Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blumenthal And The Prostitutes

It is sometimes said – humorously, of course – that prostitution is the world’s second oldest profession, the first being politics. True or not, we do know that politicians make political hay of prostitution. It appears that former Attorney General of New York Elliot Spitzer was en exception to this rule, and it was not until late in his sterling career we understood why: Spitzer was indulging on the side. His pastime cost him his job; it almost cost him his wife. One does not condemn one’s own indulgences and escape being tagged a hypocrite, particularly if one is a demagogic attorney general. If you live in a glass bordello, it’s best not to throw stones.

Attorney General of Connecticut Richard Blumenthal has other hobbies; a best guess might be canasta. We know Blumenthal does not shy from condemning prostitution because several months ago he took off after craigslist, a California based company, with a pitchfork. This suggests that, unlike Spitzer, Connecticut’s attorney general does not indulge and therefore is able to attack facilitators of prostitution with great energy.

Blumenthal’s beef with craigslist has evolved over the few months since he sent his first threatening letter to the company.

Now, no attorney general who is not Spitzer likes prostitution. In fact, no Comstockians like prostitution, with the possible exception of the prostitutes and their “Johns,” who just may, this glaring exception aside, be quite moral in other respects. So, craigslist was an easy target for Blumenthal, a stinking heap of disreputable activity in which Blumenthal could plant his flag to convince voters in Connecticut who are not kindly disposed to his candidacy for the U.S. senate to change their minds. Come on now, someone who hates prostitution can’t be all bad.

But there is a problem – several problems, in fact.

Unlike the attorney general of Massachusetts, Blumenthal is only a civil and not a criminal attorney. And even if he were a criminal attorney, no one of the several attorneys general who Blumenthal has joined in attempting to force the owner of craigslist to give up his “social advertising” has yet alleged that such ads as appear in craigslist are illegal. True, the ads fall under the protection of First Amendment rights of free speech. But as President Barack Obama has reminded us in connection with the attempted building of a mosque near the New York crater where the city’s Trade Center once stood – what is constitutional is not always advisable.

The First Amendment is a daunting hurdle, even for such a high stepping attorney general as Blumenthal. If, for example, you successfully harass the owner of craigslist to surrender his First Amendment rights to publish legal ads on his site, can you, in good conscience, withhold your disapproval from Connecticut newspapers and other media outlets that run similar ads? Might not one of your political opponents charge that you have extended the long arm of your displeasure all the way to California, conspicuously reaching outside your own state, where charges that you are playing fast and loose with the First Amendment might sting and harm your chances to realize your life’s ambition – to become, after January, Connecticut’s junior U.S. senator? What happens in California may, one hopes, stay in California.

There are no sharp differences between the ads in craigslist and – just to cite one instance that might excite Blumenthal’s disapproval – similar ads in the Advocate chain of newspapers here in Connecticut. Last June the Hartford Courant ran a story that should have awakened the interests of those investigators in Blumenthal's office who were exploring the connection between service ads and prostitution.

According to the story, a woman arrested for prostitution in Meriden had been soliciting business through ads she placed on websites and in the Hartford Advocate. The sex ads in the Advocate certainly are splashy enough to grab the attention of the wide-awakes in Blumenthal’s office.

Zachary Janowski, the investigative reporter for the Yankee Institute, reports on his blog, Raising Hale, the reaction to Blumenthal’s actions concerning craigslist:

“Advocate publisher Joshua Mamis said Blumenthal’s actions could lead down a slippery slope.

“’I don’t want to be in the business of policing advertisers and policing our community,’ Mamis said.

“’Do I know that a massage provider is on the up and up,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t unless I went there myself.’

“’I don’t think the attorney general knows either,’ Mamis added. ‘It all begs the question, what’s the state’s interest in this?’

“Mamis acknowledged that law enforcement officials have ‘named us in their press releases.’

“He also pointed out that the last prominent attorney general to crack down on prostitution, New York’s Eliot Spitzer, had some trouble later in his career.

“’I’m not implying anything. I’m just having fun,’ Mamis said.”

In yet another story, "The Best Little Whorehouse In New Haven," YaleDailyNews reported on Aug.27 that four months after police had raided Star Sauna in New Haven, a new massage parlor, advertising itself in the New Haven Advocate in the paper’s “Massage/Escort” section, was opened in the same location. Both operations offer table showers and full service sex.

The story, written by Jialu Chen, points out that the Asian connected operation in New Haven may have engaged in sex slave trafficking:

“Two major activities of Asian organized crime networks are the trafficking of women from Korea into the United States and the operation of massage parlors that offer Korean prostitutes, according to “Modern-Day Comfort Women: The U.S. Military, Transnational Crime, and the Trafficking of Women,” an article published in the book, “International Sex Trafficking of Women & Children: Understanding the Global Epidemic.” The author, Donna Hughes of the University of Rhode Island, explain that these networks are usually able to re-open massage parlors within days or even weeks of police raids.”
If Blumenthal – a cross between P.T. Barnum and J. Edgar Hoover -- and his inspectors overlooked such readily available information, it may be because the attorney general’s office, hungry for dollars and well publicized moral uplift yet anxious not to alarm First Amendment supporters in Connecticut, did not want to make a mess in their own back yard.
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