Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer, the Mann Act and neo-Puritanism

Never having been elected governor of New York by a landslide on the strength of my character and intellect, I never sat on so tantalizing and grandiose an edge of hubris as Eliot Spitzer's, so who am I to judge this obviously unhappy man? Such a thought does not seem to bother today's garment-rending neo-Puritans -- nor does the fact that the allegedly violated Mann Act is the federal statute most flagrantly misused to bring down celebrities of color.

The online Huffington Post, for example, has no biography of moralist Chris Kelly (author of Eliot Spitzer Disappoints Wife / Commits Federal Offense), so we don't know the details of Kelly's glass house.

But how about the publisher, Arianna Huffington? Shall we forget that Arianna was a conservative who went after Bill Clinton when it was salacious, making a name for herself, and now styles herself a liberal, when the wind is blowing that way.

Shall we forget that her millions come not from journalistic talent but from sleeping with a millionaire, ex-husband Michael Huffington, whose proclivities toward men she reportedly knew well before she divorced him, allegedly for his bisexuality? By my reckoning1 Arianna's per-hour sex rate during this gold-digging marriage comes out to nearly $175,000, not the paltry $4,600 Spitzer's Kristen got -- which she had to split with the prostitution ring managers.

So Arianna Huffington is in a position to sponsor moral lectures now?

Let's also consider the Mann Act, technically the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910.

The law was most egregiously used against boxer Jack Johnson, who in 1910 defeated a white contender and later had to flee the United States after marrying a white woman, Lucille Cameron, as Southern ministers called for his lynching. In 1920, Johnson was prosecuted for allegedly violating the Mann Act by sending his white girlfriend, Belle Schreiber, a railroad ticket to travel from Pittsburgh to Chicago. His life was the inspiration for the 1970s film "The Great White Hope."

The Mann Act was also used against rock musician Chuck Berry and Rex Ingram, a 1940s film and stage actor, both African American, in dubious circumstances.

The law wasn't just used against blacks. Charlie Chaplin was accused; he was acquitted, but the charge eventually became the basis for his blacklisting in the 1950s.

Think about it: might you (or, if you are a woman, your boyfriend) have violated the Mann Act? According to a 1917 Supreme Court ruling that has never been challenged, the statute's prohibition against "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" applies to noncommercial consensual sexual liaisons.

How many millions of Americans should sit in jail next to Eliot Spitzer?

Perhaps the answer should come from an ancient tradition. It is said that 2,000 years ago there was once a woodworker who became an itinerant preacher in the hills of Galilee. The story goes that he was brought a woman caught in the act of adultery and was asked whether she should be put to death by stoning, as Mosaic law prescribed.

He replied: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

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1. Arianna Stassinopoulos married Michael Huffington in 1986 and divorced him in 1997. The settlement was not divulged; however, Huffington spent $29 million of his own money on a senate race against Diane Feinstein, so let's assume she got $100 million. Assume sexual encounters that, on average, lasted an hour once a week on average over roughly 11 years, that's 572 times. Dividing $100 million by 572 yields $174,875 an hour.
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