Monday, February 3rd, 2003

Re: Wow, this is fascinating.

Filed under: Anne,death penalty,US politics — alison @ 06:28

Not everyone snickered. This is Anne McKnight <____>‘s impassioned response. I thought it was worth sharing.


I read the mail about the death penalty, and got kind of worked up responding…

   This is my point of view as registered voter in a state (Illinois) in which the death penalty has been abolished, and where critiques of systematic racism and injustice in the prison system have been launched.  As you can imagine, this article pressed a lot of buttons, as it relies on the old, uninformed stereotypes of the US as a coherent ideological force.

   In my opinion, the anti-death penalty movement is a successful movement of social change in the US.  It represents an internal critique of social justice which has been successful-and under the Bush administration, no less.  This success story is not something people typically like to hear.  It does not fit the historical narrative of the US as racist homeland, as failed fatcat, as some place activism died in the 60s–an interpretation that allows us to see the US as a force already, irrevocably well on its way to whatever mode of blind destruction is supposed, as if all possibilities of intervention were already over. The effect of this narrative is to concede the momentum of a set of events which may not actually be decided.  (Of course, sorting out the contradictions is difficult whenever the US as an international force is conflated with what is going on domestically.)

   In the US, capital punishment is decided by the states, not the feds.  It thus doesn’t really make sense to talk of a coherent “US” position on capital punishment if referring to the domestic death penalty.

   I think obscuring this difference creates a false impression of unity in the US.  Of course, seeing the issue in national terms allows us to think of the US as moral low ground, categorically ‘barbaric,’ and to indulge our stereotypes about what a backwards, contradictory place the world’s most advanced country is. But seeing the issue in a national frame completely bypasses the fact that there is a vibrant and effective movement against the death penalty in the US–on a state by state basis.  It has been successful, and is still spreading!  As this is one social issue on which there is actual progress in the US, I think it is damaging (by which I mean shutting down critique where it actually does exist-these people need your support!) to paint the US in terms of an imagined ideological coherence-for instance, the ‘prison industrial complex’ in California, and the failure of the ‘3 strikes you’re out’ law, is hugely controversial.*

   And then, there’s governor George Ryan.  The growing anti-capital punishment movement in the US has been greatly spurred in the last 2 years by state governors, most notably by Gov George Ryan of Illinois.  In the last 2 years, he has signed many prisoners off death row, and has set a precedent for other governors to do the same.

   You can read Ryan’s speech, that he gave as he left the office of governor in January, 2003 at   You can search for ‘George Ryan death penalty” and get a number of advocacy briefs to track the issues on line.

   In his speech, Ryan explains how he came to regard the death penalty as wrong, and makes the connection between economic growth and the prison system–the death penalty is simply more cost effective.  This cost-effectiveness is a great motivation of Bush’s policies abroad, of course, whether such policies consist of extending loans that weigh like anchors on developing countries, or insisting on ‘free markets’ at any cost. Bush is pissed off at China for its ‘anti-religious’ tolerance because it sees it as a mark of barbarity–failure to obe ‘universal’ human rights standards.  This is simply one more reason to assert the universal–of which Bush is presumably the representative–as the authorized law to go in and set things right, restore order, so that markets will function.  This is an old story in China. And Japan. And postwar Europe. And Iraq.  And so on.

   It is important to realize that the jurisdiction over which G Bush speaks in terms of foreign policy is symptomatic of his stance as a former GOVERNOR.  G Bush is on the side of the state (whether state government or feds) possessing the only authorized law–within this he includes the right to adjudicate life & death. This policy, for him, is consistent in the state-government arena of Texas, and in the international arena.  This extension of practices of Texas-style governance is one part of the extension of his Texas-style governance into national & international frames.

   The reason I think this article, and your reading, alarmed me, is that it is precisely Bush’s strategy to refuse to listen to any form of resistance:  he just won’t make any appointment with citizens’ groups, clergy, military people, students, whoever-anyone whose voice is not already incorporated into his.  So I think it is really important to publicize those who don’t agree with him, at this time, to show that in fact, he is NOT necessarily representing the people, even in his own country!

   I think it is true that the anti-war movement, so driven by the imperial position of the US & the tacit assent of its allies, is in a funny state.  No one knows what activism means anymore, they just know somehow that it is dysfunctional.  But I think in my generation (born mid 60s) the backlash against the failure of the older, sixties generation to sustain its utopian policies is so strong, that we often triumph by pouncing on the certainty of failure.  It’s confusing:  on the one hand, 25,000 people will march through downtown Montreal writing peace signs on car windows (i.e. not smashing them).  On the other, this movement is unsure where to go after the ‘symbolic demonstration’ of getting out the people, singing out the songs (wearing them out :)  !) In the general atmosphere, I do think it is important to recognize that the US is by no means a done deal on all issues.  These people need your help!  


*       Of course, public opinion polls will go on about ‘US opinion’ as their point of reference, but the fact is, the decision to rule the death penalty legal or not is made on a state-by-state basis.

[originally transmitted by e-mail February 3, 2003]

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

Wow, this is fascinating.

Filed under: death penalty,US politics — alison @ 10:42

I don’t see the problem. The US is in favour of executions and in favour of closed trials of people who just might be connected with political violence. This is both. Why aren’t they happy?


The United States has condemned the execution of a Tibetan man accused of a series of bomb attacks in south-west China.

“We join the international community in raising concern over the reported execution of Lobsang Dhondup, and the suspended sentence of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche,” said Amanda Blatt, a spokeswoman for the State Department.

Lobsang Dhondup, 28, was executed on Sunday, after being convicted in a closed trial in December of bomb attacks in Sichuan province between 1998 and 2002.

The US State Department said it was also “closely watching” reports that 10 other Tibetans had been detained in the same case.

[originally transmitted by e-mail February 2, 2003]

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