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
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
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
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
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
Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game, goes into great detail with
(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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Nonetheless, a 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
(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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
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.