Juvenile Injustice—The Jury Convicts

Today a Pennsylvania jury found former juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella guilty of 12 counts of corruption. If you haven’t been following this “Kids for Cash” horror story, the facts briefly are that Ciavarella took millions in kickbacks from a for-profit juvenile detention center to convict and imprison thousands of children at taxpayer expense, most for extraordinarily minor infractions. (For details, see the Juvenile Law Center’s “Luzerne County ‘Kids for Cash’ Juvenile Court Scandal” page.)

Along with Ciavarella, the owner and the developer of the for-profit detention center pled guilty to corruption charges. But it seems to me that a lot of unindicted co-conspirators are running around free out there. The falsely convicted children didn’t turn themselves in. A cop arrested them, or in some cases a parent, school official, or other adult complained about them. The children’s offenses were so trivial in some cases that I have to question whether these complainants didn’t also receive kickbacks.

For example, apparently in one case a child who was playing with a cigarette lighter started a fire in her bedroom. She did hard time. Who filed the complaint? A fireman, a fire chief, a parent or guardian? In another case, while seated at a restaurant table a child threw a piece of steak at his mother’s boyfriend. He did hard time. Who filed the complaint? The restaurant? The boyfriend? The mother?

The case illustrates much of what is wrong with America’s juvenile justice system:

  • Judges have unlimited discretion to convict and sentence juveniles.
  • There are no juries in juvenile court.
  • There are no prosecutors or grand juries in the juvenile justice system; the police alone have the right to detain and charge children.
  • There is no appeals court in the juvenile justice system.

The only issue the Ciavarella horror doesn’t illustrate is that prosecutors can choose to prosecute a juvenile as an adult, no matter how young the child is.

Ciavarella is also a poster-child for my belief that the current system of electing judges doesn’t work. Few communities are small enough for the voters to know the names that appear on judicial election ballots.


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The Amazing, Vanishing Judicial System in America

Yesterday, the U. S. Department of Justice announced it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, because it is not (in the opinion of the Obama Administration) Constitutional.

  • Viewer Warning: No one will agree with the opinions I express here. No one. Not my closest associates, not my family and relations. And certainly not my husband.

What’s so sacred about marriage?

I don’t think any sane person should want to get married, because marriage isn’t a legal contract or a human right—it’s a religious rite and cultural custom. If I were gay I would prefer to make a contract with my partner, a contract that truly protects my human rights and my equality in the relationship. Marriage laws in America uphold a strictly patriarchal social relationship. Birth fathers have more rights than birth mothers. Husbands are named “the head of the household.” Men on average make more money than women. In other words, marriage is not an equal partnership.

Furthermore, it’s a myth that gay couples have fewer rights than heterosexual couples. One of the most common abuses of gay human rights cited is the right of a partner to attend the bedside of a gravely ill hospital patient: this is a myth. Anybody can attend the bedside of a gravely ill hospital patient, including complete strangers. I have seen this with my own eyes.

What else are gays deprived of? I can’t think of anything other than “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and that has nothing to do with marriage. Gays can adopt children. Gays can bear children. Gays can jointly own property. Gays can will their property to anybody they want.

What don’t gays have the right to—other than a “right” to call each other “husband” and “wife”? Divorce.

The only thing gays would “gain” through marriage is the need to go to court to dissolve their marriage. Then a judge would decide who gets what property and who gets custody of the kids. Is this what you want?

Marriage is essentially a religious concept. It is to religious leaders that gays should apply for marriage rites, not the government.

Goodbye, Supremes!

Oddly enough, by means of the Defense of Marriage Act the Congress granted the courts the right to make all the decisions in the dissolution of marriage. Now, to void the Defense of Marriage Act, the President has taken the issue out of the hands of the courts.

So when did the President gain the right to declare legislation Constitutional? I thought that was the role of the Supreme Court.

  • Sidebar: Yes, I know that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation without regard to the “separation of powers.” But that was an act of war against some of the States, an outright voiding of the Constitution. Lincoln’s proclamation (NB, not a voiding of a law) did not become law as a result of his Attorney General deciding not to defend the law; it did not become law as an automatic result of the Civil War; it became law only when the Congress and the People amended the Constitution.

It seems to me that President Obama is waging war against the Supreme Court. This statement declaring a law unconstitutional is his version of a proclamation attacking the independent judiciary.

But they must have seen it coming. First there was the unprecedented appointment of the U. S. Solicitor General to the Court (that is, the chief lawyer-advocate for the Administration against the People and the States in front of the Court). Then there was the verbal attack during his State of the Union Address. Then there have been several delaying tactics to prevent disputes with the States from reaching the Court (the AZ illegal-alien situation and the dispute with Texas over EPA regulations that co-opt State regs). The Administration is delaying the issue of Obama Care in the lower levels of the federal courts, rather than facilitating a Supreme Court decision.And now the Administration has declared it won’t pursue cases in the federal courts concerning the Defense of Marriage Act.

  • Sidebar: I wonder if the fact that Justice Kagan as Solicitor General for the Obama Administration told the Supreme Court that there is no Constitutional right to same-sex marriage has anything to do with the Administration’s reluctance to let a case reach the Supreme Court?

Vanishing Justices

It’s conceivable that within a few years, no cases will make it to the Supreme Court other than those which the then-sitting President feels will be decided in his favor.

But it’s nothing new: this will only continue the decades-long diminishment of the role of the courts. As things stand now, civil litigation involving businesses is skewed in favor of the plaintiffs by the practice of shopping for favorable judges. Criminal trials are dominated by legislative restrictions on judicial discretion and by politicized prosecutions. Juries no longer play the role for which they were invented millennia ago: even judges try to dictate to the jury, and if a jury hangs it’s likely to be subject to penalties for “jury misconduct.”

This isn’t a good trend.

“The worst are full of passionate intensity”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out 
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 
Troubles my sight: Somewhere in sands of the desert 
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, 
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it 
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 
The darkness drops again; but now I know 
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, 
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”—1919)

  • (Note to Internet vigilantes: This is one of the few poems I have bothered to commit to memory, so I don’t need to cite my source.)

What Yeats was telling us is “History doesn’t repeat itself—at best sometimes it rhymes,” and “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it” (Edmund Burke also said, “All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win is for enough good men to do nothing”).

The upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa is a case of rhyming history, and the historically ignorant West appears to be on a destined path to foolish repetition of its errors in both World War I and World War II. I’m not a historian or a politician or a statesman or diplomat or anything other than a student of history and a writer of historical fiction. But even I can see that what’s happening is not the triumph of democracy over tyranny.

What is happening is mainly a rebellion of a minority, radical Shia Muslims, against an often-oppressive Sunni Muslim majority. Young Sunnis are also rebelling against aged Sunni despots.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that young, pro-Western, pro-democracy Sunnis will prevail. As in most revolutions (historically) the most-radical, blood-thirsty minority will violently take charge of the regimes that follow the overthrow of the tyrants. (For information on the populations of Shia and Sunni Muslims, refer to the Pew Center: http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Mapping-the-Global-Muslim-Population%286%29.aspx .)

As evidence to support my claim that most revolutions end in violence and with a fanatical minority taking charge, I urge you to read up on the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution. It took half a century at least in each of these instances for moderates to regain power in these countries, and, in the process of moderation, the entire world was sucked into the conflicts, and millions of people died.

American broadcast journalists (for the most part) have not provided accurate information on the trouble that’s brewing beyond our borders. As always, Americans are myopic: just look at a national weather map; you’d think America is an island floating in a sea of darkness; maps don’t show Canada, Mexico, or even the weather over the oceans!

This morning I watched BBC World and learned that the EU is anticipating as many as 300,000 refugees from Libya alone. They called this “an exodus of Biblical proportions.” I hate to tell them, but the proper analogy is bigger and more recent than that, a migration of Medieval proportions. It happened before: In 711 A.D. an Arab and Berber army (Sunni Muslims) crossed from Tangier, Morocco, to Algeciras, Spain, and from there invaded the Iberian Peninsula and into France.

Americans not only don’t know anything about history, we don’t know anything about geography either. Here are a few facts that seem to elude American politicians and journalists these days:

  • Morocco is closer to Spain than Cuba is to Florida: The distance between Ceuta, Morocco, and Algeciras, Spain, is 29 km; the distance between Cuba and the Florida Keys is 151 km; it takes only 35 minutes by ferry to reach Europe from North Africa.
  • The Middle East and North Africa border the Mediterranean Sea, as does Southern Europe. The sea makes most of Europe easily accessible without passing through any customs.
  • Islands in the Mediterranean have throughout history been periodically taken over by Muslim nations. The island of Cyrus is currently split between Turkish and Greek control.
  • Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire from about 400 years before WW I. Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire.

The current exodus to which the BBC referred was an exodus of Sunni Muslims, hundreds of thousands of people who can read the handwriting on the wall. “The moving finger having writ,” these moderate Muslims (ones who do not wish to see theocratic rule in their homelands, ones who value the separation of church and state) understand that the revolution underway is not a pro-democracy movement as we in the West use the term. These would-be refugees know that the revolution is to institute mob rule in the place of despotism (one-man rule)—and the violent ones among the mob believe in Sharia law.

Poet William Butler Yeats understood that the aftermath of World War I would lead to chaos. He was proved right. Hitler and World War II were the “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem. Yeats chose Bethlehem as his metaphor for a reason:

  • World War I dismantled the Ottoman Empire. Muslim leaders were outraged. Some of them founded the Muslim Brotherhood for the express purpose of restoring Islam to its greatness.

Both World Wars were seemingly precipitated by isolated events: the assassination of an apparently minor archduke; the German invasion of Poland with the Soviet Union’s tacit approval. Of course, in hindsight both these were simply excuses that more than one uninvolved party were waiting for, and the events weren’t unplanned.

Did Tunisia revolt on a whim? Was it a coincidence that the protests began on Christmas Eve? Here’s an interesting article from the LA Times: It looks as if yesterday 6,000 Tunisian refugees showed up on the Italian island, Lampedusa.

“Radio Free Twitter” for America, Not Iran

I wish someone would Twitter about what is really go on in the world so Americans wouldn’t be in the dark any longer. When I travel outside this country I suddenly gain access to real news. News in America is nothing but “all politics, all the time.” (Oh, that is if you discount the Lyndsay Lohan saga—now that’s significant news! I bet more people in America know what Lohan was most-recently arrested for than can even locate the state they live in on a map.)

Political battles are meaningless unless they represent a clash of informed ideas. Americans are uninformed. That’s one reason American politics has degenerated once again into a power struggle among government officials and the two parties.

I know I’m supposed to stick to jury issues in this blog, but today I learned that the U.S. State Department has done something so boneheaded I can’t keep quiet about it—something almost as dumb as Hillary turning over British nuclear secrets to the Russians (I guess she forgot what happened to the Rosenbergs when they did the same thing).

Apparently the State Department now has a Twitter feed in the Farsi language directed toward the youth of Iran.

I would really like to know who came up with this stupid idea.

How is it stupid? Let me count the ways:

  1. The only people who will subscribe to the feed are the Iranian secret police. What Iranian in their right mind would use their Twitter accounts to “follow” anti-Iranian propaganda? Don’t the idiots at the State Department realize that Iranian computer experts can use the list of followers to track down dissidents?
  2. There’s no need to “tweet” in Farsi, because most of the young Iranians who use the Internet speak English; most educated young people all around the world speak English, because America is the origin of most computer software. It’s patronizing and insulting to assume that young people outside of America are as illiterate in English as American young people.
  3. The content of the first “tweets” posted by the State Dept. is nonsensical. To call it propaganda is too charitable:
    • “We want to join in your conversation.”
    • “allow people to enjoy same universal rights to peacefully assemble, demonstrate as in Cairo.”
  4. What conversation are they talking about? Do they think the protestors in Cairo were enjoying a universal right? Didn’t Hillary get the memo? The Egyptian police attacked the protestors.
    • Oh, I forgot: Our president recently added the right to social networking to the list of human rights.
  5. The idea that the U.S. State Dept. is trying to use social networking to topple the Iranian government is ludicrous. I guess Hillary hasn’t noticed: the Moslem nations in which the governments are being undermined by social networking are pro-American, pro-Western, and many have large Sunni populations and Sunni rulers (Tunisia and Egypt, for example). Yemen is also largely Sunni, and Hillary made a trip there on Jan. 11 for the purpose, apparently, of demonstrating that its president was an American puppet. Shortly thereafter, of course, the protests started there, too. Iran, however, is Shi’a and anti-Western.
  6. The youthful protestors in the Moslem world—IMHO—aren’t necessarily all Sunnis. The ones who “tweet” may be, but in pro-Western Moslem countries, I suspect that the most-disaffected youths are the downtrodden minority Shi’a, ones who have not had access to a college education or the Internet.

And this last point leads me back to the title of this blog. I have just returned to the U.S. from overseas, where I had access to real news (as opposed to what we get here). America, we had better demand that journalists start reporting on what’s really going on out there, because we’re going to get some nasty surprises very soon:

  • Egypt’s revolution isn’t over, and it isn’t going to end in a pro-Western, democratic government. It may end in a pro-Western military coup, but it won’t be democratic; or it may end in an anti-Western Iranian-style theocracy under Sharia law. In a televised report from the streets of Cairo recently, I heard a young woman tell a reporter, “We hate Mubarak, because he made peace with Israel. We will destroy Mubarak and then we will destroy Israel.”
  • Most American reporters counted down the number of days of protest until Mubarak resigned, as if the “unrest” had spontaneously sprung up one day in January. But the build-up was actually much longer. Americans were the only ones in the world who didn’t know what was happening (apparently they including the U.S. government.) In fact, for many weeks Islamists in Egypt had been inciting violence against Coptic Christians; mobs had hacked Christians to death; and an off-duty policeman stormed a train and gunned down almost a dozen Christians on Jan. 11 (the day Hillary went to Yemen). (Incidentally, the numbers 11 and 12 are significant to Shi’a Moslems just as the number 3 is significant to Christians.)
  • Not all the really awful problems in the world are confined to other Continents. For some reason American news sources do not extend to Mexico. No one reports what’s going on down there. Here’s a bit of news I picked up from Chinese television: There have been food riots in Mexico for several years. Mexico has had an unusually cold winter this year, which reduced its native corn crop substantially. In addition, the American government’s requirement that a percentage of our corn crop go to ethanol production limits the amount of corn we have for export to Mexico. Mexico has been suffering from a corn shortage for several years now—corn is their staple food. So, is it any wonder that Mexicans are fleeing across the border? They don’t just want work, they want to eat.

I recommend that every American find a foreign news source and learn what’s really going on. Until I heard about the State Department’s Farsi Twitter feed, I assumed that our government knew what was going on, even if the rest of us did not. Now I’m convinced that the government is even more ignorant than we are.