Jack Daniel’s Recipe Is So Good, It Should Be Mandatory!

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Imagine that you were starting your own auto mechanic business. Would you think it was a good idea to have a random, totally unrelated bunch of guys decide if the cars you fixed were safe enough to put back on the road? Would their judgement likely be better than your own? What if many of them hardly had any prior experience in the field, and their sole duty was to set the “safety standards” as they deemed fit, and to punish people for driving vehicles they’ve determined to be dangerous, for whatever reasons? They may or may not have ever even worked on a car themselves, let alone studied auto mechanics, in the first place. Would that be a system guaranteed to keep things as fair and safe as possible for all parties involved, including you and your mechanic business, any future passengers of the car, any other drivers on the road, the car’s manufacturer, pedestrians, etc.? What if those random guys also happened to have some friends who worked for one of your auto shop’s competitors, and often liked to favor that business over your own, even though the other shop might not have the same spotless safety record as yours? What if they got kickbacks for doing so? Would that still seem fair to you, then, do you think? Would that still seem safe?

Well, in a nutshell, for many industries, that group of “random guys” is the government. And in Tennessee, they’re coming for your whiskey next. That’s right: these anonymous bureaucratic mobsters, most of whom lack any credible background in whiskey production, are now working to establish the standard for what “Tennessee whiskey” will officially come to be universally considered. They’ve also managed to spark quite a controversy in the process, and with good reason.

The regulation standards that are presently on the table for discussion include making it mandatory for every batch of alcohol that is produced bearing the label “Tennessee whiskey” to be made from at least 51% corn fermented mash filtered through maple charcoal, and to have an alcohol content of at least 40% by volume. Additionally, each new batch of the stuff to be produced will have to be aged in new barrels made from charred oak wood, every single time. Interestingly enough, these distillation requirements are identical to those of Jack Daniel’s–the top-selling maker of Tennessee whiskey in the world. Just a coincidence, or a calculated attempt by Jack Daniel’s and Brown-Forman (the company who owns Jack Daniel’s brand) to stifle competition?

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To that effect, even the single stipulation alone that each batch of Tennessee whiskey be aged in new barrels made of charred oak every time would raise production costs for many whiskey distillers by hundreds of dollar per barrel. A spike in cost such as that would make production virtually impossible for smaller competitors, and that’s just one of the new rules being proposed. Now, imagine each of the other new requirements’ additional costs factored in as well, and it’s easy to predict the kind of devastating effect that these new rules would have on countless businesses.

Jeff Arnett, the master distiller for Jack Daniel’s, argues that the move is no different from the standards that govern the classification of champagne versus regular wine, for example, and that the newly-imposed standards will actually benefit independent distilleries. He insists that smaller whiskey makers “don’t mind being held to a higher standard, because they don’t want to create cheap products simply to be synonymous with the state name.” Other voices in the industry seem to disagree, though, insisting that the production process should remain as it has always has in Tennessee: free and lax, allowing for greater varieties of quality and taste to be produced.

This is hardly the first time that “random guys” in government have meddled with industry in the name of regulating “certifiable standards,” though–often with the same harmful results for producers and consumers, alike. One example is the new set of labeling standards for gluten-free products, which has been in place only since August of 2013. The government now requires that in order for any product to bear the label “gluten-free,” the FDA must first conduct an “assessment” to determine that each ingredient contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, and that the item has never at any point contained gluten (even if the gluten has since been entirely taken out). As a result, many companies must now choose a different, less-convincing description for their products’ labels. Meanwhile, large-scale producers who hold industry clout seem to have little difficulty getting their products certified.

Defenders of such policies argue that systems like this are in place to keep people safe and informed. Opponents of government monopoly over various industry standards insist that businesses’ reputations among consumers are enough of a means of regulation. They feel that basic word of mouth, along with certifications by reputable independent agencies, would do just as good of a job at keeping the public safe and informed, without the need for the expensive assessments which often favor big-name producers. Businesses that consistently and responsibly satisfied the needs and demands of their customers’ would naturally come to be trusted over those that were less reliable.

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An even worse side-effect of these kinds of policies is that oftentimes, government labeling standards aren’t entirely informative, and are frequently vague to the point of being downright misleading. An example of this is the USDA’s certification process for labeling organic products. For one thing, items bearing the “organic” label must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, as has been certified by a “USDA-accredited” third party organization. Who’s to say that those “accredited” organizations are even credible in the first place? The USDA, with their exclusive authority over the entire classification process? It’s hard to take the word of any monopoly seriously; consider the earlier example of the “random guys” favoring their friends’ business, simply because they have the power to do so. This kind of stuff happens in the real world all the time. And what’s more, the remaining 5% window allowed for non-organic ingredients is still a wide enough range of concentration for there a possibility of toxicity to remain. There are endless varieties of chemicals in existence (organic, or otherwise) which are so toxic to humans that even as small a ratio as 5% could be lethal. Such a system of labeling standards is misleading, and not only bars market entry for newer or smaller businesses, but actually makes consumers less safe by providing them with a false sense of security. At its best, it’s unnecessary; at its worst, it could be deadly.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always so obvious in every case who the well-connected political cronies are that lurk behind each of these treacherous policies, or what the true motives are behind why they’re passed into law in the first place. However, in almost every scenario, they are imposed under the guise of being in the name of public safety. Thankfully, though, the case of labeling standards for Tennessee whiskey is an exception to that all-too-common shroud of mystery. To anyone with any basic level of insight about the matter, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: this is nothing but an attempt by Jack Daniel’s and its owners to permanently corner the market for Tennessee whiskey by passing regulations to their advantage.

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Of course, there are still many instances every day where the present system of government-monopolized regulation policies does actually inform and protect consumers to an extent, but that’s not really the point here. The point is that this system is far from perfect, certainly anything but fair, and definitely not always safe. And in the case of setting standards for something as arbitrary as quality and flavor labeling of a certain type of whiskey, lawmakers aren’t even pretending that safety is the issue here, in the first place. Government has no good reason to be involved with something as trivial as labeling a style of whiskey. It’s not a public safety issue. Quality standards are something that only businesses themselves can prove to their buyers by providing a product that lives up to customers expectations of what a good “Tennessee Whiskey” ought to taste like. This legislation, if passed, will absolutely just be plain and simple market meddling to favor a specific group and disadvantage it’s competitors. Period.

In a society that was truly free, there could be more alternatives for labeling standards which are less costly to everyone, and less harmful for struggling competitors and new businesses looking to enter the market. Why not let individuals choose for themselves which products they want to buy, based on labeling systems that they come to trust through various independent means (especially now that we have the internet to help us all make better-informed decisions)? Let spontaneous order occur; people will figure out what works best for them and their loved ones. Having only one labeling system might keep people safe to a certain extent, but it squashes opportunities for new product alternatives, and ultimately limits the ability of consumers to make informed choices, because they become forced to rely on only one institution to tell them what’s safe to consume. Buyers must then trust that institution to always conduct its approvals in a fair and unbiased manner–something I’ve already given two examples of the government not always doing. Why not let freedom of information guide people in making their decisions, instead of a single third party group of “random guys” who are neither foolproof, nor necessarily impartial? It would be safer, cheaper, easier, and more fair for everyone involved, in the long run. Guaranteed.

Murdered On Tape by Police: Luis Rodriguez

Sorry for the hiatus, everyone.  It was partially due to a move to a different state, needing to deal with some tremendous personal upheavals, and starting work on a new YouTube show with long-time friend, outstanding activist, and media talent Derrick J. Freeman.  You can click on his name for a link to his website Peace News Now, or click here for the link to our new show and YouTube channel: Sick Sad World.  “Bringing you the best of the worst news.”  Below is our newest episode; it is our fourth so far.

Since working on Sick Sad World, I must say that I have become inundated with some rather dismal show material, especially from people sending me suggestions for stories to cover each week.  The case that I’m about to illuminate was featured in this week’s episode, which we’ve titled “Horror In the Streets,” and with good reason–this story alone is enough to warrant such a sensational title.  My intention for this post is to draw some attention to the video that is about to follow.

In all of my years of sifting through news, especially concerning police brutality, I have never seen a video as chilling and truly telling of the horrors of the American police state.  Believe me when I tell you that I read a lot of news, and have perhaps become a bit jaded by all of it over the years.  For a video to stand out to me the way that this one does is unusual, to say the least.  Its footage is a remarkable example of why videography is so important for police accountability in the 21st century.

The clip depicts the final moments of Luis Rodriguez, as well as the subsequent realization by his wife that her unarmed husband has been murdered by police before her very eyes.  During the entirety of this brutal and horrific series of events, the police repeatedly attempt to investigate and charge her with a crime.  After she had been involved in a minor domestic dispute with her daughter while inside of a movie theater, the police were called to investigate, and when Luis allegedly became uncooperative, the situation rapidly escalated to shocking proportions.

Words can’t describe how I feel about this story and this video, but I feel as though it speaks for itself.  Please, watch with caution, if you can: this is pretty “real.”  If you can’t bring yourself to see it for yourself, please at least share this post with the world, or any other information about this tragic story that you can.  This video could be a real game-changer if it gets enough exposure.

It’s time the world sees the truth about the badged ruling class that violently roams the streets of American cities everywhere.  It’s time for people to speak up against the monopoly on violence that is the very institution of government itself.  It’s time to speak up against the legions of armed gang members who use their “authority” status to violently enforce state policies, commit crimes, and then cover them up.  It’s time for a shift towards freedom and, above all else, peace.

***Here is a link that will provide you with additional information about this unfortunate story.***

The Latest Trials and Tribulations of Activist Rich Paul, Modern Folk Hero

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Activist Rich Paul, Outside of the Cheshire County Courthouse

The remarkable story of jailed New Hampshire marijuana activist Rich Paul has become widely shared and justifiably celebrated in the past year or so since his troubles with the state first began. His story has been diligently covered by a variety of both major and independent news and blog sites, and was most notably featured not just once, but twice among the outlandish and eye-catching stories of the tremendously-popular VICE media group, which could arguably be nicknamed the “front page of the internet.” After refusing to accept the state’s bribes in exchange for pleading guilty to charges of drug trafficking, the heroic activist (who first gained notoriety after starting the public marijuana “4:20 rallies” in New Hampshire) turned down offers of shorter jail-time and other lesser sentences in order to stick to his principles. In fact, he even went so far as to refuse the final plea deal that was offered to him on the day before his trial proceedings began, which would have resulted in his having to spend absolutely no time in jail and an immediate sentencing for an extended period of probation instead. However, selling his own morals out in such a slippery manner and admitting guilt for a peaceful act that had ultimately been his own choice (and which had left no victims in its wake) would have been utterly unthinkable for someone as principled and true to himself as Rich Paul.

(As a side note: I will from here-on continue to refer to him as “Rich,” due to our status as friends who operate on a first-name basis, and because it would seem weird to refer to him as “Paul” or “Rich Paul” for the rest of this article.  Also, I don’t think he’d like it if I did.)

On the contrary, wrongfully condemning oneself to admitting false guilt for having committed an act that is only considered criminal in the eyes of a morally-bankrupt and predatory organization such as the state would have been far more damning for any truly honest person than whatever sentence could be delivered by robe-wearing men in positions of judicial “authority.” Rich is indeed so hardcore about his beliefs that he was willing to risk a sentence of up to 81 years in prison in order to stand up for his actions–and all just for selling medically-harmless products to those who willingly wanted to buy them from him. Since the very beginning of his struggles with the state, he has refused to cooperate with authorities or betray either himself or his associates, even when he was threatened and bribed by FBI agents to wear a microphone into an establishment formerly-known as the Keene Activist Center.  At the time, the “KAC” had been a regular gathering place where a noteworthy group of New Hampshire-based libertarians engaged in social functions of an exclusively peaceful nature.  Unfortunately, the KAC came to find itself under official speculation due to the anti-establishment viewpoints of its members, but the investigation seems to have fizzled out following Rich’s refusal to participate in it.

Rich has remained incarcerated since April 18th, 2013, and is serving his time in the Cheshire County House of Corrections for five drug-related felony charges for which he was sentenced on June 7th (including one conviction for a piece of paper, wrongfully presumed to contain LSD).  However, Rich and his countless supporters argue that his actions never hurt anyone in the first place. His courageous determination to stand up to the unjust drug laws that so many across the nation are beginning to find the courage to speak out against makes him deserving of any drug war activist’s moral support.  However, I should note that my recent investigations into Rich’s well-being have only revealed that he needs support from the activist community now more than ever.

Rich has recently been denied access to the jail’s freshly-enacted “partial release” program by the facility’s superintendent, Richard Van Wickler.  The program was first introduced to the jail’s “eligible” inmates on September 26, 2013, allegedly with the intent to allow prisoners to leave the grounds for extended periods of time.  Under the condition that participants in the program pay $20 a day to wear a bracelet that acts as a tracking device that monitors their every move, those who are approved for the experimental approach to “correction” receive more preferable experiences than simply sitting in jail cells for the duration of their sentences.  However, in the almost two months since the policy was brought into existence at the jail, only a few inmates have ever been approved by Van Wickler (the man who holds the ultimate say over which prisoners are granted access to the program). One such individual, despite having been convicted of embezzlement–a far more serious crime, and one which establishes a very clearly identifiable victim, unlike in that of Rich’s case–was approved for partial release by Van Wickler, but later ultimately denied the grant by the local prosecutor. Van Wickler’s sole justification for letting a thief go, rather than a peaceful merchant, was as follows: “I just don’t think that he [Rich Paul] will stay out of jail.”  It is also interesting to note that among those who have been approved for the program is a fellow marijuana convict.  But such is often the logic used in a system where personal pull holds more sway than honest and upright justice, in terms of right and wrong.

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Rich in Action with His Now-Infamous Bullhorn

Following his incarceration, Rich began composing a motion to be presented before the courts as an argument that he was deserving of either a home confinement sentence (rather than outright jail-time), or of being let out on the terms of a work release program.  Shortly after being taken into custody, his progress on the motion was cut short after his keyboard privileges were suddenly denied on the grounds that other inmates in the past had abused such privileges. It was not until Rich was transferred to a new cell block that he regained the use of a keyboard through what seems to have been little more than a bureaucratic clerical error that worked in his favor.  Upon its completion, the motion and its accompanying collection of information were presented to the court by friend and fellow activist Ian Freeman (founder of FreeKeene.com, a website for which Rich has remained an active contributor, even during his time spent in jail).  The accompanying selection of facts that was submitted with the motion included over 170 pages of marijuana facts and statistics, in addition to the deeply moving and detailed statements Rich had penned in order to address both his existential innocence and personal suffering as a result of having been wrongfully caged for a victimless act.  The motion presented four requests to the courts that could possibly have been granted to him: that he either be released early as a result of the time he had already served, that he be granted home confinement in the event that he were to be denied his request for early release, that he be granted work release in the event that he was denied the request for home confinement, or finally, that he be granted a hearing on the matter if all else had failed.  Both the prosecutor and the judge granted Rich access to either a home confinement or work release program, but superintendent Van Wickler denied him both.

As a result, Rich’s only remaining option is to stay in jail until his upcoming release date, which will be determined by an executive decision based on his “good time” spent in jail. His only other option for an early release would have been a bail motion, which has been denied by the Supreme Court.  Hopefully, the Supreme Court will overturn his conviction during the appeal process (which will begin in January), a decision which may take up to two months before being made.  During the appeal proceedings, Rich’s best hope lies in New Hampshire’s unique and groundbreaking new state law, which authorizes defense attorneys to explain the legal process known as “jury nullification” to members of a jury during the actual court proceedings.  Jury nullification is the avenue through which jurors are legally permitted to determine the outcome of a case, based not only on its facts and circumstances, but also upon their own consciences regarding the very nature of the law itself: it gives individuals the ability to vote “not guilty” on behalf of individuals who are being tried for breaking a law that is altogether immoral.

Ultimately, if even one juror in Rich’s case were to vote “not guilty,” (despite whatever evidence might exist that could legally incriminate him) simply because they felt that marijuana prohibition is wrong as a practice altogether, Rich would legally have to be found innocent.  No other state has ever allowed such an important aspect of the justice system to be clarified in a courtroom before members of a jury, despite the complete legality of the procedure.  In fact, many states have attempted (often successfully) to prosecute jury rights activists for jury tampering upon becoming aware of efforts to educate individual jurors about their rights to vote their conscience during the trial process.

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Friends and Supporters Conduct Jury Nullification Outreach for Rich

Until that time comes, however, Rich has remained active, despite his incarceration.  During the course of his time spent in captivity within the Cheshire County House of Corrections (which has been pseudo-affectionately nicknamed the “Keene Spiritual Retreat” by fellow liberty activists), Rich has made efforts to maintain contact with the outside world as a content contributor for the aforementioned website “Free Keene.”  Blogging from time to time about the atrocities he has been forced to undergo throughout the duration of his involuntary stay in the facility, he has certainly shed some light onto the struggles of incarcerated victims of the drug war.  However, Rich and others now suspect that his honest and damning portrayals of the ugly realities of everyday cell-block life might be contributing to the recently-escalating levels of disdain and contempt with which he has been treated as of late.  Since publishing such gut-wrenching articles as, ” ‘House of Corrections’ is House of Horrors for Mentally Ill,” Rich has begun to find himself more and more frequently on the receiving end of a flurry of minor behavioral write-ups, which ultimately could add up to some less-than-trivial consequences.

Another factor in what might ultimately be a case of outright discrimination against Rich by his jailors for political or personal reasons could be his ongoing insistence that he be permitted to exercise his legally-protected religious freedoms.  Rich has repeatedly requested to meet with a clergy member of his faith and personal choice, but has been denied these requests by those holding the keys to his cell.  Following Ian Freeman’s decision to establish the duplex he calls home (which also houses the studio where he records his nightly talk-show, “Free Talk Live,”) as a parsonage for the newly-established Shire Free Church, Rich attempted to receive clergy visits from its ministers.  Van Wickler denied Rich’s requests to approve Wendy French, Freeman himself, or any other member of the Shire Free Church as Rich’s designated religious confidant.  Rich’s main point of contention with Van Wickler’s decision is that it violates his 1st Amendment right to practice the religion of his choice.  Furthermore, Van Wickler has accused the Shire Free Church of having established itself as a religious organization in order to become a so-called “Trojan horse,” attempting to enable its members to gain entry to the jail.  The superintendent has since prohibited henceforth any and all members of the Shire Free Church from receiving a “clergy” approval on his behalf.

The ultimate result of these varying factors is as follows, and could potentially lead to some rather dire consequences in terms of Rich’s maintenance of his “good time,” as well as his track record for personal conduct during his time spent at the correctional facility.  In a worst-case scenario, Rich’s release date could potentially come to be delayed as a result of repeated disciplinary offenses. Presently, both he and those close to him will continue to remain in a state of tension until his long-awaited release, which will hopefully fall between the dates of December 12th-17th, as long as everything goes according to schedule.

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Rich During A Previous Arrest for His Activism

During the course of his imprisonment, Rich has been written up a total of six times for various insignificant, petty, and downright cruel reasons.  Each of these six write-ups has resulted in an individual penalty of having his visitation privileges suspended for a full week.  As a result of these seemingly-minor disciplinary actions, Rich has already lost six weeks of visitation time during the course of the seven months he has already spent behind bars.  That’s a month and a half’s worth of time during which he has been denied access to any trusted companionship.  He has had to spend forty-two days alone, locked inside of a cage that comprises just one cell of a gigantic kennel that has been built by the government to contain countless more human beings just like Rich as captives, and far too many for victimless crimes.  It could even be argued that this is a violation of the 8th Amendment’s protections against the use of cruel and unusual punishment, although little can be done at this point to further pursue the matter.

One incident that resulted in such a write-up came about when Rich was asked by another inmate why he was no longer on duty pushing carts to transport items around the jail complex.  When he responded that it was due to a guard’s personal issues with Rich, the guard in question revealed that he had been eavesdropping on the two’s conversation, and subsequently wrote him up for purely personal reasons.  Another incident that could serve to trigger similar trepidations about the true motives for why Rich has been dealt such penalties came about when he was cited for, “exercising on the second deck,” after having absent-mindedly paced the length of four cell-doors’-worth of distance along the jail’s upper level.  Before he could even realize that he had broken any rules, he had already been slapped with the written penalty.  A punishment that was similarly trivial in nature resulted when he was unexpectedly awakened at 5AM to serve a previously-unannounced shift in the jail’s kitchen and was issued another week’s worth of isolation due to, “not moving fast enough,” upon first waking.

Perhaps most outrageous of them all, however, is the citation he most recently received for poor hygiene in the form of wearing “smelly shoes.”  Because of the fact that only the jail is permitted to provide prisoners with their footwear, Rich has repeatedly begged the corrections officers to grant him a fresh pair, yet no initiative was ever taken on the part of the jail’s staff to grant him his conscientious requests.  Needless to say, he has since been granted new shoes by the jail, despite having received them too little, too late, and has again been forced to spend an entire week without any outside visitors, in addition to being issued yet another negative mark on his record of personal behavior.

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Cheshire County House of Corrections

Until December 12th-17th (the tentative dates of his release before his appeal trial begins sometime in January of 2014), the only thing that Rich can do right now is to try to bide his time and keep himself out of trouble as much as possible.  Hopefully this will be a possibility for him.  Despite finding himself in a scenario that is so unfairly rigged against him, the best he can hope for is that his record will continue to remain free of too many disciplinary issues and be released according to schedule.  Rich’s birthday is on December 5th, so any cards or messages (or other forms of contact) would be greatly appreciated to help ease the loneliness of spending his birthday in a cage.  Contact information detailing where to send cards and letters, as well as various other means of contact and donations, can be found listed below.  With the best of circumstances and some lucky factors, Rich will be released into the waiting arms of his friends, loved ones, and fellow activists sometime within the next month.

Rich is presently in immediate need of housing provisions for when he is released from jail, preferably within the region of Manchester, New Hampshire.  Anyone who might be able to provide a hero like Rich with a place to stay should reach out to him as soon as possible through one of the contact methods listed below.  Unfortunately, he will likely find himself on probation for up to three years, during which time any residence in which he stays may become subject to random searches by probation officers who seek to keep people like Rich in cages.  As a result, such a risk has made the process of arranging a personal sanctuary for himself to reside once he has been released rather difficult.  He will also be in desperate need of legally-verifiable employment, and any potential leads in that department would also be greatly appreciated at this time, especially given his unfortunate acquisition of felony charges.

Anyone wishing to contact him can find the information necessary for doing so below.  Rich and his friends, loved ones, fellow activists, and followers (including myself) thank you for any and all of your help and support during this difficult time.  Please wish him the best, and reach out to him in any ways that you can if you find the time.  He needs your support, and it’s lonely where he’s being held prisoner right now, so don’t hesitate to drop him a line.  Your gestures will be appreciated far more than you could ever realize, and there is never too much contact with the outside world for someone who is wrongly kept locked inside of a jail cell.

***Note:  Securus Technologies is offering a “holiday special” for at-home visits on their website (link below).  With Rich’s birthday coming up, this is an excellent opportunity to pay him a birthday visit!***

Rich Paul’s Contact/Donation Information:

  • Electronic Donations can be made at: http://www.gofundme.com/RichPaul
  • Letters and other additional donations can be sent via the MailToJail service at http://www.mailtojail.com
  • Personal checks may be made out to Rich Paul and mailed to: Wendy French, 73 Leverett Street, Keene, NH 03431
  • To write to him via traditional “snail-mail,” send addressed envelopes to: Rich Paul, c/o The C.C. H.o.C. , #825 Marlboro Road, Keene NH 03431
  • To schedule an in-person visit, please set up an “on-site video service” account with Securus Technologies at: http://www.securustech.net
  • Anyone who would like to visit, but is unable, and would instead prefer to call Rich can set up an “Advanced Connect” account with Securus Technologies at the website listed above.  Fees may vary.

Watching Philadelphia’s Watchmen: A Week’s Worth of Corrupt Cop Cases

naceIn just the last week alone, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) may have done more damage to its own reputation among the city’s residents than even the most convincing critic of centralized government authority could have managed. A series of scandals that have been showcased in recent local and national news has significantly tarnished the respectability of the PPD and its personnel, and rightly so. As a result, both faithful supporters of law enforcement efforts, as well as those who are instinctively wary of the police, are questioning whether or not the agency is working on behalf of the general public’s interests, altogether. Given the seedy nature and insidious details of the stories of police corruption that surface every day from cities everywhere, who could blame anyone for distrusting the intentions of law enforcement officers? In the city of Philadelphia, where I live, it has become almost impossible for conscientious individuals (especially members of minorities) not to, and here are some examples of why:

When a video of officer Philip Nace (pictured above) and his patrol partner unexpectedly went viral on YouTube, their abusive interactions with two innocent African-American pedestrians suddenly fixated the eyes of thousands of online viewers upon Philadelphia and its burgeoning police state. The video’s footage, which depicts the officers verbally and physically assaulting the two young men without any justifiable cause for suspicion, demonstrated the unjust persecution that has unfortunately become commonplace in cities such as Philadelphia and New York, where the tyrannical and racially-driven “stop-and-frisk” policy has become a legally accepted standard of police conduct. Despite causing quite a stir in the day or two following its initial debut, it seemed somewhat unlikely at first that the video would ultimately have an impact of any measurable significance: police brutality videos are almost a dime a dozen nowadays, and often result in few consequences for the officers involved, regardless of the number of views that they manage to generate. It came as something of surprise, however, when less than a month later, a second incriminating video of Nace and his partner surfaced on YouTube, filmed committing an outright display of what can only be described as, “bullying,” for a second time, and again without any apparent provocation. This time, the footage portrays the overtly hostile officer Nace aggressively tipping over a local resident’s basketball hoop seemingly at random, destroying the $450 piece of equipment in the process. The two officers then proceed to climb back into their police van, at which point Nace can be witnessed venomously calling out, “Have a good day!” as the two drive off, followed by a spitefully bellowed, “Jesus loves you!” which spews from his partner’s gullet in a manner that could invoke only contempt for the two thugs on the part of any dignified viewer. Upsetting, though it is to watch, the video manages to show the officers masterfully defaming themselves in a manner that is purely reliant upon such a candidly grotesque display of their own unpleasantness: the brutishness of the two graceless bloats conveys volumes on its own, never requiring anyone other than the policemen themselves to demonstrate their own repulsive cruelty. The ugliness of their misdeeds simply speaks for itself.

The young man who had shot the footage (who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from Nace) has revealed to the press that he is no stranger to Nace’s abusive tendencies, and even went as far as to remark:

“He comes out here and harasses people all the time…Nace is a bully.”

Fortunately, the shocking content of the two videos resulted in the suspension of both Nace and his partner, and has since sparked an investigation into the conduct of the officers during their time spent on duty as policemen. However, this is only the beginning: the recent smattering of shameful and angering instances of misconduct by Philadelphia police officers hardly ends there.

When India Torres returned home to the residence she shares with her family in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, only to find that intruders had broken in and robbed it, she naturally didn’t hesitate before calling the police. Regular readers of this website may find the Kensington region familiar, as the area’s ongoing saga of the tyrannical abuse of its residents by corrupt politicians using eminent domain laws to seize rightfully-owned property was recently the subject of another Stateless Statements article, the link to which can be found here. Despite the painfully slow creep towards gentrification that is ever-so gradually progressing within the neighborhood, the area is infamous for being one of heavy drug trafficking (among countless other illegal activities). As a result, Torres’ surprise came about not because of the break-in itself, but from the shocking discovery that there was enough evidence to strongly indicate that the burglary had been committed by five police officers who had been working as part of the city’s 24th District Narcotics Enforcement Team.

burglaryThe five agents appear to have broken in without even so much as a warrant, allegedly operating based on the lame excuse that there had been a hunch that the residence was a drug house. After entering through one of the house’s windows, they reportedly proceeded to search for any lingering evidence of illegal activity. After their search uncovered nothing of the sort, however, it is presumed that the officers then took it upon themselves for whatever reason to steal various items from inside Torres’ home, many of which later turned up in the lockers of the suspected officers upon further investigation by Internal Affairs. Flabbergasted as to why her family’s residence was even targeted for search by police in the first place, Torres remarked:

“We live in a drug infested area. They assume everyone is the same. They don’t separate the good people from the bad people. They just assume everyone is the same, and they treat everyone the same way, and it has to stop…I don’t own that much stuff in my house, and the little bit of stuff I have is very valuable. I work hard to have this house, and for someone to just come in and destroy it–it’s not gonna happen.”

A similar display of the kind of treachery, misconduct, and corruption that seems to be shared among certain Philadelphia police officers is that of city homicide detective Ron Dove. Dove was suspended from all street work earlier this month after suspicions arose that he had assisted his girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, in covering up evidence of her guilt after she had allegedly stabbed her former lover, Cesar Vera, to death. However, this would turn out to be only the beginning of the story, as numerous other grave allegations against Dove have continued to develop during the course of the still-ongoing investigation into his shadowy past. Local news source Philly.com reported on October 26th that an iPad confiscated by police from Dove’s home was found to contain some rather perplexing and potentially incriminating images of the detective, potentially linking him to the scene of a recent Northeast Philadelphia drug bust which had resulted in the confiscation of a whopping $300,000 worth of heroin. Photos contained within the tablet depict Dove alongside the suspected drug dealer, smiling in a bar together, his arm suspended around the very same man that authorities believe to be responsible for the gargantuan kilogram stockpile of drugs that had been seized during the sting operation. The connection of the two men with one another is certainly puzzling, to say the least, but the aura of unsavory associations surrounding the suspended Philadelphia homicide detective goes even further.Crooked-CopDove is also presently under the scrutiny of Internal Affairs for having potentially covered up the investigation into the 2010 murder of Leslie Delzingaro. Delzingaro had been gunned down in a bar which was owned by none other than the father of Dove’s girlfriend (stabbing suspect Erica Sanchez), while Delzingaro had been making a routine business visit to the establishment as part of her job selling decorative lighting fixtures. Upon receiving news of the recent investigation into Dove’s suspicious activities, the family of Delzingaro has come forth, claiming that Dove (the lead detective in charge of her murder investigation) had seemed unusually nonchalant about the slaying, repeatedly insisting that the bar’s owner was a “great guy,” and that there was little cause for further inquiry about the matter. Dove is also suspected of covering up information regarding the 2012 murder of 22-year-old Melanie Colon, who was shot six times at close range and found dead behind an apartment building in the Juniata Park neighborhood. Investigators believe that Cesar Vera, the slain ex-suitor of Dove’s girlfriend Erica Sanchez, is linked both to the murder of Melanie Colon and to the disappearance of the last person to have been with her while she was still alive: Colon’s boyfriend, local mechanic Reynaldo Torres. Notes confiscated from Dove’s iPad led search parties to a littered ravine near Torres’ home, where cadaver dogs uncovered a debris-covered tarp, the contents of which have been submitted for DNA testing. The results of those tests are still pending at present. Following the gathering of such a wide range of incriminating evidence, an arrest warrant was issued for Erica Sanchez, who turned herself in to police last week and has since been charged with the murder of Cesar Vera.

The complex and tangled web of suspicion surrounding Dove has resulted in the transfer of all of the open cases still under his investigation to other city detectives. However, when reporters for Philly.com inquired of the District Attorney as to whether or not those investigations themselves were now under review due to detective Dove’s numerous allegations of guilt and having covered up criminal evidence, a spokesperson for the office declined to comment. It appears as though nearly all of the facts and circumstances of this disturbing and convoluted saga will continue to remain shrouded in mystery, at least for some time to come.

What is clear, especially to those residing within Philadelphia’s city limits, however, is that something is most definitely awry about the recently-observed pattern of local law enforcement officers’ misconduct. In a society that has been abandoned and preyed upon by the same individuals who have been delegated the responsibility of protecting the people, what other option remains for people but to stand up and start protecting themselves? Perhaps the demand for an end to the presently-monopolized services of the police will come about as a result of the realization that an alternative provider of community security is absolutely essential to the safety of its inhabitants. Perhaps stories like this will point people in the right direction, towards the realization that no good can ever come from an industry that has been monopolized by a government, or by any other agency.

watchmenPerhaps people will begin to realize that there are alternatives to the present system, and that competition and accountability in the markets for security and justice will foster a more level playing field that is far less susceptible to abuse and corruption. Perhaps people will begin policing themselves, and start protecting themselves and each other from society’s countless criminals, whether such villains be independently-operating, or working on behalf of the corrupt and violent monopoly that calls itself the “government.” For ultimately, it is those who continue to hold offices within this corrupt agency that present the greatest threat to peaceful individuals today: independent instances of crime pale in frequency and scale compared to the mass abuses and concealment of abuses being carried out every day by the state and its employees. It’s time that some alternatives were created, and the people of Philadelphia are slowly beginning to undergo such a process of realization. After all, how could they not, at this point, given that the aforementioned stories have managed to unfold in all their grisly horror over the course of only the previous week? And these are merely the few recent cases that the public has even been made aware of. There are bound to be countless others that remain outside of the public eye.

The writing is on the wall. The idea has already gone viral on YouTube. Just look at the public’s reaction to Nace and his partner’s civil rights abuses if you still need proof. It’s time for responsible individuals who care about public safety to police the police; the time is now more than ever. The stakes are growing higher, and the implications are more dire than ever before. Until then, please stay safe.

***

Sources:

Officer Philip Nace’s Case:

Kensington Break-In:

Detective Dove’s Investigation:

Carpe Brutality, Carpe Corruption: Prime Time For Government Crime

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Ask virtually any private sector employees how they feel about the perks and rewards that are offered to those who work on the payroll of the government instead of an independent employer, and you’re likely to receive similar responses.  Few among the commonly blue-collar ranks of privately employed workers are shy about the advantages of taking a job in the public sector instead of working for a private enterprise.  Who can blame them, given the obvious differences between the two types of career fields and their systems of financial incentives, especially in terms of their benefits packages and the consequences (or lack thereof) for failing to perform their required job duties?  Most government jobs come packaged with health benefits, paid vacation time, generous salaries, and an unspoken guarantee that the position being filled will always continue to exist in the future (unlike offices in the more competitive private market, which are subject to obsolescence if the business itself fails to succeed).  Morality aside, why wouldn’t anyone want job perks such as those which the government promises its employees?  From an employment standpoint, it would be financial insanity not to.

Combing through the news lately in search of subject matter to write about, as I so often do, I must admit that every day I become more and more envious of those who are part of the public sector workforce.  It sounds like quite “the life” to me: working less frequently, with more holidays, and for better pay than most other employers might be able to offer, filling a position which isn’t likely to be going out of business in the near future, and which above all else, offers health benefits (something that many of even the best employers aren’t able to afford for their workers).  If it was possible to remove the immorality of government from the equation altogether, I’d take just about any job offered to me that boasted perks such as these in a heartbeat.  For now, however, all I can do is envy those who remain ignorant enough of the ethical implications of government and its methods of conduct to continue serving it.  And believe me when I tell you that the media has been providing me with plenty of enviable subject matter lately, several of which are as follows.

The first example of some of the aspects of public employment that most private employers could never even hope to be able to compete with comes about in light of the recent and controversial “government shutdown.”  When the federal government was temporarily forced to halt many of its operations due to an alleged dispute between congressional democrats and republicans, up to 80,000 of its employees were forced to take a mandatory vacation until a decision could be reached regarding its new budget standards.  I use the term “vacation” deliberately here, because essentially, that’s all it was: congress has agreed to refund federal employees who were affected by the shutdown for the lost time they incurred as a result of the debacle.  While such a refund alone is enough to rival many businesses in terms of their ability to compensate employees for time lost to them during a company hiatus, the paybacks for those who were temporarily put out of work because of the shutdown don’t just stop there.  Apparently, depending upon which state they live in and its individual laws regarding the matter, government employees who were impacted by the temporary closings are also going to be able to receive the unemployment compensation they would have been entitled to (had they not been brought back following the shutdown) in order to cover the time during which they were forced to spend out of work.

jackpot

Talk about a dream job, right?  Imagine if your boss realized his company was going broke, and closed it down to make some important budget changes, and in the process, you received both a paid vacation and an additional unemployment check for lost time once the company reopened?  That would hardly sound like a bad deal to anyone, especially considering the fact that many independent business endeavors never reopen once they have reached the level of financial turmoil that the United States government has managed to get itself into.  No business could ever afford that kind of compensation for employees who were put out of work as a result of its own financial mismanagement.  Only the government could manage such a feat, due to its means of funding itself, which relies on the forcefulness of involuntary taxation rather than on peaceful and voluntary contributions offered in exchange for the services it provides.  Such a business model would make any entrepreneur envious.

The second example involves now-infamous former UC Davis police lieutenant John Pike (pictured at the top of this page), who was catapulted into the public eye back in 2011 when he brutally pepper-sprayed 21 students during a peaceful demonstration that took place as part of the global Occupy movement.  This week, Pike was awarded a $38,000 workers’ compensation settlement that he pursued due to alleged psychological problems which he claims resulted in the aftermath of the incident.  Pike, who also received eight months of paid administrative leave following his shocking display of violence, has since left the force altogether, but not without the kind of hefty compensation that accompanies a position of government employment.  Despite the fact that UC Davis has been forced to cover nearly all of the damages (shelling out roughly $30,000 a piece to each of Pike’s victims, in addition to his workers’ compensation settlement), the fact remains that few other positions could ever possibly afford an individual the kind of cushy leeway that Pike has received, especially after having committed such an unspeakable atrocity.

Allow me to attempt to put it in perspective.  If you hired a babysitter to care for your children, and found him instead endangering them with physical abuse, would you pay him to take an eight month vacation and then hand him a large settlement if he claimed to have been distraught by the public backlash that followed the incident (which had been his own fault, anyway)?  What kind of a system would follow such a standard list of procedures?  What kind of message might be sent to others still in Pike’s former line of work, as a result?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for such individuals to just wait until the right moment to abuse some person or another in order to receive time off with full pay and benefits, before filing for a settlement to cover the “psychological distress” that was ultimately the the result of their own actions, in the first place?  Such an incident is hardly different from the outcome of the majority of police brutality cases observed today–if anything, police are indirectly rewarded for their actions, rather than penalized for them.  Even if they are fired outright, which is generally rare, they almost always still receive pensions and compensation for the rest of their lives, the figures of which many private sector workers could only dream of matching in all of their years of hard work.  Who wouldn’t want a job that pays its employees forever once they do the wrong thing, without ever even making them work again?  Does any of this sound like “justice” to you?  Does any of it sound right?

The third and final recent example of how government jobs feature such enticing (though skewed) programs of rewards and consequences is a recent story reported by the Associated Press that raises some rather alarming concerns about the dependability of the individuals who are most entrusted with the safety of both the national and international public.  As was confirmed by the Air Force on October 23, 2013, an incident transpired earlier this year in which one of the members of a two-person crew that was responsible for watching over an underground facility containing nuclear missiles left his post unattended, door open, in order to receive a food delivery while his fellow crew member slept.  A similar incident took place at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana back in May of the same year, when a maintenance crew was allowed into an underground launch control center while one of the crew members responsible for its attendance remained asleep.  Such conditions violate Air Force safety standards, and with good reason: nuclear missiles are hardly a lighthearted matter, especially when left almost entirely unattended by those to whom the responsibility of maintaining their security has been delegated.

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But what repercussions did those who were responsible for such potentially catastrophic breaches in the security of nuclear weapons face?  The most extreme penalty imposed upon these individuals was the mandatory forfeiture of no more than $3,100 pay for a total of two months, and the remaining parties who were found guilty of such negligence received punishments of even less severity.  And while there was admittedly no victim brought about by any of their actions, each of them failed to perform their most important job duties (which could have resulted in deadly consequences under the wrong circumstances) and were unable to fulfill the responsibilities that they had voluntarily sworn to personally uphold.  Anyone in a line of work not funded through the government and its system of taxation would have at the very least been terminated, and might even have had to face charges being pressed against him or her in court for engaging in hazardous occupational negligence.  However, when a government employee is caught doing so, even in the most extreme cases bearing life-or-death implications (in this instance, failure to properly watch over a nuclear missile control center), there are few repercussions, if any.  The ultimate outcome of scenarios such as these almost always results in what is, at most, a mere inconvenience for whomever comes to be held responsible (if anyone even is held responsible, in the first place).  Compare such an outcome with the case of a waitress who gets fired for accidentally missing even one of her shifts, and you might begin to see the point that I am trying to make here, if you haven’t already.

However well-intentioned, individuals who are employed by the government represent a different economic class of people altogether.  They operate under different codes of conduct, with different repercussions for their actions, and with different economic incentives to guide them through their decision-making processes than those who are otherwise employed by private citizens.  For these reasons alone, government services will rarely, if ever, be provided efficiently or conscientiously by those who are on the state’s payroll.  There just isn’t enough of a system of checks in place to ensure that state employees consistently strive to provide their “services” in such a manner, and there never will be.  It’s a logical impossibility, altogether.  In many cases, the motivating incentives are just the opposite: there are more often than not significant benefits to either abusing one’s position of power, or to simply neglecting one’s duties, both of which generally result in paid leaves of absence, enormous settlements, and various other forms of compensation–all in exchange for not even having to work.  It’s only logical that many individuals would respond to such incentives accordingly.

Let-them-eat-cake-marie-antoinette-30973137-500-269

Even I admit that I sometimes envy those who occupy such financially secure positions, required to provide such little labor output in return.  It must really be nice, after all.  However, once individuals across the board start to recognize the true nature of these conditions for what they are, along with their often-serious implications, the challenge of preventing future dilemmas like these from happening again can begin to be approached from a more sensible and strategic standpoint.  When a system that rewards failure, incompetence, and misconduct is in place, what else can anyone honestly expect from those who work for it?  Once the shift has been made towards the direction of personal responsibility, accountability, and more sensible economic incentives, the transition to a more morally responsible and economically sustainable means of organizing society can begin to occur.  As for now, who can really blame the freeloaders that just want to get paid for doing virtually nothing?  If you thought you could get away with it, wouldn’t you be doing the same thing?  And wouldn’t anyone else?  Isn’t that the problem, altogether?

***

Sources:

Government Shutdown:

Lt. Pike’s Settlement:

Nuclear Negligence:

 

 

 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Robbed of Every Penny

i_want_your_money_unclesam-taxAccording to the present legal code of the United States justice system, if an individual is charged with a crime that bears significant financial implications (such as conspiracy or embezzlement), the government is literally allowed to seize and withhold any and all assets deemed to be potentially related to the accused party’s pending criminal charges–regardless of whether or not any hearing has been held in order to prove the connection of such funds with any crimes. 

The logic behind this policy is presumably that if a criminal has committed some sort of financial misdoing which resulted in an unlawfully-obtained fortune, he or she should not be allowed to use such ill-gotten funds to his own advantage in order to fight off the charges.  The idea admittedly makes sense on paper, certainly, but has in practice taken on a life of its own, resulting in unthinkable sums of accumulated assets that have been seized by the state in order to cripple the ability of accused criminals to defend themselves from the government’s allegations against them.  The entire process has transformed itself into a tremendous racket, beneficial only to the federal government, and has indeed served to be a rather profitable one, at that.

In fact, over $4.2 billion was deposited into the United States Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund as of September 30, 2012 (the end of the government’s spending year).  Compared to the $1.6 billion in seized assets that had been accumulated within the fund in the two years prior to 2012, the rapid increase in frozen and confiscated finances starts to become a rather curious matter, indeed, for those who are paying attention to it.

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As evidenced by the previously-mentioned Justice Department financial records, there has been a significant increase in the government’s willingness to seize the assets of defendants, and the ethically-questionable practice has unfortunately become more and more commonplace in modern-day court cases.

Rising to challenge this practice (as well as the potential for such a legal process to be abused by court officials) is Miami defense attorney Howard Srebnick. However, Srebnick’s attempt at doing so is neither the first, nor the last of its kind.  The Florida attorney, who has undertaken the responsibility of providing legal defense for New York-based couple Kerri and Brian Kaley, is challenging the constitutionality of the very process itself, through which a defendant’s assets may be seized without even so much as a pretrial hearing taking place to defend the validity of the criminal allegations being raised against him or her.

Srebnick claims that such a policy of conduct violates the constitutionally-guaranteed due legal process by neglecting to prove that the accused party has any reasonable evidence of criminal misconduct against him or her.  Also aiding his criticisms of the policy’s constitutionality is the argument that the seizure of assets prevents a defendant from having adequate access to the financial means necessary to afford for his or her preferred representative to provide legal counsel in court.  Howard Srebnick and his clients are seeking to ensure that the courts henceforth require a pretrial hearing to establish the integrity of the criminal charges against an accused party, in order to prove that the seizure of his or her assets is both justifiable and necessary.

In the case of Srebnick’s clients, the Kaleys, the couple argues that the legal actions taken against them to confiscate both their home and their net assets (which totaled to $2.2 million) altogether were not only detrimental to their ability to properly defend themselves in court, but outright immoral to begin with.  Charged with having illegally profited through South Florida’s “gray market” for medical equipment by re-selling medical devices which the Kaleys claim were rightfully given to them by hospitals that had upgraded to more modern equipment, the couple maintains their assertions of innocence.  Prosecutors, however, are hardly as certain of the couple’s denial of illegal intent, and were able to seize the Kaleys’ assets and savings with virtually nothing in their way to stop them.  Srebnick argues that such measures were unfair, and that the Kaleys’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial was compromised by the financial disadvantage that was naturally forced upon them as a result of the complete and total confiscation of the couple’s entire net worth.

Unfortunately, the Kaleys are hardly alone in having fallen victim to such intimidating and ruthless tactics.  Similar cases have been reported where accused defendants have been granted their right to invoke an attorney of their preference only in exchange for providing a guilty plea, or other similar sets of circumstances that ultimately victimize those who are being accused by the court and its prosecutors.  In a statement which summarized his stance on the matter most effectively, Srebnick announced his aims in fighting the case for the Kaleys:

“I ask that this court not rule that the government can beggar a defendant into submission.”

However, the resulting outcome of the efforts of the Kaleys’ and their attorney to seek justice in such a corrupt system is at this point uncertain, at best.  Dishearteningly, each of the 24 past attempts within the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to establish the requirements for a pretrial hearing which would serve to validate the necessity of an asset seizure has failed.  Even more troubling is the fact that Justice Antonin Scalia, a political player in this unfortunate saga, has stated that his position on the matter favors simply overturning the ability to enforce asset forfeiture before a conviction is delivered altogether, a move which would benefit others in future cases, but unfortunately still deny the Kaleys their request for a hearing to justify the confiscation of their wealth and property.

A verdict isn’t expected for several months, and the outcome remains unpredictable at present.  The reality of the situation is clear, however: any government that has the ability to confiscate the entirety of an individual’s wealth on the grounds alone of an as-yet unproven accusation (thereby preventing that individual from being able to legally defend his or herself against such allegations) possesses the power to damn that individual on a very whim alone.  Such a system of government is as far removed from justice as could possibly be conceivable, and is as closely associated with the plunder and enslavement wielded by the most tyrannical political regimes that history has ever known.  No justice can be expected to be served through any actions of such an abusive organization, and as such, no consent deserves to be given to either those acting on its behalf, their edicts, or their threats.

Kensington’s Saga of Property Theft and Political Crooks

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In the city of Philadelphia, a group of property owners are rightfully outraged by the local government’s attempts to forcibly confiscate their rightfully-owned land through the use of eminent domain laws.  These property seizures are being conducted in order to build a proposed housing development project in the neighborhood of Philadelphia known as “Kensington,” an area which has become notorious for its poverty levels and high crime rates, despite the region’s burgeoning trend towards gradual gentrification.  This slow-moving increase in community conditions and home values has apparently prompted the project’s proposal, which seeks to stifle the area’s upward socio-economic shift by ensuring that low-income housing remain locally available to those who are unable to afford the rising prices that coincide with community improvement.

The proposed project, called “Tajdeed” (which is Arabic for “renewal”), would have the capacity to support up to 45 low-income families, replacing the various properties that already exist in the Kensington region.  The project is being funded through a private-public partnership between the city government, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, and Conifer Realty LLC, a coalition of special interests that has been vehemently pushing for the completion of the housing project.  Marwan Kreidie, executive director of the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, has expressed that he and his partners, “Look at this [housing project] as the last chance to maintain low and moderate income in this area.”

Apparently, Kreidie and his group feel as though total gentrification is a bad thing for an impoverished community because it increases property taxes, making it hard for poor families to afford to live there.  In response, Kreidie has been pursuing what he proclaims to be a “public good:” he and his organization are seeking to combat the natural economic evolution of the city’s neighborhoods by using government force to seize privately-owned properties and replace them with low-income housing projects, the development of which is to be funded significantly in part by government grants.

Yes, that’s right: he wants to keep certain areas of the poor neighborhoods poor in order to ensure that those with a low income can still afford to live in slums within that particular region.  What a hero.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez was another key contributor in pushing for the use of eminent domain to seize the properties in order to move forward with the Tajdeed project.  She shares an opinion about the neighborhood’s recent economic growth that is similar to Kreidie’s, and also wishes to stifle Kensington’s progress of gentrification and ensure that the neighborhood maintains its present status of debilitating impoverishment.  At a rally against the use of eminent domain in Kensington, she was quoted as saying that she, “doesn’t need consent,” to seize private property, and insisted that anything that is considered legal is therefore also moral.  In an interview with writer Solomon Jones, Sanchez made the following remarks:

“There is nothing more important that government can do… than to assure affordability and accessibility in the entire city…  You have to stop the gentrification by ensuring there’s affordability everywhere.”

That’s right, again.  We have to stop gentrification so that the poverty can stay within the community, rather than allow natural economic conditions to guide individuals of various financial statuses to the areas with costs of living more suitable for their levels of income.  Won’t that be great for the city and its local economy?

But wait: how will this marvelous feat of economic stabilization be conducted?  By use of government force, naturally, in the form of eminent domain laws (a fancy term for property theft used by the government to soften the blow of the crimes it commits)!

The use of eminent domain has absolutely exploded in popularity within the city of Philadelphia in just the last year alone.  In 2012, the City of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (the city government’s division of property thieves) seized approximately 1,200 private properties from their rightful owners–a dramatic increase from the mere 100 cases of eminent domain use in the previous year, a number which seems miniscule by comparison.  The reason for the sudden drastic increase in eminent domain cases is likely the result of the grandfathering in of local eminent domain laws, which allowed the city to postpone adopting the state of Pennsylvania’s recently-changed policies regarding the acceptable use of eminent domain following a 2005 Supreme Court ruling.  This ruling, known as Kelo vs. City of New London, held that private redevelopment projects of “blighted” areas could be considered to fall within the realm of “public use” under the Fifth Amendment, and are therefore a legally-legitimate reason for the government to invoke eminent domain in order to allow for their construction.  Since the newly-modified Pennsylvania state laws are much more restrictive of the use of eminent domain, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority appears to have been scrambling to cram as many possible uses of property seizure laws into a single year as it could possibly process before the new laws could go into effect on January 1st, 2013.  And cram, they most certainly did, as is indicated by the dramatic difference in the number of annual eminent domain cases from each of the two years.

And now, in Kensington, that use of power to seize rightfully-owned property is being used against 19 property owners who are understandably angry about their local government’s tyrannical abuse of power.  Among them is Meletius Athanasiadis, who has been offered a mere $149,000 from the city in exchange for seven of his properties, which include among them six parking garages and one residential home, the tenants of which are now being threatened with displacement.  “Mel,” as he is called, along with the other victims of this tremendous violation of individual and property rights, was given little time to challenge the proceedings in court, and received notice of the impending property seizures just days before Christmas.  In addition to having received such short notice of the city’s intent to steal their land from them, Pennsylvania state law allows a window of only 30 days to contest eminent domain attempts (a condition that most of the Kensington property owners were unaware of at the time).  Since January 18th, their only option has been to negotiate with the government for financial compensation; they are no longer able to challenge the use of eminent domain against them and their properties.

Maria Quinones Sanchez admits that efforts to communicate with the victims of this injustice could have been much better, but remains indifferent about the matter and is continuing to push for the completion of the Tajdeed project:

“Our communication was not the best and that’s why we’ve hired a community outreach coordinator. We will do our best to be more deliberate moving forward.”

As for Marwan Kreidie, he expressed his stance on the matter in an interview for NBC10, Philadelphia:

“Look, the project is gonna happen.  I think the important thing now is to make sure that everybody knows what rights they have, and they basically have to go and negotiate with the City. We want to make sure everyone is happy and gets a fair amount.  We’re convinced this is gonna be a great project.  It’s a community project and we’re all excited about it.”

Everyone, that is, except the victims of the state aggression he supports.  For those being forced to give up to the city government what is rightfully theirs at the behest of the economically-illiterate political influences who are seeking to stifle their community’s development, excitement could not be further from their range of emotions.  Some of Mel’s statements on the matter include:

“I can’t get justice done. I made a good investment, and the government can come and take it off of me to give it to a developer, why?”

“How can this happen in the United States out of all places? They [the government] acted like they’re gods.”

“They’re stealing.  They’re taking my property, my tax dollars, and giving it to someone else…”

And Mel is correct in all cases.  Eminent domain is property theft, pure and simple, and there is no excuse on earth that could ever justify its use for any reason.  If a government can take someone’s property away based solely on whatever justifications it has made up for itself in an attempt to legitimize its crimes, then the question is raised about how much, if anything, anyone actually owns in this country.

Theft is theft, regardless of who commits it or whatever agency claims that there is a necessity for it, government being no exception.  What’s happening in Philadelphia is outright thuggery, and should not be tolerated for even an instant.

If people calling themselves “the government” have the ability and power to steal from you everything that you’ve worked your whole life to achieve, what does that say about what the term “ownership” actually means within the context of today’s society, or about which group is working to serve whom?  Do you think that a so-called “representative” or “public servant” ought to be able to steal your land and property from you for any justifiable reason, let alone for the outrageous excuse of needing to keep your community poor? 

A society in which such actions transpire is as far-removed from the ideals of freedom as one can be, and has already made its descent into complete and utter tyranny.  The only hope of putting a stop to these kinds of outrageous crimes is to resist allowing them to be committed at all costs, and to spread the word about such injustices to as many individuals as possible.  Property rights are the most important element of a free society, and if the state manages to take away an individual’s right to his own private property, it has also taken with it his self-ownership altogether.

Eminent domain is theft, plain and simple, and it is wrong in every instance.  No amount of grandstanding or usage of flowery legal terminology will ever change that reality–theft is theft, and ought never to be accepted by anyone, whether such an act has been committed by a common crook or by an elected official.  The outcome remains the same, and until such conduct is rejected entirely by every single individual member of society, unfortunate stories such as this one are only likely to continue to be present in the everyday news stories of the future.  Hopefully, people will begin to recognize eminent domain (and all other government initiatives) as the violent theft that it is, and begin to resist it sooner rather than later.  Those people in Kensington sure did, and with any luck, more will be soon to follow.  Perhaps the state will shoot itself in the foot by continuing to commit such abuses of its power, and bring about its own destruction when those who have been subjected to its oppression are no longer willing to tolerate it.  Hopefully that day will come about sooner rather than later.  Until it does, however, the only thing that I and the Kensington victims of eminent domain can do is spread the word about the importance of private property rights, and about the dangerous pitfalls of a society that fails to recognize them.