We have here recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery that ever was known in the commonwealth. - William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (III, iii)
I’m sure most of you have heard of this by now, but maybe you don’t realize just how much of a non-story it is. So I’ll present it as told by CNN Saturday, then restate it in plain English and share a few comments from others.
A group of Secret Service agents and officers sent to Colombia ahead of President Barack Obama were relieved of duty and returned home amid allegations of misconduct that involved prostitution…they [allegedly] brought back several prostitutes to the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena…None of the agents or officers being investigated was part of the president’s personal protective detail and Obama isn’t based at the hotel…Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee…told CNN that the [agents] brought prostitutes back to their rooms Wednesday night and “one of the women did not leave the room in the morning.” A hotel manager tried to get in the room, and eventually the woman emerged and said “they owed her money”…At least one of the women brought to the hotel talked with police, and complaints were filed with the U.S. Embassy…”There are no allegations of any crime being committed,” [King said]…”It violates the Secret Service code of conduct”…Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter who has written a book about the Secret Service, called the incident “clearly the biggest scandal in Secret Service history”…
Now, here’s the translated version: “Partying g-men hired hookers, but one refused to pay what he owed for extra time and got in an argument over it. Then several busybodies who are more discreet when hiring their hookers freaked out.” Period. End of story. C’mon, y’all, this isn’t news, much less a “scandal” unless you consider buyer’s remorse scandalous. I’ve been hired by a number of agents from the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, the TSA and probably half a dozen other alphabet-soup agencies, not to mention their managers and the congressmen who supervise them. I’m sure every one of my escort readers can say the same thing. Agents also drink liquor, order room service, watch movies, buy souvenirs, and use hotel toilets. Whoopie. Prostitution isn’t even illegal in Colombia, so if not for these asinine rules requiring virile, high-testosterone grown men to behave like nuns nobody would even have heard of this story because the dude wouldn’t have panicked and called attention to himself; he’d have just paid her and she would’ve left. The end.
It looks to me like aforementioned journalist, Ronald Kessler, may be the primary driver of the hysteria; he’s the one who broke the story to the Washington Post, and here’s what Reason had to say about him and his manufactured panic on Sunday:
…The scandal broke…after police were called over some spirited…haggling about a $47 fee between a local hooker and an agent…a dispute that ends with a police report being filed and sent to the U.S. embassy pretty clearly meets the definition of unprofessional behavior that is unbecoming of the department’s…that besmirches the good reputation of an agency that…that puts in jeopardy the sterling reputation of… Oh, all right: It’s completely in keeping with the history of the DHS, which has in the past few years generated scandals involving contracting scams, bribery, attempted statutory rape and even diploma fraud. Ronald Kessler, tireless author of books about government agencies, tells CBS This Morning the scandal threatens the very fabric of our nation:
Kessler called this latest incident in Colombia “a very shocking scandal.” He…called it “just unbelievable” and a “tremendous embarrassment to the U.S.” He said that the Secret Service personnel’s liaising with prostitutes could expose them blackmail to acquire access to secure areas. “They could have led to an assassination. And if you have an assassination, you nullify democracy. That’s how important the Secret Service is.”
Great use of the irritating verb “liaising” there. But that blackmail stuff seems like a stretch. The value-add of prostitution is that it replaces the tiresome negotiations, performance and cajoling of a hookup with a business transaction that is relatively straightforward. At 47 bucks, it’s a good bet Agent Tightwad was getting a better deal financially than he would have gotten from a sexual liaison purchased with dinner and movie, drinks, dancing, flowers, feigned interest in small talk, and so on…The scandal here — and the only reason the rest of us have now had to hear all about it — is that the agent didn’t want to pay the woman…what she was asking for.
Another Reason article on Monday was even better:
…Americans still make an awfully big ruckus about two consenting adults doing what comes naturally, and one paying the other for what just transpired. Maybe, just maybe, we could stop pretending that exchanging money for sex is such a terrible thing…employers have a right to set certain parameters of behavior for employees who are on the job…But why is commercial sex — a perfectly legal offering in Cartagena, Colombia — so scandalous?…[The agents] may have violated their employers’ rules, but they hadn’t broken any laws in Colombia. Just what were they to be blackmailed with?…is anybody really going to put the president’s life in danger to avoid, at most, divorce court? That’s why the Christian Science Monitor responded…by noting, “[i]n today’s relatively permissive society, it may be hard to believe that a limited peccadillo could lead to treason decades hence.” Likewise, former Secret Service agent Dan Emmet dismisses blackmail concerns as “espionage novel stuff.”
The fact is, Americans are really weird about sex. We may patronize strip clubs to the tune of $3.1 billion per year, and we may support an adult film industry worth $13 billion, but many of us still cherish a national image of righteous frigidity. Raising a national fuss because a few public employees chose sex over reading good books in their off-hours is an American pastime. There’s a better way, though. Maybe…we could just learn to shrug our shoulders…prostitution is a legal business in Cartagena. It’s legal, though heavily regulated, in the state of Nevada. Sex work existed under a similar regime in New Zealand until 2003, when it was decriminalized…and allowed to function in largely free-market conditions. A 2008 government report (PDF) on the results of the legal change concluded that “the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off.” A 2010 Toronto Star article found that most New Zealand sex workers very much liked the deregulated regime, and that they were now far more willing and able to protect their rights through the legal system than before. All of which is to say that treating the sex trade as normal and not freaking out over money for sex would be a good thing…
Of course, this sort of attitude is what we expect from libertarians, the staunchest allies of sex worker rights activists (though many of those activists are too wrapped up in silly PC radicalism to notice it). But this time, they’re not the only ones saying it; in the past few days I’ve seen a number of articles from writers in various regions of the political landscape saying very similar things. The yawning over this tempest in a teapot is so audible, in fact, that yesterday ABC News felt compelled to attempt to stir it up more with allegations of actual security violations:
The U.S. Secret Service agents accused of misconduct in a Cartagena, Colombia, brothel revealed their identities by bragging about their connection to President Obama, according to an exclusive report by ABC News:
Partying at the “Pley Club” Wednesday night, eleven members of the president’s advance team allegedly bragged “we work for Obama” and “we’re here to protect him.” The officials spent the night throwing back expensive whiskey and enlisting the services of the club’s prostitutes, according to a bouncer at the club and a police source.
ABC reports that the agents received services from the “highest category” prostitutes and became combative when the bill arrived. The police were called when the club could not contain the dispute…
So now they’ve changed the alleged venue from a hotel to a brothel. And you know what? I’m still yawning.
One Year Ago Today
“Creeping Rot” reports on the spread of the “Swedish Model” cancer to France.