Indicted for War Crimes
The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, issued an arrest warrant on March 4 for Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity. According to the United Nations, the mass killings in Darfur have caused the deaths of 300,000 people since they began in 2003. In addition, two-and-a-half million people are internally displaced, and an estimated five million are in need of food assistance. The Sudanese government rejects the possibility that General al-Bashir might be prosecuted. Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations has dismissively said of the indictment that it would not “deserve the ink with which it is written.” The League of Arab States strongly opposed it, and the African Union tried to delay it.
In the wake of the indictment, there are likely to be angry demonstrations. The fragile peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan could also be in jeopardy. Against the background of massive violence and suffering, the international community has remained on the sidelines. It must play a stronger role. President Obama supported an indictment, as did Susan Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But the goal should be steps toward peace and reconciliation, not measures that could provoke waves of retribution.
Small Is Beautiful
By many estimates, the Obama administration’s efforts to save the financial sector have only begun. Though the fix will cost trillions of dollars, federal grants and stock purchases are only emergency measures. To prevent a recurrence of today’s meltdown, the banking sector needs to be restructured. Restructuring, however, faces a paradox. In many places, small local banks continue to do business with no threat of insolvency. It is the 20 largest banks, like Citigroup and Bank of America, that are threatened with insolvency. It was precisely the combination of large size and complexity that brought the old system down.
To overcome the risks of bigness, the administration needs to retrieve the virtues of smallness. A 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act is needed to forbid the merging of financial services and break out commercial banking, investment banking and insurance activities, limit the purchase of banks and curb speculation. As Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and chair of the new Economic Recovery Advisory Board, has said, banks should restrict themselves to banking—providing customers an outlet for their money and sources of credit. Here, as Mr. Volcker points out, the untroubled Canadian system is a model.
Because the redesign must be done on a global scale, however, new banking structures cannot but be complex. To adapt to the global market, a new institutional architecture is needed to provide the networking and integrating functions of the failed megabanks. Within that structure, quasi-public entities on the model of the U.S. Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank could regulate banking networks with an eye to restoring the stability of the system and to the public good, and so reduce the temptation to speculation and greed that arises when the fiduciary function is left to a large-scale, profit-driven private system.
Save Lives, and Money Too
Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, long opposed to the death penalty, recently added to his argumentation that we should outlaw it because it is “an expensive, outdated and utterly ineffective tool in deterring violent crime.” Carolyn McGinn, a Republican member of the Kansas state senate, is another of a growing number of legislators who cite drained resources and severe budget cuts as reasons to ban capital punishment.
Some years ago, a study of costs in Texas (which has carried out more executions than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976) showed that death row cases cost taxpayers $2.3 million per case, compared with $750,000 for life sentence cases. In Kansas a few years ago the median cost for death penalty cases was $1.26 million, while non-death penalty cases cost $740,000 to the end of a prisoner’s incarceration. A strong majority of nations around the globe, over 130, have outlawed the practice. It is a requirement for nations wishing to join the European Union.
Most opponents of capital punishment make their case on religious or moral grounds, arguing as Pope John Paul II did that it is “cruel and inhuman punishment.” Others argue, from a more pragmatic point of view, that it does not deter crime and that innocent people have been executed. Many claim that the death penalty is applied along class lines: Those with the capital escape the punishment.
Capital punishment is a stain upon our conscience. The fact that one key motive for outlawing it is not respect for life but saving money is still another shame. But we hope that this economic argument, noble or ignoble, helps to win the day and that the death penalty will be prohibited everywhere across the United States.