Monday, September 23, 2019

DMVs Are Selling Your Information to Third Parties

Sources: Motherboard, EPIC

State DMVs across the country are selling driver’s license and vehicle registration information, for a profit, to legitimate businesses such as insurance companies and towing services as well as to third parties with more dubious intentions such as private investigators, bounty hunters and consumer credit reporting agencies. DMVs establish agreements with requesting third parties called memorandums of understanding that allow them to remotely access personal information from driver’s licenses and vehicle registration either through bulk data collection or targeted searches of specific citizens. A little known law ironically called the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act provides loopholes that allow DMVs to sell drivers’ information, without the permission of the driver’s themselves, to private investigators and other authorized third parties. These loopholes provide exemptions for market research and surveys, insurance activities and licensed investigators or security services. This information can include a person’s name, address, zip code, date of birth, phone number and email address. With these loopholes in place, DMVs can reap windfalls from selling drivers’ information. The Wisconsin DMV has MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with over 3,000 private entities, including two dozen private investigative firms, and collected over $17 million in additional revenue from selling driver data. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles made a staggering $77 million selling driver data in 2017 alone.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Housing First: A Simple But Radical Solution to Homelessness

Sources: Relevant Magazine, Lincoln Land Institute, Housing First Feasibility Study for the Liverpool City Region, The Economic Round table, Department of Corrections Institutional costs, Permanent Supportive Housing: An Operating Cost Analysis

While numerous risk factors and contingencies shape homelessness only one thing is common in each case: a lack of stable housing. Throughout most of Europe, homelessness is on the rise even in the presence of massive welfare states. In the UK, it has risen 7% over the last year. In Germany, it has risen 35% over the last two years, and in France, homelessness has risen 50% over the same time period. Exacerbated by the migrant crisis, homelessness has risen in all but one EU country. Finland has managed to reduce their homeless population by 35% over the past decade and completely eliminate unsheltered homelessness by unconditionally providing stable housing to homeless individuals before tackling any of the mental health or substance abuse problems they may have. The Housing First approach has not only been found to be more effective at reducing homelessness than approaches that prioritize treatment of underlying disorders or, alternatively, doing nothing, it has also been found to be more cost effective. Cities can either pay for homelessness on the front end or the back end and the latter is much more expensive. For instance, in Los Angeles County, criminalization and hospitalization costs about $5,100 more per homeless person and $10,800 more per chronically homeless person compared to those with stable housing. For chronically homeless persons, healthcare costs can be four to five times higher than the non-homeless population while criminal justice costs can be as much as seven to nine times higher. In Washington State, incarcerating an individual can average anywhere between $2,364 to $4,272 per month or $28,370 to $51,264 annually. In contrast, permanent supportive housing and affordable housing is much cheaper, coming in between $6,180 and $5,567 per unit annually.

The Problem with City Shelters

While emergency shelters are usually the go to solution for alleviating homelessness they do not provide stable housing needed to prevent chronic homelessness and exemplify the tragedy of the commons problem. The New York City shelter system, which accommodates 95% of the homeless population there, furnishes a case study in how overcrowded shelters can quickly fall into disrepair and become practical bio-hazards. An investigation conducted by a homeless advocacy group found that shelters often become contaminated with mold and infested with rats and insects. Shelter bathrooms have routine sanitary problems with mold and plumbing problems with clogged toilets and showers that do not work. Shelter staff exacerbate these problems by providing insufficient portions of food and failing to provide laundry services, leaving many residents to wear dirty clothes.

Housing solution for Single Homeless Persons: Tiny House Villages

Roughly two-thirds of the national homeless population is single people. A unique housing solution that many cities have begun to experiment with is allowing the construction of tiny house villages. Local non-profit organizations, churches and community volunteers in Seattle have built some 250 tiny houses, within 8 tiny house villages, on a combination of public and private land. The housing units measure between 100 and 120 square feet, the size of a small bedroom, and cost between $2,200 and $2,500 to produce, which is funded through donations and the Low Income Housing Institute, a local non-profit organization. Cities such as Austin, Denver, and Portland have begun to conduct similar experiments in tiny house production. Most residents of tiny house villages are gainfully employed and, unlike city shelters, these self-governing communities provide homeless persons with independence, reduce their reliance on social services and their burden on the criminal justice system, and most importantly allow them to escape homelessness. Municipal governments could help establish tiny house villages through land banking. Public land as well as vacant and abandoned lots could be rezoned and appropriated to build villages, ideally by private charities and non-profit organizations, while the municipality provides all of the necessary utilities.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Little Rock Police Sued for No Knock Raids

Source: The Appeal

It appears Rodrick Talley isn’t the only no knock raid victim to come forward. The Little Rock, AR police are facing bash lash in the form of civil rights lawsuits after coming up empty handed in several no knock raids that victimized innocent people. The lawsuits allege that police not only failed to announce their presence and intention to search the property, with prior authorization from a judge, but that they lied to obtain no knock search warrants and fabricated probable cause to search for drugs that people didn’t have. As I mentioned in When Exceptions to Our Rights Become The Norm, out of some 1,600 warrants that the Little Rock narcotics unit served over the past decade only 80 of them were not no knock warrants and nearly every probable cause affidavit and warrant contained identical language justifying their exemption from the common law standard of knock and announce, likely copied and pasted from previous affidavits and warrants. As I mentioned previously, only five percent of the suspects targeted in no knock raids even ended up in jail.

Like Talley, Derrick Davis and his finance also had their front door blown up and were surrounded by Jackboot thugs threatening to kill them for selling cocaine they never had. It turns out that they searched his home, and nearly killed him, on a false pretense just as they had done to Talley. In another instance, the narcotics unit broke into the Caldwell family home, fortunately in their absence, for some non-existent meth, vandalized it and stole their home surveillance system. In another lawsuit, the narcotics unit arbitrarily decided to search a home near a home they had a warrant for, shot the homeowner in the back multiple times, and then claimed the homeowner, Lloyd St. Clair, had pointed a gun at them (apparently he has eyes in the back of his head). All bogus charges against each of the four victims were dropped.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Restoring Aboriginal Title is Key to Reducing Deforestation and Preserving Biodiversity

Sources: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights,
Queensland extinguishes native title over Indigenous land to make way for Adani coalmine, Thousands of goldminers invade Yanomami territory, Injustice on the carbon frontier in GuaraqueƧaba, Brazil

A matching analysis on the effect of land tenure on deforestation rates in the Amazon forests of Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia concluded that deforestation rates are significantly lower where indigenous communities have secure land tenure compared to areas where they do not have secure tenure, for all three countries. The study specifically found that areas of the Amazon rainforest where tenure was secured to indigenous communities experienced significant reductions in deforestation between 2000 and 2012. In Bolivia, forestlands where indigenous communities held tenure experienced an average deforestation rate of 0.15% while forestlands outside of indigenous tenure experienced an average deforestation rate of 0.43%. In Brazil, forestlands where indigenous communities held tenure experienced an average deforestation rate of 0.06% while forestlands outside of indigenous tenure declined at an average rate of 0.15%. In Colombia, the average deforestation rate was exactly twice as high outside of indigenous land tenure (0.08%) than within indigenous land tenure (0.04%). The total value of carbon sequestered within forestlands where indigenous communities have secure tenure is estimated to be between $25-35 billion over the next two decades and the equivalent of removing between 9 and 12.6 million cars from the roads for a year. The monetary value of additional benefits secured by securing aboriginal title such as more efficient regulation of the regional ecosystem, local climate dynamics, water cycle, pollination, nutrient retention and even tourism are estimated to be between $679 billion and $1.53 trillion over the same time period. The estimated costs of securing aboriginal title and indigenous land tenure to forestlands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous communities is about one percent of the value of the total benefits derived from securing the title and tenure of these communities over the same time period. As I noted in A Conservative Approach to Protecting the Environment, a prior six nation study conducted by the World Bank program on Forests also found significantly lower rates of deforestation in areas where local communities had legal rights to forestland, with government enforcement of their rights, than so called “protected areas” where local communities have been excluded from their forests. Similar results are found in a comparable study of the biodiversity of forests lands and other habitats across the world. A study of 15,000 geographical areas in Canada, Brazil, and Australia concluded that habitats managed or co-managed by indigenous communities had higher numbers of species than government established protected areas.

Local communities have legal rights to about one-eighth of the world’s forest, which contains 37.7 billion tons of carbon - 29 times the annual footprint of all vehicles, but this is only a fraction of all customary aboriginal land. While indigenous peoples customarily have tenure over 50% of the earth’s surface, governments only recognize their legal right to 10% of it. Despite evidence that preserving indigenous land tenure is one of the most effective policies for reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, governments are still in the habit of extinguishing aboriginal title (the doctrine of discovery) in favor of extraction industries. In a recent case, the Queensland government of Australia used a divide and conquer strategy to seize 1,400 hectares of aboriginal land for a coalmine. The Brazilian government, infamous for its genocidal campaigns against indigenous Amazon tribes, has allowed thousands of gold miners to seize land demarcated for the Yanomami people. Local communities in the Amazon rainforest have also been forced out of land that they have customarily used for subsistence so multinationals such as Chevron and GM can trade carbon credits. The thin veneer of democracy has lent legitimacy to such claims (as if natural rights can be voted away) and placed the issue of land rights, especially indigenous land rights, on the back burner in popular discourse about climate change and the environment. The left-wing framing of this issue would have us believe that we must make drastic changes and great sacrifices to avoid a future global catastrophe, when in fact there are several simple things we can do to achieve the same end. Restoring and preserving indigenous land tenure is one of them. I have also written about other solutions in previous posts throughout this site.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Religious Beliefs Do Not Provide Carte Blanche for Discrimination

Source: Deep South Voice

There’s a viral story circulating twitter this week about a Mississippi wedding venue business turning down an interracial couple because it supposedly violated their deeply held religious beliefs. The owner of Boone’s Camp Event Hall, LLC, located in Booneville, Mississippi, refuses to host both same sex and interracial marriages on faith based grounds. While Mississippi’s religious freedom statute, HB 1523, gives businesses that provide wedding services a pass to refuse their services to same sex couples it does not sanction racial discrimination. In the past, Mississippi, like all southern states had anti-miscegenation laws that made it illegal for whites, defined under the blood quantum laws as at least 15/16 White European, to marry spouses of other races. Of course, these laws were overturned by the ruling in Loving v. Virginia; thus, any government agents or companies that attempt to enforce a ban on interracial marriage are doing so under the color of law. As I have already explained in a previous post, companies that offer their goods or services to the public at large have no right to discriminate on the basis of any federally protected class.

While discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still a legal grey area in many states racial discrimination is not. If Boone’s Camp Event Hall advertises its services to the public at large, engages in interstate commerce, and enjoys certain legal benefits under state law, such as limited liability, then it is a place of public accommodation subject to federal civil rights statute, especially title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Only private clubs, that only provide services on a membership basis, religious organizations and private citizens that sell goods and services through word-of-mouth networks are exempt. While faith based discrimination has been limited to wedding services, Mississippi’s religious freedom statute, and similar laws passed by other state legislatures, could set a dangerous precedent that allows faith based discrimination for services that have nothing to do religion, perhaps even allowing denial of medical care on religious grounds. The line must be clearly drawn between those circumstances in which religious objections are material and those in which they are not. For instance, while it might be impermissible to allow bakers to refuse service to gay customers they should be allowed to refuse to decorate a cake specifically tailored to a gay wedding and only offer a plain wedding cake. In other words, they should be given discretion over the types and designs of the products they sell. This would strike a balance between civil rights of gay customers and Christian bakers.