Up Front

The code of omertà has been shattered. Big Jack Abramoff has cracked; the feds will make him tell all. And up on Capitol Hill, on the Republican side of the aisle, it soon will be the season of the rat.

The prosecutors will begin with the small fry. The staffers will sing first (the notion that any former DeLayista would actually do time for Tom strains all credulity). That was how Archibald Cox, John Sirica, Sam Ervin, and Woodward and Bernstein brought down Nixon; it was how Rudy Giuliani got the Gambinos. There are, of course, subtle gradations here. Can a lesser congressman deal to bring down a greater one? Can Bob Ney offer up Tom DeLay? Now that Time has reported that Duke Cunningham wore a wire during his final weeks on the Hill, we know that the feds show some consideration to members who record their colleagues' deepest meditations on how to get a Redskins skybox when their bundlers are in town.

Indeed, the Prospect predicts that the mere thought of a wire-wearing colleague will bring all normal Capitol Hill discourse to a shuddering halt. The entire Republican delegation -- 230 congressmen, 55 senators -- will soon end all their sentences with the magic words, “but it would be wrong.” Which, if appended to their statements of support for the nutsoid policies they advocate -- the war, tax giveaways to the rich, privatizing Social Security -- would be, well, right.

-- Harold Meyerson

The Anointed

Three evangelical ministers applied holy oil to the seats and doors of the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing room the week prior to Sam Alito's nomination hearings. Isn't it alarming how much of the news these days seems like fodder for an H.L. Mencken column?

The Season of Giving

Ohio House minority leader and Democrat Chris Redfern put aside past grievances this Christmas and helped out his Republican colleagues in a time of need. The Ohio House held its annual Christmas party at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café, where Ohio State stars past and present are celebrated. When it came time to pay, the Republicans were embarrassed to find that their credit card had been rejected. Redfern, who recently became the state Democratic Party chairman, offered to pick up the full tab for the evening, including the $3,900 owed by Republicans. Fortunately, the GOP made no offer to repay Redfern with rare coins.

They Go Hugo

Here at the Prospect, we bow to no one in our long-standing admiration of Global Trade Watch, the offshoot of Public Citizen that, along with the AFL-CIO, has led the way both in opposing the corporate model of globalization and positing a more democratic one. So we were a little taken aback recently when we received an invitation to a reception celebrating GTW's 10th anniversary, to be held at the Venezuelan Embassy. The cause of fair trade seems embattled enough without GTW aligning itself with the neo-semi-demi-Peronista regime of Hugo Chavez. Given GTW's keen public-relations sense, we're grateful the North Korean Embassy was already booked.

Touchy Feely

New Mexico governor and likely presidential hopeful Bill Richardson is known as a glad-handing pol of the old school. But an alarming recent Albuquerque Journal report underscores the thin line between backslapping bonhomie and clinical mania. The state's Democratic lieutenant governor, Diane Denish, described Richardson's habit of poking and pinching her in a nonsexual -- but incessant -- manner when he's bored. “He pinches my neck. He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg,” Denish told the Journal. With his spokesman Pahl Shipley, Richardson's favorite move is to lick his finger and smudge Shipley's glasses. All the touching is “my way of lessening tension,” the governor says. There's nothing more tension-filled than a presidential campaign; if Richardson runs in 2008, his primary opponents should be on the lookout for errant wet willies and wedgies.

Our Nation's Elite at Work

How many leading pundits and rising stars of intellectual journalism does it take to push an elevator button? At a recent lunch held at the Hoover Institution, an elevator ride saw David Brooks, his assistant, and The Atlantic Monthly's Ross Douthat go to the top, return to our floor, and allow three American Prospectors and The Nation's Ari Berman to hop on. The elevator then returned to the top, headed to floor five, stopped at floor two, went back up one, and finally reached the lobby, where the doors opened, quickly closed, and then finally opened again. Best line? Brooks, when asked how things were going, quipped, “Oh, you know, up and down.” Our side countered with, “Someone should show some personal responsibility and push ‘lobby.'” You be the judge.


American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin is best known to the world as an apologist for Ahmed Chalabi, and best known to denizens of 2000 L Street for his habit of smearing Prospect writers. But he also turns out to dabble in undisclosed conflicts of interest. “I'm not surprised this goes on,” Rubin told The New York Times by way of dismissing its December 1 investigation into the Bush administration's use of the Lincoln Group to plant bogus news stories in the Iraqi press without disclosing the U.S. government connection. “Information operations are
a part of any military campaign.” Rubin didn't see fit to mention the fact, reported in a January 2 Times story, that his travels in Iraq were paid for by … the Lincoln Group! He conceded that when he travels he “normally” receives “a per diem and/or honorarium” but wouldn't discuss the details of his arrangement with Lincoln.

Know thy Constituents

D.C. Councilman and former D.C. mayor Marion Barry was mugged in his apartment in early January, and he assured the at-large assailants during a press conference that he wouldn't press charges. Barry then went above and beyond the ordinary call of duty for political candor in explaining his personal sense of betrayal at being victimized: “There is sort of an unwritten code in Washington,” he said, “among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend.” What's notable is that this very sentence, word for word, could plausibly have come from any number of Republican leaders in Congress. Different hustlers, of course.

Speaking of his Honor …

Barry, of course, is famous for the quote: “Bitch set me up.” Well, Lonnie Latham, a Baptist pastor in Tulsa, member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and occasional inveigher against the evils of homosexuality, now knows how he felt. On the night of January 3, Latham was “pastoring to police,” as he put it, in Oklahoma City when he was arrested on a lewdness charge. The gendarmes say Latham had in fact propositioned an undercover male officer outside a hotel, allegedly asking the officer to join him in his hotel room for some oral sex. This confirms our long-held suspicion here at the Prospect that the Oklahoma City Police Department is a hotbed of Godless liberalism. We'll be sending comp subscriptions.

Take My Opinions … Please

In a recent study, Jay Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, tackled one of the more pressing matters facing the nation: Supreme Court laughter. Wexler's study, which was published in the law journal The Green Bag, found that Justice Antonin Scalia's comments elicited 77 “laughing episodes” during oral arguments in the 2004-2005 term, making him, we suppose, the funniest Supreme Court justice. At the other end of the laugher spectrum, Justice Clarence Thomas finished the term with the fewest laughs, at zero (the number would surely improve -- intentionally or not -- if he ever opened his mouth). Wexler noted that these laughing episodes were brought on either by genuine humor or just plain anxiety. Or, perhaps in Scalia's case, on the merits of his arguments.

Armies of Compassion

George W. Bush's empathic relationship to our fighting men and women knows no bounds. There they are, over in Iraq, risking life and limb, stiffed on body armor. And here is Bush, living the comfortable and protected life a president leads. But does that prevent our president from feeling the troops' pain? Why, read these actual remarks he made while visiting wounded troops at the Brooke Army Medical Center: “As you can possibly see, I have an injury myself -- not here at the hospital, but in combat with a cedar. I eventually won. The cedar gave me a little scratch. As a matter of fact, a colonel asked if I needed first aid when she first saw me. I was able to avoid any major surgical operations here, but thanks for your compassion, colonel.” Wonderful. We hear he suffered a few nicks and splinters when he lost a wrestling match to a barstool back in his Air National Guard days, too.

The Question: If you could secretly wiretap one person, whom would it be?

“Grover Norquist. I'd really like to know how that bizarre combination of ideological certitude and lack of ethics works. Is he cynical? Greedy? In denial? What a psychological study!”

-- Molly Ivins, columnist

“Myself, because I don't believe in invading anybody's privacy but my own; also because I'd like to know if I really said that stupid thing.”

-- Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus, The Nation,

“I think I will pass since I have rather strong feelings about wiretapping, and secretly recording people. :-)”

-- John W. Dean, former Nixon White House counsel, via e-mail