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The Israeli State’s Assault on Gaza Must Stop

This article was written by Jeremy R. Hammond and Scott Horton, and was originally published by The Mises Institute. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Since the horrific atrocities perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli civilians on October 7, 2023, Israel has been engaged in a devastating military operation in the Gaza Strip. Over 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, 70% of whom have been women and children, and tens of thousands injured. About 85% of Gaza’s 2.2 million inhabitants have been internally displaced with no safe place to go.

Israel has systematically targeted Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. Over 60% of Gaza’s housing units have been damaged or destroyed. As a result of Israel’s siege of Gaza, which has blocked all but a trickle of humanitarian aid, half of Gazans are starving, and the entire population is at imminent risk of famine. The government of South Africa has filed an application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) charging Israel with the crime of genocide.

So, how should libertarians view this situation?

There are two basic positions on this issue held by Americans. One is that Israel is justified in doing whatever it takes to eliminate Hamas in Gaza. The other is that, while Israel has a right to self-defense, it must exercise that right in accordance with international humanitarian law.

The only view compatible with the foundational ideal of libertarianism, the non-aggression principle, is the latter.

While much of the post-World War II regime of “collective security” under the United Nations, enforced primarily by U.S. power, may be objectionable from a libertarian standpoint, Israel’s government is a signatory to the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Genocide Convention so it is in their case the law, and ceteris paribus they are bound by it.

Apologists for criminal Israeli government policies defend the indiscriminate nature of Israel’s attacks by absolving it of responsibility on the grounds that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.” This argument, though, depends on a euphemistic use of that term that rejects its definition under international law to instead mean any civilians killed simply by virtue of their being in Gaza.

There is also the popular trope that Israel benevolently ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 only to come under repeated attack by Hamas. But while Israel withdrew military forces and settlers from Gaza, it has remained an Occupying Power by virtue of its continued control of the strip. Nothing and nobody go into or out of Gaza without Israel’s permission. Gaza remains, as it was described in 2004 by Head of Israel’s National Security Council Giora Eiland, “a huge concentration camp.”

The 2005 withdrawal was part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan,” which entailed abandoning the Jewish settlements in Gaza while maintaining control over the territory and advancing the illegal settlement regime in the occupied West Bank with the aim of Israel unilaterally determining its yet-undeclared borders. In the words of Sharon’s top advisor Dov Weisglass, the disengagement plan provided the “formaldehyde” that was “necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

Another important piece of context is how Israel initially supported Hamas as a counterforce to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which in the late 1980s had accepted the two-state solution premised on the applicability of international law to the conflict, including implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242.

Passed after the June 1967 war, that resolution requires Israel to withdraw to the armistice lines drawn after the 1948 war, during which 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes to establish the demographically “Jewish state.”

About 70% of the population of Gaza are refugees from the 1948 ethnic cleansing and their descendants, and about half the population are children who have lived their entire lives in this “huge concentration camp.”

In 2004, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin announced a shift in policy by stating the group’s willingness to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the pre-1967 boundaries, with a long-term truce to establish mutual intent. Israel responded by assassinating him. Nevertheless, Hamas repeatedly reiterated its truce offer thereafter while also engaging in the political process by participating in municipal elections in 2005.

In 2006, though winning only a plurality of the votes, Hamas defeated Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, in parliamentary elections. In response, Israel colluded with the US and Fatah to overthrow the elected Hamas-led government. That effort failed, resulting in Hamas taking total control of Gaza while the PA remained in power in the West Bank.

Israel’s further response was to escalate the blockade of Gaza in place since 1967 to a state of siege designed to collectively punish the entire civilian population for living under Hamas’s rule—yet another violation of international law.

For over half a century, Israel has defied international law by maintaining a belligerent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that UN bodies and international human rights organizations have in recent years described as an apartheid regime. Indeed, it should hardly be controversial to state that Israel exists as a Jewish supremacist state. To demonstrate this, it suffices to observe that the Jewish National State Law passed in 2018 literally defines self-determination in Israel as a right exclusive to Jews.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also long maintained a policy of utilizing Hamas as a strategic asset to block movement toward peace negotiations with the Palestinians. As he reportedly told fellow Likud party members in the Knesset, “anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas” as part of the strategy of keeping the Palestinian leadership divided.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2023, Netanyahu also illuminated the aim of Israel’s efforts to “normalize” relations with Arab states by effectively demanding that the Palestinians accept their subjugation, and by holding up a map of the “New Middle East” showing only Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The Palestinians would neither have equal rights as Israeli citizens nor independence in a state of their own. They would just have to accept their total defeat and indefinite subjugation.

As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” While there is no possible justification for Hamas’s killing and kidnapping of civilians on October 7, neither is there any possible justification for Israel’s retaliatory violence against the entire civilian population of Gaza, which has been characterized by war crimes carried out with impunity because of the US government’s support, which has included blocking a ceasefire resolution in the UN Security Council.

While South Africa’s case at the ICJ doesn’t raise the matter of US complicity, this move also places the Biden administration on notice that the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide not only prohibits the US from supporting genocide but also obligates the US to act to prevent it.

Self-described libertarians are in the meantime obligated by the non-aggression principle to oppose indiscriminate attacks on civilians regardless of the ethnicity or nationality of either the perpetrators or the victims.

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THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN DRC: HUNGER AND STARVATION

This article was written by VIA volunteer Ibrahim Fatai.

The humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world’s most severe, yet remains largely underreported. Since the International Rescue Committee’s 2008 report estimated 5.4 million deaths, the situation has significantly worsened. Despite the gravity of the crisis, global awareness is limited, overshadowed by political agendas and inadequate media coverage.

While South Africa is known for its diamonds and gold and Nigeria for its oil, the DRC is rich in cobalt and coltan, essential minerals in high demand for the tech and renewable energy sectors. The DRC holds over 60% of the world’s cobalt reserves and around 50% of global coltan reserves. Cobalt is crucial for rechargeable batteries in electric vehicles, electronics, and aerospace applications. Coltan is used in electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and gaming consoles, where it is critical for manufacturing capacitors and high-performance components.

However, the extraction of these minerals comes at a high human cost. UNICEF estimates that around 40,000 children are involved in mining activities, including cobalt and coltan extraction. Many of these children have dropped out of school or never attended, forced into dangerous labor. The toll on the Congolese population is staggering, with nearly a quarter facing severe hunger and malnutrition. Health services are inadequate, and education systems are in disarray, leaving many children without access to schooling. The lack of accountability for those funding and perpetuating the conflict allows the cycle of violence to continue.

The Rwandan government denies involvement with militant groups despite evidence, including aerial footage and photographs, showing RDF troops alongside M23 rebels. Historically, Western governments, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, provided financial support to Rwanda. This support persisted until 2012, when concerns over human rights abuses led to a temporary suspension of military aid.

In the provinces of North Kivu, Ituri, and Mai-Ndombe, conflict driven by armed groups such as M23 and the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) has displaced over 6.3 million people. These groups, often funded through illegal mining taxes, commit atrocities, including mass killings and sexual violence, further exacerbating the humanitarian disaster.

The DRC’s vast mineral wealth fuels global technology markets but also intensifies ongoing conflict. Multinational companies, prioritizing profit, exploit these resources, perpetuating violence and instability. This exploitation, facilitated by international corporations and foreign governments, has exacerbated the crisis, making economic interests a significant driving force behind the conflict.

Amid this bleak landscape, organizations like Voluntaryism In Action and Focus Congo offer a glimmer of hope. Initiatives such as community gardens in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps aim to improve food security and combat malnutrition. Focus Congo also provides healthcare, education, and social services, significantly improving the lives of displaced individuals.

While the conflict’s root causes are complex, individual contributions can make a tangible difference. Supporting organizations working directly in the DRC helps provide immediate relief and empowers local communities. Advocacy for greater transparency and accountability from governments and corporations is essential to achieving systemic change.

The crisis in the DRC demands urgent global attention and action. It is imperative for citizens to hold their governments accountable for complicity in foreign conflicts. Supporting grassroots organizations and demanding corporate responsibility can help alleviate suffering and foster a more just and peaceful future for the Congolese people. By donating, advocating for policy changes, and educating others about the crisis, we can contribute to a brighter future for the DRC and its people.

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Houston Mayor Begins Targeting Volunteers With Police

Houston Food Not Bombs is a local group of independent volunteers that provides meals to the homeless people of downtown Houston. CHRON reports that the group is one of many that is “under attack” by a decade old ordinance that is now being enforced as the city was drawing near to its host date of this year’s 2023 NCAA Final Four. They are now facing crackdowns from Houston PD thanks to the mayor’s direction.

              The issue began with the city’s deciding to now start enforcing a controversial charitable feeding ordinance law that was passed back in 2012. The ordinance states that anyone providing meals to more than five people in need require permission from the property owner to do so, even on public property. This meant the only approved public location was at the same site as Houston PD’s police property room.

Houston Mayor Begins Targeting Volunteers With Police
Food Not Bombs volunteers Tilal Ahmed, center, and Shere Dore provide a meal to a man looking for food by the Houston Public Library - Central Library, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Houston. Credit: Marie D. De Jesús/CHRON staff photographer

For groups such as Houston Food Not Bombs to be successful they’re adamant it is best to come to the people in need, wherever they may be. One of their best sites for providing meals is the plaza in front of the downtown Central Library. Where they noticed that Houston PD put up notices threatening fines and tickets for charity groups after February 24th. The first ticket for these violations was given to a member of Houston Food Not Bombs on March 1st. After the initial ticket multiple members of their group as well as a member of a separate religious group providing meals for the homeless have been issued. The Houston PD has also gone beyond ticketing and threatening arrest for one member, Shere Dore, after she received her second ticket. Shere Dore also does volunteer work with a few Islamic organizations that have been feeding people in need by the library, doing the volunteer work four nights a week. She says their efforts help feed hundreds of people on a single night, Tuesdays being the busiest and feeding upwards to 250 people in a single night.

The looming threats of Houston PD moving on to arrests has already caused a drop in the number of volunteers being found helping the many homeless people in the area.  Dore said the threat has already caused one of the Islamic groups she works for to relocate to the official city-sanctioned area. While others have paused their work to assess the risks and what they should do next. “This appears to be the first instance of anyone in Houston being ticketed under this horrific law. The mayor is taking HPD’s time and efforts away from violent crimes, human trafficking, and corruption in government, and sending cops to intimidate people who are doing nothing wrong, and are in fact helping the city’s most vulnerable. He should be ashamed of himself,” said Houston Food Not Bombs volunteer Nick Cooper.

              Mary Benton, director of communications for the office of Mayor Sylvester Turner, defended the new crackdowns on volunteers saying there was, “an increase in the number of threats and violence incidents directed at visitors and employees.” Benton was also quoted saying, “Parents and families have expressed they no longer feel comfortable visiting the library or holding special events. We hope the library can serve as a safe, inclusive place for all to come and visit. That’s why we are providing a dedicated, alternative charitable food service at 61 Riesner Street. This location has the infrastructure and amenities needed to provide services and food to Houstonians in need. By shifting food services to an alternative location, we can maintain the integrity and historic nature of Houston’s Public Library while serving all Houstonians with the dignity they deserve.”

              Benton also provided one news outlet with a version of the notices that were posted at the library before the police began enforcing the controversial ordinance. Stating the city is, “informing citizens about the updated Houston Health Department rules and regulations governing charitable food service events on public property.” The notice saying, “The city supports, and is grateful for, the charitable food services provided throughout the City. To assist efforts, the City is providing an appropriate location with necessary requirements for a safe, clean, and respectful environment.”

              Dore however is skeptical about the city’s statement as to why they have decided to now start enforcing the ordinance. She believes it’s really being done as a means to “clean up” downtown and revitalize it as a hot spot as the city will be hosting the NCAA Final Four. Other advocates also say that volunteer groups and those they help feed being targeting doesn’t fall in line with Houston’s recent claims of being a beacon for fighting homelessness. Some find the move particularly odd as volunteers faced no threats of jail or tickets for doing the same work when the city hosted other major events such as Super Bowl LI in 2017. Although during those events the homeless Houstonians themselves were targeted by sweeps, tickets, and arrests.

              Dore is also critical of the city’s bold claims to successfully addressing the homelessness issue it faces. She did volunteer work for the Salvation Army as well as other non-profits in 2014 thru 2015. The goal of the work was to get an accurate count of the homeless in the city. But according to her the numbers don’t add up. “The more people you count, the more money you get.” She stated in reference to tax and grant money used for the project. Nick Cooper said, “There is so much data that Homeless Counts are inaccurate. And shockingly, the counts are conducted by those who only get funding when the number of homeless go down.”  The language used by the mayor also speaks volumes to the groups and the homeless alike with statements like, “retaking the Central Library Downtown.”

              The first Houston Food Not Bombs member to be ticketed has already filed a lawsuit against the city. Although it’s not the first time the law has been challenged via the judicial branch, it is the first in a long time. The others were dismissed due to a “lack of cause” but with the issuing of tickets and threats of arrest they are hopeful the case can move forward. Food Not Bombs in Fort Lauderdale, Florida successfully won a similar case against a city ordinance. The defense being that the sharing of food with Food Not Bomb’s central Anti-War, Pro-Vegetarian message are worthy of constitutional protection under the first amendment.

              Dore says the unhoused and food-insecure served by the various volunteer groups in Houston are standing behind the groups and their fight against the unjust ordinance. They are hopeful the city will repeal the ordinance. “The homeless are people too, and they deserve to be respected.” Says Dore.

              Sadly, Houston is far from the only city to enforce such measures against those simply helping others in their time of need. It is all too common to see law enforcement doing the bidding of lawmakers against citizens trying to make a difference. Whether it’s through fines, threats of prison, or even destroying food and goods made available for those in need, there are far too many examples of the state using force against peaceful people trying to make their communities a better place. 

             

 

             

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Jay Da Barber Making a Difference

          In the beginning of July 2023, one barber saw an opportunity to help others in his community and took it. Jayon Hughes, also known as Jay Da Barber, was working one quiet Tuesday at his usual spot across the street from The Cherry Street Mission, a local charity aimed at helping people overcome poverty. Looking across the street at the mission he thought of a way to lend a hand to his community as well by offering free haircuts to those who needed or wanted them.

              “Seeing everybody out there, just in distress…I knew I had to help them. Me giving a haircut, knowing they’re satisfied with their haircut, that’s something money cannot buy,” Hughes said. Hughes was not worried about the cost of his time or services: “The money will come. It’s not about the money.” His interest was in helping those less fortunate than himself and possibly setting them up for a life-changing opportunity. “I cut like ten people. Four of those homeless people had interviews the next day. So yes, I got them interview ready.”

Jay Da Barber
Hughes talks to the WTOL11 crew about his efforts. Image credit WTOL11.

Even though he wasn’t out there for recognition, the recognition found him. Tanya Marria Murphy was driving by one day, and seeing what was going on inspired her. She stopped and got out to do a quick story about him for her Facebook. “I do #TanyaWitThaTee and it’s some accidents and sometimes negative. I want to bring positive and I love community involvement, so I had to get that.” Tanya said. The story she created for her Facebook ended up garnering more than 45 thousand views over the course of 48 hours.

              Murphy is no stranger to barbers as her son is an experienced barber and said he was not surprised to see that she found that particular selflessness interesting saying: “Seeing him do it, it’s like, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s how you put the map out there. That’s why my mother sees stuff like that and captures it because that’s the type of stuff I’ve been doing. That’s how she sees me as well.” In Tanya’s opinion the best part of what Jay Da Barber was doing was giving back a sense of self to those who may have needed it most. “To see the smile on his face. They could be panhandling, people will say ‘Get out of here. I don’t want it. Don’t talk to me.’ And for him to be praised like that, that’s going to give him an oomph.”

              Jayon Hughes did a great job showing what one person can do to impact the lives of others, no matter how small the scale may be. He said that he plans on doing it again in the future. “I tried to cut as many people as possible, and I hope to do that again.” One individual giving up an afternoon to use their skills to aid others is the exact type of thing we love to see and share at Voluntaryism In Action. We’re excited to see what Jayon Hughes aka: Jay Da Barber does moving forward for his community.

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Books, Coffee, and Charity: The Carpenter’s Cup

In the rural town of Butler, Missouri—birthplace of author and libertarian thinker Robert A. Heinlein—we found a small Christian bookstore with a big mission.  Not only does The Carpenter’s Cup sell books, gifts, décor, and have a full hot and cold beverage menu ranging from coffee to fruit smoothies: they are also a major hub of charity for Bates County.

I spoke with Becky, one of the founders and owners.  When I asked her who got the bookstore started, she said: “God did.” Becky and her sister Phyllis were both working as registered nurses when Becky felt inspired that someone should start a Christian bookstore in town. At the end of 2015, Becky quit her job as a nurse and took the leap of faith to get her bookstore dream started and christened it The Carpenter’s Cup. Her sister Phyllis and their 90 year-old mother also work in the store.

Almost immediately, people in need began flocking to the new Christian bookstore for help with food, bills, clothing, and other necessities.  Becky says she thinks they thought it was a church at first. The local Ministry Alliance of pastors from various churches asked if they could hand out utility vouchers at her bookstore.  She only agreed after they promised that background checks at the police station would no longer be required for the vouchers, and there would be no policing of the morality of the needy people as well.  “That’s none of my business,” she said, referring to Christ’s ministry feeding the hungry and helping people no matter how righteous or wicked other people thought they were.

There is great need in the Bates County area.  But as Becky says, “a lot of people want to help, they just don’t know how.”  The Carpenter’s Cup now facilitates all kinds of charitable programs.  They began Project Hand Up, a 501c3 dedicated to assisting the needy. They have a Blessings Box outside their door—a cabinet someone built and donated for people to put shelf-stable food into and take as needed.  Inside, they have fridge space for perishable food donations.  In this rural setting, many people bring produce straight from their gardens and eggs from their own backyard chickens and ducks.  Even the local Walmart sends food donations monthly, and if anything is expired, the food is still usable to people who keep chickens or other livestock.

I asked Becky how they made it through the Covid lockdowns.  She said people volunteered to pay their rent and utility bills while they had to close.  And even though they were closed, people still brought in food and entire prepared meals for the needy.  People in need would come pick up the food, or if they couldn’t, a volunteer would deliver it.  In the summer of 2020, they began a lunch program for school-aged children.  This soon expanded to anyone who needed lunch.  The food is provided by individual donors as well as the local Sonic and McDonald’s, and then served at the local park and the town square.  Becky estimates they served 4000 lunches that summer.

The Carpenter’s Cup also provides backpacks with school supplies for families in need, and when they can get enough donations, new shoes and socks for school-aged children.  For Thanksgiving, they fill laundry baskets with a turkey and all the ingredients for a delicious Thanksgiving feast for people to pick up.  Last Thanksgiving (2022), they provided 500 meals.  In the winter, they collect coats and warm gear for the homeless, working in conjunction with Jeff Moore, whom VIA donors assisted with this effort last winter (February 2023).  In the summer, they collect fans and small air conditioning units to distribute.

In this blazing Missouri summer, The Carpenter’s Cup greets you with a handwritten sign on its door stating: “FREE ICE WATER.” The bookstore has had people sleep on its store floor before.  Becky laments that there is not a homeless shelter in Bates County—it’s a sore need that has yet to be filled with numerous homeless camps in the area.  But they do what they can, and the impact is widely felt.  It’s sad to see so much need, but heartening to see so many people who want to help and have done so much without government coercion

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How a Massachusetts Town Seized a Farmer’s $370k Property to Cover a $60k Tax Debt—and Kept the Change

Alan DiPietro is an alpaca farmer in the town of Bolton, Massachusetts (pop: 5,376). He lives in an RV on the 34-acre property where he keeps his alpacas, and he sells their fleece to make a living.

DiPietro wasn’t always a farmer. He previously worked as a chief engineer for iRobot, a company that makes autonomous home cleaning devices such as the Roomba vacuum cleaner. He became disenchanted with the bureaucracy and red tape of the corporate world, however, so in 2008 he decided to leave that world behind and begin his alpaca-farming venture.

The years since then have not been the easiest for DiPietro. In 2014 he suffered a financially-devastating divorce that ultimately led to bankruptcy. After the bankruptcy, he still had some money in a 401(k), and he used it to buy the 34-acre property he now lives and farms on. The home he was living in was foreclosed, however, and he was evicted in 2016. It was then that he moved to the motorhome on the farm.

In the ensuing years, DiPietro found himself in a protracted legal dispute over how he could use his property. He had mowed some fields and had built some wooden fencing and small sheds, but he was later told these actions violated certain state and local environmental regulations.

As a result of various enforcement actions and lawsuits, DiPietro struggled to use his property in a profitable manner, and his financial situation became dire. He became delinquent on his property taxes in 2016, and 14 percent annual interest began accruing on his unpaid taxes.

As the years went by, the legal battle intensified and DiPietro’s situation only worsened. By 2021, he owed the town roughly $60,000 in unpaid taxes and other costs. The property value at the time was roughly $370,000, and DiPietro owned it outright.

A couple of simple solutions to his debt problem likely jump to mind. Couldn’t he just make money with the property some other way or sell part of it to pay his debt? Indeed, he could—if the town would let him. But the town stopped him at every turn. When he applied for a forestry permit to sell trees on his land, for example, the town’s conservation officials asked for it to be denied on account of his alleged environmental violations, and the department in charge of permits complied with this request.

He was also prohibited by the town from getting a guard dog and from connecting to the internet and electrical grid, and the town would not legally recognize his address. These and other restrictions undermined several potential projects. The town also refused to give him the permits he needed to sell part of his land, and the reason for the refusal was the fact that he had outstanding property tax debt.

In short, DiPietro was caught in a catch-22. He had to pay the debt to get permission to make money, but he needed money first to pay the debt.

With the debt remaining unpaid, a land court foreclosed on the property in December 2021, transferring absolute title of the land to the town as payment for the debt. The town has since initiated eviction proceedings to remove DiPietro from the property.

And what about the $310,000 in equity above and beyond the debt, the equity that rightfully belongs to DiPietro? Oh yeah. The town kept that…which it’s allowed to do under state law.

Noting the injustice, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) joined DiPietro in filing a lawsuit against the town on January 10, 2023, demanding he get back that portion of the equity which is rightfully his.

The practice of keeping the equity of a foreclosed property above and beyond the debt owed is known as home equity theft, and it’s a lot more common than you might think. Across the country, local governments and private tax lien investors regularly foreclose on properties for unpaid tax debts and then keep the whole value of the property—even though that value is often far greater than the amount of debt that was owed.

In 38 states this is illegal. Foreclosing parties are required to sell the property and return excess profits to the original homeowner. In 12 states, however—one of which is Massachusetts—local governments or private investors can take the entire value of a tax-foreclosed home.

A recent PLF report highlights how extensive this practice has become.

“In our study of 31 Massachusetts localities, representing one-third of the state’s population, the government foreclosed and sold 254 homes for tax debt from January 2014 through June 2020,” PLF writes. “Massachusetts law allowed the taking of an estimated $60 million in equity above what these homeowners owed in property tax debt. Another 154 homes were foreclosed for tax debts from January 2014 through December 2020 by a private investment company that purchased tax liens (the right to collect a tax debt) from the state. Massachusetts law allowed the taking of an estimated $37 million in equity above what these homeowners owed in property tax debt.”

DiPietro unjustly lost roughly $310,000 of equity, representing about 84 percent of his property value. This is a fairly typical case, judging by the PLF report. “In the localities we studied, homeowners lost 87% of their home equity, on average—nearly $260,000 per home,” PLF notes.

The argument in favor of this practice is that the lost equity basically amounts to a fine or penalty for tax delinquency. You broke the law, after all, and breaking the law has consequences, the reasoning goes. If a state deems that one of those consequences should be that you lose the equity in your home, so be it.

The arguments against this practice take a few different forms. For one, detractors argue that taking more value than what is owed is simply unjust. They also argue that this violates the “just compensation” clause of the Fifth Amendment, which states that if a government takes private property for public use it must compensate the property owners appropriately.

To those who would put forward the argument that this taking amounts to a fine, detractors would respond by pointing to the Eighth Amendment, which states that excessive fines shall not be imposed. Surely this is an excessive fine if ever there was one.

A final argument against this practice is the simple point that it tends to impact the most vulnerable members of society more than others. PLF comments on this sad truth in its report on Massachusetts.

“Like similar tax foreclosure schemes in other states, the Massachusetts system likely hits vulnerable people the hardest,” PLF writes. “Most people don’t intentionally fail to pay their property taxes. As with the Calkinses [another case] and many others, life happens. Homeowners get sick, experience personal financial crises, or miscalculate a late payment. Research demonstrates that the elderly, sick, and poor are especially at risk of losing their most valuable asset—their home—for unpaid property taxes.”

The nineteenth century French economist Frédéric Bastiat coined a term that aptly describes this practice: legal plunder. The law, says Bastiat, is supposed to prohibit theft, but all too often it is weaponized by governments and special interest groups to enable theft. Rather than being outlawed, plunder is legalized and legitimized.

How do we know when legal plunder is occurring? Bastiat gives us a handy diagnostic tool in his 1850 book The Law.

“But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

In a world of secure property rights, taking the entire value of a property for a much smaller debt would surely be a crime. In fact, some (including this author) would argue that property taxes as such constitute legal plunder, since they involve forcefully taking money from peaceful property owners.

Whether you agree with that or not, it should be clear that taking equity above and beyond what is owed is theft. Not only is this a grave injustice, it also harms vulnerable people and gives governments a powerful incentive to back these people into a corner, as the Bolton government did with DiPietro.

It’s long past time to end this predatory practice.

This article was adapted from an issue of the FEE Daily email newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free-market news and analysis like this in your inbox every weekday.

Patrick Carroll
Patrick Carroll

Patrick Carroll has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and is an Editorial Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Sleep In Heavenly Peace

Marshfield community ensures no kid sleeps on the floor

Some Saturday mornings start slow and quiet, but not this one. The hum of generators and the buzz of sanders in the church parking lot is unmistakable. A big project is underway. The air is full of sawdust and the smell of fresh stain. Volunteers from all walks of life have gathered with a common goal — to build beds and meet a need for children in their community.

“When I first heard of the Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) organization, I couldn’t believe this was a real thing. Were there really kids out there who needed beds?” says Alan Balmer, Marshfield SHP chapter president. The need was far greater than he realized. “We were living in Alabama at the time and a colleague of mine who volunteered had me in tears telling me story after story of kids living in really difficult situations. Some were sleeping on the ground, others on piles of clothes or mattresses on the floor.”

In 2020, Alan and his wife, Vickie, moved back home to Marshfield. He shared the idea of SHP with his pastor and soon reconnected with four other local men in his church, who caught his vision. “The five of us guys and a couple of our wives went to San Antonio to go through a two-day training process,” Alan says. “At the end of that, we knew it was something we wanted to do.”

They started their own SHP chapter in March 2021 and in July began delivering beds to foster homes and other families in need. They started out small, serving only the towns of Marshfield and Niangua. When they discovered they were able to keep up and have enough beds in inventory, they started adding a few more ZIP codes. “We now cover every ZIP code in Webster County, as well as a little of Christian, Greene and Laclede,” Alan adds.

The chapter comprises about 20 people, Alan says, but they also rely a lot on the help of local volunteers. “At our last bed build day at First Baptist Church in Marshfield, there were probably 60-plus volunteers.” It was their biggest build to date. Working as a team, they met their goal of completing 60 brand new beds. They typically meet four to five times a year to build more beds.

They set up an assembly line with tables and tools and assign people to different tasks. Volunteers sand the boards to smooth away any splinters and rough edges. From there, the lumber is carried to the drill press station. Next, the pieces are screwed together to form the headboards and bedrails and then dunked in stain.

There’s a job for everyone. Volunteers include men, women and kids. There are retirees, carpenters, building contractors, teenagers and many folks who have no previous building experience. Everyone brings different skill sets to the table. “If it were my responsibility to make sure the bed build actually happened and everything was set up and organized, it would probably never happen. I’m not even that great at building the beds,” Alan says with a laugh. “But I love going on the deliveries and talking to the people.”

During bed builds, some people drive by and apply for a bed on the spot. Others have pulled in and dropped off checks and donations.

“I came to their very second bed build day and I’ve been hooked ever since,” says Steven DeShields of Marshfield. “I’ve been to three or four build days since and they always have me doing something different.”

Sleep in heavenly peace
Images Credit: Rural Missouri magazine.

He’s also gotten to go out on deliveries with them occasionally. “When I saw how excited the kids were to see us, that’s what really made me want to get involved,” says Steven. “They’re usually bouncing off the walls in excitement. It can be hard to calm them down. It makes it really worth it to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”

Once the beds are finished and loaded on the trailer, they’re ready for delivery. As requests for beds come in, Alan’s crew is quick to respond and schedule a time with each inquiring family. Sometimes the team delivers up to three evenings a week, always after the volunteers finish their day job.

Three or four SHP volunteers arrive at the recipients’ home with arms full of bedding and welcoming smiles. If there’s more than one child receiving a bed, they oftentimes assemble bunk beds for the siblings to share.

All the pieces from the build days are assembled in the kid’s bedroom. Each child receives a new bed frame, mattress, pillow, pillowcase, sheets and blankets. “We like to bring a few different options for the bedding, so the child can pick what they like,” Alan says.

Several quilting groups have donated quilts to them. “There is a men’s correctional facility in Licking who has donated quilts that the men have made,” says Alan. “There’s also an organization called Miracles for Margaret that donates blankets in memory of their daughter. It’s really amazing. We love giving out these comfort blankets and folding them at the end of the bed. The child may want an extra blanket, especially this time of year.”

The Marshfield chapter delivered more than 200 beds in just over a year. When word got out, people started donating. “The community has been so supportive,” Alan says, noting they’ve received grants and donations from individuals, businesses, Webster Electric Foundation, Arvest Bank, Salvation Army, TLC Student Funds and Community Foundation of the Ozarks, just to name a few. “There are several organizations who have really supported us well,” he says.

The average cost of a bed is about $250, including wood, hardware, bedding and mattress. “So many of the bed frames you buy today are made with cheap metal,” Alan adds. “Our beds are very sturdy and built to last a long time.”

To date, there are approximately a dozen Sleep in Heavenly Peace chapters in Missouri, and SHP is actively recruiting more chapters throughout the state. There are approximately 300 chapters nationwide.

“We’d love for the whole state, every city or county, to have one,” Alan says. “For those interested, the No. 1 thing I recommend is watching Mike Rowe’s ‘Returning the Favor’ interview with SHP founder Luke Mickelson. And I’d suggest having a box of Kleenex with you when you do.”

Across the country, the mission is the same. These volunteers want to ensure that no kid sleeps on the floor in their town. Joy lights up the faces of each volunteer and is mirrored in the faces of the children and families they serve. They’re building beds, but they’re also building community.

“It’s something that so many of us have taken for granted our entire lives, but the need is truly there,” Alan says. “We’re doing this because God’s been really good to us and we want to pour out those blessings on other people. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”

This article was reprinted with permission from Rural Missouri magazine. Visit www.shpbeds.org to learn more, donate, volunteer or apply for a bed. Alan can be reached at alan.balmer@shpbeds.org. To watch the interview with Mike Rowe and Luke Michelson, visit www.mikerowe.com/2018/02/returning-the-favor-sleep-in-heavenly-peace.

  Kaiser is a freelance writer from Hartville, MO.

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Pat McAfee Donates Millions

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

After spending 8 seasons in the NFL as the punter for the Indianapolis Colts, Pat McAfee retired to start a career in broadcasting and began the Pat McAfee Show under the Barstool Sports umbrella. He took the show out from under the umbrella a few years later and it has steadily grown since then. He’s begun announcing games at the collegiate and professional levels. During this time he incorporated a small business, which also controls his charity, The Pat McAfee Foundation. He has even appeared in matches for the WWE. McAfee has never shied away from an opportunity to grow and do things outside of his comfort zone building quite the loyal following along the way.

Pat McAfee inked a substantial contract with the sports betting app FanDuel towards the end of 2021. The Pat McAfee Show is one of the largest sports podcasts around and attracts millions of viewers and listeners making it a very attractive prize for advertisers. FanDuel and McAfee agreed to a 4 year 120 million dollar contract to make FanDuel the show’s exclusive sports bettor. While Pat McAfee is best known for his career as a top punter and his larger-than-life personality, it is perhaps time he became known for his charitable side.

McAfee, who is no stranger to charity work, wasted no time to take some of that well-earned money and find ways to help others with it. He gave his parents a million dollars after signing the deal. He also used some of the money to give each employee of Pat McAfee Show a 250 thousand dollar bonus. On top of the money he gave to his parents and employees he donated another 6 million to various causes such as, youth programs, children’s hospitals, and to assist domestic violence organizations.

A special recipient of McAfee’s charity has been his hometown of Plum, Pennsylvania. About a week before the FanDuel deal was finalized he donated 2 million dollars to his old high school and its athletic department.  Talking about his hometown he said, “I am so lucky I grew up in Plum. Hardworking people, great people, and the greatest sandwich shop in the world – Rudy’s Subs.” Earlier in 2021 he helped save the local bowling alley, Nesbit’s Lanes, that he spent time at when he was growing up.

Their GoFundMe surpassed its 100-thousand-dollar goal thanks to a donation made by Pat McAfee personally of 20 thousand, and another through his charity, The Pat McAfee Foundation, of just under 16 thousand. When asked about helping save Nesbit’s Lanes, he was quoted saying, “Nesbit’s is a staple of the Plum community,” following that with, “I’ve had the privilege of bowling there, hanging out there, and using their parking lot in times of need in high school.”

One could go on and on about Pat McAfee’s lengthy track record when it comes to charity, but that would take far too long. While many marvel at the phenomenal career he’s had it may be time to start recognizing him for his charity with the same awe. He’s done a number of amazing things in his life, but his work through The Pat McAfee Foundation and his charitable work beyond that is the most amazing to me. Pat McAfee is a prime example of someone who embodies the charitable spirit we love to see here at Volutaryism In Action.

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What About the Roads? Boone County Voluntarily Funds and Fixes Infrastructure

Times are harder for many these days. Perhaps that is felt most in small town, rural America. This story of self-reliance and voluntary solution can be traced back to the 1980’s. Boone County Nebraska was affected quite negatively by the farming crisis of the time. Many viewed living a life and raising a family there as an undesirable goal. A large amount of the teenagers and young adults of that time would leave once they got their high school diploma in hand to settle and pursue careers elsewhere across the country.

This left a lot of questions and very few answers for how this county and its small towns would survive future generations if the trend continued. Jay Wolf, a local rancher, recalled a quote he heard from his father, “As my dad used to say, it wasn’t a place you chose to live necessarily.”

Even during these rough times in the 80’s the county showed signs of life by being able to keep the local hospital in town, which today employs the highest number of workers in the area. The hospital continues to steadily grow and succeed. The county began to come back to life in the 90’s when it began a community foundation. They were able to focus the energy from this foundation to help jump-start a community looking for hope. They constructed a brand new fitness center with its main feature being a swimming pool and spin classes that are quite uncommon in rural towns.

By the time the early 00’s rolled around the community was already feeling more optimistic. Local teachers, students, and citizens raised the funds to renovate the town’s historic theater in 2002. That theater is now showing blockbuster films on the weekends and mostly employs local high school students, giving them a sense of pride and community as they begin to enter adulthood.

A handful of years later the town decided the senior citizen center was in desperate need of a renovation. The biggest challenge was finding a way to raise the 2.5 million dollars that were required to pull it off when they had never funded something at even a fraction of the cost. Jay Wolf said about the project, “We had never raised even 250,000 for anything in this town.” That didn’t stop them from trying. Not only did they raise the 2.5 million they needed, they managed to double that once they realized the senior center needed much more help than was thought before.

boone county
Hundreds of attendees from across Nebraska and the region attended a recent cattle show at the Boone County Agriculture & Education Center in Albion. (Photo courtesy of the Boone County Agriculture and Education Center)

The proof was now in the pudding, so to speak. This county can and will survive with the help of its charitable citizens. Not long after fixing the senior center, they fixed up their local public swimming pool. After that, they got a 2-mile-long hiking trail funded and built. With this momentum, the county, and Albion, the main city of the county, has continued to invest in itself through charitable donations. It has found new life, and people now want to live and invest there.

They now proudly have breweries, new restaurants, a beautiful golf course, a renovated hospital, and an overwhelming feeling of optimism that can be felt throughout Albion and Boone County. Lindsay Jarecki who moved to the town with her husband, who began a law practice in his hometown, has noticed big changes in the decade they’ve been there. “It seems like when one person takes a risk, it nudges someone else on the edge and they do it too. So much of this stuff simply wasn’t here when we got here… You can practically feel the confidence building.”

Confidence booming, Albion and the county took on its biggest challenge to date, trying to renovate the agricultural center/fairgrounds and build a brand new childcare center for families in the area. Childcare was severely lacking in this rural area, as it is in most rural areas. The importance and size of these tasks were daunting on their own but to attempt both at the same time was bold to say the least. “There was fear, so we had to come together. We decided we were gonna support each other no matter what…We trusted each other…and the community trusted us.” Jackie said about the idea.

Boone County’s citizens delivered. They raised a vast majority of the funds for the childcare center within county lines. The agricultural center and fairgrounds project raised nearly all of the money needed through local donors and county funds. Kurt Kruse, owner of Kruse Farms recalls how amazing it was to see the community rally behind both causes and their importance, “One cool thing that happened is a lot of people gave to both projects. But the ag building also attracted some rural people who hadn’t previously given. Both these things…will help the area grow. They will bring people to town.”

The agricultural building and fairgrounds is now a hotspot for tourism in their area, hosting many exciting events. Barrel racing, rodeo, junior rodeo, livestock shows, horse riding, and other events draw in large crowds from all over Nebraska. Some folks come from as far as 100 miles away. These opportunities and events just were not possible before the community rallied to build a place for them to exist. Now it is hosting events featuring commerce and people from over a handful of states such as, concerts, bull riding, and dog shows.

boone county
The donor wall at the Boone Beginnings Early Childhood and Family Development Center. The child care center opened in November after a group of town leaders raised $4.5 million – most of it local donations – to build it. (Photo by Darin Epperly, Flatwater Free Press)

The childcare center, Boone Beginnings, is also a major success and has relieved the stress for dozens of families of having to find affordable and quality childcare. Many families were anxious about finding childcare for their little ones. Now that worry is gone and the local parents and families couldn’t be more excited.

Albion and Boone County still have pressing needs, but have shown the resilience needed to face them through voluntary charity locally. Their main problem now is the one facing all of America: housing. It’s simply too expensive to build nice middle-class homes, and that’s their next target. Boone County and Albion have about 7 million in reserve in the Boone County Community Fund and other similar charities. Estimated costs put the needed total to be somewhere around 30 million to achieve its goals.

It sounds like a steep ask but it may not be too difficult with a town raring to grow and provide for itself. The extra money and wealth being brought in will go a long way when paired with the sense of community that is now felt throughout Boone County. “My sense is that, in the last 20 years, the conversation has shifted dramatically in Albion. We work with a lot of places that have one or two successes. In Boone County they now have almost a dozen things they can point to and say, ‘Look at that. We did that.’” Jeff Yost, CEO of the Nebraska Community Foundation, who does work with 270 communities in Nebraska as well as Albion.

What a remarkable story from this rural county in fly-over country. This city and county took it upon themselves to address dire needs and solve them. I have little doubt that they will continue to find ways to thrive with the giving and caring spirit that has gotten them this far. Not only did they face issues that city, county, state, and federal level governments try to fix and struggle with on a routine basis, they did it through voluntary means. That’s a big reason for its success, if you ask me. That type of fundraising and charity creates a real sense of pride, joy, and love not only for yourself but your neighbors and community as well.

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Betty White’s Legacy of Charity

Hours before the year 2022 began the world lost one of, if not it’s most loved celebrity. Betty White passed away New Year’s Eve at the age of 99 years old and mere weeks from hitting the century mark. White was an actress best known for her roles on Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but perhaps her greatest role was one behind the cameras. Betty White’s legacy of charity was built over many decades of using her fame to bring awareness and raise money for animals in need.

White became a trustee for the Morris Animal Foundation in 1971 and stayed in that role through 2013. She also served as the Canine Division Vice President for nine years before becoming Board President for three years. The Morris Animal Foundation is a non-profit organization that focuses on medical science for animals. Funding research to develop lifesaving and altering cures and treatments for diseases in animals.

President/CEO of Morris Animal Foundation, Tiffany Grunert, remembers Betty White and what she meant to the non-profit, “It is hard to imagine a world without Betty in it. She was a tremendous animal advocate who tirelessly supported the work of Morris Animal Foundation to improve the health of animals globally. All of us at the Foundation are mourning the loss of this amazing woman.”

“We will miss her wit, her intelligence and, most of all, her love of animals and commitment to advancing their health. She was a true inspiration to our staff, her fellow trustees and all of our supporters.”

White was heavily involved with the Morris Animal Foundation for nearly 50 years. Besides the roles she filled in an official capacity she offered her services in other areas such as, hosting and appearing at events and sponsoring specific health studies for a wide variety of animals. She dedicated a lot of her personal time and money to the non-profit.

White was considered to be the heart of the foundation by some. According to the wife of Dr. Mark Morris Jr. and Board Trustee member, Bette Morris, “Betty was always an active participant in our scientific review process. She often said that our scientific advisory boards were the engines that drove Morris Animal Foundation. If they are the engines, then she certainly was our organization’s heart.”

Her whole life she was looking to help animals and hopefully ease as much suffering for them as possible. She did this by continuing to work with and support the Morris Animal Foundation. She also began the Betty White Wildlife Fund in response to the Deep-Water Horizon oil spill in 2010. The fund’s main goal is to provide necessary help for animals in emergency situations. “Betty always put the animals first.

In the 1990s, White suggested pain management should be an area of future research and funded the first few studies. Today, if a veterinarian performs an elective surgery, like a spay or neuter without using pain management, she/he could face a malpractice charge. You can thank Betty White for that revolutionary change in the way we practice all phases of veterinary medicine today.” Said Dr. Rob Hilsenroth, who once served as Executive Director for Morris Animal Foundation.

Naturally, the passing of someone as universally loved and adored as Betty White elicited many emotions from the general public. With her passing happening only a few weeks before her birthday, many targeted that date to try and figure something out to honor her. Her work with animals seemed like a no brainer to many. Once White’s birthday rolled around in January fans made a big statement: local animal shelters, charities, and groups began seeing an influx of donations being made in memory of Betty.

The viral movement grew thanks to the Internet making it one its many “challenges,” this one branded the #BettyWhiteChallenge. The challenge called on people to make five-dollar donations in her name. While the true numbers will never be known, the challenge raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was a remarkable impact in honor of a life of charitable work.

Betty White was many things and loved for even more reasons. She will forever be known for her iconic roles as an actress. Beyond that she will be remembered in the hearts of millions as a caring, sweet, funny, and talented human being that always cared for others.

While it’s hard to imagine a world post-Betty White, we hope her legacy of giving is one that will persist as strongly as the one she left behind in acting. We know the world will always be a better place because of Betty White’s legacy.

 

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