September 19, 2000
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This morning's New York Times, in a front-page news story, blames capitalism and the defeat of the Soviet Union for the existence of prostitution. In the article, slugged "Crossing Borders: The Sex Trade," the Times reports that "Communism put women to work; post-cold-war capitalism does not necessarily do so." Unemployed women are therefore fleeing Russia to come work as prostitutes in "West Europe," the article says. "Wealth is widespread, but so is alienation; sex has been commercialized like everything else. Fast money is in; so is fast sex," the Times article says.
The Times dispatch from the Czech Republic makes further claims about why prostitution wasn't a problem under communism: "Under the former Communist government, Gypsies had jobs, however menial, and overt racism was repressed, although a contentious program involving paid sterilization also existed. The women here from Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia and elsewhere would also have had jobs." The article quotes a Berlin police official saying that "Poverty was not the same in Communist societies. What we are facing now is people moving because of the poverty they face."
This is just patently absurd. The Times is falling completely for one of the oldest -- and falsest -- Red Soviet communist propaganda claims: the claim that there was no prostitution under communism.
An Associated Press dispatch from Moscow in 1986 provides some useful context. The AP story began: "The Kremlin has claimed for generations that communism wiped out prostitution but now admits it didn't." The AP article reported that "For decades, prostitutes were officially declared to be phenomena of capitalist exploitation, unemployment and drug abuse. 'In the U.S.S.R.,' says the Soviet Encyclopedia, 'prostitution has been liquidated. The conditions which create it and feed it have disappeared.'"
Today's Times dispatch echoes the propaganda claims of the Soviet Encyclopedia, a notorious text that was regularly revised as communist politicians fell in and out of favor. Even the Soviet press in 1986 knew better. The AP reported then that "In an expose on prostitution in Minsk, the national youth daily Komsomolskaya Pravda said there also is 'an alarming situation in Moscow, Leningrad, Riga and other large centers.' 'We have to acknowledge: a wanton "business" exists,' it said. 'For many years, we pretended that we didn't notice anything.'"
Fourteen years after the newsmen at Komsomolskaya Pravda stopped pretending not to notice that there was prostitution in the Soviet Union under communism, the New York Times is still clinging to the Soviet propaganda claims. It's embarrassing -- especially considering that the author of that nifty 1986 Associated Press dispatch was a correspondent named Andrew Rosenthal, who is now a major league editor at the New York Times.
A close reading of the Times dispatch suggests that a more likely explanation for the clusters of prostitutes the story describes is not the fall of communism but rather the failure to fully eradicate one of the most nefarious aspects of the communist system -- the restrictions on the free movement of persons across borders. If Germany, or, for that matter, America, would open its borders to more immigrants, the women described in the Times article could find legal work there instead of being trapped in prostitution on the Czech side of the border.
Office Shortage: In another front-page story today, the Times declares a shortage in office space in New York City. There's so much muddy thinking in the story that we don't have time to sort through it all. Just for starters, though, the Times claims that Internet companies have moved into "the Brooklyn waterfront from the Brooklyn Bridge south to Sunset Park." In fact, the area of Brooklyn being most heavily promoted to Internet companies is the Dumbo neighborhood, which is north of the Brooklyn Bridge and south of the Manhattan Bridge. The article goes on and on with handwringing about how manufacturing jobs are leaving Manhattan without mentioning that the New York Times company itself has moved its printing operations out of Times Square to plants in Edison, New Jersey, and in a far corner of Queens. The Times's preferred solution to the office space crunch seems to be more government planning: "a concerted effort on the part of the city's political leaders." The problem is that when the city's political leaders make any efforts to make the city more business-friendly or construction-friendly across the board -- for instance, proposing to relax building codes, lower taxes, reduce environmental regulations or streamline community approval processes -- the Times stands athwart the reforms.
Taking It From Both Sides: In an editorial today, the New York Times claims that Al Gore "has been able to show that his programs benefit middle-income families, while Mr. Bush's policies seem tailored to corporate interests and the well-to-do." In a news story today on Mr. Bush's prescription drug plan, which uses an approach also pushed by Senator William Roth, the Times writes that under the proposal, "states could use federal money to provide assistance to Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes up to 75 percent above the poverty level -- up to $14,500 for individuals and $19,700 for couples." The news article reports that "officials worry that a limited assistance program, intended for low-income people, will undermine efforts to provide more comprehensive, more generous benefits as a standard part of Medicare."
In other words, in the same day, the Times manages (in the editorial) to attack George W. Bush for being too focused on the rich, and (in the news story) the Times manages to attack Mr. Bush for being too focused on the poor. It's enough to make a reader who didn't know any better think that, rather than really being concerned with the effects of policies on the rich or on the poor, the Times had some kind of agenda with respect to Mr. Bush. Smartertimes.com knows better, though, and would never accuse the Times of that kind of bias.
All Wet: A photo cutline in the metro section today identifies a new fountain at the Museum of Natural History as "the first in New York City intended for public frolicking." In fact, there is already a fountain at Carroll Park in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn that is intended for public frolicking. Maybe the Times doesn't consider Brooklyn to be part of "New York City."
Lubavitch: A Times dispatch from Russia today refers repeatedly to the Chabad "Lubavich" movement. The Lubavitchers spell it Lubavitch, with a "t."
The Shah: A front-page Times dispatch about Russian and Iran today refers to Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi. The Times more frequently uses the spelling "Reza."
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