Things we don’t like to talk about.
So SHOULD prostitution be legalized? The great blues artist Bessie Smith once sang, "There are lots of ways to sell it, baby," and she was certainly right about that. If the sex industry is legalized, it can be taxed and regulated. Prison populations will decline and the crime rate will drop.
Given the existence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, doesn’t it make sense to ensure that sex workers are healthy and not infecting their clients? Of course, some will object to this idea on moral grounds, seeing legalized prostitution as inconsistent with their religious principles.
This debate has been going on since biblical times and before. Hey, they don’t call it the "world’s oldest profession" for nothing. And what was it that Jesus said about throwing the first stone?
To me, there seems to be a great deal of hypocrisy around this issue. Just what constitutes prostitution, anyway? Where is the line? If a young woman marries a wealthy older man, isn’t that just another case of trading sex for worldly riches? Is "marrying for money" prostitution?
We lock up sex workers for doing what people do legally every day. We know from our experiences with alcohol and drugs that as soon as you make anything illegal, people will still want it and you’ll create an illegal marketplace for that substance or service, or the "Full Employment for the Mob Act." As Casey Stengel used to say, "You could look it up."
Just consider how the various underworld organizations made their money. They ran stables of prostitutes, offering them protection as well as abuse. The profits are going to the mob, not the government. Prostitution has been legal in Nevada for years and has hardly caused social or political revolution.
Also before us is the revolution in the Ukraine. The president of that country, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign a long-anticipated agreement with the European Union that would foster a closer economic relationship. The Russians objected and at the last minute the president folded, not wishing to alienate the Russians.
All hell broke loose and there were violent protests led by thugs wearing masks. So who were these guys? Who was paying them? Heaven forbid that we even suggest that foreign governments, including our own CIA, were involved.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that Vladimir Putin, the current Russian czar, is turning out to be a vile and despicable man. When bad things happen, you had better believe that Putin is probably calling the shots.
On the other hand, look at our own history. Did our government put the deposed shah of Iran on the Peacock Throne? Did we oppose Nelson Mandela because we labeled him a terrorist? Did we lose thousands of young American soldiers because we were putting out the information that if Vietnam went Communist, the dominos would start to fall and all the other governments would collapse?
When you read accounts of what is going on in the Ukraine, is it ever suggested that the agencies of this government might have something to do with it? Is the history of our involvement in this kind of thing ever mentioned? That’s why operations like WikiLeaks and similar disseminators of information that is not generally available tend to serve the public interest. I’ve said it a thousand times -- you can’t have a democracy unless the people who are voting have information.
We know that throughout our history, there have been times when the people would have said no, had they been given all the facts. We can always call ourselves a democracy, and in a relative sense we are. But when what we don’t know is crucially important and when we are lied to -- as in the case of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq -- we are being led around blindfolded. When that happens, bad things follow.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.