USDA Funded Prisons = Rural Development?

It is no secret that the United States of America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In fact, if we treat individual states as countries and compare them to the rest of the world, the top thirty spots would be held by individual states, even the lowest ranked state ends up 58th in the world, and the other eight countries in that list are not exactly countries that have shining human rights reputations: El Salvador, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Thailand, Rawanda, Russia, Panama, Coast Rica, and Brazil. This is a rather authoritarian group of countries that experience high levels of violent crime. In fact, El Salvador, Russia, Panama, and Brazil all have murder rates that are double that of the United States, and yet the US incarcerates more people.

According to the Bureau of Prison (BOP) statistics, the 46.1% of individuals incarcerated by the state are charged with “drug offenses,” followed distantly by “weapons, explosives and arson” at 17.9%, and in third place making up 9% of the incarcerated population are “sex offenses.” What is curious about this list is that each one of these categories undoubtedly holds a percentage of non-violent criminals: individuals using drugs, someone with an “illegal” gun, or those engaging in prostitution or otherwise consensual sex. In fact, the first category of crimes the BOP lists that consists solely of crimes with an apparent victim is “extortion, fraud, and bribery” with 6.4% of the population.

When we see that we are locking up a disproportionate amount of victimless drug crimes, as well as, other potentially non-violent crimes and that our incarceration rate outpaces the rest of the world (including all sorts of third world “shit holes”), we have to wonder, just what is going on. There is any number of reasons out there as to why we have such a high incarceration rate with some folks blaming it on a lack of present day education, and others seeing it as a throwback to our Puritan roots.

But when it is all distilled down, we see that our penal system is not one of correction, but one of corporatism and monopolistic force, backed up by the long arm of the law, not just by creating a War on Drugs and implementing draconian sentences, but also incentivizing incarceration by awarding contracts and providing funds to build new and bigger prisons.

In 1972, under President Nixon, the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (Con Act) was passed as a sort of safety net for areas dependent on agriculture, timber, mining, and other rural economies that were starting to lag. Since 1996, starting under President Bill Clinton, the Con Act has lended over $360 million to build prisons in rural areas, as they consider the construction of a prison as “rural development.” On the surface, this may seem well intended: we will always have prisoners, prisoners don’t stop during recessions, a prison can create numerous jobs - especially considering second tier businesses needed to support the demands of prison workers, but of course, this is only surface level. Many prison towns that have received federal money to build prisons have dealt with negative ramifications, some have actually lost money, and once a town becomes a prison town, it is near impossible to go back; there is no upgrading from a prison town to a web development town, or a tourist town. It seems that no matter what side of the prison system an entity gets involved with, there is no complete breaking free.

While many of these prisons are touted as being “private prisons,” the fact remains that the money to build the prisons is provided by the federal government and leaves little room for negotiation when it comes to policies that might actually help these prison-towns prosper. A prison is typically built with the idea that it will provide x-number of jobs, but once construction has been finished residents quickly realize that a good proportion of those jobs will be going to individuals already working for the prison firm and often go to non-residents, and even in those jobs that are actually created, there is a high level of turnover, and with the massive loan that the town and state needs to pay back, there is little recourse.

Unfortunately, even in areas where prisons do create economic development, many problems still arise, both political and moral. While it may be changing, when the census is taken, the prison population is included, creating a skewed view of the voting population (as prisoners do not vote) when it comes time to redraw districts and award electoral votes, especially considering that many of these prisoners do not come from the rural towns they are serving time in, or sometimes, even the same state. This creates political incentive for governors and congressmen to advocate for these federally funded prisons and keep beds filled, especially in areas that typically vote one way or the other. There has been some effort to change this, but it seems to be a slow going process.
Really, though, the biggest problem with our current model is the moral dilemma it places on areas that have become home to federally funded, corporatist prisons: empty beds do not pay. Many times, in fact, states will be on a contract that regulates prison occupancy, so now these rural communities that took federal loans through the Con Act are not only responsible for paying them back, but they are also responsible for keeping incarceration high. This incentivizes incarceration rates for all involved in the prison system, from police officers to prosecutors to probation boards. Unfortunately, this is not all conjecture as we have seen it happen with judges being indicted for racketeering.

And yet, despite having the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite having contracts with the State that regulate occupancy, despite a fading war on marijuana, despite the country being hopelessly in debt, despite politicians’ inability to pass a budget, the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act continues to dole out funds from the USDA budget to governors and towns advocating for bigger prisons. This is not rural development. These are not private prisons. They are prisons funded and regulated and incentivized by the Federal Government.

Forced Sharing is Socialist Indoctrination

No matter where on the political spectrum you fall, it is fairly well accepted that the public education system leans to the left; some simply accept this, others get angry, and still some enroll their children in private schools or even try their hand at homeschooling. Many of the latter accuse the schools of indoctrinating children into Statism or even Socialism. And while this may have some truth to it, there are some things parents do without recognizing that they are, in fact, indoctrinating their children into socialism right from their own home.

Most everyone has heard the little catch phrase before: “sharing is caring,” and while to some degree, it is, sharing can actually be rather sinister. The problem with sharing, is that it can diminish the importance of private property, individual ownership, and voluntary interactions.

In a classroom, most of the toys used are bought by the school or the teacher, they do not belong to the children and it is up to the administrators to make the rules surrounding how toys are shared. However, in the home, toys are usually purchased by an individual for a specific individual. At my house we have a few of those toys meant for large group play, specifically, a rickety jungle gym with a little climbing wall, a slide and two swings; we also have four children. This creates problems. We often resolve these problems by introducing a new object, or suggesting they take turns, but we do not actually force our children to get off a swing and give it to a sibling. Usually the suggestion to share is enough to persuade our children to behave differently, and if it’s not, we might lean a little harder with shoe-on-the-other-foot examples, but we never force a child off the swing.

We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.
And then we also have those individual toys: the Batman action figure Grandma sent down, or the iPod Santa left behind. Too often, parents allow a child-owner of a toy to use the object, but when a sibling or friend wants to use it, the child-owner is forced into sharing. If you do not share, there are consequences that may involve time out, or shuttering of the toy, of course this is after the child that made the request to share has been given the object of their desire against the will of the owner. It may not seem like a big deal, after all, I am the parent and children should learn to listen to authority figures, right? But consider the message and the moral you are sharing: “It is okay for an authority figure to force someone to give up their private property to someone else who wants that property.” This is simply unacceptable. There is no need for this framework to ever be established, especially in the mind of a child. On top of this, it not only tells a child it is okay for an authoritarian force more powerful than you to take your property, it also tells a child it is fully acceptable to appeal to authority to use force on others so the appealer’s desires are met. It instills entitlement, which only furthers the acceptance of forced sharing.

Now, I am not suggesting voluntary sharing is a bad thing, or that we should not encourage children to share, but it should be on their terms. There is great importance in teaching children the value of charity, and the benefits of taking care of others when you can, but these are things that cannot be forced, and it must be understood that these things have limits. We need to teach children that being mindful of others has a place, but it is at their choosing. At the same time, we need to teach our children that sometimes, we will never be able to use a friend’s toy, nor may we ever be able to purchase the toy on our own and that is simply the way of life. We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.

Continue reading “Forced Sharing is Socialist Indoctrination”

The Libertarian Case for Kavanaugh?

The left have cast him as an enemy of women’s rights, suggesting that his appointment to SCOTUS would lead to the end of Roe V. Wade, that he would “create laws” that put women’s reproductive organs in the hands of stodgy old white men. But what the left, nor the right tell us is that Brett Kavanaugh is no friend of liberty. He is a proponent of the State, of mass surveillance, and data collection. We should be less afraid of the end of Roe V. Wade and more hesitant over the final erosion of the Fourth Amendment under the guise of legislation meant to stop “terrorism” or “sex trafficking.”

Bill-of-Rights 

So what, then, is the Libertarian case for Kavanaugh? Simply put, he seems fairly decent on the rest of the Constitution, and by fairly decent, I mean not as bad as the rest of the manure heap. When it comes to Kavanaugh, we know what we are getting; we know the Acts he has had a hand in drafting up; we know which presidents have kept him close; we know what to be worried about. We also know he will stand up for Second Amendment, and most of the rest of the Bill of Rights.

And if we are honest, the Fourth Amendment no longer really matters in the sense that the Federal Government will continue to spy on it’s people and collect data regardless of any Amendment to the constitution. They have been ignoring it long before the Patriot Act, and they will continue to ignore it unabated; does it matter if it’s out in the open?

Should the left prevail in stalling his confirmation, or having his nomination pulled altogether, it is more than likely the next candidate will not be appointed until after the mid-term elections, and if this supposed blue wave pulls through and the democrats take the senate, we will see a SCOTUS nomination that will be much more progressive and as a whole, less concerned about the Federal Government recognizing the boundaries laid out by the Constitution.

Is Kavanaugh a good pick, no, but then, no one that will be put forward will really be a “good” pick. It simply comes down to the fact that every appointment to SCOTUS will be a turd sandwich, and at this point, I’ll take a turd sandwich that will at least try to remind the State of some of the People’s personal liberties.

An Open Letter to #MeToo

It is with some trepidation that I write this letter, but I feel it is something that must be said given the current climate surrounding our social and political norms. I write with trepidation, knowing that some will categorically box me as a Nazi, misogynist, rape-enabler — none of which I am. I do not write this letter as part of any collective, class or political identity, rather I write it as an individual.

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In the last year, the #MeToo movement has gained momentum; it has called out a number of individuals on dastardly crimes and brought them to face society at large for their unwanted deeds. Some of these attackers have been high profile, and some have been co-workers down the hall that outside of the local community no one was aware.

The recent accusations brought against Brett Kavanaugh, have shed a light on something sinister that lies within the #MeToo movement, and I’m not talking about false accusations. (Nor am I defending Brett Kavanaugh, as I feel his position on the Fourth Amendment is damning.) Much of the hoopla surrounding Kavanaugh is due to the 24-hour news cycle regurgitating experts at any given moment and the fact that everyone on social media is an expert.

Across social media, we have begun to see more hashtags, born of the #MeToo movement that pertains to sexual assault and victimhood in general. We have seen things like, “#IBelieveWomen,” “#IStandWithVictims,” “#IstandWithChristineBlaiseyFord,” and any number of permutations therein. When we use labels like these, we sweep away any middle ground for discussion; we create a wide array of implications, some more nefarious than others and in turn, they create an extreme polarization. We imply that those who ask questions about a particular assault, don’t believe women, don’t support victims and don’t care about sexual assault in general, all of which are egregiously incorrect. These hashtags also imply that we do not need to dig any deeper than the victim to find the truth, that the truth lies in the mouth of the accuser. Sadly, people do lie about sexual assault, and sometimes, despite positive ID of an assailant and a conviction, DNA evidence later exonerates the accused (that is not to say these are false allegations, just false convictions of someone who was not purposefully misidentified.) Unfortunately, the misguided nature of these hashtags does not stop there.

Sexual assault is one of the most heinous crimes. One that no one could rationalize with any real sense of justice. It is unfortunate that sexual assault often occurs with very few, if any witnesses but, it must be treated the same as any other crime. Unfortunately, we must side with the accused until there is ample evidence that they are, in fact, the guilty party. We cannot accept the word of one individual as the penultimate evidence against the accused. This quickly takes us down a dark slope of hysteria similar to that of McCarthyism, were accusations are used against those with whom we disagree. These hashtags ignore this fact. They suggest that simple allegation is the equivalent of guilt. They suggest that by being a victim, your testimony is infallible. This is unacceptable.

In my suggesting this, I do not believe all accused are innocent, I am not implying sexual assault victims are liars, nor am I belittling their trauma. I am suggesting that before we attach all-encompassing hashtags and beliefs to every allegation, we step back and reevaluate. We take into account that sometimes, we get things wrong, and it is wholly unjust to accuse an innocent individual to assuage a victim’s fears no matter how terrifying they may be.

There is a point in the growing season, that it almost feels as if the tomatoes will never ripen. The plants sit, loaded down with green globes, waiting for something, of what you’re not sure. You check every day, peering into each bush hoping to find the red gems inside, but to no avail. Then finally, they start and before you know it, you are inundated with tomatoes. This is a good thing. Tomatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables in the garden: they can go on sandwiches, in salads, canned whole, chopped or crushed, cooked down into sauce, juiced, frozen, processed into an endless array of condiments, the list goes on. And for each culinary use, there is a specific tomato that breeders and gardeners have selected for over the years.

At my house, we eat what we can fresh, and turn the rest into chopped tomatoes or sauce for pizzas and soups later in the year, and likewise, we always grow a couple of varieties of tomatoes: big hearty ones with few seeds that are great for slicing and chopping that break down well in sauce, and smaller cherry varieties ideal for snacking and salads. Unfortunately, this year, due in part to a very wet spring, our cherry tomatoes did not fare well, luckily we had planted a number of Black Vernissage as a test crop, and while not a cherry tomato per se, they are on the smaller side with most fruits smaller than a golf ball and for all intents and purposes, they eat just like a cherry.

<img class=”alignright size-full wp-image-300″ src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/spiced-e1533295060622.jpg?w=310&#8243; alt=”spiced.jpg” width=”310″ height=”344″ />Making sauce, while enjoyable the first seven quarts, can become something of a burden, especially when it’s 95°F outside, and you are filling the already hot kitchen with more heat and steam. And let us be serious, no one is really salivating when it comes time to crack open a jar of sauce; it is an excellent addition to a dish, but you can not snack on it by itself. Of course, we add some of our cherry-types to sauce for additional flavor, but we also like to turn many of our cherry tomatoes into a healthy garden snack that can last well beyond a tomatoes natural shelf life: sun-dried tomatoes. It may be up for debate as to whether or not these actually qualify as sun-dried tomatoes, but that is neither here nor there, the fact of the matter is they are a delicious snack and exceptionally easy to make.

This year we used our Black Vernissage, but because of their larger size, we had to cut them up into quarters or even sixths; when using typical marble size cherry tomatoes, we only cut them in half. Once cut up we toss them in a bowl with some spices. Sometimes we will stick to traditional Italian flavorings, and other times we attempt more exotic flavors – a personal favorite is salt, cocoa powder, cayenne and olive oil – but whatever flavorings you choose, make sure to use salt and olive oil as these ingredients help speed the drying process and mitigate potential mold growth. Once the tomatoes are thoroughly coated, they are laid out – so as not to touch each other – on old dehydrator trays, or cookie sheets, or whatever is easily movable and available. Sometimes with juicier tomatoes, it is better to start them on solid trays so the juice does not drip to the surface below. Once everything is laid out, I put them in my van.

<img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-301″ src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/tom-car-e1533295125254.jpg?w=331&#8243; alt=”tom-car.jpg” width=”331″ height=”414″ />Yes, you read that right. In the summer, my van works as the ideal solar oven. I put the trays on the dashboard and let the sun do the work. If you have vents (like I do in my man-van) you can crack them, or you can just crack the windows a little, but some air flow is vital. After the first day, when most of the dripping juice has evaporated, I will move the tomatoes onto some aluminum screen that I have set aside just for this purpose, or you can use the screen inserts from a dehydrator if they are not in use elsewhere. Do not stack your trays and make sure they are laid out in the full sun. The olive oil and salt help keep mold at bay, but so do the heat, sun and air flow. I have also found that turning the tomatoes over so the skin side is facing the sun after the first day helps to speed drying. The whole process takes two to three days, depending on the weather, but it is important to check them often; believe it or not, they can go too long and then they not only become too hard to chew, but they can actually burn.

<img class=” wp-image-302 aligncenter” src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/sun-dried-tom-hands-e1533295397416.jpg&#8221; alt=”sun dried tom hands” width=”318″ height=”436″ />Once cured, we try to get them in jars with rubber gaskets before the kids eat them all. They make great additions to salads and pastas or simply as individual snacks, and they make your car smell garden fresh!

<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/02/14/homestead-hack-4-paint-your-tools/”>Homestead Hack #4: Paint Your Tools</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/31/homestead-hack-3-steam-your-eggs/”>Homestead Hack #3: Steam Your Eggs!</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/17/homestead-hack-2-steal-the-batteries/”>Homestead Hack #2: Steal the Batteries!</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/03/homestead-hack-1-label-your-eggs/”>Homestead Hack #1: Label Your Eggs!</a>

Making Okra Pickles

What can I say? I hate okra. It’s slimy, and the flavor is simply not my favorite. Unfortunately, it grows really well in the summer heat, and so it ends up going into the garden. The food pantries take it, it can garner a few cents at the farmers market, and of course I have friends that will take it, and I’m happy to give it all away, that is, of course, after I make my personal batch of okra pickles. Nothing beats okra pickles; the hollow pockets inside the pods fill with delectable brine and the little immature seeds act almost like capers. My wife isn’t a fan, nor is my son, but my daughter – the one who would drown in kombucha – will eat them right along with me.

Before I get into the actual pickling process, a word or two about these seeds. I like to save my seeds, or acquire them from local sources. If a seed has been selected from a plant that has produced well and survived in my local climate, it is much more likely to do the same when it grows again in the same climate, than a seed that was saved from a plant in a very different climate. As I was new to the area, I asked around among some local farmers and found some okra seed that a guy from church had been growing for a number of years. He gave me some, and I was off. They’re a very long pod but remain tender up to eight inches, sometimes more.

Okra is also exceptionally easy from which to save seed. There’s no fleshy vegetation on the seeds so they don’t need any washing, and the pods ripen right on the plant, just make sure you pick them when they start to crack. I’m pretty diligent about not letting seed spill out into the garden, but I still have trouble with volunteers popping up all over the garden in the spring. If you do plan on saving seed, only grow one variety (unless you plan on caging or hand pollinating), but don’t worry about cotton or hibiscus (the flowers look very similar). The three are in the same family, but that’s as far as it goes.

As far as pickling goes, I use pods that will fit in pint jars after lopping off the stem. Quart jars will work, but that’s a lot of okra pickles and we don’t need to take up that much fridge space all at once. For four pints I’ll use 2.5 cups of apple cider vinegar and an equal amount of water, with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt. While that’s boiling, I’ll throw my spices in the jars. As you can see from the video, I like to use an eclectic variety and no two jars are the same. Then I pressure cook them for 10 minutes.

Give it a try sometime. They’re delicious and if you’re growing okra, you know you have extras to experiment with. Also, if you want some seeds, let me know.

Liberty is the Least Restrictive Environment

When I was going through school to be a teacher, one of the key phrases that was always bandied about was Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Specifically, the language is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As you would imagine, a child with a disability is required by law to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, or in a classroom with their peers without disabilities, this includes giving students interpreters, aids, or other services necessary to achieve this goal. The student will be removed from the classroom of their peers without disabilities when the severity of their disability prevents the goals of IDEA and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from being achieved. It would seem that most educators agree with this model and state that it prepares students better for adult life and improves their socials skills, it also, more importantly, gives them a better education and presents them with higher expectations. The last two are key.

I am no longer a teacher in the traditional sense, but I do homeschool my children. Right now, we have two that are being homeschooled, but next year we will (most likely) have four, and this provides the ultimate in LREs. My wife and I are able to create IEPs for each one of our children and they are allowed to flourish. The children find topics that are exciting and important to them, and they delve into those topics on their own; my wife and I create little projects that encourage further exploration and real world application.

While I don’t always agree with the world of mainstream education, I do think this idea of LRE is a good one and should be applied generously to everyone, and by everyone, I mean every breathing being on the planet. There are a handful of reasons to employ LRE in education, but the most important are that it allows for a better education and presents students with higher expectations – the one begets the other.

How does a least restrictive environment produce higher expectations? Where do those higher expectations come from? It’s not the teacher, the teacher’s expectations for the student should remain the same regardless of the environment in which they are taught. It’s not the expectations of the other students, in fact, the other students probably have lower expectations for the disabled child. Rather, it is through self-imposed competition with their classmates. No student wants to be seen as the “dumb kid” or the “slow kid” and most students will do their best to keep up and stay within the norm.

When we apply this to the real world, it takes on a bit of the “Keeping up with the Smiths” mentality. Often we tend to live right around our means, sometimes we pull back and live a little more frugally, saving for the future, sometimes we get caught up and spend a little more than we should, but we’re often able to dial it back and get on course. There are certainly outliers – millionaires in wholly pants and stained t-shirts, and five button suit, fedora wearing, chapter 7 filing debtors – but they aren’t the norm. We all strive to fit in with those around us and adhere to the social norms in the public spheres we frequent.

The problem is, the current system of our politics is not in the vein of the Least Restrictive Environment. The State is constantly regulating everything, from how you run your business, to what shoes you have to wear on the job site, these regulations add restrictions. When we add restrictions and regulations, it makes it harder on small businesses and the individual to better their economic station.

Further, when the State hands out monies to businesses in the form of tax-breaks or assitances to the individual, we start to see restrictions being imposed. Those restrictions come in the form of a lack of competition. If I know that I can wait on the State to feed, clothe, medicate, and shelter me, I have no incentive to compete with others for a better way of life. If I know that my business is operating at a loss until the end of the year when I get a big tax-break from the State because I installed some solar panels, or I hired some minority workers, or that my business is just too big for the State to let fail, my incentive to improve starts to diminish. When I join a union, I know that every week, I will be paid a certain amount, I know that my job is fairly secure, and I am aware of the minimum amount of work I must do. I have no incentive to work harder for a raise or to work better to keep my job. I can do just enough to get by and while this may seem ideal, it lowers our expectations of ourself and with it goes some self value.

The Nanny State that is entrenched and upheld by the duopoly, the political system in the United States does not allow for the Least Restrictive Environment. There are tomes of regulations and restrictions on the individual and the business. A truly least restrictive environment in which competition can flourish and the individual can excel exist within the freemarket. If we all had to compete for jobs and paychecks we would get better at discussing contracts with bosses, we would become more efficient workers, we would have higher expectations for ourselves, because they would be attainable. We mandate teachers to teach students in the least restrictive environment so why is it any different for adults? Why do we recognize that students have higher expectations for themselves when restrictions and barriers are removed and they are forced to compete with other students? If you threw all the students into a pot, undoubtedly they would settle out and there would be striations, levels of students, some smarter, some not so smart, some would excel at auto-tech, some would excel at physical education and others at math, and it would be normal. If we threw all adults into a pot, the same striations would occur. Not every individual is cut out to be a CEO, and not every individual is cut out to be an auto-tech or a roofer, but you would have more movement. It would be easier for the roofer to go out and start his own roofing business and become a CEO, it would be easier for the beautician to start her own cosmetology school. Unfortunately, regulations create restrictions and limit this movement – usually due to licensing fees or zoning laws. In a more free world, we would all be living in our own least restrictive environments; if it’s good enough for the children, why not the adults?

Three Sisters: A cautionary tale

I grew up planting the three sisters, and never had any problems; this year was a little different…

We allowed our North Georgia Candy Roaster, Cucurbita maxima, to grow up the corn, and when the wind and the rain came, down came the ten pound squash and the stalks of corn. Thankfully, the corn was about done growing so not much was lost, but it was dicey…

Farming for the State

TL;DW

Yeah, so the audio is kind of rough. I’m working on patching that up, but if you couldn’t bear to watch and you’re curious as to what I was rambling on about, here it is in text:

I grew up in Upstate NY – four or five hours north of the city – and my wife and I lived in Vermont for a couple of years. We wanted to raise our growing family in the vicinity of our extended families, but we also wanted a little bit of land where we could raise animals and grow some vegetables. And of course we wanted one of us to stay home with the kids. Unfortunately, the high taxes and cost of land in New England made this goal all but impossible. And to be fair, we’re not the only ones feeling this pinch as many young adults are leaving the Northeast for cheaper areas around the country.

One of the issues with this high cost of living that often goes overlooked is the effect it has on farmers. Farmers may have tractors worth $100k, or expanses of rolling fields dotted with $600 milk cows, but most of what you see is leased. When the cost of living goes up, farmers, who’s products are heavily subsidized and price controlled by the State, start to feel a bit of that pinch, especially when it comes to land taxes. Yes, farmers often get a subsidy on taxes, but it still goes up. Also, consider if you’re a new farmer trying to find land to set up your operation: you don’t get a break on the price of the land, and often old tracts of land are excellent areas for development which drive the cost up. Rhode Island has been hit hard by development and has come up with a plan to combat skyrocketing land costs for future farmers, but as it turns out, it’s one of the scariest plans out there and is akin more to feudalism or communism than anything else.

In the past few years, Rhode Island’s land prices have skyrocketed. Where as farm land across the US is valued at an average of $3080 per acre, Rhode Islands are $13,800/acre: over $10k per acre. Why? Mostly just supply and demand: since 1940, Rhode Island has developed 80% of it’s farmland, so it stands to reason that as less and less developable land exists the cost will go up, no matter what it’s used for. But, what makes Rhode Island so special? Well, it’s only 37×48 miles but has 400 miles of coast line. Anywhere you live, you’re pretty close to Narragansett Bay, and anytime you’re near a desirable feature, prices go up.

Rhode Island though, ranked #7 in the country for it’s tax burden, is not cool with this influx of development and they are attempting to make an effort to encourage farmers to build new farms in the state as opposed to having them move somewhere cheaper. In fact, Rhode Island has the highest population of new farmers than any other state, but farmers can’t find affordable land. Where are all these farmers coming from? If you examine the local surroundings i.e. New England, you might get an idea: millenials throwing off the chains of the oppressive capitalist system that afforded their parents such wealth as to allow their children to purchase $150k, degrees on how to be a farmer. But I digress.

Already, the State of RI owns two farm areas – one is a 150 acre tract, the other is a 50 acre parcel. Each of these farms is divided into smaller areas and leased to local farmers who grow food for CSAs, farmers’ markets, and even community gardens. It’s not a lot of land, (Rhode Island is only about 777,000 acres) but the fact that the State is the one who owns the land and then leases it to the farmers is rather curious.

But this is where RI’s new plan comes in, and it is something we’d be better for if they just put it down. As I said, the main reason RI has become so expensive, is because it’s a great place to build a McMansion, it’s close to the ocean and there are many old mansions from yesteryear that give the place a charming New England feel. So more often than not, when an old farm or large tract of land goes up for sale, the price tag it carries also includes the assumption that it will be developed. Well Rhode Island is going to cover the difference between the development potential value and the agricultural value for the farmers. That’s right, they’re going to buy the land for “fair market value” and then resell it to farmers for the agricultural value which is about an 80% discount. Yes, they are going to buy vacant land and then resell it at an 80% loss. A spectacular business practice only one with never ending pockets would engage in.

There is so much wrong with this. As I said, RI is already ranked #7 for tax burden, how do we all think that 80% loss is going to be covered? By taxes, and you know the State isn’t going to take it out of their existing budget, it’s going to be a new item, it’s going to cost the tax-payers even more. Congratulations Rhode Island, you’ve just made it even harder for the folks you’re trying to help.

Secondly, by removing developable land, the already high housing costs – RI’s median home cost is about $50k above average – are going to go up even more. Supply and demand, less houses means higher house prices. Again, who does this end up hurting? Not the guy who is purchasing his second home.

So all that sounds pretty stupid, but this is where it get’s really scary, the State is going to take ownership of land. They say they’re going to buy it at fair market value, and sell it back to farmers as quickly as they can, but there’s no definitive timeline here, and before you know it the State will be sitting on a stockpile of vacant land that will again raise the price of land Rhode Island isn’t keen on buying.

They claim they will only buy land for sale, and never force someone to sell, but we all know how hard the state can lean on someone when they want something. And of course, we all know how well eminent domain works when it comes to compensating land owners.

They also say they’ll only hold the land as long as it takes to transfer it to another party. Again, there is no time frame! What happens when the agricultural valuation becomes too steep for farmers and the State is just sitting on land that it owns? No doubt it will create more of these land trusts in which farmers lease the land from the state. And I think we’ve all seen how that model has worked in the past.

So if you end up buying land at this discounted price, your new deed will come with a restriction that states the land must remain a farm. What does that mean? Broadly, it must continue to produce livestock or agricultural crops. So what happens if after buying land and trying this farming thing for five years, you give up and want to sell? You have to find someone who is willing to continue to produce livestock or agricultural crops, but what if you can’t? Are you stuck? Will the state step in and re-purchase the land? How easy would it be for the state to now keep this land in a continuous cycle of private individual to state ownership?

What about crony capitalism? What happens when the state starts playing favorites and decides to buy land that is garbage for development but is owned by a friend of someone in the State? Or the state decides to forgo purchasing a particular plot because a key developer friendly with the State wants to buy it?

Rhode Island’s plan is an absolutely, horrible idea that leaves too many questions unanswered and too much leeway for the state to accumulate land and power and favors.

If we consider this from a liberty-oriented perspective, we can see how this would work quickly and easily.

As quantity of houses declines, land prices go up and new houses are built. As prices go up, lower income households are forced out. While this may sound horrible, the fact is that as these lower income households move, job vacancies are left and eventually those low-paying jobs will demand a higher wage. Likewise, private organizations like Habitat for Humanity can step in and build houses for individuals for much lower prices (they’ve done this at least once, building a small home for a divorced single mother of two who makes ~$40k/year and selling it to her for $110k). Likewise, there may be an increase of rental units with affordable rents. The problem is when the State get’s involved and subsidizes this housing and land prices, or puts regulations on development, they create an artificial environment. The prices are controlled and as soon as you start controlling one aspect of the market, everything else follows suit.

One of the concerns cited by the state of Rhode Island is the lack of locally grown, healthy, organic produce available to it’s citizens. Once again, if this was something that was that important to the local populace, the free market would take care of this. Many larger farms are subsidized by the government, some farmers are paid not to produce certain crops so the crops that are produced command a particular price. There are regulations put on the way farm products can be sold. These regulations hinder the free market. A conventional dairy farmer can get about 2-3 dollars for a gallon of milk, but when they sell raw milk to locals, that price at least doubles. The same can be said of meat products, but alas, the state says no and forces farmers to demand lower prices.

And believe it or not, there are ways for individual citizens to keep undeveloped land undeveloped. My wife and I looked at purchasing some land near our family in the Great Peoples Republic of New York, and we actually found some fairly cheap land. I think it was right around 100 acres, and the list price was $110. Usually there’s something wrong with land that cheap, but I knew the area from my childhood, and there were no environmental hazards in the area that would drive the price down, and while it was a little swampy on one end, most of it was pretty nice.

So we explored further and got in touch with the real estate agent, and as it would turn out, the seller, deeming the importance of undeveloped land, put a few clauses into the deed. As it turned out there was a small public trail that cut the corner of the property and that had to be left alone, there would also be no commercial log harvesting or sale of wood products – i.e. firewood, cabinets, etc. Further, the homestead site was a designated one acre spot and this was the only area building, gardening, or animal husbandry could take place. You could still hunt and fish the land, and create small hiking trails, but there was to be no motorized traffic – ATVs, tractors, snow mobiles, etc. The inability to use the trees on the lot to make cabinets for sale, or other products was a big turn off, but the real deal breaker was the one acre homestead site. In fact, I was pretty pissed. 100 acres of land, and you decide to limit the homestead area to one acre? How about five or ten acres, something a small farmer could actually utilize? I can see the desire to stop development, but these restrictions were ridiculous! But guess what, it was the sellers choice. It is there property and they decided to make these covenants and the price reflected that. The seller decided that vacant, undeveloped land was of such importance they were willing to take a pay cut of epic proportions (land usually goes for $7-10k/acre in the surrounding area.) But that’s the free market. That’s a voluntarily entered contractual agreement. That’s private property rights. I may disagree with the contract, but no one is forcing me to enter into it.

Rhode Island is forcing tax payers to enter into a contract by buying land and selling it at an 80% loss to farmers with the caveat that the land will remain a farm in perpetuity. It is corrupting the free market and looking to gain the means of production. This is unacceptable.

Thanks for sticking with me. Find me on twitter @HSandHSpod, steemit.com/@bpangie, facebook search for Homesteads and Homeschools, or just hit the follow button on here.

Now get out there and sow those seeds of liberty so we can all reap sheaves of freedom together.

Defund Gangs and Lower Gun Violence: Decriminalize Victimless Crimes

Disclaimer: It is incredibly hard to find actual statistics about gang related gun violence. This is due to the way data is collected on gang crime. From the National Gang Center: “An additional concern is the varying methods by which homicides are classified as “gang-related.” The most commonly used is the “member-based” approach, in which a homicide is classified as gang-related if the victim was and/or the perpetrator is a gang member. Some agencies also utilize a more restrictive classification method called the “motive-based” approach, which involves substantiating that the crime furthers the interests of the entire gang.” Also, consider that no politician or sheriff wants to admit they have a gang-problem, especially when it comes time for re-election.

There is no doubt gun violence in the United States is an issue. Each year tens of thousands of people are killed, wounded, or assaulted by a gun. And this number could be even higher as the number of assaults is most likely under reported. We can look at this rash of violence and say the tool is the problem or we can look at reasons why this violence happens, and try to come up with more long term solutions.

Depending on what source you use, anywhere from 13-80% of gun crime is gang related, and this number is most likely higher as gang violence is often under reported due to gang related crimes receiving “enhanced” sentences. So what does that mean? If we target gang violence, our violent gun crime stats will go down and those innocents who die in gang warfare as collateral damage will no doubt be spared. But how do we target gangs? We can continue to do as we have: create gang task forces, arrest gang members and put them in jail. The recidivism rate of gang members is around 80%, so obviously incarceration isn’t much of a deterrent, and in actuality, probably cements gang affiliation. Maybe if the task force is lucky, they will net the big fish and cut the head off of the snake. Of course, if there is anything we have learned from the drug cartels and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, it is that eliminating the leader only creates a power vacuum in which more violence occurs between members as they vie for power during restructuring and opposing groups look to capitalize on potential weaknesses. While this may be the current treatment, it probably is not the best long term option.

With “homicide associated with criminal enterprise” making up 13-80% of gun homicides, it is clear that something must be done to eradicate gangs. But what? For a minute, let us use our minds and think how else we can manage gangs. We have already seen that dismantling a gang by arresting members for the purpose of rehabilitation does not work. We have tried educating students and creating mentoring programs, and while they may have helped some teens escape gang violence, it obviously has not solved the problem.

Let’s address the risk factors. A quick google search as to the reasoning behind why children join gangs gives us a list of mostly social reasons: camaraderie, peer pressure, boredom, and poverty. The last, is where the secret ingredient to the attack on gangs lies: poverty. “But we’ve created programs to lift people out of poverty, and we still have poverty!” Yes, and they haven’t worked, at least not as well as gang revenue streams. People join gangs because they create a source of income, and often, they can be rather lucrative. Consider that as a young teen, you might get you might get paid for just putting a package behind a rock, or collecting some cash from a stranger, or maybe just hanging out on the corner, ready to sound the alarm when the authorities come rolling through.

So how do we remove the lucrativeness of gang life? Figure out how they get paid, and stop paying them. According to the FBI’s National Gang Report, “street gang activity continues to be oriented toward violent crimes, such as assault, drug trafficking, home invasions, homicide, intimidation, threats, weapons trafficking and sex trafficking.” That’s a pretty ugly list, though if we examine the categories given by the FBI, we realize that almost half of those are not actually violent in and of themselves: drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and sex trafficking. (Yes sex trafficking of those unwilling participants is violent, but the definition of sex trafficking also includes prostitution by willing participants.) And according to the FBI’s graphic of Street Gang Involvement in Criminal Activity, street level drugs sales is the runaway leader with assault a distant second. So the number one source of gang funding comes from street level drug sales, which, in reality, is a victimless crime, as is prostitution and even weapons trafficking.

Another reason law enforcement have such a hard time keeping gangs under control is due to the fact that the community often is uncooperative and this can be for a couple of factors. Certainly there is a fair bit of fear that may come from reporting on a gang that operates in your apartment building. Should it come back that you reported someone to the police, you will have just made a large number of enemies, and in some cases, maybe even signed your death warrant. There is also the fact that relationships between law enforcement officers and local minority communities is not always the best. It is no secret that the War on Drugs has been used to target minority communities; couple this with the fact that police are seen brutalizing and sometimes murdering suspects for non-violent crimes, and it is easy to see why communities become uncooperative: no one wants to be the person that makes a phone call that has an acquaintance murdered by the police, or locked in a cage for 10 years.

When we look at drugs, prostitution and illegal weapon sales, we automatically envision violence: a poorly lit, seedy hotel, with hourly rates and neon lights, a pimp forcing a woman to sell her body for money, briefcases of cash and paraphernalia. And admittedly, none of that is good. But if I were to go to the pharmacy to fill my prescription for Oxycontin, or I went down to the local sporting goods store to pick up a firearm, I am not confronted with this questionable environment, rather, this questionable environment is created out of fear and secrecy. When things are legalized there is no need for secrecy – at least not in the sense of legality – instead legalization opens these markets up to the general populace and in turn, free market regulation, driving the price down. We also must consider that when something becomes legal the risk factor that is associated with sales goes away, bringing the price of the product down even more. And with competition from providers, when John D. and the Bluebells start selling bad crank, users have the ability to go elsewhere, in turn keeping John D. honest, or driving him out of business.

If non-violent crimes are decriminalized and allowed to operate on the free market, this would have a huge impact on gang finances. It would drive the price of the service provided by a gang much lower as legal competition would arise and this would certainly make gang life less desirable. It will also cause gang related violence to drop. Gang violence almost exclusively effects members of the gangs involved, and one of the key reasons for gang violence is territory disputes – i.e. where drugs and guns can be sold, where prostitution happens, etc. When these non-violent crimes are legalized, there is essentially no need for territory: pharmacies and brothels could exist legitimately essentially anywhere. Certainly there may be some backlash from the gangs as they see their finances eroding, but this violence would not be tolerated by the communities and would eventually dissipate. Whereas before, gangs were involved in both violent and non-violent crime, now they are engaged solely in violent crime – extortion, burglary, human trafficking of the forced variety, etc. – suddenly, local communities have a reason not to tolerate gangs as they move from everyday supplier and common-man to aggressive bully.

With these non-violent crimes legalized, less individuals are separated from their families and are allowed to stay and continue to be role models for their children. 70% of gang members come from single parent households in which the father is not present. Surely, some of those father’s are absent of their own volition, but a good percentage of those fathers were likely removed by the State for a non-violent crime.

By ending the War on Drugs and other non-violent crimes, we take away a significant portion of gang income, we turn gangs from community protector and common-man to aggressive bully, and we mitigate one of the biggest gang risk factors by keeping families together. In turn, with smaller, less powerful gangs, we will see a lower level of gang violence and death.

Other References
CDC – National Vital Stastics Report
National Institute of Justice