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Timing is everything?
July 31, 2010 5:16 PM   Subscribe

With "support for the death penalty in excess of 85% [of the population]", there is normally little fuss in Japan each time the announcement is made that convicted murderers from death row have been hanged (such announcements are only made after each execution.) But last Wednesday, the disclosure that two executions had taken place early that morning did raise eyebrows - for two reasons. Justice Minister Keiko Chiba held a press conference to make the announcement, and added that - in a 'first' for a Japanese Justice Minister - she herself had attended the execution as a witness, after signing the authorization for it to proceed. But what has really caused a firestorm of protest is the fact that although she lost her Parliamentary seat in last month's election, she "has remained in her ministerial post at the request of Prime Minister Naoto Kan". She is a private citizen.
posted by woodblock100 (29 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
A bit more background: from a post-election news story: "At a press conference later in the morning, [Chief Cabinet Secretary] Sengoku said he had been informed by Kan that Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who lost her Diet seat in the election, will continue as minister until September. ... 'With the continuity of the administration in mind, I think it's desirable that she retains her post [until then],' Sengoku said."

And a note about the timing: the election in which she lost her seat was in mid-July. Her legal term as lawmaker ended on Sunday, the 25th of July. On Saturday - the day before - she signed the execution orders, which were implemented four days later, as she watched.
posted by woodblock100 at 5:17 PM on July 31, 2010


What's the problem with having a minister who's not a member of parliament? We have it quite often in Denmark.
posted by brokkr at 5:54 PM on July 31, 2010


We have it quite often

As we do in my own 'home' countries of the UK and Canada. Her position is of course 'legal'. What has caused protest here is the general feeling that - as somebody who was 'sent packing' by the electorate a couple of weeks ago - she should not have suddenly started signing these execution authorizations (she signed none at all during her term up to that point).
posted by woodblock100 at 6:06 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


As we do in my own 'home' countries of the UK and Canada.

Are you sure about that? (I don't know about Canada, but I'm pretty sure they have responsible government too).
posted by GeckoDundee at 6:49 PM on July 31, 2010


As we do in my own 'home' countries of the UK and Canada.

Eh. I'm pretty sure that's not true of the UK. Well, they don't have to be members of the commons, but they should be in the lords if they're not.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 7:08 PM on July 31, 2010


I don't know about Canada ...

Ministers in Canada do not have to have won an elected seat (although they do have to be part of Parliament). Here's a news story with an example.

In the current Japanese example, Keiko Chiba was in the (elected) Upper House, but lost her seat there. She is currently a member of neither house.
posted by woodblock100 at 7:15 PM on July 31, 2010


With "support for the death penalty in excess of 85% [of the population]"

Sorry, but I will have to invoke a phrase coined by Charles Wentworth Dilke and popularized by Mark Twain.

The public opinion poll (taken in December of 2009 and updated in February, 2010) is available here. It is entitled "Public Opinion Survey on the Basic Legal System" and, unfortunately, it is only available in Japanese. If you look at the outline of the results, you will find a nice bar chart that shows the number of people polled and the phrasing of the poll.

The top bar shows the number of people polled in this survey: 1,944 people. The three bars under it show the number of people polled in previous polls: 2,048 people in December 2004, 3,600 people in September 1999 and 2,113 people in September 1994.

The next two bars show breakdown by gender: 874 men and 1,070 women were polled. The next six bars show a breakdown by age which should be pretty easy to understand even if you don't read Japanese.

The important thing here is this: only 1,944 people were polled out of a population of 127,076,183 (population estimate in March 2009).

So the phrase...

With "support for the death penalty in excess of 85% [of the population]"

...should probably read...

With "support for the death penalty in excess of 85% [of the population of only 1,944 people polled]"

The next issue I have with the poll is the wording of it.

If we go back to our graph, above the top bar it shows the phrasing of the poll. The dark area (5.7%) is:

"In any case the death penalty should be abolished."

The white area (8.6%) is:

"I don't know. / I cannot say unconditionally (without reservation)."

The final area (85.6%) is:

"In some cases, the death penalty is unavoidable."

Of the people who replied "In some cases, the death penalty is unavoidable," most said that it should be reserved for "heinous crimes" or that removing the option of a death penalty completely would lead to an increase in heinous crimes.

With particularly heinous crimes such as the Sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, Osaka school massacre or Akihabara massacre still relatively fresh in the public consciousness, I believe that the phrasing of the poll skewed the results.

So the phrase...

With "support for the death penalty in excess of 85% [of the population of only 1,944 people polled]"

...should probably read...

"Of the only 1,944 people polled, over 85% believed that the death penalty should not be completely abolished and should, in some cases, be reserved for heinous crimes"

It's sad when government polls are phrased and presented like a Fox News poll.

Note: woodblock100, I only take issue with the government poll, not your post. Thank you for your post.
posted by stringbean at 7:26 PM on July 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


woodblock100: What has caused protest here is the general feeling that - as somebody who was 'sent packing' by the electorate a couple of weeks ago - she should not have suddenly started signing these execution authorizations (she signed none at all during her term up to that point).

Sorry, but that really wasn't very clear in the post. That people got upset makes a lot more sense, in light of that.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:28 PM on July 31, 2010


What raised my eyebrows is the fact that 85% of the Japanese population support the death penalty. That stunned me.
posted by crossoverman at 7:31 PM on July 31, 2010


I only take issue with the government poll, not your post

No argument ... thank you. The whole death penalty question is huge, and even within this story contains more 'twists and turns'. She herself is on record as being against it, which makes one wonder why she accepted the position in the first place, given that she knew that signing the warrants was part of the job.

To her credit though, when it 'came time' to do so, she didn't simply hide behind her desk, but went down to the death chamber to see for herself the consequence of her actions. And she has now initiated an open discussion on the matter, by setting up a study group to investigate the entire process, which has traditionally been very closed and opaque.
posted by woodblock100 at 7:32 PM on July 31, 2010


Stringbean, I think that talking to 1,944 people will give you a fairly good idea about the public consensus. Do you think that 85% figure is wildly off the mark?
posted by ryanrs at 7:34 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


crossoverman: "What raised my eyebrows is the fact that 85% of the Japanese population support the death penalty. That stunned me."

The US isn't too far behind at 65% support for it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:37 PM on July 31, 2010


Hanging? Like... really?
posted by cthuljew at 8:02 PM on July 31, 2010


The important thing here is this: only 1,944 people were polled out of a population of 127,076,183

Which gives something like a 3% margin of error in the results, assuming the sampled population represents the real one accurately.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:06 PM on July 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


The important thing here is this: only 1,944 people were polled out of a population of 127,076,183 (population estimate in March 2009)

Okay, time once again for Uncle Xenophobe's Rapid And Ill-Tempered Introduction To Sampling.

Sampling works because the larger the sample becomes, the more the occasional weird sample-elements cancel each other out and the closer the sample mean becomes to the true population mean. For random samples, this works because of the Central Limit Theorem, which... well, let's just say that the Central Limit Theorem is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Even better proof then beer.

Even more proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy is that, because of how the math works out, it turns out that we don't need to draw especially large samples... for most purposes 1000 will do just fine. With 1000 responses, if they're random, the margin of error is about three percentage points, which is fine for most inferences.

In this case, if the polling organization did a good job of drawing a random sample, then we can be highly confident that somewhere between 83 and 87 percent of the sampled population.

The way we know this is backwards. Say 85% of the Japanese population opposed the death penalty -- in this case, it would be nearly impossible to gather a random sample of 1944 Japanese adults who "favored" it. Or if opinion were split evenly, it would be nearly impossible to draw a random sample of 1944 people who favored it. Even if 80% of the population favored the death penalty, our odds of drawing a random sample where 85% favored it would be *does back of envelope math* about one in fifty million (but envelope math is notoriously error-prone). If they did a good job drawing a random sample, then the only population percentages that would not make it almost completely impossible to draw a sample with 85% "favoring" the death penalty are... 83 to 87 percent.

And the population size turns out to be more or less irrelevant, except that if the population is very small sampling becomes even easier. Because it makes the math simpler, we usually just assume that the population is actually infinite.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:24 PM on July 31, 2010 [18 favorites]


Hanging? Like... really?

I honestly don't see how hanging is any different to electrocution, the firing squad and lethal injection. They're all roughly as barbaric to me.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 8:28 PM on July 31, 2010


My understanding is that a large percentage of Europeans approve of the death penalty, with rates of course depending on country, but the European political class has banned it.

The only numbers I'm finding online are from 2002, and say the approval rating is "Up to 77 percent of Britons support the reintroduction of capital punishment, and close to 50 percent think the same way in France and Italy ... 49 percent of Swedes wanted the return of capital punishment." Germany appears to be an exception in that a majority of Germans oppose the death penalty.
posted by dragoon at 8:32 PM on July 31, 2010


I wouldn't be surprised if 85% of Japanese people supported the death penalty - my wife, who is a decent, compassionate person (hey, she's married to me!) and is, I like to think, pretty representative of the Japanese female psyche, supports the death penalty, while I do not.

In Canada, Michael Fortier is the most recent example of a cabinet minister who was neither a member of the Commons nor the Senate at the time of appointment. As I recall, it was because the Harper government needed a cabinet rep from Montreal, and there were no Conservative MPs he could choose from. Sez Wikipedia:

Fortier was appointed to Cabinet on 6 February 2006, the day Stephen Harper's minority government took office. A financier and lawyer from Montreal, he had not been elected as a member of the House of Commons at the time he was appointed, nor was he a member of the Senate. Harper announced that Fortier would be appointed to the Senate, but would be expected to step down and run for a seat in the House of Commons at the next election. [3] On February 27, 2006, Fortier was formally summoned to the Senate. This practice is unusual in modern Canada, but there is precedent for such a practice: in 1979, former Prime Minister Joe Clark appointed Quebec Senator Jacques Flynn Minister of Justice because of his lack of representation in that province. In 1972, when Trudeau failed to win a single seat west of Manitoba, he appointed senators to cabinet as well. 19th century Prime Ministers John Abbott and Mackenzie Bowell served their entire terms in government as Senators.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:44 PM on July 31, 2010


I was going to add that the Japanese death penalty is especially cruel and unusual. Death row inmates live for years never knowing when the death penalty will be administered and they will die. One day a minister orders an execution, and the next day guards come to the prisoner's cell, knock on the door, and take him/her away to die by the noose. I can't even imagine what it's like to live from day to day, never knowing when you will die.

And thanks ROU_Xenophobe for explaining what I thought was common sense.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:50 PM on July 31, 2010


Article 68:
The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet.
posted by dhartung at 11:28 PM on July 31, 2010


Up to 77 percent of Britons support the reintroduction of capital punishment

I've seen different figures for the UK, all converging around the 50% mark. A Gallup pool in 2003 found 55% supported the death penalty (1,000 adults with a confidence interval of ±5 percentage points). There was a YouGov poll a few years ago which found 49% in favour, the lowest figure since it was abolished (sample of 2,616 adults, but doesn't say the confidence interval, what sample frame it was based or whether it was random, quota etc). Then a poll by Harris Interactive last year found 54% in favour (1,100 adults, nothing about the survey method or sample).

Despite the fact that support seems to be on the decline, as governments in the EU face political and economic pressures to go further rightwards I am profoundly grateful that the abolition of the death penalty is now enshrined within the Charter of Fundamental Rights, not just ECHR - and that hence reintroducing it would probably mean countries ceding from the EU. Hopefully that will provide an additional check on it ever returning to Europe, and an incentive for others looking to join the EU to abolish it (as Turkey has already done).
posted by greycap at 12:31 AM on August 1, 2010


The debate about what is an appropriate sample-size to determine "public opinion" (a shifty concept) has ignored the other part of Stringbean's post - the measure of public opinion more importantly depends on what you ask the public to have an opinion about and on how you phrase the question.

The pro-death penalty tabloids in the UK are skilled at this game.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 1:09 AM on August 1, 2010


I can't even imagine what it's like to live from day to day, never knowing when you will die.

You're doing it now.

---

With "support for the death penalty in excess of 85% [of the population]"

A significant percentage of people run to the beach when there's a tsunami. I don't think populations are qualified to decide this issue. Treasuries don't poll on interest rates (I hope).

---

I wouldn't be surprised if 85% of Japanese people supported the death penalty - my wife, who is a decent, compassionate person (hey, she's married to me!) and is, I like to think, pretty representative of the Japanese female psyche, supports the death penalty, while I do not.

My girlfriend is Japanese and occasionally decent and compassionate (though rarely to me), and likes to think that she's pretty representative of the Japanese female psyche, too, and she supports the death penalty. I should note, however, that she would never, for a second, consider the possibility that she would be involved in a situation in which she would break the law or kill someone. I can't even get her to imagine the hypothetical. It's just not on her map. The Japanese people I know well consider the issue only in the abstract, for the same reasons. It seems to me, here, that Chiba went against her own initial discomfort with the idea for the sake of getting people to confront the issue face to face, i.e. for the greater good.

Assuming this is the case, I don't know whether I approve or not. She signed the warrants, and that disgusts me, but, on the other hand, I don't think I'd have any trouble doing the same thing.
posted by doublehappy at 3:50 AM on August 1, 2010


I honestly don't see how hanging is any different to electrocution, the firing squad and lethal injection.

Because hanging hurts more than lethal injection and probably firing squad, but probably not electrocution.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:20 AM on August 1, 2010


I don't think that the method of execution is really the issue (at least for me). Once it's done, the person is just as dead as any other method. If anything, I'm more grossed out by lethal injection since it's seems like an attempt to make it appear clinical and humane when there's still no getting around the fact that you are taking another human being's life. Killing another person is wrong no matter how clean you try to make it look.
posted by octothorpe at 6:35 AM on August 1, 2010


Killing another person is wrong

Yeah, but it's not.
posted by doublehappy at 7:59 AM on August 1, 2010


Because hanging hurts more....

How do you know? (How can anyone know?)

I always thought that with hanging, when done properly, death is instantaneous. The drop is calculated based on the person's weight, and the neck is broken in some precise way.

Have I been lied to?
posted by phliar at 12:07 PM on August 1, 2010


Because hanging hurts more than lethal injection and probably firing squad, but probably not electrocution.

Lethal injection in the US is performed with three chemicals; an anaesthetic to render the executee unconscious, a muscle relaxant which paralyses the executee, then a chemical which stops the heart.

Lethal injections are not administered by medical professionals, who are ethically prohibited from killing people. Scientists have found anaesthetic levels varying from 8.2 milligrams to 370 milligrams per litre after lethal injections.

An inmate who was conscious during lethal injection would be unable to indicate it, due to the muscle relaxant used. Vets putting down animals avoid using muscle relaxants for this reason.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:17 PM on August 1, 2010


I imagine one reason why support for the death penalty is so high is that it's nearly invisible here. The executions are carried out in secret, sometimes announced well after the fact. They aren't big news, and there isn't a lot of commentary on them. If you were to compile a list of things that pop up in the mind of the average Japanese person on a day-to-day basis, I think the death penalty would be remarkably close to the bottom of the list.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:09 PM on August 1, 2010


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