Devil in the Details

Ethics DeLayed

House Republicans finally have an ethics committee they can call their own.

The relationship between the GOP caucus and the committee has been strained ever since the panel handed down three admonishments to Majority Leader Tom DeLay last fall for various improprieties and ethical lapses. Perplexed and alarmed that the committee, under the chairmanship of conservative Republican Joel Hefley of Colorado, had somehow gotten the impression that it had the right to extend ethics rebukes to Republicans, the leadership set out to fix this heinous system of functioning accountability and oversight.

The package of ethics rule changes it proposed to the House Republican conference on January 3 amounted to a full-scale evisceration of the committee's powers: One change revoked a 30-year-old ethics rule requiring that House members behave in a manner that reflects creditably on the institution; another made the approval of a majority of the committee (which is evenly split between the parties) a prerequisite for launching an investigation of a member. Coming as it did a few weeks after the conference's decision to scrap a House rule requiring indicted party leaders to step down, this package amounted to such a brazen power play that DeLay himself, not always a man preoccupied with image concerns, made the suggestion to backtrack both on the proposed revocation of the “reflect creditably” rule and the party's policy on indicted leaders.

This partial reversal was rewarded in the press the next day with coverage suggesting that the GOP had suddenly seen the light on ethics. In fact, the rule change the caucus did push through -- the one requiring a committee majority, or the chairman and ranking member, to green-light an investigation -- is more than enough to straitjacket a committee that is at best a pretty timid outfit. Moreover, leadership aides made it clear to the press that Hefley was going to be canned, citing term limits on committee chairmanships as the rationale (though Speaker Dennis Hastert waived the limits for Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier).

At press time, Hefley's replacement had not been announced. Early reports indicated that the leadership's first choice was Lamar Smith of Texas, a loyal GOP soldier who, lo and behold, was an original co-author of the very package of ethics rule changes the Republicans had “abandoned.” Moreover, Smith passed what seems to be the real litmus test for advancement in Hastert's House: Last summer he made the maximum allowable personal contribution ($5,000) to the Tom DeLay Legal Expense Trust, a defense fund that's existed for five years and serves as a nice financial cushion for the harried majority leader as he skirts the edge of the law in one incident after another. DeLay's defense fund is no small deal: In the battle to become the new House Appropriations Committee chair (who is picked by the leadership), contender Jerry Lewis of California knew enough to augment the $5,000 he kicked in to the trust with $85,000 in contributions he managed to rally from his California colleagues. Today, Lewis wields the Appropriations Committee gavel.

Welcome to the new era of ethics in the House that DeLay built.

-- Sam Rosenfeld

Kristol Deploys

During last year's presidential-election campaign, it became a staple of right-thinking commentary to suggest that the two candidates' foreign policies weren't nearly as different as the Sturm und Drang of stump rhetoric made it sound. John Kerry, after all, was not promising a withdrawal from Iraq, and given America's limited resources, further military action simply wouldn't be feasible in a second Bush term.

Of course, lack of a feasible plan for occupying Iraq didn't stop the president from doing it in 2003, and now neoconservatives outside the administration are gearing up for more and better interventions. Nicholas Eberstadt, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), got the ball rolling in the November 29 issue of The Weekly Standard with an Orwellian call for the administration to begin “readying the nondiplomatic instruments for North Korea threat reduction.” Standard Editor William Kristol did a better job of saying what he meant in the December 20 issue, noting that “we could bomb Syrian military facilities” or “occupy the town of Abu Kamal in Eastern Syria,” and arguing that America's “Syria problem” was more “urgent” than our “Iran problem” or our “Saudi problem.”

Not that the relative lack of urgency and the need to keep warplanes available for missions against Syria and North Korea -- or the need to send more troops to Iraq, which the Standard has repeatedly called for -- should dissuade us from attacking Iran. In the magazine's January 10 issue, Reuel Marc Gerecht, also of the AEI, argued for the “deliberate use of nonconsensual, nondiplomatic options” against the Islamic Republic. In particular, a “preemptive military strike against all of the facilities that American, European, Israeli, and (in private) [International Atomic Energy Agency] intelligence suspect are associated with weapons production.” Concern that such strikes would provoke Iranian counterattacks in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere reflect “a pre-9/11 mindset that advances defense over offense.”

Last but not least, yet another AEI fellow, Thomas Donnelly, penned a December 30 article for the Standard's Web site arguing that “if the Bush administration is serious about preserving American hegemony, it needs to devote greater attention in its second term to balancing against China's rise in Asia, rather than simply appeasing it.” In light of the four-front war Kristol and Co. would have us fighting in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and North Korea (to say nothing of Afghanistan), however, it seems unlikely that there will be much time left over for this initiative.

-- Matthew Yglesias

Burying Tennessee

No one doubts Alabama state Representative Gerald Allen's sincerity when he says he wants to protect Americans from an insidious homosexual plot to redesign our nation's social fabric. One year ago, in February 2004, when constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage were just becoming trendy, Allen beat his colleagues in the Statehouse to the punch and introduced a bill that would amend the Alabama Constitution to define marriage as “a unique relationship between a man and a woman.”

Allen's bill is pending committee action in Alabama's lower house. Clearly emboldened, however, by the success of anti–gay-marriage initiatives on last November's ballots, Allen has prefiled a new bill for the 2005 legislative session, beginning Frebruary 1, that would prohibit the use of public funds for “the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”

Under Allen's bill, such works as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Color Purple would fall under the embargo. After all, they contain protagonists who are either gay or of a somewhat ambiguous sexuality. On the December 3 Hannity & Colmes show, Allen warned that these two particular works were dangerous precisely because they blur the boundaries of acceptable behavior. “We have got to draw the line somewhere,” Allen averred, “because the family and marriages -- it's coming apart.”

For Allen, merely banning these books doesn't deliver the kick he's after. What he'd really like to do, he said, would be to “dig a big hole, dump them in, and bury them.”

Of course, Tennessee Williams isn't the only writer who blurred sexual boundaries. If Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is suggestive, how about that Old Testament? After all, 1 Samuel 18:1–4 notes rather coyly that David and Jonathan were more than just, ahem, friends. Sayeth the text: “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”

So if you see some guy in Alabama burying 1 Samuel, the smart money says it's Gerald Allen.

-- Mark Leon Goldberg

Money in Their Pickets

For women visiting abortion clinics, the picketing presence of fervent abortion opponents can be unsettling. But the staffs of many Planned Parenthood offices have found a way to, if not take refuge from the harassment, at least take something a little more concrete: money.

As anti-abortion activists have made their opposition increasingly inescapable, more and more abortion providers have turned to the unorthodox practice of sponsoring their adversaries -- sort of. The pledge-a-picket campaign invites Planned Parenthood supporters to donate a fixed amount per picketer, so that each crusader trying to turn back a Planned Parenthood patient adds a few dollars to the clinic's ability to help that patient.

On a recent Wednesday, Trudy Woodson, director of fund raising and public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central Texas, counted 29 protesters. “That's pretty awesome, considering that it's pouring rain,” Woodson told the Prospect. “We love 'em; we make money. The more that come, the better it is.” When the clinic introduced the program two years ago, a few confused picketers asked to be counted twice, according to the clinic's associate director, Bill Woodson.

There are currently about a dozen centers holding drives, including one in Iowa, where the program was conceived. Although the first pledge-a-picket campaigns were held there in the late 1980s, they've only recently been resurrected. Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa (PPGI) revived the program last winter partly in response to the opening of an anti-abortion center across the street from its Quad Cities clinic, which is picketed by about 25 or 30 protesters (or “intercessory prayers,” depending on which side of the street you ask) each surgical day, according to PPGI's director of marketing and communications, Kerry Koonce.

This season's 45-day drive raised nearly $10,000, but Koonce cites the emotional impact as equally valuable. “It brings a peace of mind to the patients,” says Koonce, and may even depress the opposition turnout. “[The picketers] say it's not going to deter them, but I think overall it does.” Which is good for the clinic's patients and staff, if not for its ledgers.

-- Jeffrey Dubner


Rush Limbaugh, from the January 4, 2005, broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show: As long as the press and the Democrats out there are gonna accuse everybody of being insensitive -- let me -- let me raise my hand and try to be called on, here, as insensitive. I gotta tell ya something, folks: Ever since I learned that this number of 3 million homeless back in the '80s was jacked up, made up, amplified, never changes and so forth -- then they finally did a homeless census and they found barely 300,000 truly homeless in this country -- I have been suspicious of these numbers [of deaths in the tsunamis] from the get-go. First day, 12,000; then 14,000; then 50[,000]. Then 60[,000] then 100[,000] then 140[,000] -- there was even a number, 400,000, thrown around out there. And it just -- who's verifying this? I mean, has anybody actually asked for a count? Has anybody done a count? Has there been a count? How do we know this?

Michael Savage, from a December 31, 2004, broadcast of The Savage Nation: If you are a God-believing, God-fearing person, I am sure at some point you ask yourself, wait a minute: The epicenter of this earthquake and the resulting tidal wave was adjacent to the sex-trade island of Phuket, Thailand … and then it knocked out many, many regions of Indonesia, some of which are the most vicious recruiting grounds for Islamic terrorists. … Many of the countries and the areas in these countries that were hit by these tidal waves were hotbeds of radical Islam. Why should we be helping them destroy us? … We shouldn't be spending a nickel on this, as far as I'm concerned. … I am sick of being bled to death by every damn incident on the earth.

-- Compiled with assistance from Media Matters for America