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How the DEA took a young man’s life savings without charging him with a crime (washingtonpost.com)
602 points by rl3 on May 13, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 433 comments

While civil forfeiture is scary, my (very very brief) stint doing criminal law as a public defender showed me that there's also a bigger side of this -- seizing the assets of individuals who are charged with a crime so that they cannot attain private counsel, make bail, or receive any creature comforts while incarcerated. What will generally happen is that after sitting in jail for 120+ days, they'll jump at any opportunity to be released; that includes a plea agreement that includes no more jail time, but, generally also includes more financial obligations (probation, fine, license reinstatement) against the defendant.

We've moved away from a society where the police were there to truly protect and serve the community (think 1950's/60's beat cop walking the blocks during his shift) to a totalitarian police state (constant erosion of the 4th amendment, nexus centers, sweeping overreaches of the third party doctrine, stingrays, and mass deployment of license plate scanners). Big Brother would be proud.

The State of New Mexico has just banned asset forfeiture.

HB 560, introduced by New Mexico Rep. Zachary Cook and passed unanimously in the legislature, replaces civil asset forfeiture with criminal forfeiture, which requires a conviction of a person as a prerequisite to losing property tied to a crime. The new law means that New Mexico now has the strongest protections against wrongful asset seizures in the country.

Link to the bill:


The WaPo article (the submission) mentions this bill, but finishes:

"But New Mexico's law only affects state law enforcement officials. As a result, in New Mexico — and everywhere else, for that matter — DEA agents will be able to board your train, ask you where you're going and take all your cash if they don't like your story, all without ever charging you with a crime."

It sounds like a semi-criminalization of cash in practice.

Not at all. They steal bank accounts, boats, cars, and houses as well.

Sure, but I've got about as much money in my bank account (as opposed to cash) and nobody has ever asked me to prove it wasn't gained illicitly if I wanted it back. I've got friends with boats, I've owned cars, and currently living in a house owned by my SO. None of us has been targeted just for having those things.

While I'm sure that they wouldn't hesitate to seize those assets if any of us were charged with some sort of drug offense, it doesn't come close to the way cash is treated. In this case and in others, the mere possession of a large sum of cash can be grounds for suspicion and seizure. It's like you don't really have a right to keep your money unless it's accessed via some plastic card or routing number.

> It's like you don't really have a right to keep your money unless it's accessed via some plastic card or routing number.

They have an apparatus in place to track all of your money, as long as it's in electronic form. That way they can control your spending and make sure you don't spend it on things they don't like (drugs, prostitution, insert illegal behavior/good here). When you use cash, a method they have limited control over, the very act of using it becomes subversive.

Why would you use cash unless you wanted to do something illegal with it?

That's the question ringing in their minds. The very act of using cash becomes ground for suspicion.

Doesn't this just mean that the will rob you _and_ additionally charge you with some made-up crime and let you rot in jail until you sign the plea deal?

> additionally charge you with some made-up crime and let you rot in jail until you sign the plea deal

There are supposed to be other protections for this. The sixth amendment, for instance, says: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial...", which means that they can't just "let you rot in jail."

In practice, though, sometimes you do rot in jail. :/

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial..."

That varies from state to state. In my state, the District Attorney just has to get you to trial within a year of your arrest.

Not showing up to work for a year because you couldn't afford bail can have a negative impact on one's finances, to say the least.

Speedy public trials, in this day and age, can take a year or more from the time of conviction.

That's a long time to spend in jail - a location where you have no real freedoms.

That's the worst part of it, this process of flagrant violation of the Constitution. In essence, the government has become a treasonous organization in direct violation and contradiction to the Constitution.

If the original authors could define a speedy trial in terms of days and a couple weeks, there is no rational justification for why in this day and age a speedy trial can't be a matter of minutes or hours, or at worst days.

The most dangerous enemy is the one within and the traitor in your midst.

Are minutes/hours/days really enough for a defense counsel? Many times not... the time it takes to get to trial isn't only a matter of the government letting you rot. Not to mention that a given backlog and limited number of judges, the formation of juries, etc.

In the face of such tilted odds, some people consider themselves freedom fighters more than criminals. Perspective matters.

There's a difference between being charged and convicted. If the text is correct, they can't rob you until you've been convicted of a crime in a court of law. So that means while you rot in jail under a fake charge you at least still have your stuff.

Which you will then start to sell off so you can afford the legal defense required to fight the false charges. A person can be found innocent of all charges but still be wiped out financially from defending themselves. That's called "justice".

>A person can be found innocent of all charges but still be wiped out financially from defending themselves. That's called "justice".

And say the false charge was one with a social stigma, say child molestation. Now not only are you financially wiped out, not only have you lost your job, but your name is now tied with a crime which people will often not care if you were found not guilty (or even found innocent). And the only thing you can do to stop it is to say a prayer that you aren't going to be the next one wrongly charged.

    We've moved away from a society where the police were
    there to truly protect and serve the community (think
    1950's/60's beat cop walking the blocks during his
    shift) to a totalitarian police state (constant erosion
    of the 4th amendment, nexus centers, sweeping
    overreaches of the third party doctrine, stingrays, and
    mass deployment of license plate scanners). Big Brother
    would be proud.
Erm... a little bit of revisionist history there.

You do realize that Martin Luther King Jr. was under watch by FBI Plants his entire public life, and warrantlessly spied upon under COINTELPRO?

You do realize that Fred Hampton was drugged by an FBI Plant, before 40+ Police raided his home and shot him dead with automatic weapons as he slept? (also part of COINTELPRO program)

The problems of policing are the same problems that have occurred for years. There were _always_ good cops who did their business correctly, there have _always_ been bad cops who have abused the system. As for the system... obviously it is constantly under flux, but I do think we're making improvements over the long run.

I argue that today's system is superior to the 1950s. Anyone who disagrees with me is welcome to offer the first blow in a debate here and now. But mind you, good luck beating out COINTELPRO... which was not only warrantless spying on innocent Americans... but also was involved in direct assassinations in broad daylight.

Its as if people have _completely_ forgotten about 1950s history. Red Scare? COINTELPRO? Civil Rights? Black Panthers getting assassinated by police? Lynching in the streets? McCarthyism? House Un-American Activities Committee? The Office of Censorship?

These American institutions were shut down as the civil rights movement gained steam in the 1960s.

Good gosh people. Life is better today. Not perfect... but better by all measurements. Learn some history, and stop pretending that the 1950s were a peaceful time. In the 1950s, you'd lose your job if

I can't recall the where I heard this before but I once heard that drug dealers purchase and wear expensive gold necklaces because if/when they get busted and booked, cash can [more easily] be confiscated (forfeited) by the police and assumed to be "dirty" drug money while gold necklaces need to be inventoried and kept safe as personal belongings. Then the dealer can get bail money from a friend with them knowing they can go and pawn the necklace to obtain cash.

>We've moved away from a society where the police were there to truly protect and serve the community (think 1950's/60's beat cop

lol maybe if you're white

welcome to the logic that everyone has had to operate under

AFAIK, before the war on drugs, civil forfeiture had seen significant use during Prohibition, against cars used to transport contraband. Which means most of the targets would have been white bootleggers.

But I'm being pedantic. I do agree with the spirit of your comment - it is vital that we immediately divide along race lines, lest any actual change take place.

Everybody in Andy Grifith's idyllic town was white. Meanwhile half the country lived under legally sanctioned apartheid.

What's happened to our country is the equivalent of "death by a thousand cuts". I place blame on having devolved into a system where we have professional politicians and voters who are either apathetic, under-informed or both.

when government agencies can bypass courts and assign fines, not offer jury trials, what safety does the common man have?

Civil forfeiture is a major problem but the abuse of using administrative law judges (ALJs) is becoming a big one as well.

Here's another example of how dreadful civil forfeiture is:


Hey. Do you have the expertise needed to weigh in on my question? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9536840 Thanks!

Why is this? I mean, are the police forces so (money) broke that they've needed to make up the difference by becoming this way? Or are they truly corrupt (I find this unlikely)?

Law enforcement isn't entirely corrupt, it is just fulfilling its purpose, i.e. to protect the interests of the powerful.

With some states banning civil forfeiture and many states legalizing marijuana etc, there still seems to be some tiny hope. On the whole though, yeah, it does seem bad.

How many commenters here have a deep personal commitment to press their representatives to change this law?

Is this all jaw-jaw and no action?

Are you really proposing they represent me?


Fuck that. Even criminals deserve fair legal council. And to not be treated like filthy animals.

Shame on you.

Edit: downvotes deserved. I read it several times and still interpreted the first paragraph to be in support of taking money because it denied full legal access. My brain flipped a word into "good". Despite being a public defender no less! Leaving comment anyways because that seems like the honest thing to do. Sorry.

OP was a public defender.

It would seem you might want to read the comment you replied to again.


There is a good novelisation of this process in the Dean Koontz book Dark Rivers of the Heart. Worth a read.

I am concerned that by calling it "civil forfeiture" this article is using language to mask a very basic crime.

What was described in this article is called stealing or theft. To call it anything else is to mask and downplay what was done to this man. It is to enable the very act that was committed.

George Carlin observed this as a dangerous trend in our language: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEQixrBKCc

Call it "civil forfeiture" once if you have to (perhaps as a footnote). But to repeatedly use such "soft language" is to delay an end to such injustice.

You could imagine reading it this way: DEA agents confronted the only black man in the train car and demanded he open his bags, shook him down, and stole his cash. In a brazen theft which DEA agents later claimed was legal under the veil of "civil forfeiture" the state prosecutor has refused to press charges, and the judge on the case has refused to provide relief for the plaintiff...

I hope we continue to see a relentless stream of articles highlighting these cases one after another until finally the outcry builds loud enough for something substantive to be done at the federal level. It's to the point where we need an 'Audit the Fed' level response to scrutinize every dollar seized, and victims should be compensated in full, with interest.

I wonder how the story would have gone differently if the man had refused to consent to the search. Probably not much better, heck, that would probably be considered 'evidence' against his money.

I also wonder what the burden of proof is for showing the source of the funds. If you walk into court with bank statements and W-2s, why is it so hard to get the money back? Judges are obstructing this for some reason, and I think that's an angle to the story we haven't seen much reported.

It's hard to get your money back because the government treats it as if it weren't your money. What happens is since the DEA can't prove you're involved in a crime they sue... your money. There will be a case in federal court that will be something like "Leonhart v $23,174". They don't even have to notify you.

So. At this point you're not a party to the proceeding, so you can't do any of the normal things you'd do if the DEA was suing you, and you certainly don't have the presumption of innocence you'd have in criminal court. You have to petition the court to be involved in your own case. Because your money is just sitting there not doing much to defend itself. Once you're officially involved, the burden of proof is on you to show you came by the cash honestly.

I used to play a lot of relatively high stakes poker. Guys I played with would be carrying a fair amount of cash (more than the subject of this story), and it was common knowledge if you got robbed it would most likely be by the cops.

The gallows humor around the table was "So when their investigation turns up nothing you ask if they'll be returning your money. 'No,' they explain."

But there is some process by which you can prove the money is yours and you are entitled for it to be returned? For example, petitioning to be involved in the case, can it be denied? Is it just a procedural nightmare? Then what? I'd just be interested in the deeper story about actually trying to get the money back. If you show the paper trail of exactly where the dollars came from, are the judges still ruling against it and keeping the money? That's sounds like an entirely seprate layer of corruption which is going unreported.

I've seen it written many times that it often costs more to get the asset back than they're worth. That cost to the lawyer is also cost to the state and judicial system, and typically the justices don't take kindly to anyone wasting their time. I'm not reading about the massive backlog of forfeiture cases, mostly it seems like people don't even try.

On the one hand I hear that JDs are dropping like flies because there's no work, and on the other hand I hear there's tens of billions of dollars in money sitting in a big pot waiting for lawyers to try to get some of that back on contingency?

I found one blog after a bit of searching which has an interesting summary (criminal and civil forfeiture considered) I'm guessing that most people targeted, as usual, simply don't know their rights, and don't bother fighting for them, even when there's thousands of dollars on the line. [1]

The narrative that you can't get the money back I think is damaging to the cause of clamping down on forfeiture abuse. In fact you can get the money back [2], and particularly in cases like TFA, when the prosecutors office starts having to allocate a larger part of their workweek defending this bile they will start pushing back on it as well.

[1] - http://brendagrantland.com/truthjustice/how-to-defend-5th-am... [2] - http://fear.org

>I'm not reading about the massive backlog of forfeiture cases, mostly it seems like people don't even try.

For two reasons. One, you can't afford a lawyer because the government took your money. And two, there's not a lot of point in spending $300k to get $12.5k back from the government. The DEA is using tax dollars - they can stretch out the proceedings until you run out of money.

>And two, there's not a lot of point in spending $300k to get $12.5k back from the government. //

Don't injured parties receive costs from the perpetrators in USA courts? The risk may not be worth it but provided you have reasonable legal costs they get paid, surely? Also if the action is without due process or is malicious then you'd get punitive damages as well wouldn't you [which would have to be high to discourage the behaviour in the future]? At least in a democracy you'd have these things ...

In general, not unless the judge rules the claim was made in bad faith. There are some specific exceptions.


The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) ammended the law specifically in civil forfeiture cases so that you should be awarded attorney fees if you "substantially prevail". Unfortunately, the courts have decided to interpret this as meaning something mystical other than simply winning the case on the merits.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/2465 -- See (b)(1)

... and attorneys that do win seem to find it hard to get their money, http://brendagrantland.com/truthjustice/tag/english-rule/.

Personally I think the American Rule is terrible in general, now I understand more why USA has [an appearance of having] so much litigation.

The problem is that you're paying for legal representation. Even if you get the money back by the time you pay legal bills there may not be much of it left.

So this 'civil forfeiture' is appalling and Orwellian enough in its own right, but it's also one of those cases where the apparent inability to award costs in US courts seems truly insane.

If this happened under the English legal system, you can be pretty sure the courts would make the DEA pay both sides' legal costs for meritless seizures like this one.

So if you were prepared to take the risk of going to court you'd at least stand a good chance of getting all your money back.

(IANAL, But My Wife Is).

In my opinion the English courts don't even go far enough.

There are plenty of cases where it's worthwhile for a malicious actor to antagonize someone, safe in the knowledge that the most they can lose is the legal costs. That is, if the victim is able to offer the significant effort and cash enough to seek legal recourse.

What if I wrap my (virtual) money in a simple script that allows it to defend itself by hiring a lawyer or, at least, contacting me?

Even if the money were sentient and capable of arguing for itself and defending its own case better than a good lawyer, here's what would happen: You can only authorize a legal person to use computer equipment. It is impossible to authorize a pile of money to use computer equipment. Therefore any computer equipment that is used by the pile of money (including that of the owner of the money) is used without consent, and therefore runs afoul of anti-piracy / anti-hacking laws, and your money will be charged with High Tech Fraud.

Since the money is not a legal person, legal responsibility would probably fall to the owner at the time of the crime (just like it falls to the "owner" of a child, their parents) and you would get punished along with your money. On top of this the money is automatically guilty and must pay reparations and punitives, which means you need to pay more of it as legal guardian of the now-bankrupt money.

And on and on down the rabbit hole it goes...

> Since the money is not a legal person, legal responsibility would probably fall to the owner at the time of the crime (just like it falls to the "owner" of a child, their parents) and you would get punished along with your money.

Right, but at least now you've managed to get yourself involved in the case, meaning that you can now invoke things like "right to counsel", no?

Yes, but if you do so you become eligible for charges of Conspiracy for High Tech Fraud, and a Conspiracy charge opens up a whole other can of worms you really don't want to mess with.

True, but at least there's now a lawyer involved, so you've got that going, with is nice.

(Which, granted, may or may not be a positive depending on one's opinions of lawyers)

What if the money was incorporated?

Oh, then that's simple. The $30,000 USD corporation pays a fine of $374, reparations for the officer's time to the tune of $41.75, and then is severely reprimanded with a warning not to do it again on threat of further monetary retribution.

I find it hard to believe that the US have anything like "presumption of innocence" in civil court.

Are you sure you're not mixing up civil and criminal proceedings?

Yeah, I meant criminal. It's fixed.

> I wonder how the story would have gone differently if the man had refused to consent to the search.

Probably taze the guy, then shoot him 7 times in the back as he runs off

This is so last year. Current trends in LE is to first shoot the guy than taze him

That is so Q1. This quarter it's shoot the guy in the back then put your tazer in his hand and tell the press you felt threatened.

...and then ask if you consent to a search of your bag.

There are candidates in the lineup for presidency who are against such practices. Instead of waiting for momentum to build, one can take action now.

I would think candidates would be prime targets with all that money laying around and no way of proving how they got it.

Then again we know that won't happen since the cop would most likely get in trouble so it's just a law to steal money from the common people who can't defend themselves.

Source of the funds doesn't matter. What was stolen from me by the FBI was known to be clean, was not the profits of any crime.

They just took it.

That's a good idea for a blog.

George Orwell wrote a fantastic essay on this that is worth reading:

>In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.


dropping of the atom bombs on Japan

I respectfully disagree that it's indefensible. It was either 100,000 Japanese civilians in those 2 cities OR million or more American casualties. AND if the invasion had taken place, millions and millions of Japanese civilians would've died also.

I agree, with proper PR language, anything can be made look half decent and therefore tolerable.

This thread is probably dead, but the main arguments I hear from people saying it was wrong is that Japan was extremely close to surrender and even negotiating terms before the bombs.

Also that it didn't need to be dropped on a populated city first, and that previous bombing of cities in the war proved that the tactic was relatively ineffective. And that the US had a conflict of interest; they wanted to end the war before the Russians were involved. As well as demonstrate the capability of the bomb to them.

Everything I said is debatable, and I don't blame Truman for making the decision he did. But Orwell's comment, that the arguments involved are "too brutal to bear" is definitely true. Most people can't answer the trolley problem, a hypothetical situation where you have to kill one innocent person to save 5.

Now imagine instead of 1 person it's thousands, and they aren't all just killed instantly but some horribly maimed or irradiated. And that whether it will work wasn't certain, or that the horrible alternative wasn't certain, and that there are all sorts of possible third options, etc. And so whatever you think the best choice is, the arguments involved are extremely brutal.

  I respectfully disagree that it's indefensible. It was either 100,000 Japanese 
  civilians in those 2 cities OR million or more American casualties. 
  AND if the invasion had taken place, millions and millions of Japanese 
  civilians would've died also.
I respectfully disagree with your defense as it's speculative.

Iwo Jima? And ALL other Japanese islands that had to be conquered?

## EDIT I don't mean to be dismissive but anyone with even remote knowledge of what went on to recapture all the Japanese held islands in the Pacific during the WW2 will say the nukes were needed.

On all the islands that US Marines/soldiers fought on to recapture from Japan, Japanese units were usually wiped to the last man. And this kind of resistance to the last man was repeated on every single island.

Example, Saipan island. Out of 31,000 Japanese soldiers, only 921 were captured. 24000 were killed and 5000 committed suicide. 22000 Japanese civilians died, mostly from suicides.

US suffered 3426 killed and 10364 wounded.

For an island of 44 square miles.

## end EDIT

No, he said that these things "can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties."

That is not the same thing as saying that they are indefensible.

Without nukes, it was gong to be more brutal than death of 100,000 civilian lives.

As in death of millions of Japanese civilians. A million or so US casualty was projected.


It's not disputable.

Do you know how hard it was for US marines to retake the Japanese held islands?

Orwell's quote was: > ... can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.

>million or more American casualties ?? Isn't that PR language itself?

Look at what it cost US Marines to take away Japanese held islands.

And what if it was going to take half a million American casualties? And it still would've killed lots and lots of Japanese civilians and soldiers. Far more than 100,000 Japanese would've died.

Have you read anything about any of the campaigns by US Marines? Not accusing you of ignorance or anything. Just wondering if you know some history.

Well in medieval times we called these people "robber knights" [1].

<!-- BO sarcasm -->

Good to see, that the US are capable of learning from history by importing great achievements and ideas of former times from the old world.

<!-- EO sarcasm -->

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robber_baron

It's not just theft, it's conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

There's a great deal of reluctance in the media to use anything but official terms for these things. For a widespread recent example, see the constant usage of "enhanced interrogation" and a complete absence of the word "torture" except when repeating its usage by someone else.

I agree with your conclusion, but this is an example of the "worst argument in the world": http://lesswrong.com/lw/e95/the_noncentral_fallacy_the_worst...

Civil forfeiture isn't "soft language", it's a precise legal term. You may not agree with the principle (I certainly don't), but calling it theft is no different from a libertarian doing the same with taxation.

It's a hell of a lot different from a popularly-legislated general tax on the economy. These people are committing literal armed robbery, in order to fund themselves. It is explicitly contrary to the Fifth Amendment of the constitution, in spirit and in letter. They are pulling people over and rifling through their wallets for cash. That's not supposed to be how constitutional liberal democracy works, at a very fundamental level.

"nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.""

"Civil asset forfeiture" precisely resembles the worst caricature of the behavior we were attempting to defend against when we wrote that. And it's affecting everybody going through police jurisdictions that rely on that revenue, not just the minorities that the drug war was designed to persecute in order to get Reagan & Bush Sr re-elected.

I understand some of the politics of why the executive and the legislature ramped this up - perceptions that a generation of children was being lost to a class of sinister urban drug-pushers, and a desire for vigilante justice even when we couldn't convict them of anything. I don't understand how any judge anywhere could approve any of it. They're supposed to be above that. If you accept these legal fictions into your worldview, what's the point of having a justice system at all?

This should have been ended decades ago, when hysteria about the 'crack epidemic' wore down. As far as I'm concerned, when a local cop steals money from you and claims he has a form that says that's okay, that's a reason for the FBI or Internal Affairs to come in and prosecute that person. Because they stopped being a legitimate representative of the people in any capacity: they stopped shepherding law-abiding citizens and started feeding on them. We used to have a word for that, 'dirty cops', and we used to believe, or at least hope, they were aberrations.

Are you saying you haven't noticed the systemic pattern of baking soft language into laws?

Have you not noticed the names they put on bills to get them through Congress (state or federal)? Right to Work? No Child Left Behind? DOMA, Internet Freedom Act. Hell, the Affordable Care Act (I SAID IT, sue me!)

These guys have it figured out, and when we figure it out they just change tactics. If they're that brazenly Orwellian on the title page how can they not be spending time softening the text in the middle?

In Germany we have a great blog dedicated to detecting these words and dismantling them. And showing what they really mean and what the cover.

It is called "Neusprech.org" (newspeak.org translated). Really a great resource.

You may not agree with the principle (I certainly don't), but calling it theft is no different from a libertarian doing the same with taxation.

I would say that calling civil forfeiture as theft makes more sense then comparing civil forfeiture to taxation. Unless you live in an area where "taxation" means armed men come to your house and demand all your cash on April 15th.

Honestly, I don't really buy the argument that in cases like this, its wrong to call the action theft. I don't find the terms mutually exclusive depending on the context.

> Unless you live in an area where "taxation" means armed men come to your house and demand all your cash on April 15th.

They don't bother with armed men. If I refuse to pay long enough, they just take it straight out of my paycheck (wage garnishment). No need to intimidate someone when you own their bank.

Unless you live in an area where "taxation" means armed men come to your house and demand all your cash on April 15th.

It's the threat of armed men being sent for them that compels most people to pay their taxes and file the return.

Both taxation and civil forfeiture have much in common with theft.

Under some legal systems I can execute a homosexual for merely being a homosexual. But don't you dare call that murder.

Under some legal systems you can own a sex slave, but don't you dare call it rape.

Under some legal systems the government can take what they want because the law allows them, but don't you dare call it theft.

We shouldn't use technical jargon because it obscures the plain fact that they are stealing.

What's the articulable suspicion? "He had the money, so we took it" about sums it up. In its time, I believe civil forfeiture can serve a just and necessary purpose, but this is not it.

> Civil forfeiture isn't "soft language", it's a precise legal term.

It is both.

> calling it theft is no different from a libertarian doing the same with taxation.

Taxation today is theft.

Taxation isn't theft.

Taxation is you paying the bill you've incurred for living in this country. You've lived here, gotten some benefit from the services the government provides, and when the bill comes you start saying "theft!! theft!!!"?

The anti-tax crowd is the biggest bunch of moochers and freeloaders this side of Wall Street. They're just out for a free ride, leaving the rest of us to pay for it.

How about 'taxation may be theft'? Depending upon how it is done and how much of a tax there is compared to the benefits.

For example, a one time tax of 30% of all bank accounts would be considered theft. Paying a gas tax to care for the road you use would not.

Also, some of the corrupt dealings of Congress would be theft from the government, and since that raises taxes on the individuals, I think it would be reasonable to consider it theft.

Stereotypes and ad hominem don't help the conversation.

I am not "anti-tax". I think taxation is a good idea as it helps a community re-invest in itself. I am anti-theft.

Saying today's taxation is not theft won't change the reality that it is. Nor will downvoting this post change that reality. In fact, barring a change in the definition of the word, there is not a single action in this universe that can change the reality that taking something that belongs to someone else without their permission is theft.

You agree to pay taxes by continuing to live here.

Taxes aren't theft any more than the check at the end of a restaurant meal is theft.

In both cases, you agree to pay something in exchange for something (a meal, a functioning government, etc).

>You agree to pay taxes by continuing to live here.

Does one agree to civil forfeiture by continuing to live where it is legal?

I'd happily pay taxes for a functioning government. That's what I ordered when I sat down. But I daresay that's not what I was served.

> You agree to pay taxes by continuing to live here.

If we were free to move to a country where we agreed with the laws you might be right. That's not reality though.

We are not (currently) free to choose how we pay taxes in any country and our freedom to move from one country to another is restricted.

So, sorry, I never agreed to pay these taxes, I have little say in how they're used, and I have no alternatives except to go to prison. That's not freedom. That's simply coercion and theft.

You are free to move to another country. The fact that no other country meets your very specific requirements doesn't mean that you are not obligated to pay for living in this one.

If no automobile maker will sell you the exact car you want, that does not grant you the right to take a car without paying for it.

So, yes, you do agree to pay these taxes by continuing to live here.

> You are free to move to another country.

Please explain how I can do that. I would actually like to move to Switzerland, could you explain how I can freely do that as everything I've researched indicates it's neither free nor possible in any reasonable amount of time. If not Switzerland I'll settle for some other country where I can live freely and be safe from coercion.

> If no automobile maker will sell you the exact car you want...

Nobody is forcing me to buy the car with the threat of prison if I don't, and I do not need a car to survive. I do need to live someplace however.

If you live someplace and don't pay rent at the end of the month, the landlord will bill you, even if you're desperately searching for somewhere else.

For some reason, most anti-taxers consider this not to be "coercion" but to be an efficient way of allocating resources and will defend to the death the landlord's right to demand that I compensate him for occupying a particular location he has a prior claim over. The rationale behind treating private territorial claims on my wealth more favourably than public ones continues to elude me...

One involves non-coercive mutual consent (a signed agreement), the other doesn't.

I never signed a contract with my landlord.

Someone born in a particular house with a third party claiming ownership rights faces exactly the same keep paying up or vacate dilemma as someone born in a particular country. In both cases, they might find it difficult to find a piece of territory that is both appealing to live and doesn't involve paying someone else for their right to occupy it.

This is not at all the same situation.

The relationship governments have with their citizens is unique.

It goes like this: give us a chunk of your entire income forever or else we'll throw you in prison. Don't like it? Say good-bye to all your friends and family and enjoy surviving in a country where you don't understand anything anyone is saying, which will probably just give you the same ultimatum.

That's simply mafia-style protection-money robbery.

There is another option: voluntary association and voluntary taxation. This is just one possible form it can take: http://groupcurrency.org

I can assure you both that my landlord will be equally keen to exercise the full force of the law if I don't continue to pay him the rate he asks for each month, and that I'd have to move quite a long way from my friends and family to find somewhere I can live rent free. If he puts the rent up too much then my flatmates and I don't have any hope of voting him out either!

Finding a jurisdiction in which English is widely spoken and there's no income tax is actually surprisingly easy...

You do give consent by continuing to live here past the age of maturity.

When you're a child, and your parents have custody of you, they make that choice for you--you're a citizen here, here's where you'll live, be politically involved, and pay taxes.

When you're old enough to make that choice for yourself, that's when you can stay--with all that entails--or go.

There are several reasons why this argument does not work. The most important is that US law says that US citizens must pay taxes, even those who live in other countries. The only way to avoid it is to give up US citizenship. That can only be done outside of the US, and by an adult.

It's therefore impossible for any US citizen to legally avoid paying tax at least once, assuming sufficient income to have to pay tax in the first place.

Do note that this law also applies to foreign born US citizens, who are citizens by blood but who have never even visited the US. For obvious reasons, many of these citizens either don't know about their obligations under US law, or deliberately ignore it.

Of course you can avoid paying tax at least once: on the day of your 18th birthday, weigh the options about leaving, leave, and renounce your citizenship.

Or, don't work until you decide to leave, and then leave.

That it requires very quick timing or unusual planning to end your obligation does not mean that you don't need to pay it when you are obliged to.

Well in that case, there's no reason to pay taxes at all - simply don't every earn enough to pay taxes. But that's an absurd solution. Otherwise you would have said "You do give consent by continuing to live here past the age of maturity and making enough money to be taxed". (I assume that the major issue is income tax, not sales tax.)

In any case, the current cost to renounce your citizenship is $2,350. You might say it's a "fee" and not a "tax". That label is irrelevant in the overarching context of financial obligations imposed upon a person. Otherwise the US should just charge everyone a fee for having US citizenship and forget about the whole "tax" issue.

Assuming you can afford to move, renounce citizenship, etc.

Moving just within the United States can end up being an expensive endeavor as is. Moving out of it isn't any more affordable, meaning that your argument basically amounts to "tough luck, poor people".

Not that I believe taxes are inherently bad, but the implication that "you can always leave if you don't like it" is misleading at best (and realistically outright false for a rather large segment of the American population).

Whether you can afford to leave--and free yourself from the obligation of paying taxes here--does not change your basic obligation to paying a share of the government of the land you inhabit.

Which I'm fine with, because that's understandable. My point was solely in response to the assertion of "you can leave if you don't like it", since the action of "leaving" is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people.

You can leave the U.S. whenever you want. The U.S. isn't restricting your ability to leave.

If the country of your choice doesn't permit you to emigrate, that doesn't mean that you're suddenly free from your obligations to whatever country will host you.

Wouldn't that be convenient? "Sir, I don't have to pay taxes. I want to move to Switzerland, but they're full right now, so I can't."

(And the "threat of prison" is some of the dumbest hyperbole out of the antitax crowd--for nearly all cases, they'll simply garnish your wages, or something equally non-freedom-constraining.)

And the "threat of prison" is some of the dumbest hyperbole out of the antitax crowd--for nearly all cases, they'll simply garnish your wages, or something equally non-freedom-constraining.

Oh they regularly send people to prison for failing to pay taxes. Does the name Wesley Snipes ring a bell? They sent him to prison for three years on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns, even after he brought a check to court for the outstanding balance.

On a basic level, that's what all laws are. They are a series of escalating punishments and threats that end soon after "then, we'll send guys with guns to take you to prison".

While you can theoretically leave the U.S. whenever you want, you cannot stop paying taxes whenever you want.

You have to renounce citizenship, pay a fine for renouncing said citizenship to avoid paying taxes and possibly be audited. And you might argue that's fine, because they should be able to collect back taxes but you'll generally have to pay taxes for the next 10 years.

So, putting aside the immigration issues, and assuming you could move to wherever you wanted it's still not possible.

It doesn't help if all other countries both severely restrict entry and/or force a tax upon you. I'd just end up in the same exact situation.

> And the "threat of prison" is some of the dumbest hyperbole...

It's not hyperbole. If you willfully fail to file that's grounds for imprisonment:


You're probably thinking of cases when people "forget" or make "mistakes" in their filing.

> ...out of the antitax crowd

I mentioned this already, I am not anti-tax. Please cut it with the labeling. It's late. We're going in circles. Have a good night, I won't be replying to whatever you post next.

Fine, you're not antitax. You're just engaging in a lengthy thread debate using their common arguments. I stand by my statement w.r.t. the antitax crowd.

And again, whether all other countries do not meet your preference or requirement does not free you from your obligations to this one, as long as you live here.

Whether other countries don't allow you in, don't allow you to stay, don't govern the way you like, or whatever other complaint you may have about other countries, that does not change your present-day relationship to this one: that you live here, and as such are obligated to pay taxes as long as you do.

And of course there are, right now, many other countries that you could emigrate to if you liked. Even if your A-list countries aren't open, you still have lots of options.

My hat is off to Frondo and notahacker. I've occasionally (regrettably, foolishly) tried to argue it out with the "taxation is theft" folks, and this is the first time I've seen one of them actually give up from exhaustion. I'm sure he'll recharge and come back tomorrow once he looks up the next argument in his playbook, but even temporary victories must be savored.

Sorry, itistoday2, I'm sure you're a nice person in person, but the argument you're making is obnoxious. Have you noticed how people get really annoyed when you make it? It's not because it's a good argument!

> Have you noticed how people get really annoyed when you make it? It's not because it's a good argument!

People also used to get annoyed when people said the Earth wasn't the center of the solar system.

They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Einstein, and they laughed at Bozo the Clown.

a quick google search shows you several countries that have no income tax. So sorry, you never researched your own argument.


Of the most "livable" countries:

- United Arab Emirates: don't want to live in the middle east, no thanks. I disagree with many of the laws there and have no close family or friends anywhere nearby.

- Bahamas: gotta buy land there or pay an annual fee. This is probably the most reasonable of all options, but my work precludes me from living there.

- Bermuda: One of the world's most expensive places to live. Possible if I could afford it (can't at the moment).

- Andorra: would be awesome. Not sure what the situation is with living there as a non-citizen (it takes 20 years to become one). Since one has to be a citizen of some country one wouldn't be able to renounce their US citizenship for 20 years (at least) and therefore would still have to pay income taxes to the United States.

- Monaco: "Getting a residence permit practically requires millionaire status."

I think ebrenes framed the situation well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9540888

Copied here:


While you can theoretically leave the U.S. whenever you want, you cannot stop paying taxes whenever you want.

You have to renounce citizenship, pay a fine for renouncing said citizenship to avoid paying taxes and possibly be audited. And you might argue that's fine, because they should be able to collect back taxes but you'll generally have to pay taxes for the next 10 years.


10 years, 20 years, whatever.

None of this changes the fact that what is being done in the United States is theft, plain and simple. The government never came to me and asked if I agreed to any of these income taxes, they just say pay up or we'll ruin your life. No negotiation, no agreed upon exchange for goods or services, just extortion.

It is not theft.

You listed several countries you could move to. The fact that you don't want to move to any of them, for whatever reason, does not turn US taxation into "theft".

And again, you agree to pay them by continuing to live here.

Just like, when you sit down at a restaurant and order a meal, you're agreeing to pay for it without negotiation, without a specific contract outlining specifications for the food, etc. Don't like it? Go to another restaurant.

> Just like, when you sit down at a restaurant and order a meal, you're agreeing to pay for it without negotiation, without a specific contract outlining specifications for the food, etc.

There is a verbal agreement (contract) outlining the specifications of the food. It says "pancakes" in the menu, it shows me the price, and I choose to order the pancakes for that stated price.

That is completely different from how taxes work in the United States. An appropriate analogy would be being born in a restaurant and being forced to pay money for what you have no idea and no say in. There is no menu. What's given to you is chosen by people you don't know and who you've never had a single conversation with. And btw, you can't just "get up and leave" the restaurant either.

When the analogy is this incompatible, you can compare anything to anything else and declare that bananas are just like soap.

If you can't see the difference, you are deluding yourself.

Again, your parents made the decision for your citizenship when you were a child and they had custody of you.

As an adult, you can revoke your consent and leave.

You keep telling me how:

1) Other countries don't offer what you want, 2) It's expensive to move to another country, 3) Many countries won't grant you citizenship,

And so on.

None of those mean that you can't leave and go somewhere else. They just mean that wherever you go, you'll have to make a compromise.

Being forced to make a compromise elsewhere does not mean that taxation here is theft.

None of your claims support the false assertion that "taxation is theft".

I really don't understand what part of this you're missing. I really don't get what part of this plain language is in dispute.

> As an adult, you can revoke your consent and leave.

To revoke consent I would have had to have been of a mind to have given it in the first place.

My parents payed taxes when I was a child. I did not. I then grew into a situation where I had to make money to stay off the streets and was forced to pay this government.

Maybe this isn't so black and white. I would be willing to agree that your point of view carries more weight the longer I stay here in a capacity where I am capable of moving to another country.

However, it starts out as theft and remains so until I have no excuse remaining for not leaving, and then it's only if there is a fair alternative available.

If there's some country out there that doesn't have an income tax but rapes its citizens 12 hours out of the day, that can't be counted as a fair alternative. It would still be extortion then ("pay us or get raped!").

No, taxation does not start out as theft.

The government provides you services, and you consent to paying for them by continuing to live here.

Before you were old enough to give consent, your parents made that decision for you. As an infant, you weren't capable of making such decisions, and as your guardians, your folks made it for you.

Now that you're (presumably) old enough to give consent, you are doing so by remaining here.

The government isn't forcing you to stay, even if you can't afford to leave right now. If your finances don't permit it, then I would suggest you save up until you can afford a bus ticket to Canada or Mexico, and then emigrate. Our government won't stop you at the border. (Canada or Mexico might, but that's them, not us.)

That you don't like the other countries out there (they aren't "fair alternatives") does not mean that, suddenly, taxation here is actually theft. It means you're picky, or you don't want to compromise, or whatever.

It doesn't change the fact that, as long as you're here, you're obligated to pay for a small share of the government's cost of doing business.

You may not like that obligation--it's still not theft. You may disagree with how tax dollars are spent--it's still not theft. You may dislike how you never signed an "I agree to pay taxes" contract--it's still not theft.

You're just repeating yourself now. You are not making logical arguments or responding to arguments made before.

> That you don't like the other countries out there (they aren't "fair alternatives") does not mean that, suddenly, taxation here is actually theft.

Yes, it does. The word for it is extortion.

1. No consent existed to begin with and money was taken forcibly. Theft. By definition. Go argue with a dictionary.

2. An alternative presents itself but the alternative is rape and so the choice is between theft or rape. This is called extortion. By definition. Go argue with a dictionary.

I'm repeating myself because taxation isn't theft, and you keep coming up with a variety of statements that don't actually support the false assertion that it is.

You also keep ignoring the facts that: 1) You consent to taxation by living here, 2) And your parents consented for you when you were too young to do on your own.

You keep saying "no consent existed" but it has existed all your life, first by your legal guardians, and now by you.

> You consent to taxation by living here

Why this is wrong was addressed previously so not gonna repeat myself.

> And your parents consented for you when you were too young to do on your own.

Your parents cannot give this consent for you. Can they consent for you to be raped? Would their approval of you being raped suddenly make it not rape?

No. You're arguments are nonsensical. Go home. I'm done here.

> Taxation today is theft.

You say "theft" like it's the typical "take" act that the word normally implies. It's more like someone stealing $200 and giving you a bicycle you didn't ask for, but you're likely still going to use it anyhow. ie. it's complicated, so it gets a new word :)

The problem is when you agree to give them $10,000 for a new car but get a bicycle instead.

Don't forget they'll need a new tax for driving a vehicle with fewer than four wheels to subsidize the car industry, emissions testing for the bicycles, new vehicle registration fees still based on the value of the car you were supposed to receive, mandatory cycle insurance, tax to create a Department of Cyclist Services, tax for re-equipping the police to handle the change in criminal defenses (purchase of helmet-piercing rounds), tax for the creation of the position City Bicycle Inspector, tax to create the new lanes and parking areas for the bicycles, and the creation of bicycle dealerships that prevent you from buying bicycles and their parts directly from manufacturers.

Several million dollars later, the initiative is scrapped and all bicycles are replaced at taxpayer expense with Enduros, in a move completely unrelated to the opening of the new Enduro factory and recent election of extremely popular Mayor Nathan Enduro, who ran on a platform of smaller government and the freedom to spend your money on as much gasoline and Enduro parts as you want.

> It's more like someone stealing $200

Sounds like we're in agreement then. :)

> and giving you a bicycle you didn't ask for

s/bicycle/war. No worries, I make that typo all the time. ;)

I can't even imagine what 6 trillion dollars worth of bicycles looks like.

6 Trillion dollars worth of bicycle infrastructure would bring the entire continental US up to Dutch standards.

And bring healthcare up to French standards.

If taxation today is theft, is there a time when it wasn't?

Taxation isn't theft.

The anti-tax crowd is just like the anti-vax crowd. They both want a free ride on the rest of our backs; the anti-vaxers want the benefit of herd immunity, and the anti-taxers want others to pay the cost of living in the modern world.

(*edited to a missing word)

Anti-tax is about not forcing people to pay for services they may not want. I don't think it's realistic, but your description of them is uncharitable.

In a world where everyone gets hit on the head with a baseball bat once a week, some people are saying "what's with this? Can't we figure out some way of not getting hit by baseball bats every week?" And you're turning that into "I don't want to get hit by a baseball bat, someone else should get hit instead of me".

I'm not sure I lean one way or the other, but that isn't a good analogy. There's no benefit to anybody from a baseball bat to the head. Now, if a certain number of baseball bats to heads is required to appease the gods and increase fertility, health, etc in a majority of the population, you've got a better comparison. Maybe not everybody needs all those benefits, but the options on the table are to let some people opt out, and decrease the benefits globally, or let some people opt out and increase the bat to head frequency for everyone else, force the holdouts to just quit whining and take their bat to the head for the greater good, or maybe see if there's some alternative way to appease the gods and reap their benefits with less head batting.

I agree that those features would make the analogy more accurate wrt taxation, but if that was the only important thing about an analogy, we wouldn't use analogies at all. (And it's quite possible that I shouldn't have used an analogy in this case.)

I don't think those features are particularly relevant to the mistake Frondo was making.

I'm not sure what point the original analogy was meant to make, and I apologize if I missed it.

Frondo claimed that "anti-taxers" were free riders, which models well with the modified analogy as those who opt-out of being hit in the head, at the expense of everyone else, yet still likely benefit, even if only indirectly, from living in a world where others take the hits to achieve the benefits.

Note that I'm not saying Frondo is correct, I was just showing that the analogy given didn't refute his claim in any way I could see.

Personally, I expect most people against taxes fall under my last category of people trying to find another way to get the needed benefits without being hit in the head, or at least want to get more bang for their buck or a more fair distribution of cost/benefit.

Analogies don't refute things, they just make other things easier to understand. My refutation of Frondo's original claim amounts to: "you're just plain wrong". (Anti-taxers are not free riders. They don't want other people to pay for them.) The analogy was: "here's a similar mistake".

> There's no benefit to anybody from a baseball bat to the head.

Sure it is. It's good for the people being employed to operate the baseball bats. It's also good for the people being employed to make the baseball bats.

This can only be accurate for people who want literally $0 to be taken for taxes, in any form, by any level of government... and yet still expect services to be rendered.

I don't know anyone like that, and I suspect they're in a tiny minority.

For my part, I'd consider those taxes to be theft when they are used for purposes other than a strict list of constitutionally mandated purposes. The other things are services I want to neither pay for nor receive.

Some examples: unemployment (ahem, now "Reemployment") tax, social security tax, welfare, domestic spying operations, Medicare/Medicaid, public education, the Affordable Care Act, much of our military spending, corporate bailouts, lots of alphabet agencies' budgets, etc.

Note that it's not freeloading; I don't want anyone to have them paid and/or provided for by government, including myself.

Many, many things exist in the world that don't exist in the constitution; it's a foundational body of law, not the entirety of the law.

As for not wanting something, but still being obligated to pay for it, there many transactions in the world where you have to pay for more than you want; no automaker will sell you a brand-new car with all of the seats missing, and very often when you go to a restaurant, even if you ask for some ingredient to be left out, you still pay full price for the meal.

That some of your taxes go to things you don't like does not mean you are free from paying for them.

The route to changing what your taxes go to is the political arena, not merely claiming that, because you don't like it, they're "theft".

The tax argument aside - my understanding is if the constitution doesn't provide for it, the federal government shouldn't be doing it.

10th amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

> the anti-taxers want others to pay the cost of living in the modern world

This simply isn't true. Anti-taxers want to choose where their dollars go - each and every one.

There are many transactions in the world where people pay for things they didn't specifically want, e.g. buying a car and getting all the seats and safety features, or ordering a meal and paying the full price even if you ask for some ingredient to be omitted.

In none of these cases--paying for a car where you'll take out the seats, paying for a meal where you don't get the mushrooms, paying taxes for government services you don't agree with--is the payment suddenly "theft".

> There are many transactions in the world where people pay for things they didn't specifically want, e.g. buying a car and getting all the seats and safety features, or ordering a meal and paying the full price even if you ask for some ingredient to be omitted.

The difference is consent. People consent to paying for those meals or the car. But nobody ever consented to taxation. That's all part of the "social contract" we're born into.

You consent by continuing to live here.

You're right that initial decision of consent was made for you by someone else--it was made for you by your parents, when you were a child and they had custody of you.

As an adult, you are free to revoke your consent by leaving the country and ceasing to enjoy the benefits its government provides.

(And as for "nobody consented to taxation," I consented, and continue to do so, because I like contributing to the country where I live and where I'm a citizen.)

It's not that easy. It costs money to leave the country. As in, Uncle Sam wants me to pay. So exactly how free am I?

But are they happy to ensure that they avail themselves of not a single benefit they didn't contribute to - that'll be the flip side.

They couldn't even if they wanted to. E.g. Better social welfare, law enforcement, and education means less crime. Less crime benefits everyone in some way. Perhaps if it were made legal to commit crimes against people who don't pay taxes...

Even then, it would be basically impossible to avoid benefiting in some way without leaving the country altogether. There will always have to be at least some "core" services that everyone has to pay into, but that doesn't mean techlibertarian's idea totally lacks merit. Maybe some things should be partially opt-outable. Maybe people would start to question whether America really needs to spend half of its tax revenue on the military; maybe there would be more pressure to get some of the presently useless (and very expensive) 2.3 million prisoners back into the workforce.

In common usage, theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.

We are unable to give consent (consent implies choice), so it is theft through coercion (prison).

See "group fund" for a voluntary form of taxation: http://groupcurrency.org

I always find this line of discussion amusing, given that most forms of property only meaningfully exists in the presence of coercion or violence to restrict others access, yet in my experience the people who gives the "tax is theft" line tend to be right wing libertarians who also tend to want strong enforcement of private property laws and tends to be totally humourless about it if Proudhons "property is theft" is brought up as a counterpoint.

I've lived long enough to be called "right wing" for the first time in my life... that is a first (I think).

As far as Proudhon (first time hearing this), it seems he was referring to land only, and that "property did not extend to exclusive possession of labor-made wealth."


It's unclear to me how someone can "own" a piece of land which they did not create but stumbled upon. To me it just seems like a situation where the person with the biggest gun wins, and has nothing to do with "property". So in that sense, perhaps, yes, claiming ownership over something you did not create (Earth) might very well be interpreted as theft.

However, the notion of "land property" is a potentially convoluted rabbit hole that is very different from a straightforward discussion about taking money people earned with their own labor under the threat of force.

Guess who defines who the rightful owner of property is? Government.

> Guess who defines who the rightful owner of property is? Government.

A compelling argument. In that case this appears to be a non-story, and I'm not sure what the fuss is about.

This is a good point and I'm struggling to grasp how deep this article indicates this problem goes. I just finished reading Emergency by Neil Strauss and this just motivates me more and more.

Double-plus ungood.

Civil forfeiture rules are disgusting. Sadly there are plenty of stories out there like this, people have lost their homes, cars and livelihoods because of these draconian laws around asset forfeiture.

The circumstances under which your property can be taken are incredibly overreaching and unfair. There have been situations where people have had their homes taken away for ridiculous situations like this one: http://www.forbes.com/sites/instituteforjustice/2014/08/26/p...

We need to get rid of these laws entirely or at the very least, make it a more fair playing field. The authorities should be expected to bring some evidence to the table, not assume guilty until proven innocence.

Honestly we're really lucky to have these asset forfeiture programs in place; money has been given a free reign for far too long.

The DEA is looking out for our safety by implementing this well-intentioned protocol... If the government didn't, who would hold our money accountable for the criminal behavior it's been involved in? Just look at the facts... almost 80% of bills have touched drugs! Appalling!

And they're transparent about the process--they put that filthy money on trial even though it keeps refusing to talk. Enough 'shock and awe' from our DA's and I know we'll get there eventually... We need harsher sentencing guidelines!!

[United States vs. $1,058.00 of U.S. Currency](https://casetext.com/case/united-states-v-105800-in-us-curre...)

I certainly sleep better at night knowing that the currency loitering in my pocket doesn't get a pass on its delinquent past just because it's an inanimate object...

I see a future in politics for you.

>> The DEA is looking out for our safety by implementing this well-intentioned protocol

Criminals have a large body of very smart people working for them to develop new creative ways or hiding money flows across different legal entities and different jurisdictions. These people don't travel with cash. You won't even find out their names.

These laws don't help with serious offenders just catch some small fish on occasion and also terrorize ordinary innocent people.

Very true, and actually you touched on something really interesting--when a government attempts to regulate social behavior that cannot be regulated (e.g. drugs, morals, thought, etc.) you see this dynamic take over.

In the case of black markets, yes, there is a great deal of obfuscation, however on a civil level and in business with the tax code it essentially creates an "arms race of precedent" in the courts, wherein those with capital exploit loopholes in the legal system to establish new precedents that can circumvent any spirit of the law for decades to come. In most cases I see this as a positive thing, but when state and federal prosecutors use this against civilians, it can have some truly ridiculous outcomes.

Speaking to your comment about the black market specifically, though, I raised this concern when Obama signed that executive notice last month pertaining to individuals on the SDN list--as a hypothetical, if someone on that list were to have a criminal enterprise, and if that criminal enterprise was using a legitimate merchant processing account to obfuscate funds (as per your "ways of hiding money"), then ANYONE who had ever processed a credit-card transaction with that account would be liable to have their assets frozen indefinitely and with impunity by the US government.

Dangerous precedent indeed.

I understand the claim that people with money could just use it all to buy a one way ticket to nowhere and never be seen again. But it seems to me that there's a very very wide line between "Use your money to keep doing bad things" and "We don't know if you're guilty but we're going to take all your money anyway and good luck with those legal costs"

Certainly putting all of their assets into escrow and only allowing access for approved uses (like say legal fees) would achieve the same results without pissing all over the sixth amendment.

Can I just lock up all of some politician's fund right before an election and only allow access to fight the case which will likely take months? Can I do the same with a business? A multinational corporation? Freeze up all the assets of a bank and deny access to funds for any reason including payroll while we investigate?

Where do we draw the line?

"Can I do the same with a business? A multinational corporation? Freeze up all the assets of a bank and deny access to funds for any reason including payroll while we investigate?"

Yes, actually. It's a standard tactic that was used in, eg, the prosecution of Michael Milken.

It's also nice if you can get some kind of tax angle going so you can threaten the target's wife as well.

Can I do the same with a business?

Steve Jackson Games? Delorean?

A bank robber should be able to use the money they steal to defend themselves?

Someone accused of robbing a bank should not be able to use their own money to defend themselves against such an accusation?

You have a major problem with your presumption of guilt.

I suspect there's some sad commentary on the state of humanity that you have bother yourself to say something like this.

Whatever happened to "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"? I know that has origins in English Law but the Founding Fathers considered it to be so important it figures heavily in the Bill of Rights.

Assets aren't forfeited without evidence of guilt.

Yes, they are, quite frequently. That's the entire point of the article. It's also quite pretty much the definition of civil asset forfeiture. Assets are taken on simple suspicion of criminal activity, and the assets' retention by the state is not predicated on criminal guilt of the owner. In fact it is the assets themselves which are sued by the state (which makes no sense, but is nonetheless true).

> Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back -- even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime. "We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty," an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. "It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty."

Yes, the DEA has to show evidence that the money is the result of a drug sale or some other illegal activity. They don't have to show that any given person was involved in that sale. I don't really have a problem with that.

Their assertions are taken for evidence. It's a system built for abuse.

When the Heritage Foundation[1] and the ACLU [2] are both against it, you know it's really bad.

[1] http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/03/civil-asset... [2] https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-po...

They're often on the same side of domestic policy.

I've heard this sort of thing happening in Third World countries. Perhaps the US is - for all its advanced technology and creature comforts - essentially now a Third World kleptocracy. Silicon Valley and Manhattan are like Dubai - gaudy showcases that don't represent the true nature of the hinterland. I would be very wary about working in Dubai; I would be equally wary about working and living in the US for the same reasons.

I'm a US citizen who is very unhappy about "civil forfeiture", about mass surveillance, etc. But the reality is that most people in the US are not directly affected. I haven't really been affected, and I don't personally know anyone who has been. (yeah yeah it helps that I'm white.) Most US citizens who are aware of these things, like me, are very unhappy about them. But most people are not really aware, and one reason for that is they haven't been personally affected.

Things in the US are not nearly as bad as in third world countries. They're bad, they're serious, but third world (or whatever you want to call Russia and China) problems are really in a league of their own. Dubai is in a different league than NYC / SF.

In the US, you can talk about it, you can get a lawyer, you can have newspaper articles written. Many third world countries - nope. There may be a couple of bloggers but they tend to get arrested.

Again, I'm not saying these things in the US are OK. I'm just saying it's unrealistic to say Manhattan is like Dubai, or NSA is like Chinese internet monitors/hackers. Really - not even close.

> In the US, you can talk about it, you can get a lawyer, you can have newspaper articles written.

And is this helping Joseph Rivers, a victim of shameless organised theft and institutional racism?

The "most people are unaffected" argument, which gets trotted out a lot, has a strong reek of the Martin Niemøller idea: ( http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392 )

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Speak out, god damn it, if you have an ounce of freedom left in your blood! How can you sit idly by and make excuses and diminish the problem while your fellow man is being trampled by a ruling class of armoured thugs and liars? Is this what America was built on? That's not what you claim in your movies.

If you're making excuses for how this sort of despicable crap is "not that big a problem", you need to take a good, long look in the mirror and realise that you're currently part of the problem.

Every time an innocent has his rights trampled in this way, it is all of humanity that suffers. I am incensed on this person's behalf, and shocked and disappointed that this person's compatriots take it so lightly.

> Is this what America was built on?

I'm pretty sure it was.

A vicious racist killer is proudly displayed on our $20 bill, after all...

In all seriousness, what can I actually do. Nothing I've done in the past has felt like it moved the needle at all.

- Calling my local representative (Someone on the other end of the line thanks me and then politely dismisses me saying they'll pass it along). - Trying to inform friends and family (They don't really care for many of the reasons stated above)

I think apathetic is a good descriptor for my current state of mind around things like this. Any effort I've put into large scale change in the past has felt like spinning my wheels and generally decreased my overall happiness due to general frustration. Letting go of caring about politics was a major happiness/satisfaction increase in my generall well-being.

If you feel like you can't effect change where you are (a fair conclusion), I would suggest at the very least looking into moving to another country which is more representative of your values.

Yes, it seems like giving up. But then over time the more smart, educated, likely wealthy people leave the US and take residence somewhere less objectionable, the less economically competitive the US will be. Eventually it will decline.

At the very least, you'll know that you weren't one of the people contributing to sustaining this system. It might seem like a drop in the ocean, but, as the conclusion of Cloud Atlas puts it, what is the ocean but a multitude of drops?

Doxx the narcs. Track by their wifi radios in their smartphones.

In the US... you can get a lawyer

There are lawyers in this thread that claim cases where civil forfeiture is done to prevent the individual getting a lawyer.

And there are judges who can order some of those forfeitures released/returned so that the individual can get a lawyer.

Of course this probably doesn't happen in reality...

>> In the US, you can talk about it, you can get a lawyer

The problem is, you must be able to afford a lawyer. If the legal process of defending oneself is only available to the rich, then it largely does no exist for the general population.

More people rot in American jails than any other country.

America admits to torture and does nothing.

America has a kill list that only the executive presides over and keeps secret.

We've killed hundreds of thousands of civilians over the last decade and displaced millions.

And yet here is a presumptuous America ready to claim moral superiority over Russians and Chinese. A horrific display of Orwellian doublethink.

China would have more prisoners if it didn't execute them all.

You can't see online news articles negative of Chinese leadership, in China, they're taken down or blocked for the entire country.

This is not "doublethink", this is just being realistic. China and Russian are, objectively, way way worse. If you don't see that, you've lost touch with reality.

Any citations for number of people China executes per year?

You simply state China and Russia are far worse but present no evidence.

America has killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians over the last 12 years.

America holds people in indefinite prison without trial and even admits that they are innocent but continues to lock them away.

We torture people. We have secret kill lists. Our police rob citizens without punishment. Our politicians openly flaunt the law and go unpunished, as do bankers and large corporations.

Anything to support your view beyond mere assertion and blind allegiance?

It's well known.

"in 2008, 2009, and 2010, the Dui Hua Foundation estimated that 5,000 people were executed each year in China – far more than all other nations combined.[2] [1][3] [4] However, the estimated number of executions fell to 2,400 in 2013.[5] The precise number of executions is regarded as a state secret.[6]"


The US executed 40 - 50 people per year in those years. The US information is publicly available, of course.


Even at the higher rate of 5000 per year China would need 100 years of executions to bridge the gap with us prison population http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-popula...

This does not include the hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians the US has killed in the 21st century.

The US still ranks among the best nations on earth when it comes to low corruption in fact.

The civil forfeitures problem is non-trivial, but you're drastically exaggerating. The whole of the US has a very highly functional, low-corruption judiciary system, and a mostly still intact and strong property rights system.

Most of America is low crime, low corruption, the opposite of what you're implying. In fact it's because of that, that most Americans are unaware of what organizations like the DEA are doing.

The US is less corrupt than France for example:


> The US is less corrupt than France for example

Careful there. The Transparency International page you link to is the perception index.

It measures what a set of people perceives corruption to be like in each country, and composits results from a number of different surveys in a way that as far as I know is not benchmarked against other data to verify if survey results actually matches reality.

You can not use it as a measure of how corrupt a country actually is. It's likely that it's an indicator when the numbers are very far apart, or that it can be used to spot trends in a country over time, but the relatively small difference between France and the US seems unlikely to be sufficient to draw any conclusions.

Furthermore, we French people are much more pessimistic than people in the US. Thinking that the politicians are just one corrupted kind is almost a national sport.

After looking through their data a little, I'm curious: who is paying all these bribes[1]?

7% of people who interacted with the police report paying a bribe to them? 11% for education I could believe, but 15% to the judiciary, 17% to "land services"?

Maybe I just need to step my bribe game up, but that seems significantly higher than I would have expected.

[1] http://www.transparency.org/gcb2013/country/?country=united_...

> The US still ranks among the best nations on earth when it comes to low corruption in fact

Yes, because corruption has been legalized through corruption.

You can, as a rich person, or an enterprise, legally bride politicians so that they can pass laws for your own profit.

"low crime, low corruption".

Also remember that "no crime" has been committed in the 2008 financial crisis.

You may not be familiar with US history when it comes to that. It's actually far harder to legally bribe politicians today than it was eg 100 years ago. A century ago there were hardly any laws restricting such practices.

What has changed in that time, is now the government has vast economic controls at its disposal. If the government doesn't control the economy, you can't buy economic favors from them. When the US was still a very Capitalist nation at the start of the 20th century, in which the government had little control over the economy, political bribery would not get you very far when it comes to passing laws for your own profit.

To sum it up: political bribery is far more difficult today than it was 100 years ago, but now it can buy you a lot of things whereas before it could not, because of the substantial expansion of government control over the economy.

When it comes to the financial crisis, Western Europe committed many of the same financial 'crimes' you're referring to that, that the US did. The financial, banking and real estate boom and bust hit countries from Britain to France to Germany to Spain. What happened in the US was not unique to the US, the same things were going on in a lot of 'first world' nations.

The Fed stepped in and bailed out tons of European banks for example, the same as they did US banks.

I was reading a while ago how a surprise candidate won some state-level election and lobbyists were falling over themselves to donate to his campaign... after he had won.

It may not be legal to give politicians money, but it's totally legal to donate to their old expired campaign, and for them to then have the campaign repay the loan they gave it.

Explicit quid pro quo bribery is much harder than it used to be, certainly.

But the quid pro quo inherent in election financing ("If I make choice A, PAC #1234 will fund $5m of ads in my next campaign ... if I make choice B, I'll get a couple hundred checks from constituents at $50 each and PAC #1234 will run those $5m of ads against me") is much more insidious.

This is the perception of corruption, not the actual corruption. When it comes to the political system, the US is much more corrupt than most European countries. At least in France (since it's your example) you can't legally bribe politicians, it is not enforced a lot but at least it's illegal. In the US, financing of parties (so bribery) is the norm for the presidential election. And at least, minor parties have a representation in France, so there is a hope that the system can still change, in the US, since there is no way to have a representation of the small parties by design, only a revolution can make things change.

> a mostly still intact and strong property rights system

The practice of civil forfeiture on people who can't defend legally, like this guy, sure doesn't indicate that.

Maybe for the HSBC guys who laundered $378.4 billion over several years there will be a small fine, their profit for a few months. But no bank was forfeited. No board members were sent to jail for it. It seems property rights are solid, if you are rich.

Yes, the DEA forfeiture racket is vile, and yes it needs to be stopped. Nobody should undercut how terrible what they're doing is.

The reason the US still ranks high on the low corruption index, is because you have to take the value of the whole, not just one small problem such as this.

It impacts an extraordinarily small percentage of Americans today, and the dollar sums are extraordinarily small in such a large economy. Put another way, on that 100 point corruption scale, the DEA program would represent a negative deduction of 2 or 3 points.

What's actually important here, is stopping it before it gets larger. If they don't stop it, it will get much bigger, and graduate from being a small problem to being a serious threat to the average citizen.

If we're talking about rights violations, civil forfeitures are a joke compared to the war on drugs for example and the incarceration that has been going on since the 1970s.

The reason the US ranks low on the corruption perception index, is that those in the electorate not totally apathetic have scandal fatigue. Try looking into what passes for a "scandal" in some of the countries that have similar scores to the US.

Until you respond to the very good counter arguments brought forth about your linked source, you have nothing to back up your claim that the US has low corruption. Why are you still calling it a "low corruption index"? Please allow your viewpoint to be challenged by arguing rationally rather than just repeating the same falsehoods.

mostly still intact and strong property rights system

The title system is weak and outdated, and the mass fraud of "robosigning" (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/false-affidavits-fore...) has not been adequately addressed.

Seriously, 99% of these "outrageous" things that are happening in US now were also a thing 30-40 years ago in communist Poland and my parents(and their parents) are very well aware of these dangers - but Americans have never experienced it so they are completely oblivious to what is happening with their country. When I was a kid I always wanted to go to America - now I would pay money to not have to go there, thank you very much.

Same here, from a Russian citizen.

Related: If you haven't seen John Oliver's segment on civil asset forfeiture, you should really check it out - https://youtu.be/3kEpZWGgJks

That was great. I'm going to have to start watching LWT regularly.

It is amazing that Americans allow this sort of thing then say they are a world leader in personal liberty.

The scale of the civil forfeitures industry has increased drastically in the last 15 to 20 years. Most Americans are not yet aware of how large it has become, because it affects a relatively small percentage of people, and only in the last few years have the major news outlets begun to write about it (eg NY Times or Washington Post).

When you have a country of 330 million people as large geographically as the US, it's very difficult as a citizen in one state, to be aware of what a national agency (the DEA) is doing across the entire nation, unless the national news outlets are writing about it.

While a typical American is going about their day to day life, living a local life (some town, in some county, in some state), the world's largest, most powerful federal / national government is aggressively attempting to undermine them in hundreds of ways large and small.

The US has a federal government that is financially the size of the entire economy of Germany, doing nothing but passing more laws, economic regulations, taxes, et al. to strangle liberty as much as they can and increase their power. There is very little else they do, or need to do. What does a beast that large do? Protect itself, entrench its own interests, grab more money, write more laws - there is nothing else for it to do most of the time.

Try doing something about that, or even thinking about how you can stop it, if you're an average citizen. It boggles the mind. Oh yeah, while you're at it, deal with the fact that the US military (which the NSA belongs to) is now increasingly taking aim at the US domestic population, you know, the world's most powerful military with a $600 billion budget.

Now compare this situation to the complexity faced by, say, Finland (5.4 million people) in trying to reign in or adjust its government system. The US has something like 200,000 pages of federal regulations; try fixing that, while the vast dedicated law passing machine is busy passing thousands of new regulations.

It isn't going to stop expanding and over-reaching until it crashes, choking itself to death.

Civil asset forfeitures are like those towns in BFE that operate on ticket revenue - the situation rarely gets dealt with because the number of people getting tickets is an insignificant proportion of the voting population.

We're fortunate it has become, essentially, a national government scandal at this point, with perpetually wider awareness. The national media has taken to aggressively writing about it lately.

In this case I'm confident we're going to see the forfeiture racket neutered in the next few years. It seems to have finally gotten large enough to draw serious Congressional and White House scrutiny to stop it.

I hope you're right. I doubt it, but we'll see.

That problem is not limited to BFE: egregious ticket and court revenue from those who can least afford it is the chronic offense of Ferguson MO and neighboring suburbs. The recent questionable police shooting was more of a trigger for the expression of preexisting dissatisfaction over the ticketing. It's not clear that the "proportion of the voting population" that faced this problem was "insignificant", but it's clear that race had something to do with it. (Aside: a close relative of mine got a traffic ticket in Ferguson once. Since he is a wealthy professional white dude, a single phone call to a secretary at the court was enough to get charges dropped.) Actually that's true of pretty much all unconscionable law enforcement practice in this country: it may not be race-based, but it is quite race-related.

Civil forfeiture abuse and DEA criminality has been in the news for over a decade. Though it may be getting more attention now.

It has, I completely agree. I remember first reading about it in the early 2000's. However a $300 million problem doesn't garner the attention that a $10 billion problem does.

It's similar to why the patent trolls are increasingly getting so much attention from D.C. 20 years ago when they were vastly smaller in their impact and scale, they simply didn't garner the attention of most pundits, journalists, politicians, etc. They didn't impact most businesses at all. Now they've become a vast parasite, and when the dollar drain on the US economy gets into the tens of billions, people start noticing.

This. And while the USA purports to be the leaders in freedom, we see similar erosion of freedom and liberty in other Socialist/Democratic societies like Australia, UK and France.

The UK seems especially bad to me at the moment. The level of open surveillance that they practice on their citizens is astonishing.

People are only just starting to cotton on to this, but the Five Eyes are getting around the restrictions of not openly monitoring all their citizens by giving access to their surveillance systems to another member of the five and then just getting it handed straight back.

"Oh no, your honour, we don't monitor all our citizens."

It is almost like America is made up of people with different opinions and circumstances.

I believe that the comment was referring specifically to "Americans [that] allow this sort of thing then say they are a world leader in personal liberty", and I'm not sure how saying that there are other people in America is a relevant response.

The practice of civil forfeiture is being "allowed" by not doing anything about it or by giving it legitimacy by accepting it as something that should be reformed politically rather than treating it as a criminal violation of constitutional rights. Just because you get worked up about it for 15 minutes when reading an article about the injustice it causes doesn't mean that you aren't allowing it. Most people will unfortunately not even have a strong opinion about it until it happens to them or someone close to them.

"world leader" is a relative standard, not an absolute one.

> a world leader in personal liberty

[Citation needed]


"The DEA" didn't steal Joseph Rivers' life savings. Some particular DEA agents did. And the theft was OKed by various other federal employees, who knew (or should have known) that he was entirely innocent.

Two things come to mind. We can compensate Joseph for his loss through his gofundme campaign.[0] But we can also start naming the thieves. One of the accomplices is reportedly "Sean [R.] Waite, agent-in-charge of the DEA’s Albuquerque office".[1] Who are the rest?

[0] http://www.gofundme.com/u6e2mwc

[1] http://www.freeabq.com/?p=1791

One of the original cases establishing the third-party doctrine was US v. Miller (1976), where SCOTUS ruled that turning over deposit slips and checks to your bank removes your reasonable expectation of privacy. On the other hand, if you choose to opt out of using the banking system to avoid this, you'll need to use cash.

However, if you carry large amounts of cash, you're subject to warrantless seizure because of some sort of bizarre assumption that the only reason to opt out of the banking system is if you are a criminal.

This is an interesting point. If the only way to avoid submission of information to your bank is to forego banking services, then this is not a meaningful choice, and you're not giving up the information voluntarily.

It is analogous to the point a judge made in a case here: http://fourthamendment.com/?p=10373

"The submission of prescription information to the PDMP is required by law. The only way to avoid submission of prescription information to the PDMP is to forgo medical treatment or to leave the state. This is not a meaningful choice."

The law is rather clear, if dismal: privacy is not a right, only surprise violations of privacy are illegal. Once the government starts abusing people enough , it is no longer an expectation of privacy. See also the prohibition against "unusual" punishment.

For all the Americans on HN, just be clear that the DEA is acting in our name. They represent us, and we are responsible for their actions. This and worse occurs every day, and will continue to until we get our elected representatives to stop it.

So do I vote for s Republicrat or a Republicrat? Or maybe s third party with no chance?

You know, I hear this attitude all the time. I think it reflects lazy thinking, and the conflation of cynicism and "cool".

Yes, money in politics is a corrupting influence, yes, neither major party gets it right on some big issues (like the size of our military and how ready we are to use it, how much wall street gets away with ripping us off, etc), but are they the same?

No, of course not. Had McCain won in 2008, think we'd be looking at something like McCainCare now? As imperfect as Obamacare is, it's a vast improvement over the old status quo, and not an issue the republicans were going to tackle in our lifetimes.

ObamaCare was pretty much the same thing as RomneyCare so yes, we'd probably have the same thing. Can we stop pretending there's a difference?

I didn't see McCain proposing RomneyCare, hell didn't see Romeny proposing RomneyCare. So no we would not have had the same thing.

Romney basically implemented Obamacare before Obamacare even existed in his own state. Had he won, he would have implemented it at the federal level. The only reason he was against Obamacare during the campaign was because he was running against Obama. ObamaCare by the way isn't that great, it's more of a kayak for private insurances than anything else and it benefits them more than anyone else, it's kind of yet another extra tax that benefits a few corporations.

Furthermore, look at Tesla. I think that's a pretty good win for the Obama administration, in that without them throwing some money in, the US right now wouldn't have a promising player in the new market of all-electric cars.

Thanks to Solyndra etc., I doubt we'll hear much from the Dems about that.

I don't see what's the big deal there - a bailout is a bailout, it's not an ideal situation for anyone, but it's far better than the alternatives of just letting all promising companies fail. If they can't defend that, how can they defend the banking bailouts of 2008/2009?

To my way of thinking, Solyndra is far more defensible than the bank bailouts, especially when you look at it in the context of Tesla and other companies they've funded. However, that's not how it plays politically, and there's really nothing Democrats can do about that in the short-to-medium term. Besides, Tesla still has something of an "elite" flavor, so bragging about "saving" it (which probably isn't true, but they did help) doesn't get them much credit from voters who don't even know anyone who owns a Tesla.

Civil forfeiture appears to be one of the few issues that does not have a clear partisan breakdown. I would suggest the biggest issue is inertia, and raising awareness that change needs to occur. Here's a good background: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/20/7860363/equitable-sharing-polic...

You help built momentum for a proper electoral system instead of the garbage we have now. I blows my mind that after centuries we still have something as idiotic as the electoral college, and all the imbalance it brings, in our nation.

Yep: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

If your state's signed on, great, you're done.

If your state hasn't yet signed on, call up your legislators, write to them, get your pals to do the same.

Make noise, make it clear this is an issue they should start caring about.

How is getting rid of the electoral college going to solve the problems you identify above? You do realize that it only affects the election of the president and vp? Do we imagine that lobbyists will be unable to adjust to a world in which those two positions are elected in a slightly different manner? All this true-though-trivial "every vote should matter" stuff is just the sort of distraction from reality that lobbyists love.

There is a lot more than simply voting that a person living in a democracy can do to improve things.

Yes, vote 3rd party. That is essentially "none of the above."

3rd party voting is largely a wasted vote in First Pass the Post [0] systems like the US.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-past-the-post_voting

Perhaps. If a third party candidate gets 5% of the vote, they're eligible to draw public money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. That could be huge.

And aside from that, numbers build legitimacy. If a third party is obviously not going to win, but gets 10% of the vote, we start taking it seriously, and it can build on that success over multiple elections, just like individual candidates do.

The 'wasted vote' trope assumes that the sole point of a vote is to elect a candidate. Your vote is also an act of free speech - it can send a message to your fellow citizens and your government. Even in our stupid two-party system, politicians watch which way the wind is blowing.

Even if the number of 3rd party votes is so small that the message is inaudible, it's still an act of free speech.

The thing is, if a third party gets enough of the vote, it gets the attention of the major parties. Remember Ross Perot's Reform party? They were the only ones talking about the budget deficit at the time. Then, after eight years of Bill Clinton (of the party generally considered less fiscally responsible), there was somehow a budget surplus.

An economic contraction and a tax cut then combined to eliminate the surplus, but it still shows that third-party votes can have power.

Also, Federal elections aren't the only kind: third party candidates win elections with some frequency at lower levels, because at those levels the person can matter more than the party.

You missed the point. Of course whatever 3rd party you vote for won't make it. But it's a registered vote, and it takes a vote away from the two parties.

How is voting for a Rep or Dem not a wasted vote, considering what they're doing to us?

3rd parties aren't fucking us (yet). Vote for whoever isn't fucking us, not because they might win (they won't), but to register the protest.

No he didn't miss the point, you did. You didn't read his link and your comment shows that.

> To a greater extent than many other electoral methods, the first-past-the-post system encourages tactical voting. Voters have an incentive to vote for one of the two candidates they predict are most likely to win, even if they would prefer another of the candidates to win, because a vote for any other candidate will likely be "wasted" and have no impact on the final result.

> The position is sometimes summed up, in an extreme form, as "All votes for anyone other than the second place are votes for the winner", because by voting for other candidates, they have denied those votes to the second place candidate who could have won had they received them.

With rare exceptions, chances are negligible that anyone but a Democrat or Republican are going to win. I know this. I'm not voting 3rd party because I think there's any chance at all that a 3rd party could win.

I vote 3rd party because I prefer to vote instead of not voting (exercising my right and civic duty), and because it's repugnant to me to give my vote to the Dem or Rep party. I really don't want to choose the lesser of two evils, I prefer to oppose them both, however feeble my voice may be.

You're still missing the point and still don't appear to understand the consequences of your actions. By not tactically voting in a first past the pole system, you are actually helping the guy you'd least like to win; you are actively making things worse. It doesn't matter than you like neither of them, as they're different you'd clearly like one less than the other and he's the one you're helping win. You aren't opposing both of them, you're helping the one you'd least like to win, your little "protest" vote may as well be a vote for the worst candidate.

> I prefer to oppose them both, however feeble my voice may be.

This little act of ego is helping ruin the country; thanks.

By the way, note that the article calls any vote for the winner in excess of the number needed to win a "wasted" vote. It's a technical term with an unfortunate double meaning.

Don't vote for the winner, it's a potentially wasted vote (according to the article).

You simply vote for the lesser of the two evils. And you do it every time.

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