Monday, January 16, 2017

Want a Get-out-of-Jail-Free Card? Become a Prostitute!

I have written several articles over the years about efforts to grant prostitutes immunity from prosecution while simultaneously doubling-down on the penalties for pimps and johns.

From Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio)'s press release last week:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), founding Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today introduced bipartisan legislation, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act, which would help human trafficking victims by clearing any federal convictions for nonviolent crimes from criminal records.

Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery affecting millions in the United States and abroad. This crime involves either the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for labor or commercial sex, or the exploitation of a minor for commercial sex. As a result of being trafficked, victims are commonly charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and related offenses that then follow them for the rest of their lives. These charges make it difficult for human trafficking victims to find jobs and housing, leaving them vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked again.

“Trafficking victims are not criminals and they are not prostitutes. They are rape victims,” said Senator Portman. “I’ve met with a number of brave trafficking survivors in Ohio who have told me that after they were forced into sex, they were charged with prostitution. This just makes no sense and it hurts them at a time when they are recovering from the unimaginable trauma of being trafficked and sexually abused. It’s time to stop punishing these victims and instead help them get their lives back.”

“Under current law, when a human trafficking victim is forced into slavery, in many cases, they are tagged with a multitude of criminal charges, even though they have absolutely no freedom to say no to their captors,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Congress has a responsibility to end these injustices, and our bipartisan bill would vacate the criminal convictions of trafficking victims who were forced to break the law while they were trafficked. We all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable Americans, and I will continue to urge all of my colleagues to support this bill.”

NOTE: The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act would clear from criminal records any federal convictions for nonviolent crimes committed as a result of being trafficked. It would require victims to provide supporting documentation in order to get their non-violent criminal records vacated.

Sounds like a good law, right? From the text of the legislation*:

“Sec. 2.(b)(1)(A) CONVICTIONS OF COVERED OFFENSES.—A person convicted of any covered offense (or an eligible entity representing such a person) may move the court which imposed the sentence for the covered offense to vacate the judgment of conviction if the covered offense was committed as a direct result of the person having been a victim of trafficking.

What is a "covered offense", you ask?

Sec. 2.(A)(2) the term ‘covered offense’—(A) means a Federal offense that is not— (i) a violent crime; or (ii) an offense, of which a child was a victim . . .

The important thing to know here is that, in general, the practice of prostitution itself is not against federal law**. This legislation is basically handing out get-out-of-jail-free cards for any OTHER laws that "victims of trafficking" may have committed, which the press release helpfully enumerates: conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking. Okay, but as Sen. Gillibrand said, "they have absolutely no freedom to say no to their captors." Right?

Sec. 2(a)(8) the term ‘victim of trafficking’ has the meaning given that term in section 103 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7102)

Following the link:

22 USC 7102 (15) Victim of trafficking: The term "victim of trafficking" means a person subjected to an act or practice described in paragraph (9) or (10).

(9) Severe forms of trafficking in persons: The term "severe forms of trafficking in persons" means-(A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

(10) Sex trafficking: The term "sex trafficking" means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

(4) Commercial sex act: The term "commercial sex act" means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

When we get to the end, we realize that, despite the PR representation of them as "rape victims", the beneficiaries of this legislation include prostitutes who were ever recruited, harbored, transported, provided for, obtained, patronized, or solicited, i.e. ALL prostitutes. Actual victims of fraud, force, or coercion are defined separately, but both groups count as "victims" for the purpose of the law.

I don't have a settled opinion on whether or not this is good legislation or not. But I am prejudiced against any law whose advocates believe themselves reequired to lie about it to get it passed.

* The text is taken from the version of the law proposed in the just-expired legislative session; Portman and Gillibrand may hav e new text, but I haven't found it.

** As far as I know, though there are all sorts of restrictions beyond the "White Slavery" laws. For instance, federal civil servants are prohibited from engaging prostitutes.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The War on the Non-Intuitive

Via Trumwill, the "Tube Chat" program:

The perception of the London commuter as an unfriendly curmudgeon has been bolstered by the mixed reaction to a mystery campaign to encourage tube passengers to chat.

Badges emblazoned with the question “Tube chat?” have been distributed on the London Underground network, to the horror of some regular users. . . .

Commuters were quick to express their disdain for the idea, for which no individual or group has claimed responsibility. [Emphasis added]

Trumwill opines:

But those who are not especially socially attuned don’t always pick up on the cues that make the distinction between being friendly and being a bother. This comes up in gender discussions a lot because women often both (a) don’t want to be bothered by strangers unless (b) they are the right strangers. And guys have little or no idea whether they are the right stranger or not. When women complain, men often hear that they’re going to get their heads ripped off if they get it wrong. When men complain, women often hear that men just want license to trap women in conversations that it would be rude to escape. It’s not reasonable to expect women to take all comers, nor is it reasonable to expect men to be mindreaders.

As it applies to that, it also applies to just talking to people. Social dolt that I am, I am not good at picking up on the cues.

This put me in mind of an observation I made a while back with regards to PCC, when I concluded:

Less charitably, I speculate that the motivation behind a lot of the animosity that socially adept kinds of people show towards PCC is precisely that they lose a lot of their social status and power when the rules get written down for everybody to learn equally.

Likewise here. I will speculate that "commuters" expressing "distain" is mainly Jamie Grierson's sock puppet, not anything as reality-based as even an informal poll of London Tube riders.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why Φ can afford extra ammo this month

From Chase Bank:

We're attaching a check for your credit card account(s) ending in XXXX *

Dear Φ:

We're writing to apologize because we may have charged you interest and/or fees incorrectly when you may have been eligible for Servicemember's Civil Relief Act benefits or protections.

Here's what we're doing

  • We're refunding you the interest and/or fees, plus an additional amount for the inconvenience.

  • We're attaching a check for $500.00. **

We'll report the taxable portion

If required by tax-reporting rules, we'll send you an IRS Form 1099-MISC (Miscellaneous Income) of Form 1042-S (Foreign Person's U.S. Source Income Subject to Withholding) for the tax year in which the inconvenience payment was issued. You may want to ask your tax/financial advisor, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040, or visit for information about how this may affect you.

We're here to help

If you have any questions, please call us at 1-888-420-3863. We are here Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time. A Military Customer Service Specialist will assist you. If you are overseas, please call us collect at 1-302-594-8200.

We thank you and your family for your service to our country.


John W. Delaney

Managing Director


* All bolding in the original

** For the record, Φ hasn't paid interest on a credit card since 1994.

It may be uncharitable of me to ask this, in light of Chase Bank's generosity to what must be a considerable number of military customers, but . . . how does an honest company make enough money to send out $500 checks like this?

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Name Your Postulate

Trumwill writes:

If I want to blank, but blank makes people dislike me, then I might blank anyway if people are going to accuse me of blanking no matter what I do. Why not?
When blank is being racist, though, that ought to cause incur a pause. If your response to being called a racist no matter what you do is to become racist, that says something about you. It demonstrates to me that either (a) you really want to be a racist but are merely held back by social convention, or (b) you are cool being racist if it pisses the right people off. Neither of these is a flattering look, perceptively or morally. If we assume, at any rate, that racism is bad.

A third possibility is that racism, in and of itself, is orthogonal to our concerns. One of the theoretical problems with racism -- actual racism, I mean, and quite apart from the social / economic / legal sanctions presently applied against those accused of it -- is that it requires you to abjure potential allies in the fights you actually care about -- or worse, treat them as enemies unnecessarily.

Drill down on the Steve-o-sphere, and you will discover that the fight, the one we actually care about, is the fight to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. A benign interpretation of the Civil Rights movement is the success of what Trumwill calls the "Sunday-Best" strategy: convincing the plurality of white opinion that equal rights for black Americans didn't actually threaten our prospects for the blessings of liberty or otherwise achieving a life well-lived, and might, in fact, enhance those prospects. I once agreed with this myself, much as I once thought immigration restriction didn't advance anything I cared about either.

Of course, if racism -- or, for that matter, not-racism, a la Trumwill -- is your moral postulate, then I don't really have the tools for arguing you out of your position in the context of shared values. If, on the other hand, racism and not-racism are competing instrumentalities, then I must point out that not-racism is failing today as surely as racism failed in 1964.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Venning for Trump

A number of essays in my newsfeed have a similar theme of Trump-support as reaction to leftist overreach: Rod Dreher, Will Truman, and David Marcus.

All these writers take it as given: Trump = alt-Right = Racist = Nazi; or, alternatively, that these categories can be Venn-diagrammed. As I read them, I was thinking of an analogy to something Steve Sailer wrote a decade ago, about the importance of the death penalty in preventing witness murdering:

This is the flip side of the logic that persuaded the Victorians to stop hanging pickpockets -- if both the Artful Dodger and Bill Sikes are liable to be hanged, how do you discourage pickpockets like the Dodger from turning into robber-murderers like Sikes? The criminal law needs gradations of punishment to provide proper incentives.

I remember when I was in college back in the '80s how some Klan/neo-Nazi group (no, these are not the same thing, but I forget which one it was) managed to muster a half-dozen members for some kind of parade in our city. It was met with a counter-demonstration of a thousand people whose object was to shut it down, and eventually the police obliged: the heckler's veto. I thought then that this was a bad precedent, and so it is: 2016 has been the "Year of the Shutdown".

It would be good to see more erstwhile "opinion leaders" publicly acknowledging that their successful suppression of respectable opposition to immigration (Scott Walker's brief foray, e.g.) ceded the field to a somewhat-less-respectable opponent with the (pardon the expression) FU money to not have to care about their opinion. The writers linked above, however, are not among them; as far as I can tell, they have always been moderately skeptical of high levels of immigration, and "I told you so" is not the same as "I was wrong". But they fail to recognize that they themselves are doubling-down on that very mistake. They are all keen to raise the specter of "racists", yet their equating/guilt-by-associating/Venn-diagraming, while perhaps hurting Trump's electoral chances, also increase the probability that even less respectable populist avatars will have their turns at bat.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rap Reviewed

Scott Alexander writes:

Suppose that rappers start with pre-existing differences from everyone else. Poor, male, non-white minority, lots of experience living in violent places, maybe a certain philosophical outlook towards their condition. Then they get a rallying flag: rap music. They meet one another, like one another. The culture undergoes further development: the lionization of famous rappers, the development of a vocabulary of shared references. They get all of the benefits of being in a tribe like increased trust, social networking, and a sense of pride and identity.

Now suppose some rich white people get into rap. Maybe they get into rap for innocuous reasons: rap is cool, they like the sound of it. Fine. But they don’t share the pre-existing differences, and they can’t be easily assimilated into the tribe. Maybe they develop different conventions, and start saying that instead of being about the struggles of living in severe poverty, rap should be about Founding Fathers. Maybe they start saying the original rappers are bad, and they should stop talking about violence and bitches because that ruins rap’s reputation. Since rich white people tend to be be good at gaining power and influence, maybe their opinions are overrepresented at the Annual Rap Awards, and all of a sudden you can’t win a rap award unless your rap is about the Founding Fathers and doesn’t mention violence (except Founding-Father-related duels).

When someone asked me, circa 1989, what kind of music I liked, my answer would have perhaps jumped around depending on the day, with this exception: I was confident that I hated rap music.

Last weekend, I watched the movie Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic. I loved it. The movie's story line was compelling; it was well acted, with great performances by O'Shea Jackson and Jason Mitchell; and its dramatic pacing was almost perfect, even in the director's cut version that I watched on Blu-ray. Even the film's overt #blm political message had, in my view, enough artistic subtlety for someone otherwise hostile to it to come away with his own interpretation of the events it depicts, perhaps in spite of the creator's intent.

But what surprised me was the extent to which I found myself nodding and bouncing my foot to the beat of songs whose lyrics, even now, would never pass my lips.

What happened?

Some possibilities:

  • I hated rap without having listened to it. That's mostly true: I certainly never voluntarily consumed any rap media, nor did I attend venues or events where it was likely to be played, at least at volumes I wouldn't have found off-putting in themselves. But it's not entirely true: I can remember hearing it in passing, and finding it's appeal mostly incomprehensible.

  • The movie's rap music is inauthentic. I have no way of knowing whether the soundtrack's numbers are identical to what was recorded and played in the '80s and '90s, or whether they have been subtlely redone to appeal to a broader audience. But if this were the case, wouldn't we have heard about it?

  • We all have been acculturated to Rap. (Or to "hip-hop"; someone will need to explain if there is a difference.) Steve has pointed out in several posts that Rap is now and has been the domininant pop style for a couple of decades. On the other hand, my personal listening habits, to the extent I listen to pop music, incline me towards the acoustic- and piano-centric covers of Kurt Hugo Schneider and Tiffany Alvord. And I listen to exclusively classical music on my daily commutes. So while it is certainly possible that I became accustomed to the rap style without realizing it, I still think this is unlikely.

  • My perspective has changed. Then: an abstemious Christian NeoCon who read National Review and jogged. Now: an alt-Right neo-tribalist who lifts weights and reads . . . well, you know . . . .

    This isn't about a moral or rational choice. There is a scene in the movie where a couple of guys with pistols come to the band's hotel room looking for a cheating girlfriend; Easy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre respond with AR-15s and a shotgun. So, first of all, not my tribe. Second, extraordinarily illegal and dangerous. But . . . yeah, I kind of get it. And I get it even knowing what the movie at its most enlightened seems to also know: that the kind of life of which N.W.A. purported to give an account, and thereby glorified, was unlikely to lead to positive outcomes for the people actually living it or forced to live next to it. As I discussed with my daughters: The N.W.A. life offered money, sex, and violence. When you're young and male, it's tough to understand how that can be bad." It's weird, but in middle age, I seem to understand that better than I once did.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Abortion Stumble

There are a couple of things that I would have expected to come up amongst all the press coverage of Donald Trump's abortion stumble this week:

“I am pro-life,” Trump said. Asked how a ban would actually work, Trump said, “Well, you go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places but we have to ban it,” Trump said.

[Chris]Matthews then pressed Trump on whether he believes there should be punishment for abortion if it were illegal.

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said. “For the woman?” Matthews asked. “Yeah,” Trump said, nodding.

Trump said the punishment would “have to be determined.”

  • When I read this, the first thing I thought of was, "Oh, this is the same mistake George H. W. Bush made in 1988." From the transcript of the second debate against Dukakis:

    [ANN] GROER: [I]f abortions were to become illegal again, do you think that the women who defy the law and have them anyway, as they did before it was okayed by the Supreme Court, and the doctors who perform them should go to jail?

    BUSH: I haven't sorted out the penalties. But I do know, I do know that I oppose abortion.

    I'm not trying to read to much into this response, by the way. As in Trump's case, this was widely and immediately interpreted as favoring punishment for women who obtain elective abortions.* And as in Trump's case, Bush promptly walked it back.

    But here's the thing: I had a pretty strong memory for the details of this episode even before I looked it up, and I fully expected it to be brought up in the context of Trump making the same mistake (or "mistake"; more on this later). Yet despite googling various combinations of "Trump, Bush, 1988, abortion", I discovered not one single article that tied these two events together. That's . . . weird.

  • I have seen several articles that in various ways have tried to hang Trump's retracted statement around the Republican Party. Salon provides an example (Trigger Warning: Amanda Marcotte):

    [T]he official stance that Republicans are supposed to take is that women are victims of abortion and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Yes, it’s true that women pick up the phone, make the appointment, talk through their decisions with medical professionals, sign paperwork and then either take a pill or let the doctor perform an abortion, but none of this should be taken, in conservative eyes, as evidence that women are the people responsible for the abortion happening. Women are regarded by conservatives as fundamentally incapable of making grown-up decisions. If they choose abortion (and by implication, if they choose sex), it’s because they poor dears were misled.

    Point taken. But . . . this is hardly Exhibit A in the female deprivation of moral agency. For that, we must turn to the war on prostitution, a.k.a. "sex trafficking (H.T.: Trumwill):

    The [Swedish 1999 anti-prostitution] legislation was built on the public consensus that the system of prostitution promotes violence against women by normalizing sexual exploitation. Thus, in a society that aspires to advance women’s equality, it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether rationalized as a sexual choice or as “sex work.”

    Sweden does not penalize the persons in prostitution but makes resources available to them. Instead it targets and exposes the anonymous perpetrators – the buyers, mostly men, who purchase mainly women and children in prostitution.

    Come to think of it, even statutory rape laws are also premised on one party to the crime claiming "victim" status, so much so that it now apparently customary to drop the "statutory" qualifier altogether when reporting on them. It is somewhat ironic that female teachers have lately had a determined go at defying our stereotypes in this regard, but either way, the law is hardly a stranger to designating certain classes of people as victims without regard to the facts of individual cases.

* I went looking for video of this moment and couldn't find it, but my recollection is that the reason Bush said "I do know" twice in the second sentence of the reply was that the crowd was audibly reacting to the first sentence.