Eminent wrongheadedness 1

Eminent domain: The compulsory purchase of private property by government “for public use”.

Eminent domain:  Sheer robbery.

From Truth Revolt:

The Sheahan family has owned a 400-acre mine in the Nevada desert town of Groom, 83 miles northwest of Las Vegas, since 1889. This was long before the construction of a secret United States Air Force military base in 1950s commonly known as Area 51. But the family is suddenly facing eviction if they refuse to comply with the military’s demands. …

The Sheahan’s may have just spent their last Labor Day on the property. They [had] until [last] Thursday to accept the payment offer from the Air Force or be evicted from their property through eminent domain. However, the Sheahans say the $5 million offer would be shared by 20 people and is “woefully inadequate” to cover 400 valuable acres that includes a silver mine, and all of the mineral, water, and timber rights.

“We want them to leave us alone,” mine co-owner Joe Sheahan said. “This is our property. It’s legal. These are patents that were signed by Ulysses S. Grant. This is not new stuff.”

Co-owner Barbara Manning added, “And we are not their threat. We have been trying to be really good neighbors for all of our lives and so have our grandparents and our parents.”

The mine has been unable to be worked since 1954 when the on-site mill was blown up and destroyed, believed to be caused by a jettisoned engine from an Air Force Jet. But at least once a month, family members take turns visiting the property to carry out maintenance, or just to simply get away.

Though the family has been allowed to stay on the property for nearly 60 years alongside the military testing base, it is now considered a security risk. From the report:

The Air Force now says that private land ownership in the testing area is incompatible with security and safety concerns.

This is a different line than the family was given back in 1984 when the Air Force sent them the following in a letter:

The Air Force could only terminate your rights through condemnation or purchase of the property. We have no intention of initiating such actions.

The Las Vegas news outlet states that the Sheahans [were]  hoping for Congress to step in to help them avoid eviction … But none of Nevada’s Republican or Democrat congressmen would respond to statement requests. The same goes for Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Dean Heller.

The use of eminent domain to confiscate this property may arguably be justified on the grounds that national security takes precedence over property rights.

But eminent domain is too often used to assist powerful commercial interests. The government seizes property and then sells it to private developers, claiming that the new owner will be serving “the public good”.

One entrepeneur who has taken advantage of eminent domain through such a process is Donald Trump.

From the Washington Times, by David Keene:

Conservatives are by their nature a fractious bunch, but through time they have consistently rallied around certain shared values. At times, national defense questions have dominated the national debate and the debate within the movement while at other times, social or economic issues have seemed to define the movement. In fact, however, while the public focus has changed based on circumstances, the basic views of all these hyphenated conservatives have never varied. The organizers of CPAC have for two decades polled attendees as to their core beliefs and have found a consistent belief in free markets and limited government as the dominant definer of the movement.

It’s time for conservatives who share these values to begin questioning the wisdom of the current fascination with Donald Trump. It is true that the man is successfully channeling the conservative frustration with our elected leaders and the media elite. Applauding his willingness to stand up to the false gods of political correctness is understandable as is the outrage at the way the oh-so-comfortable establishment has reacted to him and his rhetoric, but none of that can possibly justify elevating the man to the presidency of the United States. In fact, based on his public statements he is far more philosophically inconsistent or, dare we say it, “liberal” than any of the “establishment” candidates that so frustrate us.

More important perhaps is the matter of temperament. There is always a lot of talk about the “judicial temperament” required of judicial nominees, but the temperament of those we consider elevating to the presidency is even more important. A president’s inclination to abide by the constraints imposed on the office by the Founders is, as we have learned in recent years, directly related to his own concept of his place in the world. The current occupant of the Oval Office finds constitutional limits roadblocks to be bypassed or ignored. Listening to the Donald, one cannot escape the conclusion that he, too, sees himself as too important to be constrained by the scribblings of a bunch of dead white men. That alone is a reason to be skeptical about the man.

One only need go back to his reaction to the Supreme Court decision in the 2005 Kelo case giving government the power to expand the eminent domain power to allow the taking of private property not to build highways, but to give it to others so they can make money and the government can collect more tax money. … It didn’t trouble Mr. Trump, one of the few public figures in the country to publicly praise it. “I happen to agree with it 100 percent,” he said while conservatives around the country were tearing their hair out to find ways to restore the balance between individual property rights, government power and the public good.

Mr. Trump’s position then was predictable. He often entered into “partnerships” with local governments and got them to use their power to go after homeowners standing in the way of yet another Trump Tower, park or monument, and he couldn’t understand why private citizens should be able to stand in his way. A man who thought that way then and continues to think that way, regardless of whether he deserves applause for his positions on this or that issue is not one to be trusted with the awesome power of the presidency.

But it looks more than possible that Donald Trump could be the next president.

And he has some very good ideas. Just to start with, he wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico; hit ISIS hard; and make everybody richer (except hedge fund managers).

We think he would build the wall.

We hope he would destroy ISIS.

And wouldn’t  it be luvverly if he made us all richer?

 

(Hat-tip for the Washington Times article to our highly valued commenter liz.)

Posted under Capitalism, Conservatism, liberty, United States, US Constitution by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, September 16, 2015

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Precarious life, restricted liberty, unhappiness 4

In a free country, the liberty of everyone is protected by the rule of law. If freedom is indivisible, no country is free. Some protect freedom to some extent. Many don’t do it at all.

The United States was founded on the principle that the law should protect individual liberty. But all too often, and increasingly, it fails to do so.

Let’s look at just one case where the principle was violated.

Jeff Jacoby writes at Townhall:

Nearly nine years have elapsed since the US Supreme Court, in one of its most notorious rulings, decided that seven homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., had no property rights which City Hall was bound to respect. Today Fort Trumbull is a wasteland, as a detailed new report confirms.

The court’s 2005 holding in Kelo v. City of New London gave local officials a green light to seize and demolish private homes through eminent domain, then turn the land over to developers itching to build something more lucrative. In Fort Trumbull, those private homeowners included people such as Susette Kelo, a local nurse who bought her little Victorian cottage on the Thames River because she loved its waterfront view; Wilhelmina Dery, who was born in her house on Walbach Street in 1918 and had been living there all her life; and Pasquale and Margherita Cristofaro, whose home on Goshen Street was the second New London property they lost to eminent domain, the first having been taken 30 years earlier because the city intended to construct a seawall. (The seawall was never built.)

Their homes, like those of their neighbors, were targeted at the urging of Pfizer, Inc. The pharmaceutical giant was building a major research facility nearby and wanted city officials to pave the way for a “world-class redevelopment” that would appeal to the business leaders, scientists, and other professionals the new headquarters was expected to attract. “Pfizer wants a nice place to operate,” a supercilious executive said in 2001. “We don’t want to be surrounded by tenements.”

The Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause” authorizes eminent-domain takings, but only when property is needed “for public use” — for example, to build a post office, widen a road, or create a reservoir. Fort Trumbull’s homeowners argued all the way up to the Supreme Court that their homes weren’t being seized for “public use” but for private use. Under the Constitution, they insisted, the city had no right to forcibly transfer their property to a private developer in the hope that new development would yield higher tax revenues or new jobs. 

But five justices — John Paul Stevens, Steven Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Anthony Kennedy — decided otherwise. With their imprimatur, New London confiscated the modest but well-cared-for homes of Fort Trumbull. The last remaining owners were forced out. The bulldozers moved in. The land was cleared for the kind of upscale redevelopment that Pfizer and its political allies in New London craved: a posh hotel, a conference center, a condominium complex, a health club, and high-end shops.

And how did it all end up?

When journalist Charlotte Allen went recently to New London to find out, what she found, as she reported in the Weekly Standard, was “a vast, empty field —  90 acres — that was entirely uninhabited and looked as though it had always been that way”. There is no hotel, no health club, no condos. The neighborhood that for generations had been home to working-class families like the Derys and Cristofaros is now a “deserted incline”,  where the only signs of life are “waist-high dead weeds”.

The homeowners were dispossessed for nothing. Fort Trumbull was never redeveloped. Pfizer itself bailed out of New London in 2009. Kelo was a disaster, as even the city’s present political leaders acknowledge. Allen writes that the current mayor, who was elected in 2011, has formally apologized to the Kelo plaintiffs, calling the decision a “black stain” on New London’s reputation. City officials agreed to install a plaque on the heights above the Thames in memory of Margherita Cristofaro, who died during the long legal battle. It notes that she and her family “made significant contributions to the Italian-American community, sacrificing two family homes to the eminent domain process”.

If anything good came of Kelo, it was the furious nationwide backlash, which led a number of states — Massachusetts, unfortunately not among them — to pass new laws protecting property ownersfrom abusive eminent-domain takings. But such still happens, and will go on happening until Kelo is overruled.

The founders put the Takings Clause in the Bill of Rights for a reason. The desolation that is Fort Trumbull is a grim reminder that where property rights aren’t secure, neither is freedom — and without freedom, there is nothing the government can’t destroy.

Shifting sands 2

We who counted ourselves luckier than the general run of humankind because we live in the United States of America are no longer standing on firm ground but on shifting sands.

What accustomed ways, what assumptions on which we’ve always relied, what expectations we’ve long held, what values we’ve taken for granted, are not being interrogated anew?

Customs, values, standards, principles – the elements that cement civilization – are being let go, one after another, at ever increasing pace as we are moved away from liberty into serfdom.

Have you relied on custom? On long accepted moral norms? On the probity of public servants? On high standards of medical practice? On the intellectual openness of universities? On the integrity of scientists? On the solidity of old established institutions? On common values of decency, civility, and honesty?

You, we, can do so no longer. The wrecking crew is out. The fundamental transformation of America is underway.

Immense progress in science and technology will not help us because all invention will come under the ever-expanding control of the government and its ideological army of wreckers.

Over what part of our lives, even the most intimate, is government not taking control?

Our freedom of speech has been qualified by political correctness. Certain words are taboo, and it is widely accepted that they ought to be, on the grounds that some might take offense if they hear them.

In almost everything we commonly do, in almost every sphere of normal activity, we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty. So multitudinous are the regulations continually heaped upon us by government that we could be unknowingly breaking the law every hour of every day, in our businesses, our professions, our leisure, our shopping, our travel, or while simply breathing inside our own homes. The hand of government is on our thermostats. Its scolding tongue lashes us if we use more water than it deems necessary to our survival. It tells us what we ought to eat and drink; what we must do with our garbage; what we may not carry on a plane; what we may not move from one state to another. If we unintentionally break an obscure business regulation, we can be raided by an armed SWAT team and heavily fined. If we gather people together at regular intervals in our home to share a common interest we can be sentenced to a term in prison. (The example our link leads to concerns a bible-studying group. We would hate to attend it ourselves, but we defend the freedom of everybody.)

Do not expect the money you earn, save, or invest to keep its value. Our currency is being continually debased. We cannot even be sure that our cash will be safe in a bank. It’s all too possible that government will summarily confiscate it. What happened recently to private deposits in Cyprus banks could happen here – a blatant act of government theft:

According to in-house memos now circulating, the DHS has issued orders to banks across America which announce to them that “under the Patriot Act” the DHS has the absolute right to seize, without any warrant whatsoever, any and all customer bank accounts, to make “periodic and unannounced” visits to any bank to open and inspect the contents of “selected safe deposit boxes”.

We can  no longer rely on our title deeds to protect our property tenure. On the grounds of “eminent domain” any real estate, including your own home, can be snatched away by government and handed over to someone else who wants to change its use for his own benefit. In the case of land, the government can declare it subject to environmental laws that make it impossible for its owners to use it as they choose.

Government agencies which many or even most considered irreproachably honorable (if also terrifyingly powerful) – such as and chiefly the Internal Revenue Service  – have turned out to be rotten with corruption.

We are surveyed by government all the time. We have come to expect that we cannot make a phone-call 0r send an email that government doesn’t know we made or sent. And government can look at what we said in them at any time it chooses. Under “Obamacare” we cannot have an ingrowing toenail, a terminal disease, a deformity, an embarrassing whatever that untold numbers of persons will not be informed about.

In the matter of our health and “Obamacare”, we do not know how we will pay for medical consultations and treatment in future; what insurance we may have, at what price, or what it will cover.

The political principles on which the Republic was founded are no longer the bedrock of the American nation.

The values our civilization was built on – which are not in any religion but in pre-Christian classical antiquity and the Enlightenment – are no longer esteemed. Worse, they are despised, mocked, and discarded.

Mark Steyn, recognizing the rot, writes of a recent momentous day in the decay of America – June 26, 2013:

First thing in the morning, Gregory Roseman, Deputy Director of Acquisitions (whatever that means), became the second IRS official to take the Fifth Amendment, after he was questioned about awarding the largest contract in IRS history, totaling some half a billion dollars, to his close friend Braulio Castillo, who qualified under a federal “set aside” program favoring disadvantaged groups — in this case, disabled veterans. For the purposes of federal contracting, Mr. Castillo is a “disabled veteran” because he twisted his ankle during a football game at the U.S. Military Academy prep school 27 years ago. How he overcame this crippling disability to win a half-billion-dollar IRS contract is the heartwarming stuff of an inspiring Lifetime TV movie. …

The so-called comprehensive immigration reform is so comprehensive it includes special deals for Nevada casinos and the recategorization of the Alaskan fish-processing industry as a “cultural exchange” program, because the more leaping salmon we have the harder it is for Mexicans to get across the Bering Strait. While we’re bringing millions of Undocumented-Americans “out of the shadows,” why don’t we try bringing Washington’s decadent and diseased law-making out of the shadows?

Just when you thought the day couldn’t get any more momentous, the Supreme Court weighed in on same-sex marriage. When less advanced societies wish to introduce gay marriage, the people’s elected representatives assemble in parliament and pass a law. That’s how they did it in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, etc. But one shudders to contemplate what would result were the legislative class to attempt “comprehensive marriage reform,” complete with tax breaks for Maine lobstermen’s au pairs and the hiring of 20,000 new IRS agents to verify business expenses for page boys from disparate-impact groups. So instead it fell to five out of nine judges, which means it fell to Anthony Kennedy, because he’s the guy who swings both ways. Thus, Supreme Intergalactic Emperor Anthony gets to decide the issue for 300 million people.

As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben so famously says in every remake, with great power comes great responsibility. Having assumed the power to redefine a societal institution that predates the United States by thousands of years, Emperor Tony the All-Wise had the responsibility at least to work up the semblance of a legal argument. Instead, he struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that those responsible for it were motivated by an “improper animus” against a “politically unpopular group” they wished to “disparage,” “demean,” and “humiliate” as “unworthy.”

What stump-toothed knuckle-dragging inbred swamp-dwellers from which hellish Bible Belt redoubt would do such a thing? Well, fortunately, we have their names on the record: The DOMA legislators who were driven by their need to “harm” gay people include notorious homophobe Democrats Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and the virulent anti-gay hater who signed it into law, Bill Clinton. …

In his dissent, Justice Scalia wrote that “to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions.” Indeed. With this judgment, America’s constitutional court demeans and humiliates only its own. …

As I say, just another day in the life of the republic: a corrupt bureaucracy dispensing federal gravy to favored clients; a pseudo-legislature passing bills unread by the people’s representatives and uncomprehended by the men who claim to have written them; and a co-regency of jurists torturing an 18th-century document in order to justify what other countries are at least honest enough to recognize as an unprecedented novelty. Whether or not, per Scalia, we should “condemn” the United States Constitution, it might be time to put the poor wee thing out of its misery.

Hayek warned us that an over-mighty state would put us on “the road to serfdom”. Well, we’ve arrived. We’ve passed the sign at the side of the road saying “Welcome to Serfdom” and we are now in Serfdom itself. It is built on a quagmire of erroneous theory. Serfs may console themselves with an illusion of security, but serfs are not secure; they exist at the whim of their masters.

By the time Islam takes over and imposes sharia law over the whole of North America, we’ll hardly notice any difference.

*

Afterword: One of our readers and commenters, Roger, laments the drop in standards of personal presentation among his professional colleagues with this description. (Please note we make no judgments of a person by his taste or appearance. We quote this comment because it conveys how some American citizens feel they have strayed into an alien world.)

Yes, our society is changing. I attended a construction “kick-off” meeting yesterday, at which all of the construction “professionals” were present as well as the major trades. This project is for the renovation of a very high end residence, if I mentioned the Client’s name many of you would know the person. The Architect wore an ill fitting suit that looked like it had been piled into a corner of the utility room for weeks, bare feet and flip-flops (on a construction site!) The project manager wore a loose undershirt of the type colloquially known I believe, as a “wife beater”. His entire upper body was covered in multicolored tattoos depicting what seemed to be scenes from robot wars featuring children’s Saturday morning cartoon characters. The representative of one of the mechanical trades wore a patched and worn out dungaree overall and sported a bone through his nose. [They all] wore various metal items in different parts of their faces; earrings, nose rings, lip rings, etc. None seemed in the least bit surprised at the attire of the others. I admit my concentration suffered as I wondered when it was exactly that I had been abducted and brought to this planet, and when the hell could I go home.