Opinion » Editorial

High Time

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For several years now, the newspapers, broadcast media, and Internet criers of this community have been plugging away virtually full-time with news of sensational trials involving corrupt politicians — usually but not always (as we have learned of late) resolved with findings of "guilty."

Especially revealing in this regard is the government's dropping of the case Tuesday against Edmund Ford and Joseph Lee.

One of the most compelling analyses ever done on the nature of crime and punishment had to do with the legendary Salem witch trials of colonial America. It awaited some first-rate ex- post-facto sleuthing by historians to find out that, stripped of all the otherworldly aspects of those ghastly tribunals, the motive that really animated them had to do with class, pure and simple. Social class. Economic class. Haves vs. have-nots. It is a fact that those prosecutions were presided over by members of the established hierarchy of old-family Salem, by members of a threatened mercantile class, to be exact. And who were the persecuted ones? The "witches," as it were? They were the daughters of upstart tradesmen from the "wrong" side of town, from a class that appeared on the verge of displacing the local aristocracy, politically if not commercially.

We are not suggesting (nor did the historians who performed the study) that the charges against those unfortunate sacrificial maidens were trumped up in a calculated manner. It seems more likely that they found what they wanted to find — in that infamous case, "evidence" of supernatural skullduggery of the most tenuous kind. Justice in the European Middle Ages was even more irrational — or more dependable as to ultimate outcome. Those charged with dealing with the devil were submitted to trial by immersion in water. Those who floated were considered guilty (having been assisted by Lucifer, you see) and were summarily executed; those who drowned had demonstrated their innocence. In either case, the accused were safely gotten rid of.

Our point in all this is to suggest that, questions of guilt or innocence aside, most of the prosecutions for corruption we have seen so far have been bread-and-circus affairs, diversions in which the accused (that stupendous overachiever John Ford excepted) have been petty criminals baited with government-provided cookie jars and smacked down once their grasping hands were trapped inside.

Meanwhile, someone may have made off with an estimated $50 million in undeserved profits from the commissioning and executing of our city's newest jewel, the FedExForum. This is the real deal, if so — high-finance crime — and we are gratified to learn that the FBI is apparently looking into it. The feds also have their eye on some potential big-money malfeasance involving associates of ranking city officials. And it's an open secret that other notables of our town's higher social and commercial strata are now having their deeds or misdeeds looked into.

A thought: Is it possibly a pending change of political power in this "Year of Change" that has created this revised sense of law-enforcement priorities?

Whatever the case, it's high time, in more senses than one.

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