preliminary injunction against Charlestown was posted by the courier journal on December 4th.

An Indiana judge granted a temporary injunction that forces Charlestown officials to treat the residents of Pleasant Ridge the same as they do a developer seeking to redevelop the low-income neighborhood. In his Monday ruling, Scott County Judge Jason Mount wrote that if the city waives fines for properties owned by Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment LLC, "then it must waive fines imposed on other property owners" in the neighborhood, according to court records.

As part of the Monday ruling, Mount stated that the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association would likely win its claim that Charlestown officials violated their Federal Equal Protection. He said the city has treated the developer different from those who do not want to demolish their properties, which violates Indiana law.

Of course equal protection of the law or equality before the law usually only exists in theory. In practice, the U.S. government selectively enforces its laws, and that’s one of the reasons the U.S. is not a true republic, and this whole ordeal might have been avoided if our criminal government had abided by the constitution and respect people’s property rights.

Innocent Man Arrested And Drugged By Police

Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

On June 15th of last year, Eugene Wright was arrested by Meadville Police and injected with antipsychotic drugs at the Meadville Medical Center in a case of mistaken identity.
The most infuriating part of this story is that this whole ordeal could have been avoided through a simple ID check. Eugene Wright, a 63 year old man that works at an auto parts store, was just going about his day when he was stopped by Meadville Police. They told him he had been at his orthopedic appointment in the morning and had made threats against himself and others. Unbeknown to Mr. Wright, there was a psychiatric patient with the same name. However, Mr. Wright was at work during the supposed doctor’s appoint incident and he wasn’t the same age as the other Eugene Wright, and he certainly didn’t look the same or live at the same address as the other Eugene Wright. The whole matter could have been cleared up if police had simply checked his ID and called his employer as he asked them too, but being the typical egomanics they could not admit that they were wrong and decided to arrest him anyway.That’s the thing about cops; they can never admit to being wrong and even when they are proven to be wrong they still find some bullshit rationalization for their actions because they rarely pay for their mistakes. Now Mr. Wright is suing the Meadville Police Department, which in reality means the taxpayer will be on the hook for their ‘mistake’.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Rational Hedonism Explained

Originally written on January 6, 2017

First Premise

Human behavior is motivated by emotions, instincts and other unconscious drives.

Second Premise

Pleasure, happiness or what could be more accurately called eudaimonia is the only thing worth pursuing as an end in itself; the best life is lived in the pursuit of eudaimonia and the avoidance of pain.

Third Premise

Every choice has not only an immediate and intended effect, but several distant and unintended effects. This is true of isolated incidents and even more so of habits that form when the same choices are repeated often in enough over time.

The difference between rational hedonism and what is most commonly called hedonism

Short- term v. Long-term

The primary difference between rational hedonism and the more well-known sensual hedonism, the archetype that comes to mind when we think of hedonism, is the distinction between time preferences. Choices that lead to pleasure in the short term, may lead to long-term pain. Choices that are painful in the short term, may lead to greater long-term pleasure. The latter requires one to defer gratification; sacrificing a present comfort or pleasure in order to attain a greater pleasure in the future, while in the former one can act impulsively without forethought.

Both rational hedonism and sensual hedonism concur on both the first and second premise, but diverge on the third. Sensual hedonism typically does not involve premeditation or any deliberation over consequences; it is not so much a philosophy as it is a live for the moment attitude.

Higher and lower pleasures

The second difference between rational hedonism and sensual hedonism, is that the object of the former is predominantly the stimulation of faculties exclusive to humans, while the object of the latter is the gratification of desires shared in common with lower animals. The rational hedonist pursues intellectual pleasures and develops moral sentiments such as sympathy, while the sensual hedonist pursues base pleasures such as indulgence in sex, eating, recreational drugs, alcohol, and the consumption of luxury goods.

Duration of pleasures

The higher pleasures can be sustained for a longer period of time than the lower pleasures and provide greater satisfaction in less quantity. Repetition of the base pleasures leads to a diminishing response to the pleasurable stimuli and increased tolerance; the limits are material and definite. The intellectual pleasures and moral sentiments are not subject to the same definite limits; they may be repeated without diminishing the response.

Living by principles v. expediency

The four cardinal virtues (i.e. justice, temperance, prudence, courage) are the frame of reference for rational hedonism in judging the merit of each pleasure and pain. Sensual hedonism has no frame of reference other than what is immediately convenient at present.

Elderly Couple Arrested For Buying Plants Without State Permission

Sources: The Kansas City Star

New York Times: U.S. Is Pressed to Comply With Wildlife Protection Treaty

It’s not the kind of plants you would expect either. Kermit and Sandy Schofield from Theodosia, MO could receive a 5 year prison sentence for purchasing ginseng root in Arkansas and transporting it back to Missouri without obtaining the government’s permission, and for doing so outside a 6 month window in which the government allows people to purchase the herb. The couple bought ginseng root in bulk to sell through their home business, Schofield Roots and Herbs, without having a certification to do so, which is in part the result of an international treaty, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. What most people don’t realize is that much of our laws, like this one, are dictated by international treaties and international bodies not subject to democratic scrutiny. The aforementioned treaty shaped U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy for animals like lynx and snow leopard as well as herbs like ginseng. However, unlike the first two examples, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is not listed in the Endangered Species Act. In fact, ginseng is abundant across the midwest and east coast states; the root is sold by botanical stores everywhere. It’s hard to imagine what interest the government would have in protecting this plant other than extorting people to support their bloated bureaucracy. In reality, private landowners have more of a vested interest in the preservation of this plant than any paper pusher in Washington, especially if it’s one of the means by which they make a living.