Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Consulting 'A Higher Power'

The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a decision of a lower court to dismiss a jury death penalty on the basis of a bible consultation on the part of some of the jurors. In particular, one juror consulted Leviticus, the 'eye for an eye' book, and the majority verdict was arrived at because she had ostenibly referred to 'a higher power' than the court itself in considering her decision. The court was split 3-2, and the case may yet find its way to the Federal Supreme Court. The case offers some brief respite from what is becoming an onslaught of bible-thumping in the ascendancy in GWBII America, though one suspects that the strength of the minority indicates that this is something of an anomaly.

Colorado is unique in the US in that its law requires a direction to the jury in such cases that they make an 'individual moral assessment'. The majority judgement stated that '...the judicial system works very hard to emphasize the rarified, solemn and sequestered nature of jury deliberations. Jurors must deliberate in that atmosphere without the aid or distraction of extraneous texts.'

The juxtaposition of an 'individual moral assessment' with the absence of 'extraneous texts' is indeed tricky when that extraneous text is perhaps the basis upon which one makes a moral assessment. For the minority, the bible acted as a source of wisdom, not overt morality. Indeed, the bible offers as much guidance in favour of mercy as it does against. It is a book of contradictions and justifications. In legal terms, if it were a statute, its openness to interpretation would be so broad as to make it unusable. But this is not the point.

The court in this instance asserted its separation from religion. As an organ of state, it should not be driven by the non-secular preachings of any church. Where, then, lies the basis for a moral assessment where the state professes no position? If the state does not lead in matters of morality, but rather acknowledges and codifies that which it deems its people believe to be right and wrong, why have juries at all? For the juries themselves draw from disparate sources, from Religion and God to TV and the Simpsons. The presumption on the part of the court that an innate morality will direct people to the appropriate decision assigns to the juror a capacity for internal moral dialogue that is often absent. The bible acts for many people as a guide when they simply do not know the way. And, if they do not know the way, should they abdicate such lofty decisions to their moral mentor, or to another citizen capable of having that internal moral dialogue?

Which brings us, once more, to the masses and the state. Simplistic reasoning that is influenced by narrow experience and perhaps inadequate education, leads us all down an arbitrary path. To have one's life placed in the hands of 'the common man' is to have one's life placed in the hands of people who rarely retain unbreakable principles, and who are socialised into conformity. Let us think about this for a moment, and extend the decision to support a Government that kills thousands of innocent civilians in pre-emptive wars, tortures, maims and murders defenceless prisoners, destroys entire races and oppresses millions through external economic interference. Are we comfortable that 'the common man' is having his own 'internal moral dialogue', and making the right choice?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Deporting Babies

It's an ugly sight. Last week, the young Nigerian man about to sit his final school exams was deported; on Thursday he was reprieved; now it has emerged that a three year old child was take from her classroom and deported to Nigeria last week, with fifty others, including the child's mother. Thinking back to twelve months ago, the Irish people overwhelmingly passed a constitutional referendum denying citizenship to those children born in Ireland of non-Irish parents. Some sort of selfish, narcissistic pleasure perhaps in keeping a tight hold on all of the gold this Celtic Tiger has borne us. It is a strange one indeed - these people are not taking our jobs, they are not taking ourplace in the breadline. They are seeking to share in our success, to contribute to a growing economy that demands an ever increasing contribution, according to the ESRI. We are not taking advantage of the skills of immigrant workers, the august body declared on Wednesday.

Then there is the Filipino lady forced to work on an Irish Ferries boat as a beautician for €1 per hour. She wasn't the first, according to Irish Ferries, and they should have taken more care. The ones that are here, we exploit them. And the one's we can't exploit, we deport them. We are creating for ourselves a prison, who's walls are made of solid gold, and who's foundations are of sand.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Democracy in Action? Kyrgyzstan and the Folly of Revolution

The language of democracy is a curious thing. From origins in Greece through Rousseau, the French and American revolutions, through the Cold War and the Media revolution, it has changed irrevocably into a populism that was never intended. The dilution of Platonic democracy (everyone gets a vote if they're smart and rich) to universal suffrage (everyone gets a vote even if they're stupid, gullible, easily led and unlikely to contribute to society) has never been designed, but guided by a power-lust that we creatures have in us. Being somewhere in the middle was OK, in theory, but the natural inclination of man has pushed us too far towards the mob.

Recently, Victor Yuschenko's velvet revolution in Ukraine, overthrew a democratically elected government and the people rejoiced. Basically, they weren't happy with things, and the rule-book was thrown out the window. Recently, encouraged by this, the Kyrgyzstan people have begun a similar battle. This is not how democracy should work. In both instances, rigged elections acted as a catalyst for popular revolt - but does the rigging of the election or the 'necessary' unilateral popular force that overthrows its result rank higher in the pantheon of 'offences against democracy'? Can Yuschenko's people truly say, hand on heart, that they were entirely fair and honest in their management of the first election, or could it be argued that their petty meddling provided the necessary provocation (justification?) for the electoral larceny of the incumbent? Who therefore gave them the right, the mandate, the legitimacy to decide that their dissappointment in not stealing enough votes trumped the legitimate votes of the victors?

The American's are no pin-up for how things should go either. While one could argue that Bush stole the election in 2000, one could argue that he almost had it stolen from him, such were the abuses on both sides. The corruption and manipulation of voting systems around the world, and in every democracy in the world, is undermining the principles for which democratic governments claim as their legitimacy.

Corruption is crippling the legitimacy of democracy. There are several reasons for this - greed, the lack of religion (and implicitly idealism), the lack of true global leadership, the gullibility of the populace, the abuse of the power of the media, the ever increasing power of the media, the lack of international support for truly just causes, the absolute international support for politically relevant or strategic unjust causes, the lack of consistency, predictability, integrity.

People can't see these problems, but can see the symptoms. While the World Economy powers ahead, things will be fine. When the World Economy runs into difficulty, what will happen then? If the price of oil hits $200 a barrell in the next ten years, will the populace remain so compliant, and acquiesce? Perhaps Pat Rabbitte and the Labour Party will once more find a voice.

Michael McDowell's Volte Face

Michael McDowell’s climb-down on 19-year-old Nigerian student Olunkunle Eluhanla was no less than stunning. Following a robust defence of the position – quoting policy and immigration law on Morning Ireland on Tuesday morning – where he said that the decision was in the best interests of the Irish people, suggesting that a chaotic situation would emerge were this decision to be reversed. Now, he claims to be sorry, and that the decision was wrong, and a one-off, that would not set a precedent.

Perhaps this is our justice minister in microcosm – part lawyer, part politician. Legal certainty required the original deportation order; public opinion demanded the reverse. Yet McDowell would do well to decide which he is, and do it fast, or he will fall between the stools of politics and law.

In capitulating to public opinion, McDowell has undermined his key strength – a stubborn high-mindedness in doing what he thinks is right (or right-wing!) – and done little to assuage the concerns of those who believe that his strength is a bad thing. He is not comfortable in the u-turn, within which his Taoiseach revels. His lawyerly instinct detests instability, uncertainty, and unpredictability. The absolutism of his positions on asylum, law and order, and Sinn Féin paints McDowell into a tidy box where he is clearly identifiable. You either hate Michael McDowell, or you support him.

McDowell’s absolutism bleeds into the Progressive Democrat position, and clouds the relatively gentler and populist tones of Mary Harney. Her pro-business, all business style appeals to Irelands nouveau riche, the rising middle classes, and the post-trade union worker. It is a case of optimism triumphing over pessimism – trade unions were important, relevant and popular when people believed that they would be first on the redundancy list were there to be cut backs. Harney’s PD’s are supported by people who believe that they have a real chance of promotion when the next expansion is announced.

The Labour party, for whom McDowell is the pin-up nemesis (alongside Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams – whatever happened to the theory about one’s enemy’s enemy?) remain stuck in this time warp. The Celtic Tiger has moved on without them. Socialism and inclusiveness are now the objects of Ireland’s nouveau pauvre: the asylum seekers, migrant workers, refugees and people with disability and special needs. The trade unions are as much attached to Fianna Fail through partnership negotiations as they are to the Labour Party, yet those same Unions control the Labour Party’s constitution.

So a good week for Pat Rabbitte, a terrible week for Michael McDowell. Yet in the greater scheme of things, Bertie’s sitting back and smiling.