Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: February 11, 2009”

But will they know it when they see it?

Mark Miloscia

Mark Miloscia

The definitions are so often what trip you up.

It was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who remarked in a 1964 decision that he would not "attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it . . ." The know-it-when-I-see-it standard, though, never quite works for state laws, which creates no end of difficulties.

A group of Washington legislators, evidently led by Representative Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, has the idea of helping fill a bit of the state revenue deficit with a porn tax of 18.5% on goods and services. That concept may not get too much criticism, apart from the affected industry. Buy how do you define exactly what is covered?

Here's the attempt in House Bill 2103:

"Adult entertainment materials and services" means those entertainment materials and services that are primarily oriented to an interest in sex, including but not limited to magazines, photographs, motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, cable television services, telephone services, audiotapes, computer programs, and paraphernalia. "Adult entertainment materials and services" does not include (a) books or magazines that contain no photographs or other graphics; or (b) motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, or cable television services that do not contain any explicit sex of the type that would be rated "X" using the standards existing on January 1, 2009, of the motion picture association of America, inc. Any motion picture, videotape, videodisc, cable television service, or other visual medium that contains any explicit sex of the type that would be rated "X" using these standards is considered to be primarily oriented to an interest in sex.

You can probably start listing the question-mark areas - how about this? how about that? - about as well as we can. Passed in present form, this one will probably be shot down in court. But there's some indication it may be amended before going much further. We'll be interested to see what improvements they come up with.

Not quite so much the warrior, maybe

Gil Kerlikowske

Gil Kerlikowske

For coming on to 40 years, we've had a "war on drugs," which has become quite a war indeed. The February 2 Washington Post Magazine featured a must-read, detailed report about the raid on the home of a small-town mayor in Maryland: "Acting on a mistaken drug trafficking suspicion, a SWAT team broke down their door, shot beloved pets and shattered a happy home. Was it an extreme reaction, or business as usual in America's war on drugs?" (The pretext for the raid was a box containing drugs, which police themselves had planted at the mayor's front door.) In a followup online chat, one of the writers remarked, "Obviously, one of the most frightening aspects of this sad tale is that it could happen to any one of us."

This paramilitary activity in our country has been a federally-driven, primarily, development, pushed by presidents of both parties for four decades; the results have included no diminishment of drug activity but unabated violence which is becoming increasingly hazardous. Might the Obama Administration try a different direction?

In nominating Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as "drug czar," Obama may be signaling that change is in the wind. Not radical, 180-degree turnarounds - which might have been what appointment of his predecessor, Norm Stamper, would have indicated - but significant adjustment at least.

The key touchstone here is Seattle Initiative 75, a 2003 measure which specifically called for making marijuana not legal exactly, but the lowest priority for law enforcement. The measure passed. It didn't pass with Kerlikowske's endorsement, but that has to be parsed: The Seattle Times reported local law enforcement considered it "vague, potentially confusing and unlikely to change what they do on the street" - in other words, not wrong as policy, but simply unnecessary. The followup sentence: "Arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use, says Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, is not a priority now." Since the measure's passage, the chief appears to have abided by its terms, without complaint. (more…)