Monday, March 23, 2009

Prohibitionism marches on

More bad news from the legal front – the long-running Extreme Associates obscenity case is drawing to a close, with EA owners Robert and Janet Zicari (aka Rob Black and Lizzy Borden) copping guilty pleas. Story here, here, and here. Reason magazine provides further background here.

Black and Borden face up to five years in prison for the "crime" of producing extreme porn that included violent imagery. (Though at least they're not facing a potential 50 years each, as they were under their original counts.) And unlike the earlier Max Hardcore conviction, this is entirely about the content of their videos – to the best of my knowledge, in this case there are no rumors of non-consensual incidents on the production end which some people offered up as a round-about justification for Hardcore's obscenity prosecution.

Whether or not this round of obscenity prosecutions is just a bad hangover from the Bush years remains to be seen. As the Reason article points out, Mary Beth Buchanan, the right-wing moral crusader who's leading the EA prosecution, is asking to keep her job under the current administration. And the dual choices of Eric Holder and David Ogden for the number 1 and number 2 spots in the Justice Department show no clear indication of what federal obscenity policy will look like for the next 4-8 years, though hopefully the fact that the nation is facing much bigger issues will reaveal moral crusades like this for the waste of resources that they are.

In other news, Iceland is poised to become the first country in the world to impose a blanket ban on the entire sex industry. Pornography is already completely illegal there (at least in theory), and the new Left government there is about to put in place Swedish-style laws against buying sex, and goes one further by also banning strip clubs. Thus, in one country at least, achieving the anti-sex industry trifecta that prohibitionists have been shooting for. All, as usual, justified by rhetoric claiming that all sex work drives human trafficking. Further background here. It is interesting to note that in the story I just linked to, Iceland is considered a desirable enough place to work that strippers were coming to Iceland of their own volition from places like the Netherlands and Puerto Rico. However, the fine upstanding social democrats now in charge of the country have decided that this is all exploitation without bothering to ask anybody who actually works in that industry whether they are being exploited.

1 comment:

  1. Bad news and worse news, although at least part of it is not as dire as it might have been.

    The Extreme plea deal is no victory for our side, but it is something of a defeat for the opposition. This prosecution was intended to make an example of the defendants, who were papered with charges that could have put them behind bars for decades. However, the DOJ lost the first round when Judge Gary Lancaster threw the case out of his courtroom and the prosecution had to re-file.

    The years of legal wrangling that followed had the predictable (and intentional) effect of exhausting the defendants' financial resources and putting them out of business, but the prosecution's hopes for a quick, easy victory in their "War on Porn" were also dashed. Safe to say, exhaustion set in on their side as well. Obscenity cases are huge sink-holes of prosecutorial time and money and the clock was ticking toward an inevitable finish for the Bush administration that had ginned up the whole proceeding.

    At the time the case was filed, neither side had the slightest inclination to settle, but by now, both have inducements to do so. While we don't know what the Holder DOJ's stand on obscenity might be, and have reason for concern about it based on his past public statements, this prosecution is radioactive if for no reason other than having been brought by the odious partisan hack Mary Beth Buchanan, who alone among the 92 serving U.S. attorneys refused to offer her resignation according to long-standing custom when a new administration comes in. Instead, she clearly intends to make Obama fire her, further inflating her popularity among wingnuts everywhere. That's got to infuriate Holder and Obama's whole team, and whatever noise she'll make about it later, Washington insiders generally assume she'll be cleaning out her desk by executive order any day now.

    It's hardly surprising, in light of its distasteful provenance, that the Extreme prosecution is an artifact of the Bush era that the current leadership at Justice would like to see go away as quickly as possible, along with Ms. Buchanan.

    Thus a plea deal unimaginably more lenient than any that might have been put on the table under Bush seems to have materialized overnight, with both camps more than ready to sign on the dotted line. Ten counts that could have resulted in seventy years of prison time were whittled down to a single count of conspiracy to distribute obscene material, carrying a maximum penalty of 33 months. Given that the judge doing the sentencing will be the same Gary Lancaster who bounced the initial indictment down the courthouse steps, the more likely outcome is less than a year in jail, if that.

    The government also buckled on its initial insistence that Extreme Associates disclose the total revenues generated by the indicted titles, which might have been a factor in setting a fine, were one to be assessed.

    While Buchanan has predictably boasted of a big win in this case, it's a Pyrrhic one at most. Yes, she did, as she brags, succeed in submarining Extreme's operations, but at an immense cost and over a long period of time, demonstrating once again the difficulty of securing easy convictions and draconian punishments in adult obscenity cases.

    Though most of the X-rated video business honchos, among whom Zicari is highly unpopular, chose (mistakenly in my view) to distance themselves from the defendants, said defendants were nevertheless able to tie Buchanan's pet prosecution in knots for over six years. Even if there were any great desire to pursue similar tactics under Holder, which I doubt, the outcome here is as much a cautionary lesson for government lawyers as it is for pornographers.

    There are no victors here, as the saying goes, only survivors. If Zicari/Black is out of a job as a result, Buchanan is apt to find herself unemployed as well. Even the much harsher treatment meted out to Max Hardcore isn't apt to be duplicated in future prosecutions under an administration with much different priorities and no debts to the religious right to pay, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the charges against Evil Angel dismissed early in the judicial process.

    The great tsunami of adult obscenity prosecutions widely forcast and widely feared in the adult entertainment industry after the appointment of bible-thumper John Ashcroft as A.G. never materialized and I seriously doubt it ever will.

    As for poor Iceland, that is a flat lose for everybody. A tiny, bankrupt country with a minute sex industry in which the dreaded scourge of "sex trafficking" can have been, at worst, a statistically insignificant phenomenon has been bullied into toeing the rad-fem line, like much of Northern Europe, with results that can bring only harm to sex workers and no benefit whatever to that nation's society.

    While I have no doubt that this debacle will be hailed as yet another triumph by advocates of the asinine "Swedish Solution" and Iceland lauded as the first country on earth to entirely outlaw sex commerce, the truth is that what sex commerce exists there (and little commerce of any kind remains in that hapless land) will continue underground, with all the atttendant dangers and hardships prohibition inflicts on sex workers, as it has everywhere else such moronic attempts to legislate the rad-fem anti-sex-worker-agenda into being have succeeded.

    That this great day for sex-work haters comes at a time of unprecedented economic struggle for a once-prosperous country in which an increasing number of women may turn to sex work to avoid complete destitution only highlights the utter heartlessness underlying the high-minded rhetoric of those who so vocally advocate this approach to "protecting" women.

    I'm sure Icelandic sex workers feel so much safer now.

    Let's hope Europeans, who have a long history of common-sense approaches to recognizing the ineradicable nature of sex commerce and regulating it realistically, will emerge from the enveloping ideological fog generated by a small group of fanatics around this issue and return to more reasonable and humane policies soon.