Wednesday, October 4, 2006

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The most interesting spin control of the year

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) has come up with an interesting line of argumentation to protect himself from the Foley fallout: From Ray Long's story in the Chicago Tribune:

The Illinois lawmaker who oversees the Congressional page program said Wednesday that teens who participate are "safer in our program than in a lot of homes."

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) defended his actions as chairman of the page board in an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday, saying he moved quickly to confront former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida based only on information about 2005 e-mail traffic that wasn't sexually explicit.

Shimkus acknowledged he did not ask Foley if there were any other electronic exchanges with pages, such as the sexually suggestive instant messages from 2003 that first surfaced on Friday and led to Foley's swift resignation.

"The thing that's frustrating to me is that I'm not the bad guy here," Shimkus said. "Leadership's not the bad guy. The bad guy is whoever had these explicit instant messages that were done in 2003 and held them. That's the bad guy.... because those instant messages are what put these kids at risk."

He insisted the page program is safe. "They are as safe there as they are at home," he said. "In fact, in a lot of homes—they're safer in our program than they are in a lot of homes." (emphasis added)

Am i reading this incorrectly, or is Shimkus actually claiming that large numbers of parents of being so negligent that they'd be more likely to overlook a sexual predator than the United States Congress?

posted by Dan on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM


I have it on good authority that Congressional pages are at lower risk from common household accidents than are youths living with their parents. Tornados are rare in the District of Columbia, as we know, and accidents involving farm machinery are right out.

Perhaps these were what Rep. Shimkus had in mind.

posted by: Zathras on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

I think it's fairly believable that, given the reasonably high levels of familial abuse relative to stranger abuse, that a kid is more likely to be abused if he lives with his family than if he lives with a bunch of congressmen. Congressmen are, what, 0.3% likely, or thereabouts, to be inclined that way? And even Foley doesn't seem to have applied the kind of pressure that an uncle might, instead taking no for an answer.

I think it's a factually accurate response, but a little tactless, since it seems to suggest that the actual parents of these specific kids are likely pedophiles.

posted by: James of England on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Sigh, is it worth making the point again that this isn't actually pedophilia? We are talking about post-pubescent kids. Obviously that doesn't make it right, but it is worth using clear language. I wouldn't bother if this didn't seem to be linked to a trend to view all minors as exactly the same. This is how you get those ridiculous studies that show that "underage drinking on the rise," but don't bother to distinguish between 13 year olds getting smashed and 20 year olds sipping a beer.

posted by: Gabe on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Should we be surprised that House Republicans are as incompetent at scandal management as they have been at everything else since 2001?

posted by: Anderson on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Papers today show an exchange between Foley and a page who was at home and whose mother comes in during the exchange just to share time. There was also a piece earlier this month showing that parents greatly underestimated the extent to which their kids experimented with drugs, etc.

So the question is--why expect 16-18 year olds to be "safe" anywhere? People learning by doing and screwing up, whether it's Bush or a page.

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

I live near his district and I've heard Shimkus allude to protections in place for pages, such as procedures which require pages to check with the Clerk of the House and get parent approval to leave the designated areas and some other security measures. Its clear he's trying to get some counter-message out, but doing so unsucesfully. In fact, suggesting that the House sets a higher safety standard than the homes runs counter to the message that the parents set the standard of conduct he was following.

posted by: PD Shaw on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

If Shimkus thinks Congress can do better at parenting, maybe they ought to offer a few training sessions for would-be parents and families. Here are a few suggestions for topics:

"How to crash your Mustang while trashed and not get charged: a guide for boozehounds and prozac fiends" by Patrick Kennedy

"Safe investments for education: using your freezer as a cash stash" by William Jefferson

"Rare coins: family hobby or investment?" by any member of the Ohio GOP delegation

"Running a Brothel Business out of your home: opportunities and risks" by Barney Frank

"Rolls Royce or Bentley: driving choices for middle america" by Randy Cunningham

"Golfing at Saint Andrews: how to use kickbacks to finance that $100k family holiday" by Tom Delay and Bob Ney

"It's 9pm: Do you know who your kids are IMing?" by Bob Foley

posted by: SteveinVT on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Even if the pages were over 21 this should trigger an investigation under standard federal guidelines for sexual harassment, i.e., powerful superior seducing much junior subordinant.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]


The Representative saying this is an idiot, but he may still be correct.

Pedophiles get into professions and or social situations -- AKA Catholic Preisthood, teachers, guidance councilors, little league coaches, day care etc. etc. -– that allow them unmonitored access to children and power over them. The Congressional page program is very much typical of situations that pedophiles prefer to nest in.

This scandal follows the typical pattern in dealing with powerful pedophiles. No one wants to “damage the career” of the pedophile so everyone around them looks for other excuses for the warning signs or just plain ignores them.

That said, there are far more checks and balances available to parents in the page program than out in the world. Not the least rival political party operatives and media hawks looking for stories.

What tees me off here is the complete abdication of the responsibility on the people holding back the IM text for three years. They knew of a potential preditor and did nothing.

There is a legal concept that will eventually be applied to such situations that stems from what you get in hazardous materials training. It is the legal conmcept called “a positive responsibility to act.” The jist of it is if you knowledge, YOU MUST ACT or you are legally liable.

The people holding the IMs for several years are very much in that same legal boat, IMO.

The legal concept of "positive responsibility to act" was developed by the federal courts in dealing with nuclear waste disposal arrising from DoE illegal dumping. The executive branch used security clearances and every other thing it could think of to cover up the contamination of Hanford and a number of other weapons sites to duck responsibility for clean up, medical costs and early deaths arrising from the dumping.

The "positive responsibility to act" doctrine as applied means you have to act once you have knowledge or you can be legally tagged for criminal negligence (With no help from the Federal government in terms of legal services, there are now special insurance policies for Federal managers that address this issue that pay for legal services in the event the Feds dump the manager under this doctrine).

Please look at how criminal and civil RICO laws have spread in use via the courts from their original limited targets that Congress intended.

Now consider the legal implications for withholding evidence of on-going pedeophilia in the Federal Congress.

The Foley scandal may have legal fall out that long outlives the 2006 election.

posted by: Trent Telenko on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Grr... preview is your friend.

That should have read:

"...The jist of it is if you HAVE KNOWLEDGE, YOU MUST ACT or you are legally liable."

posted by: Trent Telenko on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

I don't understand the Shimkus statement either. Is he making a point that pages come from families with negligent parents, and thus are safer on Capitol Hill? If he limited his remark to the general population of American teenagers, I would imagine Shimkus' statement might be factually correct, but still smoke and mirrors. Pages are not representative of the entire populace of teenagers; would guess they're more motivated, better educated, possibly from more stable families with higher incomes, and heard about the page program in the first place from some concerned adult or peer. (How many of you ever heard of the page program during high school?)

I do understand that the page program administrators have gone to great lengths to protect their charges (tight schedules, chaperoned travel, curfews and checks they're in safely for the night), and they and Congressional page committee must be devastated to hear of incidents like this... my sympathies are with them there. But still...

posted by: Lisa on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Trent: Is "a potential predator" a legal term of art, such that there's a legal responsibility that someone who knows that someone is a potential (as opposed to actual) predator, must report it?

None of the contents of the IMs that I've seen appear to be actually "predatory" more than "icky". None of the comment on them even suggests the boys involved so much as said "stop talking to me!".

"Sexual predator", as Mr. Drezner says, doesn't seem very apt as a description, though perhaps it has some specialized use I'm not familiar with that makes "suggestive" messages predatory in this context?

Given that nobody involved was under 16 (that being the minimum for being a page), and that some of the questionable/icky/suggestive IMs occurred past 18, well, I'm not going to be quick to assert or even accept "predator" status.

Unlike, say, a 12 year old, I'm pretty sure that a 16-18 year old, especially one getting into the page program, can probably manage to say "stop pestering me" if he wants someone to stop pestering him (and likewise, ex-pages aren't under a representative's power). That this doesn't seem to have happened makes me wary of using the label "predator".

(Mostly, in fact, because real pedophilia and sexual predation are so bad I don't want to minimise them by association by misusing the terms, but also because I just like accuracy.

That Foley is a disgrace to his office and a cad should be sufficient for his resignation, and little more seems justifiable given the evidence that I've seen so far.

Anyone with more evidence of greater wrongdoing (not taking no for an answer, actual sexual contact in violation of the law, etc.) should provide it to us, as well as the press.

posted by: Sigivald on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

"My One Post About Mark Foley"

I was kinda hoping that was more than just editorial license.

posted by: kwo on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

Reminds me of the one about the soldiers being safer in Baghdad than in Detroit or DC.

posted by: just sayin on 10.04.06 at 11:22 PM [permalink]

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