Measured Against Reality

Monday, October 02, 2006

Internet Gambling and the War on Sin

A few days ago a bill passed that would “outlaw” internet gambling. I put outlaw in quotes because, in reality, it just means you need to take one more additional step to gamble online illegally (and that’s worst case scenario). But nevertheless a provision that attempts to outlaw internet gambling was stuck onto a completely unrelated port security bill and passed.

But when I was reading about it I was struck by the parallel with drugs. Online gambling could generate billions in federal revenue if it was regulated; drugs could too. Enforcing the online gambling bill is going to cost far more money than it would ever be worth; the enforcement of drug laws does too. Internet gambling doesn’t hurt anyone except the person who’s doing it, who is an adult who wants to gamble, and even then they could benefit; recreational use of drugs (when not under prohibition) doesn’t hurt anyone except the person who’s doing it, who is an adult who wants to use drugs, and even then they could benefit.

So why on Earth are these things illegal? For the same reason that amendments to ban homosexual marriage come up year after year, for the reason that kids are taught inane “abstinence only” lessons in schools, and for the same reason that OTC birth control is fought everywhere on every level: the Christian “War on Sin”.

The absolutely insane, destructive, divisive, and despicable. Rather than being governed by rational policies intended to make things as good as possible for as many people as possible we pass repugnant legislation that harms good, honest people just to appease the moral crusaders. People of reason have got to stand and put an end to this, or soon we’ll be living in a full-fledged theocracy.

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  • What's wrong with not wanting people to hurt themselves? Drugs destroyed my young life, and only in the past year was I able to shake myself free of them, and I was only able to do that by finding God.

    If my government can help make these things difficult to find, then more power to them. I'm not afraid to be called a moral crusader, but perhaps you should reconsider how bad it really is.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:07 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • But the government isn't really making it much harder to get them. Don't you think you would have been helped more if there were 15 billion dollars available for treatment for those who want it? I do.

    Besides, drugs are always a choice you make, a personal choice, and telling someone else how to make a personal choice is wrong.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:13 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • But you want to coercively take $15,000,000,000 of our money to "help" people who made a "personal decision" to destroy their lives.

    It's either a personal choice or it's a public menace. I think it's a personal choice and we should do all we can do make it impossible to make that choice. If they make it anyway, they're on their own.

    But don't you dare take my freedom to put drug addicts in a nice comfy little place (full of other drug addicts, by the way) where they can boost their self-esteem without actually reforming themselves.

    Rehab is a crock. I've been through it twice and only changed when I made the conscious choice to change my life.

    If they want to get better, they better do it themselves. No matter what, they have no right to take my money. Neither do you.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:20 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • No, personally I'd rather give them nothing. And maybe your experience is different, but this funny stuff called research says that rehab works better than prison. I know you don't buy into research and prefer to go with what has worked for you, but you're wrong on this one.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:22 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Drugs are always a choice you make.

    That's not true. Sometimes, a child is born addicted. Sometimes, a person makes the first choice, and thereafter has no reasonable chance of retaining the willpower to make the next choice. Theocracies tend to be overgeneralized monsters; but the rational need not sink to that level along with them.

    By Blogger Mythical, at 10:24 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Whoa whoa whoa... you said you want to make $15,000,000,000 "available to them" which clearly means the government forcible takes it from me and gives it to them. Then you say you'd rather give them nothing. Which is it?

    I don't buy into research because I have no idea what research you're referring me to. How do you think you have the right to judge this legislation when you have no experience with addiction?

    You say it harms only the addict. That's a complete fabrication, and a harmful one. I've been an addict, and I can't tell you how many people I stole from, cheated, and lied to to appease my addiction. The rehab centers put my mother thousands of dollars in debt and exposed me to dozens of even-more-harmful drug and gambling addicts than myself.

    Your blind belief in what "experts" tell you is harmful and blinds you to real experience. You are extraordinarily wrong on this issue.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:26 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • "US prisons are trapped in a cycle of drug-related crime. About half of the nation's 2.2 million jail inmates meet clinical criteria for drug or alcohol dependence, while the majority of state or federal inmates regularly used drugs prior to their incarceration.

    "Even worse, most drug-dependent criminals are released back into society with the same problems that got them locked up in the first place. Clearly, the punitive jail regime that sees few of these prisoners treated for their addiction is not working.

    "This week, however, may mark a turning point. On Monday, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released a guide detailing treatments that have been shown to help convicted criminals overcome their drug problems, and reduce crime. While no one expects change overnight, specialists in drug addiction see the existence of a treatment guide endorsed by a federal agency as an important step towards reform.

    "It is very difficult to change the culture of the criminal justice system," concedes NIDA's director, Nora Volkow. "But the data is very cogent. It speaks for itself."

    "The US criminal justice system's attitude to drug use is not among the developed world's most progressive (see "Captive audience"). A 1997 survey found that fewer than 15 per cent of prisoners with drug problems received treatment in jail - and little has changed since. However, NIDA's research into treating drug-dependent criminals is cutting-edge, and two studies in particular have shown that certain treatments can produce long-lasting benefits.

    "These studies, led by Michael Prendergast at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and James Inciardi of the University of Delaware, analysed an approach called "therapeutic communities". The idea is to encourage abstinence by teaching drug avoidance strategies within a peer group. Those who relapse are viewed as letting down the entire group, and so are more motivated to stay clean. Counsellors are often former drug-using criminals themselves, and the process includes working through the problems that led individuals into addiction in the first place.

    "The approach seems to work well in jails - less than 1 per cent of inmates in such communities typically test positive for drugs, about a tenth the rate in the wider prison population. Although early studies suggested the benefits disappear relatively soon after release, sometimes within a year, the UCLA and Delaware teams have shown the positive effects can last much longer if treatment is lengthy enough and continues during and after inmates' release.

    "Prendergast's team studied released convicts in San Diego who had been treated in a prison therapeutic community for nine months to a year. On release they could volunteer to join a residential community for a further six to 12 months. Just under 42 per cent of these volunteers were jailed again within five years - less than half the rate of the other released prisoners who completed the prison component of the treatment but not the residential. "Continuity between prison and community treatment is important," Prendergast says.

    "The Delaware study similarly involved a year of prison treatment, followed by six months of therapeutic community treatment based around work-release from jail. Ex-convicts could then receive after-care involving regular counselling. Inciardi's team found that the treatment reduced both drug use and arrests over the next five years (see "Getting clean"). Again, completing the entire programme, including the work-release component, was important for achieving lasting reductions in criminal behaviour.
    “Every dollar spent treating a drug user can save another 10 over the following two years by reducing crime and its costs”

    "Such treatment is not cheap: analyses of the UCLA study suggest that it costs around $80 for each day of subsequent imprisonment avoided - roughly the cost of keeping an inmate in jail. However, the total benefits are more widespread. A UK study led by Michael Gossop of the Institute of Psychiatry in London indicates that every dollar spent treating a drug user can save almost 10 over the following two years, mostly by reducing crime and its associated cost.

    "NIDA's guidelines stress the importance of continuity and structure in treatment, and also note that it must often be tailored to individual convicts. For instance, prisoners with drug problems frequently have other behavioural or mental difficulties that may need to be tackled before addressing their drug use.

    "A team at Texas Christian University in Forth Worth, headed by psychologist Dwayne Simpson, is pioneering this approach. Simpson has developed manuals to assess the needs of drug users, and to direct and monitor their treatment. Such prisoners are usually poorly motivated, for instance, and locked into "criminal thinking" - failure to empathise or see that their behaviour is to their own long-term harm. Simpson's manuals for prisoners concentrate on tackling these attitudes.

    "In some cases, drug use may be triggered by difficulties in a relationship with a partner, so Simpson has also drawn up manuals to assess and tackle such problems. It is pioneering work, says David Best, a psychiatrist at the University of Birmingham, UK, which helps to prevent treatment descending into "endless crisis management".

    "The new NIDA guidelines also stress the benefits of methadone and buprenorphine, substitute opiates that can help wean drug users off heroin and avoid contaminated illegal drugs. This is controversial in the US, where many specialists remain opposed to approaches that do not promote total abstinence, but Volkow argues that NIDA must follow the scientific evidence, which backs the targeted use of substitute opiates. "It's the only way we'll change policy," she says.

    "Achieving reform in prisons will be a difficult task. NIDA is distributing 175,000 copies of its guidelines to people involved in criminal justice, and is educating federal judges in the biology of drug addiction and its treatment. However, many drug-dependent criminals are dealt with at the state level, and not all states heed NIDA strategies. Nebraska is one that does. "I've been able to implement some changes," says Rick McNeese, who has been responsible for substance abuse treatment within the state Department of Correctional Services for the past year. "We're doing some progressive things." But officials in many other states are less open to change. Simpson reckons some will only abandon their punitive approach if dragged "kicking and screaming".

    "NIDA's guidelines will help, he says, but real reform will require extensive investment and training within state criminal justice systems. Despite strong evidence that treatment for drug use is cost-effective, Simpson says that programmes seen as helping criminals are often slashed by politicians when budgets become tight. "We're highly vulnerable," he says.

    "Yet drug use in the US is not receding, with the use of crack cocaine and methamphetamine of particular concern. For the benefit of both drug users and the wider community affected by the resulting crime, attitudes need to change, argues Alex Busansky, executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, which in a report last month urged widespread US prison reform. "We have to bring the public health system into the criminal justice system," he says."

    Nick, I said "don't you think you would have been helped more if there were 15 billion dollars available for treatment..." I never said that it should be. And if you'll notice in the article, it said that "drugs, (when not under prohibition)..." Prohibition makes those problems far worse (think alcohol in the 1920's compared with today. The situation was far, far worse under Prohibition than it ever was without it).

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:33 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Oh, and by the way, the majority of people in this country agree with me on defense-of-traditional-marriage legislation, availablity of birth control/abortifacients, gambling, drugs, etc.

    If the majority of the country is Christian, then if you support the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, you support what I do.

    In a majoritarian democracy, the greatest number will get their desires made law. And if you really think that the above issues will make America a "theocracy", you have a warped understanding of what a theocracy is.

    Read about real ones, like Saudi Arabia's views on women.

    Your hate for Christians and traditional values are what make atheists the least trusted minority in America. (

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:37 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Haven't you ever heard of the "tyranny of the majority"? And you want to deny two perfectly fine, loving people the right to marry? And you think you're better than Saudi Arabia? Newsflash, you're not. Denying two loving people the rights of marriage (and this isn't just an inane cirtificate we're talking about here, gay couples have been caused serious financial and legal troubles because they can't marry) is evil. Downright evil.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:42 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Actually, alcoholism receded quickly during prohibition. The real problem was illegal trade and the rise of the Mob.

    How would I deal with drug dealers? I'd fucking kill them. They aided and abetted my lying and stealing to fund my addictions.

    As far as giving addicts medication (such as buprenorphine or methadone) to maintain their addiction, this is simply providing the addict with drugs to keep them addicted without having to feel sick for a little while while undergoing withdrawal. THIS IS A BAD POLICY. Drug addicts on maintenance therapy are very likely to A. Sell their maintenance meds to other addicts for more drug money. B. Realize they can live off the government/NGO providing the drug for as long as they want without having to agree.

    STOP CODDLING DRUG ADDICTS. They are not just good people who can't control themselves, they are sinful self-destructive human beings who have not taken the initiative to change their behavior.

    Throw the bastards in jail and they might get the message. Jail the dealers for life or execute them.

    I'm not being cute about this shit. This really is life or death for some of us. Drugs almost killed me, and rehab almost bankrupted us without putting me any closer to recovery. All of the other drug addicts in my program were juveniles on their second or third drug conviction. They were in the program and sober only long enough to get out and start drugging again.

    Your research proves exactly jack to me. You have no experience, you're just submitting to what authority figures in white coats tell you to believe.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:45 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • With declining birth rates in the west, I think America should do all it can to incentivize traditional marriage between a man and a woman to raise and take care of a child/children.

    Nothing personal, I just think we should do what we can to make traditional marriage more popular.

    For you and a tiny minority of gays to impose their views on the vast majority of Americans is evil. Downright evil.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:48 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Oh and did you just blame Christians for gay couples' failures to take care of their own financial situation?


    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:50 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • I don't think I would've been helped more with more government money, because money isn't what solves the problem, Stu. Personal responsibility and willpower and faith in God as a humbling force solved the problem.

    If the government had paid for my rehab I still would've gotten nothing out of it. I would've succeeded only in wasting other people's money in a selfish crusade to boost my self esteem.

    What do you think goes on in rehab centers, Stu? Do you think it's all Kumbaya and hand holding and sobbing gently to each other?

    No, it's a bunch of scary drug addicts exchanging contacts and phone numbers and war stories and what-are-you-gonna-do-when-you-get-out.

    Rethink your position. It's okay to admit you were wrong.

    Love, Nick

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 11:01 AM, October 02, 2006  

  • Online Gambling hasn't been outlawed in the US because of the religious beliefs of the government, if that was the case then physical gambling - places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City would also be outlawed. It has been outlawed largely because the profits from online gambling go not to US corporates, but to foreign ones - mostly but not excusively British.
    It may have been sold as part of the "War on Sin", but this isn't up there with some of the other examples you cite (I'd personally exclude drugs as well, there are enough people of reason who have looked at the evidence in respectable studies and decided that control of drugs is a rational policy aimed at the general good).

    By Blogger Niall Litchfield, at 10:33 PM, October 02, 2006  

  • There is hope! It appears that outlawing online gambling violates the US agreements with the WTO. We better get a Democrat in office soon.

    You can sign the petition on my site

    By Blogger Eric Bergen, at 6:46 AM, October 04, 2006  

  • Wow, this Mr. "Fantastic" (no bloated ego there) is obsessed with you. Watch out, stalker start like this.

    By Blogger Ishmael, at 10:30 PM, October 07, 2006  

  • The government wants to prohibit online gambling because of the monopoly that they've always had over the industry. With the Internet, they are quickly loosing control of the industry.. and I'm quite happy to see it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:49 PM, December 24, 2007  

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