At the recent town council meeting one of the town alderman stated strongly that anything that was not in written law, was legal. We were talking about OSHA guidelines. He rejected my explanation of tort law, that anyone can sue for anything. Ten minutes later he was saying that if someone’s house was run-down and their yard unmaintained, that the neighbors on either side could sue with the claim that the diminished value of that property was dragging down their own property value. This is the state of much law: total confusion, much mythology, predatory motives, and paralysis.
Much of the value of land has become hypothetical. When I first talked about the “takings” laws just operating in Portland in the early 2000’s, lawyers in Montana said that couldn’t be right. But then the cases began to validate the idea that if someone is denied a use of land that they thought would be profitable, in particular if the government denied some profitable use like building, then the owner of the land should be paid that value. This was developing out of the idea of condemning/seizing private land for a public good, like a highway or high-tension electrical transmission line or a pipeline.
Much has been made of the human transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist and from farmer to industrialist, but there was a step just after agriculture and just before industrialism. In fact, it was the key to the middle class. That was trade, the Marco Polo phenomenon, the big sailing ships, the Silk Roads of various kinds, and all the little distributing shops.
Developing from that was the realization that money was really bookkeeping, IOU’s, gambling, and expectations. It’s not like barter, which would mean you need a warehouse or a fortification where gold can be stored. The records of the money itself can be bought and sold. That’s what’s going on in the venture capital business, the loan business, the stock market, insurance, and all the commodities derivatives.
But one does need something to anchor the records of money without having to schlepp around grain or coal. That something is best as land ownership. The land stays where it is while the ownership is recorded and exchanged for money. You can’t SEE land ownership unless you go down to the county seat and look at the records. (Which can be confused, altered, lost or burned.) Of course, land ownership is also one of the bases of taxation, which means that the state is quite interested in who is the technical owner, which is not the same as an actual person and therefore easy to obfuscate with shell corporations and LLC’s.
My post on this blog on Nov. 3, 2014, about Sunrise Investment Group LLC , described a consortium of companies (mostly insurance) who make it their practice to acquire properties by paying delinquent taxes on county rolls, thereby becoming the owners. They did it by stealth, by flattering county clerks, and by privileged information through the insurance businesses. I could not prove this. The county “second step” tax notices just went out this year closely followed by the news that they were about to become delinquent. The Town of Valier was just notified during their meeting that Sunrise themselves had finally paid this year’s taxes on the properties they had acquired and that they promised to maintain their yards.
In the past, government entities in rural places had been pretty relaxed about enforcing laws but there has been an awakening, partly because money is tight. In the past, small towns maintained their ways as a matter of course, but there has been a steady incidence of new people trying to escape the cities and the coastal melée. The retired persons who come, believing the mythology of peaceful happy community, upset all that. In a little town like Valier, geographically up against the confused and conflicting money handling on the rez (because so much of it is in huge amounts transferred from the federal government to the tribal council — which never quite catches up the recording system), there is a gradient that encourages games.
Another way of making money with money is laundering criminal funds which might include the huge profits of drug trade, human trafficking for sex and labor, war matériel from fighter planes to ammunition, and other practices that need to be covert. It appears that Trump has been buying and selling real estate as a cover for Russian money slipping over to the Western world: “laundering”. This is so far only a matter of appearances, but it looks pretty bad. Unfinished extraordinary skyscrapers, strangely located, and uninhabited mansions in places like Florida or the Middle East, are also located close to nations that offer profit gradients.
Regulations of all kinds have been proliferating in the past decades. They are a two-edged sword. On the one hand they can curtail profits by requiring expensive safeguards; on the other hand they can build up profits for those who provide those safeguards. At the moment many regulations are being reversed and removed by the Republicans in the name of profits (which is what they tell shareholders) and in the name of vengeance, which is Trump’s emotional payoff. Probably also for Putin, especially in the case of trade sanctions as punishment for past incursions. People I’ve talked to here in the course of the day believe that Trump has been passing laws, but in fact, he’s only been reversing regulations, many of them subsequently blocked by lawsuits.
All of this has been greatly magnified by the Internet, which records so much more than money, from the look on someone’s face when a subject was mentioned, to satellite maps of major shifts in ecology or human activity. Land boundaries used to be marked by surveyors or fences, laboriously established or recognized with on-the-ground investigations. Now a satellite can see them and mark the changes with time-lapse photography.
What worked for the notorious Roy Kohn, as described by various reports, was denial, opposition, lies, and hiding. These things won’t work for Donald Trump. The times have changed. It’s too easy to trace everything, from failure to stop at a traffic light to past declarations that can’t hold up anymore. When erratic statements and contradictory claims abound, even criminals doing business know to steer clear of the quicksand. Probably Putin is not concerned because confusion and double-backs suit his goals of disrupting governments, and because — if the stories about Russian loans being the bulk of Trump assets are true — he owns Trump’s big butt.
Maybe if Trump et al are convicted, we ought to just nationalize all his assets. It's only bookkeeping. Russia does it all the time.