Vice Squad
Sunday, October 31, 2004
 
Teens and Poker


One day Vice Squad tries to put things in perspective, and the next thing you know, a front page article in today's New York Times (I guess it was a slow news day?) does the same thing. The general message of the article is that parents and educators should be alert to signs of problem gambling, but not be worried about poker games per se. Indeed, such games might even be welcome, via standard "harm reduction"-style arguments:
For almost all parents, the calculus of teenage poker begins with the alternatives. What's worse, they say, kids playing for a few dollars with friends at someone's house, with parents around? Or in cars, drinking on a golf course, or tempted by drugs? For most, it's an easy decision.
The enormous liberalisation of gambling in the US in the past 40 years has somehow happened without major destruction, as the article notes:
...the country is in the midst of a revolution in its view of gambling - now a $70 billion annual business, excluding Internet gambling - from casinos to lotteries to sports betting to poker on television, and that the young are part of that shift.

People can make different moral calculations about how good or bad this is. But Ken Winters, of the department of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, said that despite real risks of addictive gambling, so far the spread of legalized gambling has not sent the country hurtling toward perdition and probably won't send its youth there either.
The availability of pornography has likewise undergone a major shift, and the Republic soldiers on. This might be useful to keep in mind when we hear warnings of the destruction that would be wreaked by a liberalisation of our marijuana laws.

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Squeezing Nude Juice Bars in South Dakota


It turns out that not everyone thinks that nude dancing in public establishments should be tolerated. In South Dakota, some local activists are taking their case statewide:
Citizens Against Nude Juice Bars and Pornography has been gaining signatures on informal petitions that ask South Dakota lawmakers to approve an effective state obscenity law...

The organization chose this path after Bob Rieger took advantage of an exception in McCook County's nude-dancing ban last summer to reopen Racehorses Gentlemen's Club as a movie theater outside of Salem. It offers black-and-white and independent movies, as well as nude dancing.
One suspects that it is not the cinema that is the main draw at Racehorses, despite South Dakota's reputation for embracing independent films.

The name of the group is a bit puzzling, for two reasons. First, what will happen to those concerned citizens who disapprove of nude juice bars, but approve of pornography, and vice versa? Second, just what is a nude juice bar, anyway? Morality in Media to the rescue:
An entrepreneur who does not have a liquor license or who has lost it for violations of a nudity-alcohol ordinance, or who may want to avoid the prohibitions or provisions of such an ordinance, will frequently turn to the "Juice Bar" gambit where, instead of serving alcohol, he or she will serve soft drinks or juices and continue presenting nude "dancing." These establishments may also admit minors since no liquor is served. This latter element makes such establishments doubly pernicious.
[Update: A Vice Squad reader writes in about nude juice bars in one California region. Alcohol licensing laws come packaged with restrictions that preclude total nudity in establishments that serve alcohol (this is the case in Chicago, too). But at places without an alcohol license -- such as juice bars -- total nudity is permitted. The California juice bars, according to the VS reader, allow in patrons who are 18 years old or older, while the alcohol-serving clubs are only for those 21 and up.]

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Friday, October 29, 2004
 
Zero Tolerance for Driving Under the Influence


Since August, the blood alcohol content that will lead to a per se violation of driving while intoxicated laws in Croatia is any positive number. You'd better register .00, or you are a drunk driver. This means that you cannot safely have a glass of wine at dinner, if you will be driving home later. The law is likely to be relaxed, however:
The Croatian government is considering amendments to its new law on drinking and driving, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader recently confirmed. The measure, introduced in August, reduced the blood alcohol content limit for drivers from 0.05 per cent to zero. It has triggered significant opposition from restaurant and hotel owners, who say it is hurting business, as well as from Catholic priests, who argue that they are now effectively barred from traveling between churches to celebrate Mass.
The priests had asked to be exempted before the law went into effect, but their prayers, er, requests, went for naught.

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You Know Things are Not So Great...


...if your country gets its smuggled goods from Iraq. But, well, that's the way things are in Iran, according to this AP story at Boston.com. Smuggled good of choice: alcohol:
For the past three years, Farshid Karimi has earned his living smuggling goods and dodging border guards.

The 23-year-old was drinking a cold beer at an Iraqi bar on a recent evening, taking a short break before carrying 60 bottles of whisky into Iran. With his baggy, Kurdish-style pants tucked inside his socks so he wouldn't trip while climbing the region's mountains, Karimi had already carried his load two hours.
The risks are considerable:
''I am afraid of encountering Iranian soldiers who would chase me and might shoot at me for carrying liquor,'' he said as he sipped his beer. ''Or I might wander on the road and end up stepping on a land mine'' left over from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Is the risk worth it? Adam Smith thought that smugglers were not exactly rational: "The most hazardous of all trades, that of a smuggler, though when the adventure succeeds it is likewise the most profitable, is the infallible road to bankruptcy. The presumptuous hope of success seems to act here as upon all other occasions, and to entice so many adventurers into those hazardous trades, that their competition reduces the profit below what is sufficient to compensate the risk." Karimi has had to deal with the risks in most unpleasant terms:
Alcohol is illegal and considered sinful under Iran's strict Islamic laws. Lashing is the usual punishment for drinking in Iran and traffickers can end up in prison.

Last year, Iranian soldiers caught Karimi in a border ambush. He was jailed for one year and given 80 lashes in public. His back was covered in blood and he could not sleep on it for a month, he said.
I understand that in barbaric Iran, alcohol is not the only illegal drug. But what other goods are so unavailable in Iranian towns near the border that the goods have to be smuggled from Iraq? The linked article mentions plates, cups, china, tea, sugar, and rice.

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Thursday, October 28, 2004
 
The Political Influence of Tobacco Companies...


...is pretty darn immense, it seems. Here's a story from yesterday's Guardian about the access that British-American Tobacco had to the top levels of Britain's Blair administration, and here's a report from Common Cause on recent tobacco company campaign contributions in the US. A sample from the latter of the linked stories:
A House-Senate conference committee killed the FDA legislation earlier this month when a majority of the Senate conferees voted for it, but a majority of House conferees did not. Conference committee members who voted against the FDA legislation received, on average, nearly five times as much in tobacco industry political action committee (PAC) contributions as those who voted for the legislation. Those voting against FDA authority received on average $27,255 in tobacco political action committee (PAC) contributions from 1999 to 2004, while those voting for the legislation received on average $5,505 in tobacco PAC contributions.
Now I am a firm believer, of course, that tobacco companies ought to be able to lobby, just like any other interest group. The bigger problem, I suppose, is the influence of monied interests in democratic politics, and what appear to be weak controls to politically "punish" legislators and other politicians who allow their votes to be influenced by big contributors. But it is a tough problem, and one that I cannot solve here, though I find the recent campaign finance reforms to be wrongheaded in the extreme.

But my vice concern is this. I believe that there should be legal channels for adults to acquire currently-illegal drugs, even for recreational use, and even for drugs such as heroin. Those channels could be tightly controlled, and for some drugs, should be tightly controlled. But one argument of prohibitionists is that legalization with tight controls is not a feasible, stable option, because the suppliers of the legalized drugs will be an effective force politically for weakening the strict controls. This argument may not be determinative nor even correct -- tobacco taxes and controls on sales to kids have increased markedly in recent years, despite the political pull of tobacco companies -- but it can't be casually dismissed, either. The linked stories tend to make the prohibitionist argument a little bit more compelling.

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Korean Men Fight Prostitution Crackdown


The South Korean campaign against prostitution is slated to terminate at the end of October, but the laws criminalising commercial sex will remain in place, of course. Unless, that is, Korean men win their challenge to the laws on human rights grounds:
A men's organization has decided to hand in a petition that calls for repealing the anti-prostitution law, to the National Human Rights Commission. The Korea Men's Association (KMA), an organization aiming for the protection of men's rights and the abolition of sexual discrimination against men, has decided to submit a petition to the human rights commission on Nov. 1.

On Thursday, "The law banning prostitution was established by feminists with animosity toward men," said Lee Kyung-su, the chief of the organization, asserting, "The law made to tie up and crackdown on men should be repealed."

He said, "We are not related to pimps or prostitutes and do not support prostitution," adding, "The problem is that this law regards every man in this country as a latent criminal and discriminates against men."
This is the second somewhat surprising invocation of human rights that has graced Vice Squad this month.

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What's the Matter With Kansas?*


Just days ago Vice Squad mentioned efforts in Salina, Kansas, to clamp down on an adult goods store. Today we learn that the owner of a Salina nightclub, The Groove, has pleaded "no contest" to charges of not having the appropriate license to operate an adult business. It seems that a wet t-shirt contest got, predictably, out of hand, and the owner appeared to be encouraging the unlicensed nudity. But the plea agreement allows him to avoid a "promoting obscenity" charge, and he and Salina will get their Groove back, complete with liquor -- but not nude dancing -- license.

Incidentally, the owner's lawyer referred to the verboten activity as "spontaneous nude dancing" (odd how nude dancing doesn't seem to spontaneously break out, say, when I am walking home), and the terms of the plea agreement require the owner to make "a $500 donation to the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas."

*with apologies to Thomas Frank

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004
 
Off Topic: Is Protectionism Immoral?


Like many, probably most economists, I generally do not support protectionist measures. But I don't share economist Steven Landsburg's take on protectionist policies, which he presented in Slate in support of his decision to vote for President Bush next week. Here's an excerpt:
If George Bush had chosen the racist David Duke as a running mate, I'd have voted against him, almost without regard to any other issue. Instead, John Kerry chose the xenophobe John Edwards as a running mate. I will therefore vote against John Kerry.

Duke thinks it's imperative to protect white jobs from black competition. Edwards thinks it's imperative to protect American jobs from foreign competition. There's not a dime's worth of moral difference there. While Duke would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of skin color, Edwards would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of birthplace. Either way, bigotry is bigotry, and appeals to base instincts should always be repudiated.
Would one be a bigot to discriminate in favor of one's own children versus strangers? One's neighbors? When is discrimination arbitrary, and when is it not arbitrary?

Adam Smith, of course, addresses these issues, in Part VI of Theory of Moral Sentiments. Chapter 1 of Section 2 of Part VI (whew) is entitled "Of the Order in which Individuals are recommended by Nature to our care and attention," and Chapter 2 is entitled "Of the order in which Societies are by nature recommended to our Beneficence." Smith notes that it is only natural that we prefer ourselves and our relations to strangers. A man's family consists of those who "are naturally and usually the persons upon whose happiness or misery his conduct must have the greatest influence." Further, our own, and our family and friends', happiness is tied to our country -- and it is within our country where our conduct has the greatest influence. The interests of our country, therefore, are near to us both from self-interest and our "private benevolent affections." And this is fine. "That wisdom which contrived the system of human affections, as well as that of every other part of nature, seems to have judged that the interest of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal attention of each individual to that particular portion of it, which was most within the sphere both of his abilities and of his understanding."

Anyway, like Smith, I am generally against protectionism. But I don't think that it is immoral to prefer the interests of people in your own country to those of people elsewhere -- even though, like Smith, I would hope to be generous towards all people, and not envy improvements in the well-being of foreign nations.

[Update: Professor Landsburg is guest-blogging at Marginal Revolution this week and reprises his comments there. The Agitator took favorable (?) notice of Professor Landsburg's sentiments.]

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What Did John Stuart Mill Say About Gambling?


Believe it or not, the debate about the new British gambling bill has spilled over into what position Vice Squad hero John Stuart Mill would have taken on the matter. Roy Hattersley, British Labour Party politician of renown (and now a Baron), claims in this Guardian column that Mill would not approve of the gambling liberalisation, but his reading of Mill is hopelessly muddled. Regarding the Blair government's move to liberalise gambling, combined with the government's refusal to push for a national public smoking ban, Hattersley asks (rhetorically?), "Can anyone doubt that if the full Mill doctrine were applied to either of the 'libertarian issues' that now face society, the policy the government has adopted would be reversed?" Uh, actually, yes, one can doubt this, and I do.

First, second-hand smoke and gambling are quite different, in that second-hand smoke can more-or-less directly harm identifiable individuals. Gambling lacks the same direct threat, though of course, as Mill notes, any activity that harms a person will also harm his family and intimates. But Mill makes it clear that this type of indirect harm does not provide a basis for social (public or private) coercion. The activity of gambling itself, therefore, must be legal, by Millian precepts. Regulation over public smoking would not necessarily be an infringement upon liberty, alternatively, though a key consideration will be the extent to which the exposure is voluntary. But I'll skip the smoking discussion to concentrate, here, on gambling.

Two subsequent letters to the Guardian correctly pointed out Hattersley's misappropriation of Mill. But neither of the letters referred to Mill's actual use of the example of gambling, in Part V of On Liberty. Mill addresses the issue of whether people should be allowed to earn a living by providing opportunities for other people to engage in, essentially, vices, such as prostitution or gambling. People who do not have an interest in the trade can "promote" a vice to their heart's desire, but what about people who have a pecuniary interest in intemperance?
Then, indeed, a new element of complication is introduced; namely, the existence of classes of persons with an interest opposed to what is considered as the public weal, and whose mode of living is grounded on the counteraction of it. Ought this to be interfered with, or not? Fornication, for example, must be tolerated, and so must gambling; but should a person be free to be a pimp, or to keep a gambling-house? The case is one of those which lie on the exact boundary line between two principles, and it is not at once apparent to which of the two it properly belongs. There are arguments on both sides...
Mill then runs through these arguments. If interested sellers are all-but-necessary for consumption to take place, then such sellers cannot be suppressed. (Mill believes that alcohol sellers are necessary to protect the liberty interest of would-be alcohol consumers.) But this reasoning does not extend to the gambling liberalisation bill. First, lots of gambling could occur in private homes (and the state has no right to stop it), even without commercial casinos. But in the British case, commercial casinos already exist; while the liberalisation would make them more widespread and larger, current laws do not preclude gambling, or even commercial gambling, for British adults. So by my reading, there is not much in On Liberty to suggest that respect for liberty requires support for the proposed gambling liberalisation. The bill might be a good idea for other reasons, but it is not required, upon Millian grounds alone.

The gambling/Mill controversy was brought to my attention by the Adam Smith Institute, whose President, Dr. Madsen Pirie, is one of the participants (an instigator, even!) in the debate.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004
 
Blog Life Imitates Life...


...in that I am late sending birthday greetings to my blog buddies, too. Happy Belated Birthday to Pete Guither of Drug WarRant, who has ramped up his usual public service by preparing state voting guides for the election. May you find much to celebrate come next Tuesday night, Pete.

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Smirnoff Iced


If grocery stores are allowed to sell beer, are they allowed to sell "malternatives," drinks like Smirnoff Ice® that have a similar alcohol content as premium beer (5% by volume) but are "brewed using a malt base" (as the Smirnoff Ice® website mentions)? The state of Oregon has decided that, as of 2005, such malternatives will not be allowed to be sold in grocery stores, if they contain more than one-half of one percent distilled alcohol. Many malternative producers are reformulating their drinks to permit grocery store sales, but the owner of Smirnoff Ice® is challenging the Oregon rule in the courts. In the linked article, an official with Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bacardi Silver®, has stated that "Anheuser-Busch wholeheartedly supports the deadline contained in the law."

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Keeping Up With the Joneses


Dickinson County, Kansas, has decided to put lots of resources to a good cause, that of trying to use the criminal law to shut down (or change the product mix of) an adult store. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and now the good people of Saline County want in on the act:
One group of Salina residents say they're opposed to two stores within the city limits that sell pornographic material. They're working to gather 476 signatures to force a grand jury investigation of the stores, claiming they violate state obscenity laws as Salina residents interpret them.
The Saline County Attorney has the good sense to suggest that they might want to wait to see how things turn out in Dickinson County (and Ellsworth County, where apparently a similar proceeding is under way). Not everyone is enamored of her temporizing: "People against the adult businesses say they shouldn't wait because the issue is too important."

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Monday, October 25, 2004
 
Swedish Alcohol Developments


Vice Squad has been tracking the possibility that Sweden will drastically cut its alcohol taxes, in the face of previous tax cuts in neighboring countries and EU rules that make importing for personal use easy. But not that easy: here's a story of a couple of fellows who ended up in jail when they couldn't explain the 2000 litres of alcohol that they were bringing into Sweden. It would be OK if it clearly were for personal use, or if they had other evidence that they were having a big party. But according to the article, "... it isn't acceptable to tell customs that "you're stocking up your reserves" or that it's been bought "for a large party"..." without supporting evidence.

The Swedish alcohol monopoly, enmeshed in a corruption scandal, is selling less because of the increased border trade -- another factor in making reduced taxes likely:
In September the Swedish Alcohol Retailing Monopoly recorded a 14.2 per cent drop in year-on-year sales. Sales of wine fell by 3.3 per cent, of beer by 4.7 per cent and of cider by 12.2 per cent. The drop in sales is most noticeable in Norrbotten and Skåne where consumers have the opportunity to buy cheap spirits in Finland and Denmark respectively.
Sweden is joining other countries (Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark) that have generally had tough alcohol policies and high taxes for negotiations with the European Union and the World Health Organization. Tight regulations do seem to work in terms of limiting consumption:
Norway, Sweden and Iceland, who charge the highest prices for alcohol, are also among the five nations in Europe with the lowest annual consumption of pure alcohol per person.

According to the WHO, people in Iceland annually consume just 4.41 litres of pure alcohol per person.

By contrast, Luxembourgers have the highest consumption with 14.47 litres per year per person, according to the WHO.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU, has the highest alcohol prices in Europe. But after Sweden lowers its taxes, Norway might feel pressure to follow suit, as the prospect of convenient, cheap imports will allow for avoidance of the high taxes.

Finally, the European Commission is coming after Sweden for taxing wine too highly, relative to beer. Why is the Commission sticking its nose into this business? Because most of the beer is locally produced, while most of the wine is imported, so the tax differentials might really be disguised protectionism -- which the Commission is tasked with fighting -- as opposed to a legitimate alcohol control strategy.

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Sunday, October 24, 2004
 
Holy Toledo! Holy Smokes! Holy Toledo Smokes!


Ohio is a battleground state in more ways than one this November. Both Columbus and Toledo have passed New York City-style public smoking bans. The fate of the bans, however, is in the hands of voters, thanks to referenda on the November ballot. (In Toledo's case, the referendum aims not to eliminate the ban, but to soften it.) As part of the coverage of the smoking referenda, the Toledo Blade published today this short article on the history of tobacco bans. The article traces the current wave of public smoking bans in the US to the mid-1970s efforts of a Duluth housewife with an asthmatic child. What Henry Adams said of teachers applies to mothers, too, that they know not how far their influence extends.

Meanwhile, Walter Olson at Overlawyered provides the latest on an attempt by private health insurers to emulate state attorneys general in using lawsuits to recoup medical expenses from tobacco companies.

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Nonprofits Profiting From Poker


Hoping to raise some money for a good cause? A gambling-themed event might be your path to riches! But not just any gambling theme: bingo probably won't pack them in, and even those glitzy Vegas nights are beginning to look a bit staid. Texas Hold'em, now that is where the action is, at least according to this article at lowellsun.com (Massachusetts). Here's an excerpt:
The United Way of Merrimack Valley sponsored its first poker fund-raiser in August, and raised $31,000, John Licciardi, vice president of the United Way capital campaign, plays poker and has watched the game grow through television and the Internet.

"It was a backyard game because no one was doing it," he said. "Now everyone's doing it."

The United Way is organizing a two-day blitz Oct. 29 and 30 in Haverhill. It hopes for at least 270 players, which, at $125 per head, for a $33,750 profit.

Fund raisers say there are other advantages to poker. Licciardi said poker requires less planning than other events. Brian Teahan of Billerica, floor manager at the New England FUNdraising tournaments in Nashua, said his tournaments are growing and supporting numerous charities, such as Nashua Symphony, Pastoral Care Center, and Nashua Center for the Multiply Handicapped.
The online article includes a picture of Greg "The Fossilman" Raymer, identified as the winner of the World Series of Poker. (I thought I had heard something lately about Massachusetts and some business about a World Series...) I mention the photo because I was intrigued by this tidbit of information: "Raymer is known as 'Fossilman' because he holds his cards down by placing fossils on them." Or maybe he's just really, really old.

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Friday, October 22, 2004
 
Coerced Treatment and Berkeley's Proposition Q


The loyal Vice Squad reader will know that I believe that private, adult "vice" should, in general, not be criminalized. For that reason, I am not a big fan of coerced treatment programs, where an arrested individual, for instance, is given a choice between jail or treatment. The decision by an adult to seek treatment for any medical problem generally should not be coerced by the state, in my opinion. Nevertheless, given our current prohibition on some drugs and prostitution, the option to pursue treatment in lieu of prison is undoubtedly viewed as attractive by many arrestees, and I would probably not want to see that option curtailed, absent wider changes in vice policy.

Whew. All that by way of introduction to an editorial against Proposition Q, the Berkeley ballot initiative that would make prostitution enforcement a very low priority for the Berkeley police, among other things. Vice Squad noted before that the possibility of vice tourism (and the public nature of the solicitation that is a chief target of enforcement) might mean that even a supporter of prostitution legalization could oppose this measure. But the linked article does not take that approach. What is does offer, though, is an intelligent (if, to my mind, unconvincing) case against the Proposition, and one that relies to some extent on the "success" of coerced "treatment":
The best way to help street prostitutes is to help them get out of prostitution, and the best way to help them to get out of prostitution is law enforcement. Berkeley has a successful court diversion program, in which a judge offers street prostitutes who've been arrested for solicitation the options of going to jail or getting professional help through Options Recovery Services. This city-funded program helps women mend their lives, reunite with their families, and find meaningful work that will set them on the road to self-respect and independence. Options Recovery Services has had a 65 percent success rate in getting people off the street and off drugs.

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As Vice Crackdowns Go, Maybe Not a Bad One


Vice Squad, not a big fan of criminalizing consensual adult behaviors of what used to be called the "victimless" variety, hasn't been all that complimentary towards the ongoing anti-prostitution crusade in South Korea. How many people have been caught up in the Korean police's commercial sex net?
Police have rounded up 4,365 people for engaging in the sex trade during the one-month crackdown, which began on Sept. 23. The 2,352 men caught for buying sex accounted for 54 percent, followed by 849 brothel owners with 19 percent. 660 sex workers came in third with 15 percent.
More than 4,000 arrests? Actually, no. The overwhelming majority of people "rounded up," whatever that means, are not arrested! "Among those 4,365 violators, police have requested arrest warrants for a total of 171 people, including 100 brothel owners, 62 male customers and four prostitutes." Maybe the US should consider this approach for the more than 1.5 million people rounded up annually as fodder for the drug prohibition machine.

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The Benefits of Poker for Kids


I have been worried about the poker craze that seems to be engulfing the youth of America. Still am, when the stakes get high or when the games become large and too organized (though this latter concern grows from the legal regime governing gambling and not from the poker per se). But vices like gambling (and drugs, and alcohol, and pornography...) have benefits, too, as economists should be the first to remember. So it was nice to have my memory jogged by a letter to the editor in Thursday's Chicago Tribune. It's from a mom who notes that "Life is about moderation". Here's an excerpt:
I am the mother of a son who started to play poker the summer before his senior year. Until that time he had very few friends and a very limited social life, and then a phone call came asking him to fill in on a poker game. He was reluctant, but both my husband and I urged him to try it. Suddenly he had a social life. He and his friends went out to dinner and movies on Friday; Saturdays were reserved for poker. Generally they played a tournament with a $10 buy-in. The games usually started at 6:30 and went to about midnight. I don't know what kind of entertainment these boys could find for $10 that would take up an entire evening. Some Saturday nights my house had 20 boys playing poker. There was never any smoking, drinking or problem with behavior.

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Power to the People


What do you do when your elected officials have failed your community by spouting lies and rhetoric, ignoring citizens' concerns, and refusing to engage in intelligent debate about drug policy? Take it to the streets.

Several communities across the nation have implemented, or hope to implement voter initiatives to decriminalize or at least de-prioritize the enforcement of recreational cannabis use by adults in the home.

Of course, last year, Seattle voters passed an initiative to make adult cannabis use the lowest law enforcement priority. Oakland is pushing a similar initiative, Measure Z, which makes private adult marijuana offenses, including possession, sales and cultivation of the herb, the lowest priority for Oakland police. Some towns in Suburban Boston have placed a measure on their November ballot that asks voters to vote "yes" or "no" to a non-binding marijuana decriminalization measure. The measure was placed on the ballot just to get an idea of voters' feelings on the issue after their representative, who sits on the state legislature's Criminal Justice Committee, sent a piece of marijuana decriminalization legislation to a "study committee", which, in the representative's words means that it "is virtually dead." Alaska's citizens have gone even farther, and are pushing Ballot Measure 2, which would make it legal under state law for people 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It also would allow for state regulation and taxation of marijuana.

NORML.org reports that supporters of the Alaska initiative have now sued Lt. Gov. Loren Leman for writing a 300-word opposition to the measure, and including it in the voters' guide which was mailed to some 300,000 Alaskan voters.

Of course, officials in these communities throw up the usual red herring of the "gateway theory", a pretty much debunked theory that states that marijuana use leads to the use of harder drugs. And they try to scare people with horror stories of the possibility of a marijuana use explosion, especially among teens.

Supporters of these initiatives want to take the politics out of the decriminalization debate, and want their elected officials to start listening to the wishes of their constituencies. If more of these measures can be brought before communities, we may finally start to see a cohesive grassroots (no pun intended) movement to decriminalize. It is sad that communities have to drag their elected officials kicking and screaming towards sensible policies and an informed debate on drugs, but I think the effort is well worth it.

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Thursday, October 21, 2004
 
Law Enforcement Breakthrough!


You see, what we'll do is, see, whenever we arrest some crook, we'll itemize his pornography collection, or if we are at a crime scene, we'll note all the pornography in the vicinity! 'Like gangs, people who use pornography have associated traits, and we'll define them so we can link them to crimes and pornography.' This will be bigger than DNA!

OK, I have absolutely no idea how this porn file is going to solve crime. (Hmmm, maybe crime reduction isn't the real purpose?) Click on the link and read the whole article, and maybe you can figure it out. Thanks to Drug WarRant's own Pete Guither for the pointer; in turn, Pete points to Tbogg.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004
 
Crim Law on Drugs


Crim Law posted, on Monday, a ton of links to drug-related stories. Included is this story about the implementation of Brazil's new policy to shoot down suspected drug planes. The new policy was announced some time ago, but the proposed policy exempted planes carrying children; apparently, the actual implementation has removed that limitation. Vice Squad vented spleen about this proposed policy last July -- even though I was someone else's guest.

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Get Low-Mileage, Late-Model Cars Cheap --- From US Customs!


And they can be trusted just as much as any used car dealer. The catch here is that, well, the cars that are auctioned off come into Customs' hands via confiscation. So? Well, in some cases, it seems, the drugs that the previous owner had stashed in the car are not removed prior to the auction. So? Well, when the drugs are discovered, the new, innocent owner might have to spend a month or even a year in a Mexican prison. But the car is cheap! What do you expect for 1500 bucks, a drug-free vehicle?

There are claims (far from proven, however) that the drugs were not discovered because finding drugs involves damaging the car -- and damaged cars would not bring in as much cash at the auction. Thanks to Overlawyered for the pointer.

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Vice Squad Quiz!: Guess the US City


This month, the City Commission passed an ordinance that limits the number of strip clubs, clothing-optional bars and X-rated video stores, and spells out that sex in public is illegal. But some things remain sacred: a clause to require body painters to shield their naked patrons from view was struck.
Philistines.

Answer: This massive turn to the right, which includes a crackdown on public drinking, is taking place in the formerly reliable Key West, Florida. The New York Times provides details; thanks to a friend of Vice Squad for the pointer. [Update: And thanks to the Vice Squad reader who wrote in to point out that the ordinance has the effect of protecting the existing vice businesses from new competition -- an effect that might also be one of the motives underlying the measure.]

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004
 
Small bottle or big bottle?


An important issue is going to be decided by South Carolina voters on November 2. This will not be the identity of the next US President. Presumably, we all know how South Carolina will vote in that race. The real issue for the South Carolinians on November 2 will be whether they will have a choice about how much liquor to buy when they get a cocktail in a bar. At this time, South Carolina is the only state in the Union that requires bartenders to use little 1.7 ounce bottles to make a cocktail. The current law (it appears to be part of South Carolina Constitution) has its pros and cons. Probably the two biggest drawbacks of the minibottle requirement is that the bottles are too big (the free-pour portions of hard liquor in the bars in other states are usually one ounce) and it’s hard to use them to make cocktails that require several different drinks such as Long Island ice tea. At the same time, the primary advantages of minibottles are that they protect against drink dilution by the bartenders and they make it harder for the bars to evade excise taxes. That is, minibottles may be impeding fraud. I am usually for the freedom of choice as long as the externalities are not significant, as they do not appear to be in this issue. So, if I resided in South Carolina, I would be pro-choice in this matter as well. What amazes me, however, is that the markets did not seem to have worked too well so far. My understanding is that the South Carolina current law requires the use of some minibottles rather than specifically the 1.7 ounce bottles. If so, why haven’t minibottle manufacturers come up with smaller bottle sizes that would accommodate the demand from the bar customers? One explanation might be that South Carolina imposes an excise tax in dollar amounts per minibottle (i.e., the so-called “specific tax”) rather than an ad valorem tax expressed in percentage of the price. If so, then the tax-inclusive price difference between a one-ounce bottle and a 1.7 ounce bottle would be perhaps too small to induce anybody to buy a one-ounce bottle. Also, the cost of packaging drinks in a minibottle might be a substantial part of the cost of the drink and that would also reduce the attractiveness of providing smaller minibottles. This issue might become irrelevant though after November 2. [Vice Squad has mentioned the S.C. mini-bottle issue a couple times in the past, including on August 1.]

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Monday, October 18, 2004
 
Tobacco Companies in Britain Assert Their Human Rights


Really. The firms are responding to strict limits on those ads for their products that are placed in stores -- so-called point-of-sale ads. In a lawsuit, the tobacco firms are claiming that the ad restrictions "are an unlawful interference with their commercial freedom of speech under human rights laws." So it looks as if the British have the same tension that bedevils the US, that between legal vice goods and advertising controls.

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British Minimum Alcohol Prices, Public and Private...


...or maybe directly public and indirectly public. The direct route to minimum prices for alcohol is being pursued by the City Council in Aberdeen, Scotland. The hope is to make sure that alcohol prices in pubs and clubs are not "too low," as a disincentive to binge drinking. The Aberdeen plan was scheduled to go into effect on Tuesday, but a legal challenge by pub owners will delay (or eventually eliminate) implementation.

Meanwhile, the private introduction of minimum prices comes from the Yates Group, which owns 130 British bars. The minimum prices in Yates's pubs will be £1.25 for a pint of beer, £1 for a bottle of beer, and £1 for "spirits" and "shooters". The pub chain is adopting other measures, too, such as eliminating happy hours. Yates has received some criticism for running a "cover charge for unlimited alcohol at no additional charge" scheme at Cardiff pubs -- hence they might have felt some pressure to adopt a minimum price strategy. Could Yates agree with other alcohol sellers to avoid a price war? Probably not: "The Office of Fair Trading has warned that pubs which agree minimum prices amongst themselves risk breaching competitions laws." A similar issue popped up not long ago in Madison, Wisconsin.

In another "voluntary" move, "Bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale are to carry health warnings similar to those printed on packets of cigarettes."

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Sunday, October 17, 2004
 
Jim Beam v. Jack Daniels


A couple weeks ago we mentioned that Jack Daniels had quietly reduced the alcohol content in their Tennessee whiskey from 86 to 80 proof. One of their leading competitors, Jim Beam, has been alluding to this change in their recent marketing. "We'd never 86 our 86 proof" is the tagline of a Jim Beam ad that appeared in the sports section of today's New York Times; I saw the identical ad last week in the sports section of the Chicago Tribune. Later in the ad, we read: "Those who prefer a better tasting bourbon, prefer a bourbon that's 86 proof." The Beamers seem to think that there are a fair number of readers who will understand the reference to the recent change in Jack Daniels. (And just how well-known is the diner lingo "86," meaning "out of stock," as in "we're 86 on the onion rings"?) Has Jim Beam overestimated the reach of Vice Squad?

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Saturday, October 16, 2004
 
Running an Escort Agency


A friend of Vice Squad has pointed us towards this amazing article from the October 12 New York Times describing how one New Jersey woman, "Mae Lee," runs an escort agency. Here's an excerpt about some of the measures that Mae takes to lower the probability that she will find herself under arrest -- but the article is worth reading in its entirety:
Although the police rarely go after upscale operations like hers, Mae Lee employs a battery of procedures to keep prying vice officers at bay. To start with, she sticks to a steady roster of 2,200 customers, most from suburban New Jersey, whose bona fides have been thoroughly checked out. New customers often come via existing ones, and then they must provide personal information: a business name, a work telephone, sometimes a home number and an address. Before the initial conversation can proceed, Mae Lee puts the prospective client on hold, verifies the information on Google and dials the numbers, pretending to be a telemarketer when a wife or secretary answers.

A police investigator, she says, would never give up his home phone and address. Just to be doubly safe, she never writes down clients' personal information. "For some reason I can remember anyone by their e-mail address and phone number," she said.

Her agency exists in a netherworld created by cellphones, off-shore Web servers and invented names. The cellphone bills go to her lawyer, and the Jersey City apartment she operates from is rented in the name of a former boyfriend. Each rendezvous is clinched in a discreet, desexualized patter. Clients are assured that protected sex is the rule. Most encounters take place in hotel rooms she books by the week, reserved online at a discount, of course.
For an employee's side of the story, you might want to check out the blog of one New York call girl.

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Friday, October 15, 2004
 
Marijuana Prices


A couple of days ago I mentioned that "the black market price of pot in the US is typically lower than the price in the quasi-legal coffee shops in the Netherlands." I was basing this claim on a rather vague memory of having read this in the past; probably my main source was a 1997 (volume 278, pages 47-52) article in Science by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter, "Interpreting Dutch Cannabis Policy: Reasoning by Analogy in the Legalization Debate." MacCoun and Reuter don't say that Dutch prices are lower, however; rather, they say "Gram prices [in Dutch coffee shops] are 5 to 25 guilders ($2.50 to $12.50) compared with U.S. figures of $1.50 to $15.00" (footnote omitted). See also this August, 2003 paper (16 page pdf) by Jeffrey Miron, which suggests US cannabis prices are less than or equal to Dutch prices. A Vice Squad reader, though, makes the point that in quality-adjusted terms, Dutch coffee house prices are lower than in the US, and that furthermore, much low-quality marijuana that trades in the US would not find a ready market in the Netherlands.

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A Big Mac, Fries, and I'll Raise You...


Have you ever heard of NeoPets? I certainly hadn't, but they are virtual pets that you have to tend to one way or another, I suppose, sort of like those Tamaguchi things from a few years back. And they apparently aren't entirely virtual, either; here's a description from the Amazon page of one particular NeoPet, a Mynci:
NeoPets are the latest in the virtual pet craze based on the characters from the immensely popular Internet site, neopets.com. Just like the Internet, these 4-inch high "pets" come alive at the sound of your voice and they respond to the tone of your voice with sounds, movements and lights. There are over thirty different sounds including laughs and giggles for each figure. Myncis are lovable thrill seekers who enjoy exploring tall trees and visiting other hard to reach places. A Mynci has cheeks that light-up and a head that nods when it turns from right to left. Oh, and it can also wiggle its ears... Colors May Vary.
So when I wasn't paying attention, NeoPets apparently took the US by storm. But why mention NeoPets on a vice policy blog? Is it because of their addictive qualities? Er, no. In Australia, it seems, McDonalds has been offering a NeoPet with their Happy Meals. Oh, so this is a story about childhood obesity. Er, no. It turns out that one way to keep the little rascals in good health is to win at some gambling-style games when you go to the NeoPets website. Lose, and your pet will have to turn to virtual charity for sustenance. Is the lesson here that to be a good pet owner, you should be a skilled gambler? Fortunately, the site offers instruction on how to play poker.

Some parents are a bit peeved, according to this story from an Australian television station. Here's a sample:
...the Neopets website advertised on McDonald's packaging and website has left parents such as Michelle Stiebel far from happy.

Among the activities the site offers are virtual pokies, roulette games, and card games where one of the cute characters teaches children the rules of poker and blackjack.

As Michelle's son Harley explains, you need to gamble to raise points to feed your virtual Neopets. He says if you don't gamble up enough points to feed your pet, it goes to the "orphanage". Players who don't win enough points gambling to buy food actually have to send their Neopets to a "virtual soup kitchen".

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Thursday, October 14, 2004
 
British Casino Liberalisation


The long-brewing liberalisation of British gambling laws is creeping ahead, with the reforms scheduled to be submitted to Parliament within a few weeks. While the lottery, betting shops, and even betting via interactive television are popular in Britain, the 130 or so British casinos tend to be rather small, and are subject to much stricter controls than are US casinos:
Under Britain's 1968 Gaming Act, casinos operate as private members' clubs and gamblers must apply for membership 24 hours before they can enter. Rules banning live entertainment and alcohol served at gaming tables have been lifted recently, but the clubs are still restricted to eight gaming machines, with a 50 pence maximum stake and jackpots limited to 2,000 pounds [Australian dollars]$A4,970.

The draft legislation scraps the 24-hour rule and lets casinos larger than 5,000 square metres install up to 1,250 so-called category A machines which have unlimited stakes and jackpots.
One of the proposals for the ill-conceived Millennium Dome involves making part of it into a casino, of course. Hmm, are there any other hugely wasteful white elephant buildings out there that could use a cash injection and a new lease on life?

Vice Squad has been tracking British gambling liberalisation almost since the inception of the Squad, oh but we have, and annoyingly spelling "liberalisation" with an "s" much of the time, too.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004
 
Amsterdam and the Price of Legal v. Quasi-Legal Pot


Last year, the Dutch made pot available in pharmacies to patients with prescriptions. Why would these patients need to go to a pharmacy, one might wonder, when pot is available openly in coffee shops throughout the country? Well, one argument was that many of the patients were not all that comfortable going to coffee shops, or that, for whatever reason, pharmacy provision would be an improvement.

But it turns out that for most patients, it seems, the pharmacy pot is not making the grade. Today's Chicago Tribune has this (AP) article with the details. In the Dutch case, the speculation is that the problem is not so much low quality -- that's been a concern with government pot in Canada -- as it is high price (even though insurance should cover much of the cost for many patients):
The government sells two varieties ranging from about $10 to $12 a gram--enough for up to four joints. Coffee shops sell it for as little as $5 a gram, with only the highest-quality pot fetching prices comparable to the government's.
Why is the price of legal pot so much higher than that of quasi-legal pot? I don't know, but it does remind me of the work of Boston University economist Jeffrey Miron. Miron tried to estimate how much cocaine and heroin would sell for in the absence of prohibition. He used various methods, including looking at the current legal market for medical cocaine and heroin (heroin is not part of the legal US pharmacopoeia but it is legal elsewhere). Miron came up with numbers for the price of legal cocaine that suggest that the current prohibition raises prices maybe less than you might think: perhaps by a factor of 2 to 4 for cocaine, and a factor of 6 to 18 for heroin. I particularly like the part of Miron's paper where he looks at how expensive the cup of coffee at your local Starbucks is in comparison to the "farmgate" price of the coffee beans that go into it. It's some 30 times more expensive, unless we're talking espresso, which is more like 130 times more expensive.

Incidentally, the black market price of pot in the US is typically lower than the price in the quasi-legal coffee shops in the Netherlands. Of course, much of the manufacturing and wholesale market for cannabis in the Netherlands remains effectively criminalized.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004
 
Vicewire 10/12/2004


1) Congress is attempting to push across increased fines for indecency. On related notes, Fox is looking at fines for indecency following a "whipped cream incident" on the television show "Married by America". Also, Howard Stern is moving to satellite radio in 2006.

2) Israel has found a novel solution for easing trauma among its soldiers: marijuana.

3) A 17-year-old may be facing 30 days in jail after using profanity around a teacher.

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Teachers For Gambling


When states try to introduce a lottery, they not infrequently earmark some of the revenues to go to politically-popular causes -- education is a standard beneficiary. Lottery money (in the US) is green, however, like other revenues, so unless the lottery funds cover the entire state budget (plus some) within the earmarked category, then it isn't clear that the earmarking actually increases the resources available to the targeted cause. That is, money is fungible, so if the legislature has been giving $1000 per pupil to education and earmarked lottery funds come in at $200 per pupil, the legislature can simply cut back its other contributions to $800. The fact that there is an earmarked stream of revenues does not imply that the targeted cause will see a rise in its overall stream of revenues. And sure enough, this "futility reasoning" frequently seems to be borne out in practice; see the discussion in the text in the vicinity of endnotes 10 to 18 here. Of course, the legislative adjustment might not be immediate, so there might be a short-term revenue hike. All-in-all, though, earmarking that helps to market the introduction of a lottery can be a little misleading. (Some places, like Georgia and Britain, designed their lotteries to skirt the "fungibility" problem. One way to do this is to earmark the revenues for something that you otherwise would not fund at all. A problem with that approach, however, is that it means you must be dedicating the revenues to activities that were not previously regarded as strong candidates for major public funding.)

Sorry for the long-winded introduction. On to Michigan, where state lottery profits are earmarked to education. There's an upcoming ballot proposal that, if approved, would alter the state constitution to require a successful referendum before the state can expand certain forms of legal gambling. Enter here another effect of earmarking: strange political bedfellows: "In apocalyptic terms, Michigan school officials described on Monday a proposed constitutional amendment to limit gambling, predicting it would lead to drastic declines in state lottery money for the classroom." The lottery only contributes about 5% of the state revenues that go to the public schools, though, so the risk (except for that pesky transitional period) to public school funding from the ballot proposal should not be very severe.

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Monday, October 11, 2004
 
US Tobacco Industry News


(1) A buyout of tobacco-farmer quotas is in, (2) FDA regulation of tobacco products is out, and (from Overlawyered) (3) the Illinois class-action case against Philip Morris concerning "light" cigarettes continues.

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Make Money From Your Knowledge of Internet Porn


Chinese police must be the only people in the world who have trouble locating pornography on the internet. They are offering rewards for people who can point them to offending web sites. Hmmm, not sure I trust this; would-be informants might want to remember the outcome of the Hundred Flowers campaign. How come you know so much about internet porn, anyway, comrade?

Vice Squad noted earlier the intention of the Chinese government to eliminate wrong-thinking websites by October 1. I haven't heard their declaration of victory as of yet, but I am confident there will be one.

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Sunday, October 10, 2004
 
Naperville Considers Limiting Its Collective Punishment Law


On Friday we mentioned the town meeting that was to be held on Saturday in Naperville, Illinois, about their law that tickets non-drinking individuals under the age of 21 who are in the vicinity of underage drinkers. Show up at the door of a party to offer a safe ride home to your indulging friends, and pay the price. Well, the meeting has now been held, and it looks as if the majority sentiment is to use the collective punishment technique only for kids 17 and younger. Naturally, the current law has its supporters, who think that it saves lives. Perhaps they are even right, but so might throwing the non-drinkers caught in the presence of drinkers in prison for two years -- so that argument is not dispositive. (For that matter, why not fine everyone in the town if any underage person is caught drinking? Such a measure would essentially convert every citizen of Naperville into a deputy law enforcer!) The mayor is a proponent of the current law, but for him, it's not about logic, it seems:
Mayor George Pradel, a former police officer, has been a staunch supporter of the law.

"Maybe we should be the first in the country to have this ordinance and maybe we should be the leader," he said. "Maybe it won't be popular, but I know in my heart it will be right."
Many other people, though, have hearts that "know" that collective punishments are problematic.

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Support for the Crackdowns on Prostitution in Korea


First there is the crackdown by the Korean authorities, one that has been met with large protests by prostitutes. A separate (but perhaps not unconnected) reform is a plan to alter the US Military Code of Justice, to make it punishable by up to one year in jail and a dishonorable discharge for soldiers to patronize a prostitute. The Department of Defense paper, Stars and Stripes, finds some support for the second reform among Filipina bar girls in South Korea. Things have quieted down in Tongduchon, Korea, too, "since the deployment of 3,600 2nd Infantry Division troops to Iraq in August."

Stars and Stripes also provides useful background and a summary of the effects of the enforcement crackdown (including the use of informants that we mentioned last week), which is due to end on October 31. A sample:
While prostitution has been illegal in South Korea since 1948, officials said, it has long been an open and rarely punished practice. Brothel owners operate in the open, with nearly 100 distinct red-light districts throughout the country. The system thrived on bribes and sexual favors, police officials have acknowledged, vowing to change the way they operate.

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Saturday, October 09, 2004
 
Vice Policy Commentary You Shouldn't Miss


(1) Drug WarRant explains what bad laws are, and how one should behave in their presence. Shades of Thoreau, who in Civil Disobedience asked "Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?" His answer was that if the injustice of the law "is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law." But earlier in the same essay, Thoreau also noted the habit of subservience to the state:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it [footnote omitted].
(2) OK, got carried away on that bad law theme. Last One Speaks updates the ongoing horrors at a "drug rehabilitation" center in Yekaterinburg, Russia. I didn't know it was still operating; if it is, they have been at this sadism for at least three years now. It's a private group, and ostensibly the "patients" have consented to the torture. [Incidentally, Yekaterinburg, known as Sverdlovsk during the Soviet period, is where Boris Yeltsin lived prior to his move to Moscow. It is also known for being the place where the last czar and his family were murdered. (The last czar, that is, not counting, well, the later ones.)]

(3) Last One Speaks also brings us word about the poker craze among our nation's youth. I have been suggesting blogging as a poker alternative, with few takers.

(4) We have not yet mentioned the tragic death of a quadriplegic while in custody in Washington, DC; he had been convicted of marijuana possession. He was given a ten-day jail sentence, but he only ended up serving half of it. He needed a ventilator while sleeping, it seems, but he wasn't provided one. D'Alliance has been particularly assiduous in keeping us informed as the details concerning the inmate's death emerge.

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More Drug-Law Cruelty


Our own anti-drug laws are so ridiculously draconian that I hesitate to take other countries to task for their own mindless severity. Nevertheless, Indonesia manages to regularly overcome my reluctance (on August 7, for example, or March 2). Today, via Crimlaw, we learn of a 27-year old Australian woman who apparently was intending a two-week vacation in Bali with her siblings. At the Bali airport, they found 4.2 kilos of pot in her belongings, and now this major trafficker has a potential death sentence facing her. Indonesia's behavior in drug cases should make it unwelcome in the community of nations -- except so much of that community differs but little from Indonesia in terms of drug-hysteria cruelty. Yes, Indonesia, your drug law enforcement probably makes it a little bit harder for some of your residents and visitors to consume a substance that they want to consume. Good for you. What a huge victory, costing, as it does, only any pretence you might have had to humanity or justice.

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Friday, October 08, 2004
 
Naperville's Anti-Dodos


In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Dodo decides the outcome of various meanderings defined as a race by declaring: 'EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.' In Naperville, Illinois, the ruling is "EVERYBODY has lost, and all must have fines." Naperville likes to ticket teens not only for drinking, but for not drinking, too, at least if they choose not to drink in the presence of underage drinkers. Tomorrow there will be a town meeting on the "presence restriction." Someone at the meeting might want to mention that if you punish the innocent and guilty alike, the incentive to be innocent is diminished. (The loyal Vice Squad reader will recall our dismay at this story a few months ago.)

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Prostitution Happenings


(1) Yesterday marked another large protest by prostitutes in Korea against the current stepped-up anti-prostitution enforcement campaign. The police estimated that 2,800 prostitutes took place, though the crowd was swelled by 1,200 police. The protestors issued a statement, excerpts of which were reported in this news story:
"Women politicians and the women’s groups, which are purported to be helping us, do not have any interest in our day-to-day reality," the statement reads, "Don’t scapegoat us for your cause."
Prior to the larger protest, "about 150 blind masseuses" occupied a highway for half an hour, to demonstrate their concern about the enforcement pressure put on massage parlors -- and on their livelihoods.

(2) A 1995 court case made it illegal for Florida police to use wiretapping to combat prostitution. A Florida Supreme Court ruling issued Thursday did not overturn the earlier case, but nevertheless greatly watered it down, by allowing such wiretaps in racketeering or organized crime cases -- even if the racketeering is prostitution-related. The brief news report makes it appear that the exception will apply to lots of small-scale prostitution operations, and not just major organized crime syndicates.

(3) The parade of arrests of US citizens from all walks of life for prostitution offenses continues. In McAllen, Texas, the "Executive Director of the International Museum of Arts and Sciences (IMAS), is now accused of soliciting the sexual services of [an] undercover cop." Back in Florida, in Jacksonville, "Police announced Friday that some prominent community leaders were busted in a prostitution sting, including a college basketball coach and a former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office lieutenant." The police operation that yielded these arrests didn't even concern the unsavory public manifestation of streetwalking. Rather, it was a reverse sting involving a fake escort service the cops advertised in the paper; the arrestees allegedly arranged a meeting over the phone, and were arrested when they showed up at a hotel room. So now they and their families are publicly humiliated for behavior that is perfectly legal in much of the less-enlightened world. Kudos to the Jacksonville police for resources well-deployed. Part of the beauty of this brilliantly-conceived plan is that it won't even matter if the misdemeanor arrests get thrown out of court, say, on entrapment grounds, because the real punishment is the publicity of the arrest.

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Thursday, October 07, 2004
 
Advice From The Drug Czar


Dear Mr. Walters,

Sometimes parents just don't know what they must do, as opposed to what they should do, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if they failed to do it. Is there anything that every parent must do?

Signed,

Trying My Best, But Need a Helping Hand


Dear TMBBNAHH,

It is imperative for every parent to regularly send the message that marijuana use is dangerous and unacceptable in their family.

With best regards,

John, Czar of Marijuana and All the Drugs

Thanks to Baylen at D'Alliance for the pointer.

Why limit your taxpayer-funded advice there, Czar Walters? Why not tell parents of America what religion they must endorse, or what political candidate? Oh, and by the way, I guess you, like the rest of us, only became such a success in life because your parents regularly sent you the message about the dangers of marijuana? Sure, dinnertime conversation becomes a bit repetitive, but it is worth it. Do you think that we could jail parents for child abuse if they fail in their anti-drug duties? Jes' askin'.

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Please Close the Lavatory Door, But Don't Break the Lock


That's the word from an Italian judge about how to avoid public obscenity charges. Oh, the problem wasn't that anyone was using the bar's lavatory in the standard way; rather, it seems as if a couple thought that the loo would offer a little more privacy than the barroom itself for, um, their intimacies. (At least I don't think that's the standard use for a restroom, but I have never been to Como.) Bar patrons in Italy, upon seeing serious public displays of affection, have taken to shouting, "Hey, get a bathroom." (OK, I made up that last part.)

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004
 
Vice Arrests by Race


Primo Research Assistant Ryan Monarch recently brought me some statistics from the FBI's 2002 Crime in the United States. The report includes arrest figures, including a breakdown by race (White, Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and Asian or Pacific Islander). In the overall arrest figures, Whites constituted 70.7% of the arrests and Blacks constituted 26.9%. But among arrests of Blacks, one offense stands out, as that offense for which Blacks were most over-represented. Any guesses which offense category this is? The answer is...."Gambling," for which 68.3 percent of arrestees in the data are Black. For the inaptly named "drug abuse violations" (as opposed to the more apt "inappropriate drug law violations"), Whites constitute 66.2 percent of the arrestees while Blacks form 32.5%. The "victimless" nature of many vice activities that are nevertheless criminalized tends to increase the scope of discretion available to enforcement agents, of course.

Addendum: The three offense categories in which the Black percentage of arrestees is lowest are all alcohol-related: "Driving under the influence," 9.8 percent of arrestees are Black; "Liquor laws," 8.9 percent of arrestees are Black; and, "Drunkenness," 13.5 percent of arrestees are Black. Those three alcohol-related categories, not surprisingly, are also the three for which Whites most dominate the arrest statistics.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004
 
FBI Cuts Back on Drug Enforcement


A "redacted and unclassified" report (150 page pdf, here) from the Inspector General's Audit Division was recently released, examining the reprioritization of agents and other resources in the FBI following September 11. The drug numbers come bundled with organized crime numbers, so one can't be certain, but it looks as if there has been a pretty substantial shift of FBI agents away from anti-drug work. The investigative classifications having the largest absolute declines in agents between 2000 and 2003 are all drug-related: Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force -- Mexican Organizations is down 123 agents; Organized Crime / Drug Investigations -- Mexican Organizations is down 119 agents; and, Organized Crime / Drug Investigations -- La Cosa Nostra and Italian Organizations has seen a decline of 103 agents. Many more versions of Organized Crime/ Drug Investigations also saw a manpower decline, for a total fall in this category of 767 agents. (See especially page 80 of the report.) The report notes (p. 1) that at the end of May, 2004, the FBI employed a total of 12,031 agents.

Thanks to Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy for the pointer.

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Monday, October 04, 2004
 
Snus Smuggling!


It has been awhile since last we checked up on our favorite tobacco-related word, "snus," a smokeless tobacco product from Sweden. The new snus news is unhappy: seems that Swedish Match has been taking postal orders for their product from other European countries. Because the only EU-member country in which snus is legal is Sweden itself, these mailings constitute the smuggling of contraband! It's the old snus ruse.

Meanwhile, snus-like products, along with other "safer" alternatives to cigarettes, remain quite controversial in the US. (Snus use really does appear to be much safer than smoking, so that if all smokers were to switch to snus today, the health costs of tobacco use would plummet, it seems -- all else equal. It's the "all else equal" part that some people fear, arguing that something like snus will attract more people to tobacco use, or get in the way of quitting tobacco altogether. (Exhibit A in this case is that for many people, smoking low tar and nicotine cigarettes doesn't provide much of a health advantage relative to the fully tarred and feathered, er, nicotined, version, in part because they smoke those low tar bad boys more intensely.) While this is a legitimate concern, the vehemence of some of the dismissals of "safer" tobacco products provided in this article smack of anti-tobacco zealotry, to my oh-so-temperate mind.)

Oh, back to Sweden for a minute. The other Swedish vice story we have been following concerns alcohol, and the possibility that Sweden will follow in the footsteps of Denmark and Finland by sharply cutting its alcohol taxes. But another Swedish alcohol tale is the huge bribery scandal -- I kid you not -- that is brewing around the state alcohol monopolist, Systembolaget. The allegations are (or, will be) that managers and employees of retail stores have been getting kickbacks from alcohol suppliers, based on the volume of alcohol sold. Transparency International, compiler of the famous ranking of countries by how corrupt they are perceived to be, opened a chapter in Sweden in late September. Coincidence? Is Sweden's ranking as the sixth least corrupt country threatened? Is Bangladesh's position at the foot of the table under assault?

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Informants Wanted


The ongoing crackdown in prostitution in Korea will soon have a new twist: monetary rewards to folks who report instances or locations of commercial sex. It seems that this measure is in part a response to one effect of the crackdown itself, the chasing of the trade onto the internet and residential areas. The informant angle isn't exactly new in vice regulation. The "victimless" nature of adult vice means that when it is criminalized, extraordinary police maneuvers, including stings and the widespread use of informants, become part of the standard enforcement package. Maybe some children will even be induced to turn in a parent!

Meanwhile, the US Army continues to beat the anti-prostitution drum in Korea. When we first checked into this story, we found that suggested alternatives to visiting a prostitute included "expanded chaplains' activities." Today's story notes such wholesome pastimes as frequenting libraries and cybercafes. Cybercafes? Hey, you aren't using the web to connect with a prostitute, are you, soldier?

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Sunday, October 03, 2004
 
Increasing Alcohol Controls in Ireland


In 2003, alcohol consumption in Ireland fell by 6 percent. The Irish still drink heavily, however, and in spurts:
Binge drinking is the norm among young Irish men, who drink to excess on 60% of their nights out. Irish men are three times more likely than the European average to get into a drunken fight.

The number of off-licences selling spirits has doubled in the last 10 years and those selling wine have risen more than six times. With alcohol consumption rising almost 50% in the last decade, the Irish now spend €6bn on alcohol each year, drinking more per capita than any European country except Luxembourg.
The government is looking for ways to reduce alcohol-related problems, and a tax hike has been suggested, along with other measures:
The government's taskforce on alcohol made 78 recommendations last week, which the department of health is to consider. They include limiting the number of shops selling alcohol, introducing ID cards and labelling drinks with health warnings, ingredients and calories. The taskforce also said gaelic sports should try to find sponsors other than drinks companies.

The government is drafting legislation to limit the content of alcohol adverts and reduce children's exposure to them.
On an unrelated note, apologies for the light blogging of late. The academic year at the University of Chicago got underway last week, and that has had a direct (but I hope temporary) impact upon four-fifths of Vice Squad. The other fifth is on his way to Kyrgyzstan, of course.

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Friday, October 01, 2004
 
Not Knowing Jack


Jack Daniels has lowered the alcohol content in its signature product from 86 to 80 proof. (The alcohol content was lowered to 86 proof from 90 proof fifteen years ago.) Modern Drunkard magazine is not pleased. (I originally learned about this story from this AP report.)

In an otherwise unrelated alcohol story, a task force at Iowa State University is looking into a riot that took place in Ames, Iowa, this past April, during the annual springtime "Veishea" festival. After the police shut down an off-campus party, a rampage "resulted in $100,000 in damage, 37 arrests and ISU officials' cancellation of Veishea in 2005." The task force suggests that the problems stem in part from alcohol policies that are too severe -- a campuswide alcohol prohibition was put in place for Veishea, and that prohibition encouraged students to leave campus for their partying.

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Prostitutes Protest in South Korea


Last Friday Vice Squad noted a crackdown on commercial sex in South Korea. The crackdown, ostensibly aimed at helping prostitutes who might be victimized by traffickers or pimps, consists of greatly increasing the penalties imposed upon customers of prostitutes. Many of the intended beneficiaries are not pleased by the ramped-up paternalism: "In Incheon, 300 prostitutes tried yesterday to confront government officials, demonstrating in a two-hour protest in front of the Incheon City Hall. Women from red-light districts in Seoul and Gyeonggi province gathered to protest a new law being enforced to curb the sex trade, complaining that their ability to make a living is at risk."

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