4:10 p.m. October 3, 2013

Of Baggers And Eminent Domain

As soon as I started researching the city of Richmond's controversial plan to use eminent domain to help underwater homeowners, I noticed that libertarians and assorted baggers were the loudest and most obnoxious opponents of the plan.

They oppose the plan wholesale, on principle.

Y'see, as far as libertarian dogma is concerned, eminent domain is the root of all socialist evil. That's because eminent domain — a right enshrined in federal and state constitutional law — recognizes a government's right to seize and expropriate private property for the public good, which of course obliterates the notion that there exists such a thing as an "inviolable private property right." And there's nothing more important to libertarians than private property rights. Unless we put property rights above all other rights, everything breaks down and we’re one cattle car away from the GULAGs.

Libertarianism without hallowed private property is like Christianity without heaven. It kinda defeats the whole point. What's there to strive and toil for?

Perhaps Charles Koch put it best in his self-help memoir, "The Science of Success" (alternative title: “How I Inherited Massive Wealth and You Didn’t”):

"Countries that clearly define and protect individual private property rights stimulate investment and grow. Those that threaten and confiscate private property lose capital and decline."

So, it's only natural that as soon as Richmond's plan to use eminent domain surfaced, baggertarian academics, pols, pundits and Koch lackeys of every rank and stature (but of almost uniform gender and pastiness) swarmed the mediascape to rant about the big government tyranny of eminent domain and warn Americans that it risks tearing a hole in the very fabric of space-time-capitalism, sucking us all into a swirling black hole of socialism. Reason mag's bagster-in-chief Matt Welch even hinted at the existence of some a high-level liberal media conspiracy in which the New York Times used "rhetorical sleight of hand" to sell this liberty-ending Richmond scheme to a gullible brainwashed public.

Benjamin Powell — Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, a free-market-friendly outfit funded by Koch family foundations and companies like Philip Morris, Exxon and Microsoft — took to the Huffington Post to warn the good people of this country that Richmond's "brazen attack on property rights" would set off a de-libertization domino effect that would subject liberty lovers to even worse Big Government tyranny. He warned that it would further degrade America's Economic Freedom™ ranking, which has already dropped by a precipitous 25 percent since 2000. "Not only do other wealthy countries like Switzerland and Canada rank ahead of the United States in the protection of property rights, but so do Botswana, Morocco, Malaysia, and Kuwait!"

Bob Barr, the former Republican Congressman/Libertarian Party presidential candidate and Haitian warlord lobbyist, also weighed in on the plan. Barr's currently running for office again (as a Republican this time) and so the author of the anti-gay Defense Of Marriage Act pounded out a homophobic rant warning his would-be voters that crazed gays and environmentalists in California — the "Land of Fruits and Nuts," he called it — were trying to bring about socialist totalitarianism by using "the power of government to destroy property rights and legal contracts." So much for Barr’s alleged libertarian conversion to gay-friendly politics...

Barr ended his bizarre rant with a battle cry cheering on Wells Fargo and Wall Street’s war on Richmond, California:

"All of us who believe in property rights and the sanctity of contracts – two fundamental rights expressly guaranteed in our Constitution as against government abuse – should be cheering for Wells Fargo and other financial institutions as they fight Richmond’s property grabs in court."

Then there's Ilya Somin, a baggertarian law professor at George "Koch" Mason University. For a baggertarian, his criticism was fairly levelheaded. Somin described Richmond's eminent domain plan as "unjust, unconstitutional" and a "pure redistribution of wealth." He pointed out that it wasn't even the kind of redistribution of wealth that leftists would normally be in favor of, as it would steal from the poorest Richmond residents...

His reasoning for this was rather spotty, but it's not surprising that Ilya came down hard on Richmond's eminent domain plan.

Ilya is a relatively young Koch lackey with a rather tragic personal history. When he was five, Ilya's parents rescued him from Soviet Communism and tried instilling in him a respect for freedom and democracy, only to have their son fall under the sway of inverted communism — or "Kochunism" — here in the USA. These days, Ilya has his own Cato Institute page and churns out weird dogmatic attacks on democracy — like his latest book, "Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter," which argues that less democracy will make America better. He even wrote a memoir about his journey from Leninism to Kochism with a very Hayekian title, "A Road to Freedom."

The most ridiculous thing about all of this "principled" libertarian outrage over Richmond's plan to use eminent domain is how each of these pundits feed at the Koch brothers' teat. Koch Industries is notorious for its use and abuse of eminent domain to advance its mega-business empire.

Koch Industries is the largest private company in America; it's a highly diversified conglomerate involved in everything from asphalt production, to financial derivatives, to carpets and paper products, to municipal lending. But at the core of their business is a massive network of oil and gas pipelines the company operates between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada. The exact size of their pipeline network is not known. By some estimates, the Kochs control somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 miles—enough pipeage to crisscross the US from coast to coast about 15 times.

How did the Koch family acquire all the land needed to own such a monumental pipeline empire? You guessed it: By getting states and municipalities to use their tyrannical powers of eminent domain, forcibly seizing land from private property owners on the Koch brothers' behalf, all in the name of the "greater public good"! It's a sweet deal, and the Kochs wouldn't be the billionaires that they are today without eminent domain.

Koch Industries used eminent domain on a recent pipeline project in Minnesota called MinnCan, which now carries crude via a 304-mile pipe from the Canadian border all the way across the state of Minnesota to a Koch refinery in the Twin Cities area. When the project was being planned in the early 2000s, Koch PR flaks pitched the pipeline as a public benefit project, on the bogus premise that it would increase Minnesota’s gasoline supply and therefore bring down prices. Under that pretense, Koch Industries sought and received approval to use the power of eminent domain to forcibly take land from more than 1,000 private landowners. But the land owners — many of them farmers — who were forced to watch a Koch pipeline lain over property and only offered a couple of measly grand in compensation didn't see the public benefit that Koch flaks promised. Many of them were misled, paid far less than the hit they took to their property’s value, and are now forced to live with a toxic pipe running through their backyards.

"People’s rights were violated, and they never got their due process," a farmer whose fields were going to be cut in two by the pipeline told a newspaper in 2007. "It’s wrong. People’s property is one of the most important things to their livelihood."

Here's an excerpt from a local paper about Minnesota landowners having their property seized with eminent domain:

Property owners along the MinnCan oil pipeline route say the process has been rife with confusion and the erosion of property rights.

Joyce Osborn, Burnsville, owns 195 acres in New Market that could soon be sold for development, but the pipeline route would render at least part of the property useless and reduce its value.

"This was my insurance policy for my old age, and its totally being eroded and I have no say over it," she said.

Planned is a 24-inch MinnCan pipeline, proposed by a subsidiary of Koch Industries (Minnesota Pipeline Company) will initially carry about 100,000 42-gallon barrels of oil daily from Canada to Minnesota.

The new line requires permanent easements through private property in Stearns, Meeker, McLeod, Carver, Sibley, Scott and Dakota counties; the oil pipeline leads to Marathon Refinery in St. Paul and Flint Hills Resources in Rosemount...

Pipeline easements are permanently attached to a deed and strictly limit development or activities that can occur in the easement area. Current and future property owners, however, continue to be fee holders, and are responsible for paying taxes on the land.

In addition, the easement could be sold to another company, regardless of the property owner's wishes.

And here's another:

The most vocal opposition, early on, came from the property owners. Many have accused Koch of playing hardball, pitting neighbor against neighbor, offering unfair compensation, and threatening to seize the land through eminent domain.

Scott Anderson was a 40 year-old cabinet maker when he began to lose his sight. He has spent the last ten years laboring, to turn his home near Farmington into a sound investment, before losing his vision. He put his home on the market last year, hoping to sell for $500,000, before the pipeline was rerouted onto his property.

The Anderson’s realtor estimates the property value loss in excess of $125,000, and the pipeline offered him $3,625 in easement compensation, a major blow to Scott and his family. For Anderson, it isn’t just about the money, but he doesn’t believe they have been treated fairly.

"My kids were 3 and 4 years old when they helped plant the rows of Spruce trees that will be removed, our "true" value is much higher than anything that could be offered.

The bottom line to our property value loss, what are they leaving us with to sell?" Anderson stated...

To get a sense of the scale of suffering and material damage caused by the Kochs' use of eminent domain, multiply these people's stories by the tens of thousands of miles of pipeline the billionaire brothers own and operate across the United States.

As fate would have it, this particular Minnesota pipeline stretched across the congressional district of Rep. Michele Bachmann, Queen of the Teabaggers. Rather standing up for her constituents’ property rights and their needs, Bachmann ignored the entire unpleasant episode. Not surprisingly, Koch Industries' brazen violation of private property rights in Minnesota was also ignored the libertarian brain trust at Reason, Cato, George Mason U… Guess they don't mind government seizing private property, as long as their benefactors are the ones who come out on top.

And it's not just Koch Industries. The entire oil and gas industry relies on the tyrannical powers of eminent domain in order to expand and update their pipelines — and the fossil fuel extraction industry is a major benefactor of bagger-libertarian propaganda.

Take the biggest and most controversial pipeline project in America today: Keystone XL. Being developed by Canadian company TransCanada, this pipeline project would stretch for 1,700 miles, carrying thick crude oil from the Canadian tar sands all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Guess how TransCanada is securing all that land? Yep, eminent domain. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of private landowners have had their land seized against their will through eminent domain — and by a foreign corporation, no less.

A foreign company violating America's sovereignty and taking private property from hardworking blue-blooded Americans? Nope, that didn't bother America's bagger intellectuals, either. Quite the opposite: David Koch's Americans for Prosperity bussed people in to testify at State Department hearings in favor of the eminent domain pipeline.

Remember this alleged "principled opposition to eminent domain" the next time you hear Koch’d up baggers complaining about the evils of big government coercion and the sanctity of private property.