"The Wars on Drugs, Gambling, and Prostitution are Rackets."

 

 

 

My latest piece, "Congress's New Sex Trafficking Bill Won't Solve Anything," is up at The American Conservative. It's a criticism of the latest sex trafficking bill passed by Congress, FOSTA. The bill prohibits website owners from “promoting or facilitating prostitution of another person.” The terms “force, fraud, or coercion,” were not mentioned, which means Congress essentially redrafted the traditional definition of human trafficking to include prostitution between consenting adults. Human trafficking is actually a fairly complex subject, but there is one simple, central caveat -- traffickers thrive upon vulnerability. Thus, criminal penalties for prostitution leave members of the sex industry susceptible to exploitation because they can’t go to the police for protection.  By the way, that exploitation isn’t entirely limited to pimps and traffickers. In order to avoid being arrested, sex workers are often extorted for free sex by those who are sworn to “protect and serve.” Last year, the city of Oakland settled a civil lawsuit with a teen prostitute who had sex with as many 30 local police officers. More than a few officers had sex with her while she was underage. Obviously, there’s no definitive way of knowing the exact extent of this police extortion. However, there was one academic study that provided statistics. The author Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt have published numerous unconventional studies under the banner of “Freakonomics.” One of which found that 3% of Chicago prostitutes’ sex acts were provided for free to area police officers to avoid arrest. Contrary to popular belief, websites that allow sex workers to advertise their services help them to avoid working for a pimp. With technology, they can selectively screen their clients and provide the police with data in case they are victimized. Albeit, that is the case in countries where prostitution is decriminalized. For those reasons and more, a university-conducted survey found that nearly 80% of U.K.-based sex workers responded that the Internet made their work conditions safer. But, in the end, this concept generally falls on deaf ears because we live in a time when the terms “prostitution” and “trafficking” are falsely used interchangeably. In other words, the debate surrounding human trafficking has been stifled by an extremely flawed belief that essentially everyone in the sex industry is a victim of human trafficking. It’s a small part of the current moral panic in which over-reactions are manufactured by activist organizations. Case in point, Walmart recently agreed to remove issues of Cosmopolitan magazine from checkout stands after receiving pressure from the anti-pornography group, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Worst of all, this moral panic often ignores the more relevant issue of labor trafficking. Case in point, Donald Trump has made human trafficking a major talking point without even a hint of pushback from the press. In fact, he declared January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Therefore, with that in mind, we should evaluate the labor record of the President. Donald Trump - Wikimedia Commons During the 2016 campaign, an alarming story got lost in the mix. The New York Times and Vice profiled the human trafficking conditions at the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai. Foreign construction workers were lured to Dubai with contracts for certain wages. However, upon arrival their passports were taken, they were charged exorbitant fees, paid only a fraction of their promised wages, and essentially forced into indentured servitude. In his defense, Donald Trump doesn’t own the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai. However, it’s deeply disturbing that the person who signed the FOSTA bill earned up to $10 million licensing his name to a property that, by all indications, was built with modern-day slave labor.
Michael Morell, former CIA Director, hosts a podcast “Intelligence Matters.” He recently had a very inspiring guest on his show, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James “Sandy” Winnefeld. Winnefeld’s son died of an overdose from fentanyl-laced heroin. After his son’s death, Winnefeld has dedicated a tremendous amount of effort to find solutions for the opioid crisis. In fact, he formed a non-profit group dedicated to this cause, Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (SAFE). Overall, I strongly agree with most of Winnefeld’s strategies. During this podcast, he brought up several points that most of America views as highly controversial. For instance, he advocated for safe injection sites. Although this concept is controversial in the U.S., several countries have hosted these types of facilities which have proven to be a highly-effective form of harm reduction.  Every one of these facilities are staffed by health professionals equipped with the opioid-overdose-reversal drug, naloxone. There have been several overdoses in these facilities, but there has never been an overdose death. Furthermore, safe injection sites are a major boost to public health by providing clean needles, thus reducing HIV and Hepatitis. One study concluded that the city of San Francisco would save $3.5 million in public costs. Hence, although this concept is highly stigmatized, Winnefeld stated during the podcast that he wished these facilities had been legal in the U.S. while his son was still alive. If so, he may still be alive. Winnefeld brought up other very important points. In particular, the vast majority of drug arrests are for possession, not trafficking. In addition, a large percentage of those charged with trafficking are merely supporting their habit.  However, Winnefeld and I disagree on the extent of decriminalization. I support the full decriminalization (and eventually the legalization) of drugs, not just the users. Nonetheless, Winnefeld offered a great deal of insight during this podcast, which is worth a listen. However, I would be remiss to not point out the irony of a former CIA Director commenting on evidence-based solutions for the opioid crisis.  U.S. Marines in an opium field in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. (Wikimedia Commons) If you’re not familiar with the CIA’s extensive complicity with drug trafficking, there are several research resources available. However, there’s also a tremendous amount of speculation and disinformation on this topic. With that said, if you’re interested in reading about this issue, my first book, The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game, goes into great detail with extensive documentation.
(This was written two weeks before the Missouri Senate passed a bill related to gifts from lobbyists.) There’s no such thing as a free lunch and the legislature is no exception. Unlimited gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers may be the most symbolic issue in regard to special interests. The Kansas City Star has frequently reported on legislative efforts to curtail this activity, including a database of gifts received by each Missouri lawmaker. Nonetheless, we can only remain hopeful that the Senate passes this watered-down bill that would still allow gifts from lobbyists in a group setting. These points and more were brilliantly conveyed in Jason Hancock’s recent piece, “Free meals, free booze, free travel: Is this the year Missouri bans lobbyist gifts?” Remarkably, Rep. Rocky Miller asserted that passing this bill could harm public sentiment toward government. No. If this bill fails to be passed, again, it will only contribute to most voters’ cynical view of their elected officials. We could take comfort in saying that the corrupt legislators need to be voted out of office. However, that’s where the rubber meets the road in the cycle of corruption. Missouri has no “cooling-off” period, i.e lawmakers can leave office and immediately work as a lobbyist. Hence, this bill, along with others, needs to be passed to achieve true ethics reform.  
Two weeks ago, the mayor of Cuidad Juarez, Armando Cabada Alvídrez, threatened to kill a prominent local journalist, Hector Gonzalez. The mayor was brazen enough that he made these threats in public and threw a punch at one of Gonzalez’s companions.  This was nothing new for Gonzalez. As a matter of fact, this type of intimidation against reporters is widespread throughout Mexico. Also, the crimes against journalist are rarely punished. Of the 426 reported instances of violence against journalists in 2016, only 0.25% of those cases resulted in a conviction! (My free ebook, “America’s Drug War is Devastating Mexico,” goes into full detail explaining the severity of the problem.)  This is an issue in which the worlds of organized crime and politics intermingle. It’s well known that reporting on crime in Mexico is a dangerous occupation because the cartels enforce a brutal form of censorship. However, in many instances, reporting on politics can be just as, if not more, dangerous. The reason is that the cartels have deeply corrupted politics and the government provides little to no protection for journalists. My last book focused on Mexico, but this is a problem throughout Latin America and one of the primary causes of this violence is the war on drugs. Last month, a Guatemalan newspaper reporter, Laurent Ángel Castillo Cifuentes, and radio station worker, Luis Alfredo de León Miranda, were murdered.  Their bodies were discovered in Suchitepéquez with clear signs of torture. This coastal-region state is a major transshipment point for South American cocaine. Consequently, the area is overrun with organized crime and reporters have faced extreme violence in this region. The Associated Press had previously reported that 10 journalists had been killed in this one state over the last ten years. Nonetheless, the U.S. government has a complicit role in this wave of violence. Clearly, the prohibition of drugs in the U.S. has created a culture of black market violence throughout Latin America. Worst of all, the U.S. has aided, supported, armed, and financed some of the most corrupt governments throughout Latin America as long as these countries have been geopolitical allies. There are too many examples of this hypocrisy to list in a blog post. However, since Guatemala is the current focus, we’ll examine the U.S. government’s relationship with the last President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina. Molina received training at the infamous School of the Americas (now WHINSEC) in Fort Benning, GA. This former general was involved with numerous human rights abuses during the U.S.-supported Civil War in Guatemala, including the Ixil massacre. As a matter of fact, many historians identify this Civil War as a genocide because the vast majority of victims of government death squads were indigenous civilians. Nonetheless, a 2007 WikiLeaks document during his presidential campaign shows that U.S. officials were aware of information connecting Molina with the country’s top drug cartel. However, they weren’t highly concerned based on this quote from the document.  “Given that Guatemala is awash in narco-money, it is improbable that none of it has found its way into Perez Molina's campaign, but we currently have no grounds to suspect that Perez Molina knowingly accepted narco-funds.” Ultimately, it turned out that the rumors were well substantiated. Molina is currently in jail on charges of corruption. His Vice President, Roxana Baldetti, is also in jail awaiting trial for drug and corruption charges. She reportedly accepted a $250,000 bribe from Los Zetas. Likewise, the Minister of Interior, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, reportedly received a $1.5 million bribe from Los Zetas. This same destructive political dynamic with U.S. complicity is visible throughout Latin American. Much of my work has focused on exposing these truths, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, Colombia, etc. (Please read and share the articles from the links in the previous sentence. However, for a more thorough explanation, grab a copy of my book, The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game, which will make it abundantly clear that the drug war is often nothing more than a geopolitical bargaining chip.)
Most people are familiar with the pseudo-psychological belief, “Napoleon Complex,” “Napoleonic Complex,” or “Short-Man Syndrome.” The theory is that the French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte overcompensated for his height with a quest for worldwide domination. (Napoleon, who was 5’7”, wasn’t actually short for that period of time. He was average height.)  Armchair psychologists like to believe that this is the underlying cause of overly aggressive, narcissistic behavior from people who are small in size. Let’s leave it up to the trained professional to decide if there’s any validity to this theory. However, his tweets from last week firmly cemented the need to change the name to the “Trump Complex.” North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018 ....Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star..... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018 ....to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018 It’s difficult to find a public figure throughout history who has openly expressed such glaring insecurity. Long before becoming President, he took every opportunity possible to brag about his wealth. His name is synonymous with the expression, “Born on third base, thought he hit a triple.” He even reportedly worked as his PR person, “John Miller,” to tout his business acumen, in addition to spreading rumors that Madonna and Kim Basinger hoped to date him. Yet, for someone who presented himself as the ultimate success in every aspect of life, Trump has displayed an unbelievable level of sensitivity when criticized.  He has a long history of using his financial leverage to attack his detractors in a variety of ways. For example, he successfully pressured a small brokerage to fire one its analysts, Marvin Roffman, after predicting that Trump’s Taj Mahal casino would fail.  Ultimately, Roffman’s assessment proved to be accurate. Trump already owned two Atlantic City casinos and the decision to add a third casino, by way of heavy debt, cannibalized his profits. All three casinos went bankrupt, thus sending Trump’s PR people into overdrive. Ironically, Trump has aggressively targeted people outside of his authority, such as Roffman, to get them fired. However, he has never been willing to take such action within his own company. Obviously, that assertion contrasts the image crafted on The Apprentice with his famous line, “You’re Fired.” That show allowed him to look like an assertive decision maker. However, Barbara Res, a former executive with the Trump organization, has said that she never saw him actually fire anyone. He always ordered someone else to handle this uncomfortable task. Someone who is supposed to be living such a charmed life shouldn’t be provoked by harsh comments on Twitter. However, Trump has a list of online feuds that is too lengthy for this post. In fact, some within his inner circle truly believe that he decided to run for President this last time because he was mocked at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. That campaign brought his “Trump Complex” to the forefront. After the “Little Marco” comments, Rubio criticized the size of Trump’s hands. Trump decided to use the debates to claim, “I guarantee there’s no problem.” Afterward, he claimed those hands are able to drive a golf ball 285 yards. Yet, Trump apparently needed two hands to grip a glass of water during a speech. During campaign media stops, Trump felt the need to proclaim a high level of intelligence. There were many gems, such as “I have a very big brain.” He also tried to brand himself as a tough guy in many ways, including praise for Putin’s “strong leadership”  and promoting violence against protestors at his rallies. This man, who avoided serving in the Vietnam War via five deferments, asserted that “he knows more about ISIS than the generals’ do.” He also felt the need to belittle McCain’s service by stating, “I like people who weren’t caught.” Even though he drew large crowds with adoring fans for campaign rallies, he consistently felt the need to exaggerate the size of the crowds. This trend continued into the White House. Ex-Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, was clearly pressured to do the same. He said, “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period,” despite the demonstrable proof that it was far from accurate. By the same token, Trump’s first televised cabinet meeting started with “introductions” from each member. Instead of his cabinet members telling a little bit about their background, they were clearly obligated to praise the President and what followed was nothing other than groveling. Hence, when reports later surfaced that Rex Tillerson called him a “moron,” he felt the need to compare IQ test scores. Trump also couldn’t accept the fact that he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes. Consequently, he claimed that 3-5 million people voted illegally. Hence, taxpayer funds were used to assuage his ego to form a voter fraud commission, which was shut down last week with no evidence to back up his ridiculous claim.  Nonetheless, he claimed it was a “massive landslide victory” with the Electoral College votes. Check out Trump’s response when fact-checked by a reporter about his claim that it was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” Trump clearly didn’t have a decisive victory. But, can he stand behind a great Presidential record? He claimed that his administration passed more bills than any President. However, GovTrack found his administration passed the fewest number of bills going back to the Eisenhower administration.  Likewise, it appears Trump tried to repair his ego when he wasn’t chosen by Time Magazine to be “Man of the Year.” He tweeted that he “probably” was going to be chosen, but he “took a pass.” After all, this particular magazine seems to be an obsession. Some of his properties have been decorated with fake issues of Time Magazine in which Trump appears on the front cover with the caption, “The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” On a final note, there are too many of these types of examples to list. However, the comments from his Inside Edition tape may best encapsulate the deep psychological issues of Donald Trump. Who would describe bragging about sexual assault as “locker room talk”?  At this point, the terms “Napoleon Complex” or “Napoleonic Complex” for deeply insecure actions need to be discontinued. This now needs to be known as the Trump Complex. Let's use the #TrumpComplex every time in the future when he displays this kind of conduct.    
Yesterday, December 17th, marked the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Vigils were held worldwide to honor the victims who were murdered this year.  By and large, this day isn’t recognized by the media within the U.S. This is a point that I detailed last year with a blog post, “US Media Ignores International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.” However, one reporter from a major American newspaper, Kathy Boccella of The Philadelphia Enquirer, deserves credit for writing a story about the vigil that took place in her city. Otherwise, this is a day that is almost completely censored by the American corporate media.  For a list of 36 sex workers who were killed inside the U.S. this year, you can look at this link from the Sex Workers Outreach Project. One particular victim, Brittany Taylor was murdered inside a Tamarac, FL motel. The man who was indicted for her murder, Tyquan Pearson, was seen leaving the motel with a large plastic container. Investigators later found Taylor’s body inside a plastic storage bin buried in Pearson’s backyard. The motivation behind this sadistic murder has not yet been determined. However, it is an indisputable fact sex workers are targeted for this kind of violence at an alarmingly higher rate than the rest of society. For instance, one study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that sex workers in Colorado were 18 times more likely to be killed than women of the same age and race. A variety of studies have come to even more severe conclusions.  Stigma and the criminalization of prostitution are main reasons behind such rampant violence. For those reasons, sex workers are unlikely to contact the police to report violent crimes that have been committed against them. Consequently, serial killers view them as easier targets.  The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, killed as many as 49 women, most of whom were prostitutes. He openly expressed those thoughts: “I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hated most prostitutes, and I did not want to pay them for sex…I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”  Gary Ridgway was sentenced on December 17, 2003. In turn, that date has been recognized every year since as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This day memorializes the victims, such as Brittany Taylor. She was only 19 years old and had planned to join the military. Meanwhile, her grieving mother has to live the pain of having a child murdered in a senseless tragedy. Keep in mind that the vigils that are held on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers memorialize the victims of murder. There simply wouldn’t be enough time to recognize all of the sex workers who are victims of violence.   There are many studies of this kind and the numbers are always staggering. The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Institute published two studies on indoor and outdoor prostitution. That group found that 80% of outdoor prostitutes and 42% of indoor prostitutes were victims of workplace violence. More alarming, fourteen percent of the respondents reported being assaulted by police officers. In many cases, sex workers are extorted for free sex by police officers. You can also read a stunning factsheet provided by the Sex Workers Outreach Project. In particular, there’s a stark contrast between the violence rates in the U.K., where prostitution is semi-decriminalized, and the U.S. Sex workers in the U.K. experience demonstrably lower levels of violence than in the U.S.  The obvious conclusions are that are decriminalization doesn’t eliminate the stigma associated with prostitution. However, it does grant sex workers some basic legal rights, which creates safer working conditions and drastically reduces the level of violence in their lives. And that’s one of the most important takeaways from December 17th. This marginalized segment of society is simply asking for their basic human right to be protected from violence.
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court court heard the first oral arguments in Christie v NCAA. If you're not familiar with this case, New Jersey is trying to overturn the federal sports beeting ban, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). The law blocks states from legalizing sports gambling within their own borders. The state of New Jersey asserts that this is a violation of the 10th Amendment because four states, primarily Nevada, were grandfathered in and able to still offer legal sports betting in their states. (My latest article with The American Conservative has many interesting background details on the case.) Las Vegas Sportsbooks such as this one may get some competition in the future, depending upon the outcome of Christie v NCAA. (Image via Wikimedia Commons) Make no mistake, the federal ban on sports gambling could easily be overturned in a conservative Supreme Court (5 Republicans - 4 Democrats). The reason is that Christie v NCAA is a states' rights battle, not a gambling issue. And, generally, the conservative viewpoint supports states' rights. The transcript shows that three of the liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan) began with an aggressive line of questioning for Theodore B. Olson who was arguing on behalf of New Jersey. (Olson served as the Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration.) However, the left-of-center Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to show his leaning from the beginning. He seemed to be making Olson's case for him by, at one point, citing the Airline Deregulation Act. However, Breyer later pivoted and essentially pointed to other issues in favor of New Jersey's case. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer - Wikimedia Commons As usual, Clarence Thomas didn't speak, but he's a strong advocate for states' rights. His four conservative counterparts seemingly signaled their support of New Jersey's case with their questioning. And, in the end, nearly every legal analyst believes at least five and maybe six Justices will vote to overturn PASPA. That includes sports law expert and media figure, Daniel Wallach, who believes that it is 6 to 3 in favor of New Jersey. Wallach believes that it will go according to party lines, other than Breyer who will rule in favor of New Jersey. Likewise, in a more sports betting friendly format, Dustin Gouker of the Legal Sports Report set a fictional over/under on the number of Justices leaning in favor of New Jersey at 5.5. So far, so good. We'll have to see how this proceeds. Hopefully, this senseless, crony capitalist federal sports betting ban will be overturned.
27.10.2017
Brian Saady
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There is a potential ballot measure in Florida for 2018 that is worthy of your attention, the “Florida Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative.” If passed, all future casino businesses would need permission from Florida’s voters, not the legislature, to operate in this state.  We all should support a more inclusive political environment. However, we also need to fully understand the corporate interests behind such an initiative; Disney has aggressively funded this anti-casino lobbying effort. It’s a natural assumption that Disney’s long-time opposition to casino expansion has to do with maintaining the family-friendly reputation of the company. After all, you’ll never see images of Mickey Mouse rolling a pair of dice or celebrating a successful spin at the roulette table. However, Disney’s subsidiary, ESPN, makes considerable profits from the dissemination of gambling information.   ESPN’s website offers an entire section, “Chalk,” which is purely dedicated to gambling. That’s where you can evaluate the latest sports betting odds, check out Chad Millman’s podcast “Behind the Bets,” in addition to a variety of other gambling-related content.  ESPN has also accepted advertisements from Bet 365, a U.K.-based sportsbook. Likewise, ESPN and another U.K. bookmaker, William Hill, once developed an app, ESPN Soccer Goals, which directly enabled U.K. sports fans to bet the games online. That wasn’t Disney’s first foray into the gambling sector. Disney acquired PureSkills.com in 2000 and rebranded it as SkillGames.com after investing millions of dollars into the company. The website was set to be launched in 2001 in a venture of what could be best described as “skill-based gambling.” Participants had to pay to play various games (word, trivia, sports, etc.) with the chance to win cash prizes. However, Disney ultimately backed out of this deal at a time when a few influential Congressmen were trying to outlaw Internet gambling.   Disney’s connections with gambling aren’t limited to online content. For example, very few people think of professional poker as a sport. Nor has anyone ever viewed the World Series of Poker and thought to themselves, “Wow. What a collection of the world’s greatest athletes.” Regardless, ESPN, “the Worldwide Leader in Sports,” earns hefty revenues from its extensive coverage and broadcasts of these competitions. (World Series of Poker - Wikimedia Commons) Furthermore, several ESPN commentators openly discuss the betting odds of the upcoming games. Albeit, they often provide a disclaimer such as, “I don’t condone gambling, but…” Then again, the former ESPN show host Colin Cowherd never offered such a pretense. On a weekly basis, he extensively analyzed the point spreads with his guest, R.J. Bell of the sports handicapping service PreGame.com. (Colin Cowherd - Wikimedia Commons)  If Disney truly had a moral aversion to gambling, it wouldn’t have accepted millions of dollars in advertisements from the daily fantasy sports DraftKings during the 2015/2016 football season. Likewise, Disney wouldn’t have entered into negotiations to purchase a $250 million stake in DraftKings as it did one year earlier. Disney never closed that deal, but suffice it to say, Disney isn’t opposed to gambling. It’s opposed to the competition from gambling.  Their company has donated over $1 million this year to multiple anti-casino groups to promote the “Florida Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative.” Again, there is nothing wrong with giving the voters more power. In fact, we should support such an initiative. However, let’s have an honest conversation about the pros and cons of the legislation. Let’s examine if additional casinos would hit a point of diminishing economic returns, along with all of the other relevant issues. Also, let’s be fully aware of the special interests involved.
17.10.2017
Brian Saady
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There have been numerous variations of this adage, but the movie Rounders opened with a brilliant line that perfectly sums up the skill aspect of poker.  “If you can’t spot the sucker at the table within the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” With that in mind, I’d like to offer my own variation: If you think poker isn’t a game of skill, then you obviously haven’t acquired the skill. It’s stunning that this can still be controversial in some peoples’ minds. Yes, in the short term, bad luck can trump a perfect poker strategy. However, over time, the luck of the draw evens out and a player’s skill level will determine his or her success rate. A successful hedge fund that consistently beats the market isn’t viewed as merely “lucky.” Then why is a professional poker viewed so differently? The answer has to do with perceptions, legality, and stigma. After all, poker was once shrouded in mystery and dominated by the riverboat grifters of the 19th century who literally had tricks up their sleeves. But, televised poker tournaments have helped to provide full transparency. By making the hole cards visible and providing the exact probabilities for each hand, these contests educated millions of viewers about the complexities of the game.  Despite having thousands of participants, year after year, we see many of the same faces consistently at the top of these tournaments. That doesn’t happen by chance. One of those players, Annie Duke, has the perfectly succinct explanation for why poker is a game of skill. She accurately stated that you can’t intentionally lose a game of chance; conversely, that is entirely possible with a game of skill. So what does it matter if people have a difference of opinion on this matter? The issue is that it affects the legality of the game. The courts are generally more lenient with forms of gambling that are primarily based upon skill. This issue is particularly relevant in Pennsylvania where the state legislature is considering a bill to legalize online gambling and video gambling terminals. If passed, Pennsylvania would become the fourth state to legalize online poker.  The Pennsylvania legislature is moving in this direction due to a budget shortfall, however, the state’s judicial system has been less welcoming of this game. To be more specific, the state ruled that poker is not a game of skill via Pennsylvania v Dent. Walter Watkins, along with his girlfriend Diane Dent, organized small-stakes Texas Hold’em games out of his garage. He didn’t take a rake but asked for tips from the players. Watkins and Dent were eventually busted by an undercover cop for gambling charges.  The pair successfully contested the charges in court due to a judge agreeing that poker is a game of skill. However, the State Superior Court reversed that decision in 2010 and ultimately ruled that poker is based primarily upon chance. The Pennsylvania legislature has the chance to partially rectify this inaccurate ruling by the State Superior Court by legalizing online poker. However, that obviously wouldn’t eliminate wasteful undercover investigations that led to Pennsylvania v Dent. Meanwhile, the state’s outdated gambling laws have done nothing to reduce the demand. WITF of Central Pennsylvania reported that illegal poker video game terminals have become increasingly popular in the state. Bear in mind, this market is completely unregulated and untaxed. There is growing black market in large part due to lobbying efforts of the casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson. To be brief, he claims his objection to Internet poker is for “moral” reasons, but this crony-capitalist charade was fully debunked in my book Dealing From the Bottom of the Deck: Hypocritical Gambling Laws Enrich Crooked Politicians, a Select-Few Casinos, and the Mob.  From state to state, the game of skill debate is usually left to the interpretation of the courts. However, a Virginia State Senator, Louise Lucas, introduced a bill earlier this year to recognize poker as a game of skill. The Senate version passed, but we’ll have to wait and see if the companion House bill has the same success.  Again, the case for the game of skill argument is fairly obvious. All anyone has to do is read one the 580 books on poker strategy currently available on Amazon.com. However, I think what may be the best close for this discussion is acknowledging a project that isn’t directly related. Let’s just say that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is well above my pay grade, but even an outsider can recognize the amazing technological advances. In particular, AI in poker has a fairly lengthy history. So without any further ado, let’s check out this amazing infographic detailing the advancements of AI with poker. The infographic is impressively designed and has numerous interesting facts, but it also indirectly demonstrates that poker is a game of skill. You can check out the official link here.
If you haven’t already, please check out my latest piece with The American Conservative, “What Trump’s ‘Warning’ to Colombia Really Means.” It goes into detail about the way in which America’s drug war is selectively enforced to advance a Cold War-style agenda. The Trump administration has criticized Colombia’s anti-drug efforts and pressured their country to reinstate its aerial fumigation program. This program was somewhat effective with reducing coca production, but this one method isn’t a silver bullet for eliminating the drug supply.  Also, aerial spraying does nothing to combat the demand for cocaine. Hence, cocaine supply always responds to demand and the production is displaced from one region to another. However, you may be wondering why Colombia discontinued this program. The problem is that it also results in widespread collateral damage.  The chemical that is sprayed over the coca fields in Colombia, glyphosate, was banned by the Colombian Supreme Court in 2015 due to research by the World Health Organization, which pointed to a variety of negative environmental and health consequences.  This aerial fumigation program is also unpopular with Colombia’s farming sector because the spraying is indiscriminate and the chemicals kill all plants in the area, not just coca. In fact, the government of Colombia reached a $15 million settlement in a lawsuit with its southern neighbor, Ecuador, due to the damage from aerial spraying that drifted over the border. Despite these facts, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and the Trump administration have continued to bang the drum calling for the Colombian government to restore this program. Keep in mind, aerial spraying conveniently benefits a couple of politically-connected corporations.  For fifteen years, the U.S. government contracted with the private defense company DynCorp to spray glyphosate, which is developed and patented by Monsanto, over the coca fields in Colombia. (Glyphosate is the key chemical in their weed-killer, RoundUp.)  That brings up another interesting topic. The Trump administration is indirectly promoting Monsanto’s interests at a time when other government entities are confronting the company’s tactics. Case in point, Monsanto’s officials and lobbyists were recently banned from the European parliament. Coincidentally, this decision came about after Monsanto’s representatives declined to attend a meeting about allegations that their company manipulated safety studies related to glyphosate. (The New York Times also published an excellent article recently about the company’s woes in the U.S.) Anyhow, back to Colombia. The U.S. government’s insistence upon this aerial spraying program has little to do with the effectiveness of the program. It has more to do with who benefits from illegal drug trafficking in Colombia. Again, my latest article goes more in-depth, but to be brief, the U.S. government is more concerned with drug money ending up in the hands of the top communist group in Colombia, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) On the opposite side, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos also has some unspoken objectives that should be addressed. He seems to be using the drug war as a bargaining chip. The Santos administration has justifiably remained steadfastly opposed to aerial spraying. However, the FARC openly opposed aerial spraying as part of their negotiations. They have justifiable reasons for opposing this program as well, i.e. legitimate agricultural. However, it’s widely-known that their group is one of the top drug trafficking organizations in the country. Nonetheless, with this olive branch in place, it looks like there may be a reprieve from the extreme violence in Colombia. Just yesterday, Colombia’s second leading communist rebel group, the ELN (National Liberation Army), began their cease-fire agreement. Likewise, the leader of Los Urabenos has reached out to the government in hopes of forming a truce as well. Los Urabenos is a splinter group from the now defunct right-wing paramilitary group, the AUC.  Keep in mind, the Trump administration has tried to paint Santos as soft on drugs, but the leader of Los Urabenos is only looking to form a peace agreement because the government has been aggressively pursuing this group with the full force of the military. They’ve successfully killed or captured many of its highest members.  Although Santos is on the cusp of reaching peace agreement with the top remaining destabilizing force in the country, Los Urabenos, there will still be dissidents. That has been the case with the FARC as there is a fairly sizeable number of former FARC who refused to lay down their arms. Likewise, there will be many dissident ELN members.  And there lies the rub. The demand for cocaine will never go away and these rebels will be able to finance their warfare from illegal drugs, as long as the U.S. doesn’t discontinue its antiquated its war on drugs. P.S. If you found this post to be interesting, please check out the first volume of my book series, Rackets, The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game. It goes into much more detail about the truth behind the war on drugs and why it desperately needs to end.
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© Brian Saady