January Trends

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Trends and Transitions: January 2011

Soldier saluting

Lies of Honor

Impersonating a decorated serviceman is appalling. George Washington thought so. “Should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them, they shall be severely punished,” he wrote in 1782 of the Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart.

Congress originally passed the Stolen Valor law in 1948, making it a federal misdemeanor to wear unearned medals and decorations. It was expanded in 2006 to include “falsely representing oneself as having been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces.”

It’s a difficult law to enforce, however. And twice, courts have ruled the federal law to be unconstitutional because it restricts free speech.

The difficulty in enforcement, however, hasn’t stopped states from banning this kind of chicanery. Since most of these impersonators are brought to light in the state and local arena, California Assemblyman Paul Cook introduced a bill in 2007 “to mirror current federal law, thus giving state and local authorities the ability to prosecute these individuals.”

Nine states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah—have Stolen Valor laws. Cal-ifornia’s law specifies that to be prosecuted, charlatans must have the intent to defraud. Kentucky’s law specifies further that the deception requires the intent to defraud, obtain employment, or be elected or appointed to public office.

In addition to state versions of the Stolen Valor Act, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada prohibit impersonating or falsely representing any individual—decorated or not—from a military, patriotic or veterans’ organization. Oregon and Washington prohibit masquerading as any military member or veteran. And New Mexico prohibits anyone from wearing a military uniform with the intent to impersonate a person with military authority.

HIV: Myths Persist

One-third of all new HIV infections occur in young people between the ages of 13 and 29. Why? According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in 2009, some have misconceptions about how the disease is transmitted. Nearly 30 percent believed at least one myth about how HIV is spread, such as through water in a swimming pool or by sharing a drinking glass.

The White House Office of National AIDS Policy’s official strategy aims to reduce new infections by 25 percent in five years through better education and screening among higher risk populations, including young people.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already require schools to provide HIV/AIDS instruction, although these laws vary, according to the Guttmacher Institute. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control in 2006 showed 85 percent of high schools said they teach how HIV is transmitted.

The National AIDS strategy recommends schools improve current education by providing accurate and more age-appropriate information about the biological aspects of the infection. The office promotes programs that cover abstaining, delaying or limiting sexual activity but that also ensure sexually active young people know how to protect themselves.


Dangerous Duo

What did the drinks Four Loko and Joose have in common? Lots of caffeine and lots of alcohol. And that was causing lots of concern. Some young people who consumed these kinds of drinks were blacking out, injuring themselves, landing in the hospital and even dying. 

More than a year ago, 29 state attorneys general shared concerns about these alcohol energy drinks, first introduced in 2005, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And on Nov. 17, 2010, the FDA warned four companies that the caffeine added to these alcoholic drinks is an “unsafe food additive.

Even before the FDA came out with its warning, many colleges and some state liquor control boards had banned alcoholic energy drinks. And at least eight states introduced legislation in 2010 to either study, regulate or prohibit the drinks.

Often referred to as “blackout in a can,” the drinks had an alcohol content ranging from 6 percent to 12.5 percent. One can of some brands was the equivalent of five beers and a cup of Starbucks coffee. A February 2010 study by the University of Florida found that college-age adults who consumed these drinks were three times more likely to be highly intoxicated when leaving a bar and four times more likely to drive than those who drank only alcohol.

Four Loko maker Phusion responded to the FDA’s warning by announcing the company’s intent to remove caffeine from its products. “We have repeatedly contended—and still believe, as do many people throughout the country—that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced,” the statement on the company’s website read. “We are taking this step after trying—unsuccessfully—to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels.”

Following the FDA’s warning, retailers told the Kansas Morning Sun they weren’t going to pull the drinks from their shelves just yet. Not, at least, until the state of Kansas bans them. “If they ban [them], we will too, but if they don’t, we’ll just keep carrying [them],” a liquor store owner told the newspaper. On Nov. 22, the Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board passed a ban, joining at least 12 other states that have taken regulatory action.

Show Your Badge!

As elsewhere, security concerns at state capitols have increased. Fourteen states now require lobbyists to wear some kind of identification. Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania require a photo on badges or cards. Although 28 states, the District of Columbia and three territories have no requirements, tradition and protocol in many dictate use of identification.