Losing Your Rights

A thing we notice happens again and again in resource extraction colonies like West Virginia and other areas of Appalachia is that our politicians legislate to allow corporations to help themselves to rights over your property. A perfect example is Forced Pooling, a practice that can force you to sell or lease your property against your will.

The 2017 Forced Pooling bill proposed in the Senate was SB576, yet another attack on property rights. It tried to impose a market inefficiency on WV property owners, designed to funnel wealth from the poor to the rich, and to rig the free market.

Read the bill, and wonder at the audacity of calling the victims of this assault “nonconsenting cotenants.”

That didn’t pass, but since lobbyists can afford to buy politicians to do their bidding, they will introduce this practice again and again.

The rights of individuals must come first. Not the rights of corporations or big business. Your rights. You have constitutionally guaranteed property rights. It shouldn’t matter if you’re too poor to afford legal representation—or too poor to afford to buy politicians.

But let’s break this down a little. It’s not just about property rights, but about your very fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter! All his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement! —William Pitt

It should go without saying—but doesn’t—that resource extraction companies should not have the right to profit from YOUR property—or to damage it.  They should not pollute your well, or make noise at all hours, or shine lights into your windows, or have their trucks destroy the roads here on the taxpayers’ dimes. They should not be able to use eminent domain to drive pipelines through your family farm or hunting land. Eminent domain is a power the government can use for a public good. It is not a power that corporations can use because they want to wring out profit at your expense. But when resource extraction companies run afoul of laws that protect us from their abuse, they simply buy politicians to change the law

These are not isolated incidents. Witness: 

These companies should be here improving our state, not draining us dry. The constitution doesn’t guarantee corporations the right to make profits at all costs. They should not be able to force you to let them take what they want—or face legal consequences—just because they can buy politicians and access.

The market value of a property—or anything—is what the buyer will offer and what the owner will accept. If the buyer wants to pay less than the owner wants to receive, the buyer has to offer more… or not buy. Simple.

But forced pooling would remove the owner’s ability to hold out for a better price. The industry says, “We want what you’ve got! Here’s what you’re getting,” and you’re forced to take it. Not only that, the current bill even specifies that when your property is legally stolen in this way, no one is “liable for damages” to it.

When people are forced to accept a corporate offer, it CANNOT by definition be fair market value, because that force rigs the market price in their favor. The price of your asset, whether land or minerals or a baseball card, can’t appreciate if the law keeps it artificially low by forcing owners to accept. Plus, property value in particular is assessed in part by the value of all the other properties in your area. If everyone in your area has been forced to accept an artificially low price, that’s a great way to guarantee the price stays low, even for people who WANT to sell. Forced pooling is madness.

Forced pooling means big corporations can profit big from your property—while you can’t. They pay their CEOs an average of seven million a year, and lobby/buy politicians… but you can’t do that when your assets are being stolen and devalued.

Here’s the other stupid argument they give you: what if there’s a hold out who doesn’t want to sell, what THEN? They’re literally asking “What should we do if we don’t get everything we want?” Talk about an entitlement attitude!

So, uh… WHAT IF?

That means the hold-out is probably going to get a lot of money for selling, or is going to be able to leverage equity.

In other words, if you bought your house and property for 50K but you’ve held out and now it’s worth 500K… well, now you have $450K worth of equity and you’re doing pretty damn well.

You can sell, you can take your $450K profit and purchase a nicer house elsewhere, maybe travel. Get a hunting property or several. Or you can stay and use your equity to get low-interest loans, perhaps pay off high-interest credit card loans by securing against a home equity line of credit. If you’re still paying your mortgage, maybe you can refinance and get a lower payment with a dropped interest rate. What you do with the equity is up to you: it’s your windfall.

Only… forced pooling eliminates that possibility. Forced pooling shifts any profit individuals might make from their own real estate into the hands of Resource Barons.

Because here’s the thing: if they really want to purchase what you have, all they have to do is offer you a price you’re willing to sell for.

That’s why politicians like Joe Manchin are opposed to voting rights legislation like the For The People Act, which would put significant ethics laws in place and add controls on money in politics.  He is RAISING MONEY on being the holdout. And think also what controls on corporate money would mean to mainstream media outlets that make millions from political ads. The owners of media companies are also funded by, and beholden to, corporate money. This is often why they uncritically repeat the corporate talking points dirty politicians parrot for their corporate owners, just print or broadcast those talking points as if they’re true. 

Corporations don’t want to have to face the free market when they can buy dirty politicians like Joe… and politicians don’t want to have to compete in a competitive election where there are strict ethics laws and voters would choose based solely on the arena of ideas, rather than on the media narrative they’re able to buy with their dirty money.

Bottom line: If we don’t fight for democracy, we lose it.

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