Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More Bans From Our Friends In Government

Yesterday was yet another bizarre day in annals of government intervention into free choice. Two bans were imposed by the state of North Carolina, and the one common thread is both have a tie to what many consider to be "sins". This concept is so entrenched that taxes on tobacco and alcohol, especially in the South, have often been referred to as "sin taxes".

The first new prohibition (pun intended) was on legal moonshine, particularly the 190 proof product made by Everclear. Moonshine, especially the illegal variety is ubiquitous in many parts of rural America, and I'd be lying if I said I've never sampled some smooth "applejack" in my day. That said, a libation that is 95% alcohol really holds no appeal to me, and the one "grain" party I attended at UVA back in the 70's was not my cup of tea.

The rationale for the state ABC board banning the product was eerily similar to Kill Devil Hill's smoking ban. Why? Because the action was taken to protect the youth. It all started with the Mecklenburg County ABC Board, according to a stroy on WRAL-TV's website:

WCNC-TV in Charlotte first reported the change after the Mecklenburg County ABC Board found much of the pure grain alcohol was being sold at stores close to college campuses. Mecklenburg board chief executive Paul Stroup calls the product dangerous, with no redeeming social value.

Unless these are grad students, then similar to KDH, we have a case of illegal activities undertaken by underage participants. In this situation, its booze, in KDH it was smoking. So the state jumps in and under ther guise of protecting kids also makes the drink unavailable to a fifty-year old. Strangely, the 151-proof version of Everclear will still be offered. I see little difference in the two products--students, if drinking, will simply consume more of the 151 proof Everclear in order to achieve whatever effect they are seeking from the consumption of grain alcohol. Studies already reveal that "lite" beer drinkers and cigarette smokers merely compensate for the lower alcohol and nicotine content by consuming more of the "lite" product.

The real problem here is underage drinking of any kind. If North Carolina believes a 20- year old can't handle beer, wine, or vodka, the consumption of legal moonshine should be of no greater or lesser concern. And given how easy it is to obtain illegal grain, it seems more reasonable to offer a legal alternative where the purity and contents are known and controlled. College kids are resourceful. They will find homemade versions if the legal product is banned.

And today, a ban goes into effect on video sweepstakes and poker games that operate on the Internet. The games are often played on machines in "Internet Cafes" and in many bars. Unlike online gambling, these are not skill games--the outcomes are predetermined based on mathematical formulas and the player has absolutely no control over the outcome. Governor Perdue signed the law banning the games in July.

With the state operating a lottery, replete with billboards and TV commercials reminding us we "can't win if we don't play", the sheer hypocricy of this bill is alarming. Gambling is either an evil that needs to be illegal, or its a choice available to adults. Operation by the state doesn't remove the moral issues, nor does the accrual of "profits" to government coffers instead of private sector profits. If Perdue really thought these games were bad, she'd abololish the North Carolina lottery, or at the least, curtail the huge ad campaign that encourages poor people to bet on a huge jackpot they have virtually no chance of winning.

The state lottery was born in scandal involving the hiring of a paid lobbyist for one of the companies that supply the lottery hardware--the same company that won the state contract. Add to that the fact that the state has already raided these funds, which were supposed to benefit education exclusively by merely shifting general funds formerly earmarked for education to other programs and substituting the lottery proceeds for the state's contribution to education and one is left with little faith in public sector legalized gambling.

And don't believe this is merely a moral issue for the state. As WRAL reported, Perdue's logic for the ban was revealing.

"I think, if you have video sweepstakes, whether it's video poker or video machines in general, we really do need to have some kind of concentrated, organized, unified system of regulation where they are under a set of standards, rules and regulations where we can be sure no one is profiteering from it," she said.

State lawmakers considered regulation. They even talked about letting the North Carolina Education Lottery take over the games as a way to raise revenue.

"Perdue said as things stand now, the sweepstakes cafes are "uncontrollable."

So, we need to ban 'em for some reason. Unless the state takes them over, where the games will then be free of corruption and "profiteering". Because if the state owns the revenue stream, we all know profits will never be part of the plan!