Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Why Is Prostitution Illegal?

When he was attorney general, Eliot Spitzer had no trouble going after a "sophisticated prostitution ring." As governor, he apparently had no trouble patronizing one. The hypocrisy speaks for itself. But what about the oldest question about the oldest profession: Why, exactly, is prostitution illegal?

The case for making it against the law to buy sex begins with the premise that it's base and exploitative and demeaning to sex workers. Legalizing prostitution expands it, the argument goes, and also helps pimps, fails to protect women, and leads to more back-alley violence, not less. This fight over legalization has been waged in the last few years over international human-trafficking laws and proposals to make prostitution legal in countries like Bulgaria, a movement that the U.S. government helped defeat. In 2004, the federal government expressed its position: "The United States government takes a firm stance against proposals to legalize prostitution because prostitution directly contributes to the modern-day slave trade and is inherently demeaning." The government also claims that legalizing or tolerating prostitution creates "greater demand for human trafficking victims." And yet, prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada, a companion to other cherished vices.

You don't have to be a moralist or a prude to buy the argument for banning prostitution. But if you're so inclined, it's an easy one to take apart. Martha Nussbaum, a law and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, argues that lots of work involves the sale of bodily services and that lots of the work that poor women do involves bad working conditions. For her, it's all about context—there's a big difference between a street worker controlled by a pimp and a high-end call girl who picks her own clients, and the real question is how to increase poor women's access to decent and safe work in general. Legalizing prostitution "is likely to make things a little better for women who have too few options to begin with," Nussbaum writes.

The extremely pricey outfit Spitzer apparently used looks like an example of the high-end trade Nussbaum would distinguish from low-rent street work. The further defense of such escort services is that prostitution is inevitable and that conditions will be better for everyone all around if it's regulated (more condoms, fewer beatings). This parallels the argument against Prohibition or in favor of drug legalization: Illegality puts the bad guys and their guns in control. Women who fear prosecution can't go to the police for help. Better to give women more recourse to head off abuse and even inspect brothels for health-code violations.

Would legalizing prostitution increase trafficking? Not necessarily. "By this logic, the state of Nevada should be awash in foreign sex slaves, leading one to wonder what steps the Justice Department is taking to free them," writer David Feingold noted dryly in Foreign Policy in 2005. Countries in which prostitution is legal—Australia, Germany, the Netherlands—aren't cesspools. On the other hand, they haven't seen the demand for prostitution drop off, either, and sometimes it rises.

That's a disappointment for advocates of legalization, and lately there's another favorite model. In 1999, Sweden made it legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it—only the johns and the traffickers can be prosecuted. This is the only approach to prostitution that's based on "sex equality," argues University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon. It treats prostitution as a social evil but views the women who do it as the victims of sexual exploitation who "should not be victimized again by the state by being made into criminals," as MacKinnon put it to me in an e-mail. It's the men who use the women, she continued, who are "sexual predators" and should be punished as such.

According to this Web site for the Women's Justice Center, Sweden's way of doing things is a big success. "In the capital city of Stockholm the number of women in street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of johns has been reduced by 80%." Trafficking is reportedly down to 200 to 400 girls and women a year, compared with 15,000 to 17,000 in nearby Finland. Max Waltman, a doctoral candidate in Stockholm who is studying the country's prostitution laws, says that those stats hold up. He also said the police are actually going after the johns as ordered: In 2006, more than 150 were convicted and fined. (That might not sound like many, but then Sweden has a population of only 9 million.)

For feminists like MacKinnon (with whom Waltman works), this sure looks like the solution: Go after the men! Take down Eliot Spitzer and leave the call girls alone! On the other hand, the group SANS, for Sex Workers and Allies Network in Sweden, doesn't like the 1999 law. The network says it has brought more dangerous clients and more unsafe sex, rather than the other way around. Waltman says that there's a lot of debate in Sweden because some people inside and outside the industry still want straight-out legalization but that no systematic studies have shown that the law has made sex work worse or riskier.

In the end, this seems like the most salient question: Forget Eliot Spitzer. Shouldn't prostitution laws come down to working conditions—and the laws that would lead to better ones for sex workers? According to a recent working paper (PDF) by economist Steven Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh*, despite all the fighting and all the preaching, we apparently don't know that much about the specifics of the structure of the sex market—how much prostitutes make on average, how many tricks they turn a year, how frequently they and their pimps and johns actually get arrested.

To start filling in the gap, Levitt and Venkatesh looked at data from the Chicago Police Department. They found that women working the streets were making $27 an hour but less than $20,000 a year (they don't log a lot of hours). The risks of the trade were serious: "an annual average of a dozen incidents of violence and 300 instances of unprotected sex." There was also a "surprisingly high prevalence of police officers demanding sex from prostitutes in return for avoiding arrest." That looks like another argument against the bans on prostitution—presumably women wouldn't be caught in this particular trap if they weren't worried about going to jail in the first place. Levitt and Venkatesh also offer up this statistic: Prostitutes get arrested about once per 450 tricks, and johns even less frequently. Two lessons here: 1) A law that isn't being enforced much may not be worth having; and 2) Eliot Spitzer looks really, really unlucky.

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Consumers pinching their pennies

NEW YORK (CNN) -- New Yorker Evelyn Molina used to spend a lot of money eating out, buying her lunch and going out to dinner with friends about three to four times a week.


"I just wasn't conscious of it," she says.

But times have changed for the 25-year-old marketing analyst. Now she brings a sandwich to work and she's looking to cut her spending.

"I could be saving more," she says. "Do I need that extra muffin? No. Do I need scrambled eggs? No."

Molina, like many other Americans, is concerned about how fast money is flowing out of her wallet.

Consumers are painfully watching their money drain away as they fill up their car's gas tank. They're handing over more money for the same items at the grocery store. If pink slips haven't appeared on their desk, they may have appeared in their dreams. And who can't help but feel nervous as home prices fall?

"When they turn on the TV or pick up the paper and they read about values of homes declining -- that's the news. But the fact is, people are experiencing it," says Gary Drenik of BIGresearch, a marketing information company.

"They are putting gas in their cars. They're going grocery shopping and they're paying more. They're being hit with all these things that weren't there a year ago," he says.

Consumers are responding by tightening the purse strings. Sixty-four percent of people intend to cut indulgent spending this year according to a new survey by HSBC Bank USA. Another survey by Discover Financial Services confirms that sentiment. This month, half of consumers plan to cut down on non-essential spending like eating out, going to the movies and remodeling, according to the report.

Analysts are a little surprised at some of the ways consumers are changing their spending habits, especially in retail.

"It's a whole new ball game," says Fred Crawford, a managing director at AlixPartners, a global consulting firm. "This year, consumers are saying it's all about price, price and price."

According to the 2008 AlixPartners Consumer Sentiment index, consumers are bargain shopping. If you shopped at Nordstrom and Macy's, you're now shopping at JC Penney or Kohl's. If you were shopping at JC Penney, now you're shopping at Wal-Mart. And those people who were shopping at Wal-Mart, they're at the dollar stores.

Crawford predicts, "You're going to see a lot more Lexuses and BMWs in Wal-Mart parking lots."

Stores can see the trend in their bottom line. JC Penney and Nordstrom had falling sales numbers while Wal-Mart reported strong sales last month.

Jody Derevenko, 30, works in retail. To curb her spending, she has decided to quit Starbucks for a week. "I used to go to Starbucks every day," she says, "but I'm trying to drink coffee at work, even though it's horrible."

Derevenko says for the past three to four weeks she has really been keeping track of her spending. Now she buys bananas instead of breakfast sandwiches. She goes grocery shopping and makes more meals at home. And when she does go out, she splits dinner entrees with friends.

Trimming the eating-out budget is a common consumer step. Casual chain restaurants, like Applebee's, TGI Fridays and Chili's, are really hurting, says Darren Tristano of Technomic, a food industry consulting firm. In 2006, major chain restaurants had sales growth of 6 percent. That's dropped to 4.2 percent in 2007.

Instead, consumers are gravitating toward fast-casual restaurants, like Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Zaxby's.

In a down economy, people look for better value, according to Tristano. In fact, he thinks we'll see more dollar or value menus in the future.

"This is something all chains should consider if they want to stay competitive," he says, adding, "price is king right now."

It would be expected that during tough economic times, beer and spirits would be king. But it just ain't so, according to David Henkes of Technomic. The percentage of people that ordered a drink at a bar or restaurant declined from 63 percent in the fall of 2007 to 44 percent during the holidays.

Henkes says that's pretty dramatic. "That's a season when you would expect to see more people going out and having a drink," he says. "It's a bit of a shock to see that much of a drop."

But for some folks, scaling back on non-essential spending is a good thing.

Angela Jones is a single mother with three kids. She says the end of decadence is a good thing. "We're all more aware of our spending. I've been meaning to make these changes," she says.

She is planning her 5-year-old's birthday party, which she says will take place in a park rather than at a party venue.

But, there are some places where people are still willing to part with their money. Travel spending is forecast to increase a little over 5 percent compared to last year.

"The airlines are saying how well late spring and early summer booking is looking," says Terry Trippler of Trippler Travel, a travel club.

"It's almost as if travel is no longer discretionary spending. Americans are working harder, longer. They may not like their jobs, and they don't get a lot of time off. So when they get a vacation, they're going," he says. "Maybe the new car or the new lawn mower will take a backseat. Maybe people won't eat out as much. But they're going on vacation."

There's another hot spot in the economy -- the four-legged family member. Spending on pets and pet products is expected to increase 6 percent this year to $43.4 billion, according to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association. Compare this to annual retail sales, which are expected to grow 3.5 percent.

The Fido phenomenon isn't surprising news to some folks out there.

"It seems like the dog always takes preference. I can do without ... but the dog can't," Drenik jokes.

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President Bush's War Has Cost Our Country Dearly

The Iraq war has exacted tremendous costs on our country. The lives and livelihoods of the thousands of courageous troops who have been killed and wounded is the most tragic cost. But the war has cost us in many other ways as well, including direct and indirect economic costs which are estimated by the Joint Economic Committee to reach $1.3 trillion by the close of 2008. According to Professor Stiglitz, who testifies before the JEC today, the costs could be even higher. The costs of war also include our failure to invest in domestic priorities, the strain on our military forces which has reduced our ability to respond to other threats both abroad and at home and the cost of taking our eye off the ball and failing to confront the terrorist threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of these costs illustrate the urgent need to change course in Iraq, refocus the mission and begin to redeploy our troops.

War in Iraq has cost the lives and livelihoods of thousands of brave men and women in uniform:

3,972 U.S. Troops Have Been Killed in Iraq. According to, 3,972 American troops have been killed in Iraq as of February 25, 2008. [, 2/27/08]

29,080 American Soldiers Wounded Through January 2008. According to, 29,080 U.S. troops have been wounded in support in Iraq through January 2008. [, 2/27/08]

Iraq war has had tremendous fiscal and economic costs:

Current Cost of War in Iraq Is Almost $11 Billion Per Month. “In FY2007, DOD’s monthly obligations for contracts and pay averaged about $12.3 billion including about $10.3 billion for Iraq and $2.0 billion for Afghanistan.” [CRS Report, 2/22/08]

That Amounts to…

  • $332,258,064 Per Day
  • $13,844,086 Per Hour
  • $230,734 Per Minute
  • $3,845 Per Second

U.S. Has Already Spent $526 Billion on War in Iraq. “This $700 billion total covers all war-related appropriations from FY2001 in supplementals, regular appropriations, and continuing resolutions including not quite half of the FY2008 request. Of that total, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $526 billion (75%), OEF about $140 billion (20%), and enhanced base security about $28 billion (4%), with about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1%).” [CRS Report, 2/22/08]

The Bush Administration Requested $72.8 Billion for War Costs in 2009 So Far. “For FY2009, the Administration has requested about $72.8 billion for war costs including a “placeholder” DOD war request of $70 billion, $1.5 billion for State Department/USAID foreign and diplomatic operations, and $1.3 billion for VA medical care for OIF and OEF veterans. Details for DOD’s request are expected after General David Petraeus makes his recommendations about future troop levels in April. With the pending FY2008 and FY2009 requests, the total for enacted or requested war funding is about $878 billion.” [CRS Report, 2/22/08]

Funding for Iraq War Increased 160% Between 2004 and 2008. “Annual war appropriations more than doubled from about $34 billion in FY2001/FY2002 to about $80 billion with the preparation for and invasion of Iraq in FY2003 (see Table 3). Based on passage of the FY2007 Supplemental, annual DOD funding are growing by an additional 75% between FY2004 and FY2007. If DOD’s total FY2008 request is enacted, the level in FY2008 would be 160% higher or more than one-and-one-half times larger than FY2004.” [CRS Report, 2/22/08]

Joint Economic Committee Estimated Total Cost of the at $1.3 Trillion Through 2008 - $16,500 for a Family of Four. The Joint Economic Committee has estimated that the total budgetary and economic costs of the Iraq War from FY 2002-2008 to be $1.3 trillion. This cost amounts to $16,500 in war costs for a family of four. These economic costs include the ongoing drain on U.S. economic growth created by Iraq-related borrowing, the disruptive effects of the conflict on world oil markets, the future care of our injured veterans, repair costs for the military, and other undisclosed costs. [Joint Economic Committee, 11/07]

Joint Economic Committee Estimated Total Cost of $2.8 Trillion Through 2017, Assuming Gradual Drawdown to 55,000 Troops. The Joint Economic Committee also estimated that assuming troops are gradually drawn down to 55,000 troops by 2013 and that level remained constant through 2017, the total economic cost of the war would be $2.8 trillion, or $36,900 for a family of four. [Joint Economic Committee, 11/07]

While pouring money into Iraq, we have failed to invest in domestic priorites here at home:

No Child Left Behind Has Been Underfunded By $71 Billion Since 2002. Since 2002 when it was enacted, the No Child Left Behind Act has been underfunded by $71 billion. This cumulative funding gap is comprised of the difference between funding authorized by the bill and the actual annual appropriations from FY 2002 through FY 2008. [NEA, 2/25/08]

American Society of Civil Engineers Estimated U.S. Must Invest $1.6 Trillion Over 5 Years to Bring the Nation's Infrastructure to Good Condition. In 2005, the Americans Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to good condition. [American Society of Civil Engineers, Action Plan for the 110th Congress]

The Cost of 4 months in Iraq Could Modernize and Ensure Interoperable Communications for America’s 2.5 Million First Responders. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that it would cost $40 billion to modernize communications for the 2.5 million first responders in the United States. [Department of Homeland Security, 3/17/04]

The Cost of 3 Months in Iraq Could Secure All Weapons-Usable Materials in Russia, to Prevent This Material From Falling Into the Hands of Terrorists. In the countries of the former Soviet Union there is currently enough unsecured radioactive material to build 40,000 nuclear weapons. In 2001, the bipartisan Baker-Cutler Commission stated that the “most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today, is the danger that weapons of mass-destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home. The Commission reported that it would cost $30 billion over eight to ten years to secure all weapons-usable material in Russia. [Campaign for America’s Future, A Report Card on the Department of Energy’s Nonproliferation Programs with Russia, 1/10/01]

The Cost of 22 Days in Iraq Could Safeguard Our Nation’s Ports from Attack. The Coast Guard has estimated that $7.5 billion over ten years would be necessary to implement the requirements of the 2002 Maritime Transportation Safety Act, which would protect U.S. ports and waterways from terrorist threats. [Center for American Progress, 7/1/04]

The Cost of 18 Hours in Iraq Could Secure U.S. Chemical Plants. According to the CBO, it would cost $255 million over five years to fully fund the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. [CBO, 6/26/06]

War in Iraq has strained our ability to respond to other threats:

Pentagon Said Iraq Is Straining the Military and Limiting Readiness. “A classified Pentagon assessment concludes that long battlefield tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with persistent terrorist activity and other threats, have prevented the U.S. military from improving its ability to respond to any new crisis, The Associated Press has learned. Despite security gains in Iraq, there is still a "significant" risk that the strained U.S. military cannot quickly and fully respond to another outbreak elsewhere in the world, according to the report.” [Associated Press, 2/9/08]

General Casey Fears Lack of Trained Forces for Missions Outside of Iraq. “‘The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply,’ the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, said last week. ‘Right now we have in place deployment and mobilization policies that allow us to meet the current demands. If the demands don't go down over time, it will become increasingly difficult for us to provide the trained and ready forces’ for other missions.” [Associated Press, 8/20/07]

Admiral Fallon and Admiral Mullen Worried About Having Enough Forces to Confront Threats Outside Iraq and Afghanistan. “Admiral Fallon was said by some officers to believe that only by giving the Iraqi government a clearer sense that the American troop commitment was limited would the Iraqis take steps aimed at achieving reconciliation. He also worries about having enough forces in reserve to handle contingencies outside Iraq and in Afghanistan. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the current chief of naval operations, who takes over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs next month, has also raised concerns about force levels, though he also cautions against a withdrawal before the current strategy is allowed to work.” [New York Times, 9/14/07]

Army Suffering Shortage of Young Officers Due to Extended Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan – Forced to Offer Huge Bonuses to Try to Retain Them. “The Army is offering cash bonuses of up to $35,000 to retain young officers serving in key specialties -- including military intelligence, infantry and aviation -- in an unprecedented bid to forestall a critical shortage of officer ranks that have been hit hard by frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials said that lengthy and repeated war-zone tours -- the top reason younger officers leave the service -- plus the need for thousands of new officers as the Army moves forward with expansion plans have contributed to a projected shortfall of about 3,000 captains and majors for every year through 2013.” [Washington Post, 10/11/07]

Equipment shortages and frequent deployments to Iraq have hurt national guard's ability to respond to threats at home:

Report Concluded Military Lacks Equipment and Trained, Ready National Guard and Reserve Forces to Respond to Chemical, Biological or Nuclear Incident At Home. “The commission's 400-page report concludes that the nation ‘does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available’ to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons incident, ‘an appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk.’ ‘Right now we don't have the forces we need, we don't have them trained, we don't have the equipment,’ commission Chairman Arnold Punaro said in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘Even though there is a lot going on in this area, we need to do a lot more. ... There's a lot of things in the pipeline, but in the world we live in — you're either ready or you're not.’” [Associated Press, 1/31/08]

Guard and Reserve Facing $48 Billion Equipment Shortfall. “The lack of readiness at home, according to the just-released report of a congressionally appointed commission, stems from the pressures put on National Guard and Reserve units who more and more have carried the burden in the Middle East fighting. These units are now facing equipment shortfalls estimated at $48 billion and depleted personnel strengths that have lowered their efficiency to a dangerous level.” [San Jose Mercury News, 2/8/08]

General Blum Said National Guard’s Ability to Respond to Natural Disasters and Terrorist Attacks at Home Has Been Put At Risk By Being Under-Equipped. “We are now in a degraded state back here at home… The ability for the National Guard to respond to natural disasters and to perhaps terrorist weapons-of-mass-destruction events that may come to our homeland is at risk because we are significantly under-equipped.” [Detroit News, 3/31/07]

While U.S. armed forces are bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan, Al-Qaedea and terrorism continue to threaten America's national security:

Intelligence Chief Testified Al Qaeda Has Expanded and Remains Greatest Threat. “Nonetheless, Al Qaida remains the preeminent terror threat against the United States, both here at home and abroad. Despite our successes over the years, the group has retained or regenerated key elements of its capability, including its top leadership, operational lieutenants, and a de facto safe haven, as was mentioned by the chairman, in the Pakistani border area with Afghanistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.” [Testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 2/5/08]

Iraq War Distracted U.S. Efforts and Allowed Al-Qaeda to Regenerate in Pakistan. “After Saddam’s fall, Iraq became a new headquarters of sorts for jihadists. Meanwhile, with the Bush administration’s attention elsewhere, Al Qaeda took the opportunity to reassert itself along the Afghan- Pakistan border. And jihadists began to travel between the two regions, worsening the situation in both. As Art Keller, a CIA officer stationed in the tribal areas of Pakistan in 2006, told me, ‘People are going from the Afghan-Pakistan border to Iraq to learn the tactics and then come back. Seems like the reverse of the way the war on terror was supposed to work.’” [New America Foundation, 10/22/07]

Secretary Gates Said Al-Qaeda Is Using Pakistani Safe Haven to Plan Attacks on U.S. “I think that Admiral McConnell is correct in saying that Al Qaida is taking advantage of the safe havens on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border to expand and train for attacks. Much of what we hear concerns attacks in Europe, to be frank about it, but there's no doubt that they have the intent of attacking the United States. And, frankly, I think that's one of the reasons why you're seeing a major push for equipment over the next 24 months.” [Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/6/08]

Iraq war has contributed to declining opinion of U.S. around the wold, making us less safe:

Poll of Residents in 25 Countries Found 29 Percent Believe U.S. Exerts a Mainly Positive Influence in the World, Down from 36 Percent in 2006 and 40 Percent in 2005. “George Bush, the US president, is facing mounting disapproval of his policies abroad, according to a poll carried out for the BBC World Service, published today. The poll of 26,000 people in 25 countries showed just 29 percent now feel the United States exerts a mainly positive influence on the world, compared with 36 per cent a year ago and 40 percent two years ago.” [The Scotsman (UK), 1/23/07]

  • 49 Percent of World Believes U.S. Exerts a Mainly Negative Role Internationally. “And 49 per cent now believe the US plays a mainly negative role internationally.” [The Scotsman (UK), 1/23/07]
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Reporter Hates Anchor. Anchor Hates Reporter.

Reporter Fights With Anchor On Camera - Watch more free videos

I usually wait to unleash all my hostile, bitter hatred for someone until I’m on live television with them. This little exchange between two Fox reporters shows you why.

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