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How politics have played a big role in the release of prisoners – The Conversation CA

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As governments around the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, they released prisoners in large numbers. The scale and scope of these releases are unprecedented, but this phenomenon is not new.

The early release of prisoners is usually due to clemency measures, legal instruments that reduce or revoke punishments. Nearly all societies throughout history have had some form of clemency — commonly called “mercy” — in their justice systems. Pardons or amnesties, which have different meanings in different contexts, are examples of clemency measures that can result in early release.

Nearly all societies over the course of history have had justice systems that had clemency provisions.
(Piqsels)

Typically, those in executive positions have the power to grant clemency. In England, for example, the Royal Prerogative of Mercy originated in the medieval period and was based on the idea that the sovereign had the power to take away or spare a life.

By the 19th century, the use of the death penalty had decreased significantly and clemency measures focused more on incarceration. This became an increasingly global phenomenon as prisons and western legal systems were forcibly spread through colonialism.

Clemency in Canada

Canada, for example, still has the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. It is rarely used and typically benefits individuals rather than groups.

In the past year, there have been calls for the mass release of non-violent Indigenous offenders in Canada. This has continued during COVID-19.

These calls are tied to wider efforts to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s prisons — a situation deeply tied to settler colonialism. If such releases occur, they would represent a major departure from past policy.

A prisoner makes a phone call in the common area of the Baffin Correctional Centre in April 2015 in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Mass releases throughout history

Prisoner releases have become a regular but selectively used feature of legal systems worldwide. Historical examples demonstrate the range of motivations for these releases but also reveal some persistent patterns.

Pandemics have prompted releases in the past. During the cholera pandemic in the 1830s, 75 prisoners from Wakefield Prison in England were released to relieve overcrowding and slow the spread of the disease.

In Boston, naval officials offered prisoners pardons if they agreed to undergo medical experiments during the 1918 influenza pandemic — one of many unethical prison experiments throughout history. In most cases, prisoners have been forced to remain in custody, with disastrous results.




Read more:
Coronavirus: a history of pandemics in prison


Many releases have been tied to significant events. To celebrate the Allied victory in the Second World War, Josef Stalin released more than 600,000 prisoners from the Gulag. In the past few decades, Cuba has freed thousands of prisoners in connection with visits from the Pope.

Releases have also occurred on annual occasions, such as Bastille Day in France, New Year’s celebrations in Myanmar and Independence Day celebrations in Kenya.

Governments often release prisoners during moments of tension or transition. In 1919, King George V declared a royal amnesty for political prisoners in India to encourage them to work with rather than resist the colonial state.

Upon taking power in Uganda through a coup in 1971, Idi Amin released political prisoners incarcerated by the previous government. When South Africa dismantled apartheid rule in the early 1990s, many political prisoners — including Nelson Mandela — were released.

Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie, walking hand in hand, raise clenched fists upon his release from Victor prison in Cape Town, South Africa, in February 1990. The African National Congress leader had served over 27 years in detention.
(AP Photo)

While governments celebrate these releases as signs of their humanity, these acts typically benefit a narrow range of prisoners.

In 1945, political prisoners like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn remained in the Gulag. When Amin freed political prisoners in 1971, his government was newly detaining many Ugandans. In South Africa, many prisoners not categorized as political remained behind bars at the end of apartheid. They protested their continued imprisonment, arguing that their crimes were due to the structural violence of apartheid.

Past, present and future

What can we learn from this history?

First, it reminds us that the release of prisoners is nothing new. Clemency is a longstanding feature of legal systems that has served many purposes.

Second, releases are generally motivated by political rather than compassionate concerns. Governments often release prisoners when it’s beneficial to them or when they face pressure from activist organizations and the public. By controlling releases, leaders can try to deflect criticism, improve their image and reinforce their power.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is seen talking to the media in this February 2020 photo. Donald Trump commuted Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence for political corruption.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Third, the release of prisoners benefits the individuals affected, but it is often a selective and politicized act. This persists today. U.S. President Donald Trump has recently pardoned high-profile offenders known to support him, while millions of Americans remain behind bars in the world’s largest system of mass incarceration.

Historically, prison releases have been isolated acts that have not fundamentally challenged the prison system itself.

But we are in unprecedented times. Many have pointed out that the COVID-19 releases could be a step towards widespread decarceration and the abolition of prisons.

The pandemic represents an important opportunity to think critically about the place of prisons and other penal institutions in our societies. COVID-19 could spark systemic change.

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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Christopher Pyne on being 'the ultimate insider' – The Conversation AU

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Former Liberal Minister Christopher Pyne attracted critics for his political front. But he always had plenty of friends and networks, enabling him often to be a player, if not always a “fixer”.

After his election to the South Australian seat of Sturt at age 25, he went on to hold senior portfolios, notably education and defence, and to stride the parliamentary stage as Leader of the House of Representatives.

In his memoir, The Insider, the former politician provides his take, humorous and candid, on a tumultuous 26 parliamentary years.

In this podcast, Pyne talks about life after politics, and stories from the ‘Canberra bubble’.

“I don’t miss politics at all – because I left happy, and I wanted to go.

“So I’m not one of these politicians that was dragged kicking and screaming. I left when people wanted me to stay, which is a great rarity.”

Pyne is ultra candid about his ambition to be prime minister:

“I think when you’re 15, and you decided you want to be a member of the House of Representatives, you kind of think ‘I’m going to dream big.’ So of course I dreamt to be prime minister”.

Reality, it appears, didn’t hit for quite a while.

“I think that week when Malcolm [Turnbull] was deposed and nobody was suggesting that I should be running for leader, it dawned on me that the generation that was being elected, which was Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, were a generation different to me.”

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The semiconductor industry is where politics gets real for Taiwan

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One might wonder how something as small as five nanometres – about the width of two strands of DNA – could be of consequence to the complex political relationships between the US, China and Taiwan.

Semiconductor chips are the brains of all our electronics, from mobile phones to cars to fighter jets. And the most advanced chips on the market today have billions of five nanometre switches on them.

Taiwan has a dominant role in the international supply chain for these tiny but strategically vital products. Together with South Korea’s Samsung and Intel from the US, Taiwan is at the cutting edge of semiconductor technology. It is also a major presence in their manufacturing: one Taiwanese company, TSMC, produces about half the world’s annual supply of chips.

The industry has been a diplomatic asset for Taiwan, entrenching US and Chinese interests in Taiwan’s stability and autonomy.

Taiwan’s semiconductor industry has deep links to the US. This is not surprising when you know the history. Taiwan’s sector took off in the 1970s and 1980s when Taipei was looking for a way out of an economic slump caused by the 1973 oil shock. A combination of industry policy and unlikely personal connections with leaders in the Radio Corporation of America saw a generation of Taiwanese engineers trained in the US. Today, almost all major US technology firms have some presence in Taiwan. The US sources its most advanced chips for military hardware from TSMC – chips it is unable to make at home. Taiwan is also the second-largest market for US semiconductor equipment.

Taiwanese company TSMC produces about half the world’s annual supply of chips (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

But China’s emergence as the world’s largest consumer of semiconductor chips has led Taiwan to develop links there, too. Since the early 2000s Taiwanese semiconductor firms have radically increased sales into the Chinese market. And the benefits of this relationship run both ways. China’s domestic manufacturing meets less than a fifth of domestic demand for chips and is about five years behind the technology frontier. China leans heavily on Taiwan’s manufacturing capacity for the chips vital to its electronics industry, including some of its most profitable export lines.

The Taiwanese semiconductor industry’s vested interests in both the US and Chinese markets have seen it quietly lobby for Taipei to maintain friendly ties with both sides. But Taiwan’s status as a neutral player is becoming harder to maintain. With US-China tensions rising, both fear the influence of the other over their supply of chips.

The US technology war with China, by a combination of both default and design, is pulling Taiwan closer into the orbit of the United States.

Under the Trump administration, the US has become more pro-Taiwan than at any time since it switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. This policy is more a confluence of many interests than clear strategic vision. With the White House largely looking the other way and anti-China sentiment running high, pro-Taiwan elements in the US concerned with historical or geopolitical reasons for Taiwan’s continued autonomy have been vocal in shaping policy. And they’ve found support from elements within the national security apparatus who want to exert influence over Taiwan’s technology sector and ringfence it from China.

The US technology war with China, by a combination of both default and design, is pulling Taiwan closer into the orbit of the United States. There have long been reports of US pressure on Taiwanese semiconductor companies to resist sales to China and do more manufacturing in the US. In May, this culminated in both an announcement from TSMC that it would spend US$12 billion on a US manufacturing plant (with an unspecified amount of US government support) and a technical change to export rules.

New export rules in the US designed to target Huawei will have big implications for Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturers such as TSMC. In the past, TSMC earned nearly a fifth of its revenue from sales to China. But much of that has ground to a halt. Because TSMC uses US semiconductor equipment to make the chips it sells, there are now limits on who it can sell to. The rules mean TSMC will be ever more reliant on the US market for sales.

For China, the new rules won’t bite for a little while. Huawei has reportedly stockpiled a year’s supply of chips. There has also been some media speculation about an exemption – will TSMC’s US$12 billion investment in the US buy it some leeway? And a year is a long time in both politics and technology; whether China can negotiate, or innovate, its way out of this dilemma is anyone’s guess.

The ability of Taiwanese semiconductor firms to seek out friendly ties with both the US and China is also made harder by the ideological approach of President Xi Jinping to Taiwan’s status. One might think that China’s dependency on Taiwan for chips might endear it to the status quo. But Xi isn’t such a realist when it comes to Taiwan. Beijing views Taiwan in largely political terms – preoccupied with “the great trend of history” towards unification, as Xi claimed in his January 2019 speech which soured cross-strait relations. This is because ideas of the Communist Party’s legitimacy are tightly bound together with control over China’s territory and historical sovereignty of Taiwan. Save for paying handsome salaries to attract Taiwanese talent, China’s increasingly hostile policy to Taiwan is remarkably at odds with its trade interests.

The technology war, increasingly nationalist trade policies in the US, and ideological hardening in China mean that Taiwan’s ability to keep calm and carry on is getting tricker. And the semiconductor industry is where politics gets real for Taiwan. The industry accounts for around 15% of Taiwan’s GDP, so there’s a lot at stake. Taiwan’s dominance in this tiny but strategically important technology is becoming another layer of complexity in the US, China, Taiwan triangle.

Source: – The Interpreter

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Trevor Noah and Lilly Singh Compare Notes on Politics and Comedy in Late-Night TV – Variety

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Lilly Singh and Trevor Noah have been studying each other.

Noah says he has been looking at some of Singh’s YouTube videos as he’s been hosting Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” from home, and “A Little Late’s” Singh keeps tabs on how Noah handles talk about politics and national affairs.

Here, they get to compare notes as Variety brought them together for a conversation about how to produce a late-night show during a pandemic and balance comedy with commentary on tough issues that face the nation these days.

Lilly, you just finished your first season on your show, and Trevor, not too long ago, you were the freshman late-night host. What was it like for both of you to be under so much new scrutiny?

Trevor Noah:  So my first year was horrible. I will say the first two years were horrible — and it was horrible because I had taken over one of America’s most beloved institutions. And even though Jon Stewart had passed over the reins to me, it was essentially a year of people telling me I shouldn’t be doing the job and I was unworthy of being in that seat. And I continued to believe that. You step into this new role and you’re doing a new job and most of the first year was just trying to stay afloat, just trying not to get canceled and trying to find my footing. And the analogy I use is trying to learn how to fly a plane while the plane is flying. That’s what it felt like every single day.

What I’ve come to realize in hindsight is I was up against so many obstacles that I never thought of before. I was taking over a show and was a different person, which is hard enough. Any show that changes hosts is going to struggle. A new host is going to rattle people. Then you have extra factors: You come from another country. You sound different and one of the biggest things that I took for granted was you look different. A lot of people had been used to getting their late-night news from a face that looks a certain way. I see now that must have been jarring for viewers — to go from having the face that you know to having someone like, “What are you doing on my screen?” Sometimes, it’s not even something that people are consciously thinking of [but they’re] not used to having a person like you. So, yeah, the first year was just me desperately trying not to drown. It probably wasn’t the happiest year of my life, and I think the only reason I appreciate it is because my mom always says, “You don’t get stronger unless you struggle.”

Lilly Singh: To hear you had a hard time honestly, selfishly, makes me feel a little better. It’s really hard and the analogy of trying to figure out how to fly a plane is absolutely correct. Before I started my first year, in a previous interview, you told me, “Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not going to consume your life, because it’s going to consume your life.” And you were the only person bold enough to say it to me like that. I had anticipated obstacles: Yeah, it will be a lot of work, maybe there will be some scrutiny — but there were so many obstacles I never even thought about, because I just didn’t have the knowledge to know they would be obstacles. Just looking different and being different has been challenging. You’re talking about your skin color too much. You’re talking about your sexuality too much. And it’s really trying to navigate how to be authentically you when people are not used to authentically you. It really is super challenging.

For decades, late-night hosts were largely cut from the same cloth, namely white men. In recent years, that has started to change. How do you see representation evolving over time?

Noah: I don’t get angry that it’s only been white men. I also think about how American society was shaped, what people perceived a comedian to be, who people perceived a comedian to be. As audiences change, you’ll start to see diversity and as networks become more open, their audiences will adjust over time. As audiences change, you’ll start to see diversity and as networks become more open, their audiences will adjust over time. There will be a domino effect that just keeps on going. I don’t want to live in a world where there are no white late-night hosts — I’m not looking for erasure — I’m looking for a world where there are more late-night hosts.

Singh: I can only say that not every story has to be about everyone, but there should be stories for everyone. I think it’s not, “Let’s get rid of all the white late-night hosts, and let’s get rid of all the shows,” but “Let’s have shows that represent other people.” If I had this great story about this Indian girl in high school, I don’t want to hear, “Oh, but we already have Mindy Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever,’ so we can’t do this.” I think that part of the problem is that just because there’s a show about someone who’s brown on Netflix, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be another story.

Lilly Singh (right, with Malala Yousafzai) launched “A Little Late” in September 2019.
Courtesy of NBC

The coronavirus pandemic has changed all of late night; Lilly, you taped many of your episodes before things spread, and Trevor, you are doing all your shows from your apartment. What do you think audiences want to see from late night?

Noah: I think audiences are less concerned by what they see on TV and more concerned by the world they are living in. I always think that entertainment is oftentimes a welcome release from the world that is real, but when the world that is, really is almost too real and happening all the time, then people and audiences are in a very different space. For me, it’s different, because I’ve said from the beginning, the one thing I’ve said about working on ‘The Daily Show,’ and I was lucky enough to join when Jon was still working, I grew up in a very political country. I grew up as a very political comedian, even though I don’t consider myself that. If you watch my earliest stand up, I’m talking about American politics, I’m talking about South African politics. That’s just been me, So that’s what ‘The Daily Show’ does. I haven’t been so stressed in terms of thinking about content during this moment, because I live in the world of the news. I try to provide context; I try to distill it. If I think people are looking for anything from my show, they are looking for a clarification — what everything means. That’s what people want because that’s what I want. We are living in a world where nobody agrees on a fact. People are allowed to live in completely different realities, and what that creates is uncertainty that I think it’s already uncomfortable for human beings, because you don’t get to establish what your base level really is.

Singh: Comedy is such a good vehicle to talk about things that are difficult to talk about. People put down their defense mechanisms a little bit more. Right now is such a challenging, difficult and unique time. Usually, when people want to escape from their day they want to dive into comedy. I just think the desire to escape is not there anymore. I think people don’t want to escape. They want to acknowledge the real world and they want to help change it and they want to address what is happening. I think a lot of other comedians have just been providing space, honestly.

Where do you think things go from here?

Singh: The good news about what I do, if there is any good news during COVID, [is] when you see late-night hosts doing things from home. I say, “Baby, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.” I’ve been an advocate for “story comes first.” You don’t have the high production values, but you have people saying things that matter. What I’m looking forward to is working on things that are just that — something people really care about, that I feel really good about. It’s been a little challenging, I won’t lie, not being on the air during this time, because it’s strange to see my [older] episodes that are out there, where no one is wearing a mask and sometimes I am hugging my guest. I’m literally cringing watching myself doing this.

Noah: When I chose to do the show from home, one of the interesting things I looked to was people like Lilly. People like Lilly Singh are now the veterans and I am now the amateur. How do you make this thing? How do you create something with nothing? It’s frustrating but it’s liberating. I hope that now people like Lilly will have more leeway to be more Lilly as opposed to the TV world telling Lilly to be more TV. Now we’ve all become more YouTube.

Singh: I got my start on YouTube, but I grew up with TV and I grew up with stars. When I got my late-night show of course, TV is a big crew. When I went in, there was definitely a struggle. There was a crew, so many people behind the script and so many people telling me what punchline was funniest. It definitely challenged me to kind of mesh these two worlds together. The first season really reminded me of “first video on YouTube Lilly,” like someone just trying to figure it out, not really sure. I want to bring more me. In season one, I was not completely sure how to navigate that, because I was in a world where everyone has a desk and everyone does things a certain way and everyone does a monologue, and I did not know how to do anything else. As this show progresses, It’s going to become more me and it’s not going to be easy but I am looking forward to bringing that.

Lazy loaded image

Trevor Noah took over “The Daily Show” from Jon Stewart in 2015.
Courtesy of Comedy Central

Noah: I think a lot of people have allowed the studio audience to dictate the feeling of the show, when the viewing audience is infinitely larger. You have 50 or 200 people in a room versus millions of people who are watching the thing, and that smaller group of people gets to dictate the feeling of what’s happening and how it’s happening. They get to shift your mood. They get to define how a thing is or how a joke is landing or isn’t landing.

Singh: One of the things that has come up on my show is the marks you have, ‘this is the camera you are using.’ There might be some moment where I would not follow the mark or follow what we had planned out, go into the audience, crack some joke, but of course the cameras aren’t set up that way. Things are a little bit tricky. That’s something I want to bring to Season 2 — to get away from the production that puts you in such a narrow range.

How do you think your shows will tackle the 2020 election?

Noah: People spit out soundbites, but no one likes to provide context. No one thinks why things are happening, why people are saying what they are saying, why, why why? And so, for me, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve tried to provide a platform to as many organizers and activists on the ground, not pundits, not people who think they know what is happening, but actual people who are actually moving things forward. When I am talking to a farmer from Oklahoma, I want to talk to an actual farmer who may or may not support Trump, but tells me his perspective, as opposed to someone who is a pundit who tells me the perspective of a farmer.

Singh: Am I the most savvy with politics? I can try, but will I be Trevor? Absolutely not. What I think I can offer is how I talk about these issues. Maybe, especially with my show being a successful YouTube player, I can talk about when a politician talks about how they want to deal with women’s rights, or how they want to deal with the LGBTQ+ community. And I will do that through comedy, like I have in the past so many times.

Is being funny tougher in these times?

Noah: We are looking for a balanced diet. If you have too much sugar in your system, your body is going to tell you. If you have too much fiber, your body is going to tell you. What I think audiences are going to be looking for is content that connects, whether it is funny or whether it is informative.

Singh: Me and my roommate were feeling quite heavy and we’ve been going to the protests and doing whatever stuff we can do, but I can tell you we came home and I watched a video of a puppy farting. That’s why there has to be an array of content.

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