Thursday, February 22, 2007


A fresh approach to capital punishment in the U.S.

I write relatively little about capital punishment since government-sponsored killing in foreign lands far exceeds anything going on in the nation's death houses. But let me leave no doubt that I oppose the current practice.

Capital punishment is carried out mostly by the states, though the Republicans would like to see more executions at the federal level. Maybe in hopes of finding something that George "the Texecutioner" can really do well, they tripled the number of capital crimes through the Patriot Act. They also imposed greater limits on the right of death-row inmates to appeal. Bush himself had the happy task of presiding over the first federal execution in 37 years—the killing in 2001 of Timothy McVeigh.

Opponents of capital punishment have employed a variety of strategies over the years—pleas to sociological data, pleas to morality, pleas to religion, pleas to the Constitution. But nothing can curb the bloodlust of the righteous. Yet the story of an upcoming execution in China makes me wonder whether opponents of capital punishment have adopted the wrong approach.

From various Chinese accounts the AP reported

Wang Zhendong, chairman of Yingkou Donghua Trading Group Co., had promised returns of up to 60 percent for buying kits of ants and breeding equipment from two companies he set up, the reports said.

Ants are used in some traditional Chinese medicinal remedies, which can fetch a high price. Wang sold the kits, which cost $25, for $1,300....

Wang promoted his products through advertising and drew in more than 10,000 investors between 2002 and June 2005....

Prosecutors told the court in northeast China that one investor committed suicide after realizing he had been duped, and only $1.28 million of the swindled money had been recovered by the time the case was filed with the court last June....

The Intermediate People's Court in Yingkou on Tuesday sentenced Wang to death....

Fifteen managers of the company were given prison terms ranging from five to 10 years and fined from $12,800 to $64,000, Xinhua said.

Fake investments and pyramid investment schemes have become common during China's transition from a planned economy to a free market. Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could add to already percolating social unrest.

The death penalty is used broadly in China. Though usually reserved for violent crimes, it is also applied for nonviolent offenses that involve large sums of money or are deemed to have a pernicious social impact.

So I say it's time we stop pleading and embrace the enemy. We need to take a look at the Chinese model.

We need more capital punishment, not less. But we need to end the class warfare enshrined in our current system and broaden the guidelines so that the rich can also enjoy its corrective benefits. We could put an end to Enron-type meltdowns if corporate executives went to bed with a vision of the drip-drip of an IV dancing in their heads, while Mom and Pop investors everywhere could sleep soundly knowing their little nest eggs were safe. Why, the deterrent effect would be enormous!

But as the AP story mentions, it's not just money that we should consider when meting out the death penalty but "pernicious social impact" as well. This is where the blessings of capital punishment can be extended beyond the boardroom into the political realm. For instance, should a deliberate misrepresentation to the public's representatives that results in a major loss of life be a capital crime? By current standards that certainly seems reasonable.

So to those who oppose capital punishment, I say it's time for an about-face. We need to join with death-penalty advocates and lobby for a broadening of the application of this fine law-enforcement tool. There are a number of social and political problems that could be easily remedied.

Yet I should warn you: If our movement picks up steam, we might run into some resistance from politicians we thought were "friends of the needle." But if we can get past the legislatures, we only have to worry about the Supreme Court. The justices there have the power to decide that execution is, after all, a "cruel and unusual" punishment strictly forbidden by the Constitution. But what are the chances of that happening?

Related posts
A change on the death penalty at the Justice Department? (4/20/05)
41 new reasons to kill you—all with less effort (10/26/05)
All in good fun (4/27/06)


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