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Keeping DEA In The Loop About Amtrak Travelers 288

guanxi writes: "The NY Times tells us that Amtrak gives the DEA a 'computer link,' which they use to investigate passengers, leading to arrests. In return, the DEA gives Amtrak a cut of seized assets. I wonder if they have a deal with AOL, MS Hotmail or my ISP? Still considering storing sensitive corporate info at an ASP? An Amtrak spokeswoman tells us, 'We don't believe there is a privacy issue here.' Even if Amtrak is actually that ignorant, can the DEA pretend to be?" Wait 'til you have to provide photo ID to board an Amtrak train, too. (What about Greyhound? Are they in on a similar deal?)
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Keeping DEA In The Loop About Amtrack Travelers

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    > There aren't other forms of transportation!
    > Not even other forms of public transportation.

    Um, maybe where you live there are, but just tell me how you plan to get from, say, Baltimore to Philadelphia if you don't own a car. Let's assume you don't happen to have the $150 cash or so that a cab ride would cost.

    For now there's the separate bus company "Peter Pan Bus Lines", but they, Greyhound, and Amtrak are it.

    Let's also not forget that of these three only Amtrak will get you to Philadelphia in a reasonable amount of time. (Remember to factor in the time spent waiting for a bus going in the right direction - Amtrak has trains through the northeast corridor frequently, but the bus lines know that if you had another choice, you wouldn't be using them, so don't have any incentive to schedule things frequently)

    > it's not a huge deal unless you're a criminal.

    Most civil liberties issues are like this. And really, if you're walking around with the same name as someone the DEA would like to detain I guess it's your own damn fault.

    I'll let someone else flesh this out. This argument can be shredded even without slippery slope, though I don't understand why you feel the need to instantly belittle that approach.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Think of the implications for isp's. What if every isp sent information about your surfing habits to the DEA? Better not visit any site that talks about illegal drugs or you just might have agents knocking down your doors.

    Boycotting companies is one solution, but how does one boycott the government.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Actually the DEA gets to take your house and your car and most of your money if they arrest you for drugs. They needn't even convict you. We are essentially living in a modern-day Germany with respect to the abandoment of basic human rights brought on by this agency (and its government-wide supporters). When was the last time you had to sign a loyalty oath saying you don't use drugs? Or provide a urine sample to prove it before there was any evidence against you?

    government assest seizure laws []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Amtrak also pays $800 million a year in property taxes on the ground their tracks are on. They also have to pay for their own police force. All of these similar items are free to users of highways. They pay for their own "traffic control" personnel, which is provided free by the government to airlines.

    Highway patrols, etc. are free? So are those gas taxes and registration fees all just figments of my imagination? The government provides traffic control for free to airlines? I suppose I'm imagining those fees that the airlines pay every time they land/take off from an airport, taxes on jet fuel, etc., too?

    I don't understand the rationale for wanting to eliminate Amtrak. Anyone who lives in the Northeast [...]

    There's your answer, right there: Amtrak is only really useful in the NE. (Coincidentally, that's also the only place where it's particularly profitable.) Anywhere else, and the two points you're travelling between are either close enough that driving is more convenient (and probably a bit faster), or far enough that a flight is much faster. Mind you, I live in the NE and find trains a far more comfortable way to get around than air travel, but I can't exactly criticize people living elsewhere in the country for not wanting to subsidize it.

    Yeah, the invasion of privacy issue is a concern. Just pay cash. You don't have to provide your ID.

    I'm guessing that paying cash is just the sort of thing that would get you searched.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Rail is one of the most energy efficient methods of travel. It's also the least funded.

    If federal funding was removed from air travel, would you spend the $2000 on a ticket from NY to Chicago?

    If federal funding was removed from highways, would you mind spending $20 in tolls every time you backed out of your driveway?

    IMHO, Amtrak is more relaxing and in a much higher class than any other form of transportation, with the exception of a 2000 mile limo ride, which I can't afford at the moment.

    For those who think Amtrak is dangerous, think of how many people are killed in auto accidents. And don't forget, you're more likely to survive a rail crash in the US then a plane crash. (Trains don't fall 10,000 feet when they have engine trouble)

    I stopped flying when I realized I was about as important as luggage to the airlines.
    One long distance train ride with my walkman, laptop and some books in a sleeper was the best travel experience I ever had.

    Now, back to the topic: Ever wonder why the airlines ask you for photo ID? Think that EZ-Pass doesn't record who you are when you drive thru that tollbooth?

    This isn't Amtrak at fault, it's the DEA.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2001 @08:34PM (#289332)
    there *is* no Supreme Court precedent regarding this

    The Supreme Court set this precedent in Terry v. Ohio (1968) [].

    In that case, a police officer noticed two people walking past a store a couple dozen times. Suspecting that they were casing the place, the police officer stopped them and asked their names. The suspects "mumbled something," whereup the officer spun one suspect around and patted him down. The Supreme Court ruled that the officer had the right to pat the suspects down for his own protection.

    The Supreme Court has since extended the right to conduct a search, so that police can now use criminal profiles based on secret criteria (I don't remember the case name. It involved a man who bought a round-trip airline ticked with cash).

    • " has been designed for viewing with Netscape 4.x and Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.x to 5.x. All the features of this site are not viewable with the browser that you are currently using. You may download a supported version from Netscape or Microsoft."
    It seems that Ford doesn't like Mozilla []. I suppose that's yet another reason I won't buy from them.

    Alex Bischoff
  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @06:51PM (#289338)
    This "war on drugs" has corrupted all levels of government and business, right down to the core. The essence of the corruption is the financial stake in the forfeiture of property and the business drug investigations, arrests, testing, incarceration, etc. generates. Probably about half of law enforcement budgets and a growing amount of the military budgets are justified by the "war on drugs". Since they stand to profit from investigations, arrests, seizures, etc., it is in their best interest to take steps to ensure that this arrangement continues indefinitely. The "war on drugs" will therefore never end. There are already too many people making too much money. Amtrak is just the latest company to be corrupted.
  • Other drugs will kill, too, maybe not the first time.

    You assume that anyone not 100% in favor of the war on (some) drugs is thus in favor of using those drugs.

    I am 100% against the War on Drugs, and I believe that use of most of them is a bad idea (but I'm not giving up my morning caffiene! BTW, do you drink coffee, tea, or sodas that aren't caffiene free? It IS a drug, you know!)

    I agree that most of the 'facts' used to support the war on drugs are false, many of them are obviously the results of flawed logic. Many of the problems claimed to stem from drug use actually stem from drug enforcement.

    For example, 'drug related' crime and violence. The vast majority of that is actually caused because the high profit margin and high risk nature of the drug trade attracts criminals. Alcohol carried the same sorts of problems until the day prohibition was repealed.

    You never know what you're getting: That's true of any contraband/black market. It applied equally to black market meat during WWII in England. It applies to stolen goods of all kinds. This problem, which does contribute heavily to drug related deaths and other less lethal problems would go away if drugs were decriminalized.

    Drugs destroy your future: Sure they can. So does incarcerating someone for several years with much more violent offenders, taking away some of their citizen's rights forever (voteing), perminantly limiting their employment options, and attaching additional social stigmas to somebody who probably already suffers from self-esteem problems. <sarcasm>The resulting feelings of hopelessness and isolation will certainly encourage them to give up the drugs that numb those negative feelings and become productive members of society instead. The fact that their felony conviction restricts them from most of the good jobs won't in any way make them feel alienated or cause them to develop the us against them mentality that leads to further brushes with the law.</sarcasm>

    The drug laws encourage drug users to get treatment and get off drugs: Yeah, sure. Why would having to admit to a felony in order to get help with an addiction discourage anyone? Simple decision: Keep the drugs under wraps and struggle alone or become a drug free lifelong whopper flopper.

    This leads us to a final problem. We don't actually know how many people suffere severe problems as a result of drugs. Those who do manage to use drugs recreationally without serious impact will be able to and must keep it a secret. Given the consequences of letting people know you are a drug user, we (as a society) will only know about the ones who are so adversely impacted that they can't keep it quiet. Those people might be a small percentage, or they might be a silent (under penelty of law) majority. For all we know, illegal drugs might be less likely to have devistating effects than the legal ones. As long as the war on (some) drugs grinds on, we will never know.

    Meanwhile, we will all continue to suffer from violations of civil rights and the corruption of law enforcement that the war on (some) drugs has encouraged.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday April 16, 2001 @05:33AM (#289340) Homepage Journal

    Convictions are not obtained in these cases because the person has agreed to the forfeit of the assets as part of a plea bargain.

    Unlikely. In order to make forfeiture work, an obscure fiction from English law was resurrected, the concept of charging an inanimate object with a crime. Since inanimate objects are not citizens, the courts can (and will) do whatever they like, unencumbered by any rights to due process.

    This leads to laughable cases like Federal government vs. a 1990 Buik. or Federal gopvernment vs. $5000 in cash. (Look it up!)

    Just to make sure that justice doesn't have a snowball's chance, the forfieture is divided amongst all of the agencies involved in the siezure, and the courts that uphold the forfieture. In other words, a bribe in all but name.

    'Suspicious activities' that can lead to forfieture include carrying large sums of cash, paying travel expenses in cash, flying to a city that has a heavy drug trade (especially if on short notice). Seeming to dislike having your bags searched. Seeming to have more money than someone of your gender and race is 'expected to have'. Etc. Etc. In other words, anything at all. I wouldn't be surprised if not being at all suspicious was seen as grounds for suspicion.

    It is not at all uncommon for someone who has property siezed to never hear from authorities again. There are also cases where a drug conviction does take place and others surrounding the person loose property even though they had no knowledge of the illegal drugs.

    In other words, it is a situation that is practically custom designed to generate corruption, and, no surprise, it has.

  • Despite many posts here to the contrary, Amtrak is a separate private entity. What's confusing folks here is that Amtrak currently receives piles of cash from the federal government, in order to keep it running. Currently, with the competition of planes and automobiles, it isn't easy to have commuter train service here in the USA.

    In fact, the 1997 Amtrak Accountability and Reform Act requires Amtrak to be self sufficient (or out of business) by 2002. DEA 'kickbacks' are almost surely attractive because they replace the lost income from federal grants.

    This is a scary prescident. A paranoid person could paint a picture of a large ISP in money woes selling information about browsing patterns, etc. to the DEA or others .


    Amtrak profitability link: .h tm
  • ...who ride Amtrak?

    I ride the train as much as I can because I can get a lot more done on the train than I can on a plane. There's an electrical outlet for a laptop, a nice little private cubicle, a decent restaurant, and even my personal bathroom. I can stretch out my legs and relax and code to my heart's content.

    There's only one thing missing: an Internet connection. If they can provide one for the DEA, why can't I have one?

    This is especially problematic when you realize that trains often travel through areas not covered by cell phones here in the West.
  • Saw something the other day on TV about how Amtrak can only carry passengers legally, which means that all the real money being made by railroads is being made by the privately owned ones that can carry mail and freight.
  • ...get an educasian!
  • What I meant wasn't that it was legal for only Amtrak and no one else to carry passengers, but that it wasn't legal for Amtrak to carry anything except passengers, i.e, no freight or mail, and that it was the lack of access to the revenues that freight and mail would provide that keeps Amtrak in the red. Like I said, it was something I heard on TV the other day.

    Does anyone know if Trailways and/or Greyhound carry packages anymore?

  • by Booker ( 6173 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @07:42PM (#289352) Homepage
    Probably about half of law enforcement budgets and a growing amount of the military budgets are justified by the "war on drugs".

    That, and a larger and larger percentage of law enforcement budgets are funded by the war on drugs - i.e. in an era of shrinking budgets, when the sherrif says they need new cop cars, the attitude is often "go out and seize one."

    Ok, maybe not that blatant, but they're expected to rely on their seizures as a major budgetary item.

    So they spend all this time looking for drugs (and, by extension, property & money to seize) rather than other activities which may more directly benefit the community in terms of law, order, and safety.


  • Very much the opposite, at least every one I've investigated.
  • would Amtrak be doing this if they weren't receiving said cut?

    Probably yes, since they're Gummint supported. However, the idea of (1) siezing everything in sight that might be connected with a possible crime; and worse yet (2) rewarding supposed whistle-blowers with a cut of the action is seriously, seriously stupid in the long term.

    Consider Amtrak Wars: the radiation was inside the road-trains and facilities which supposedly protected the Federation crews; in this case the ``radiation'' is social poison, and it's inside the system which supposedly protects us.

    All police-state approaches like this make several large, stupid assumptions - beginning with the classic pair ``our enforcers are honest and unbiassed'' and ``our methods are effective in bringing about our public aims (we know best).''

    But the really big blunder is ``the ends justify the means.'' They don't. The means corrupt the ends.

  • in Singapore, there was a stamp on my passport that was in BIG RED LETTERS stating that "DRUG TRAFFICERS WILL BE SHOT ON THE SPOT."

    And does it work?

    This is the kind of police state that the USA (and indeed many Western and European states) seem to be aiming for.


    Yah, that's what many people are complaining about: no laws or methods to protect you from the DEA.

    Now take your rage AND YOUR CAPITALS and turn yourself in.

  • why should I worry if I've done nothing wrong? They aren't using this information to arrest innocent people.

    They (DEA) are using this information to arrest innocent people and confiscate their assets even if they're never charged. The ratio of asset-seizures to criminals is, I gather, about 4:1.

    Yes, we may be protected from the odd drug dealer, but who protects us from the DEA?

  • I think its both frightening and exhiliratiing that you can't hope to get away with anything anymore unless you live in some podunk town at the far end of the road from the rail depot..

    Its not even surveillance anymore... The ubiquity of tracking that gives us both security and takes away our freedom to be victims.

    Don't do anything you're ashamed of and don't be ashamed of anything you do.
  • Here in Boston (and many other cities), the commuter rail is run by AMTRAK. So not riding AMTRAK means not going to work for a lot of people.

    Not really. Amtrak only's got your name if you had a reservation, and commuter trains are *NEVER* reserved (heaven forbid). You either have a ticket (which often you buy from a vending machine) or a monthly pass. In the latter case, the pass will carry your name, but the pass is *NEVER* for a particular time or date, so they'd be hard-pressed to find you out; all they'd know is that you can ride between Southbinghamdeadtown and Boston for a given month...

    You can always pay your ticket cash and give a bogus name (unlike with the FAA [], there is no FRA [] requirement that each passenger shall have it's name disclosed), or just board the train without a ticket and pay cash to the conductor.


  • Saw something the other day on TV about how Amtrak can only carry passengers legally, which means that all the real money being made by railroads is being made by the privately owned ones that can carry mail and freight.

    Not exactly true.

    When the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak's legal name) was founded in 1971, it was to relieve MEMBER RAILROADS of their legal obligations to maintain given passenger services. In exchange for rolling stock, Railroads joining Amtrak would no longer be required to keep those trains operating. Incidentally, not all railroads who had passenger trains did elect to join. For example, the Chicago, Rock-Island & Pacific did not join until 1976, the Southern Railway until about 1979 (the latter kept operating a very highly-rated luxury service between Washington and New-Orleans), the Denver & Rio Grande Western kept operating the famous California Zephyr (oddly, only between Denver and Salt-Lake City) until the mid 1980's. The D&RGW still operates a very famous ski train.

    Nowadays, in addition to many commuter authorities, there are a few short lines that operate tourist trains throughout the USA nowadays.

    However, no one can start a passenger rail service that competes with Amtrak (however, Amtrak is very open about operating private cars on it's trains, where for an extra-fee, you can have a very luxurious accommodation and food).


  • They're the ones consistently doing the speed limit and driving safely.

    I know a guy with a very expensive and flashy car who likes to teases cops thus: whenever he sees a fuzz cruiser on the prowl, he scrupulously drives 1 or 2 km/h below the limit. Most of the times, he says that he sees the cops meticulously checking the license plate (also kept impeccably clean), and then pull him over to check him...


  • Amtrak *DOES* carry freight, parcels and mail [], as well as automobiles [].


  • This is a scary prescident. A paranoid person could paint a picture of a large ISP in money woes selling information about browsing patterns, etc. to the DEA or others .

    Let's rephrase that a little bit:
    This is a scary prescident. A paranoid person could paint a picture of a large ISP in money woes selling information about browsing patterns, etc. to the DEA and others.
    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • What else can be said?
    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • But remember, it's officially a private company. I think that means that it's immune to Freedom of Information Requests. I could be wrong. I'd be happy to be wrong. But that's the way I'd expect the laws to flow.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Well said. And they won't run out of criminals for a long time, since they pass more laws every year to turn honest citizens into criminals.

    How many laws have been passed latley that were designed to benefit the people of the US, rather than the US government?

  • Well, since this is the only DEA-approved way that Amtrak can get "illegal" drugs at all, probably not. Anyone know if Amtrak is partial to one drug over another, ie. heroin instead of cocaine?

  • As part of their training, DEA agents take courses in Constitutional Law and proper arrest, search, and seizure. They are well-acquainted with what constitutes probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Do you know the difference? Do you know what a "Terry" stop is? They do. If anyone is going to be careful not to run afoul of Supreme Court case precedent, it's the feds

    Now I know why this post was moderated as "funny".

    I sincerely hope you're kidding. Because this is ridiculous. Sure, the feds probably do receive this training, I wouldn't doubt it. But I'll bet the average DEA agent is certainly no lawyer. I don't doubt that will try not to run afoul of Supreme Court precedent, that's not the issue.

    The issue is that there *is* no Supreme Court precedent regarding this. This doesn't at all sound Constitutional on the surface, but then again, privacy is not a guaranteed constitutional right, only protection from unwarranted searches and seizures.

    The difference is that, thanks to your favourite buddies that used to be in the White House, what constitutes probable cause is a lot looser, and law enforcement officials don't need a warrant for lots of things anymore, they only need probably cause. This is all part of the attempt to appear "tough on crime." Unfortunately, they are being tough on your constitutional rights.

  • Ahhh...this is where all this started. Makes sense now. :)
  • I think that it is probably 10% of the property they seize. They will take your house, your cars, and just about anything that you have because it was probable that you bought them with drug money.
  • Let's not forget that Amtrak is essentially owned and operated by the US government. Would you find this all that suprising if you found out that the post office is coordinating with the DEA to stop suspected drug shipments?

    Although this does bring up a good point... they're a government entitity, they're subject to Freedom of Information requests. If you really want to know the full scoop on what's happening, just ask [].
  • The detainee is not under arrest. But he is being detained.. Hmm....

    I recall a story from years ago (early 90's?) where a black lawyer from LA was 'detained' at LAX. He was on his way for a month's vacation in Hawaii (or some such place). He had a few thousand dollars cash on him. They searched him, found the cash, and detained him on suspicion of drug trafficking, because he fit their 'profile'. Black, mid-30's, lots of cash on his person.


  • Jeez, there's no other train!? Somebody should tell that to New Jersey Transit and SEPTA, which I ride at least once a month. They're about a fifth the cost of Amtrak for comparable distances, too.
  • Ah. So the DEA and FBI are different from every law enforcement entity in HISTORY, and they're only going to go after the "bad guys". They're not going to harass any innocent people. They're not going to hound anybody until that person is caught doing something inappropriate. They're not going to take every scrap of power they can lay their hands on in order to extend their authority. Of course not...that'd be wrong.

    I sure wish I lived on your planet.
  • The War on Drugs in nonsense. In my opinion, it's causing more problems in this country than anything else right now - and it's causing a whole hell of a lot of problems. From corruption in government to the losses of individual Constitutional rights, everybody is getting screwed except for those making money from it (Government and large corporations).

    And come on, Timothy, you need to read Smokedot [] more - we ran this story [] on Wednesday :P
  • That's one thing I don't get, in my ignorance: what proceeds do you get from a drug seizure? I presume they can't sell the drugs.

    When they make a "drug" seizure, they're not necessarily taking drugs - they can seize your house, your car, all the money in your bank account, your children, your computers, and any of your other possessions if you are simply suspected of being a drug dealer. You never even have to be charged with a crime, but you'll never see any of your stuff again.

    This can all happen as the result of an anonymous phone tip. Wonderful country we live in, eh?
  • The color of someone's skin or sound of their accent must never constitute probable cause.

    But they do. A few links to reduce your faith in our government:

    New Jersey: "Yes, we racially profile" []
    USA: Race, Rights, and Police Brutality []

    These are both articles from Smokedot [], but they link to external (i.e. reliable :) sources.
  • Would you find this all that suprising if you found out that the post office is coordinating with the DEA to stop suspected drug shipments?

    The post office has very stringent rules and regulations regarding packages it may inspect. Amtrak is not subject to these types of rules.
  • Man, they better not _touch_ my computers! :)

    Yeah, no shit :P It just goes to show you that the War on Drugs isn't a war on drugs, it's a war on the American people. Enough is enough.
  • Here is a login free link []
  • Drugs may not be made out of metal, but they still have detectors for them! These are the same systems used for detection of explosives. The detector you walk through uses backscatter from X-rays to fingerprint chemicals. These detectors are already installed at a number of major airports, although their current cost precludes them from being used everywhere. ug.html []
  • > It, too, will cause cancer given enough time, just like cigarettes.
    Note that most pot users will smoke far, far less than even a light smoker. Pot has certain self-limiting characteristics that cigarettes lack.

    I'm not sure if you are suggesting that people OD on pot. I have never heard of such a case, it appears to be very unlikely. I imagine it would be very hard if not impossible to OD by smoking pot. Perhaps it is easier to OD by ingestion due to the slower absorption.

    > You mention alcohol, which is as bad as the worst illegal drugs.
    Now you're just being silly. Alcohol isn't as bad as many other drugs because it's rather non-addictive, by and large. Yes, there exists a subset of the population that gets addicted, but it is small relative to the number of casual users. I imagine this is also true of pot. Not so with cigarettes, crack, heroin, etc. Of course cigarette addiction isn't nearly as harmful as the other drugs I mentioned because (1) the health effects are less bad, and (2) cigarette addiction doesn't impact the user's life very much.

    > Drugs are stupid. Cigarettes are stupid. Alcohol is stupid.
    Hearsay, by your own admission.

    Fuck, IHBT. Anyone as smug and self-righteous as yourself would've signed their name.

  • If that's your moral definition of a criminal, great--I'm sure Charlie Manson doesn't consider himself to be a criminal, because according to him he didn't cause anyone any harm at all.

    From a legal perspective, you're quite wrong. All that is required to be convicted in criminal court is for, (a), a law be broken, (b) it be established beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the one who broke this law, and (c) that you possessed mens rea ("criminal intent") in your action.

    For instance, if I go barrelling down the highway at thirty miles an hour over the limit and run a few red lights, I've committed a criminal offense of, at the very least, reckless driving, endangerment of others, and so on. But if I'm barrelling down the highway at thirty miles an hour over the limit and run a few red lights in order to get to the hospital before my wife bleeds to death in the passenger seat, I haven't committed any crime at all--because I possessed no criminal intent, only the reasonable intent of a concerned husband.
  • by rjh ( 40933 )
    You've made my case.

    No, he's shown your case to have more holes than a North Korean submarine. Whether or not they should be legalized is irrelevant; they are illegal, it is legal for them to be illegal (in that the courts have not overturned those statutes as unconstitutional), and that means if you break those laws without damn good cause, you're committing a crime.

    You can talk about "should" all you like, but brother, if you think that selling crack isn't a crime, I know a few district attorneys who'd just love to have a word with you. Exceptionally strong words, backed up with force of law, if you've happened to have ever sold crack to someone.

    Get the picture?
  • by rjh ( 40933 )
    To give a very simple example, consider the Soviet dissidents. They were, most certainly, committing crimes -- they were breaking Russian laws, which were quite legally adopted

    To the American judicial mind, the Soviet dissidents lacked mens rea, or the specific criminal intent. Also remember that the United States considers the Bill of Rights to be politically absolutist: what the Bill of Rights recognizes, no legitimate government (in the eyes of classical US legal thought) can deny its citizens.

    For instance, to the US legal mind, freedom of speech and religion are inherent human rights, and any government which seeks to deny this right is violating human rights and, thus, those laws are invalid.

    So for dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn (whose name I'm grossly misspelling), according to American legal thought, he didn't commit a crime because the law he was accused of breaking was enacted in violation of his human rights, and thus, null and void.
  • by rjh ( 40933 ) <> on Monday April 16, 2001 @01:37AM (#289401)
    After World War Two, the biggest threat to the United States (as perceived by the government) was found in the Soviet Bloc. The National Security Agency was born in large part to eavesdrop on Soviet traffic, in order that the US could enjoy a strategic advantage. If we knew what they were doing, we were in a better position to prevail against them.

    The NSA pursued this mandate with zeal that bordered on the unholy. They conspired with long-distance carriers, with manufacturers of cryptographic equipment, with anyone who had a line of communication that a shred of Soviet traffic could likely be found on. They applied pressure, they bribed, they twisted the knife, they cut all kinds of sweetheart deals.

    But today, the number one threat (in the eyes of the government) is no longer the Soviet Union. I don't know what Public Enemy Number One is nowadays, but you can be pretty sure the War on Drugs is getting close to top billing.

    Why is it so surprising that the agency tasked with combatting the "nation's greatest menace" is acting exactly the same as every other government agency which, in the past, has been tasked with combatting "great menaces"?

    If this took you by surprise, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. I don't find it at all surprising this is happening. I think it's probably likely that the DEA has sweetheart deals with airlines that do a lot of travel to South America, so the DEA can keep track of frequent travelers and try and use that information for better interception and seizure of contraband.

    The only thing that would surprise me at this point is if they weren't.
  • I would have told the agent "one moment" - went to the front of the car, asked for everyone's attention, and then given a speech, something along the lines of:

    "Attention, everyone - I have just been informed that I fit the profile of a drug smuggler - I paid for my ticket with cash and got on at the last minute. Is it now illegal in this country to use cash? When did you last use cash? Can I not choose to do something in this country on impulse? By purchasing my ticket and boarding, I harm no one! But the DEA agent sitting in seat XX says that I am a threat. You are my witnesses, ladies and gentlemen - my witnesses to this event. Remember it! This is just one more step down the road to tyranny!"

    (ok, I know, I know - I probably wouldn't even get to the front of the car, let alone give a speech - but wouldn't those things be within my rights, as well?)...

    Then I would go back to my seat, told Mr. Agent that I would NOT let him check my bags or person without my lawyer present, and also throw some warrant shit in his face as well (though I full well know it wouldn't matter, since a warrant only is needed for a residence, from what I understand) - but maybe it would stall him a bit. The agent would likely be beligerant (I would definitely remain absolutely calm during all of this - remain an upright citizen - so that my witnesses could see I was the one being badgered). He would likely handcuff me (I would ask why for - I pose not threat - and where are my Miranda rights - I want them read, damnit!), and take me "downtown" at the next stop. I would not say one more thing after my Miranda rights are read, no matter what they ask, other than I want to see my lawyer, and to ask for water, or to go to the bathroom, or what not. I would not give up any other information, until I saw my lawyer. I know I would end up being detained, and I would also not get to where I was going.

    I would make this agent work - I would gladly pay for a lawyer - then, when at last no drugs are found, and all of that time is wasted, I would push to file a lawsuit against these people for some civil rights violations. Fitting a profile does not equal to committing a crime! They want to charge me with a crime, they have to prove it, not just "think" I look like someone who could commit a crime. But that is where we are at now in this country - and none of us stands up against this bullshit because it might "inconvience us", or make it look like we are for the "bad guys". These are people we should protect also - even the bad guys have rights.

    We are all - - capable of committing a crime.

    But these actions and abilities (our rights that have been lost - "unreasonable search and seizure" - to the "War on (some) Drugs") are sanctioned by most people. But you what horrifies me the most?

    The fact that if I could make that speech, that every one of the individuals on that car (hell, probably the DEA agent himself, as well!), would tune me out, or look at me with hate, tell me to sit down, or be fearful of me... Why would that be?

    Because I would be the one truely free...

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • I like to hope I will be if the time comes. To do anything less is to declare you are less than human, and do not deserve the fundamental rights to privacy of which that entails. To bow down is to be in bondage - an animal.

    That's an awful lot of punishment to endure to make a point. Does anyone make moral stands like this anymore, in the face of handcuffs, jailtime, etc?

    Hardly anyone does - I would do it to prove a point, if not to the few around me - at least to myself, to know I won't bow down to a faceless, corrupt system, no matter the consequences.

    In the face of a prejudiced media and society? You're just going to be branded as an unruly wacko.

    Like I noted in my post, I relise that - and that alone frightens me...

    It occurs to me we have the oppression we do because nothing like this ever happens.

    It so rarely happens - when it does, it can sometimes be powerful - witness what happened in the wake of Rosa Parks. We just need more people to stand up for their beliefs.

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • Amtrak is incredibly useful for my occasional trips from Baltimore to Manhattan. I sometimes need to go up there for events at the headquarters (honbu) of my karate school. Often these are in the morning, so I hop on the train at an unghodly hour, grab some sleep en route, and walk less than a mile from Penn Station to my destination.

    Flying, beside being more expensive, would take me longer since the airport is not in the heart of Manhattan. Intercity bus is cheaper but less reliable, less comfortable, and the bus terminals on both ends of the trip are less conveniently located. I couldn't sleep on the way up (or read on the way back) if I drove up, and parking in Manhattan is an expensive adventure.

    But from now on, I'll be buying tickets with cash. Perhaps under the name Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst [].


    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms |

  • Do you have any idea how many people smoke or have smoked marijuana?
    About ten years ago, when I did some research on the subject, the figures were that sixty-some million Americans had used an illegal drug in their lives, thirty million had used an illegal drug in the past year, and fifteen million had used one in the past month. Numbers are probably significantly higher for lifetime use now.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms |


    "I was only following orders" didn't cut it at Nuremburg, and it doesn't cut it today.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms |

  • Amtrak got $555 million in 1999

    Amtrak also pays $800 million a year in property taxes on the ground their tracks are on. They also have to pay for their own police force. All of these similar items are free to users of highways. They pay for their own "traffic control" personnel, which is provided free by the government to airlines.

    I don't understand the rationale for wanting to eliminate Amtrak. Anyone who lives in the Northeast, Amtrak goes away, then all of those people going between major cities would either clog up I-95 or the airports, which are themselves are already over capacity. Just in the Philadelphia area alone, the feds are going to pour in 2 billion dollars (reference into minor airports in the area trying to move some smaller regional air traffic out of Philadelphia.

    Yeah, the invasion of privacy issue is a concern. Just pay cash. You don't have to provide your ID.

  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Monday April 16, 2001 @04:26AM (#289413) Journal
    Highway patrols, etc. are free? So are those gas taxes and registration fees all just figments of my imagination?

    They are "free" to the users of the road system. Police are usually paid for out of local taxes, not fuel taxes. As for the fees on take offs and landings and the jet fuel taxes, they hardly pay for all the costs involved in running airports and keeping the skies managed. The funding and revenue sources don't all go into and out of the same pot so accurate accounting is just about impossible, but often localities throw in money to help their airports with the excuse that the indirect income received through increase tourism, sales taxes, and employment will offset the expense. Some smaller communities pay subsidies (tax benefits or whatever) to encourage airlines to continue to provide service to them.

    The long distance Amtrak trains exist only to pacify members of Congress who scream each time Amtrak wants to pull out of their state. Look at am Amtrak map sometime. It touches every state except South Dakota. Think that is a coincidence? So Amtrak is screwed in having to provide service to 47 states yet get threatened to be cut off because they can't make that profitable. They should be allowed to concentrate on providing service in dense corridors like BOS-WAS, SF-LA, etc... They pay property taxes on tracks they own, and have to rent time on tracks they don't own.

    About 50 years ago, the ambitious Interstate highway project was kicked off. It's almost done. There are no big huge highway expansion plans on the books now. Nothing is planned but tweaking existing corridors. Most corridors have no room to expand so we're faced with huge condemnations of expensive property or double-decking many highways. The only way we can grow is to encourage a smart multi-modal transportation system where users have choices. Not everyone can take a bus to work, for example, but those that can keep cars off the road so those who can't or don't want to, can enjoy less congestion going to work.

  • I am so sick of everyone who bitches about the lack of privacy whenever law enforcement agents do something to try to even the odds when they are asked to enforce a law that is practically unenforceable. Whether the cops like it or not, this is their job - They have to do what they are told. When you are told to do something at your job that you don't feel is fair, do you just not do it, or do you try to find a tool that will tip the scales in your favor?

    Rather than bitch about how the police are the bad guys, the police shouldn't get to use technology to help them enforce the laws, the police shouldn't arrest people for laws I don't like -- WRITE YOUR CONGRESSPERSONS TO CHANGE THE LAWS. DONATE YOUR MONEY AND TIME TO THE CAUSES YOU WISH TO SUPPORT. RUN FOR OFFICE YOURSELF!

  • am i the only one who finds it...oh, i don't know, COMPLETELY FUCKED UP that the police can harass you on the grounds that you were obeying the law.

    Not at all. You can be stopped for speeding because it's illegal, but because everyone speeds you can also be stopped for not speeding because that's clearly suspicious behavior. It's almost as if they planned it that way...

    i wonder how history will judge a government that let it's nation be reduced to ash because they refused to say 'sorry.'

    You realize that only makes sense if you're talking about China, right? Bush expressed regret for the (self-inflicted) death of the Chinese pilot, but correctly did not accept responsibility for the crash, because it was not the fault of the US. In addition to causing the accident, China illegally held the Americans for nearly two weeks in an attempt to extort a confession from the US. China is the country that should be apologizing, but somehow I don't see that happening.

  • As for participating in the drug war in America, I am totally willing to live in a "police state" if it keeps even one child from "getting high" or using heroin.

    Sadly, the "police state" you welcome is far more destructive than the drugs themselves. Is it really better for people to die or spend their lives in prison, than for them to touch drugs? Should we really be fighting a war against our own families?

    No matter - the drug war is rapidly losing public support anyway. Its days are numbered.

  • Here in Boston (and many other cities), the commuter rail is run by AMTRAK. So not riding AMTRAK means not going to work for a lot of people.

    I'd like to see what happens when black folks are harrassed as frequently on trains as they are on the highway. My sister lives in New Jersey, and racial profiling by the state police is the main reason why she refuses to get a drivers license.

  • They're the ones consistently doing the speed limit and driving safely.
  • Ever wonder why some people are selected for random luggage checks and some aren't at the airport?

    For an example of this presumptive monitoring and action taking, check out this article from ABCnews []

  • Washington, DC Metrorail stations have video cameras. And we all know of red light cameras, but some locations now have red light full-motion video cameras. Neither are officially tied in to the DEA yet, though (AFAIK).

    The idea that one must lose privacy when one steps outside one's home is absurd. (Or even in one's home if one is renting, or even in the case of owning the home, there is still infrared sensing).

  • As noted in this []story. Seems like invasions of privacy are becoming more and more common as the laws designed to protect individuals become outdated.

    I know its a fine line between protecting privacy and letting criminals go unhindered, but especially with the developments in the U.K. it's a bit scary.
  • Well, of course they are. Existing packages are searched when deemed suspicious, and may be forwarded to customs or the DEA as appropriate.

    In fact, postal inspectors can open any package they feel probable cause is necessary, you've given up that right by entrusting your parcel to them.
  • Timothy what have you done with the other Slashdot editors! It was nice to unhandcuff Taco for a few minutes on Easter, but please let them go! Proper grammar on Slashdot makes me edgy!
  • Amtrak gets 10% of anything the DEA seizes off the trains.

    anything? isn't this grossly illegal? are they taking applications?

  • Huh? Where is your logic that follows to the equation:
    drugs users == stupid people

    Some of the most intelligent people that I know are drug users.
  • Let's boycott a tax-subsidized train sytem.

    The fewer people who ride, the less far that free money will have to spread. If you really want to hurt Amtrak, lobby Congress to cut off federal funding.

    The most recent information a quick google search turned up was that Amtrak got $555 million in 1999.

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.

  • It is libertarian. So wow, big surprise they are for drug legalization. I happen to agree with you, but that's pretty poor support for your point.

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.
  • It's the first time I've seen a link here, and it was refreshing not to have to change the URL for once!

    Uhh... wait a minute..... *grumble* []

    You listening, Rob? Slashcode needs an automatic link rewriter...

  • when the sherrif says they need new cop cars, the attitude is often "go out and seize one"

    I totally agree with the sentiment of your post. However, seeing as most police departments (around here, anyway) use these [], I find that unlikely...

  • Lord knows that I take my life into my own hands whenever I travel. Lets go down the list: Long hair: I've had it since grade 10. I don't like the way my face looks without it; I think the hair frames it nicely. Nervous: I get travel sick. I don't like being places that I'm not familiar with. I have gastro-esophagal reflux disease, and I'm always worried I'm going to yurl in public. Airplanes are actually nice for that bit; they expect it. Luggage: Unless I'm going for two weeks or more, I only use carry-on luggage. A backpack and laptop bag will take you further than you think. Attire: Again, travel sickness and a desire to be comfortable means I usually wear trackpants, a loose t-shirt, loose front-buttoner, and a big black leather 'biker' style jacket. Lots of pockets, and decent protection against those damn terrorists. Once, I got accused of smoking when I was in the plane's bathroom hurling. That amused me, because I'm so dreadfully allergic to cigarette smoke.... "Sir, we can't prove anything, but we know."
  • First of all stopping crime is not the only factor to be considered. Criminal enforcement must be balanced against personal liberties, total cost and welfare of the nation as a whole.

    True personal liberty would allow a corporation to sell any information to any entity at any price. You gave Amtrak the information, you didn't make Amtrak agree not to sell it, the information is now Amtrak's to do as they please with it. You should assume any information you provide a company is publicly available, unless that company signs an agreement otherwise. Even then you probably should consider the possibility that they might break that agreement.

    The problem is that drugs are illegal. Racial profiling would approach becoming a non-issue if we stuck to fighting real crime. It's never going to go away completely, our predjudices are what allow us to make rational decisions. Personally I'd recommend that the police be sued for harrassment for falsely detaining an innocent person. That would quickly limit their harrassment to cases where they actually believe there is a crime being committed. Of course, it might also increase the amount of planting of evidence and framing that is done. Immediate suspension with pay until a trial then discharge and jail time if convicted of planting evidence is the only thing you can do about that problem.

  • Depending on how they do this, Amtrak could be in trouble in Canada.

    Most recently, in Lebron, the Supreme Court relied on the confluence of a number of factors to conclude that Amtrak, a federally chartered for-profit corporation, is "part of the government"{114} for "the purpose of individual rights guaranteed against the Government by the Constitution."

    This would suggest that for tests outside of this area, Amtrak continues to be a private corporation, as the United States Congress stated it's intent to be.

    Now - there are Amtrak trains that run in Canada. They pick up passengers, and (presumably) gather some personal information on them. The difference would be that federal Canadian legislation covers train transportation, and thus any personal information gathered will be protected by Canadian privacy legislation.

    There is a nice article on this at efs/ucanadaprivacy.htm [], which quite correctly raises more questions than it answers. However - it seems possible that Amtrak is opening itself to legal liability by disclosing this information without a specific request from a law enforcement official (which should include a warrant).

    And just to cover one item quickly - the Canadian legislation covers Canadians even outside of Canada. They don't lose the protection when they leave the country.

  • You are using poor logic. A implies B does not mean B implies A. (In other words 'All drug free states are police states' does not mean 'All police states are drug free').
  • by rellort ( 146793 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @06:12PM (#289484)
    Aside from the technology, this is is no different from the standard profiling they do in airports. We all believe technology will make our lives easier. Well, it makes the DEA's lives easier too.

    Let me explain:

    As part of their training, DEA agents take courses in Constitutional Law and proper arrest, search, and seizure. They are well-acquainted with what constitutes probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Do you know the difference? Do you know what a "Terry" stop is? They do. If anyone is going to be careful not to run afoul of Supreme Court case precedent, it's the feds.

    An agent from the DEA standing around in the airport knows what constitutes suspicious activity and/or a suspicious appearance. They know which nationalities courier what drugs. They know what kind of "cargo" to look for. They know nervousness and evasiveness when they see it.

    The exact same thing applies with cyber activity. The profile they get of an Amtrak passenger is not fundamentally different from what they could get standing around the station observing people. The only difference is they are looking at data on a screen rather than faces and clothes.

    In fact, this form of profiling has the potential to be less racially biased than face-to-face observation. When you get over the knee-jerk reaction and think about it, it really is preferable to the current system. The current system being basically "stop people with brown skin".

    So technology is improving our lives, just not always in the ways we expect.
  • In return, the DEA gives Amtrak a cut of seized assets.

    So would Amtrak be doing this if they weren't receiving said cut?

    The AOL-Time Warner-Microsoft-Intel-CBS-ABC-NBC-Fox corporation:
  • As part of their training, DEA agents take courses in Constitutional Law and proper arrest, search, and seizure. They are well-acquainted with what constitutes probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

    Federal law enforcement agents are no more immune to corruption, idiocy or greed than any other kind of cop.

    I'm generally a big law enforcement supporter, but it's also important to call 'em when they screw up. It's like training a puppy... let it get away with crapping in the house, and it will never stop. Feds screw up a lot... Randy Weaver, Steve Jackson Games, etc. Like some old dead white guy once said, "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." That happens to be true.

    Though I will admit that the DEA has a much better rep than some other agencies. *cough BATF cough*

  • That's how I boycotted the government of California. I'm living in Seattle now, and I don't feel like an "undesireable," like I did in CA. Washington is great.

    Yes, this is a gun thing. Settle down.
  • Maybe alot of drugs are shipped by rail. Airports have alot of security so maybe people avoid them.

    Why they don't just drive I dunno...maybe the police have gotten good at picking out drug couriers?
  • by logicnazi ( 169418 ) <> on Monday April 16, 2001 @03:09AM (#289493) Homepage
    Good argument but it has some problems.

    First of all stopping crime is not the only factor to be considered. Criminal enforcement must be balanced against personal liberties, total cost and welfare of the nation as a whole.

    Where police targeting people based on some less psychologically important characteristic than race it would probably be a good idea...but the mere fact that race is so close to many peoples identity and has so frequently been inappropriately used before the mere knowledge that race is being used to profile is quite damaging.

    Race is also an inherint non-changable property. As such anyone of a "profiled" race is likely to run into a great deal of law enforcement harrasment. An individual (in fact an entire cultural group) routinely harrased (or at least suspected of crimes) by law enforcement is probably going to develop a poor attitude towards law and authority in general and possibly increase their rate of criminal activity.

    Secondly, it is an unfortunate fact that people (and I have no doubt police officers are included in this) are extremely poor at manipulating probabilities. People tend to form sterotypes (as in a vision of how things usually are) and rate liklihoods by how reasonable they are instead of how probable they are. For instance most people would (at least until they thought carefully about it) rate the sequence of coin flips HHTHTTH more likely than HHHHHHH because it somehow seems more "reasonable."

    This leads one to suspect that racially profiling is not done in a statistically usefull manner. In fact police may be acting inefficently by their racial profiling.

    Consider as a police officer your primary contact is with criminals. Suppose for the purpose of argument that black people make up a significantly greater percent of criminals than whites (or at least the criminals these police come into contact with). These police officers then develop an image of a criminal as a young black male. This would lead them to falsely assume that young black males are almost certainly criminals when in fact most of them are innocent.

    Finally racial profilling seems to be used primarily in respect to the war on drugs. While this entire war is a gross violation of civil liberties it points out the further inappropriatness of racial profiling. As a matter of fact the difference between white and black drug use in young men is actually not very large but the difference in arrests and prison sentences is huge. In short these drug laws are being used to remove "undesierables" which should be read as minorities.

    BTW I really like how you criticize us for being too hung up on individual rights to implement this but yet your "enlightened" european nations are the ones who haven't implemented such a policy.
  • You state:
    The only drug free state is a police state.

    Bullshit. Drugs will always be around - even soviet russia under Stalin had a drug problem in its heartland - whether it was some kid boiling poppies and shooting up or doing an actual "street sold" narcotic.

    The only reason we fight this is because the government doesn't have control over it, and as such, can't tax it. Alcohol has destroyed many more relationships than drugs, poisioned more livers and fucked up more babies than any street drug.

    Smoking has kill millions - we know its bad, but do fuckal to stop it. Why? because the govt gets $$ from it and it keeps the rabble from rising up.

    Blah, sounds like propaganda, so I'm going to stop. That shit is true though - quite a number of american spend their weekends hung over, and even more gladly give the govt money that the govt didn't even really ask for..

    Last thing. Stalin made "Adolf the angry Jew from Austria" seem like a little boy, estimated 45-50 million dead - perhaps more... Only difference was that he didn't count the people he killed.

    I have a shotgun, a shovel and 30 acres behind the barn.

  • I always say the war on drugs will never end because people are either to dumb to know what a bad idea it is or smart enough to use it for their own personal gain. These corrupt people are smart ones.
  • by logiceight ( 187269 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @07:05PM (#289507)

    Boycotting companies is one solution, but how does one boycott the government.


  • by wobblie ( 191824 ) on Monday April 16, 2001 @05:03AM (#289512)
    reposted ...


    by Bob Black

    No one ever made a more important observation in seven words than Randolph Bourne once did: "War is the health of the state" []. War has been the main motor for the extension of state power in Europe for a thousand years, and not only in Europe. War enlarges the state and increases its wealth and its powers. It promotes obedience and justifies the repression of dissent, redefined as disloyalty. It relieves social tensions by redirecting them outwards at an enemy state which is, of course, doing exactly the same thing with all the same consequences. From the state's perspective, there is only one thing wrong with wars: they end.

    That wars end is ultimately more important than whether they end in victory or defeat. Occasionally defeat spells destruction for states, as for the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires after World War I, but not usually, and even if it does, they give way to other states. The state-system not only endures, it prevails. Usually war is well worth the risk -- not to the combatants or the suffering civilians, of course: but well worth the risk to the state.

    Peace is something else again. The immediate consequence may be a recession or a depression, as after the American Revolution and World War I, whose hardships are all the more galling when they fall upon the population which "won" the war and naively supposes it will share in the fruits of a victory which belongs to its state, not to the people. The regime may artificially prolong the wartime climate of repression and sacrifice, as did the United States by working up the Red Scare after World War I, but soon the people crave what Warren Harding promised them, a return to normalcy. The vanquished, of course, rarely fare as well as occupied Japan and Germany did after World War II, but even then the Germans initially experienced famine.

    There have been epochs in which certain states were almost always at war, such as Republican Rome, whose oligarchs, as Livy repeatedly demonstrates, were well aware of the way war was a safety-valve for dissipating class conflict. Colonial wars well serve the purpose since they are fought far from the home country and usually waged against antagonists who are, however gallant, greatly inferior militarily.

    The British Empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a good example. Engorged with the wealth of commercial capitalism (soon to be unimaginably enlarged by the Industrial Revolution), secure in its insularity, shielded by the world's greatest navy, with a robust and ruthless ruling class wise to the ways of statecraft, the British State could afford a war anytime it needed one. The cannon fodder was easy to come by. There were outright mercenaries such as Hessions on the market. And yesterday's enemies were today's troops. The Irish, repeatedly crushed in the seventeenth century, were one source. Starting in 1746 the British annihilated the society and culture of the Scottish Highlanders, then recruited regiments from the survivors. They would repeat these cost-effective methods in India, in Africa, everywhere. And then there were the English sources of expendibles: the peasants forced off the land by enclosure of the commons, and the urban poor. They would not be missed, and there were always more where they came from.

    But times have changed. Some states can possibly carry on in the old way for a while -- maybe Serbia, North Korea, Iraq -- but the United States cannot, for at least two reasons: We are too squeamish, and we are too poor.

    Too squeamish in the sense that, as Saddam Hussein crowed before the second Gulf War, America is a society which cannot tolerate 10,000 dead. He was right, although that did him no good, since he was unable to inflict 10,000 or even 1,000 deaths. Grenada and Panama were larks, but even such two-bit gang wars as Lebanon and Somalia were not, and nobody has any stomach for war in Haiti or Bosnia. Americans are fast losing their taste for media wars, to say nothing of real wars.

    And too poor for any war long enough to put a lasting blip in any President's ratings. The attack on Iraq was the turning point. As adroitly handled as the manipulation of the mass mind was, Americans only went along with the war on the condition that the "Allies" pay for it. Even the most dim-witted are dimly aware that the lion's share of their Federal taxes goes to pay for war debts and military spending they never reaped any benefits from. The trade-off for lives in a high-tech, media-savvy, photogenic war is money. It costs more, immensely more, than war ever has. But America does not have more, immensely more wealth than it ever has. It has less, and less and less all the time.

    Even with the massed forces of ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and all the rest of the mainstream media behind him, and despite an overwhelming victory which owed as much to luck as skill, George Bush became the first President to win a war and then lose an election -- to a pot-smoking, womanizing draft-dodger.

    Thus the regime is caught in what the Marxists used to call a "contradiction." It needs war, for war is the health of the state, but (with occasional ephemeral exceptions) it cannot afford either to win wars or lose them. But what kind of a war is it possible to wage, at not too intolerable a cost, which avoids these twin pitfalls -- a war which cannot be won or lost?

    The "War on Drugs." Which is not a real war, of course, but what the Germans call a Sitzkrieg, a phony war. Formerly they sold us the war to end all wars. Now they sell us an endless war. The March of Dimes is an instructive precedent. The March of Dimes raised lots of money which (what was left of it after most of it went for advertising and administration)financed research on a polio vaccine. Then came catastrophe: Jonas Salk found a polio vaccine. So, its purpose accomplished, the March of Dimes went out of business, right? (Just kidding.) No, the organization moved on to an amorphous quest, to conquer "birth defects," of which there are so many varieties that the March of Dimes can count on doing business for many years to come. Some people say "the ends justify the means," others say they don't. The March of Dimes has transcended the contradiction: The means justify the end.

    Such is the utility, to the state, of the War on Drugs. It cannot be lost, for there is no enemy to lose it to. And for countless reasons it cannot be won. The government cannot inderdict more than a fraction of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs which, by illegalizing them, the government has raised the price on to the point that they are well worth smuggling in. And some of the dope, such as marijuana and opium, is easily produced domestically. Many tens of millions of Americans have indulged in illegal drugs, including the President. Their kids see no reason not to try what their parents did, regardless what the parents are preaching now. Children tend not to heed their parents when they know they are lying. Besides, there is always alcohol.

    And in the suburbs as in the ghetto, legalizing drugs has jacked up their prices so far that busting drug dealers has no "supply-side" effect. Taking a drug dealer off the street just opens up a vacancy for another entrepreneur. Indeed, it is standard practice for dealers to get their competitors busted to take that competitive edge. But it makes no more difference who is dealing the drugs than it makes who is running the state. Indeed, they may be the same people! The Drug War is the health of the state.

    Because it is only a phony war, the War on Drugs is fiscally manageable. The government can spend as much or as little as it likes, since the result is always the same. Even the out-of-pocket costs are disguised, divided as they are among Federal, state and local governments and confused with funding for law enforcement. The single greatest expense, prisons, is one which most people mistake for just about the best thing the government does for them. Underpinning this error is a misconception about what the product of the criminal justice system is. It is not crime control, for even if that could be measured with any accuracy, there is no evidence that law enforcement in general reduces crime. The product is crime rates, which are a function, not of the amount of crime, but of the amount of law enforcement. Thus the authorities can manufacture a "crime wave" if they want more money, or ease up on enforcement if they want to take credit for doing exactly the opposite -- a reverse Catch-22, a no-lose situation. Aside from themselves and their higher-ups, the only beneficiaries of those 100,000 more police that President Clinton will put on the streets will be Dunkin' Donut franchisees.

    What's more, to some extent the War on Drugs pays for itself. Just as armies used to subsist largely by "living off the land," pillaging the districts they passed through, so the drug warriors cram their coffers with booty from forfeitures. And that's just on the formal, legal level. Off the books, of course, the police have always seized a lot more drugs than ever found their way to the evidence room. The dealers and junkies are unlikely to complain. (The classic scenario: a cop makes an illegal search on the street. He finds something. He asks, courteously, "Is this yours?" The answer is always no.) Some dope the police sell on their own account. Some they use themselves. And some they use for "flaking" (planting drugs on suspected drug dealers) and "padding" (adding more dope to what was found to turn a misdemeanor into a felony).

    In still another way the War on Drugs offers one of the benefits of a real war without its costs and risks. Every real war is a civil liberties holocaust. Even on the formal, legal level, national security -- a so-called compelling state interest -- tends to trump fundamental rights, at least until the shooting stops. Meanwhile patriotic vigilantes carry out the castrations, the lynchings, the arsons -- the dirty work too dirty for the state to do, even in a supposed wartime emergency, but not too dirty for the state to wink at afterwards. The United States during World War I and the Red Scare is one example; the Italy which the liberals let the Fascists take over, after letting them extralegally smash the socialists, communists and anarchists, is another.

    But peace returns and the legal ground lost is mostly recovered, or even more ground is taken. Once the state has demolished the radical opposition irreparably, it may well restore constitutional rights to the impotent remnants and bask in its own announced glory, parading its tolerance once it doesn't matter any more.

    The phony war is much more effective. It cannot be conducted without massive invasions of liberty and property. The single most important right implicated, and endangered, by the War on Drugs is the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable searches and seizures. This body of law effectively began during Prohibition, and today it is, as Professor Fred Cohen says, "driven by drugs." The rights of everyone are defined by the rights the judiciary grudgingly grants to drug offenders.

    Other rights are reduced too. Under the forfeiture laws, private property is taken without due process or just compensation. Applied to Native Americans and others, drug laws interfere with freedom of religion; so does the common practice of forcing drunk drivers into "rehabs" for indoctrination in the religious tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous. Even the campaign against gun ownership is an indirect consequence of the War on Drugs. Participants in the drug trade have to enforce their own contracts, since the state will not. And prohibition has made drugs very valuable commodities: in the inner cities, by far the most valuable commodities. Meanwhile, drug addicts rob and steal to support their habits. The result is an arms race and the clamor for gun control. One prohibition leads to another.

    For the criminal, the ultimate challenge is the perfect crime. For the state, it is the perfect law. Is it prohibition?

    Maybe not. Drug prohibition is today much more popular than alcohol prohibition ever was, but within living memory, decriminalization was a serious possibility. It might become so again if the anti-drug hysteria continues to rise till it reaches a level impossible to sustain. And it probably will rise, because the drug war has been institutionalized. Various agencies and organizations have a vested interest in its unlimited extension, although its unlimited extension is not only impossible, it would deprive the state of the great advantage of drug war over real war: its predictability and manageability. As some organs of government grow and grow, there is less for others. Since victory, like defeat, is impossible, there will never be a "peace dividend" to divvy up. The state is probably already draining more wealth out of civil society than is consistent with the state's own long-term interests. If it takes more and more, the parasite will kill the host -- or the host will kill the parasite.

    Eventually the state may succumb to its own success. The state is huge. And it is bureaucratic. That means that it is intricately subdivided by function (or by what was initially considered a division of labor by function: in fact, overlapping or competing jurisdiction is common and tends to increase over time). Even if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, it may not be able to do anything about it. (Or else, in the words of the German proverb, "one hand washes the other.") Inter-agency cooperation becomes more difficult as it becomes more frequent and more necessary. "The complexity of joint action" thwarts action, or its purpose.

    It is very hard, administratively, to reduce a bureau's budget, but easy to increase it. Bureaus fiercely resist zero-based budgeting -- that is, starting from scratch, the annual rejustification of every line of the budget request -- as reinventing the wheel. And it is difficult for higher-level authority to identify areas for cost reduction, if it even wants to, since the very raison d'etre of bureaucratic organization is deference to institutionalized expertise. The easy way is to take the previous budget as presumptively the next one; it is only departures from the status quo, not the status quo itself, which require justification. The bureau, staffed with supposed experts, is itself the usual source of justifications for departures, and the departures are always in the direction of more money and more power for the bureau. What goes for each bureau goes for all of them. Thus government grows.

    Referring to the way competition between workers lowers wages for all of them, Fredy Perlman observed: "The daily practice of all annuls the goals of each." Inter-agency interactions tend to have the same effect. So does inter-agency competition for tax money.

    The long-term implications for the War on Drugs are, for the state, ominous. The more the state extends its control over society, the less control it has over itself. The more the state absorbs society, the weaker the state as an entity responsive to a common will becomes. It disintegrates into an authoritarian pluralism reminiscent of feudalism, but lacking its romantic charm. Some agencies fatten off the War on Drugs, most do not. The ones that do are the first to go their own way. Attorney General Janet Reno had no control over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms when it exterminated the Branch Davidians to win what amounted to nothing more than a gang war: but she took responsibility. The Drug Enforcement Administration is likewise as independent as Hoover's FBI or anybody's CIA.

    For the state, another inevitable adverse consequence of the Drug War is corruption. Not that corruption is necessarily a bad thing for the state. Up to a point, police shakedowns of drug dealers, bookies, pimps and other extralegal entrepreneurs benefit the state in more than one way. The more the cops collect in payoffs and confiscations, the less they have to be paid in salaries. Cops whose supervisors know they are on the take (as they do, since they are on the take too) look the other way unless and until for some reason they need to get rid of a particular cop. Corruption is thus a management tool.

    But some cops get too greedy and go too far. Most are "grass-eaters" (bribe-takers) who take what comes their way, but some are "meat-eaters" (extortionists) -- proactively corrupt -- who actively seek out or set up corruption opportunities, like the Special Investigative Unit detectives depicted in the movie Serpico. The grass-eaters cover for the meat-eaters (the "blue code of silence") since they all have something to hide. Until recently, police administrators and their academic allies thought that they could keep corruption under control through various institutional reforms most of which were initially proposed by the Knapp Commission. Maybe the reforms would have worked, except for one thing: the War on Drugs. Corruption is making a comeback, even in the Knapp-reformed NYPD. Because penalties are much harsher and the profits of drug trafficking much higher, the protection the police sell commands a much higher price. Drug-driven corruption is the growth sector of police misconduct.

    For the state, the problem with runaway corruption is that it cannot be confined to where its benefits exceed its costs. The state needs the police for a modicum of selective law enforcement and, much more important, for social control -- as the occasion calls for, to break strikes, evict squatters, suppress riots, repress dissidents and keep traffic moving. Even in our sophisticated times, when manipulation is the hippest of control strategies, there is often no substitute for the gun and the billy-club.

    But a pervasively corrupt police force cannot be counted on when push comes to shove. Meat-eaters cannot spare the time to enforce the law. Officers on the nod are ineffective knights of the club. Police who are enforcing drug laws are unavailable to enforce others. There's been a tremendous expansion in undercover police work in recent years, inevitably accompanied by more corruption. Police, as workers, are notoriously difficult to manage because they are usually out by themselves, unsupervised. Detectives especially are in a position to be secretive about their activities, and more drug enforcement means more detective/undercover work. These cops are pursuing their own agendas. Why do dogs lick their balls? Because they can.

    Corruption scandals demoralise the police and delegitimize the state. Most people obey the law most of the time, not because they fear punishment if they don't, but because they believe in the system. As they cease to believe, they will cease to obey -- not only the laws that don't matter (like "don't use drugs") but also the ones that do (like "pay your taxes"). And, ironically, crackdowns on corruption impair police effectiveness for other purposes.

    The state has overbuilt itself so heavily that the weight begins to crack the foundations. It is not the sort of elephantiasis that can be eased by privatization. It doesn't matter who collects the garbage. What matters is who has the guns. Not "social pork" but the essence of sovereignty -- the means to enforce order -- is tumorous. Thus the cancer is inoperable. The state may die, fittingly, of an overdose.


  • No no no no. When he/she says "boycott" he/she means the FBI, not Amtrak! I mean, how many police forces does one nation need, anyway?
  • Reminds me of the list of risk factors of using drugs / being suicidal / being at risk of shooting up your school that schools gave to parents. As I recall it was pretty much impossible not to qualify!
  • Yes, but keep in mind that Amtrak (officially the National Rail Passenger Corporation) was created in 1971 to save passenger rail service that the rail companies would otherwise have discontinued. It receives a significant operating subsidy and annual capital grants from Congress, though it is supposed to be self-sufficient in its operating budget in 2003 (I think).

    Amtrak is most often competitive with driving. In some markets it's distinctly faster (notably the Northeast Corridor, where it competes with air travel). But for the same customer experience you really don't have an alternative.

    Note that there's almost nowhere in the world where there is competition for intercity rail service. Japan is probably the notable exception, with national and private railways competing on many major routes.

    So, back on topic: gubmint is gubmint, as you said. If you want to transport drugs, you'd do better to stay in your car. I guess.

  • I haven't been to the UK since the privatisation (right UK spelling, yes?) but I have certainly heard about the delays and crashes - it sounds to me like they made some pretty dumb assumptions about the ability of multiple companies (Railtrack and the operators) to run service together.

    The experience of Amtrak, which uses other companies' tracks except on the Northeast Corridor and is therefore subject to delays from late freight trains, should have informed the UK that this wouldn't work very well. Oh well!

  • While I understand the need and want for privacy, I stand by my belief...why should I worry if I've done nothing wrong? They aren't using this information to arrest innocent people.

    Yes they are.

    To be a criminal you must cause another person harm, against their will.

  • Oh, and don't forget about sex offenders! They should be able to keep their information private too for "safety".

    Hmmm... If our jails were not full of non-violent drug offenders, sexual predators might not be released so quickly.

    I think you need to read Brave New World, 1984, and We.

  • by Syllepsis ( 196919 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @06:06PM (#289520) Homepage
    Payola to the networks for anti-drug messages, removal of constitutional search and seizure protection, deals with Amtrak...

    It doesn't stop there, I am sure people will uncover multiple intrusions, and every day the DEA looks to invade our lives even more. In the future, they will certainly be checking your mail if the war on our children...err...drugs is to continue.

    The only drug free state is a police state.

  • by ageitgey ( 216346 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @06:15PM (#289533) Homepage
    they catch you in your DeCSS shirt? Does Amtrack get to keep the sleeve?
  • by Dave Emami ( 237460 ) on Monday April 16, 2001 @02:26AM (#289544) Homepage
    So far, there are a lot of "if you aren't doing anything illegal, you have nothing to worry about" posts. That line of thought is completely invalid when discussing the War on (Some) Drugs. The DEA and other police agencies typically sieze the cash upon any suspicion of drug activity. If the person is arrested and acquitted, or not arrested at all, the DEA/pigs get to keep the cash. There are many documented instances available online (no link--I'm lazy), even through the rightist Cato Institute.

    While I agree with you, it shouldn't surprise you that an organization like Cato should be against the drug war. It's not a left/right issue anymore; the Democrats have embraced the drug war just as heartily as the Republicans have. When was the last time you heard Gore or Gephardt or Daschle calling for legalization?

    There are quite a number of Republican or conservative figures calling for an end to the drug war -- William F. Buckley, Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, Rep. Tom Cambell of California (who ran against Diane Feinstein last fall), Walter Williams (who subs on Rush Limbaugh's show fairly frequently), former Sec of State George Schultz, Milton Friedman, and others. Any conservative who claims to be in favor of capitalism -- the unrestricted exchange of goods and services between consenting persons -- but is in favor of the drug war, is a hypocrite. Many are, but a sizeable number are not.

    Actually, I think that the politicians to end the drug war may be more likely to be Republicans, strictly on Nixon-to-China grounds. A liberal wanting to end the drug war, risks being tarred as a "pot-smoking sixties hippie"; a conservative runs no such risk.

    And as far as asset forfeiture goes, that's another case where there are Republicans on the right side of things. Asset forfeiture is, after all, a gross violation of property rights, and for that reason you do see those Republicans who have and stand by principles acting against the forfeiture laws -- such as Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary committee (not exactly small fry) pushing through the 1999 forfeiture reform bill.

    Mind you, I'm not saying that the Republicans are angels on this matter. They're not. But this is not a left/right issue anymore, although this article [] in the New Republic makes a good case that it's becoming an east/west issue.

  • by the real jeezus ( 246969 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @06:44PM (#289549)

    Are you kidding me? Drugs aren't made out of metal.

    Besides, if they really wanted to "stop drugs", they would close down every liquor store, tobacco shop, and pharmacy. They have instead made arbitrary decisions based on junk science--this drug will be legal, and therefore "good" and "this drug will be illegal, and therefore "bad"

    If you love God, burn a church!
  • by the real jeezus ( 246969 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @07:03PM (#289550)

    So far, there are a lot of "if you aren't doing anything illegal, you have nothing to worry about" posts. That line of thought is completely invalid when discussing the War on (Some) Drugs. The DEA and other police agencies typically sieze the cash upon any suspicion of drug activity. If the person is arrested and acquitted, or not arrested at all, the DEA/pigs get to keep the cash. There are many documented instances available online (no link--I'm lazy), even through the rightist Cato Institute [].

    It is estimated that a conviction is not obtained in 80% of cases where cash/assets are siezed due to suspicion of drugs. That means that money is stolen by the government in 80% of seizure cases. I have read testimony given before our Congress by experts on the law; they don't seem to care. Since the speed-freak president Nancy Reagan declared a War on (Some) Drugs nearly twenty years ago, billions of dollars have been stolen from innocent people. This money has been used to arm every police department with machine guns, riot shotguns, body armor, armored carriers, etc...

    Meanwhile, most of the "facts" used by the anti-drug people have been debunked. However, bullshit is often more persistent than reality, so the general public is still convinced that (some) drugs are totally evil.

    The DEA sucks, too. One of their agents shot and killed an unarmed guy while making a buy in Jacksonville, Florida last year. The agent said it was an accident--he will never be prosecuted. It is 100% legal, if you wear a badge, to murder someone selling a plant that has been used safely by millions of people. Meanwhile, alcohol is blamed for over 100,000 deaths annually.

    We now have the police state we asked for.

    If you love God, burn a church!
  • by TGK ( 262438 ) on Sunday April 15, 2001 @06:13PM (#289563) Homepage Journal
    Warning: IANAL, all thoughts, opinions, and ideas expressed in this post are those of the poster alone. Don't argue this in front of the Supreme Court, or indeed even your mother.

    The DEA, can, as far as I know, use informants if they so choose. Corporations make wonderfull informants as they rarely have a sence of morality attached to them. Were the DEA forcing Amtrack to give these passanger lists over, that would be a Constitutional question (unreasonable search etc) but paying them is something else entirely.

    I'm not debating the moral question, I think it sucks. But there's not diddly squat that I can think of that prevents Amtrack from selling that data to anyone else, be they a marketing agency or the US Governemnt.

    More to the point, who's really going to come down on the DEA for buying passenger lists from Amtrack? It's hard to find a Fed Law Enforcement group more well received by the American People then the DEA.

    This has been another useless post from....
  • by nanojath ( 265940 ) on Monday April 16, 2001 @05:36AM (#289565) Homepage Journal
    The idea that the feds are careful not to run afoul of constitutional protections isn't backed up by the facts - and why should they, when they've had such a fine record of getting the Supreme Court to roll back our constitutional rights whenever the menace of drugs is invoked. (no-knock warrants, piss tests, anonymous informants, the use of helicopters for visual and infrared espionage on citizens, substantial weakening of what constitutes illegal search and seizure - just to name a few).

    Do you honestly believe you could determine "passengers' names and itineraries and... see whether they paid in cash or credit" merely by standing around watching people check in? There's no probable cause or reasonable suspicion here - this is just one agency giving another agency private information on the movements of private citizens, for pay. By virtue of riding the train you get your personal information shaken down. (Here's a concept, people - read the article then post your "opinions" on it). The DEA is using this illegally obtained information to create probable cause - not the other way around.

    I agree that there is a lot of illegal racial profiling in current law enforcement practices. That doesn't mean that something which violates everyone's rights is an improvement. Our rights have been steadily eroded by the war on drugs - a war, I might point out, that has only made the drug situation worse (there is a higher per-capita incidence of drug addiction now than when cocaine, marijuana extracts and opium were commonly available as legal patent medicines). Stop making excuses for the government. If you don't like racial profiling then you don't like the war on drugs, which is America's single most concentrated assault on African Americans since slavery. Figure out what you're fighting and get on the right side.

  • by Heaviside ( 415733 ) on Monday April 16, 2001 @08:32AM (#289599)

    So far, there are a lot of "if you aren't doing anything illegal, you have nothing to worry about" posts.

    About 10 years ago there were many stories in the news about government agencies, from the county level on up, who were trying to emulate the DEA's property seizure powers. In one such case a paramilitary group from the Department of the Interior, in conjunction with the DEA, raided a Southern California ranch and killed the ranch owner when he appeared on the porch with a gun.

    It turned out that the rationale for the raid was that the rancher's wife had a "history of drug problems" and there were likely to be illegal drugs on the property. A judge leading the ensuing investigation of this incident concluded that the raid was instigated to a great degree by a desire to confiscate the ranch and add it to the Department of Interior's holdings. This is not the only example of a lame government operation, it is simply a particularly egregious one.

    No matter how someone feels about the "war on drugs," and no matter how beneficent our officials, we all have to be concerned about dove-tailing the agendas of various government agencies and where this may lead.

If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars. -- J. Paul Getty