Friday, February 25, 2011

Biased Opinion - Senator Reid Chases a Red Herring, Ignores His Actual Responsibilities

As some people might have noted, I like the HBO documentary Cathouse (go to Cathouse reviews page), and have written a number of posts about shows from that series (with more to come, as I eventually plan on reviewing every episode). As I have noted before, in the course of researching the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, I have made contact via media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook with a number of working girls (or, as they are called at the Bunny Ranch - "bunnies"), including the lovely and ferociously persuasive Brooke Taylor. As I have said previously, I have found all of the working girls that I have interacted with online to be sweet, kind, and friendly. I have also noticed that they put up with a lot of crap from people who seem to have little better to do than harass them because of the job they do.

But wait, I hear you say, I thought this post was about Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada). Why in the world are you talking about Cathouse and the bunnies who work there? Well, because yesterday Harry Reid voluntarily stepped into a hornet's nest and announced, during a speech about how crappy Nevada has been doing, that what was really needed to fix the state was to outlaw the legal form of prostitution that the state currently allows. Needless to say, the women who make their (apparently pretty lucrative) livings working at these places erupted in response. Brooke Taylor, who is in my opinion the most effective and persuasive advocate for the legal prostitution industry wrote a detailed response to Senator Reid's speech (which I highly recommend everyone go read, as she does a much better job than I could to expose the hypocrisy and lies in Reid's speech).1 An online petition was quickly put together opposing Reid's proposal. As Brooke noted in her post, Reid's focus on the legal prostitution industry is basically a distraction from the real problems facing Nevada, which boil down to the fact that the state spends less on education than any other and has a crumbling infrastructure. In short, rather than blaming the dozen or so businesses tucked away in the hinterlands of Nevada, Reid should blame the fact that Nevada has lousy roads and an under educated workforce.

Reid's singling out brothels as the problem has generated a lot of publicity, including, for example a Washington Post article. But his suggestion has been ridiculed, with some public officials flat out contradicting Reid's assertion that legal prostitution is hurting the economy, and others pointing out that their local municipalities rely upon the tax revenues generated by the brothels to stay afloat. In a state that is facing massive budget cuts to critical areas (including deep and draconian cuts to its funding for public universities), one wonders why Reid thinks it is a good idea to eliminate businesses that not only provide high volumes of tax revenue to cash-starved rural counties, but provide high-paying jobs to its working girls, and a much larger number of jobs to the people who work as cashiers, caterers, drivers, and other support personnel for the brothels. In a state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, eliminating jobs seems like a poor decision.

But the stupidity of a Federal legislator poking his nose into a matter under the jurisdiction of the State government (which raises some Federalism concerns to begin with), is only compounded by the fact that Senator Reid isn't even doing the job he was elected to do. Right now, the Federal government is in danger of running out of funding on March 4th, which would force a government shut down. As the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid is one of the prime players in getting a budget deal done. But what are he (and the rest of Congress) doing this week rather than trying to hammer out a budget deal? They are on vacation for the week of February 21st through February 25th. That's right, with the entire fucking Federal government at stake, our legislators have decided to stop working for a bit. Harry, of course, took this opportunity to suggest that Nevada should outlaw thriving businesses because he thinks they are preventing hypothetical businesses from moving into his bankrupt state. But the question one has to ask is what the HELL he was doing there to begin with?

For anyone not clear on what is at stake here, the Federal government represents about 20% of the economic activity of the United States. With a struggling economy, the last thing we need is for a fifth of it to suddenly go dark, even for a couple of days. And a government shut down means that all of those things that the public wants done, won't. Passports won't be processed. Income tax returns won't be reviewed. Income tax refunds won't be mailed. If you were planning on visiting Yellowstone, or Gettysburg, or Mount Rushmore, don't bother - national parks will all be closed. Government contracts will all be put on hold, so if you work for one, or work for a company that supplies one, you're not getting any money during the shut down. Literally hundreds of thousands of government workers will be sent home, and furloughed without pay for the duration of the shut down, threatening the personal finances of many of them. In short, think of something the Federal government does, and when it shuts down, it probably won't be doing that for the duration. And the really sad part about this is that even though shutting the government down will cause disruptions on a massive scale, it won't actually save the government any money (and will actually cost the government more money), because all those things that aren't being done during the shut down are things that need to be done, and will have to be taken care of when the government starts itself back up again. And because the government will have had to delay paying for or terminate contracts due to its inability to pay, the government will end up paying penalties to contractors. And in all previous shut downs, Congress ended up voting to give furloughed government workers back pay (and if they don't, combine that with the two year pay freeze already in effect for Federal employees and see how quickly you can bleed the government of its best people). In short, a shut down will be a disaster in all ways - causing disruptions to the national economy, and costing the government more money than continuing operations.

And what is Harry Reid doing? Trying to distract everyone from his culpability in this mess by pointing at brothels. And even worse, even if Congress somehow gets its act together in the next eight days and pass a funding bill before the government has to shut down, this is probably just a preview of the fight looming on March 31st, when the debt ceiling has to be raised. If Congress can't agree to a rise in the debt ceiling, then the United States government will default on its debts, something that has never happened in U.S. history. We may be living in historic times. This may not be a good thing.

As a final note, it seems that capping off Reid's silliness, the company he mentioned in his speech that was supposedly scared away from relocating to Nevada because there were legal brothels? It looks like they are moving to Nevada after all.

1 For anyone who doesn't know, in the picture on her blog post, Brooke Taylor is the brunette in the middle of the picture. Dennis Hof is the bald man in the middle, Bunny Love is the blond facing the camera, and Harmony Gabriel is the blond facing away from the camera. I believe the man in the tan suit behind Dennis is the lobbyist who represents the Brothel Owners Association, but I'm not sure.

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