Monday, October 02, 2006

It's almost never about the kids.

Disgraced Congressman Mark Foley will be hung, drawn and quartered. There are two reasons for this. One the Democrats will want to take advantage of the bad publicity for their own political ends. Two the Republicans officially dislike gays and to keep their base they have to be part of the lynch mob. Neither side has a principle between them. It’s all about power, perks and privileged.

I have tried to follow this closely. So far here is what we know. Foley sent sexually suggestive e-mails or instant messages to one congressional page. The teen, a male was probably 16 when the texting began but it does not appear the messages were explicitly sexual at the start. At some point he turned 17 during the exchanges and it is possible this happened before the messages became explicit.

But, and this is important, the teen and Foley knew each other in Washington, DC. And the age of consent in the capitol is 16 years old. So even if the relationship had become sexual, and there is no indication at this time that it has, it was legal. Whether people think it ought to have been is another question. But the case remains it was legal.

Obviously more evidence can come out and this based on what we know now. But people certainly are jumping to conclusions not warranted by the evidence. There are constant references to other messages to other pages. Yet so far only the one set of messages to the one page come across as sexual. The others do not.

There is no indication of a pattern yet. The New York Times has a story on Foley and pages but most pages seem to have only good things to say about him.

Pages speak of how they are invisible to most Congressmen but that Foley would talk to them and urge them to keep in touch. And this was true whether they were male or female. Ashley Gallo said that he was the only Congressman to treat her as if she existed and that pages saw him as a “a mentor or a reference.”

One male page, Patrick McDonald said he had casual e-mail friendship with he Congressman and that it never became inappropriate. “He was one of the cool congressmen.” He says he heard rumours but rumours are not evidence. And the only rumours were about explicit internet conversations. This could be about the one page only for all we know. But it doesn’t appear the other pages have any first hand experience to verify these.

Other pages say Foley was nice while the typical politician “don’t give pages the time of day.” One page who worked for Foley says: “He was very affable, always friendly with the staff but never over friendly, nothing suggestive.”

Foley’s undoing legally may well be legislation he helped implement which, according to a headline in the New York Times, gives prosecutors “a broad range of discretion.” In other words the laws are broadly written allowing them prosecute and persecute as needed. Legal experts told the Times that the messages so far made public do not solicit sex or suggest a meeting but there are laws “that make it a crime to transmit communication harmful to minors over the Internet.”

And there is nothing the theocratically driven see more harmful than sex. Yet it remains that the teen and Foley only saw each other in person in Washington, DC where physically sexual relations would have been legal. In fact Foley could have have legally had a relationship with the teen in two thirds of the American states. So it would indeed be odd that if Foley and the teen had masturbated each other (and there is no evidence they did) that the act would have been legal but to mention the same thing in an e-mail is a crime.

There is a certain mystical quality to these laws. The teen was deemed legally capable of consenting to sex in Washington, DC, where he and Foley worked together. He was not deemed able to consent part of the time in Louisiana where the age of consent is 17 but the teen turned 17 at some point during the friendship. However, he is still not deemed capable of consent in Foley’s state of Florida because he has not yet turned 18.

So the two worked together in a location where a sexual relationship would be legal. The boy lived in another location where it would have been legal later in the friendship and Foley lived in a state where it would not be legal until a few months from now. But apparently communication sent by Internet describing what could be a legal relationship can be a crime.

Florida law could send Foley to prison for five years for sending “material harmful to minors by electronic device”. Apparently harmful is anything with “nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement”.

The media continually refers to the page as an “underage page” but this is a simplification of a complex issue. As I have said over and over, because people seem to not understand, the page in question was over the age of consent in Washington which is the only place we know of where the two were near each other. Legislators have, in their wisdom or not, drawn the line for “underaged” when it comes to sex at 15 or below in DC. True the teen is underaged when it comes to drinking but not driving, he is underaged when it comes to voting but not sex. But the case is not about drinking, driving or voting. It is about sex and to use the term “underaged” in this case is hyperbole meant to sensationalise and sell papers or push up ratings.

Here is a theory, and only a theory, as to what happened here based on what we do know. I reserve the right to change the theory as new evidence comes to light.

First, there is no indication Foley made a pattern of this. There are rumours but they can be referring to the one case we know about.

Second, there was no underage “minor” involved. The page is above the age of consent in DC which is the only place we know of where the two were ever in each other’s presence.

Three, sexual relations would have been legal albeit unwise in DC.

Four, no sex took place. Only a discussion of acts which had the been committed in DC or in 32 American states would have been legal.

Five, the only “crime” involved may be violating a law that makes illegal the discussion of sexual acts which the parties could legally have committed together.

We also know the teen was not entirely unwilling even though he ended the exchanges. It was the teen who offered up descriptions of his own sexual arousal. I suspect the teen has gay inclinations or could be gay. Foley was friendly with the pages and there is no pattern of inappropriate conduct or messages that we know about at this time. (And if there is one the Republicans will try to keep it under wraps until after the election.)

It would seem likely that Foley’s friendships were most above board. It would also appear that he became smitten with this one teen, perhaps because he sensed a mutual interest from the teen. (The teen did say that Foley made him “horny”.) Foley attempted to stay within the law and no sexual relationship took place. In fact they were overly cautious when it came to the actual law in that in DC the relationship would have been legal. But the teen told Foley he didn’t want to do anything while he was under 18 and Foley agreed.

This doesn’t mean the relationship was a good idea. It wasn’t. And the real issue here is why the Republican leadership covered it up for as long as they did. That they put electoral success above the well-being of the pages is no surprise. As the Times noted congressmen in general are rather unconcerned about the pages. This is how those with political power view all of those “outside” the halls of power itself. We all are there to serve them not the other way around.

Most people in the US have accepted the idea that Congressmen exist to screw the taxpayers. They just don’t want them screwing their kids as well. And the power differential here makes relationships, even when legal, dicey and difficult at best.

So what ought to happen now? Well, a lot depends on what else comes to light. If Foley does have a pattern of such things then he was using his position to take advantage, or attempt to take advantage, of these teens. That is pretty sleazy though probably not illegal. That the House Leadership knew about the potential problem and took no action except to hide it from public view is the true scandal here.

I most certainly don’t think that Foley should go to jail especially considering that the page was above age fo consent in DC where the two worked together. The very idea that it is a crime to discuss, what would have been legal to actually do, is surreal. It shows how expansive state power has been into such things.

I do not believe that any of this is good for the page involved. His private communications have been splashed across the media. His friends will know who he is. This has to be hell for him. His age and even the town he lives in has been mentioned. He is easily identified especially in his own neighbourhood. That he had mutual sexually explicit discussions with a man is now common knowledge. What torment this publicity is creating for him and no one seems to care. Apparently the teen’s parents understood this and asked for the matter to be dropped. That the media, the Republicans, the Democrats don’t recognise this ought to concern us.

Each of these groups is putting their own interests above that of this kid. No 17 year old ought to have his sexual thoughts broadcast to the world especially when he lives in the most intolerant part of the United States. These groups always talk about “it’s for the kids” but this teen is a real kid and his interests are at the bottom of the pile. To gain votes or sell papers the politicians and the press are dragging extremely personal comments the teen made through the public arena never once considering the actual problems they are creating for the boy in question.

It is never about the kids. It is always about the agendas of the adults involved. Foley didn’t think about the potential trauma and problems he was creating for this boy even if the boy was apparently a willing participant. The Democrats, who weep crocodile tears over gays and kids and especially gay kids, are willing to over this boy up as a sacrifice to the electoral gods. The Republicans who despise gays and gay sex ignored the situation because it would have been bad publicity. No one put this kid first. No one!