Vice Squad
Monday, February 28, 2005
 
TV Czars: Saving Private Ryan Not Indecent!


And we had to watch "Return to Mayberry". Remember how on Veteran's Day a bunch of ABC affiliates refused to air Saving Private Ryan, fearing FCC fines for the violence and profanity in the film? Turns out that they needn't have worried. The Official National Movie Reviewer has now spoken:
"This film is a critically acclaimed artwork that tells a gritty story — one of bloody battles and supreme heroism," FCC chairman Michael Powell said in a statement. "The horror of war and the enormous personal sacrifice it draws on cannot be painted in airy pastels."
Less gritty stories are still fair game for FCC fines, however -- at least if they have dirty language: "...the FCC said its indecency and profanity guidelines were not applicable to violent programming."

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Mob Justice Gains in Salina, Kansas


Some people who object to obscenity refuse to patronize stores that peddle filth. Others take up a petition to convene a grand jury, to ensure that other people are not allowed to patronize such stores. 476 valid signatures have now been certified in Saline County, Kansas, requesting that a grand jury be convened to explore indictments for promoting obscenity against two Salina stores. Some judges still have to sign off before the grand jury gets down to business. Presumably, at that point, Salina will have to follow the lead of neighboring Dickinson County, which ponied up over $1,300 in Sheriff Department funds to buy some potentially obscene stuff to make a similar case before a grand jury. (In November, Vice Squad mentioned one fellow who was unlikely to sign the Salina petition.)

Speaking of petitions, the official Saline County website has a poll asking "Would you like to see Ice Hockey at the Livestock and Expo Center?" Vice Squad recommends a vote of "No".

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Sunday, February 27, 2005
 
Swiss Absinthe Ban Ends This Week


Vice Squad has been talking about the end of the nearly 100-year old ban almost since it first went into effect, it seems. Just last November, we said that absinthe would be legal again in its traditional home in, uh, January. This time we really mean it: come March 1, absinthe will once again be legally available in Switzerland.

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Ohio's Attempt to Stigmatize Drunk Drivers


It's not like drunk drivers otherwise get good press or anything, but it is hard to know if the person in the car next to you has recently been convicted of drunk driving. The state of Ohio helps to make such inferences easier by requiring "yellow [license] plates with red lettering for drivers with two DUI convictions in a six-month span or those who record high blood-alcohol levels." But motorists, even those who seemingly fit the criteria, are finding ways to avoid the Scarlet Lettering. One way is to plead no contest to a charge that doesn't require that you admit your high blood-alcohol reading. A second way is to try to postpone sentencing until after the 6-month license suspension has already elapsed, as (somehow) this means you can avoid the color coded plates. Ohio legislators are looking at ways to limit such dodges, according to the linked article.

In related news, DUI Blog has a recent interesting post about the evolution and likely future of DUI laws in the US.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005
 
Happy Hours to Become Happy Two Days in Scotland?


A not uncommon approach to fight binge drinking is to regulate "happy hour"-style promotions at bars. In Scotland, there has been some sentiment to introduce minimum prices for alcoholic beverages, but that approach might not survive court challenge. As an alternative, Scottish Ministers intend to outlaw reduced price specials that last less than 48 hours. The idea is that (1) pubs will not be so eager to cut drink prices if they know the prices have to stay low for two days, and (2) drinkers will not be so eager to buy and consume alcohol quickly, because they will be less likely to face the imminent threat of higher prices. An experiment along these lines, requiring 24-hour price discounts, has been underway in Glasgow.

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The Finnish Alcohol Tax Cut


Nearly one year ago Finland embarked on a new alcohol control regime, one featuring much lower taxes. The idea was that the anticipated accession of Estonia to the EU would create lower effective prices for alcohol in any case, so that lowering domestic prices would at least keep some of the tax revenue inside the country. Commenting on the tax fall last February, Vice Squad noted that "if the usual elasticities apply, we should see a surge in drinking in Finland."

And now we have. The linked article notes that the only surprise has been that there was a sort of price war among beer sellers; as a result, "[p]rices of medium strength beer have plummeted."

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Thursday, February 24, 2005
 
Swedish Alcohol Tax Cut Must Wait


European Union alcohol rules and EU expansion have made it harder and harder for strict alcohol control countries in the EU to maintain their relatively stringent policies. As a result, both Denmark and Finland have cut their alcohol taxes significantly in the past year or so. Sweden has been holding out, but for some time now has been signalling a 40 percent cut in taxes on spirits (as opposed to wine and beer). In November we learned that the tax cut would be put off until at least the spring, and today we learn that any such move will be postponed until this fall.

Vice Squad (or at least my part of it) is not opposed on principle to high taxes of "vicious" goods; I have also signaled my concern that it is not necessarily a good idea to let international trade policy trump national vice policies: that is, neither a good idea for the long-run prospects of free trade, nor for promoting desirable vice policies.

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Supremes: Alabama Gets to Keep Its Far-Sighted Law!


The US Supreme Court has not taken up an appeal from a district appellate court decision that upheld Alabama's state law banning the sale of sex toys. (The refusal to hear the case does not imply Supreme Court blessing of the appellate court result.) So Alabama can continue to threaten those who sell vibrators with up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Spontaneous parades and gleeful street festivals have sprouted all over Alabama, from residents pleased that their state -- almost uniquely (OK, along with Texas and Georgia) -- will remain free from the scourge of sex toy sales.

Thanks to a friend of Vice Squad for the pointer. This friend writes in from Japan, "where anyone can buy Hello Kitty vibrators at the local Denny's-equivalent."

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005
 
Petard Watch: The Prostitution Informant


If you are like most people, you probably like to videotape acts of prostitution so that you can help police fight the nefarious commercial sex industry. When you find out that television programs are willing to pony up some cash for your evidence, you probably are willing to expand your public service, by paying women to solicit customers who will then be videotaped without their knowledge. But in Oklahoma City, such sacrifices, made for the common weal, apparently will put you at risk of prosecution. Another informant's good intentions punished by liberal prosecutors!

Vice Squad occasionally looks at the underappreciated efforts of vice informants.

Update: Turns out there's a lot more to this video vigilante thing than appeared in the story linked above -- in particular, it seems that some of the informant's past work may have upset the district attorney and the police. Here's an article with more details, though a lengthy registration is required. The accused has a website, www.videovigilante.com.

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Cannabis Complementarities


Yesterday Vice Squad mentioned (twice) substitutability (or complementarity) between alcohol and tobacco. Today we look at some new evidence concerning the demand relationships among cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes. The evidence comes from a recent working paper by Jan C. van Ours, "Cannabis Use When It's Legal." As the title suggests, the paper is based on data from Amsterdam, although even there, cannabis remains officially illegal, though sales in offically recognized coffee houses are regulated and tolerated. The main issues that van Ours examines are versions of the gateway theory: does initiation of alcohol or cigarette use lead to more cannabis use, and vice versa? The result, using survey data from 1994, 1997, and 2001, is that cannabis use reduces the initiation of alcohol use -- that is, alcohol and cannabis are intertemporal substitutes -- while tobacco use increases the initiation of cannabis consumption. In this sense, tobacco consumption is a gateway to marijuana use, but marijuana use dissuades drinking. Approximately 5% of the female respondents and 10% of the male respondents are current users of the entire drug trio -- alcohol, tobacco and cannabis -- while fewer than 2% of the respondents have consistently abstained.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005
 
Teacher Arrested For Meth...


...in Wichita Falls, Texas. It would be just another day in our drug war, except that Scott at Grits for Breakfast lends a voice of reason and compassion.

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Extending Drinking Years


People tend to cut back on their alcohol consumption as they age, but in the US, at least, they don't seem to cut back as much as they used to. At least that is one conclusion from a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. This story provides more detail, including some information suggesting that alcohol and tobacco are complements: "Starting smoking was linked with a 21% increase in drinking; quitting meant a 12% cutback in drinking."

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Trading Cigarettes for Alcohol


There is some evidence that cigarettes and alcohol are complements, so that some change that raises the consumption of one also will raise the consumption of the other. (For instance, Guinness complained that its sales fell when Ireland's public smoking ban went into effect; the econometric evidence is slightly ambiguous, however.) But when it comes to promoting the McLaren Formula 1 car racing team, there seems to be some substitutability. McLaren has been sponsored by tobacco for decades, most recently, by West cigarettes. But as EU tobacco promotion curbs come into effect, that sponsorship will no longer be tenable. Into the breach steps Diageo Plc, a major manufacturer of high-quality spirits. Come the Turkish Grand Prix in August, McLaren will be sporting liquor logos.

The EU's directive banning tobacco sponsorship is to be implemented in July, 2005, although there seems to be some ambiguity on that point, too. Tobacco companies were the first Formula 1 sponsors, and four of the ten racing teams still have tobacco sponsorship. While other liquor manufacturers have sponsored Formula 1 teams in the past, Diageo recently became the first alcohol purveyor to sponsor a NASCAR car.

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Monday, February 21, 2005
 
Contest: What to do with 192-proof Alcohol -- Lots of It


23,000 litres, to be precise. Finnish customs picked up the Vietnamese consignment, which was cunningly though inadequately disguised as soy sauce, more than a year ago. If there was just a little bit of the stuff, they would simply pour the high-test hooch down the drain, but that option taps out at about 200 litres. So the fellow in charge of the customs post is appealing for suggestions -- consumption is ruled out, as denaturing of the alcohol is part of the plan. Beyond that, however, don't feel constrained in coming up with some wacky alcohol-disposal idea: 'Even silly proposals are worth exploring,' according to the customs agent.

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Update: A Mushroom By Any Other Name


Vice Squad has previously reported on the status of "magic" mushrooms in Great Britain, noting that they are legal to grow and possibly sell, as long as they are not "produced". Under current British law, the mushrooms themselves are legal, only products of magic mushrooms - psilocin and psilocybin - are controlled. A British court has ruled that prosecuting people for dealing in fresh mushrooms is both an abuse of the legal process and their human rights.

Well, British government officials, ever creative in coming up with new and convoluted meanings to ordinary words in the English language, have decided to bring two new "test cases", prosecuting individuals for producing the fungi. In the current cases, the defendants apparently weighed and bagged the mushrooms, and therefore, according to the Crown, converted them into a "drug product". In the case that was previously struck down by the courts, the defendant had refrigerated the mushrooms and the government claimed that converted the mushrooms into a "product".

Counsel for the defense sees these cases as a waste of time and taxpayer money. There is a current bill before parliament to list mushrooms (fresh or otherwise) as a Class A drug alongside heroin and crack cocaine. Defense attorneys are moving to stay the current prosecutions until the new bill becomes law. There is no guarantee this will happen. An organic chemist who sits on the committee reviewing the new bill believes much more research is needed on the mushrooms before the government decides to outlaw them.

However, Caroline Flint, the Home Office minister spearheading the passage of the drugs bill through parliament is, not surprisingly, concerned about the children.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005
 
Corruption in Swedish Alcohol Sales


In October, Vice Squad brought word of a corruption scandal engulfing Sweden's retail alcohol monopolist, Systembolaget. The main charges involved employees who took kickbacks from alcohol suppliers in exchange for pushing specific brands of alcohol. Fifty employees have now been fired and charged in the wake of the scandal. There's not a lot of money in this type of corruption, it seems. The total amount of alleged bribes, divided by the 77 Systembolaget one-time employees (27 had already quit) who were charged, comes to about $2208 each.

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Friday, February 18, 2005
 
Making Ohio Safe From Expensive Escorts


A prostitution story that Vice Squad linked to yesterday included this observation from Robyn Few, a former prostitute turned prostitution-policy-reform activist: "Prostitutes don't carry guns. They carry condoms. So it's easy to arrest them. And it's fun." Today we learn that a week-long investigation by Columbus, Ohio, vice squad officers has resulted in eight arrests of alleged call girls. And if that is not exciting enough, a police sergeant has more good news: "'What made it exciting was finding other money in their computers and cell phones,' [the sergeant] said. 'We were able to seize four laptop computers out of the eight arrests and almost $20,000.'" How did we ever let it get to this point, that if you are arrested, the police can seize your computer, your cell phone, your camera, and your cash, too?

Incidentally, Ms. Few, founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, has been noted by Vice Squad in the past for her work on the Berkeley prostitution "decriminalization" initiative.

Meanwhile, Houston police arrested 28 of our friends and neighbors during an anti-prostitution sting operation. At least the Houston police focused on the public aspects of prostitution, which would be a legitimate candidate for regulation even in a world that did not criminalize consensual adult, private activity.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005
 
In Some States, Your Trash is Private


In 1988, the US Supreme Court held that warrantless searches of the closed trash bags you have placed on the curb for collection do not violate the 4th Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches. But US citizens are also governed by state constitutions, which can be more protective of individual rights than is that federal document. In Washington state, the constitution includes the following provision: "No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law." That was good enough for a state court of appeals to declare a search of a drug defendant's trash to have been a violation of the state constitution. (Thanks to Ted Frank at Overlawyered for the pointer.) In 2003, the New Hampshire Supreme Court came to a decision similar to that of the Washington Court of Appeals.

Incidentally, I believe that Vice Squad has had occasion before to quote from Justice Brennan's dissent in the 1988 trash case:
A single bag of trash testifies eloquently to the eating, reading, and recreational habits of the person who produced it. A search of trash, like a search of the bedroom, can relate intimate details about sexual practices, health, and personal hygiene. Like rifling through desk drawers or intercepting phone calls, rummaging through trash can divulge the target's financial and professional status, political affiliations and inclinations, private thoughts, personal relationships, and romantic interests. It cannot be doubted that a sealed trash bag harbors telling evidence of the "intimate activity associated with the ‘sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life,'" which the Fourth Amendment is designed [p51] to protect.

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US Prostitution Arrest Statistics


Scripps Howard News Service released a report today concerning anti-prostitution enforcement in the US. The report notes the extreme variability across jurisdictions in the effort devoted to policing prostitution, and in the gender of those arrested. Further, street prostitution is more likely to be targeted than call girl operations. Perhaps surprisingly, "[f]ew arrests were reported in so-called Bible Belt states like Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. But less conservative places like Illinois, Nevada and New Jersey lead the nation in the rate of prostitution arrests." Here's another brief excerpt from an article, linked above, that draws on the report:
The Scripps Howard study examined prostitution arrest rates for 269 police departments, comparing the number of arrests in 2002 to the size of the population under each police jurisdiction. Nationally, there was an average of 46 prostitution-related arrests for every 100,000 people.

That rate varied from as high as 609 arrests per 100,000 in one of New Jersey's gritty suburbs south of New York to less than one arrest per 100,000 in San Diego County.
In absolute numbers, Vice Squad's base of Chicago leads the way, with more than 5,500 prostitution-related arrests in 2002.

The study further reveals the unreliability of FBI arrest stats on prostitution and commercialized vice. In Fairfax County, Virginia, of the 94 arrests claimed by local police in 2002, the FBI recorded but....four. "FBI crime statistics are based on voluntary cooperation by local law-enforcement groups. As a result, information is frequently incomplete since many local departments choose not to cooperate." So what is one to make of the FBI claim that the number of prostitution and commercial vice arrests in the US in 2003 was a bit over 75,000?

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Drug WarRant's Public Service


Pete Guither at Drug WarRant continues to amaze with his coverage of our shameful drug laws. Recently, Pete exposed a serious flaw (OK, or fly) in the ointment of a high-profile prohibitionist; today, he reports on the happenings at a hearing on medical marijuana at the Illinois House -- wouldn't you know it, the drug czar showed up.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
Justice Department Not Ready to Fold on its Bid for $280 Billion


Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, gave Big Tobacco a massive lift: the court ruled that the US Justice Department could not force tobacco firms to cough up $280 billion in past profits in the current racketeering case. Today we learn that the Justice Department is seeking en banc review of that decision. Meanwhile, Jacob Sullum explains the threat to free speech posed by the use of the anti-racketeering statutes to go after industries that defend their products.

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'Margarita' Has Some Allure, No?


"Suffolk brewer and pub owner Greene King is enforcing a crackdown on drinks and cocktails with sexy names at all its premises across the UK."

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Obscenity Updates [Updated!]


(1) Will Baude of Crescat Sententia writes in on the Extreme Associates case, noting that the Supreme Court itself has a view as to whether a district court can extend a ruling in ways similar to how the Extreme judge expanded the Lawrence decision. From Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express, 490 U.S. 477, 484 (1989):
If a precedent of this Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the court of appeals should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to this Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions.

(2) In another update on the same obscenity case, the Senate subcommittee hearing scheduled for today was postponed (presumably), or perhaps cancelled. AVN (not work safe) has the details.

Update: The Justice Department, under the new Attorney General, announced that it would seek to appeal the judge's dismissal of the charges against Extreme Associates.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005
 
Differing Views on the Extreme Associates Obscenity Case [Updated]


A few weeks ago a federal judge dismissed charges against two interstate purveyors of nasty movies. The reaction, shall we say, has been mixed. First, Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy explains why he expects the decision to be overturned. Julie Hilden, in a Findlaw Legal Commentary, hopes that the opinion has staying power...
...If so, it will make speech in this country more free, and privacy more sacrosanct.

Judge Lancaster's opinion is remarkable in that it shows a federal trial judge's willingness to admit what the U.S. Supreme Court will not: The emperor - here, the law of obscenity - has no clothes.

Put bluntly, the law of obscenity, no matter how longstanding, has never satisfied constitutional requirements, and it never will. Finally, a judge has been brave enough to say as much. This opinion is notable for that reason - and for Judge Lancaster's novel approach. His opinion attacks the obscenity laws on privacy grounds - and thus may be more effective than pure free-speech attacks mounted in the past.
Two senators, Orrin Hatch and Sam Brownback, were less pleased with the result:
This is what happens when judges ignore the law in favor of their own agenda. They take a little piece of this, toss in a chunk of that, and smear a layer of the other on top — whatever it takes to get them where they want to go. In their wake, the Constitution lies in shambles, statutes passed by the people's representatives are in the dumpster, the rule of law loses its vitality and, once again, the people are deprived of the right to govern themselves and define the culture. Oh, and in this case, the porn industry looks at a judicial Frankenstein's monster and exults, "It's alive!"
So tomorrow, Senator Brownback will preside over a Senate Subcommittee hearing that promises to excoriate the Extreme Associates decision some more.

Update: Adult Video News (AVN; generally not work safe) now has an article up on tomorrow's hearing, with some details:
Only three speakers have been invited: Robert A. Destro, professor of law at the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, where he is co-director and founder of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion; W. William Wagner, associate professor at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School; and Frederick Schauer, Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment and former academic dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Law at Harvard University.

Little is known about Prof. Wagner, but the anti-porn stance of Prof. Schauer and the conservative religious credentials of Prof. Destro are extensively on record.
AVN also promises a report on what transpires at the hearing.

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Criminalize Adult Vice, Corrupt Police


This alleged scam involved off-duty officers who moonlighted by providing security at an apartment complex. According to the allegations, the officers would arrange for a woman to pose as a prostitute. Once a prospective john was identified, they would "arrest" him, but eventually just take some money and send him on his way.

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Monday, February 14, 2005
 
Boring States Lead in Binge Drinking


About 54 million people, 22.6% of the population nationwide, participated in binge drinking at least once during the past 30 days, the study estimated. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting during the previous month. The percentage of people binge drinking far exceeds the national average in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.
The preceding quote comes from this story in USA Today. The article employs SAMHSA's new state-by-state estimates of substance use and abuse based on the 2002 and 2003 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. The SAMHSA press release is here, and the report itself, which I haven't had a chance to look at yet, is here.

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Combating Prostitution Phone-Booth Cards in London


The Westminster City Council in London would like to see fewer of those risque' cards popping up in their otherwise charming red phone boxes. One way to accomplish this, presumably, is to make sure that the phone numbers that are advertised on the cards are inoperable. Landline telephone companies have generally complied with requests to disable such numbers, but cell phone providers have proven less willing. So staff members of the Westminster City Council had no choice but to distribute "20,000 mock prostitute cards with the names and phone numbers of cell phone chief executives on them."

The article linked above is from the Houston Chronicle. Houston had its own prostitution-enforcement-related event recently. Seems a fellow tried to solicit a female undercover police officer who was part of a sting operation. When other officers moved in to arrest him, he struggled and fled. The police fired at him but the shots did not hit the suspect or others, thank goodness. But they easily could have. Is stopping consensual activity between adults so important that it is worth killing people over?

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Sunday, February 13, 2005
 
Spreading Fellow Feeling Among Oft-Discordant Religions [Updated!]


Ah, Valentine's Day. It has a way of bringing the world together, no? Take the case of hardline Muslims and hardline Hindus. These groups are sometimes not on good terms, to put it mildly. But this time of year they find themselves in accord, in their shared enmity towards celebrations of Valentine's Day. Here's a story on those Saudi religious police, the "Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," and their efforts to suppress the color red in the days leading up to Valentine's Day. And here's a complementary tale from India, where the Bajrang Dal are one group supplying Hindu anti-V-day vigilantes.

In both India and Saudi Arabia, however, many folks find a way of avoiding the strictures of the virtue promoters.

This is the second year that Vice Squad has been able to note the concurrence between Hindu and Muslim activists on the inadvisability of other people's Valentine's Day celebrations.

Update, Valentine's Day: Another Hindu anti-V-day group, Shiv Sena, has taken to calling Valentine's Day "Prostitution Day."

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Friday, February 11, 2005
 
Vice is Elsewhere


Oops, sorry for abandoning Vice Squad yesterday -- I high-tailed it out of town. Light blogging through the weekend, I am afraid. In the meantime, I understand from a reliable source that the Economist has some good vice-related coverage recently, including this article on the extent to which the drug war is being lost in South America. And, as always, the links on the sidebar will take you to vice-policy bloggers who are less lazy than am I.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005
 
Blogger-Inspired Updates


(1) Pete Guither of Drug WarRant, apropos of yesterday's post about carding senior citizens, notes that the same practice goes on in many places, including in his own Normal, Illinois. One reason is that businesses have been fined after sting operations in which mature-looking youths managed to purchase their age-specific contraband. The business owners want to eliminate the possibility of incurring those fines again.

(2) Harry Hutton of Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry, apropos of a recent post about Cuba's public smoking ban, reminds us that Mr. Castro (whom I take it is some big muckety-muck in Cuba) gave up smoking cigars in 1985, and later talked tobacco with Cigar Aficionado magazine.

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The Rule of Law In Russia and the US


M. Simon at Power and Control sees some shortcomings in both countries.

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished


A comic book store in Rome, Georgia, took part in a Halloween event in which comic books were distributed for free. At this point, we pick up with the description from the press release of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:
..."Alternative Comics #2," the Free Comic Book Day edition from publisher Alternative Comics for 2004, was inadvertently included in the mix of books being disseminated. The comic features a variety of stories from the company's line, including an excerpt from Nick Bertozzi's "The Salon" depicting the first meeting between Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. On three pages of the eight page section, Picasso is depicted in the nude, a factually accurate detail for the period during which the story is set. There is no sexual content in the story. The comic was inadvertently distributed to a minor, whose parent filed a complaint with the police. The age and identity of the minor are unknown. Days later, Gordon Lee, the owner [of the comic book store], was arrested.
Now he faces charges that could bring him a few years in jail.

There's something about comics that brings out the obscenity police -- even in Japan.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005
 
Fired For Smoking Off the Job?


Over at Crescat, Waddling Thunder supports the right of a private company to insist that its employees not smoke, even off of the job. I tend to agree. It is worth noting, however, that such a policy could not legally be adopted by most employers here in the state of Illinois. The 1991 Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (§ 820 ILCS 55/5) reads in part "...it shall be unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise disadvantage any individual, with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because the individual uses lawful products off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours." There are exceptions, but it doesn't look as if the Michigan company that sparked the recent flurry of news coverage would fall within them.

According to the New York Times article linked by Waddling Thunder, Michigan is one of 20 states that do not have laws prohibiting the conditioning of employment on off-the-job non-smoking.

Incidentally, I am sympathetic to the company's right to do this (even though, like Waddling Thunder, I do not think much of the policy), in part because I would like to see legal availability of all drugs for adults. As part of the overall regulatory scheme, however, I think it would be fine for employers and insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of opiate or cocaine use (or on the possession of a license to use opiates or cocaine, which is another potential element of a legal regime for those drugs.)

Vice Squad came across the Illinois Right to Privacy act once before, when it was partly or wholly responsible for the demise of the ban on dancing at Wheaton College.

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On the Founder of NORML


The Chicago Trib today also runs a story on Keith Stroup, founder and retiring executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). (I guess that the story first appeared in the Washington Post.) Stroup founded NORML in 1970; at first, things seemed to be going NORML's way...
In 1972, Stroup got unexpected help from an unlikely source: The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, appointed by President Nixon, issued its final report, concluding that marijuana is relatively harmless and that possession of less than an ounce should be legal. Nixon rejected the report, which Stroup used as a lobbying tool in his increasingly successful campaign to reduce penalties for pot.

In 1975, five states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine and Ohio -- removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the weed. In 1976, Jimmy Carter, who during his campaign had advocated decriminalizing pot, was elected president. In 1977, Stroup visited the White House to meet with Carter's drug policy adviser, Peter Bourne. Soon NORML would be playing the White House in softball.
But it all came unravelled, and here we are, in 2005, still saddled with this expensive and unjust marijuana prohibition. Stroup himself is a marijuana smoker, and the article concludes with some discussion of his smoking interest:
His new wife doesn't share his passion for pot. Neither does his 35-year-old daughter, who recently had a baby boy, making Stroup a grandfather. He doesn't care that they don't smoke and he doesn't think anybody should care that he does.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with it," he says, "and it should be of no interest or concern to the government."

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Not Taking Any Chances


A company that owns grocery stores in Wisconsin is doing its bit to prevent underage drinking and smoking -- by carding any and all customers who attempt to purchase alcohol or tobacco (Chicago Tribune article, registration required). So people in their 70s are being asked to pony up some ID. The company has dubbed their new policy the "We Card Because We Care" program; I predict that they will stop caring about carding those senior citizens soon, if the clerks haven't informally repudiated the policy already.

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Monday, February 07, 2005
 
Cuba Joins the Public Smoking Ban Bandwagon


Cigarette vending machines have been banned, along with smoking in a variety of public venues -- but the Cuban government still rations subsidized smokes to those over 50.

Cuba has signed but not yet ratified the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The Convention received its 40th ratifier in late November, so it will go into effect soon, 90 days after that 40th adopter signed. Vice Squad reported at the time that Peru had been the 40th ratifier, but that proved not to be the case, sort of. Seems that Syria had beaten the Peruvians to the punch, but they sent their notification to the WHO in Arabic, and it took awhile to get translated. See if you can figure out what happened, here -- Armenia and Ghana were involved in the contretemps, too.

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Torturing a Drug-Crime Suspect


Vice Squad frequently talks about the deleterious effect of the War on Drugs on policing, but the officers who engaged in this torture might have been led to such criminality even without the incentive of a drug war.

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Sunday, February 06, 2005
 
A Parent's View of His Son's Addiction


A sad and moving story appears in today’s New York Times Magazine: “My Addicted Son,” by David Sheff. It’s about, well, Sheff’s son, Nick, a recovering methamphetamine addict. Nick tried meth and, for him, its appeal was irresistible. The result? Addiction, arrest, dropping out of college, emergency room visits, failed rehab attempts, and disappearances. And for his parents, helplessness and self-deception, the nurturing of unrealistic hope in the face of a terrible reality,
and a constant lowering of the bar:
Through Nick's drug addiction, I learned that parents can bear almost anything. Every time we reach a point where we feel as if we can't bear any more, we do. Things had descended in a way that I never could have imagined, and I shocked myself with my ability to rationalize and tolerate things that were once unthinkable. He's just experimenting. Going through a stage. It's only marijuana. He gets high only on weekends. At least he's not using heroin. He would never resort to needles. At least he's alive.
It’s a superb, disturbing article.

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New York City's Public Smoking Ban


Today’s New York Times brings an examination of the nearly 2-year old NYC smoking ban. The main message is that the ban has not brought any catastrophic effects, and that compliance is quite substantial. Oh sure, there are still some malcontents, and the economic impact of the ban remains uncertain, ....
But a vast majority of bar and restaurant patrons interviewed last week, including self-described hard-core smokers, said they were surprised to find themselves pleased with cleaner air, cheaper dry-cleaning bills and a new social order created by the ban.
One disgruntled group, it seems, are bartenders, who are no longer the center of a social scene that, to some extent, has moved outside to smoking areas, and who also have to play smoking cop.

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Saturday, February 05, 2005
 
Jakarta Passes Public Smoking Ban


Jakarta, Indonesia, one of the most cigarette-intensive locales in the world, has adopted a public smoking ban that is scheduled to take effect next year. (Straits Times Interactive story here, registration required.) The stated rationale behind the measure was not the standard 'protect the health of employees' trope, but rather, the need to combat air pollution. The Governor also was impressed with Singapore's public smoking ban. Here's an excerpt from the Straits Times article:
Every year about 182 billion cigarettes, mostly kretek cigarettes, are smoked in Indonesia, a number that has been growing persistently since the 1970s due to the relatively low prices.

Some 57,000 people die every year in Indonesia from illnesses caused by the smoking habit, according to the Health Ministry.

So huge is the number of smokers in the country that despite being the largest producer of cloves, a key ingredient for the popular kretek cigarettes, Indonesia still imports the commodity to meet the high domestic demand.
Thanks to a friend of Vice Squad for the pointer.

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Friday, February 04, 2005
 
Alcohol in Russia


Yesterday Vice Squad drew upon the January issue of the journal Addiction to talk about slot machines; today, it's the February issue that catches our attention (but not our link -- the Addiction website is currently down.) There's an article on alcohol in Russia by Alexander Nemtsov, a leading Russian alcohol policy expert. Here's a brief more-or-less random assortment of points drawn from Nemtsov's article:

Before World War I, per capita alcohol consumption in Russia was less than 1/3 of that in Western European countries such as the UK, Spain, France, and Italy. The big increase in alcohol consumption in Russia started only in the early 50s, but continued up to Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign of 1985.

Just today The Lancet published an article indicating that alcohol is responsible for about 4 percent of 'the global burden of disease.' Nemtsov notes that alcohol is connected with about 4 percent of the deaths in the European Union and Norway. But in Russia, well, the drinking situation is vastly more severe: more than 30 percent of deaths are directly or indirectly tied to alcohol. [Vice Squad has previously noted the almost unbelievable extent of acute alcohol poisoning in Russia.]

I'll close by quoting Nemtsov's paragraph on treatment for alcoholism in Russia:
The most common form of treatment is in Russia is [sic] directive suggestive psychotherapy, undertaken during a single consultation. This so-called 'coding', based on the work of Dovzhenko, seems at best to have only a placebo effect. It has never been evaluated, but its widespread use is consistent with the beliefs of the Soviet population. Psychopharmacotherapy is provided in hospitals and in dispensaries but family and group psychotherapy are rarely used in Russia. Treatment of alcoholic dependence achieves relatively poor outcomes.

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Big Tobacco Wins One


A federal court of appeals has ruled that the government cannot force tobacco companies to "disgorge" past profits through an ongoing racketeering lawsuit. This is the big case originally brought by Clinton's Justice Department, and continued by the Bush administration. As it is a civil case, the $280 billion in past profits could not be grabbed by the government as a punishment, but only as a remedy (if I understand the legal issue, and I well may not). The trial judge allowed the government to seek the profit disgorgement, but also permitted an appeal of that decision to take place simultaneously with the trial proceedings. It was that appeal that was ruled upon today. Apparently the appeals court ruled that the racketeering case is only applicable to the threat of future illegal behavior, so that damages for past misbehavior are not actually on the table. But I have not read the opinion, and don't really understand it from news reports like this one.

Last March, Vice Squad was unimpressed with the government's claim to the past profits -- a view that undoubtedly swayed the appeals court.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005
 
Electronic Gaming Machines


Vice Squad has an established, long-term interest in slot machines. Fueling our compulsion is a review article in the January issue of Addiction. The article is "Electronic Gaming Machines: Are They the 'Crack-Cocaine' of Gambling?", and it is written by Nicki Dowling, David Smith, and Trang Thomas. Here is a more-or-less random sample of tidbits drawn from the article.

The majority of gaming machines across the world are not slots, but pachinko machines. These machines, especially popular in Japan, have lower play rates and lower maximum bets than do typical slots or video lottery terminals ("high-intensity gaming machines"). Most of the world's slots (er, high-intensity gaming machines) are located in the US, but in per-capita terms, Australia is unsurpassed. The per-adult frequency of such machines is more than twice as high in Australia as it is in the US. Per-capita expenditure on electronic gaming machines in the late 1990s was about $420 in Australia, and between $80 and $160 in the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand.

Did you ever wonder if those virtual reels spinning on modern slot machines actually are like mechanical reels, in the sense that the relative position of the symbols is fixed? Turns out they are: "the symbols on any given reel are always in the same relative position on every 'spin' [reference omitted]."

The answer to the question in the title of the article concerning the relative addictiveness of electronic gaming machines is "not proven". Now researchers conduct more-or-less controlled trials, trying to determine what features of a machine render it more reinforcing. Machines that accept banknotes tend to do much better (in terms of collecting bets) than machines without bill acceptors.

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Cigarette Sales Plummet in Italy?


A public smoking ban went into effect in Italy in mid-January. Less than a month later, cigarette sales in Italy are claimed to have fallen by 19 percent, but in the absence of any tax increases or other complementary measures, that decline seems almost unbelievably steep. Time will tell, I suppose.

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Department of Long-Term Forecasts by Academics


"Life expectancy in the United States is set to drop within the next 50 years due to obesity, one of the world's top experts on the subject said yesterday." More here.

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More Obscenity Ridiculousness


In Texas, a couple has been jailed (in lieu of $40,000 bail) because of dirty pictures of adults on a laptop computer.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005
 
Subsidized Encounters With Prostitutes


Are the high prices charged by prostitutes becoming a drag on your budget? The Nashville Police have good news for you! Sign up now to be an informant, and your next visit to the manor of Madam Mitigation can be not only free, but a source of income:
Metro police spent almost $120,000 over a three-year period to foster encounters, mostly skin-on-skin, between confidential informants and prostitutes in an effort to further Nashville's crackdown on the illicit sex trade.

Confidential informants pocketed more than $70,000 of that, with the rest going to providers of sexual services, according to police records from 2002 to 2004.

The Police Department stands behind the controversial practice of paying informants to touch and be touched — and sometimes go further — while gathering evidence of prostitution....
I imagine that the $50,000 paid to providers of sexual services came in handy in paying the legal fees to fight the eventual charges.

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More Thoughts on Drug War Victim


Yesterday I mentioned the shooting death of a woman during a police raid that took place in my native territory. I just wanted to mention another victim in this tragedy, the police officer who fired the fatal shots. While few details are available, it may well be the case that the officer's judgment to fire was sound, given the circumstances of facing the armed woman. But what is hidden in that "given the circumstances". There was absolutely no need to employ an early morning commando-style raid in this case, even if drug prohibition is worth enforcing. By using this tactic, not only is a woman dead -- a woman who was very unlikely to threaten any non-intruder with a gun -- but a police officer has to live with the knowledge that he or she killed someone, someone who was well-respected in her community and not perceived as any sort of threat by her neighbors. The drug war has done this officer a significant disservice, too.

And what is the noble purpose served by these 5AM commando raids, as Vice Squad is wont to ask? To make it a little bit harder for some of our friends and neighbors to consume a substance that they want to consume. Pursuit of this laudable, altruistic goal leaves a trail of victims in its wake -- but think how well-intentioned the prohibitionists are. Surely we should judge public policy by its intentions, not by its results. And all these victims?....well, their victimization was unintentional -- but it was not unforeseeable.

[Update: Maybe the officer's judgment was unsound.]

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Illinois Senate, Under Pressure, Agrees to Obey the Law


The Chicago Tribune reports today that the Illinois Senate, following a week of justly deserved criticism, will no longer allow smoking on the Senate floor. Somehow our elected representatives had managed to avoid the state building smoking ban for the past 16 years. (Vice Squad noted the growing brouhaha a few days ago.)

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005
 
Drug War Victim


Pete at Drug WarRant brings the sad news of a woman shot dead by police during a completely unnecessary drug raid. All great Neptune's oceans will not wash this blood clean from the hands. Our hands, the hands of our indefensible, criminogenic drug laws. We could step back, but we go on, like Macbeth, so steeped in blood that "Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

This latest tragedy took place in my native neighborhood, less than half a mile from where I grew up. I have been by the raided house many times.

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The Good News in the Dog-Sniff Case


Well, missing nearly two weeks of blogospheric activity is proving irremediable. So much has happened in the vice policy world that I simply can't do it justice. I'll just mention in the next few days a few happenings that have now caught my attention. First, the dog sniff case.

On the surface, and maybe even deeper down, it looks as if the Supreme Court has dealt the Fourth Amendment another drug-related setback. Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy tells more. If you are not worried about the outcome in this case, Ken Lammers of Crim Law helps explain why you should be.

But here's the good news, as I see it: look at the precise holding: "A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment." Specifically, "that no individual has any right to possess" -- what could that mean? There are some federally-licensed and supplied medical marijuana patients in the US! So even marijuana does not seem to fit within the holding, although it was a marijuana bust. But more specifically, any drug with an accepted research or medical use -- cocaine, or ecstasy, for instance -- could be distinguished. As it reads, the holding specifically applies only to schedule 1 drugs that are not licensed for research purposes. So it may be that there is some hope that this case will not lead to carte blanche for unwarranted dog sniffs.

Incidentally, a query to legal types: the Chief Justice, we are told, "took no part in the decision of this case". Now does this mean that Justice Stevens assigned the authorship of the opinion of the Court? And is it possible that he voted with the majority for strategic purposes, so that he could assign the opinion to himself, and then produce a not very well-argued, and possibly quite narrow decision? Oh no, I have become a conspiracy theorist! I did hear that one of the side effects of that anti-malarial medicine I was taking in Senegal was paranoia.

Even if there is no good news here, and the Supremes have concluded such unwarranted sniffs are not unconstitutional, that's not the end of the story. Now is the time for the Illinois State legislature to step into the breach, and to make it illegal to use a dog sniff absent reasonable suspicion or some tougher standard.

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