Vice Squad
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
 
Tobacco Harm Reduction?


One of the perceived advantages of snus, the Swedish form of chewing tobacco, is that it is not nearly as damaging to health as is smoking. Evidence for a link between snus and cancer, for instance, has been so limited that since 2001, snus packages in Sweden have not contained the same cancer warning that appears on other tobacco products. But some new research ties snus to cancer:
A study carried out by the World Health Organisation and released [two weeks ago] followed 10,000 Norwegians, of whom two-thirds were snus-lovers. The results show that users of the popular chewing tobacco increase their risk of contracting mouth or pancreatic cancer by 67%.
Vice Squad turns to snus occasionally (along with khat and absinthe), most recently, here.

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Alcohol Harm Reduction


Don't you just hate it when you have a couple of drinks and the next thing you know you are calling your old flame with a slurred offer of reconciliation? Worry no more, your problems are over: "An Australian phone company is offering customers the chance to blacklist numbers before heading out for a night on the town so they can reduce the risk of making any embarrassing, incoherent late-night calls."

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Lazy Link-Based Post


(1) Last One Speaks points us to this story about one of our favorite topics, absinthe. The article mentions efforts to recreate the taste of 19th Century absinthe. How could one do that? Some of the original (full) bottles have turned up. Another point mentioned in passing is that the recent liberalization of anti-absinthe laws is largely due to EU pressure on member countries. While I am all in favor of legal absinthe, I am less enamored of liberal vice policies being foisted upon reluctant countries under the precepts of free trade, because I think that such a practice holds the long-term potential to harm both vice and trade policy. (One relatively recent example of this tendency was the trashing of the WTO by some US politicians after the internet gambling case was not going the US's way.)

(2) Mark Kleiman notes the absurdity of the concern that some drug traffickers might take advantage of a semi-amnesty that has been floated for paramilitary fighters in Colombia. The dealers would qualify if they also had engaged in some killing, but some of them who didn't so engage might try to claim that they are cold-blooded killers to be in on the deal. Declare a substance to be evil, and all perspective is lost: there are no obvious standards by which to judge activity related to the evil commodity. So otherwise outrageous policies -- such as arresting people for possessing small quantities of the substance -- are seriously considered and adopted. Speaking of such arrests, Alan Heymann of D'Alliance points to an article out of the University of Maryland about the duty of dorm resident assistants to call the cops when they get a whiff of an unapproved substance. The resident assistants must be very proud of their contribution to law and order as they see their 19-year-old charges led out in handcuffs on a Friday night.

(3) Oral arguments in the medical marijuana case at the Supreme Court took place yesterday, of course; Pete keeps us posted.

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Monday, November 29, 2004
 
Imprisoning Our Way to a Better Afghanistan


While the rest of us were loafing over the Thanksgiving holiday, our drug czar was hard at work. Last Friday he published the results of his latest ruminations in the Washington Times. The issue: how to save Afghanistan from the menace of the illegal drug trade.

Now don't go jumping to the futility claim, that there's nothing that can be done, you naysayers, you. All you need is a little strategy, the successful Colombian model, and some US assistance:
It is by no means a problem that defies solution and the Afghans have already drawn up a national drug-control strategy. Colombia's dramatic progress against a pervasive narcotics trade demonstrates the power of credible, coordinated and comprehensive policies to reduce the destabilizing threat of drugs. The United States is playing a valuable role in Colombia's progress, and now we are prepared to assist Afghanistan fight its drug war.
Oh, and you need a five-pillared plan. The pillars include a public relations campaign, perhaps teamed with an amnesty, and support for alternative crops. The other three pillars? Interdiction, eradication, and prisons, oh my! "We will help the Afghans build a special narcotics prosecution task force and aid construction of judicial and detention facilities expressly for counternarcotics cases." Afghanistan only has some 28.5 million people -- who knows, it might be possible to imprison every Afghan. I doubt that there will be any resentment, because surely the public relations campaign will explain how we are helping.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004
 
Holiday


Vice Squad is on holiday of sorts! Light posting through Sunday, I imagine. One link to leave you with: Overlawyered's Ted Frank looks at a lawsuit against Google by a pornography producer upset that some websites (not Google) are violating its copyrights.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004
 
Viacom Settles FCC Indecency Investigations...


...for a cool $3.5 million. This settlement does not include the Super Bowl kerfuffle, but does cover investigations into Howard Stern and the "shock jock duo" Opie and Anthony. The settlement has other terms, of course, including imposing upon Viacom the duty "to train its broadcasters and employees about indecency laws." Of what will this training consist? Perhaps something like, "The FCC can't tell you in advance what constitutes indecency, but if some dude complains about what you broadcast, then the FCC might fine you a whole lot."

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Drug WarRant Wows Us...


..this time more than usual, with this guide to Raich v. Ashcroft, the medical marijuana case that will be argued in front of the Supreme Court on Monday. Kudos to Pete Guither for going way beyond the bounds of duty or of blogospheric standards.

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Estimating Opium Production in Afghanistan


A few days ago co-blogger Mike noted the new UN report indicating that opium production was enjoying a boom in Afghanistan. How would anyone know? Does someone collect opium production statistics?

Well, yes, as this Slate Explainer article, er, explains. Satellite photography provides the big picture -- ha! -- and then 60 surveyors went into the Afghan countryside to get the straight, er, to fill in the details. This was dangerous work, but they seem to have come out of it OK, while somehow completing their assignment: "...the field researchers managed to survey nearly 2,500 villages, where they pressed the locals on such questions as how many families were growing poppies, when the harvest was scheduled, how much opium the poppies were expected to yield, and how much opium was selling for." Despite the photos and the surveys, the UN estimates remain highly uncertain.

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Monday, November 22, 2004
 
Anti-anti-porn Protest


Vice Squad mentioned a few weeks ago petition efforts underway in Saline County, Kansas, to force a grand jury investigation of two Salina bookstores for obscenity violations. Vice Squad's own disgruntlement with this effort was somewhat muted; not so that of one 38-year old, who camped out in a tent on the roof of one of the stores for a week. The protestor announced that he is pro-consumer-choice, not pro-porn. (Funny how hard it is to find any people who actively and positively support the multi-billion dollar porn industry.) The Chicago ("Dewey Defeats Truman") Tribune has more (registration required).

Adult Video News covers the porn industry and could safely be called pro-porn, I think, though not work-safe. In one AVN story today, we learn that an adult actress turned up on a recent "America's Most Wanted" episode, and has now turned herself in to the authorities investigating a child custody case. (Let me mention again that AVN links are not work safe.)

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Build a Road, Fuel Your Feud


Black Hawk and Central City, Colorado, are the Hatfields and McCoys of western US towns: they have been bickering, it seems, for more than a century. Lately they have been competing to attract gamblers to their casinos, but this was not much of a contest:
Black Hawk erected enormous casinos with vast parking lots. Central City, eager to protect its historic architecture, built smaller; parking remained almost nonexistent.

Gamblers driving up from Denver encountered Black Hawk first. When they did, they usually stopped. Central City's casinos, which once numbered 30, failed in droves while Black Hawk's flourished. The town of roughly 160 people became wealthy, with its 22 casinos pulling in $41 million a month.

Central City, population 500, dropped to five casinos and struggled for survival.
Yes, it is hard to survive with only five casinos for your 500 residents. But what to do next? Well, since it was Denver gamblers who were the target audience, one solution would be to move Central City closer to Denver. Or almost equivalently...build a new road that would make it "closer" than its rival to Denver. Sure, the terrain is tough and the towns are at an altitude of more than 8000 feet, but surely $38 million is a small price to pay for an 8-mile-long highway that, one might suspect, will do more to divert existing casino traffic than to create new players. The road opened Friday. Black Hawk residents are thinking of responding by taking Central City on a snipe hunt.

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Sunday, November 21, 2004
 
British Minister For Drug Legalization?


Tessa Jowell is the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport in Great Britain; she has been much in the news lately as British gambling reform wends its way into law. Today in the Observer she offers a defense of New Labour's approach to "nanny state" issues, which besides standard adult vices, include things like fatty food advertising and fox hunting. I don't find her attempt at providing coherence all that successful -- she eventually defends the proposed smoking ban on the grounds that a majority supports it -- but she does offer some interesting words against prohibition of adult vice:
On issues like smoking, drinking and gambling, government has three basic choices: we can prohibit, regulate or leave it to the market. Prohibition does not work - it drives the activity underground or, in the case of online gambling, it drives activity offshore where there are zero safeguards for either players or their credit-card details and no requirements of social responsibility. Only ideological extremists favour a free-for-all where only the laws of the market hold sway. So the third option is regulation - and regulation with as much emphasis on the quality of the debate as the policy outcome. 'Better regulation' has to mean government engaging people in the decisions that affect their lives and doing so in new and better ways.
Excuse me, Minister, doesn't this anti-prohibition argument apply just as well to currently illicit drugs?

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Saturday, November 20, 2004
 
Proof That the Midwest is Boring?


Internet gambling has now been with us for nearly ten years -- imagine how benighted we were just a decade ago! "More than 5 million Americans have accounts with Internet gambling sites, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office." What sort of folks gamble on-line? Well, Midwesterners, for starters: "CasinoFortune.com, one of the oldest online casinos, said its highest concentration of players - more than 420,000 - is spread among Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio."

The linked article (from Kansas City.com via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) is just chock full, by golly, of other interesting tidbits concerning web-based gambling. Regular players are given various perks, not unlike in brick-and-mortar casinos. Poker has been taking over as the game of choice. Most players are women. Some casino sites offering counseling for gambling addicts.

You don't think that bloggers are concentrated in the Midwest, too, do you?

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Smoking Ban Winners


Tony Blair's government announced plans this week to adopt a New York City-style workplace smoking ban, one that would extend to most pubs and restaurants. Much of the debate about the wisdom of smoking bans centers around dubious claims of economic impacts, on both sides: do bans keep smokers away from bars and restaurants, does a smoke-free environment attract more non-smoking customers, and which of these two possible effects is likely to dominate? I don't think we have good answers to these questions, nor do I think that these sorts of economic projections should be determinative in whether or not a ban is a good idea. (Vice Squad does not favor public smoking bans, but is not opposed on principle to some public smoking regulations, short of a ban.)

A recent BBC article
has pointed out some businesses that seem to have been helped by previously-adopted smoking bans, however:
In Ireland, outdoor heaters and wall-mounted ashtrays are springing up outside numerous establishments to accommodate their smoking customers, sparking a boom for those industries.

Worcester-based firm Fiesta Heaters said outdoor heater sales to Ireland in the year to October had surged 178% from the year before.

"The ban has worked wonders for my trade in Ireland and I'm looking forward to it coming in over here," owner and director Mark Fletcher said.

The ban could also see more innovative ways of getting around the ban coming to prominence.

In Florida, punters had the Nicotini - a tobacco spiked martini - to take the edge off their cravings.

Meanwhile in Norway the sales of snus - a plug of snuff-style tobacco popped behind the lip - soared in the wake of a public smoking ban, with makers expecting double digit growth in the years to come.
Thanks to a Friend (and former student) of Vice Squad for a pointer to the NY Times article on the plans for a British smoking ban.

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Friday, November 19, 2004
 
The more things change, the more they remain the same in Afghanistan


On Thursday, the UN released a report described in the New York Times (registration required) stating that “the fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is becoming a reality.” I guess the US and NATO military presence as well as elections haven’t made that much difference with respect to the drug production and trade. Markets work. As long as producing opium and heroin provides the greatest risk-adjusted returns, people are going to do it. It might be perhaps somewhat surprising that the cultivation of these drugs has apparently reached its highest level in history, according to the report. While the UN and various officials cited in the NYT article are naturally upset about the facts stated in the report, I can’t claim to be too worried about all this. It does suggest, however, that the US, NATO, and Afghan government’s control of the country is quite tenuous. The UN report states that more than 321,000 acres of land were planted with poppy in 2004, representing a 64% increase over last year. Apparently, poppy production has spread to every Afghan province. This year’s harvest was estimated at 4,200 tons, a 17% increase over last year’s output. Despite the largest ever area planted, however, this was not the highest production ever because of the draught and disease.

One good thing about the great economic achievements of the Afghan farmers is that perhaps they have lowered the price of the drugs in the US and Europe. Not having purchased any heroin lately (or ever, for that matter) I don’t know if this has actually occurred. But, assuming a relatively inelastic demand for the stuff, the price effect must be substantial.

Another good thing is that the greater supply should allow the anti-narcotics agencies around the world to report greater successes is seizing ever larger quantities of opium and heroin. In fact, recently, a Russian news website has reported the start of the trial of the “organizers of the international narco-syndicate” that supplied several Russian provinces with large shipments of Afghan heroin. The police claims to have cut this distribution channel and have confiscated about 130 kilos of heroin. Apparently, the usual shipments were about 100 kilos each. And that was in 2003. I wonder what other channels are being used to deliver the 2004 bumper crop of Afghan drugs. Somehow, I don’t think that they all stay in Afghanistan. I am sure we can expect more reports of the exploits of the anti-drug agents around the world.

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Thursday, November 18, 2004
 
Gambling Proceeds Go To Building a Home...


...er, a home for beavers:
A bag of bills stolen from a casino was snapped up by beavers who wove thousands of dollars in soggy currency into the sticks and brush of their dam on a creek in eastern Louisiana.
I had heard that sometimes casinos were used for money laundering, but I hadn't been sure of the exact mechanism.

Thanks to Friend of Vice Squad Phoebe Rice for the pointer.

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Learning About the Dangers of Alcohol the Hard Way...


...at Harvard, no less:
Unfortunately, nothing ever changes. Each and every year a new class of first-years arrives and makes up 55 percent of Stillman Infirmary admissions in the month of September and gradually learns how to pace themselves, statistically speaking, by the start of December. Not that people become sensible drinkers by any means—by the end of last year, 3.7 percent of the class of 2007 had got so intoxicated that they needed to be sent to hospital. Those in other classes shouldn't laugh—one percent of the upperclass students that year got their stomachs pumped, too.

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Lazy Link-Based Post


(1) Ken Lammers at Crim Law doesn't think that the Supreme Court will recognize dog sniffs as a "search". He also manages to use the word "thaumaturgic," which I had to look up. Pete at Drug WarRant is pessimistic about the outcome of the sniff case, too.

(2) Via The Agitator, we learn of Jacob Sullum's piece at Hit and Run exposing the DEA's backtracking from its own advice to doctors about pain treatment. Seems like following their old advice might have left docs open to, oh, DEA prosecutions and long jail sentences. This whole DEA idea is working out so well that I think we ought to extend it to other commodities. How about a Cabbage Enforcement Administration?

(3) Libby at Last One Speaks has the word on an extremely dangerous vice criminal, thankfully to be held in custody more-or-less permanently. Pete at Drug WarRant notes that case, too, as well as that of another vicious miscreant held only for a couple of years, alas, though some extra-judicial abuse also was inflicted. This leniency is sure to lead to a crime wave.

(4) It looks like crack cocaine is losing out to heroin as the analogy used to demonize somethin' you're agin', as Radley at The Agitator demonstrates here and here.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004
 
Ryan Redux


Last week we mentioned that some ABC affiliates were shying away from airing "Saving Private Ryan," due to the possibility of facing FCC fines for excessive violence and profanity. Yesterday, Chicago Tribune writer (and blogger) Eric Zorn's column provided more information: 66 affiliates decided against broadcasting SPR. Further, their reticence was not an obvious case of overreaction, because the FCC's post-Bono clarification made it possible that almost any use of sufficiently foul language, irrespective of context, might generate a fine. Of course, FCC enforcement is complaint driven, and who would complain about SPR? Zorn had intended to file an ironic complaint, but, well...:
The American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., had beaten me to the complaint desk. Leaders of the Christian-right group sent out an "action alert" last Friday urging supporters to e-mail specific (and non-ironic!) objections about "Saving Private Ryan" to the FCC in a form letter that included the transcript of two raw portions of dialogue.

A spokeswoman for the commission's enforcement bureau said Monday that the bureau has so far received comments on "Saving Private Ryan" numbering "in the thousands."

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New Zealand Vice News


A generous Vice Squad reader -- no doubt perplexed by the sudden abandonment of even the pretense of blogging here at VS -- sends us this story about a case being dismissed from a New Zealand court. The case sprung from a tragedy in which a 19-year old man died after injuring his head while playing "Bullrush" in a bar. The person who served alcohol to the group in the bar was charged with four counts, including serving alcohol to an intoxicated person and allowing disorderly conduct. The judge threw out the case, citing a lack of evidence of intoxication and the norm of barroom horseplay. (The judge apparently referred to "shenanigans," not "horseplay".)

Also in New Zealand, where brothel prostitution has recently been decriminalized, a high school yearbook has been suppressed for its vicious content: "The book features students' hopes about what they would like to do when they are older - including suggestions such as brothel worker, drug lord, dope dealer, dope packer, stripper, pimp, beneficiary, druggie and 'living on the street'." High schoolers - what a bunch of cards! Fortunately, a vigilant parent raised the alarm, and the book was recalled after just one day of release. But the incident provided an opening for those who are protecting social standards:
The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards said today in a statement the Prostitution Reform Bill, which was passed earlier this year and decriminalised prostitution, created a climate in which students viewed prostitution, pimping and stripping as attractive and viable forms of legal work.

The yearbook probably represented the values of many young people, it said.

"Society must recognise that such values do not emerge from a vacuum. The glamorisation of drug-taking, sexual promiscuity, crime and sexual deviancy, in all forms of the media, has taken its toll on our children and young people," the statement said.

It said MPs and censors needed to be more responsible in their decisions.
For those who are interested in applying to the school, here's the relevant link. The motto on the school's home page?: 'Challenging all students to reach their maximum potential in a safe and caring environment.' Well, their socially-approved maximum potential.

Perhaps, like Vice Squad, you have no idea what Bullrush is. I wouldn't recommend the OED on this one; instead, here's a 14-page pdf that describes more variants than you could possibly care to know about (including "creeping up" variants -- yuk.) It turns out that Bullrush is similar to Red Rover; maybe it's a rounders/baseball sort of thing.

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Monday, November 15, 2004
 
One View of Coerced Treatment


First, apologies for being away. Second, a warning that there will be a couple more days of light blogging, alas.

The view of drug courts comes from Blonde Justice, via the new-look Crim Law. Here's a sample:
The court offered my client 6 months jail or a 6 month residential program. The catch is that if he failed to complete the 6 month residential program, he'd face one year of jail.

It is always difficult to counsel clients on this decision. Very few of my clients successfully complete the program. The rest are setting themselves up for "jail on the installment plan." Most clients cannot see it this way. Most look at the short term and see "leaving jail today," not "possibly coming back to jail for a year." Every client believes that they'll be the one to be successful, that this is their chance (or maybe they don't even believe it, they're just saying it), and who am I to tell them otherwise? I lay out the choices, and the consequences, and let my clients make their own decisions.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004
 
Police Discretion Curtailed by Voters


The prosecutor in Columbia, Missouri seems to think this is a bad thing. The voters in Columbia recently passed two proposals dealing with marijuana. One allows seriously ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes inside the city limits (with permission from a doctor), and the other requires law enforcement officials to give marijuana arrests the lowest priority. It also significantly reduces penalties for possession of up to 35 grams, and mandates that cases involving possession of small amounts of cannabis go to municipal court rather than state court where penalties are stiffer.

The proposals passed by majorities of 69% and 62%, respectively. Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane opposed the proposals using such arguments as, the "effect on student loans was overstated", referring to the fact that students convicted of drug offenses are not eligible for federal financial aid, and "first-offense possession charges involving small amounts of marijuana [are already sent] to municipal court".

Crane disappointingly noted that "Now, the Columbia police have had some discretion taken away by the voters."

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Trib on Vice


Sorry for the blogging lapse! Alas, I am leaving town shortly, if all goes well, so I am afraid that blogging will be in the light-to-non-existent range for a few days.

But first, some stories from today's Chicago Tribune (registration required):

(1) FCC Does In Private Ryan: It is a potential violation of FCC guidelines to air the violence and profanity in the film, "Saving Private Ryan," before 10 PM. The movie is slated to be shown tonight on ABC, in conjunction with Veteran's Day. But some ABC affiliates will not be broadcasting SPR, to avoid the risk of fines. They asked the FCC to clear the film in advance (i.e., to promise no fines for broadcasting it), but the FCC wouldn't take such a radical step -- despite the fact that the movie has been aired, uncut, in 2000 and in 2001, without any fines, though someone was moved to file a complaint. Vice Squad has repeatedly indicated that the "respond after the fact to complaints" approach of the FCC is poor public policy; I am shocked that the FCC hasn't altered its methods accordingly. Incidentally, it looks like lucky viewers in Des Moines, Sioux City, and Lincoln (NE) will get to see "a music program and the TV movie 'Return to Mayberry.'" Come to think of it, Return to Mayberry is a pretty good description of the FCC's renewed vigilance.

(2) NASCAR has announced that it will begin to accept sponsorships from hard-liquor companies. Turns out that NASCAR got its start, sort of, thanks to the liquor trade. Much of the impetus to "soup-up" regular cars came from a desire to outrun anti-moonshine agents.

(3) A 23-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department is now facing 10 or more years in prison, plus a slew of asset forfeitures, after being found guilty yesterday of charges related to the theft of cocaine from a police evidence warehouse. The officer's explanation for his surprising wealth was that it came from gambling winnings, but casino records didn't back that up.

(4) In a story from November 7, the Coast Guard announced that its cocaine haul for the fiscal year 2003/04 amounted to more than 37 tons. It isn't clear how much of that was seized from the evidence warehouse in Chicago.

(5) "Secret research conducted by cigarette company Philip Morris in the 1980s showed that second-hand smoke was highly toxic, yet the company suppressed the finding during the next two decades, according to an online article being published Thursday by The Lancet, a British medical journal."

(6) Philip Morris is also arguing before the Illinois Supreme Court to try to get that little matter of a $10.1 billion judgment against it thrown out. I guess they just picked a lawyer at random from the yellow pages, but surprisingly, it turned out to be former Illinois governor James Thompson.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004
 
A New Vice Crime: Walking


Charlotte, North Carolina is taking a page out of the drug warriors' book in its fight to end prostitution as we know it. The Tar Heel plan? Well, the Charlotte police have devised a clever plot to nip streetwalking right in the bud: they hope to outlaw walking altogether! The police are:
...asking for permission to make the [Camp Greene] neighborhood a "prostitution-free zone."

That means officers would not have to witness the actual prostitution to make an arrest. Just strolling down the street would be enough to land known prostitutes in handcuffs.

"If we see them walking down the street, then we won't have to wait to make a case," Officer Kenny Faulkner said Monday. "Hopefully, we can arrest them right on the spot."

The Charlotte City Council must approve the idea, though, and a committee would have to decide the boundaries of the zone.
At least there is a committee involved.

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Tolerate Prostitution? No, No, Yes, No


In a major reform of commercial sex laws, the British government has proposed prostitution tolerance zones, as well as, perhaps, legalized brothels. But Birmingham has signaled its own zero tolerance approach, by golly:

Councillor Sue Anderson, chairwoman of the city council members' panel on prostitution and Cabinet member for social care and health, said local agencies wanted a zero tolerance approach to prostitution.

She said: "We are committed to addressing any activity surrounding prostitution which causes harm, nuisance and distress.

"The harm caused by both on and off street prostitution is unacceptable and we support a zero tolerance approach."

She continued: "We are recommending that civil and criminal law should be used effectively to tackle pimps, prostitutes, kerb crawlers, users and those who groom the vulnerable for prostitution.

"Where appropriate, legal powers should be strengthened and made more effective."
A crackdown? Hey, I hadn't thought of that -- that should cure any problems associated with prostitution.

In keeping with the special relationship between the US and Britain (or, OK, Birmingham), the US Army in Korea is adopting its own zero tolerance approach to prostitution:
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea -- Nearly 400 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea have been punished this year for offenses related to prostitution, and military commanders promise continued efforts to end any activity associated with the sex trade or human trafficking, the top U.S. officer in South Korea said.

"Zero tolerance means exactly that. We're not going to tolerate behavior which is dehumanizing, demoralizing and illegal. That’s always been the military’s intent," U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said in an interview last week with Stars and Stripes.
Now don't get me wrong -- it isn't like the US armed forces haven't always had zero tolerance for, er, commercial vice:
LaPorte also dismissed the notion that the military has lately increased its focus on the issue.

"I wouldn't say that it's something newly emphasized because it has always been the position of the U.S. military — clearly it's been the position of this command — that we don't support this kind of activity," he said.
Liverpool, though, is sticking with its something-greater-than-zero tolerance approach. But they are calling their special areas managed zones, not tolerance zones:
A tolerance zone is where sex workers can work without interference from the authorities. A managed zone would see health workers working with vice girls and include measures such as drop-in centres.
Meanwhile, back in the US, the arrest-our-way-out-of-this-problem approach goes from victory to victory: 85 arrests in Oakland, 100 arrests (for prostitution and drugs) in Orange County, Florida, and so on, and so on.

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Monday, November 08, 2004
 
Anti-Saloon League's Home Goes Wet


Westerville, Ohio, was the home to the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), and itself had been dry long before the National Prohibition that the League was so instrumental in bringing about. Part of Westerville issued liquor licenses starting in 1998, but the historic district that contained the ASL headquarters continued to be dry. The dry days are gone now, though: the electorate of Westerville ended the alcohol ban last week, voting by a 3-to-1 margin to approve liquor licenses for three historic district restaurants. What next, will a Pro-Saloon League move in? This AP article provides the details.

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New Zealand Reconsiders Drinking Age Reduction


In 199, New Zealand lowered its minimum drinking age from 20 to 18. A sharp increase in the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions for kids aged 10-14 has led some folks to suggest a return to the higher drinking age. (The absolute numbers of such admissions remain small -- 73 admissions from 2000 to 2002 -- but the percentage increase is large.) A trend toward more drinking by females is also evident.

The new information from New Zealand runs counter to some earlier evidence that younger kids were not drinking more after the minimum age was lowered.

Higher minimum drinking ages can be effective at reducing some alcohol-related harms. In the US, I think that the federally-mandated (more-or-less) drinking age of 21 is too high; I'd favor something like 19, at least for beer and wine, but I would even more favor letting states make their own decisions on this. (And any transition to a lower age would have to be carefully handled.) Meanwhile, Vice Squad continues its long tradition of not offering any advice to the New Zealots.

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Sunday, November 07, 2004
 
Will Lawrence v. Texas Help Obscenity Defendants? [Updated Twice]


A couple of porn purveyors from California are currently on trial in Pittsburgh for violating federal obscenity laws. The defendants run Extreme Associates, which markets hardcore pornography -- as their ads say, "The Hardest Hard Core on the Web." They could be jailed for 50 years each if they are convicted. That's right, 50 years for mailing some nasty videos to western Pennsylvania. This AP article at the Miami Herald.com has an update on trial developments:
When the indictment was announced, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said the lack of enforcement of obscenity laws during the mid- to late-1990s "led to a proliferation of obscenity throughout the United States."
Time to crackdown upon it, then. Reminiscent of Angelo in Measure For Measure, no?: "Those many had not dar'd to do that evil/If the first that did th'edict infringe/Had answer'd for his deed."

The defense attorney has asked for the case to be dismissed. He argues that Lawrence v. Texas indicates a right to view pornography in the privacy of your home; the right to view must extend to the right to distribute, as otherwise the right to view would be nugatory. The lawyer also noted that "community standards," part of the test for whether something is obscene, has changed its meaning in the age of the internet -- what is the relevant community?

Here's an interesting tidbit from the AP story: "Extreme Associates is still doing business and offers the movies at issue for sale as a package deal with money going to its defense fund."

We've been loosely tracking the Extreme Associates trial, beginning with a guest post last November and most recently with a brief item in April. I previously have expressed skepticism about Lawrence's applicability to another commercial sex case.

Update: Pete Guither of Drug WarRant also has looked at the implications of Lawrence for currently illegal drugs, and points to Professor Randy Barnett's analysis of Lawrence (22 page pdf).

Second Update: Will Baude of Crescat writes in. Will wonders if the defendants' lawyer really believes his own Lawrence-based argument. Quoting Mr. Baude (whom I wish would hurry up and finish law school in case I need a lawyer): "Stanley v
Georgia
recognized the first amendment right to view pornography in your
home, but the court has repeatedly rejected any view that it would entail
a right to distribute it."

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Saturday, November 06, 2004
 
Qat Chat


Yemenis do chew a lot of qat (or khat), it seems. They have only 10 million or so adults, but 6 million of them indulge. And indulging is itself a time-consuming affair, if you can believe the headline in this story from the Yemen Times: "Qat: 22 million working hours wasted every day". Wasted? Apparently the Yemenis do not subscribe to Vice Squad's reluctance to count productivity effects as "costs" of drug use.

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Swedish Alcohol Taxes


Finland and Denmark gave into the pressure from low-priced alcohol imports by slashing their alcohol taxes. Sweden and (non-EU member) Norway have so far held firm to their traditionally high alcohol taxes. Sweden has been talking about implementing a big alcohol tax cut for some time, but now gives word that any such cut will have to wait until the spring. Norway isn't expecting any changes anytime soon, but recognizes that Swedish policy changes will have extra-territorial ramifications. Forbes.com provides the latest. Vice Squad, hoping to somehow manipulate this into a visit to Stockholm, has been following the Swedish tax story just a little too closely.

Incidentally, the Danish alcohol tax cut appears to be working, in the sense that Danes travelling abroad are bringing back less booze, while alcohol sales in Denmark to visiting Swedes and Norwegians have risen.

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Friday, November 05, 2004
 
Woman's Christian Temperance Union


The link will probably disappear soon, but last week's Chicago Tribune offered a fine story on the Evanston-based Woman's Christian Temperance Union. I'll note just a few highlights, but it really is worth reading in full:

(1) the WCTU still exists

(2) it's "Woman's," not "Women's," so no e-mail on that score!

(3) the WCTU continues to be about abstinence, not temperance. New members are asked to sign an abstinence from alcohol pledge

(4) there aren't many new members, and 5,000 members in total, somewhat down from their peak of 400,000

(5) besides Prohibition (18th Amendment), the WCTU was an important force in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which recognizes women's right to vote

(6) in its heyday, the WCTU typically was perceived as progressive or liberal, but now it champions causes, such as support for the Marriage Protection Act, that generally are considered conservative

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A Painful Tale


A police officer (mother of four) killed, her partner undoubtedly devastated, and a (presumably) unarmed, non-violent pot smoker facing a possible twenty years in jail. Scott at Grits for Breakfast details the tragedy.

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Nevada Bucks the Morality Trend


Churchill County, Nevada, has no operating legal brothels, though brothels could operate legally there. But some "reformers"* wanted to improve things, so voila', there it was on the ballot, a question to make brothels illegal in Churchill County. How did things turn out? "A ballot measure to ban prostitution in the county was trounced, two-to-one in one of scores of local issues and races decided in the general election."

Now we know that Winston Churchill favored alcohol, tobacco, and painting, but I am not sure about his take on other vices; still, I can't help but to think he would be pleased. (What do you mean the Nevada county isn't named after Winston Churchill! Don't be silly.) Vice Squad has noted the Churchill County controversy in the past.

*Incidentally, I have been reading Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's -- a wonderful book, originally published in the early 1930s. (I am reading it, of course, for its insights into Prohibition.) At some point Lewis notes how the word "reformer," which had a positive spin in the teens, by the 1920s had begun to be used contemptuously.

Oops, almost forgot to note my favorite bit of election news contained in the linked article: "Reno voters endorsed a small property tax to help control mosquitoes..."

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Thursday, November 04, 2004
 
Swiss Prepare for Absinthe Legalization


In January, after a hiatus of nearly a century, absinthe production will again be legal in absinthe's traditional home, Switzerland. Naturally, the then-legal distillers hope to be able to prevent any producers not from the Swiss absinthe-production region from calling their product "absinthe." My feeling is that if you make it illegal for nearly a century, you lose the right to control its name elsewhere. When Peru legalizes cocaine, they shouldn't be able to force the Colombian producers to call their product something else.

Some people have surprising reasons for not supporting the new law:
Not everyone in the Val-de-Travers is sanguine about legalization in Switzerland. For Pierre Andre Delachaux, a high school teacher and author of several books on absinthe, the move will destroy the mystique that came with the ban.

"I want to preserve the myth that comes with keeping absinthe forbidden and clandestine," said Delachaux, who is also the curator of a small museum in Motiers with a special absinthe section.

"The myth is the thrill of breaking the law and not getting caught," he said. "The myth is offering as much money as you can and maybe still not finding what you're looking for. Next year you'll find absinthe in all the supermarkets. We're going to have the absinthe of the bazaar."
You wouldn't want that, the "absinthe of the bazaar." Vice Squad occasionally turns to absinthe for solace, as in March and again in July.

Brutal Hugs beat me to this story
-- and, like Hamlet, was able to work "wormwood" into it.

Update: Maybe absinthe won't actually be legal in Switzerland until March, 2005.

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Even Berkeley Votes for "Morality"!


On Tuesday, Berkeley voters were asked to judge all sorts of initiatives. One that Vice Squad has been tracking is Measure Q, which, if passed, would have made anti-prostitution enforcement the lowest priority for the Berkeley police, and directed the city council to push for statewide prostitution legalization. The Oakland Tribune provides the final tally:
After receiving national attention, Measure Q, which would have made enforcing prostitution laws the police department's lowest priority, lost by a 63.9 to 36.1 percent margin. It needed a simple majority to pass.
Measure Q was the brainchild of the Sex Workers Outreach Project; here's their post-mortem.

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Prohibition-Era Chicago


And no, I don't mean the 1920s. Nor am I referring to the currently illegal drugs, as that would be more accurately phrased as "Prohibition-Era Globe". What I am referring to is the system in Chicago where an electoral precinct can vote itself dry -- or even vote dry a specific address -- thereby banning legal alcohol sales. On Tuesday, fourteen precincts faced a decision on whether to go dry or not -- and all fourteen voted to do so. Four more ballots looking for bans on alcohol sales at specific addresses also passed. For instance, Ward 11, Precinct 35 faced this question: "Shall the sale at retail of alcoholic liquor be prohibited at the following address: 4220 South Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois?" Voters decided to cut off the alcohol sales at that address by a 178-88 vote.

These sorts of ballots almost always win, unless they happen to be threatening a restaurant with a particularly loyal neighborhood following. But places that are frequented primarily by out-of-precinct patrons don't stand much of a chance.

I understand the frustration that people can have with some local liquor store that is a persistent hotbed of public nuisance. But nevertheless, I am not a fan of these precinct-level or address-specific votes. Consumers of alcohol have to be permitted to make their purchases somewhere, but to each individual precinct, it might look like somewhere else is the best option. So a creeping prohibition is quite possible -- though currently unlikely to spread too far, in the case of alcohol in Chicago. Some of these dry precincts will lose their only late-night convenience store, for instance, and such outcomes will take some of the luster off of precinct-wide prohibitions.

The Dry Chicago story provides a warning about direct democracy, no? Can you imagine what would happen if constitutional rights were routinely submitted to a vote? I suspect that running a blog would be prohibited in my precinct.

Voting results on the dry referenda can be found here (scroll to near the bottom, or search on "local option").

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004
 
Election Tight!


But by a 180-vote margin, Fort Payne, Alabama, will allow legal alcohol sales. The unofficial tally was 2,597 in favor of the sales to 2,417 against. Three-quarters of the alcohol sales tax revenues are earmarked for the city school system.

Voters also approved liquor sales by the drink, for large restaurants, in the Kentucky cities of London, Williamstown and Franklin. But voters in Caldwell County, Kentucky, refused to give restaurants "alcohol by the drink" privileges, by a 521 vote margin.

Williamson, New York (near Rochester) voted to liberalize its controls on alcohol sales, too, though bars and liquor stores remain unwelcome.

In Cullman, Alabama, however, alcohol sales remain prohibited, thanks to 3,840 votes against legalization versus 3,267 in favor. Cullman is consistent, this being the sixth defeat for legal alcohol sales there in the last twenty years.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004
 
The Crack Dealers of Anderson County


Scott Henson of Grits For Breakfast has been tracking a recent episode in which 72 people, all of them black, have been charged with dealing in crack cocaine in a rural Texas county. (Here's one of Scott's previous posts; Pete at Drug WarRant explained the absurdity/tragedy of it all, too.) Yesterday Scott brought word of an article about the Anderson County case in The Texas Observer. When reading the article, it might be useful to keep in mind the Vice Squad mantra, that the high and mighty purpose served by our war on drugs is to make it a little bit harder for some of our friends and neighbors to consume a substance that they want to consume.

Does this Anderson County case sound familiar?

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Monday, November 01, 2004
 
Chicago Suburbs That Have "Decriminalized" Pot


There has been a lot of talk lately in Chicago about ticketing (as opposed to arresting) people who are found to have a little bit of marijuana on them. Today's Chicago Tribune has one of those front-page-on-Monday stories (registration required) about some Chicago suburbs that have gone the ticketing route for some time now. The article starts by telling the tale of a driver and two passengers who were stopped in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette for a "minor traffic violation":
A Wilmette officer searched the vehicle and discovered a small bag of marijuana--about one joint's worth--in the glove compartment.

If a Chicago police officer had stopped them, they could have been arrested, fingerprinted and assigned a court date.

Instead, each received the equivalent of a parking ticket, a $100 fine under a village ordinance regarding the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
While the driver is happy that he didn't get arrested, what gets my goat is that no one in the article mentions how absurd the search was in the first place. Presumably this was a "consent search", where at some point during the discussion of the minor violation the officer asked for permission to search the car, and the permission was granted (as it almost always is). Why would the officer bother searching if there's just a small fine for marijuana possession? To concatenate my presumptions, I'll suggest that what the officer was hoping for was to find a significant pile of some illegal drug, i.e., to make a "major drug bust." So here are a few folks driving home after dinner, who aren't actually doing anything wrong (the traffic stop was probably pretextual, undertaken solely to yield a search), who nevertheless end up having their automobile rifled through by an armed agent of the law. This scenario has become so common that no one in today's story even bothers to point out the irrationality of the entire episode. These unwarranted (literally) assaults on our freedoms seem to be accepted as part of the background, as Just The Way Things Are. Such searches should be intolerable, yet somehow, they are tolerated, and we are even pleased to find that we are "only" fined when some unapproved substance turns up.

Decrimwatch comments on the Trib story, too.

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Pastors Against Porn


Well, I suppose most pastors profess to being against porn. But two young pastors in California are taking some creative steps to help others who profess to wanting to stay away from porn -- particularly of the internet variety -- according to this article in yesterday's New York Times. The pastors have a website, XXXChurch.com, which is subtitled "The No. 1 Christian Porn Site." The site offers commentary on pornography issues and help for those who are seeking to keep away from porn. One of their chief offerings, it seems, is free downloadable software that keeps track of any "questionable" websites; then, every couple of weeks or every 30 days, the software e-mails a list of your questionable surfing to someone you have designated as your "accountability partner." So with this software, for instance, your wife can be apprised of your internet wanderings, and presumably your knowledge of her knowledge will increase your resolve to avoid questionable sites, or lead to dialogue if resolve proves wanting. XXXChurch.com also contains a discussion of masturbation, conducted under the (not really serious) premise that "God kills a kitten every time you masturbate." Wow.

Vice Squad frequently laments efforts (particularly public efforts) to coerce adults from vice, but generally supports both public and private actions that provide some assistance to those who are looking to bolster their self-control. The massive increase in the availability of pornography in recent years, combined with the possibility of avoiding existing social controls by accessing porn over the web,has presented a serious problem for lots of individuals and families. If XXXChurch.com or others who offer help with pornography addiction can reduce the numbers of those harmed by excessive porn consumption, then more power to them.

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