Sunday, February 23, 2014

If you think you've never failed, you just did

    Before we shake off the trial of Steve Mandell—the ex-cop lowlife convicted of plotting to kidnap and torture a local businessman to extort money from him before murdering him—with a shiver of disgust, like a dog after a bath, we should pause and use the case to remind us what a bad state's attorney Cook County has in Anita Alvarez.
    Compare how the feds took down Mandell with how she botched the NATO 3 trial. Both defendents were accused, basically, of the same thing: planning to do something awful. Neither had actually done anything, yet. First they were very different types of defendants: Mandell was a stone cold killer who had already been on Death Row and was thought to have been responsible for some half a dozen murders. While the NATO 3 were a trio of stoners from Florida who had never done much of anything, good, bad or indifferent. 
    One was methodically preparing to commit a hideous crime. Nobody who listened to the FBI tapes of Mandell gloating over his torture chamber could doubt that he intended to follow through his plan—the jury took just four hours to find him guilty. While the ridiculous evidence scraped up the by Chicago police, capped by the farcical image of their undercover Inspector Clouseau and his sidekick in fake mustaches hanging out at the Heartland Cafe, getting the lowdown from whatever aging hippie stopped by for a cup of bancha tea, was surpassed only by their how-stupid-do-they-think-we-are testimony.  The cops obviously stood by, cheering on the NATO goofs, prodding and guiding them through constructing molotov cocktails that no impartial person could imagine they intended to eventually light and hurl at anyone, never mind a cop. The jury certainly couldn't. 
    The most telling thing, after a jury held its nose and handed her case back to her, after rejecting the most serious charges, was that Alvarez, like bad prosecutors everywhere, doubled down. Doubt never creased her brow. She had learned nothing, she proudly announced, and would charge the NATO 3 again in heartbeat, given the chance.
    "I would bring them again tomorrow with no apologies and no second-guessing," she angrily told reporters. I believe her, and when the next paltry case makes headlines, where Alvarez is diverting scarce public law enforcement funds into her newest dubious prosecution, we'll know she's a woman of her word, unfortunately.
     There's nothing wrong with making a mistake. Everyone does it. What is loathsome is to make mistakes and then deny they are mistakes, out of ego. Prosecutors have to believe in their cases, true, and you wouldn't want a state's attorney to fold up and surrender every time a jury ruled against them. But you see how prosecutors, again and again, subvert justice by ignoring clear evidence that the defendants they are harrying are in fact innocent.  And Alvarez has already made a name for herself —committing "political suicide" was how it was described at the time—by defending the indefensible, sometimes on national TV.
     If you are curious as to whether you are a  thinking adult, or an incompetent jerk, the easiest way to find out is to take this little test. Ask yourself what mistakes you've made, what things you've done that you are sorry you did and would not do again. If those come easily, if you have a long list, if they present themselves like a class of eager 2nd graders waving stretching their arms into the air and going "Oh! Oh! Oh!" then you're probably okay. If you can parse your missteps with genuine curiosity, and not with the kneejerk defensiveness that causes people to cling to errors and become the ball of shameful buffoonery that Alvarez is, then you're probably a professional and good at what you do. But if you can't admit that you've done anything wrong—and everyone has—then you probably should do some soul searching, although, the ironic thing is, you probably can't. 
      Everyone is fallible—people err and, ironically, the more we deny it, the more we probably dwell in error. Don't be like that. Own your failures. Be open to the idea that you aren't perfect and sometimes do things you shouldn't. Not as a pre-made excuse or a show of false humility. But because you believe it, and you might as well, because it's true, and the alternative is really ugly. You'll notice nobody ever talks about Anita Alvarez running for mayor, or any other office. Bad enough we have to endure her as state's attorney, prosecuting poor women for stealing loaves of bread. She's been on the downward slope for years. Someone should tell her; not that it would do any good.


  1. Neil,

    If a politician admits their faults, it becomes fodder for their opponents to use against them in the next election. We, the citizens, insist that our politicians not have feet of clay. On the other hand, there are some people who lack the introspection necessary to realize that they are less than perfect. They are clueless. God help you if you have someone like that for a manager.

    1. David,

      A politician need not admit specific mistakes. I don't think it harms candidates at the polls to admit that they are mere humans, e.g. “I second-guess constantly… I make a mistake, you know, every hour, every day.”

      An ad based on "My opponent admits to reconsidering his decisions in light of new facts!" doesn't strike me as particularly effective line of attack.

      But who knows.

      -- MrJM

    2. MrJM,

      I think that it would be presented not as a "reconsideration" but as "flip-flopping" on the issues and that does resonate with the public. Whether that's fair or not is another question.

  2. What kind of terrible fear prevents a person from admitting any error?
    How dark are the character flaws that cannot permit any self-examination?
    What deep insecurities prevent people from acknowledging any fallibility?

    Like scared dogs, they snarl and snap at anyone who makes a move that they do not understand or did not expect.

    Just what kind of people are in charge of Chicago?

    -- MrJM

  3. Problem is, when you have a boss who pretends to be infallible, none of the lawyers working under her can say, "Hey, we're wrong here." or "The evidence doesn't fit the crime." They'll cravenly follow whatever Alvarez says, though they may compromise their own positions and integrity. Shameful.

  4. Never forget, that Alvarez is the one who claimed that a man exonerated of a rape & murder, stated on "60 Minutes" that he must have committed necrophilia for his sperm to have ended up in the dead woman's vagina, even though it was proven he had consensual sex with her hours before her unfortunate death!
    She is an idiot who got into office due to a 3 way primary, where a bunch of foolish people thought because she is a twofer, female & hispanic, that she would be good as state's attorney. Instead, she's turned out to be worse that Ed Hanrahan was in the same job years ago!
    But the C[r]ook County Democrats [or shoud I've spelled it 'COVNTY' the way it's spelled on the Criminal Courts Building] will get her out of the job by appointing her to a judgeship, where her bias towards the prosecution & her total incompetence will be up against the earnest, but overworked public defenders who will desperately try to give their poor often mentally ill clients a fair shake in court.

  5. I sometimes wonder how she can live with herself -- she seems to be digging a deeper hole with every action she takes -- can she look herself in the mirror and like what she sees?

  6. Anita Alvarez office is railroading a cop on illegally obtained evidence. She is doing it to make herself look good during this Ferguson thing and to get a federal judgeship. She needs to be removed from office


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