The MBI busts heads and Rich Crotty attempts to smile

The no-fun police are at it again. On March 4, officers from the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation raided five smoke shops in Orange County and confiscated $2 million worth of pipes and bongs. The stores targeted were Pipe Dreams, Pipe Dreams II, The 5th Element, Drago's (formerly Frodo's Treasures) and G Spot.

The investigation traces back to 2002, when the Seminole County vice squad raided a handful of head shops there, including the original Pipe Dreams. After that, when Pipe Dreams and Pipe Dreams II opened in Orange County, the MBI decided to act. As this paper pointed out in 2002, the state laws that govern "paraphernalia" sales are rather ambiguous. The result is that, even if a store has been in business for years selling pipes and bongs "for tobacco use only," the MBI can take it down at their pleasure.

No one was arrested – MBI spokesman Larry Zwieg says that's up to the state attorney's office – but the stores were virtually cleared out. "They came and got us," says a manager at G Spot, who refused to give his name. "They took everything, except for the T-shirts and incense."

The manager says his store's attorney contacted the Orange County sheriff's office and tried to get the cops to do a walk-through to determine which items were legal and which weren't, but "Orange County wanted nothing to do with us."

Employees of Cool World, a store selling similar merchandise in downtown Orlando, heard about the raid at G Spot at 11 a.m., and by 11:15 a.m. had their doors locked and any potentially objectionable merchandise stashed away. The MBI, however, never came, though their offices are only a couple of blocks away. "What are the rules and what do we have to do?" asks one Cool World worker. "They definitely scared the crap out of a bunch of business owners."

The manager at G Spot says the cops promised his store that they'd eventually do a walk-through and tell them what could and could not be sold. Zwieg confirms it, sorta. "At the conclusion of the investigation, that's something we might consider. We'd be willing to do that for them."

As for the stores' prospects, that remains uncertain. "It depends on what they tell us when they get back," the G Spot manager says. "If they're only going to allow incense and T-shirts, our doors are going to close."

Interviewing Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty can be something of a chore. See, he's kind of, um, dull. No offense, natch.

We were in his lobby recently awaiting a scheduled interview, perusing the periodicals on a table. There we stumbled on a bookmark encouraging youngsters to read. On it, Crotty is holding a blue placard advertising the Orange County Library System, along with the slogan "Readers are Leaders." Which is all entirely unremarkable. Except, that is, for the look on Crotty's face. He was smiling. Or trying to smile. Actually, it came across as one of the goofiest-ass grins we've ever seen.

Note to Crotty: You don't enthuse very well. This isn't a bad thing, you just need to accept it. It's best for everyone. Note to Crotty, Part 2: It may be time to renew your subscription to U.S. News & World Report. The two issues we found were two years old, and had cover stories discussing the build-up to the Iraq war. If we delved deeper into the stack, we may have read an interesting article on the Iran hostage crisis.

Hundreds of friends and family members of the late I-Drive tycoon Jesse Maali's packed a ballroom at the Doubletree Resort across from Universal Studios March 4 for a dinner marking the 40th day since Maali's death. Happytown™ got an invite too, and since we're not ones to pass up a free meal, and since we think Maali got shafted by overzealous federal prosecutors, we made an appearance.

Quick background: Maali was, until 2002, known for the clutch of restaurants and retail shops he owned in Orlando's tourist corridor. Next thing you know, he was arrested by a SWAT team and branded a terrorist supporter by the federal government, just in time for the 6 o'clock news. The terrorism charges went nowhere, and Maali was awaiting trial for hiring illegal immigrants and tax evasion charges when he died in January.

After a buffet dinner of chicken, pasta and salad, we were treated to a reading of the Quran by a local sheik (a first for us), and a few speeches by Maali's children commemorating their father's life.

The big announcement was the formation of The Jesse Maali House of Mercy Foundation, Inc., a fund run by his family designed to give money to the needy all over the world; Maali was, in life, known for his charity. The Foundation gave its first check, for $25,000, to the American Cancer Society.

Say what you want about progressive politics in Orlando – "invisible" and "ineffective" come to mind – but some people never seem to get the message that the two-party system is dead. And God bless 'em for their thickheadedness.

For those who feel they still need to talk, we suggest the informal house parties popping up here and there, like the one March 10 at Stardust Video & Coffee, 1842 East Winter Park Road, at 7:30 p.m. Stop by, get frustrated, rent a movie, go home and cry. Repeat.


Q: Does Syria's promise to pull out of Lebanon validate the Bush doctrine?

A: First, am I the only one who finds it ironic that Bush himself rails about the free world's "agreement that Damascus' authority over the political affairs of its neighbor must end," while at the same time Washington's continued authority over the political affairs of Iraq is considered a foregone conclusion? I hope not.

Second, just because the Syrians have promised to abandon their occupation doesn't mean that they will.

Third, even if they DO withdraw, it does not vindicate the Bush doctrine of pre-emption and unilateralism. Remember that correlation and causation are two very different things. The Bush Doctrine calls for worldwide American hegemony, enforced, pre-emptively if necessary, with military force. If the goal of the Bush Doctrine is, as they state in their own National Security Strategy, "political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with other states, and respect for human dignity," I can hardly see how you can call it a success.

We've got fewer allies, less respect internationally, a weaker economy, a falling dollar, unprecedented deficit, a minimum of two military theaters – both of which are now breeding new terrorists at an unprecedented rate – and insufficient military reserve capacity to ensure our own domestic security. By any reasonable metric, the Bush Doctrine has made us less secure, and thus, in my mind, is a failure.

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