John Oliver on Civil Forfeiture


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{comment seized on suspicion of intent to distribute snark}


There was this article in the Washington Post, on how municipal governments in the St. Louis area extract a significant proportion of their revenues from poor people, through fines on trivial offenses. Those funds are mostly spent on the court officers and police who extract the funds.


Yup. St. Louis has too many small, satellite towns which exist only to serve themselves.

Many have higher property taxes to help pay for their pointlessly duplicated services, while others are notorious speed traps, Corporations like Wal-Mart have learned to play one municipality against the other, threatening to move or build down the read in town B, unless town A gives big tax breaks and other incentives.

This serves a handful of well connected aldermen and their crones very well indeed, all on the back of the taxpayer.


Trucky or truck y trailer? Y is a valid word for and, so I give the guy the benefit of the doubt on that one.

I wouldn’t have thought that municipal police stations are that well-connected politically. At least not powerful enough to stop a reform of federal law. And if no “powerful” interest groups oppose such a reform, that should happen quickly…

You clearly are not familiar with the US Congress.


You’d think this would have been destroyed by a constitutional challenge by now…

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There are lots of good organizations fighting it - e.g.,


Remember when HSBC admitted to laundering drug money? Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole corporation was “civilly seized”?

Oh wait, I forgot, corporations are people.


Thankfully, I don’t need to be. I instead get to enjoy the blessings of the Parliament of Austria, where parliamentarians aren’t corrupt at all. Instead, they do what the heads of their respective parties tell them to do (they need the party nomination). That way, Austrian MPs don’t have any reason to be corrupt. It’s perfectly enough to buy off the important politicians instead ;-).

But still, please enlighten me. I am basically reasoning from a few assumptions that might be completely wrong about US politics:

  1. Now matter how much money they steal from poor people, municipal police are still small fish. Their campaign donations are not important at the congressional level.

  2. Being able to say “I have helped put a stop to police taking hard-working people’s money for themselves for no good reason” increases a congressman’s chance to get re-elected.

  3. Unless larger campaign contributions are at stake, the average congressman will will act to maximize his chances for re-election.

  4. Congress has the power to pass a law to end civil forfeiture.

So, what did I overlook this time?


Congress is completely paralyzed because the right wing is afraid of the ultra-right wing, so they can’t pass any legislation at all. Also, their primary message is, “government is evil;” it follows that they have no reason to make government better. That would defeat their whole message.

Even if they quit squabbling long enough to address this problem, there’s a possibility President Obama might agree with them, which would make them immediately reverse their position. It’s such fun over here. In any event, they can’t even address big problems like war, unemployment and the budget. They certainly have no time for small stuff like corrupt cops.


That civil forfeiture is dominantly perpetrated against working-class people, people of limited means and education, who run afoul of our drug war industry. The individuals who are targeted often make their livings in our gray economy – buying equipment for their food trucks with cash, or furniture secondhand with cash. They are often nonwhite, or non-native born, or both.

Our Congressional representatives do not represent this stratum of society, and the more “conservative” among them actively despise such people. When a conservative American legislator praises “small business people” he is not thinking of these people; he has local big shots in mind. The kind of small businessman who has a standing inventory of, say farm equipment, in excess of $5 million… would just barely hold his interest. Emigres from El Salvador who run taquerias on 1/10th that much are beneath the notice of our august legislators.

You under-estimate the extent and intensity of institutional corruption in the U.S. It’s pretty much the norm, and gets little air time.


This is the main oversight. Saying you want to reform police procedures is branded “soft on crime” and ends your campaign. Civil forfeiture is usually invoked either where illegal drugs are involved, or where the police claim they might be – essentially any large quantity of cash is considered likely to be used to buy drugs.

And yes, drugs,. drug dealers, and similar things are still such a hot-button topic that they totally turn off peoples brains and evoke “think of the children” responses.


But is it constitutional?? And will the executive welcome a check on their power? Have to fire on at least two of the three cylinders.

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