Sunday, February 29, 2004
An Alcohol Experiment in Finland
Taxes are one of the best devices for controlling alcohol consumption. It appears that even heavy drinkers are rather sensitive to price, that is, higher prices for booze discourage drinking, and often by a significant amount. (Typical calculated elasticities for beer consumption are around -.3; for wine, -.6; and for spirits, closer to -1.) Legislated changes in alcohol taxes in the US generally raise the level of existing taxes, though inflation slowly eats away at the real value of taxes that are fixed in nominal terms -- for this reason, many states have alcohol taxes that are lower today (in real terms) than in the 1950s.
Finland has maintained high taxes on alcohol since it ended its own national prohibition in 1932. But on March 1, taxes will be considerably reduced. Why? The accession of nearby Estonia to the European Union means that Estonian alcohol will become increasingly available in Finland -- I guess the idea is that Finns will buy their booze in Estonia (where it is cheap) and bring it back home, unmolested by customs once Estonia is in the EU. (For similar reasons, Swedes buy beer in Denmark and the British buy lots of wine in France.) So to reduce the surge of decentralized imports (and to protect domestic sales), Finland is reducing its taxes on alcohol sold domestically. As a result, prices on alcohol are expected to fall, perhaps by as much as 40 percent. So this tax decrease presents quite an experiment with substantially lower alcohol prices, and if the usual elasticities apply, we should see a surge in drinking in Finland.
Update: My speculation about the rationale for the tax decrease was pretty much correct, it seems. This article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer tells the story. Here's an excerpt:
"When Finland and neighboring Sweden, also concerned about high alcohol consumption, joined the EU in 1995, they were granted special permission to continue their tight policies until January 2004, including limiting the amount of alcohol that travelers could bring home from trips abroad to other EU countries.
In Sweden, the government stuck to its policy of high taxes even after the EU's special exemption ended.
In Finland, officials chose to reduce taxes now because they fear what will happen after May 1 when Estonia joins the EU and Finns are expected to swarm to their southern neighbor to buy cheap drink in bulk for personal consumption.
Under EU guidelines, people can import 300 bottles of beer and 12 bottles of hard liquor from another EU country without paying any tariffs.
Situated only 50 miles away, Estonia already is a popular tourist destination for hundreds of thousands of Finns each year, who shop there for alcohol. Current Finnish duty-free import limits are 40 bottles of beer and one bottle of hard liquor from non-EU countries."
(1) The controversial New York Times Magazine article (January 25, 2004) on sex slavery in America has attracted yet more coverage, this time (once again) in the Times itself. (See one of Vice Squad's previous posts, which declared that the article was sensationalized.) Among previous Times' responses, the article brought a lengthy editor's note (on February 15 -- registration required), and even a letter from our nation's Attorney General about the steps being taken to combat the problem. Today the relatively new "Public Editor" of the Times devoted his not-exactly-weekly column (registration required) to the Sex Slaves article. The Public Editor takes the article's author to task, accusing him of writing a piece of "advocacy journalism" (apparently not a sin in itself for the Times Magazine) and of the author and the Magazine editors of carrying "the advocacy to a fault." But the Public Editor ends up pretty much as a defender of the article: "So do you tear Landesman [author of the Sex Slaves article] apart because you don't believe his sources, or because you can't locate an audit trail to some of his assertions? Or do you accept the hideous realities he describes and emerge convinced that sex slavery is a genuine problem? I do the latter - I just wish he and his editors had been more circumspect in making the case."
Incidentally, the Public Editor position at the New York Times is an innovation sparked by the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. Mr. Blair's book will soon be released, and it reportedly recounts his battles with alcoholism and his use of cocaine to help fuel his writing.
(2) On February 17 Vice Squad noted an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune written by a deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Drug WarRant provides an update on the related goings-on at the editorial pages of the Chicago papers.
(3) Yesterday we mentioned the (perhaps temporary) demise of one civil asset forfeiture law in a New York county; today, we note that such laws continue to attract supporters, this time for anti-prostitution purposes in Eureka, California.
Saturday, February 28, 2004
"Suffolk Halts Taking of Cars in D.W.I. Cases"
That's the headline to this story (registration required) in today's New York Times, brought to our attention by a generous Vice Squad reader. Suffolk is a county on Long Island. The police had been in the habit of seizing the cars driven by those accused of drunk driving, if those drivers already had a previous drunk driving conviction (or possibly a previous arrest: the article is ambiguous on this point.) But now the seizure law has been deemed unconstitutional by one state court trial judge, who "ruled that the seizure law was defective in large part because police officers, rather than some neutral person, were presiding over post-seizure hearings and deciding whether there had been probable cause for an arrest and seizure." At the hearings, if you wanted your car back, the burden of proof was on you to show that the car was driven without your permission or knowledge. The judge based his decision in part on the notion that the police force has a pecuniary interest in the outcome, so having a police officer in charge of the hearing does not exactly instill confidence in the neutrality of the tribunal.
Vice Squad's continuing difficulty with asset confiscations is that often they are applied to those who are accused, but not convicted, of crimes. In the drug arena, the majority of asset forfeitures occur in cases where no criminal charges are brought.
The linked NY Times article further reports that the neighboring county of Nassau had a statute authorizing the seizing of cars of first-time accused (but not yet convicted, of course) drunk drivers, but the Nassau law had been found unconstitutional on other grounds.
Pyrrhus Watch: Victory #13
Overlawyered recently told the petard-like story of the drunken driving arrest of the Wisconsin Attorney General, who refused to take a blood test. (Thanks also to a Vice Squad reader for sending along that tale.) In South Dakota, what if you are arrested on some minor drug-related crime and refuse to provide a urine sample? Well of course, the police will tell you that they will go to a judge to get a warrant, and they will forcibly extract the urine from you. What's more, they are telling the truth! So, the credible threat of torture induces you to consent to provide the urine sample, and you test positive for a controlled drug. Your next treat is that you are convicted of drug possession -- based solely on the evidence provided by the urine test.
The whole ugly story is from this week's Drug War Chronicle. Of course, such gross indignities are not visited upon citizens in the Land of the Free without some great, noble purpose of the highest order. That purpose, as Vice Squad regulars know, is to make it a little bit harder for some of our friends and neighbors to consume a substance that they desire to consume.
Friday, February 27, 2004
Another Victory in the War on Drugs, Scottish Version
In the beginning of this month, Vice Squad mentioned a Scottish phone-in radio show on gardening that provided (inadvertent?) tips over the air on growing cannabis. The caller, who had provided his full name and town of residence, has now had his home raided by the police, and 18 marijuana plants were confiscated.
From Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire
Primo research assistant Ryan Monarch has been reading The Botany of Desire, and brings Vice Squad's attention to this passage (page 126, footnotes omitted) concerning the increasing intolerance towards marijuana in the US during the 1980s and beyond:
"The swiftness of this change in the weather, the demonizing of a plant that less than twenty years ago was on the cusp of general acceptance, will surely puzzle historians of the future. They will wonder why it was that the 'drug war' of the '80s, '90s, and '00s fought the vast majority of its battles over marijuana. They will wonder why, during this period, Americans jailed more of their citizens than any other country in history, and why one of every three of those were in prison because of their involvement with drugs, nearly fifty thousand of them solely for crimes involving marijuana. And they will wonder why Americans would have been willing to give up so many of their hard-won liberties in the fight against this plant. For in the last years of the twentieth century a series of Supreme Court cases and government actions specifically involving marijuana led to a substantial increase in the power of the government at the expense of the Bill of Rights. As a result of the war against cannabis, Americans are demonstrably less free today."
And for what noble purpose, as Vice Squad makes a habit of asking? To make it a little bit harder for some of our friends and neighbors to consume a substance that they desire to consume.
Controlling Drunken Soccer Spectators
The Euro 2004 soccer championship finals will soon be upon us, with Portugal the site for this year's tournament. One problem with these tournaments in the past has been that they attract a critical mass of soccer enthusiasts who are willing (and able, alas) to drink heavily and brawl with supporters of other national teams (or brawl among themselves, for that matter). Four years ago, host nations Belgium and the Netherlands instituted a zero tolerance policy towards fan violence, such that folks involved in any fisticuffs were quickly herded up and shipped home, prevented from seeing any more of the soccer action in person. (Charges were later dropped against most alleged offenders, but it was the arrest, temporary confinement, and exile that was the real punishment, anyway.) There was still a bit of violence (well, even some rioting), but the strict policy was widely viewed as a success.
Preparations are now underway to provide security for Euro 2004. England supporters have traditionally provided more than their share of hooligans, and the UK has greatly expanded the number of citizens (to 2000, with hundreds more to be added) who are covered by travel bans (precluding foreign travel) during the tourney. A new approach to be used by the Portuguese police, however, will be to require alcohol and drug tests of fans who appear to be visibly intoxicated. Though details are sketchy, it sounds as if the screening will take place prior to entering stadium grounds. In other words, entering a stadium while intoxicated will be an offense that precludes admission, even if you are a pleasant, quiet drunk. It is unclear if those who become intoxicated (again, without otherwise misbehaving) during the match will be sent off. It is also unclear how the drug tests will be carried out.
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Continuing to Plug Holes in the Tobacco Settlement
Vice Squad has been following some of the issues surrounding the "avoidance" of the 1998 tobacco settlement by manufacturers that were not parties to the agreement. States are trying to ensure that the non-signatories don't gain a competitive advantage, as that would undermine the flow of tobacco payments to the states. The agreement itself and further action at the state levels might even be described as extraordinary efforts at limiting avoidance of the settlement parameters.
Today, Pennsylvania has announced that it has settled a case with a non-participating manufacturer. The firm had been a bit torpid in setting up and maintaining its escrow account, as mandated by state law (following the settlement). As Vice Squad recently noted, the justification for this mandated account is, shall we say, imaginative. The funds are supposed to cover future claims against non-settling firms, though the real purpose is to keep the settlement cash flowing.
In other tobacco settlement news, California has been suing R.J. Reynolds on the grounds that the tobacco firm violated the 1998 agreement by continuing to target underage consumers in advertising. The appeals court upheld a lower court finding against Reynolds, but overturned the $20 million fine, "ruling that the amount was based on the company's national print advertising budget rather than the amount spent in California." The California case is not to be confused with the ongoing suit by the US government against Big Tobacco concerning advertising allegedly aimed at underage consumers.
Wine to Water? Binge Tax Catches An Unlikely Consumer
Ounce for ounce, wine and beer, thanks to their lower alcohol content, tend to be less problematic than strong liquor. Public policy can be well served by encouraging substitution from hard liquor to wine and beer.
Standard wine rarely has an alcohol content greater than 14%, as to achieve those levels, fermentation alone is insufficient: distillation or addition of higher potency alcohol is required. So, New Zealand's attempt to discourage the use of harder liquors by raising taxes on drinks above 14% alcohol, looked like a measure that would benefit wine makers and have little impact on wine drinkers. But it turns out that one surprising segment of the market had been using higher alcohol (and now more highly taxed) wine: churches. It seems that many churches used higher alcohol wine because they engage in the opposite of bingeing: the high alcohol content helps preserve wine in bottles that will not be emptied for months. The tax increase has caused some of these churches to switch to lower alcohol wine, as they can no longer afford their traditional altar tipple.
Where Are the Feds?
A sixth-grader in Ohio received a three-day suspension for being caught redhanded with a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in the school gym, prior to the start of classes. (Here's the Chicago Tribune coverage, registration required.) The school superintendent had never seen an SI swimsuit edition before, and, bless his heart, actually is quoted as saying "I was shocked."
The bigger story here, though, is where is the justice department? Our nation's Attorney General, John Comstock Ashcroft, recently hired a noted anti-porn prosecutor to try to put a stop to the distribution of such filth. I hope that the new hire and other federal prosecutors will not rest until we see the day when no school superintendent will find himself shocked by salacious material in the hands of our innocent youth.
Update: Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy has a post questioning the severity of the sentence as well as the stated grounds for punishment.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
The Flawed Ecstasy Study
A few days ago, in passing Vice Squad mentioned the flawed ecstasy study -- where the drug that actually was tested turned out not to be ecstasy at all -- and its lingering effects on our nation's drug policies. The full story, which involves other questionable, government-sponsored research into the harms of ecstasy, is provided in an excellent article in the February 27, 2004 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I think that it is a great article, but OK, I exaggerated when I said it told the "full story." For more of the story, see this post by Mark Kleiman, to which Vice Squad is indebted for alerting us to the Chronicle tale.
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
The Dark Side of Gambling
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is two-thirds of the way through a three-part series of articles on gambling problems. The series, "Out of Luck: Washington's Gambling Problem," tells some sad individual stories of people whose lives have been more-or-less ruined by gambling addictions. Today's main contribution to the series discusses the fact that Asian-Americans seem to be disproportionately represented among gamblers in Washington state.
Update, February 25, 2004: Part three is in today, and its two articles focus on treatment for problem gamblers. The first article concerns the underfunding of treatment for problem gamblers in Washington state, and includes claims that treatment is effective. There is also some discussion of self-exclusion, where a gambler who has a problem can voluntarily sign a form requiring him to stay away from a casino: "Self-exclusions at the Muckleshoot and Tulalip casinos, for example, are permanent. Once you sign a statement at the Muckleshoot Casino, you are permanently barred and face a possible trespassing arrest if you return."
The second article praises the efforts in Washington's neighbor, Oregon, towards treating problem gamblers: "Oregon law mandates that 1 percent of the state lottery's net proceeds are dedicated to a problem gambling fund."
Japan Next to Ratify WHO Tobacco Treaty?
The global tobacco control agreement (pdf version here, 23 pages) worked out by the World Health Organization will come into effect when 40 of the 91 countries who have signed it also ratify it. So far, nine have done so, and Japan appears to be headed to be number 10. The treaty looks to reduce smoking and exposure to smoke through a variety of means, including taxes, packaging regulations, and advertising controls.
Anti-Halitosis v. Anti-Alcohol
Alcohol is used for a variety of non-beverage purposes, and these alternate uses greatly complicate the enforcement of high alcohol taxes or strict anti-alcohol beverage regulations. Thus the 18th Amendment in the US forbade the manufacture, sale, transport, or import of alcohol used in intoxicating beverages, leaving sacramental, industrial, and medicinal alcohol legal -- and thereby providing routes to evade the beverage restrictions. (See our earlier post on the Jamaican Ginger paralysis.) Parts of Australia with significant alcohol problem have recently adopted strict new alcohol controls, and concerns have been raised about inducing the use of alcohol-rich mouthwash -- ugh -- for beverage purposes. (If the Soviet example is a prelude, keep your eye on cologne sales, too.) So, naturally, mouthwash sales are also being watched. But not to worry, the quality of breath in Queensland need not suffer. The government minister overseeing the regulations "said she would continue to monitor the sale of mouthwash, but said a careful balance had to be maintained so as not to disadvantage people using the product for its intended purpose." Phew.
Amending the U.S. Constitution Amid Social Hysteria
Has worked well for this country in the past (see, e.g., the 18th Amendment , repealed just 13 years later by the 21st Amendment), so it's great to see our fearless leader, Dubya, going down this same road again. G.W. has asked Congress to approve a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Last night's "Daily Show" aired a brilliant piece by Stephen Colbert on this issue. Mocking the president's announcement, Colbert satirically expressed enthusiastic support for the amendment. He stated that he had recently forgotten his anniversary, his wife's birthday, and on a few occasions, her name. Was this the result of years of emotional neglect? No, Colbert blamed his poor husbandship on the recent gay marriages in California. When Jon Stewart asked Colbert if he would also support a constitutional amendment forbidding adultery, given that adultery seems to pose a pretty big threat to heterosexual marriage, Colbert exclaimed, "Hey, hey, get your laws out of my bedroom!"
Although Mr. Colbert was being sarcastic, I would bet that the same conservatives that laud a constitutional amendment against gay marriage do not want the government intruding on their relationships with their partners. How far will this go? Do you and your spouse ask God for daily affirmation of your love and partnership? No, well, I want to see a constitutional amendment requiring that you do so.
Marriage is a religious institution, although the State has recognized it and given it certain rights. What we should have is a constitutional amendment that declares marriage to be just what it is - a private, religious ceremony. Partners who meet certain neutral requirements such as shared incomes and residences could then be eligible for government benefits and rights. Churches that want to recognize some types of marriage but not others would be free to do so.
Monday, February 23, 2004
Crazed Stoner Judge Won't Seek Re-Election
This story is just ridiculous. A Michigan judge admitted to smoking a joint at a Rolling Stones concert in 2002, and has announced that he won't run for re-election after his term is up at the end of this year. The judge was suspended from the bench without pay for six months, and had to enter a 28-day rehabilitation program for the infraction.
The judge claims that alcoholism caused him to use pot once or twice a year. He has been sober for 16 months and stated, "I hope my struggles and recovery journey can help other people in the community who suffer from alcoholism and addiction". I would think that the guy's alcoholism would interfere with his ability to dispense justice more so than getting high once a year at a concert, but the state Supreme Court that suspended him didn't seem to have much of an issue with his drinking.
This is one of the biggest problem with our drug laws though - this judge is placed in a position whereby he has to throw people in jail for using a substance that he uses as well. Productive members of society can and do use marijuana. Can we please just legalize it and move on? Also, I'd really like to know who the tattle-tale was who turned this guy in for lighting up a joint at a rock concert. I think his name should be published in the paper as well.
Aren't Settlements Supposed to Be Voluntary?
The 1998 settlement (available, in all its 285-page glory, from this website) between Big Tobacco and state attorneys general recognized that the future settlement payments (based on market share) would be put at risk if new or non-settling firms increased their own market share. So the settlement, remarkably, required states that wanted to protect their future payments from the settling firms to enact a model law that would mandate firms not participating in the settlement to make payments similar to those made by the settling firms -- whew -- ostensibly to create a fund from which future claims (from litigation) could be paid. The actual language in the model statute really is amazing: "It would be contrary to the policy of the State if tobacco product manufacturers who determine not to enter into such a settlement could use a resulting cost advantage to derive large, short-term profits in the years before liability may arise without ensuring that the State will have an eventual source of recovery from them if they are proven to have acted culpably. It is thus in the interest of the State to require that such manufacturers establish a reserve fund to guarantee a source of compensation and to prevent such manufacturers from deriving large, short-term profits and then becoming judgment-proof before liability may arise."
I find this amazing: "if they are proven to have acted culpably." With such a standard, the state (oh, I mean, State) should require that all of us set up a large escrow account, in case we later misbehave and do not have the funds to pay adequate recompense.
But why mention it today? Well, once again we are seeing news articles about state concerns that the existing measures to prevent "avoidance" of the agreement are proving insufficient; here are samples from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Florida (this last not a signatory to the master settlement, but one of four states to sign a separate agreement). So, as Vice Squad has mentioned before, states are looking for further measures to ensure that their stream of settlement payments are not unduly disturbed.
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Los Angeles Having Trouble Seizing Enough Cars....
...of those who have not been convicted of any crime. The Los Angeles Times (registration required) looks into the "civil forfeiture" of the cars driven by people accused of soliciting prostitution. This fine piece of legislation has been in effect for one year now, but resource constraints have limited the number of cars seized: "The big reason is understaffing at the city attorney's office, which handles the car seizure litigation. The problem also has undermined LAPD plans — approved by the City Council — to expand vehicle seizures to target those caught buying narcotics, street racing, pandering or dumping trash."
Hey, I know -- why not seize the home electronics of everyone accused of a crime!? That would really reduce the incidence of crime. (Especially if you don't count the illegal seizures themselves.)
These civil asset forfeitures are now common in vice crimes, and Vice Squad has looked at them in the past. Some cities have their priorities all wrong, however: "In 2000, San Francisco County supervisors voted against adopting such an ordinance, saying the plan would erode the rights of people who are accused but not convicted of crimes." But that is the point of such laws, to erode the rights of the unconvicted! Rights get in the way of law enforcement! Those wacky San Franciscans -- what next, requiring the consent of the homeowner in a time of peace before troops are quartered in his house?
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Will Not Hold Alcohol Referendum
In the final chapter (for the time being) in a case that Vice Squad has been following, anti-alcohol forces showed up in force and the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted 10-2 not to hold a referendum on legalizing alcohol sales on the Pine Ridge (South Dakota) Indian Reservation. Problems with alcohol are endemic on the reservation, despite the ban on sales.
More Federal Pressure on State Alcohol Policy
The minimum drinking age is 21 throughout the US thanks to financial pressure from the federal government in the mid-1980s -- the receipt of highway funds was tied to a state's adoption of 21 as the legal drinking age. The last paragraph of this story indicates that the next use of highway funds will be to ensure that states outlaw open containers of alcohol in cars. Apparently, 14 states currently do not make it a crime to have an open container in a moving vehicle.
Today's New York Times (registration required) contains an obituary of Dr. Humphry Osmond, who invented the term "psychedelic" for drugs such as L.S.D.: "...in his own view and in that of some other scientists, Dr. Osmond was most important for inspiring researchers who saw drugs like L.S.D. and mescaline as potential treatments for psychological ailments. By the mid-1960's, medical journals had published more than 1,000 papers on the subject, and Dr. Osmond's work using L.S.D. to treat alcoholics drew particular interest."
The sort of research the Dr. Osmond conducted, however, withered for decades, in part because of regulatory hostility. Here's the Times take on the research dearth:
"...the combination of flagrant youthful abuse of hallucinogens; the propagation of a flashy, otherworldly drug culture by Timothy Leary; and reports of health dangers from hallucinogens (some of which Dr. Halpern [a substance abuse researcher] said were wrong or overstated) eventually doomed almost all research into psychedelic drugs.
Research on hallucinogens as a treatment for mental ills has re-emerged in recent years, in small projects at places like the University of Arizona, the University of South Carolina, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard. Though such research was always legal, regulatory, financial and other obstacles had largely ended it."
The Times obit concludes with an overview of the late stages of Dr. Osmond's career, which took a different track because of hostility to research on psychedelic drugs:
"He mainly studied schizophrenia but was disappointed he could not pursue his research into hallucinogens, Mrs. Blackburn, his daughter, said.
'I'm sure he was very saddened by it,' she said. 'It could have helped millions of people.'"
The claim that the problems with hallucinogens were exaggerated brings to mind last year's discovery that a much-ballyhooed study finding lasting brain changes from a single night of ecstasy use was off-base: it turns out that the researchers examined the effects of another drug, not ecstasy, during their research. The original, flawed research helped to stoke the flames for the offspring of the RAVE act. Did you notice all of the attention paid to repealing the legislation after the mistake was revealed?
Saturday, February 21, 2004
If you Can't Beat 'Em, Plant Something on 'Em
A high school vice principal in South Haven, Michigan recently resigned after bags of marijuana and pills were found in his desk drawer. The vice principal claims that the drugs had been confiscated from student lockers over the 4 1/2 years he had worked there.
The vice principal was charged with possession of marijuana, but what is so shocking about this case is that he admitted to planting pot in the locker of one of his students!
Herbie the Wonder Narc Dog repeatedly failed to find drugs in the school, so the vice principal decided to plant some on a student he suspected of dealing. The plan failed when Herbie did not detect the marijuana.
What ever happened to stuffing people into phonebooths? (Oh, that's right, there aren't any phonebooths anymore. Sorry.) Those wacky college kids these days seem to be getting their frolics at the poker table. And their campus newspapers are beginning to tell the story. Recent entries include articles from newspapers based at:
(1) Vanderbilt University (the elimination of Vandy's athletic department has not meant the end of campus games, apparently);
(2) Stanford University; and,
(3) the University of Chicago. (Coincidentally -- and it is a coincidence! -- I have hung my hat for a while at each of these esteemed institutions of higher learning.) All of the articles seem to agree that television coverage of the World Series of Poker and other poker events has been a significant spur to the popularity of poker, particularly Texas Hold 'Em. The linked article from the U of C is the only one that notes one peculiarity of the boom in campus poker -- the games that involve money are, it seems, illegal. But I am sure vice-positive UofC bloggers stay on the safe side of the law.
Friday, February 20, 2004
What Sort of Worldview Indeed?
I couldn't agree more with Professor Leitzel's shock at the Iraqis who believe that murder is an appropriate response to someone who is selling alcohol.
I would also just like to remind our readers of the appalling world view that says that second degree murder should be treated more favorably than drug trafficking for sentencing purposes . Which country has this worldview? Good 'ol Amer'ka.
At least we're being consistent in the type of democratic ideals we're exporting.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
More Murders of Alcohol Sellers in Iraq
Five people were killed in Basra, Iraq on Sunday as a result of an attack on alcohol sellers, according to this article (registration required) in the New York Times. But this latest outrage is far from an isolated occurrence. And the fanatics -- those who are so certain that their preferred alcohol control policies are correct that they are willing to murder people who disagree with them -- are likely to prevail: "Basra is becoming as dry as the endless desert around it. Nowhere in Iraq are attacks on vendors of alcoholic beverages as common as in the country's second-largest city, 60 miles from the Persian Gulf." What sort of a worldview deems it bad to sell alcohol, but OK to murder people who sell alcohol? Mill! thou shouldst be living at this hour:/Iraq hath need of thee... (Apologies to Wordsworth.)
Irish Smoking Ban Slated For March 29
The slightly delayed ban on smoking in most workplaces in Ireland is now scheduled to come into effect on March 29 of this year. Most notably, smoking will be prohibited in pubs and restaurants, a' la New York City. According to the linked article, Norway will introduce a similar ban on June 1.
Vice Squad noted the Irish smoking ban in the past. I do not object in principle to some strict regulations on public smoking, but a complete workplace ban goes too far: such a ban is too imposing on those adults who choose to smoke, I believe.
Self-Policing in the Porn Trade
As the pornography industry moves ever-so-slightly towards the mainstream, porn producers have strengthened incentives to obey all applicable laws, and even to adopt codes of "good practice." Adult Video News.com informs us today that one porn producer is authenticating IDs presented by porn actors, presumably to make sure that they are over 18 years old. IDs are already checked, but fake IDs might not be uncovered without the additional authentication, which involves a background check by a private investigator.
Adult Video News magazine (February, 2004) also looks at how porn friendly the Democratic presidential candidates are -- Howard Dean was their top pick, alas, though John Kerry wasn't far behind. The same issue notes Iowa's attempt to emulate Utah by passing a special sin tax on adult business, with some of the proceeds earmarked for the states' victims' compensation funds.
LSD Responsible for Tragic Homicide
At least that's what the folks at the Chicago Tribune would like you to believe. A Chicago-area teen shot and killed his mother, father, and uncle last weekend at their vacation home in rural Wisconsin. The kid was a high school drop out, and had a lot of resentment towards his mother, according to friends. He had recently been arrested for urinating on some ladies' underwear at a local department store and then stealing them. Clearly, he had some problems.
In today's Tribune though, the sub-headline on the murder story is "Triple-murder suspect admits recent LSD use." Buried in the story are the facts that the murders took place on Saturday, but the teen could not remember if he took LSD on Saturday or Sunday. At this point, there's no evidence that the kid was under the influence of the drug, yet the article tries to titillate and scare us with a tale of a drug-crazed teen killing his parents.
Even if the suspect had taken LSD before the murders, I'm not sure why that part of the story is compelling, other than the fact that it further inflames the drug policy debate in this country, and lends credence to the drug warriors' claims that illegal drugs always cause people to do crazy things.
According to the Shaffer Library of Drug Policy, the Department of Justice published a research brief in 1994 which found that alcohol is the only substance that has been shown to commonly increase aggression. The report continues, "after large doses of amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, and PCP, certain individuals may experience violent outbursts, probably because of a pre-existing psychosis. I don't think people with severe mental problems should be using any mind-altering substances, other than those prescribed for their condition by a physician. However, that doesn't mean that everyone who uses LSD is a homocidal maniac. In fact, the vast majority of illegal drug users do not commit any crimes whatsoever, let alone violent ones.
The evidence in the current case so far seems to suggest that this teenager had plenty of problems other than LSD use. I would like to see the Tribune and other mainstream newspapers focus on the entire picture in cases like this, instead of giving us their usual alarmist and baseless conclusions that the use of illegal substances causes people to go off the deep end.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Another Drug War Casualty
The Chicago Tribune (registration required) reported a tragic story today about the death of a Chicago-area baby. The child was 7 months old.
The girl died while in the custody of her aunt. She was taken away from her mother at birth and placed with the aunt because she was born with cocaine in her system. Four other children in the custody of the aunt were removed from the home after the baby's death. The cause of the baby's death is still unknown, but there were no drugs in her system.
Taking cocaine while pregnant is certainly a terrible thing to do to an unborn child - so is smoking and not getting proper nutrition. The state does not forcibly remove newborns from their mothers though for the latter two offenses.
It is not always fair to second-guess child welfare workers after a decision has resulted in tragedy. However, it is fair to question a knee-jerk policy that mandates blanket solutions to complex problems. Just because a baby is born with cocaine in its system does not mean that the best thing for it is to be removed from its mother's care. There may have been other alternatives that could have prevented tragedy in this case.
The Penumbra of Lawrence v. Texas?
Then-guest-blogger-now-Squad-member Nikkie apologized for veering off-topic when she discussed the Wilmette, Illinois incident in which a homeowner used a handgun to shoot an intruder; handgun ownership is verboten in Wilmette. But Nikkie blogg'ed better than she knew, in that the homeowner is appealing to vice to beat the rap. From today's Chicago Tribune (registration required): "A Wilmette man who was cited for violating the village's handgun ban after he shot an intruder in his kitchen has invoked U.S. Supreme Court rulings on sodomy and pornography laws to argue that the gun ban violates his privacy rights, his lawyer said." The sodomy case is Lawrence v. Texas -- undoubtedly the lawyer was impressed by previous Vice Squad analysis on the potential ramifications of Lawrence. The pornography case, presumably, is Stanley v. Georgia (1969), in which the US Supreme Court held that mere possession of obscene material in one's home could not be prohibited, even if production and distribution could be so prohibited. (The criminal law's tolerance of possession of obscene materials does not apply to child pornography, however.) The Trib reports that this novel constitutional argument against the handgun ban is unlikely to prevail: "... legal experts said that although the defense strategy is original and possibly unprecedented, it is a long shot, because the courts have wide latitude to determine what is protected under constitutional privacy guarantees."
Overlawyered on Vice
Some interesting vice-related posts at Overlawyered recently.....
(1) A theater program student, a Mormon, is suing the University of Utah for being forced to use profanity in an in-class performance.
(2) A lawsuit has been filed against the world's two largest beer manufacturing companies, on the grounds that their advertisements target underage customers.
(3) Quoting the Overlawyered post, "In Ireland, an official health board has objected to the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in the County Clare town of Ennis, saying its products might make children fat."
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
More in Sorrow than in Anger
Today's Trib brings us an opinion piece by "a deputy director at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and a past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine." She is concerned that discussion of the medicinal properties of marijuana is undermining our message to children that marijuana is harmful and keeping us from "creating an environment of prohibition." I guess those 700,000 Americans arrested each year for marijuana don't constitute an environment of prohibition. How many more arrests will that take?
We further learn that you shouldn't be taken in by appeals to compassion:
"Organizations seeking to construe marijuana as medicine appeal to the compassion of America. They cite testimonials that only marijuana can provide relief to patients suffering from AIDS, cancer and other painful diseases. In reality, smoked marijuana is not a Federal Drug Administration-approved medicine. As a crude plant, marijuana is so complex, unstable, and harmful that sensible physicians and researchers consider it unethical to expose individuals to the risks associated with smoking it."
Quite a non-sequitur, that "In reality, smoked marijuana is not a Federal Drug Administration-approved medicine." So much for those testimonials, I guess! (It reminds me of Groucho Marx, "who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?") And it is good of the author to keep us posted on the ethical views of "sensible physicians and researchers." But it makes me worried about all the unethical medical practitioners out there. Like the respondents to that survey in 1990 of members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology -- more than 44% of whom reported "recommending the (illegal) use of marijuana for the control of emesis to at least one cancer chemotherapy patient." (From the abstract to "Marijuana as Antiemetic Medicine: A Survey of Oncologists' Experiences and Attitudes," by Richard Doblin and Mark A. R. Kleiman.) But drug prohibitionists make a habit of knowing better than physicians what is good for patients.
Why more in sorrow than in anger? Because I don't doubt the sincerity of the author's beliefs that marijuana is dangerous, and that kids should avoid it. I even agree. But it doesn't follow that therefore marijuana should be prohibited for adults, just as it doesn't follow for alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or unprotected sex.
Update: Drug WarRant provides a more pointed rejoinder to the Trib op-ed, and concludes in a manner that makes me want to rethink my "more in sorrow" stance: "And don't forget. We pay her salary."
A Taste for Nicotine and Hostility
In February 1842, Abraham Lincoln spoke to the Springfield (IL) Washington Temperance Society, which was meeting on the birthday of their namesake. In his address to the Washingtonians, Lincoln noted the difference between inebriates and others: "In my judgment such of us as have never fallen victims have been spared more by the absence of appetite than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have. Indeed, I believe if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant and warm-blooded to fall into this vice — the demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity."
Today's Chicago Tribune (registration required) brings word of the type of person who is likely to have a taste for nicotine, though such folks are not described by "genius" or "generosity." Try "easy to anger" instead: "Scientists using powerful scanners have documented nicotine triggering dramatic bursts of activity in certain brain areas--but only in people prone to anger and aggression, not more cheerful, relaxed types." The article goes on to note that "It's the first biological evidence that people with certain personality traits are more likely to get hooked on smoking if they experiment with cigarettes." In any case, those of us who have managed to avoid nicotine addition can thank "absence of appetite," and that same absence might be connected to our (questionable) cheerfulness!
Monday, February 16, 2004
On February 6 Vice Squad passed along the news that the US Department of Justice had hired a well-known anti-porn activist and former prosecutor, presumably to save our nation from the perils of pornography. The Justice Department itself did not publicize the hiring -- we found the news from the website of an anti-porn organization -- but the word is beginning to leak out. On February 13, the Houston Chronicle (via the LA Times) covered the story; here's a brief excerpt: "The department [of Justice] has made other moves recently to shore up its anti-porn effort, including assigning for the first time in years a team of FBI agents to focus exclusively on adult obscenity cases.
In his fiscal 2005 budget proposal released this month, President Bush sought increased spending to fight obscenity; it was one of the few spending increases in the otherwise austere proposal." Good to know we have our priorities straight.
Primo research assistant Ryan Monarch provides an update on the new Michigan state law on obscenity that he brought to our attention in mid-January. The law requires bookstores to place magazines and books that are "harmful to minors" out of the sight of children; such materials have to be covered up or placed in restricted areas of bookstores. Booksellers brought a federal lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality. Now, Michigan prosecutors have elected not to enforce the law until the case is decided. According to the linked article from the Detroit News, "The lawsuit suggests that well-known works including 'The Catcher in the Rye,' 'Portnoy’s Complaint,' 'Of Mice and Men,' 'Lolita' and 'The Joy of Sex' 'are just the sort of books that are vulnerable to attack.' Some magazines, such as Maxim or Vogue, might also be required to be placed in an adult-only area, under the law. "
Vice at Crim Law
Crim Law has a couple of recent vice-relevant posts:
(1) Virginia legislators have backed away from a proposed law that would have required at least three days of jail time for first-time DUI offenders.
(2) The basis upon which the federal government can prosecute an American for foreign sex tourism with minors is explained.
Vice Control Mispriorities
Page 3 of the Metro section in today's Chicago Tribune provides a microcosm of the misplaced priorities in US vice regulation. Our largest vice-related problem is drunk driving. [Update: I should also note HIV transmission as an enormous vice-related problem.] Yes, our regulations have done what they can to make drug control a bigger problem. Yes, tobacco is implicated in many more deaths each year than alcohol. But for vices other than alcohol, especially if it weren't for our perverse policies, the overwhelming bulk of the costs (as well as the benefits) of vice consumption fall upon the users themselves. While these "internal" costs cannot be ignored -- and indeed, public policy should look for ways to reduce such internal costs -- they do not carry the same weight as costs that vice consumption imposes upon innocent bystanders. Thousands of such innocent bystanders are killed each year by drunk drivers.
Page 3 has stories of two fatal (alleged) drunk driving incidents. The first concerns a man charged with DUI from a February 6 incident in which he was badly injured, and his girlfriend, a passenger in the car he was driving in downtown Chicago, was killed. The second story tells of another couple who were pedestrians early Valentine's Day when they were struck by an SUV allegedly driven by a legally drunk motorman; the male pedestrian was killed while the female was injured, though apparently not severely. Tragic tales, these. In both cases, a death might have been averted if a marked police car was visibly parked nearby.
Not that the police aren't busy. Also on page three we have two cocaine-related stories. The first tells of the outstanding success in ending the cocaine trade in the Chicago area, thanks to recovery of nearly $7 million in cocaine and five arrests, in two separate incidents this weekend. No more need we fear that some of our Chicago-area friends and neighbors will pursue their own pleasure by consuming cocaine.
The second cocaine-related story concerns a police raid on a man and a woman's home in which no cocaine was uncovered. (The information in this story comes largely from the allegations made in a lawsuit filed by the couple.) The Tinley Park (south suburban Chicago) police had a warrant to raid the apartment of the woman's son, who lived in a separate apartment upstairs. (The warrant was based on a suspicion that the son was selling cocaine, but no coke was found in his apartment, either.) The son's apartment had its own entrance, and was not directly reachable from the downstairs apartment where the couple lived. Nevertheless, at around 8:30 on a Friday night in November, officers simultaneously burst into both apartments. Here's what the couple say happened to their quiet Friday evening at home:
"[The man] says he was talking on the telephone to his landlord when suddenly a loud explosion sounded outside his home and a SWAT team broke in his front door and knocked him to the floor.
His girlfriend... was pulled naked from the bathtub of the ground-floor apartment they rent in a Tinley Park two-flat." (Well, they say many accidents happen in the bath.) Then... "The officers ransacked the apartment, dumping drawers, overturning furniture and throwing about clothes, the lawsuit stated."
Our vice policy has simply lost its way.
DEA Plays Doctor Again
I think that access to some potentially addictive drugs should be strictly controlled --though the drugs should remain legally available, and without a prescription, to adults. An article in today's Chicago Tribune (via the Washington Post; registration required) reports on the DEA’s intention to reschedule the painkiller hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug. This rescheduling will severely tighten the conditions under which hydrocodone is available via prescription. Hydrocodone use can easily become a problem for people, as it did for Rush Limbaugh. But tightening the prescription regime, I think, is an inappropriate response (even ignoring my general unease with making a drug legally available only by prescription.) The article notes that hydrocodone was prescribed 100 million times last year, and no one suggests that more than a tiny minority of these prescriptions were "abusive." Hydrocodone is obviously a painkiller that millions of patients and their doctors think is quite valuable for them. To make hydrocodone harder to get – for instance, the rescheduling would mean that prescriptions could not be refilled without another visit to the doctor – ensures that these people will receive a lower level of care.
The DEA, it seems, wants to ensure that Americans must live with more pain than is necessary. (Here’s a previous Vice Squad post on the DEA’s campaign against pain treatment, and here is the main webpage of the Pain Relief Network; a march on Washington on behalf of patients in pain is slated for April 18-20, 2004.) It’s not pure sadism, oh no, the DEA has a "noble" purpose. What is that noble purpose? To try to make it a little harder for other Americans to consume a drug that they want to consume.
Sunday, February 15, 2004
A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
I was introduced to Carlos Castaneda's books about Mexican Yaqui Indians and their peyote rituals a couple of years ago. Castaneda received a PhD in Anthropology from UCLA in 1973 for his work in this field, and he wrote ten books on the subject. Skeptics argue that the books are works of fiction, although Castaneda maintained that they were non-fiction, anthropological studies. The books first hit the scene in the late 60's and were popular among those who wanted to "turn on, tune in, and drop out."
I'm currently reading the third book in the series "Journey to Ixtlan", and I have thoroughly enjoyed each of Castaneda's books thus far. Frankly, I don't really care if they're a hoax. I also don't care that he used his early popularity to develop a New Agey religion called "Tensegrity", later in life. His books provide good insights into humanity, and for me, a too-highly-strung U of C graduate student, he has given me some much-needed perspective.
Although hallucinogenics play a central role in Castaneda's experiences in the books, he states that psychotropic drugs are not essential to understanding the Yaqui way of life, but merely act as an aid to leave our old lives and preconceived notions behind us and to try to experience something different. There are books out there that are more properly recognized as academic studies of peyote rituals. Castenada uses peyote as a backdrop for the messages he's really trying to convey.
Some choice lines from Journey to Ixtlan:
-- "Death is the only wise adviser that we have."
-- "You are so goddamn important that you feel justified to be annoyed with everything."
-- "Talk [to little plants] until you lose all sense of importance."
New Agey b.s.? Maybe, but who cares? The books are easy reads, and just the descriptions of the characters' slow lives and the scenery of the desert have a calming effect on me.
Recommended reading when the thought of midterms, finals, or work has you tied up in knots.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
Alcohol-Free Zone in Mobile's Mardi Gras
Everyone has heard about the crazy goings-on in Mobile, Alabama, during the Mardi Gras festivities. [Actually, it's News Orleans that people know about; you mean they celebrate Mardi Gras in Mobile, too? -- ed.] This year the Mobile city authorities have declared two blocks of the parade route to be an alcohol-free zone. They apparently didn't enforce the geographically-constrained alcohol ban during its first week of existence, but did so (lightly but effectively) the second week. Now Mardi Gras festivities are not intended to be vice-free affairs. Nevertheless, I applaud these sorts of efforts. They impose little or no cost upon those who wish to drink, as all the would-be imbibers have to do is stand anywhere else along the parade route. But such zones do provide some comfort to those who want to ensure that their kids or grandparents don't end up standing next to raucous, drunken Grasians. (Sometimes stadia have alcohol-free sections, too; I have supported those ever since I attended an international soccer match where an entire section -- my section, of course, as empathy is not my strong point -- was put at risk by a couple of raucous, drunken spectators.)
One other point about the Mobile goings-on that is worth a mention is that open containers of alcohol are illegal throughout the city, even during Mardi Gras. The acceptance of alcohol during Mardi Gras is an enforcement decision -- like the Dutch toleration of personal use of marijuana. So the alcohol-free zones actually represent the de jure rule itself, in the form of the exception to the exception. [Finally, despite the editor's snide comment, let me mention that I once attended a conference in Mobile and found it to be a charming place, complete with a museum devoted to Mobile-native Henry Aaron.]
Scottish MSPs Reject Prostitution Tolerance Zones...
...at least for the time being. Vice Squad reported in the past that the establishment of official red light districts, where streetwalkers would not be subject to arrest, was under consideration in Britain. Now a committee in the Scottish Parliament has rejected that idea, while calling for a full review of Scottish prostitution policy. Prostitution per se is not illegal in the UK, but streetwalking is verboten. Prostitution tolerance zones exist in Australia, which also has some legal brothels, and for a while, Edinburgh experimented with prostitution tolerance zones. For an argument that tolerance zones might be a sensible way to control unsavory activity in American cities, see Robert C. Ellickson, "Controlling Chronic Misconduct in City Spaces: Of Panhandlers, Skid Rows, and Public-Space Zoning," Yale Law Journal 105: 1165-1248, March 1996.
A Glasgow tabloid has been conducting an anti-vice campaign (though if successful, one suspects that their newspaper will greatly shrink in size.) Today they report that the police have responded to their reporting. Here's a sample:
"More than 30 officers working in Glasgow's east end spent two days rounding up prostitutes, kerb-crawlers and the drug dealers who run the industry.
Plain-clothes officers, traffic cops and uniformed police were involved in the high-profile clampdown.
It happened after the Record's shocking week-long expose which lifted the lid on the drugs, squalor and white slaving in the £200 million vice trade in Scotland."
Scotland also has funded initiatives to help women move out of prostitution; indeed, there is a program entitled "Routes Out of Prostitution." In the past, the head of "Routes Out of Prostitution" has not been a supporter of tolerance zones.
Friday, February 13, 2004
Legislation Stemming From Moral Panics
One of my fears about the sensationalism of some vices is that it will lead to misguided legislative "solutions" that will haunt us for years -- thus my concern with the NY Times Magazine article on sex slavery in America that I found to be well over-the-top. Today in Slate is a reminder of one previous legislative solution to the problem of television programming that is inappropriate for children, though accessible by them. The imposed solution is the V-chip, which for some years has been required on new TVs sold in the US. A V-chip is a device that allows parents to automatically exclude adult-themed programming from being shown on the TV.
As by now these chips are everywhere, no doubt the loyal Vice Squad reader has substantial experience in activating V-chips. Oh, except that the vast majority of people (and the vast majority of families with kids) don't actually seem to use their V-chip, according to the linked Slate article, even when the parents do monitor their kids' TV viewing. The good news is that the chips are not expensive and dormant chips are inoffensive, although I am sure one could spin some sort of mad authoritarian tale of V-chip-enabled government censorship. But not all such fixes to moral panics are equally likely to remain benign.
"Suggestions" Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day
On February 2nd, Vice Squad noted the coercive tactics employed in Pune, India, to discourage celebrations of Valentine's Day. Such tactics are utilized much more widely, however. Reuters reports today on some similar Saudi coercion: "The kingdom, which implements a strict version of Islamic law, bans non-Muslim holidays and its morality police usually conduct raids to ensure shops do not sell gifts or ornaments on New Year, Christmas or Valentine's Day, which is named after a Christian saint."
Just a few days ago Vice Squad argued that the recent NY Times Magazine article on sex slavery in America was sensationalized and largely devoid of actual evidence. I'm not ready to back off of that claim yet, but today's Chicago Tribune (registration required) brings word of arrests surrounding three cases of forced prostitution in California -- outside Disneyland, no less. The allegedly coerced women were illegally smuggled into the US from Mexico, a transit method identified as typical within the Times article.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
South Dakota Alcohol Update
Vice Squad updates the ever-fascinating stories surrounding the evolution of alcohol regulation in South Dakota....
(1) You're 17 years old, you have a beer or a beer and a half, you drive home, you get stopped by police, you have a BAC of .02 -- and then you spend a week in jail. Or maybe you have one drag on a marijuana cigarette -- there you go, a week in jail, perhaps. Welcome to the real world of zero tolerance for youths and alcohol and drugs. The feds, however, think that .02 shouldn't cost you more than 48 hours in jail, and they are pressuring states to agree. South Dakota lawmakers are caving in to the mad leniency of the ultra-liberal central government.
(2) The state legislature refused to go along with the request by counties to raise the alcohol tax and earmark half the proceeds for the counties. So now Pennington county (and perhaps others) hope to bring about the reform via a state referendum.
(3) The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is dry, but it also is beset by one of the most severe alcohol abuse problems in the country. There is some current movement on two fronts. First, for economic reasons, the reservation is thinking of lifting its alcohol ban -- a referendum could be scheduled for the next month. Second, if there are no alcohol sales on the reservation, how do residents acquire alcohol? No doubt through a variety of means, but one of the most popular is to travel to the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska. A bill in the Nebraska state legislature aims to hold the line (or at least to slow down its forward momentum) on liquor licenses in Whiteclay. Here's a brief description of the current situation from the linked article, which is an opinion piece in the Yankton (S.D.) Press and Dakotan:
"It's no exaggeration to state that the economy of Whiteclay, Neb., is based almost entirely on an epidemic rate of alcoholism on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Whiteclay is a village of just 16 people located about a mile from the South Dakota border and from a 15,000-person reservation that bans all alcohol sales. However, there are four liquor stores in Whiteclay that sell, by one estimation, about 11,000 cans of beer per day mostly to residents of the 5,000-square-mile reservation, which has one of the highest alcohol-mortality rates in the country."
Prostitution and the Internet
One of the barriers to illegal prostitution is the establishment of a connection between prostitutes and johns. In recent years, the Internet (including e-mail) often has served to provide that connection. This mechanism has certain advantages for both the demand and the supply side. For prostitutes, it provides widespread advertising, while also permitting screening of clients in advance -- and the prostitute can determine the extent of the screening. E-mail messages leave electronic trails that offer some protection from clients. Men who are afraid of going to the seedy strips that serve as the open prostitution market in many cities might find Internet connections to be especially attractive.
Beyond official "advertisements," informal prostitute "rating" sites have also built up on the Web. While to some extent these sites provide a sort of "Consumer Report" for this illegal industry (illegal in the US, that is, except for Nevada brothel prostitution, for which rating sites have also sprouted), they also provide a form of "advertising" that is not controlled by the prostitute. The anonymity of the Web means that men who patronize a prostitute can inform (or misinform) thousands of others about their "exploits" -- while in the absence of the web, the same men might have been too embarrassed to tell even their closest friends about their illicit encounters.
The public availability of the Web, however, means that law enforcement can also find about prostitution. For "official" sites, this might not be much of a problem, as the sites do not openly refer to prostitution and the evidence required to secure convictions can be difficult to acquire. But the informal rating sites are another matter -- they might give the game away entirely. And so it happens that such a site has led to the arrests of seven people for operating prostitution houses ("corrupt organizations" disguised as health spas) in Western Pennsylvania, and to the arrest of seven others on prostitution charges. And the people of Western Pennsylvania can rest more soundly.
(Incidentally, this turn of events suggests that such businesses might want to establish their own "rating" sites, where customers can comment. Then the owners can edit out material that poses particularly severe legal problems.)
Here's some more heads-up police work, using the Internet to uncover a vicious call girl operation. The Stafford County (Virginia) detective involved in this case is a real pro, having succeeded in a similar sting a year earlier.
City of Frederick, Maryland Reveals Prostitute Client List
This is a follow-up to a Jan. 30, 2004 posting where an appeals court required that the city of Frederick, Maryland must release a "black book" obtained in a prostitution raid. David Dishneau of the AP reported that the city released 82 pages of prostitution business records (which included client names). The city chose not to appeal the court order. Named in the records is a former Frederick alderman, and while he acknowledges hiring the women as dancers, he denies having sex with them.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Public Intoxication: A Shaggy Dog Story
It is one thing to be intoxicated in public. It is another matter entirely to get your dog mixed up in the business. (Thanks to CrimLaw for the pointer.)
Public intoxication was once the leading cause for arrests in many US cities. Such arrests fell out of fashion in the late 1960s, with many states adopting a public health approach to alcoholics. Here (pdf format, 33 pages) is the "Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act", dating from 1971. The Prefatory Note to this Act contains this remarkable passage: "In 1968, Congress passed the Alcohol Rehabilitation Act of 1968 (Public Law 90-574) the first Federal law dealing specifically with the treatment of alcoholism on a national basis. Congress declared in that Act that 'the handling of chronic alcoholics within the system of criminal justice perpetuates and aggravates the broad problem of alcoholism whereas treating it as a public health problem permits early detection and prevention of alcoholism and effective treatment and rehabilitation, relieves police and other law enforcement agencies of an inappropriate burden that impedes their important work, and better serves the interests of the public.'" You don't think that such a humane approach could be applied to other addictions, do you?
Of course, public intoxication arrests have not exactly disappeared. A little more than a year ago, Fairfax County (Virginia) police hit upon a particularly inspired way to pad their arrest stats, though admittedly, through a sort of shooting-fish-in-a-barrel tactic: they entered bars and arrested patrons who appeared intoxicated. (Washington Post article, registration required.) If you want to hunt ducks, I am told, you should go where the ducks are.
"Women's Groups Divided Over Prostitution"
So reads the headline for this article in the Taipei Times, though its applicability is more general. Taiwan is rethinking its criminalization of prostitution. The groups mentioned share an interest in decriminalizing the activities of prostitutes -- where they differ is on the legal status of customers of prostitutes:
"Since 1997, when then Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) launched a crackdown on the city's brothels, women's groups have repeatedly expressed concern over the rights of sex workers and their position in society.
These groups are divided into two camps that each hold a different opinion on the sex industry. One side, led by The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (日日春關懷互助協會), is calling for the complete legalization of the sex industry, with no punishment for either prostitutes or their clients.
The other side, led by The Garden of Hope Foundation and the End Child Prostitution Association in Taiwan (終止童妓協會), propose that the clients, rather than the sex workers, be penalized."
How do men feel about this issue? Well, it seems to depend on whether they themselves are consumers of the services of prostitutes. According to an academic who has studied Taiwanese prostitution (as quoted in the Taipei Times article), 'Men who like to pay for sex tend to think it is better to legalize the sex industry.'
Definition of a Bigot
In his op-ed piece in Monday's Chicago Tribune (registration required), columnist Dennis Byrne draws on his experiences as a parent and a heterosexual married person to argue that children are better off being raised by two people of different sexes than by two people of the same sex, and that there should be a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. He asserts that the intent of such an amendment is to strengthen "traditional" marriage, not to bash gays. He concludes his article by indignantly scolding the reader, "a person defending traditional marriage no longer should be called a bigot."
I'd like to deconstruct Byrne's little opinion piece here if I may. First of all, let's start with the definition of a bigot. According to Webster's Dictionary, a bigot is one who "regards his own faith and views...as unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as unreasonable...one obstinately and blindly devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion." I think Byrne is correct in that someone who merely defends "traditional marriage" should not be considered a bigot. However, Byrne not only constructs a narrow definition of "traditional marriage", but his call for banning gay marriage with a constitutional amendment goes well beyond merely defending the institution.
Byrne states unequivocally that "varied civilizations independently came to the same conclusion about the need for marriage and that's why it developed much the same across cultures (emphasis added). Bryne refers to the justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Court (who recently ruled a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional under the laws of their state) as "authoritarian." His proof - they cited "an evolving paradigm" of marriage as Byrne puts it, "as justification for fundamentally changing one of society's oldest building blocks."
Is Byrne asserting that marriage has essentially remained unchanged throughout the course of human history? Is he unaware of the fact that until 1967, citizens of the United States were being arrested - that's right - subjected to criminal penalties - for marrying someone of a different race? (See Loving v. Virginia, 1967). I wonder if Mr. Byrne finds the Supreme Court justices who ruled that these laws were unconstitutional "authoritarian"?
There are many other examples of ways in which marriage has changed over the course of human evolution. For instance:
--Polygamy was common for many men featured in the Bible. In fact, King Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
--According to the Koran the number of legitimate wives is limited to four.
--In ancient Egypt, in order to keep the power of the throne, the royal princes and pharaohs sometimes married their own sisters or daughters.
--In early medieval times in Europe, marriage was not available to all people, only to those who could set up a household and transmit property.
--In 16th Century Austria, servants and day laborers were not allowed to marry unless they had the permission of local political authorities.
--In Ancient Persia Couples announced their marriage intentions in public by dramatically cutting their arms and drinking each other's blood.
--In Ancient Greece, men celebrated homosexuality, ideally as elder-to-younger lovers. Marriage, however, was a business deal; men married women to run their household, rarely for love.
--Today in India, dowries are the norm.
--Same-sex marriage is legal today in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada
...just to name a few.
So, Byrne ignores the history of marriage throughout humanity to assert his belief that the modern US-style marriage between a woman and a man is the unquestionable definition of this institution. Further, Byrne ignores the fact that in November 2003, polls showed that Massachusetts voters approved of the High Court's decision. Apparently, he also thinks it's fine to ignore the opinions of the citizens of a state in order to impose his own beliefs on them.
Finally, Bryne discusses "some studies" that conclude there is no difference between children raised in same-sex or traditional marriages. However, he states that these studies have undergone "analysis" and that the "analysis" indicates the studies may be flawed. Although Byrne does not bother to provide any actual citations for the primary studies he's discussing, he readily gives readers the source of the analyses casting doubt on these reports: the Web site of "Marriage Watch". Marriage Watch is a service of the Marriage Law Project of the Catholic University of America.
Marriage Watch has apparently provided analyses calling into question the validity of studies showing that children benefited from being in loving households, regardless of whether or not there were two parents of different sexes. The stated purpose of Marriage Watch by the way, is to "is to reaffirm the legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman." I'm sure their "analyses" are free from bias.
We've established then that Dennis Byrne regards his own faith and views as unquestionably right, and he feels that any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them is unreasonable. Hence, even though the voters of Massachusetts support their high court's decision, there is no room in Byrne's world for their belief. It must by stifled by a federal amendment. Even though many cultures have celebrated marriage in many different forms, Byrne only recongizes one permutation of the institution that supports his beliefs. Further, Byrne has shown that he is obstinately and blindly devoted to his own belief by citing the biased rhetoric of a special interest group as proof of the validity of his opinion.
I guess I don't need to call Mr. Byrne a bigot. It seems his name is synonymous with the definition of the word.
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
From the Land of the (Drug) Czars....
Friend of Vice Squad Bridget Butkevich directs our attention to an item from the February 6 RFE/RL [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] Newsline, Russia, which I will reproduce in full below (including both transliterations of Federov!) It seems that they don't make czars like they used to: this drug czar thinks that it is a bad idea to punish drug users.
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 8, No. 24, Part I, 6 February 2004
DRUG TSAR SAYS HE'S AGAINST CRIMINALIZING DRUG USE
Viktor Cherkesov, chairman of the State Antidrug Committee (GNK), said on 5 February that he opposes criminal charges for drug abuse, Interfax reported. "I view that negatively," he told a press conference in Novosibirsk. "People who use narcotics often become a threat to society and commit crimes, [but] because of their condition they are not aware of their actions," Cherkesov said. "Drug addiction is an illness." Those who sell narcotics should be prosecuted, Cherkesov said, adding that drug abusers are responsible for 30 percent-40 percent of all thefts and robberies. GNK Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Fedorov told journalists in Moscow on 5 February that between 2.5 million and 4 million Russians, most of them under 30 years old, have used drugs, Interfax reported. There are fewer than 500,000 officially registered addicts in Russia, he added. Federov said the biggest problem areas are large cities in regions that are along trafficking routes from Afghanistan and areas where cannabis is grown, particularly in the Far East and Siberia. JB
"Negligible" Intrusions Upon Privacy
This Associated Press story in today's Chicago Tribune (registration required) concerns people who have a difficult time urinating into a cup on demand: "Their problem, a little-known phobia known as paruresis, or shy bladder syndrome, isn't new. But the intensely personal malady is getting some unwelcome exposure, an unforeseen consequence of widespread workplace drug testing." The Trib article tells the story of a man who was fired from his job at a Caterpillar plant in Georgia for his inability to produce a urine sample within the requisite three hours. This seems to me to be a very fair way for managers to implement downsizing.
The Trib story suggests that things might improve. What, silly drug testing eliminated, you ask? Well, er, no -- it's just that testing methods that employ hair, saliva, or sweat are growing in popularity. Keep your eye on unemployment rates among bald men.
The Supreme Court is a big fan of urine tests, at least when they are foisted upon schoolkids. Here's a sample from the majority opinion in Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton (94-590), 515 U.S. 646 (1995), upholding a school district's policy of drug testing student athletes: "Under the District's Policy, male students produce samples at a urinal along a wall. They remain fully clothed and are only observed from behind, if at all. Female students produce samples in an enclosed stall, with a female monitor standing outside listening only for sounds of tampering. These conditions are nearly identical to those typically encountered in public restrooms, which men, women, and especially school children use daily. Under such conditions, the privacy interests compromised by the process of obtaining the urine sample are in our view negligible." Supreme Court to those with paruresis: too bad you don't share our view that the intrusion is negligible.
Later, the Court extended its protection of drug testing to all districts that test not just student athletes, but all students involved in extracurricular activities at school: Board of Ed. of Independent School Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie Cty. v. Earls (01-332) 536 U.S. 822 (2002).
Does anyone remember when a drug testing plan in the Reagan administration was largely scuttled thanks to George Shultz's expressed willingness to take the test -- to be immediately followed by his resignation?
Monday, February 09, 2004
Technology to Bolster Gamblers' Self-Control?
A theme of Vice Squad is that the criminal law should not be the main tool used to regulate vice behavior among adults; consumption of vice in and of itself should not be punished, though potentially strict regulations can be adopted to control vice consumption and to channel it into forms with minimal social costs. Regulations that can be helpful to those with self-control problems, while not imposing much of a burden upon rational vice consumers, are especially welcome. (I was delighted recently to see procrastinating Will Baude of Crescat Sententia endorse this paper ("Libertarian Paternalism Is Not An Oxymoron") by Cass R. Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler, which presents an analysis that is consonant, I think, with this view.)
It is all the better if such self-control methods can be made available by private actors. In the case of gambling, many self-control devices, both public and private, have been adopted. For instance, credit cards might not be accepted for wagers, or states (or casinos) can maintain lists where problem gamblers voluntarily sign up to bar their entry. This column in Information Week suggests that technological advances are providing some more variations upon this theme. Here's a sample:
"Recent technological innovations include the ability for gamblers to establish gambling limits on themselves before going to the casino. It's always better to decide how much you can lose before you go. Recent software allows for purchase of credits before gambling and coincides with casino operators moving to a coinless payout system.
Just like credit-card fraud detection, a good system for detecting the problem gambler must be able to monitor the behavior in order to detect the problem. It must be able to limit a gambler's ability to overspend by placing dollar limits and determining how often a user can play within a certain time frame. Better yet, these decisions could be made before a customer is in the casino, while he or she is still thinking rationally. Recent technology allows implementation of these types of safeguards and controls to help people avoid gambling problems before they get serious. Just like many customer-interaction systems, newer gambling-safeguard systems incorporate interactive messaging, activity reports, and behavioral analysis to aid in controlling and, possibly, modifying gambling behavior."
"Sex Slaves on Main Street"
So reads the cover of the New York Times Magazine from two weeks
ago (January 25, 2004), describing a long article inside ("The Girls
Next Door") about, well, sex slaves in the US. Following a tradition
established by a co-blogger, I waited until seeing the letters in this
Sunday's Times Magazine before mentioning the original
article. (You can buy the original article from the Times's archive here.)
Letters responding to the article are here (registration required).
The article concerns young, sometimes very young women (even toddlers
are mentioned), generally from Mexico or the former Eastern bloc, who
become enslaved and forced into prostitution in the US. And they are
everywhere, we are led to believe, next door and on Main Street. [Update:
a friend of Vice Squad correctly points out that this "everywhere"
characterization of the article is itself an exaggeration.] The problem is, the
article never delivers any real evidence that there is anything other than a
few isolated cases of such sex slavery in the US. Isolated cases are
themselves bad enough that there is no need to sensationalize, but the
article, it seems to me, largely does just that.
I expected that the response letters would judge the article more-or-less
the way that I did, but I was wrong (again). For the most part, the letter
writers praise the author of the article for opening their eyes to the sex
slave business in the US.
Jack Shafer of Slate.com has taken a more skeptical view, and filled it
out with what amounts to an elaborate refutation of the original article
in multiple Slate columns. Here's a snippet from Shafer's summary piece,
which takes a close look at some of the major sources for the Times article:
"My endless pieces argue that [the Times author] Landesman fails to substantiate the claim made on the cover and inside that tens of thousands of women and girls are being held 'captive and pimped out for forced sex' in American suburbs and cities. Landesman's 8,500-word breathless hodgepodge of anecdotes, bait-and-switches, non sequiturs, pseudonymous testimonials, and over-the-top hysteria comes nowhere near to proving its thesis: Although the crime of sex-slavery exists, Landesman cites just two criminal cases involving 10 females."
The Shafer summary article, noting that prostitution services run for profit must be sufficiently visible to attract customers, concludes thusly:
"What does it say about his [Landesman's] opus that after a four-month investigation that took him to Mexico four times and Eastern Europe once and included visits to several states—a project in which government officials, police, and rescue groups welcomed his questions—that he never observes an operating sex-slave emporium in the United States?"
So, read the original article and read the Shafer response.
One final note. Shafer cites the white slave panic of the early 20th
century as a parallel case of journalistic excess. What he leaves out
is one of the long-term costs of that panic: the harassment
(and sometimes imprisonment) of consensual couples via the Mann
Act. Let's hope that our new panic doesn't lead to any other short-
sighted but long-lasting legislation. After all, sex slavery is already
OK, yet another "final note." Vice does sell newspapers and magazines,
so perhaps it isn't surprising that the occasional over-the-top story
appears. Still, it is disheartening when such stories appear in highly
respected outlets. Last August, Newsweek opened our eyes
to a startling trend we might have otherwise missed: the marked rise in
US teen prostitution, especially among middle and upper-middle class kids.
Jack Shafer examined that one, too.
Khat Under Review in Britain
Friend of Vice Squad Phoebe Rice brings to our attention this BBC report on British investigations into khat (or qat). Chewing the leaves of this plant, which contains an ephedrine-like stimulant, is a popular pastime in Somalia and other parts of East Africa. Khat (pronounced "cot") is generally harvested in Ethiopia, Yemen, or Kenya, and rushed to various markets (in Mogadishu, for example), as unrefrigerated leaves lose some of their psychoactive compounds fairly quickly after being removed from the plant.
Chewing a lot of khat can produce some adverse health effects, and it is these that have prompted the British review. The linked BBC article reports that a ban on khat in Britain is under consideration, though it sounds as if, for now, that measure remains unlikely -- khat is consumed by many Africans living in London and other parts of the UK. In the US, of course, khat is already banned.
A BBC story from December notes how falling coffee prices have induced Ethiopian farmers to switch to khat production.
Saturday, February 07, 2004
Canadian Suit Against Big Tobacco Suffers Setback
An Ontario judge ruled against the attempt to achieve class-action status in a nine-year-old lawsuit against three tobacco companies. From an article in the Toronto Star:
"Justice Warren Winkler of the Ontario Superior Court said the multi-million dollar lawsuit, which accused Canada's three major tobacco makers of conspiring to hide the dangers of smoking, did not meet the legal test for class-action certification.
The plaintiffs appear to have little in common except they smoked, Winkler said in his 22-page decision."
Vice Squad, only nine years late, first mentioned the lawsuit a few weeks ago.
[Update: Here's a Reuters story with an interesting quote from the opinion:
"'Even if the defendants were to only contest a portion of the individual claims, and each dispute could be concluded in one day, simple mathematics indicate that such a process would require the equivalent of 1,000 years of litigation, if it were to be conducted sequentially,' said Justice Warren Winkler in his 22-page written decision." Do you think anyone in the courtroom thought that the prospect of 1,000 years of litigation was a reason to certify the class action?]