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This 2013 excerpt of ProPublica, Aug 13, is by Abrahm Lustgarten.
In 1982, in a landmark effort to keep people from being fleeced by the oil industry, the federal government passed a law establishing that royalty payments to landowners would be no less than 12.5 percent of the oil and gas sales from their leases.
From Pennsylvania to North Dakota, a powerful argument for allowing extensive new drilling has been that royalty payments would enrich local landowners, lifting the economies of heartland and rural America. The boom was also supposed to fill the government’s coffers, since roughly 30 percent of the nation’s drilling takes place on federal land.
Over the last decade, an untold number of leases were signed, and hundreds of thousands of wells have been sunk into new energy deposits across the country.
But manipulation of costs and other data by oil companies is keeping billions of dollars in royalties out of the hands of private and government landholders, an investigation by ProPublica has found. In some cases, they are being paid virtually nothing at all.
Some companies deduct expenses for transporting and processing natural gas, even when leases contain clauses explicitly prohibiting such deductions.
Significant amounts of fuel are never sold at all – companies use it themselves. Chesapeake Energy deducted marketing fees from payments to a landowner even though the fees went to its own subsidiary. A court ruled that the company was entitled to charge the fees.
Over the last three decades, the government has recouped more than $4 billion in unpaid fees from cheating extractors.
Ed. Notes: While the little guys getting a slice is better than the big guys hogging it all, who really deserves the surplus value of oil in the ground? Nobody put it there. And everybody makes it valuable (by buying so much gasoline, mainly, and some heating fuel, etc). At least Alaska pays residents an oil dividend. And Norway funds a generous government. To know how much of the profit represents the rental value of oil in the ground, perhaps governments should buy stock in oil companies, attend stockholder meetings, get on the boards of directors, and examine the books closely. That’s spell an end to our oiligarchy now ruling the world, and get us closer to a democracy, secure on economic justice.
Are private property rights under siege by a government program called Rails to Trails?
This 2013 excerpt of Reason, Oct 27, is by Kathryn Ciano.
Rails to Trails is a government program to convert abandoned railroad tracks to recreational trails. Sounds great, except that the tracks run over private property, and the private landowners haven’t been paid for this permanent land grab. A case before the Supreme Court this term, Brandt v. United States, demonstrates the program’s problems.
In 1988, a century after contracts were signed, the federal government passed a “Railbanking” law to preserve its possession and establish its right to turn abandoned railroad tracks into recreational parks. This was not what landowners had agreed to and was not within the terms of the government’s limited right to use others’ land.
Converting the tracks into a trail makes the government’s use of the land permanent rather than temporary and conditional on the railroad’s use. It also changes the nature of how the government plans to use the land. If the government wants to convert the expired railroad easement into a recreational trail, it should pay compensation for this new, permanent taking.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief on landowners’ behalf.
In 1875 the government paid landowners minuscule sums of money for the right to run tracks on private property. The government never attempted to make a clean purchase or negotiate permanent takings under the doctrine of eminent domain.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Sansonetti warned Congress that then-pending rails-to-trails cases across the country involved 4,550 private property owners and exposed the government to over $57 million in constitutionally-required compensation for these takings.
Property rights are one of the more fundamental principles of free society. The government cannot avoid the Constitution by avoiding the most basic principles of ownership. The Supreme Court should respect landowners’ common law rights and expectations and grant quiet title to the Brandts, or else require the government to pay just compensation for taking the Brandts’ land.
Ed. Note: Would owners be so eager to get back land they’re not using if they (and everyone) had to pay Land Dues or a land tax? Talk about compensation, shouldn’t owners compensate those whom they exclude from some Earth, the planet being our mutual heritage? And why call the property “private” since the privacy of the owners — far removed from remote trails — is not in question?
Owning land does convey benefits and rights but also duties. The rental value of land belongs not to the owner but is owed by the owner to their community. That’s because owners did not create the land nor buy it from any creator and the community as a whole generates the land’s rental value.
Yet owners can wear a happy face and need not worry. Since all owners would be paying in dues and all residents would be getting back dividends, an equal share of the recovered rents. While sharing makes materialists feel threatened and raises their hackles, the very same people cite Singapore as one of the freest places in the world. Ironically, that Asian city uses a system very much like this geonomic one herein described.
This 2013 excerpt of The Ecologist, Jly 24, is by Kevin Grandia.
Enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1 percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this the EPA, who has an enforcement rate of 16 percent for similar infractions by companies under the Clean Water Act.
The median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil-sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?
Royal Dutch Shell Oil’s CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.
TransCanada, the company trying to convince President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, asks whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards.
Ed. Notes: Exploit Earth, you’re in the suites. Love Earth, you’re in the streets. If only protestors could see what matters to oil executives the most, and that’s limited liability, which protects those in management making decisions to impose damage on others, instead of having fines for infractions coming out of their own pockets. Hit’em where it hurts; that’s the kind of reform that’ll make a difference.
This 2013 excerpt of Dissident Voice, Aug 12, is by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall.
Why do American children study Karl Marx, the villain we love to hate, in school? Yet Henry George, whose views on land and tax reform gave rise to the Progressive and Populist movements of the 1900s, is totally absent from US history books. During the 1890s George, author of the 1879 bestseller Progress and Poverty, was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. In 1896 he outpolled Teddy Roosevelt and was nearly elected mayor of New York.
In Neo-classical Economics as a Stratagem Against Henry George (2007), University of California economist Mason Gaffney argues that George and his Land Value Tax pose a far greater threat than Marx to America’s corporate elite. America’s enormous concentration of wealth has always depended on the inherent right of the wealthy elite to seize and monopolize vast quantities of land and natural resources (oil, gas, forests, water, minerals, etc) for personal profit. Adopting a Land Value Tax (LVT), which is far easier than launching a violent revolution, would essentially negate that right. What’s more, every jurisdiction that has ever implemented an LVT finds it works exactly the way George predicted it would. Productivity, prosperity, and social wellbeing flourish, while inflation, wealth inequality, and boom and bust recessions and depressions virtually vanish.
Gaffney believes neoclassical economic theory undermines George’s arguments for a single Land Value Tax in two basic ways: 1) by claiming that land is no different from other capital (ironically Marx made the identical argument) and 2) by portraying the science of economics as a series of hard choices and sacrifices that low and middle income people must make.
Gaffney also identifies the robber barons whose fortunes financed the economics departments of the major universities who went on to substitute neooclassical economics for classical economic theory. At the top of this list were:
Ezra Cornell (owner of both Western Union and Associated Press) – founder of Cornell University
John D Rockefeller – helped fund the University of Chicago and installed his cronies in its economics department.
J. P Morgan – investment banker and early funder of Columbia University
B&O Railroad – John Hopkins University
Southern Pacific Railroad – Stanford University
The final section of Gaffney’s book lays out the tragic economic, political, and social consequences of allowing the Red Scare and neoclassical economics to stifle America’s movement for a single Land Value Tax.
Exhaustive Survey of Nearly 2,000 Markets and 52,000 Listings Shows More Than $2 Million Difference in Price Between Malibu and Cleveland.
This 2013 excerpt of Coldwell Banker, Nov 6, is by Heather Roberts and Katy Hendricks.
The glitz, glamour and white sandy beaches of Malibu, Calif., have attracted the rich and famous to this premier destination for years. Malibu is the most expensive place to live in the United States. An apples-to-apples comparison of four-bedroom, two-bathroom homes in more than 1,900 real estate markets across the United States, a sample-sized home in the affluent beach community of Malibu lists for $2.15 million, compared to $63,729 in Cleveland, Ohio.
What are the three most important things in real estate? Location, location, location. Part of Los Angeles, it is situated on the Southern California coast with beautiful homes and even more stunning views. Cleveland, Ohio, has mansions, too, but views only of Lake Erie and harsh weather.
This year’s report identified 20 markets where a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home costs more than $1 million, whereas in eight markets a similar home lists for less than $100,000.
The average listing price of a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the survey of more than 1,900 markets and 52,000 listings was $301,414.
Ironically, some people earning incomes elsewhere must relinquish US citizenship as others hoping to earn a living in America strive to attain it.
A 2013 excerpt of RT, Aug 10.
The United States is the only country out of 34 in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that continues to tax citizens regardless of where they live around the world.
Now, facing a high national debt and drastic cuts in government spending, US tax enforcers are employing stricter asset-disclosure laws under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA). For that reason, more Americans living abroad are weighing whether it is worth holding on to their US passport.
In the three months through June, 1,131 American expatriates turned over their passports at US embassies around the world. It was a drastic surge from the same time span in 2012, when just 189 people renounced their citizenship, according to the Federal Registry. The first six months of 2013 alone has seen 1,810 such instances, compared to 235 in all of 2008.
In 2012 there were between 5 and 6 million Americans who resided overseas.
The US tries to undercut tax havens. Countries like Switzerland earn that designation by protecting an individual’s finance information, requiring only nominal taxes, or a general lack of transparency. “The United States wishes to ensure that all income earned worldwide by US taxpayers on accounts held abroad can be taxed by the United States,” the Swiss government stated earlier this year.
This 2013 excerpt of the Huffington Post, Aug 12, is by Mary Manning Cleveland and Mason Gaffney.
From 1890-1930, Detroit’s population boomed from 205,000 to 1,569,000, the fastest growth of any US city. The auto industry did it, but why Detroit? Detroit had produced horse-drawn carriages from hardwood lumber, but so had other places. It was not low wages; Detroit paid better than most — that’s why so many people rushed in. It was not business-dominated politics; Michigan was a Progressive, Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt state. It was not low taxes on wealthy “job-creators”; Michigan relied on high state and local property taxes.
Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree, 1889-1897, was an early Georgist Progressive. He supported the idea of American economist and reformer Henry George (1839-1897) that all taxes should be shifted onto land and other natural resources. Today, “Nobel” (Riksbank)-Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz advocates this as the “Henry George principle.” Poor renters own no land, heavily-mortgaged middle classes own very little. So shifting taxes to land turns property taxes into wealth taxes on steroids. Better yet, taxing land discourages rich speculators from holding valuable property out of use. Mayor Pingree was a mentor to and model for the Georgist soon-to-be Mayors Tom Johnson and Newton Baker of Cleveland, and Samuel Jones and Brand Whitlock of Toledo.
The crash of 1893 hit Detroit soon after Pingree’s election. The city was riddled with vacant lots held by land speculators; Pingree arranged for the unemployed to plant vegetables. “Pingree’s Potato Patches” inspired other cities to follow. Meanwhile, he had campaigned for “higher taxes on the vast landed estates of the city”; when big industries threatened to leave town, he responded by raising just the land assessments. This won the support of small business.
The Georgist Progressive movement supported cheap mass transit on trolley cars. With fixed costs funded by property taxes, fares stayed low. Property taxes also paid for public education, public health, public parks, water, sanitation, welfare, etc. Property tax rates of 2.5 percent of market value were normal; there were no sales taxes, business taxes, or income taxes. Detroit’s private sector was a big collection of small machine shops, little businesses and services. That’s what attracted Henry Ford, the Dodge brothers, and other young tinkerers to Detroit. In one of history’s ironies, trolley cars nursed the auto industry that later rose up to slay them.
In 1897 Pingree became governor. He centralized the assessment of property taxes, and had the State Board of Tax Commissioners revalue all property. They found so much untaxed land, especially railroad holdings, that they actually lowered tax rates even as they raised more taxes.
During the “Dirty Thirties,” Detroit grew while many cities shrank. Walter Reuther’s UAW pioneered the sit-down strike at the GM plant in Flint. Former Detroit Mayor and now Governor Frank Murphy negotiated a settlement that legitimized the UAW, using the new national Wagner Act. It was “The strike heard round the world.” UAW membership exploded from 30,000 to 500,000.
After Pearl Harbor, FDR naturally turned to Detroit to convert its assembly lines to war production. This was the age of Rosie the Riveter, and Rosie loved Detroit. From 1930 to 1950, Detroit’s population grew 18 percent, to 1,850,000.
Yet after 1950, Detroit began to shrink, the first break in its sensational upward trajectory. What happened? Some blamed the end of the war, but America was pouring billions into the Interstate Highway System. The world wanted American cars and trucks. The causes of decline must have been internal.
Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, 1949-1960, introduced the Business Activities Tax (BAT), a kind of sales tax. The BAT was replaced by a corporate income tax in 1967 and by the Single Business Tax (SBT) in 1975. The SBT allowed the deduction of inputs — including real estate purchases! — but not labor. Easy for big corporations to evade, the SBT fitted concrete boots on small unincorporated businesses.
Governor George Romney, 1962-68, introduced a personal income tax to provide “property tax relief,” a new catchword. Meantime in Michigan and nationwide, the property tax itself was degenerating; effective rates were falling, especially on land. Its Georgist heritage forgotten, Detroit was valuing land at next to nil, using assessments dating from the Great Depression.
While Detroit hollowed out, its suburb Southfield boomed. From 1950-70 it grew from 19,000 to 69,000 people. It had a Georgist Mayor, James Clarkson, who aggressively raised land assessments and lowered building assessments. Southfield’s tax base actually rose by 20 percent per year under Clarkson, funding good utilities and public services.
Now Detroit’s current population of some 700,000 is the lowest since 1914. In another of history’s ironies, Detroiters today grow food in vacant lots — “Pingree’s Potato Patches” again, 105 years later.
Claiming sovereignty over an unoccupied territory, on behalf of an unknown nation, is a modern farce. It’s also a centuries-old tradition.
This 2013 excerpt of The Atlantic, Oct 23, is by Adam Clulow.
Lamont M. Butler-El didn’t attempt to seize a $6 million 12-bedroom, 17-bathroom estate by slipping through a hole in the fence. Instead, he presented himself before the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to demand that the records be altered to reflect the fact that he was assuming ownership as a representative of the Moorish Nation of Northwest Amexem, North America, a community he asserts that predated both the modern United States and European colonization of the Americas. When questioned by his new neighbors, his response was a detailed history lesson — that was repeated to police officers arriving on the scene.
To make a claim is to appeal to some standard of justice, some sort of right, but it is also to assert a willingness to back up this appeal with some sort of action.
Identical qualities stand at the heart of the European sovereignty playbook as it was deployed in diverse spots across the world during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Again and again, tiny contingents of Europeans, always outnumbered and often in terrible shape after long voyages in cramped vessels or disastrous treks across harsh interiors, proceeded to lay claim to huge tracts of land or even vaster expanses of maritime space. Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish adventurer, waded into the warm waters of the Pacific up his knees and proceeded to claim the ocean itself “now and for all time so long as the world shall last, until the final universal judgment of all mortals.”
European claims always commenced by invoking a standard of justice, although it was invariably a standard that could not be accessed or indeed understood by precisely the people to whom it was being applied.
An imposed sweeping set of rules without allowing any possibility for local comprehension prompted one historical observer to note that he did not know “whether to laugh or cry” when he heard of the practice. A modern juror in Butler-El’s case who, commenting on the actions of the defendant, noted that it “seemed like they were making up their own laws” and then applying them without regard for existing norms or systems.
This 2013 excerpt of EcoWatch, Aug 9, is by Laura Beans.
Hundreds of participants have banded together in Nez Perce ancestral land and a Wild and Scenic River Corridor to the Montana border for nightly tar sands protests, including members of the Nez Perce Nation and Idle No More. Idaho Rivers United (IRU) and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a joint lawsuit in federal court in Boise, ID, to stop the megaload delivery truck carrying tar sands equipment.
The water evaporator of the Oregon-based shipper Omega Morgan had received one permit, but bypassed approval by the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration. The Forest Service even raised objections. Still, the firm tried to slip its megaload through unnoticed.
The U.S. Forest Service’s failure to stop a megaload from entering the river corridor was “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.”
Police muscle is escalating as each evening blockade presses on, using their cars and phalanx tactics and broke the blockade for the megaload truck.
WIRT is calling on the Forest Service to “step up to the plate with fed marshals, arrest the driver and impound the rig,” which is traveling without a permit.
Gas injections used to enhance oil production linked to quakes in the Permian Basin.
This 2013 excerpt of Nature, Nov 4, is by Jeff Tollefson.
First came reports of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing and the reinjection of water during oil and gas operations. Now US scientists are reporting tremors may have been caused by the injection of carbon dioxide during oil production. Since 2006, a series of tremors has rattled Snyder, Texas, which lies in the oil-rich Permian Basin.
The evidence centres on a sudden burst of seismic activity around an old oil field in the Permian Basin in northwest Texas. From 2006 to 2011, after more than two decades without any earthquakes, seismometers in the region registered 38 tremors, including 18 larger quakes ranging from magnitude 3 to 4.4. The tremors began just two years after injections of significant volumes of CO2 began at the site, in an effort to boost oil production.
The earthquakes have rattled residents in the nearby town of Snyder and spurred questions about the link to oil and gas activity in the region.
Any time you are putting material into the ground, particularly under pressure, you are going to have the potential to break rock.
The data suggest that there is a previously unidentified fault running through the area, and that the CO2 injections effectively lubricate that fault, enabling slippage. (Scientists documented a series of earthquakes in the area from 1975 through 1982, but those tremors were linked to water injections, also intended to boost oil production.)
This 2013 excerpt of Huffington Post, Aug 7, is by Richard (RJ) Eskow.
Here are seven things about Wall Street crime and Washington “justice” you might have wanted to know. It’s true that there’s a shortage of justice where bankers are concerned; the prosecuting has been tepid. But don’t get depressed. Get serious about demanding change.
1. Attorney General Holder said the Justice Department can’t indict too-big-to-fail banks because it would endanger the nation’s, and possible the world’s, economy. Criminal indictments against bankers are necessary both for the cause of justice, and the safety of our economy. Why did Holder make these comments? It’s called misdirection. It gets everybody thinking about one question — Why aren’t they indicting banks? — so they won’t think about a more important question: Why aren’t they indicting bankers?
2. If hurting ‘too big to fail’ banks is such a concern, why did the Justice Department and the SEC just sue Bank of America? Shareholders bear the costs and the consequences of these suits, which are directed against the banks as institutions — even when the suit in question involves fraud against the shareholders themselves. That means the executives who profit from criminal behavior have absolutely no reason not to commit those crimes again and again and again — which, as the record shows, is exactly what they have been doing.
Suits like these do not endanger the institution being sued. The amounts of money involved — $850 million, in this case — sound large. But they’re negligible when compared to the revenue at America’s bloated mega-banks.
3. Why sue Bank of America at all, if they’re in the banks’ pockets? Washington officials have multiple constituencies, presumably including wronged investors who want restitution of some kind. They presumably want to make sure the banks’ exposure is kept manageable — from the bank’s perspective — but don’t want to anger the investors any more than necessary.
4. The Justice Department has said it’s too hard to get convictions in financial fraud cases. More than 1,000 people were convicted after the much smaller savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. It wasn’t “too hard” to get a conviction then. But then, in those days they were trying.
A rare courtroom victory against Goldman Sachs was achieved just last week. Needless to say, it was not against a Goldman executive, but against a relatively junior employee, trader “Fab” Tourre. It was not a criminal prosecution, but a civil case. And the verdict was won by the SEC, not the Justice Department.
5. Why don’t they want to indict bank executives? Both Attorney General Holder and his recently departed No. 2, Lanny Breuer, had high-priced jobs defending Wall Street bank executives. Breuer has already cashed out and gone back to Covington & Burling, Holder’s once (and future?) firm, with a special title and position created especially for him.
As for elected officials, bank executives write very big campaign checks. They also hobnob with powerful politicians. When JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this year, only two of the senators facing him had not received campaign contributions from his bank. Dimon was also called “Obama’s Favorite Banker” for a while.
Another executive with a large financial operation, GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, was named head of the President’s ‘Jobs Council.’ Immelt was responsible for GE Capital while municipalities were being criminally defrauded in the case which became United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm.
6. Why are they saying that the SEC’s “winding down” its fraud investigations? Impending statute of limitations makes it more difficult to keep pursuing pre-2008 misdeeds. The Justice Department and SEC chose to “run out the clock” on Wall Street’s crimes.
7. What can we do about it?
A full investigation of Wall Street crimes.
Expanded powers for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
No more deals where banks “neither admit nor deny wrongdoing.”
Ed. Note: All well and good but we can’t turn back the clock and can’t keep faith in regulations that come and go. We need to shrink banks and expand ourselves. Stop sending fat mortgages to Wall Street. Instead, keep our payments for land and resources recirculating in our community. Levy land taxes in lieu of others or institute Land Dues to fund a rent dividend paid to residents and citizens. People will be better off, have more power that comes from greater income, and banks will have less, devolving into human-scale.
This 2013 excerpt of Care2, Oct 30, is by se smith.
Companies started manufacturing products with notes about their charitable giving, and also set about boldly linking charitable causes with their products. Breast cancer is one of the most obvious examples: consumers are encouraged to buy given products with promises that some proceeds go to breast cancer research and treatment, although they rarely stop to audit where that money is really going and how it’s being used.
Companies tend to prefer charities with a strong existing infrastructure (thus products co-branded with the American Heart Association, for example) or a simple charity appeal (offering to donate coats to homeless shelters for coats purchased in the winter months).
Breast Cancer Action’s “Think Before You Pink” campaign targets cause marketing, exposing abuses while at the same time promoting real-world action people can take on breast cancer issues. As the campaign’s tagline suggests, sometimes it’s a good idea to put down the pink ribbon and call the local cancer resource center to see if they need in-kind donations, people who can keep patients company or help them with errands, or other assistance.
This 2013 excerpt of Mint Press News, Aug 8 is by Laura Beans.
The multinational Chevron Corp. has been fined $2 million after accepting a plea bargain following an August 2012 fire at a Richmond, CA, refinery that sent 15,000 people to the hospital with complaints of breathing problems.
Investigators found “willful violations” in Chevron Corp.’s response before, during and after the Aug. 6 fire in Richmond caused by an old, leaky pipe in one of the facility’s crude units.
Chevron attorneys pleaded not guilty to six charges, accepting the terms, which includes 3 1/2 years of probation, $1.28 million in fines and more than $720,000 in restitution payments to three different agencies.
The fine and settlement come on the heels of a protest earlier this week on the anniversary of the fire. Roughly 1,000 people gathered August 6, to commemorate the incident and demand accountability.
Those gathered chanted, “Arrest Chevron,” in front of the refinery gates before police in riot gear moved in, arresting 208 protesters.
This fine is a slap on the wrist for Chevron, a multinational oil corporation with $241 billion in revenue last year. Like most oil companies, Chevron has a dubious safety record and has been responsible for several serious accidents in recent years.
An explosion at a Chevron refinery in Wales killed four workers and seriously injured one other during a June 2011 accident.
More recently, a January 2012 blowout and fire at a Chevron offshore natural-gas platform killed two men near Nigeria. The fire continued burning for 46 days, stopping only after the flow of natural gas dried up.
This claim pales in comparison to an unresolved $19 billion lawsuit filed by members of Ecuador’s indigenous Amazonian community after years of pollution in areas around Chevron drilling sites. Years after the 2011 legal victory in an Ecuadorian court, Chevron has not paid the fine, nor has it offered compensation to the victims. Local residents claim that cancer rates have increased as a result of contaminated drinking water.
Popularity of “policing for profits” grows as law enforcement budgets dwindle.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Oct 30, is by Jonathan Turley, of George Washington University and a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors.
Officers stop cars on a pretext such as not using a turn signal and then ask a series of questions about drugs or contraband in the car. If the driver does not consent to a search, officers will sometimes declare that the driver is acting suspiciously and call in a drug dog or search the passenger for their own personal safety. Any drugs found can then be used to seize the car and any money inside of it. The result is that police are mining our highways for jackpot stops.
Churning has become the self-help solution for some federal agencies. The most recent example of this trend was highlighted by an investigation into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Justice Department’s inspector general found that the ATF conducted dozens of unauthorized undercover investigations into illicit cigarette sales and lost track of 420 million cigarettes worth $127 million. The investigation concluded that the ATF was engaging in churning operations designed to fund its operations and misused $162 million in profits.
Consider the case of George Reby, an insurance adjuster from New Jersey. Last year, he was stopped in Tennessee by officer Larry Bates for speeding and asked whether he had a large quantity of money. Reby said he had about $20,000 and explained that he planned to buy a car. Bates seized the money. He did not arrest Reby, mind you. Reby committed no crime. The officer stated that police would keep the money until Reby could prove to their satisfaction that it was legitimate.
Then there is Tara Mishra, who had given her life savings to friends as her share in a new business. Last year, a Nebraska state trooper stopped her friends for speeding and asked to search for drugs. The couple agreed, and the troopers found more than $1 million. Though the couple explained why Mishra had given them the money and though no drugs were found, police kept the cash after a K-9 analysis found drug residue on it.
It was another pretext. Studies show a high percentage of money has such residue on it. Mishra was forced to litigate until a federal judge ordered the money returned to her in July.
At such stops, citizens invoke their rights at their own peril. One recent video shows an irate officer ordering a driver to pull to the side after he questioned the basis for the stop. He was forced to wait for a drug dog, which signaled the presence of drugs after the officer notably pointed at the door. The police then unleashed a full drug search. After finding no drugs, the officer is heard warning his partner, “He’s perfectly innocent, and he knows his rights; he knows what the Constitution says.”
Of course, his rights really are not much of a barrier when the Supreme Court has expressly stated that it will not question motives of officers.
more transformation than reform; it’s a step ahead. Harvard economics students this year did petition to change the curriculum, in the wake of the English who caught the dissension from across The Channel. French reformers, who fault conventional economics for conjuring mathematical models of little empirical relevance and being closed to critical and reflective thought, reject this “autism” – or detachment from reality – and dub their offering “post-autistic economics”. Not a bad name, but again, academics define themselves by what they’re not, not by what they are, unlike geonomists. We track rent – the money we spend on the nature we use – and watch it pull all the other economic indicators in its wake. We see economies as part and parcel of the ecosystem, similarly following natural patterns and able to self-regulate more so than allowed, once we quit distorting prices. To align people and planet, we’d replace taxes and subsidies with recovering and sharing rents.
what you do when you see economies as part of the ecosystem, following feedback loops and storing up energy. Surplus energy – fat or profit – enables us to produce and reproduce. To recycle society’s surplus, the commonwealth, geonomics would replace taxes with land dues (charged to users of sites and resources, including the EM spectrum, and extra to polluters), and replace subsidies with rent dividends to citizens (a la Alaska’s oil dividend). Without taxes and subsidies to distort them, prices become precise, reflect accurately our costs and values; then, motivated by no more than the bottom line, both producers and consumers make sustainable choices. While no place uses geonomics in its entirety, some places use parts of it, most notably a shift of the property tax off buildings, onto locations. Shifting the property tax drives efficient use of land, in-fills cities, improves the housing stock, makes homes affordable, engenders jobs and investment opportunities, lowers crime, raises civic participation, etc – overall it makes cities more livable. Geonomics – a way to share the bounty of nature and society – is something we can work for locally, globally, and in between.
about the money we spend on the nature we use. It flows torrentially yet invisibly, often submerged in the price of housing, food, fuel, and everything else. Flowing from the many to the few, natural rent distorts prices and rewards unjust and unsustainable choices. Redirected via dues and dividends to flow from each to all, “rent” payments would level the playing field and empower neighbors to shrink their workweek and expand their horizons. Modeled on nature’s feedback loops, earlier proposals to redirect rent found favor with Paine, Tolstoy, and Einstein. Wherever tried, to the degree tried, redirecting rent worked. One of today’s versions, the green tax shift, spreads out of Europe. Another, the Property Tax Shift, activists can win at the local level, building a world that works right for everyone.
the policy that the earth’s natural patterns suggests. Use the eco-system’s self-regulating feedback loops as a model. What then needs changing? Basically, the flow of money spent to own or use Earth (both sites and resources) must visit each of us. Our agent, government, exists to collect this natural rent via fees and to disburse the collected revenue via dividends. Doing this, we could forgo taxes on homes and earnings and subsidies of either the needy or the greedy. For more, see our web site, our pamphlet of the title above, or any of our other lit pieces; ask for our literature list.
a POV that Spain’s president might try. A few blocks from my room in Madrid at a book fair to promote literacy, Sr Zapatero, while giving autographs and high fives to kids, said books are very expensive and he’d see about getting the value added tax on them cut down to zero. (El Pais, June 4; see, politicians can grasp geo-logic.) But why do we raise the cost of any useful product? Why not tax useless products? Even more basic: is being better than a costly tax good enough? Our favorite replacement for any tax is no tax: instead, run government like a business and charge full market value for the permits it issues, such as everything from corporate charters to emission allowances to resource leases. These pieces of paper are immensely valuable, yet now our steward, the state, gives them away for nearly free, absolutely free in some cases. Government is sitting on its own assets and needs merely to cash in by doing what any rational entity in the economy does – negotiate the best deal. Then with this profit, rather than fund more waste, pay the stakeholders, we citizenry, a dividend. Thereby geonomics gets rid of two huge problems. It replaces taxes with full-value fees and replaces subsidies for special interests with a Citizens Dividend for people in general. Neither left nor right, this reform is what both nature lovers and liberty lovers need to promote, right now.
a neologism for sharing “rent” or “social surplus” – the money we spend on the nature we use. When we buy land, such as the land beneath a home, we typically pay the wrong person – the homeowner. Instead, since land cost us nothing to make and is the common heritage of us all, rather than pay the owner, we should pay ourselves, our neighbors, our community. That is, we should all pay land dues to the public treasury, then our government would pay us land dividends from this collected revenue. It’s similar to the Alaska oil dividend, almost $2,000 last year. Indeed, the annual rental value of land, oil, all other natural resources, including the broadcast spectrum and other government-granted permits such as corporate charters, totals several trillion dollars each year. It’s so much that some could be spent on basic social services, the rest parceled out as a dividend, as Tom Paine suggested, and taxes (except any on natural rents) could be abolished, as Thomas Jefferson suggested. Were we sharing Earth by sharing her worth, territorial disputes would be fewer, less intense, and more resolvable.
in part the Great Green Tax Shift maxed out. Economically, taxing pollution and depletion does reduce pollutants and extracts – and thus the tax base; plus such taxes are regressive, requiring a safety net. On the other hand, collecting site rent is progressive and generates a revenue surplus payable as a dividend to residents, which can serve as the safety net. Environmentally, taxes on waste and extraction do not drive efficient use of land, as does getting site rent.
suitable for framing by Green Parties. When Greens began in Germany two decades ago, they defined themselves as neither left nor right but in front. Geonomics fits that description. The Green Parties have their Four Pillars; geonomists have four ways to apply them:
Ecological Wisdom. Want people to use the eco-system wisely? Charge them Rent and, to end corporate license, add surcharges. To minimize these costs, people will use less Earth.
Nonviolence. Want people to settle disputes nonviolently? Set a good example; don’t levy taxes, which rely on the threat of incarceration, to take people’s money. Try quid pro quo fees and dues.
Social Responsibility. Want people to be responsible for their actions? Don’t make basic choices for them by subsidizing services, addicting them to a caretaker state. Let people spend shares of social surplus.
Grassroots Democracy. Better have grassroots prosperity. Remember, political power follows economic. Pay people a Citizens Dividend; to keep it, they’ll show up at the polls, public hearings, and conventions.
what you do when you see economies as part of the ecosystem, following feedback loops and storing up energy. Surplus energy – fat or profit – enables us to produce and reproduce. To recycle society’s surplus, the commonwealth, geonomics would replace taxes with land dues (charged to users of sites and resources, in-cluding the EM spectrum, and extra to polluters), and replace subsidies with rent dividends to citizens (a la Alaska’s oil dividend). Without taxes and subsidies to distort them, prices become precise, reflect accurately our costs and values; then, motivated by no more than the bottom line, both producers and consumers make sustainable choices. While no place uses geonomics in its entirety, some places use parts of it, most notably a shift of the property tax off buildings, onto locations. Shifting the property tax drives efficient use of land, in-fills cities, improves the housing stock, makes homes affordable, engenders jobs and investment opportunities, lowers crime, raises civic participation, etc – overall it makes cities more livable. Geonomics – a way to share the bounty of nature and society – is something we can work for locally, globally, and in between.
a discipline that, compared to economics, is as obscure as Warren Buffett’s investment strategy, compared to conventional investment theory, about which Buffett said, “You couldn’t advance in a finance department in this country unless you taught that the world was flat.” (The New York Times, Oct 29). The writer wondered, “But why? If it works, why don’t more investors use it?”
Good question. Geonomics works, too. Every place that has used it has prospered while conserving resources. Yet it remains off the radar of many wanna-be reformers. Gradually, tho’, that’s changing. More are becoming aware of what geonomics studies – all the money we spend on the nature we use. Geonomics (1) as an alternative worldview to the anthropocentric, sees human economies as part of the embracing ecosystem with natural feedback loops seeking balance in both systems. (2) As an alternative to worker vs. investor, it sees our need for sites and resources making those who own land into landlords. (3)As an alternative to economics, it tracks the trillions of “rent” as it drives the “housing” bubble and all other indicators. And (4) as an alternative to left or right, it suggests we not tax ourselves then subsidize our favorites but recover and share society’s surplus, paying in land dues and getting back “rent” dividends, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. Letting rent go to the wrong pockets wreaks havoc, while redirecting it to everyone would solve our economic ills and the ills downstream from them.
People must learn to stop whining so much and feel enough self-esteem to demand a fair share of rent, society’s surplus, the commonwealth.