Feral Drones...and Other Invasive Species

“There’s a bull market in targeted killings,” quips Lauren Lyster, the witty and insightful anchor of RT’s Capital Account.

Admittedly, this bull market is in its early stages. (Only a couple of American citizens, so far, have met their demise at the losing end of a killer-drone strike). But Lyster is formulating her view of the future by drawing trend-lines from the present — just like any forward-looking investor would do.

For example, the bull market in drone surveillance is already well established…and trending sharply higher. Likewise, the bull market in governmental intrusiveness is very robust…and trending sharply higher. Meanwhile, Constitutional rights and due process of law are slumping into a wretched bear market…and trending ever lower.

So if you get out your rulers and your #2 pencils and start drawing trend-lines, you won’t have to draw very far into the future until your lines intersect at the data point labeled, “Federal Agency Orders Drone Killing of Suspected Felon.”

In this mythological scenario, the “suspected felon” might be a derelict who had been running a meth lab next to an elementary school, in which case most folks would applaud a drone strike (without the hassle of a jury trial). But in the world that is coming our way, the suspected felon is just as likely to be a pig farmer who is raising “illegal” pigs.

Yes, it’s true, thanks to a new “Invasive Species Order” in the state of Michigan, numerous pig farmers have become potential felons. And the authorities are wasting no time bringing these outlaws to justice.

According to a story from NaturalNews, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources “conducted two armed raids on pig farmers…one in Kalkaska County at Fife Lake and another in Cheboygan County…with the intent of shooting all the farmers’ pigs under a bizarre new ‘Invasive Species Order’ that has suddenly declared traditional livestock to be an invasive species.”

The Capital Account’s Lyster brought the story to our attention yesterday and, by a bizarre coincidence, your editor discovered shortly thereafter that his niece, Jennifer Fry, had covered the story earlier this week for the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Ms. Fry remarked:

Is it lawful to own a pig in Michigan? It depends what the pig looks like.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a state administrative agency, has decided that certain breeds of swine must be eradicated in order to “stop the spread of feral swine and the disease risk they pose to humans, domestic pigs, and wildlife.” The problem is that, rather than focus on feral swine — the alleged source of the problem — the Department has issued an interpretive ruling so broad that any pig could qualify for destruction, including domestic farm animals.

Whether a pig is prohibited or not depends on eight physical characteristics, including the coloration of its bristles, coat coloration, underfur coloration, skeletal appearance, ear structure and “other characteristics not currently known to the [Department] that are identified by the scientific community.”

Rather than clarify the scope of this order, the Department has told individual farmers to bring in pictures of their pigs so the Department can decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether a pig must be destroyed. And any farmer found to possess a prohibited pig is subject to a felony conviction, two years in jail, and $20,000 in fines.

Mark Baker, an air force veteran and the owner of Bakers Green Acres Farm, filed a lawsuit challenging the Department’s order. Baker raises specific heritage breeds of hogs which he has chosen because they can withstand Michigan’s cold winters and because they are prized for their reddish-meat and high fat content by chefs and other gourmet food consumers. Now, because those breeds exhibit characteristics on the Department’s list, his entire operation is likely illegal under Michigan law; he expects the Department to show up at his farm any moment to destroy his animals and his livelihood.

Unsurprisingly, the Michigan Pork Producers Association — an organization whose members do not grow heritage pigs — supports the Department, which has allegedly assured the Association that its members’ operations will be exempt. It must be nice for large-scale producers who command enough political clout to simply outlaw their competition. Meanwhile, Mark Baker and other smaller-scale farmers must wait to see where the bureaucratic winds will blow.

As this episode highlights, administrative agencies constantly try to expand the scope of their jurisdiction to accumulate more and more power. Originally, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources was limited to regulating hunting and fishing. Now, it points to certain state laws and executive orders as authorizing its “Invasive Species Order” to include hogs. Even though that order claims to exclude domestic hog production from its reach, it does not exclude those pigs, like Baker’s, which exhibit the characteristics on the Department’s list. According to State Senator Darwin Booher, this order threatens to shut down an estimated 2,000 small farms in his state.

At a time when more and more people are relying on government welfare programs, it is ironic and self-defeating that government should chose to undermine local economies and put self-sufficient farms out of business.

You see how easy it has become to be a felon? Almost anyone can do it…just by trying to run a business.

The saga of the felon pig-farmers is just one little piece of a very disturbing mosaic. The individual pieces differ, but together they form a horrifying image: Americans are forfeiting their personal liberties in the name of security and freedom.

The plight of the felon pig-farmers, therefore, is part of the very same trend that has spawned the bull market in drone surveillance. And as Lyster points out, the bull market in drone surveillance has also spawned a kind of educational “drone rush.” College kids want to hitch their wagons to this booming growth industry.

“As the US Federal Aviation Administration prepares to let civilian unmanned aircraft operate in domestic airspace,” Bloomberg News reports, “universities including Embry-Riddle have created majors in flying and building drones…The drone industry, estimated worldwide at $5.9 billion annually, will expand to $11.3 billion by 2021, according to a report last year by the Teal Group Corp. of Fairfax, Virginia, which analyzes the industry. It’s ‘been the most dynamic growth sector of the aerospace industry this decade,’ the firm said in the report…

“The FAA is scheduled to release proposed rules later this year for allowing small drones to operate commercially in the US without special permission,” Bloomberg News continues. “Unmanned aircraft could be used for photography, police surveillance and monitoring pipelines and power lines. US Customs and Border Protection has special permission to use drones.”

Sure they could…and they could also be used for targeting and “neutralizing” threats like:

1) Suspected feral pigs
2) Suspected feral pig farmers
3) Suspected terrorists
4) Probable future terrorists
5) Colombian prostitutes who may possess classified information
6) People who act like they are guilty of something
7) People who gaze nervously towards the heavens
8) People who have difficulty speaking English
9) Other people who annoy us

With such an array of potential uses, is it any wonder that college kids have identified drone-anything as a growth industry?

“I like to be on the cutting edge,” one aspiring drone undergrad told Bloomberg News. “I think it’s just the beginning.”

So do we…

Unfortunately, Dear Reader, our story does not end there…

In yesterday’s edition of the 5-Minute Forecast, our colleague, Dave Gonergan, led his readers on a chilling tour through the place formerly known as “The Land of the Free.”

Here are a few highlights:

In the spirit of Patriots’ Day — the 237th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord that launched the American Revolution — we inventory a series of recent outrages.

Every new automobile sold in the United States come 2015 must be equipped with a “black box,” under the same odious legislation that links your passport to your back taxes.

(It’s called the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” or MAP-21 for short. Congressional aides get six-figure salaries to come up with this stuff.)

This way, if you’re involved in a crash, investigators will know, at minimum, the speed of the vehicles before impact… and whether everyone was wearing a seat belt.

“Coupled with GPS systems, the devices could provide the police with the ability to monitor private citizens’ movements in real-time,” says the law firm O’Reilly Collins in an analysis of the bill.

Want to just hide out in your home instead? Good luck. You always run the risk of police shooting your dog. That’s what happened to Michael Paxton of Austin, Texas, last weekend.

An officer was responding to a domestic disturbance call. “The 911 caller mistakenly gave the wrong address,” reports KVUE-TV. Paxton, getting something out of his truck parked in the driveway, had the ill fortune of being the first person the officer saw.

The officer gets out of his squad car with his gun drawn. First he tells Paxton to put his hands up. Then Paxton’s dog — a blue heeler named Cisco — comes out from the backyard. So the officer tells Paxton to control his dog.

Paxton, understandably reluctant to move his hands to perform that task, says frozen. Seconds later, Cisco lies in a pool of blood.

No one keeps national statistics of how often police shoot dogs. But “puppycide” is an almost daily fixture at the blog of Reason and Huffington Post writer Radley Balko. Records show one large Florida agency, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, has shot five dogs so far this year, and 12 last year.

Remarkably, Mr. Paxton managed to avoid arrest for “disobeying a lawful order.” And because he kept his cool despite his instant grief, he also steered clear of “disorderly conduct.”

“Lucky” for him. Many of the accused inside the US criminal justice system discover that they are guilty until proven innocent…and are on the hook for the legal fees…even after proven innocent!

If you happen to run afoul of the law and for whatever reason cannot pay your fine, you run the risk of being thrown in a modern-day debtors’ prison.

Actually, you can be thrown in debtors’ prison even if you’re innocent.

“In some states, public defender, pretrial jail and other court fees can be assessed on individuals even when they are not convicted of any crime,” writes George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrok.

“Failure to pay criminal justice fees can result in revocation of an individual’s driver’s license, arrest and imprisonment.

“Many of these charges,” he goes on, “are not for any direct costs imposed by the criminal, but have been added as revenue enhancers.” In Pennsylvania, for instance, a $5 fee supports the County Probation Officers’ Firearms Training Fund, an $8 fee supports the Judicial Computer Project, and a $250 fee goes to the DNA Detection Fund.

And these are the outrages we’ve collected from the last three days alone.

“The state is always inclined toward oppression, division, conquest and bloodshed, because these are its tools of trade,” writes the Independent Institute’s Anthony Gregory in an essay marking a rather different anniversary. It’s titled “We’re All Branch Davidians Now.”

“In the 19 years since Waco,” writes Mr. Gregory, “we have seen the police state explode in every direction, and now we are all ensnared.

“The prisons have swollen to the largest detention system since Stalin’s gulags. The police conduct 3,000 SWAT raids a month. The war on terror has made a total mockery of what remained of the Fourth Amendment. Torture has lost its taboo. So has indefinite detention. The feds irradiate and molest airline passengers by the millions…

“Every major police department has tanks and battle rifles and drones that are being used for surveillance and God-knows-what else. Each federal department has enough firepower to conquer a small third-world country. The Department of Homeland Security, alone, has ordered enough ammo to shoot every American man, woman and child. The president claims the right to kill American citizens anywhere on the planet on his say-so alone. And he exercises that power.”

Which brings us all the way back to Lauren Lyster’s observation, “There’s a bull market in targeted killings.” But remember, this bull market is just getting underway. So there’s still time to get on the right side of this trade — the safe and sane side.

The government’s growing intrusiveness still seems relatively benign — if not absolutely appropriate and necessary — to most Americans. They don’t really care very much if the TSA gets a little too intimate with Granny or if Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources rolls Gatling guns into a few pig farms.

These are mere inconveniences in the crusade to “protect America.”

But step-by-step, government-intrusion-by-government-intrusion, we Americans are forfeiting our civil liberties in the name of freedom.

Today, the government is hunting down feral pigs. Tomorrow, the government’s drones may “go feral” and start hunting down US citizens…all in the name of liberty.

The state of Michigan considers feral pigs to be a dangerous “invasive species.” But America’s most dangerous invasive species are not pigs; they are the folks who decide which of your Constitutional rights are obstructing their lawless agendas. They are the folks who believe that shiny badges and well-pressed uniforms are an adequate substitute for due process of law. They are the folks who may soon monitor your behavior from a surveillance drone to determine if the route you take to work and the espresso drink you order from Starbucks are consistent with a “terrorist profile.”

They are the folks who aggressively compromise or confiscate your liberties while purporting to protect them…and these folks are not going away. Draw the trend-lines.


Eric Fry
for The Daily Reckoning