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Davis, California

Friday, May 17, 2024

The war on hugs

Elliot Spitzer is an idiot. But not because the former governor of New York paid upwards of $4,000 for two hours of “relaxation therapy” with a 22-year-old failed musician. That makes him a selfish prick. No, Elliot Spitzer is an idiot because he got caught.

That said, I don’t think what Mr. Spitzer and Miss Swallows did was inherently wrong.

I’ve used a loaded word there: wrong. Right and wrong are brought up in politics far too often for my liking. Rather than evaluate things on their effects, many people simply denote things as right and wrong, entirely disregarding context.

But context matters. Is smoking pot right or wrong? Well, is the person in question a doctor on call, a patient on chemotherapy or a kid on a couch with a bag of Funyuns and the complete first season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force?

What about paying for sex? Well, is the prostitute safe? Are both people disease free? Does the John have a family?

The point is that context determines if an action is good, bad or neutral for those involved. That’s why I don’t buy the whole morality bid; it’s based on the premise that context is irrelevant.

But it’s not, and the simple fact is that things like prostitution and marijuana, while dangerous in some circumstances, are not always so. And really, these things are happening regardless.

In 2004, 8 percent of Americans (15 percent of men, 1 percent of women) had paid for sex. As with most illegal activities, prostitution’s status has driven it underground and made it more dangerous. But if we legalized and regulated it, we could mitigate much of the abuse, disease and stigmatization these women experience.

Marijuana is also being used despite it being illegal. (SURPRISE!) In 2007, 47 percent of all Americans and 41.8 percent of 18-year-olds admitted to smoking pot. So when people talk about waging a war on drugs, they’re really waging a war on themselves and their own children. (Oh, and according to a report by Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron, legalizing and taxing pot would add between $10.1 billion and $13.9 billion annually to America’s bottom line.)

Marijuana could also be brought safely into the legal realm, but a quick comparison between it and alcohol reveals why it hasn’t been. Alcohol kills thousands of people and ruins millions more, but it’s legal because production is monopolized by corporations, and that makes a few other people (John McCain’s wife) very rich. That’s tough to do with pot; if it were legal, people would just grow their own, and corporations would be left out in the cold. Since the rich can’t get richer off it, you can’t have it.

But this obscures the larger point. Elliot Spitzer was forced to resign as governor, but for what? For living the American dream. He got rich, he got powerful, he got laid. It happens. All this issue does is distract from the far more serious conflicts of interest in government today.

So while Elliot Spitzer is now disgraced from public life, another man, Dick Stickler, is still around. Stickler is the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is the federal agency charged with protecting America’s 320,000 miners from corporate negligence. Funny thing is, Dick Stickler, who was rejected by a Republican controlled congress twice and had to be put in charge by Bush in a recess appointment, was a mining executive at Bethlehem Steel before he was made the mining industry’s head regulator. From 1989 until he retired in 1996, his mines had an accident rate more than double the national average in six of the eight years (triple in 1995). And in his current role, Stickler has overseen the largest percentage increase in mining fatalities in over a century.

Stickler now “regulates” an industry full of his most trusted colleagues and allies, who spent years together lining their pockets at the expense of the law by neglecting maintenance, mine safety and worker health. It appears he has not changed his tune. And yet Dick Stickler will never be pressured to resign, or even questioned by the media, for this fatal conflict of interest.

Never, that is, until he bangs his secretary.


K.C. CODY really doesn’t understand how politicians survive with names like Dick Stickler. Tell him something he does understand at kccody@ucdavis.edu.


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