the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2002 October 20


Prosecutorial misconduct

A judge who was expected to sentence Alex and Derek King for second-degree murder in Florida instead cancelled the verdict and asked opposing lawyers to attempt to settle the case without a second trial. Their father was beaten to death with a baseball bat, and their home then set afire. They were twelve and thirteen years old at the time. It is a shame that cases involving cute white kids are most likely to raise the serious issue of whether children should be tried as adults; but this case does have a few peculiarities. First of all, the boys initially confessed, but then recanted, attributing the murder to Ricky Chavis, the forty-year-old they claimed was Alex’s lover, a characterization the prosecution accepted. Second, the Kings were both charged as adults with first-degree murder, and Alex at least was not held even by the prosecution to have had any physical part in the murder. Third, most perversely, the prosecutor’s office, in a separate trial, charged Chavis with the same murder, under an opposing theory, and then ordered that verdict sealed until the King jury made its decision. Prosecutors in this country have frequently been depraved in their zeal to win at all costs, but this was especially depraved, setting a standard where the prosecution can try out as many theories as it likes, until someone is convicted.

The Chavis jury acquitted. The King jury concluded that Chavis had actually wielded the bat, and convicted the boys of second-degree murder, presumably as accomplices. But Chavis is still to be tried for child-molestation charges relating to his relationship with Alex King. So, in case anyone has missed the point, the same legal code and prosecutor’s office that believe the twelve-year-old Alex King should spend life in prison for merely encouraging someone else ― his brother or his forty-year-old lover, since it apparently doesn’t matter ― to kill his father was not mature enough to have sex with that same lover.

Not everyone matures at the same rate. But a person is mature, or it is not. It cannot be mature enough to drive but not to vote; enough to vote but not to drink; enough to drink but not to serve in Congress; enough to form criminal intent for a murder but not to consent to sex. If the gravity of the decision is supposed to make a difference, we might logically have fifty-year-olds who are not yet old enough to decide what to have for dinner. Differing ages of adulthood are sometimes ridiculous, and they are always senseless. But in the case of prosecution, trying children as adults is outrageous, simply outrageous. In few things do we exhibit our baseness as a society more than in our ability to form unrestrained, retributive hatred for children.

Electoral mandates

No longer content to grant himself the superlative, Saddam Hussein has begun achieving perfection in all things. Today he has decreed an amnesty for every single prisoner in Iraq. Even murderers will be released, with the consent of their victims’ families. If there were any political prisoners in Iraq, they, too, would be released. Everyone goes free, in a gesture of unsurpassable benevolence to commemorate the previous day’s unsurpassable electoral success. 100%; no half measures for Saddam any more.

For those who missed the news, and the jokes, Saddam has officially won the vote of every single one of the 11,445,638 eligible voters in his latest appeal to the Iraqi people for their support. I could well believe that he had already killed anyone who might be inclined to vote against him; but there was not even a delay in the announcement for the votes to be counted. Fortunately, no one, and certainly not the Iraqi government, accepts his reelection as being a valid exercise in democracy, but of interest was the explanation offered by some voters and the state itself: the rest of the world perhaps could not understand that, during a crisis, the Iraqi people would speak as one, quite literally unanimous, in their approbation of their beloved leader.

Ah, but we can understand. Why else are we in the US, and our congressional representatives, being urged to unanimously endorse our own president? We are told that dissenting voices on any, any of his policies will weaken his hand on the world stage, for whatever it is he wants to do. There are limitations to the comparison, though. George Bush has a real electoral mandate. He is the chosen leader of a significant minority in the US; in fact, in the last election he placed a respectable second in the overall national vote. That ought to count for something.

Political exchange

The withdrawal of Robert Torricelli from the New Jersey senate race after the legal deadline set a precedent that was rather confused in its effect. The New Jersey Democratic Party sought to replace Torricelli, who won his party’s primary, with Frank Lautenberg, who was chosen by the party hierarchy. The New Jersey courts allowed the switch. The US Supreme Court, showing a restraint absent from Florida two years ago, decided not to intervene. Lautenberg will be on the ballot.

The whole affair was a circus, naturally. Republican candidate Doug Forrester argued correctly that the deadline had passed and a law was a law, when it was clear from his tone that he had his heart set on winning without opposition, and that he was now desperate to preserve this state; he absurdly claimed the existence of a “Lautenberg-Torricelli machine”. The Democrats argued correctly that the voters of New Jersey should be given a real choice, but of course the argument was entirely self-serving and hinged on the pretense that Torricelli’s withdrawal was not orchestrated for just such a replacement.

And immediately the Democrats in Hawaii, who had hitherto been calling for a vote for the popular, and dead, Patsy Mink, attempted to get her name replaced on the ballot. And Republican Mike Taylor in Montana, trailing badly, dropped out with the hopes of being replaced, complaining because the Democrats had shown old footage of him looking ridiculous, as we all have at one point. Claiming a local autonomy that we all know doesn’t exist, the various state parties then began perverting the arguments from the New Jersey case, trying to have it all ways. A plague o’ both their houses.

But this has all been said. The story being ignored at the moment is the effect on the primary system. The primaries were supposed to lead to more democracy ― instead of selection by party old boys in backrooms, candidates would be selected by voters directly. That intent is clearly being undermined by this sequence of events. Setting aside arguments about whether democracy is all that desirable a thing, we should revisit the supposition that primaries are democratic. What primaries are, in fact, is an endorsement by the state of the existence of, and monopoly (so to speak) of the political process by, the two major parties. And an expensive endorsement, too; but more important than the money wasted is the principle laid waste. It is none of the state’s business how the parties are organized, or whom they select as candidates, or how. If the parties want to hold primaries, they can damn well foot the bill. If the parties want to organize themselves hierarchically and choose their candidates so, by the ranking old boys, that is their affair. That is freedom of association. The voters will still be perfectly free to make a final choice on election day. But absent will be the government saying, as so many citizens believe it does now: “These are your two choices. These are your only two choices.”


The Irish Republican Army is a terrorist organization, but not exclusively. It is primarily an insurrectionist organization that has often used terrorist methods. Its political goal of a united Ireland under Irish rule is fully as legitimate as the unionists’ goal of a Northern Ireland under British rule. Either way someone is suffering illegitimate domination at the hands of a majority. The unionists don’t want to live under Catholic rule, and that is understandable; but Protestants are only in a bare majority in Northern Ireland. The birth rate in Ulster means that Catholics will eventually outnumber Protestants, and thus if no alternative political scene has presented itself, that nationalists will outnumber unionists. Unionists had best alter their insistence on absolute majority rule or start having babies; otherwise, they lose. Britain and its unionists could delay that day by deliberately alienating those parts of Ulster populated by nationalists, by handing those territories over to the Republic of Ireland, which is what the principle of self-determination would require. Britain is, of course, not very likely to take that solution.

The IRA ties its inception to a just claim that the British armed forces were terrorist in their behavior, indeed atrocious. The two parties with opposite aims used the same strategy of expedience to achieve these aims. While some view the IRA as outdated, it could note that the British still occupy the island, still dominate a sizable minority community, and have no intention of disarming, unilaterally or otherwise. And there are unionist paramilitary bands that are still active in Northern Ireland, and have always matched the IRA in ruthlessness.

The political party aligned with the IRA, some believe controlled by the IRA, is Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has a fair amount of popular support in Northern Ireland, being now the third most popular, and the more popular of the major nationalist parties. The unionists have never liked sharing power with Sinn Fein, and have found many excuses to avoid it. Currently it is a spying scandal, as if the British government were not collecting intelligence on the IRA and Sinn Fein. Previously it had been the decommissioning of arms. The IRA has dragged its feet somewhat on decommissioning, but it has also done more to decommission weapons than the unionist paramilitaries. For the unionists in the assembly at Stormont, it must always be what-have-you-done-for-us-lately. There is a political counterpart to Sinn Fein, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP is as far from the center on the right as Sinn Fein is on the left, and as much a representative of the unionist paramilitaries’ political goals as Sinn Fein is of the IRA’s. Rightly or wrongly, the DUP is not as much associated with extremist violence.

But the true reason no one is suggesting that the DUP ought to be banned from the Northern Irish government is that it does not espouse a belief opposed to the sovereign. The reason no one is suggesting that the cross-border cooperation be put on hold because unionists have failed to disarm is because the unionist militias do not have much support, and do not need it, given the presence of the British armed forces championing their cause. And to remove Sinn Fein from the political process is to deprive a significant part of the Ulster electorate of its preferred representative. The unionists, and the British, cannot simultaneously argue that the nationalists should commit themselves solely to the political process, and then attempt to limit the results of the political process to those which are acceptable to unionism. The political process ought to be fully open to political expression, with every idea admitted to the discourse, so that society might know the relative strength of each idea and respond appropriately. Peace has as its prerequisite an open exchange of ideas. But that is an ideal nowhere achieved.


Original version


Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford