Monday, July 5, 2010

Eminent Domain: We're All Indians Now (Expanded, 7/6)

Less destructive than corporatist politics: A funnel cloud looms menacingly over Peotone, Illinois.

Prior to the closing of the frontier in 1890, "Manifest Destiny" was the incantation used by the government when it gave itself permission to steal property it coveted. Today, the preferred conjuration is "eminent domain."

The phrase "eminent domain"reflects an assumption Karl Marx would find congenial: government is the default owner of everything, and that private ownership, however extensive, is merely a contingent arrangement.

Seizure of property through eminent domain is facilitated by one of several Hamiltonian-mercantilist Easter eggs covertly embedded in the Constitution -- specifically, the Fifth Amendment provision specifying that private property can be taken for "public use" when the government offers what it considers "just compensation."

The familiar civics class platitude describes this provision as necessary for the construction of bridges, hospitals, and other amenities that are supposedly "public goods" only government can provide. The inescapable reality is that eminent domain is a particularly vulgar form of plunder used to enrich the political class and their corporate cronies at the expense of the rest of us.

In his recent book Government Pirates (which is a useful read despite its tautological title), former real estate developer Don Corace offers a concise description of eminent domain operated prior to the onset of the current depression: 

"Arrogant and corrupt city and county official -- with near limitless legal budgets ... align themselves with well-heeled developers,  political cronies, and major corporations to prey on the politically less powerful and disenfranchised, particularly minority communities."

Owing to ongoing economic collapse, municipal and county governments no longer command "limitless" budgets for any purpose. They still wield the power of eminent domain, and still have large constituencies of parasites to tend -- and with real estate values bottoming out, the temptation to seize property at a vastly reduced "fair market price" may be irresistible. This is already being done by the government afflicting the State of Illinois, a junta legendary for its corruption. 

Propaganda for a boondoggle.

In recent weeks, the Illinois state government has begun the legal process of seizing a huge amount private property in and around Peotone, a small town in Will County, about forty miles south of Chicago. The land is being taken for the supposed purpose of building a third Chicago-area airport to complement O'Hare and Midway -- a project that has been discussed, studied, and debated since 1968. 

The proposed "South Suburban Airport" -- which would be three times the size of O'Hare International --  is impractical, unwanted, and unnecessary. It doesn't enjoy the support of any major airline or the approval of the FAA. 

Congestion at O'Hare is often cited as a rationale for a third airport. However, last year, O'Hare's traffic rate was the lowest it had been in 15 years -- a trend that will continue, given the ongoing economic contraction and the ongoing expansion of the nearby international airport in Gary, Indiana. 

Expanding the small international airport in depressed Rockford would provide additional runway space at a fraction of what would be spent on a third Chicago-area airport. But this would deprive the state's patronage pimps of an opportunity to lavish plundered wealth on their favored constituents. 

In the circulatory system of graft that sustains the "pay to play" political system in Illinois, the state department of transportation (IDOT) is the aorta. Last September, IDOT announced that it was filing condemnation suits against the owners of three parcels of land in the proposed Peotone airport site. This was done despite the fact that there is no existing plan to build an airport, and the proposal has not been approved by the FAA. 

Referring to the lawsuits, Susan Shea, IDOT's commissarina for aeronautics matters, declared: "It sends a message, a clear message." 

"It certainly does send a message," wrote local activist and sometime state legislative candidate George Ochsenfeld: "Our out-of-control government will use intimidation tactics to frighten citizens into giving up their property prior to being able to take it `legally.'"

Willis and Vivian Bramstaedt received Shea's "message" last April, in the form of a piece of paper disfigured with official graffiti announcing that the state government intended to take the land they have farmed since the 1950s. 
Peotone residents protest the corporatist landgrab.

"Our schools are failing, our health system is falling apart, the state is out of money, and this is what they're doing?" exclaims 72-year-old Vivian. 

"They" -- the corporatist interests served by the Illinois political class -- are moving as quickly as possible to condemn land around Peotone in order to capitalize on the town's depressed property values. 

Commissarina admits as much, commenting to the Chicago Tribune that (as paraphrased by the paper) "the timing couldn't be better for the state" to carry out condemnation efforts, now that "land values [are] in a historic slump."

When IDOT announced its intention to seize the Bramstaedts' land last April, they offered $9,500 an acre for roughly half of the family's 160-acre corn and soybean farm. This was "50 percent less than waht the state purchased neighboring land for two years ago and a quarter of the price some land sold for when a private company bought parcels there to build an intermodal site in 2006," notes the Tribune

Four Peotone-area condemnation cases are already working their way through the court system. Unless the land owners are successful in getting the cases dismissed outright, they will face a lengthy, protracted legal struggle in which their opponent -- the criminal junta dominating Springfield and Chicago -- will use money extorted from them as taxes to underwrite the effort to drive them from their land. 

What distinguishes the Peotone Landgrab from others like it is the fact that the underlying project is a palpable fraud.
"The irony is that the Peotone airport has never been deader," contents George Ochsenfeld. "There is no funding for building the airport or for the massive infrastructure -- roads, water, sewer, etc. All major airlines have said that they will not use Peotone." 

The most recently coined rationale is that the facility would be a cargo airport, but this would also be gratuitous, Ochsenfeld observes: "O'Hare is adding 750,000 square feet of cargo space and 18 additional parking spaces for freighter aircraft." (That expansion project, predictably, has become bogged down in graft and cost-overruns, prompting Mayor Daley to request a $15 billion federal bailout.) D.C. Velocity, an aviation trade journal, asked Gary Schultheis, vice president of air freight, North America for Deutsche Post DHL if another Chicago-area cargo airport is necessary. "Not really," he replied. 

Opposing the expropriators: Will Township Commissioner Bruce Hamman (left) and activist George Ochsenfeld protest eminent domain as the state demolishes a home on "condemned" land. (Courtesy of Carol Henrichs.)

 Dan Muscatello, managing director of cargo and logistics for Landrum & Brown -- a Cincinnati-based airport development firm -- told D.C. Velocity that the proposed Peotone cargo airport would find it very difficult to persuade airlines and freight companies to "pull up stakes and move down the road. He also believes that international airlines with all-cargo operations would be reluctant to divide their passenger and cargo flights between two airports. And it shouldn't be forgotten that both passenger and cargo volume will continue to decline as the economic slump deepens and accelerates. 

But it shouldn't be forgotten that the airport is merely a pretext -- and that seizing the land at a pittance is the point of the whole exercise. 

"Since the late 1980s, Illinois officials and their agents have tried every available means to push a huge public works project to fruition, with a keen eye toward ensuring their own political futures and continuing [the] cycle of self-enrichment," relates Peotone resident Carol Henrichs, former editor of the Peotone Vedette and long-time critic of the airport project.  

"Tax dollars have funded a multitude of government lobbyists who make regular trips to Washington, D.C. and Springfield ... to guarantee that despite its inability to gain traction of its own, this is the project that will not die," Henrichs continues. "Airport supporters have left tracks on campaign contribution lists and at political fundraisers for years."

The Peotone project "is the most `studied' airport project in America," explains Henrichs. "The word `study' intimates an investigation into factual learning. It is more accurate to say that reports have been written and rewritten -- massaged until they at least meet minimal federal requirements." 

Between 1985 and 2002, three successive Republican state administrations in Illinois spent more than $100 million on "studies"; it has been an inexhaustible well of "study money." This liturgical exercise in public graft began as a Republican project, but also attracted the interest of Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Tony Rezko, Barack Obama's imprisoned pay-for-play patron.

In March 2003, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, one of the most adept practitioners of Chicago-style civic Keynesianism, dispatched bulldozers in the middle of the night to tear up a runway at Meigs Field, a 55-year-old commuter airport in the center of Chicago.

Daley insisted that destroying the runway -- for which his administration later was hit with an FAA fine and required to pay back $1,000,000 in misappropriated airport funds -- was a counter-terrorism measure, since Meigs was a general aviation facility "a second's flight time" from the supposedly imperiled Sears Tower. "We did it for public safety," maintained Daley after bulldozers had gouged out the runway.

This was a risibly transparent pretext. Daley's midnight airport raid was carried out in the interest of a separate landgrab: He and his cronies had targeted the property to build a park, another highly lucrative civil engineering project.

"Yes, I do want a park at Meigs Field," Daley admitted after the runway had been reduced to rubble. This was a dual-purpose demolition: In addition to clearing the way for a park, it was broadly comparable to New Deal-era initiatives intended to create artificial scarcity by plowing under crops -- or, in this case, runways. All the better to create a "need" to build the much-discussed third airport -- seizing as much land as "necessary" to do so.

Even though the money for pork-laden public works projects may soon evaporate, the Peotone Landgrab will leave the political class in possession of thousands of acres of prime farmland -- which, as Jim Rogers points out, may soon be the most valuable commodity on the planet.

There's nothing going on here that would be unfamiliar to a Lakota Indian facing expropriation in the late 1880s. And there's every reason to believe that the Peotone Landgrab -- if it's successful -- would be a template for similar acts of official larceny wherever fertile tracts can be seized by the political class at depressed "fair market value."

(Note: The original version of this essay did not include the material about Daley's demolition of Meigs Field. My sincere thanks to commenter "Mark" for bringing that facet of the story to my attention.)

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Anonymous said...

"compliment O'Hare and Midway" => "complement O'Hare and Midway"

William N. Grigg said...

Thanks for the catch!

jankasaurus said...

Why would anyone want to fly into that shit ridden cesspool on Lake Michigan.

Mark said...

You missed a big issue on this one, Will, which helps expose the hypocrisy.

In VIOLATION of their contractual agreements with the FAA, and over the massive objections of pilots nationwide, the Evil Windbag City stole and bulldozed the famous Meigs Field in Lake Michigan, which provided business and personal aviation access to downtown and the convention center, but evidently not enough graft and corruption:

Talk about "two-faced", or, to wax Biblical, "double-minded!"

W W Woodward said...

My family has "owned" the same parcel of land in west Texas for over 100 years. It has occurred to me that we've never actually owned the land we have merely rented it for all those years.

I'm not convinced that the individual ever actually owns anything. If we refuse, or cannot afford, to pay the rent the state will send some one with a gun to collect the money or seize the property. If we resist, the state will kill us and take the property.


Troy said...

I think part of a paragraph is missing:
"landgrab from dozens of others like it is the fact that the underlying project is a palpable fraud."

William N. Grigg said...

Troy, I fixed that error while working on this morning's update:

"What distinguishes the Peotone Landgrab from others like it is the fact that the underlying project is a palpable fraud."

Thanks for the help with proof-reading; it really is difficult to be one's own copy editor!

Aaron Kinney said...

Excellent writeup of an outrageous action by a gang of criminal thugs. Thank you, Grigg!

liberranter said...

Even though the money for pork-laden public works projects may soon evaporate, the Peotone Landgrab will leave the political class in possession of thousands of acres of prime farmland -- which, as Jim Rogers points out, may soon be the most valuable commodity on the planet.

Much more attention needs to be paid to this under-reported and under-appreciated aspect of eminent domain. While the criminal classes ruling over us are avaricious, mendacious, and murderous, they are not stupid. They are fully aware of the impending consequences of their tyranny and are not about to suffer them themselves.

Anonymous said...

Ask the question...
What would happen if the "bunny" field, aka oHare, was rendered unusable?
It would be quite convenient to have everything lined up for a "next generation" field outside the contamination zone.
Glad to be out of that state.

Anonymous said...

Ask the question...
What would happen if the "bunny" field, aka oHare, was rendered unusable?
It would be quite convenient to have everything lined up for a "next generation" field outside the contamination zone.
Glad to be out of that state.

Anonymous said...

Ask the question...
What would happen if the "bunny" field, aka oHare, was rendered unusable?
It would be quite convenient to have everything lined up for a "next generation" field outside the contamination zone.
Glad to be out of that state.

Anonymous said...

Yup, I see it now too, in America, no one really owns anything, the government does, and it can do anything, afterall, it determines the definitions of words and interprets the laws,... it is all-powerful?

Why resist?
Why don't those people in Peotone just embrace their serfdom and celebrate their status as helots?
They must think they're Spartans or something? Private property? Hmph... aint no such thing. Or so it seems.

Sans Authoritas said...

There's a problem when "just compensation" is bereft of the proper understanding of a "just exchange of property." There is no justice in any exchange of goods unless it is a voluntary exchange.

A just price is determined by a voluntary buyer and a voluntary seller, usually guided by the overall market value of the goods in question. The State throwing a bunch of FRN's at someone after taking his land is like a robber throwing $8,000 at someone after taking his Rolex at gunpoint. It does not make the act just.

liberranter said...

We can all rest assured that as long as the African Virus remains in the White House, NONE of his criminal patrons from the Windy City's political machinery, Dicky Daley most prominent among them, will EVER face the possibility of federal RICO charges that they so richly and obviously deserve for the scams mentioned in this article.

One simply HAS to believe that Rod Blagojevich, the sole exception so far, was targeted for elimination well in advance of his arrest and indictment on federal corruption charges. The fact that he is not going down quietly hints that he's got dirt on some very important people and that he's prepared to take them down with him.

Anonymous said...

If they offered me 9500 p/acre I would immediately take the money, renounce my citizenship and expatriate to a country like Botswana. An african country actively recruiting white farmers.
The current regime ruling us doesn't deserve to have the hardworking industrious folk like these farmers living here. The disgusting slobs lording over us have no ability whatsoever to plant seeds and create food. Without the knowledge of the people who work the land for a living these parasites are fucked. Just look at Zimbabwe for an example. ( without foreign aid Mugabe would be as skinny as the people he is screwing) It might as well be arid land without the institutional knowledge to make things happen.

Anonymous said...

"Much more attention needs to be paid to this under-reported and under-appreciated aspect of eminent domain. While the criminal classes ruling over us are avaricious, mendacious, and murderous, they are not stupid. They are fully aware of the impending consequences of their tyranny and are not about to suffer them themselves."

I suspect that transgenic & gmo crops are intended to drive us off the land as well. The small farmer's mistaken notion that he can 'compete' in a global market using this monstrous technology has nearly eliminated all other seed crops in our state.

Between BT corn & 'round-up ready' corn, sunflowers, soy, canola, & soon to be alfalfa there will not be a healthy non-gmo organism left in Farmland, USA.

dixiedog said...

"They hate Peter when he robs them to pay Paul, but they love Peter when he robs Paul to pay them."

For those who don't get the analogy, Peter ≈ Leviathan(ette), They, them ≈ the morally rudderless sheeple, Paul ≈ developer/small business/large business/corporation/et al.

That's a quote from Tim Baldwin's latest column, not my own verbiage. He may not have meant it precisely as I define it above, but that's my take as pertains to situations like you describe in this piece.

Anyway, once again, the core problem in this instance as in so many others (sigh) is that most "mere mundanes" or commoners collectively only see "bad," "ugly," and "unconstitutional" when it's their OWN pockets or property targeted for plunder/expropriation and are fat, happy, contented, and oblivious otherwise.

As I once asked my elders when I was a kid nominal variations of the following about this country: "Hey Grandma/Grandpa, look at what's happening over there in [that city, that county, that state]? Or "up there" in Washington (DC)? The answer was likewise also nominal variations of the following: "Well son, we shouldn't be so worried or concerned about that potential problem over there..." It never seemed to occur to them that social decay and corruption within the same country over there when left unchecked eventually will become prevalent over here. Ergo, depravity, corruption, and licentiousness prevailing among the people at large will also drain down into government itself at some point. Certain individuals who come forth out of the drainage will naturally behave and act accordingly when/if they manage to finesse their way into Leviathan's or a Leviathanette's halls of power.

And look at the sign: "...until the FAA approves/disapproves the Airport". So, hmm, are the folk there only quibbling about whether mama Leviathan or Leviathanette Illinois approves the expropriation? I reckon they'll be a-okay once the FAA approves of it.

America is done. And it was thoroughly cooked by the people, specifically the so-called Christians, by way of their own apathy, immorality, and collaboration in the growth of government themselves (of course for "righteous" reasons). It never seemed to occur to them that if/when civility and morality (or at least a nominal sense thereof anyway) requires some sort of makeshift Leviathan prop (law, amendment, regulation) to support/enforce it rather than the damned people themselves (self control, self government), then society is already toast. Forget "patching" it up. Demolish it!

It's a nominal corpse already, but it's still twitchin' in terminal agony. Maybe it needs to be put out of its misery once and for all.

Yet, even a nation in the throes of death and destruction, heeding the 2 Chronicles 7:14 admonition is always a possibility, but the proud and pious among us won't take it to heart.

Lastly, I've long been convinced that the now tired and very old "go along to get along" mantra is pure nonsense, unless you care nothing for the positions, beliefs, and overall worldview you were deceived in thinking you held steadfast to. If it means war rather than a faux "peace" will materialize, then so be it. If, speaking on an individual level, it means you will be conspicuous rather than inconspicuous to the crowd, possibly irritate the crowd, piss off the crowd, etc., etc., then so be it.

[continued below]

dixiedog said...


Are we ready for the "lion dens" yet? Most folk will naturally "go along to get along" and avoid the "dens" altogether and will pay later, but those who are not changing their mindset or behavior to fit a collective "harmony" will pay now. Nothing wrong with a collective harmony in and of itself IF the collective in question is genuinely voluntary. But the ironic twist is that the "collective harmony" we often see is largely voluntary, NOT coerced! The coercive "go along to get along" aspect exists, yes, but much of the populace "go along because they genuinely belong."

Anonymous said...

Dixie, You don't post a lot but when you do at least your theme is consistent. You're very much correct about how there are folks who whine when the whip is in some other slave masters hands BUT when it's in what they call the "right" hands they don't seem to mind being the slave so long as they're taken care of.

Anonymous said...

Bill -- Missing from your article is WHO stands to make money from the deal...along with how much & when did they pay off the politicians.

dixiedog said...

Dixie, You don't post a lot but when you do at least your theme is consistent.

Well, MoT, a harsh rant every now and again empties ones mind of the evils of "humanoid disdain" and "alligator mouth, jaybird ass" disease that afflicts all of us, unfortunately, and lowers ones blood pressure, at least in my case anyway.

True, I don't post much anymore, because most folk don't care to hear/read "broken records" and I certainly don't like playin' 'em, frankly. Nevertheless, every now and again I just have to play that ol', tired dixiedog chorus. I guess it's my own rage against the machine pressure relief system at work...hehe.

Anonymous said...

The American hockey song says "home of the brave, land of the free" but what sort of home is a country where there is not one square yard from which one may not be evicted; and how can one be free if he can best be a tenant, and can always be told to move along ?

I guess it is time to acknowledge that the good times in the United States were a fluke, an unintended consequence; reality is now back in business

Larry Wright said...

There are a number of reasons why the Founder's Republic is degenerating into a totalitarian police state. Eminent domain is certainly a large part of this ongoing "Endarkenment" as Billy Beck calls it. Without an absolute right to property, how will any of our other rights be secure?

A particularly egregious infringement of property rights is emanating from that wretched hive of scum and villany, Charleston, WV. Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power have created 4 shell companies (the PATH companies) to front the construction of a 276 mile long transmission line, using the States' eminent domain power, across West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. PATH states that this project is in the public interest, but the reality is that this project is motivated more by a guaranteed 14.3% profit on construction costs, and the potential profit inherent in sending coalfired electricity from John Amos power station to NJ and NYC, where the price of electrical power is much higher.

Even though the State of West Virginia has not even accepted PATH's claim of being a 'public utlity', the process to strip thousands of land owners of their rights is ongoing, despite vociferous opposition from the citizenry, of whom I am one, regarding the risks, the lack of need, the costs, the lack of benefits, and the impacts on landowners and localities.

But the real injury is the use of eminent domain to acquire the right of way, and the particularly nasty tactics employed by the PATH companies. The eminent domain issue is the primary reason that I am involved in opposing this process.

For more information, please see-
www dot stoppathwv dot com