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?
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)
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Literary Image of the Day
Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.—Excerpt from the opening page of The Higher Power of Lucky, as quoted by Julie Bosman in "With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar"
The children's book The Higher Power of Lucky won the Newbery Medal, "the most prestigious award in children’s literature." Lucky is a 10-year-old orphan, and from the title you may wonder whether he's also an alcoholic. But is he too young to be savoring words like "scrotum"?
In the story a snake has bitten a friend's dog on the scrotum. Now school librarians are at sixes and sevens as to whether the book should be introduced to the elementary school. And I'm sympathetic to both sides.
Whatever the book is about it seems safe to say that it isn't about scrota. So I can understand librarian Dana Nilsson who wrote, "This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope." But I think she's being a bit disingenuous when she adds, "but they didn’t have the children in mind." It isn't the children who were ignored, but the poor librarians! Can you imagine having to explain to a cadre of irate evangelical parents who've shown up at the local school board meeting why you felt that little Mary Punkinhead really would enjoy reading this book?
On the other hand "scrotum" is not a "dirty" word, even if it sounds like one. And the children are surely calling those little danglies something or other, so shouldn't they learn the "proper" word?
It seems to me that author Susan Patron understood full well what she was dealing with when she wrote that the word "sounded medical and secret." And the view of the many is that it should stay that way. If Susan Patron had really wanted to introduce the word "scrotum" to an elementary school audience, she would have done everyone a favor by writing a nonfiction work—Body Parts: Big Words Your Doctor Uses, or some such equivalent.
So I think the real problem here is context. For a 10-year-old to discover the word "scrotum" in a storybook has to be as titillating as the "good parts" of Lady Chatterley's Lover were for us in high school. (The only person I know who actually read the entire novel went on to become an English professor.) And you can bet that The Higher Power of Lucky will fly off the shelf of any elementary school library that carries it. But who can censure the librarian or teacher who doesn't have the balls to stock it?
A postcard from the edge (2/21/05)
Airline Meal of the Day
On the flight back to Washington, after the snow had cleared, the rendition team celebrated by ordering 17 shrimp cocktails and three bottles of fine Spanish wine, according to catering invoices obtained by the prosecutors. —Bob Drogin and John Goetz writing in "Pilots traced to CIA renditions"
For the three-pilot team that works out to be 5-2/3 shrimp cocktails per person, which is about right for a long flight. All three were using an alias, but if you're a Star Wars fan, you gotta love "Kirk James Bird."
If a tree falls in the forest and only one person is there.... (1/17/05)
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Statistic of the Day
Black inmates are dying at a rate 57 percent lower than that of the overall black population. —Washington Post, "Nation in Brief" for January 22 (And thanks to A Poetic Justice for the link, even if I can no longer find it.)
Over at the Pink Snapper, where I go for meditation, the sudden reappearance of young men looking better than anybody can remember always leads to greetings such as "You're looking great, dude! How long were you in for?"