Category Archives: Death Penalty

Lethal Fluctuations: The Death Penalty in Asia

The Malaysian government last year expressed a surprise change of heart on a policy long held dear; it would reconsider the death penalty. The case of Muhammad Lukman, sentenced to death in August for the purchase and sharing of medicinal marijuana, did much to stimulate outrage.  On October 10th, law minister Liew Vui Keong announced that it would be abolished.  Doing so would leave such last bastions as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In other parts, capital punishment is either continuing its grim dance (in Singapore, usage is on the rise; in Vietnam, it remains consistently high) or getting back in business, singing its deadly siren song.  Killing people in the name of state vengeance is becoming vogue even as it retreats in other contexts.  The Kingdom of Brunei, despite having it on the books since the days of being a British protectorate, is only now contemplating, in all seriousness, putting people to death who have a liking for, or find themselves committing, sodomy.  (Lesbian reverie will see a penalty of 40 lashes and a potential prison sentence of 10 years.)

In the Philippines, an aggressive, insistent President Rodrigo Duterte has proven something of a trail blazer, scorching his way through human rights quibbles and filling the morgues.   In July 2017, he explained the rationale for using capital punishment without mercy in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).  “It is time for us to fulfil our mandate to protect our people.  Tapos na’yan.  For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue.  Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s also about retribution.”

Duterte’s view of the penal code is stripped of ornate reasoning.  It is one of vengeance and pessimism, marshalled against any hope of restorative justice or therapeutic reform.  The law, a legacy of the Spaniards and then translated into English, with revisions, “is the essence of retribution.”  The attitude there involved “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  You took life, you must pay with it.  That is the only way to even.  You can’t place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight.”

The result has been one of carnage: over 5,000 deaths between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, if you believe the official figures, or the greater number of 12,000, if you believe in activist assessments.  This pool drew on a total of 164,265 arrests (“drug personalities”, no less) as part of 115,435 anti-drugs operations.

In Sri Lanka, the interest has also been rekindled, inspired, in no small part, by the blood lust of the Philippines leader.  The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena felt moved by Duterte’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, a true “example to the world”.  “I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two.  I appeal to human rights organisations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”  From a prison population of 1299 facing capital punishment, 48 are convicted drug offenders.

The Sri Lankan case had a twist.  While Sirisena had announced an end to the 43-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related crimes, complemented by Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s clearing of the decks for five drug convicts to be dispatched, a reality started to sink in: the state lacked the necessary trained instruments of death.  The moratorium had been so lengthy so as to make the system rust.  Expertise in breaking necks, in other words, was lacking. The last executioner to reach retirement age left the post in 2014.  Three others have spent short stints gazing at unused gallows without rewarded effort.

Advertisements to fill the vacancy were duly put out for two hangmen.  In the Daily News, a call out for applications with “an excellent moral character” was made.  They would also have to pass a test of “mind and mental strength”.

Such debates about the formalised death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka avoid the obvious point.  Where to with the death squads who have donned extra-judicial uniforms?  Duterte’s encouragement of police brutality and extra-judicial killings (“my only sin,” he claims) is the stuff of legend.  Sri Lanka can also count itself as an enthusiast in the extra-judicial killing game.  In some states, the death penalty, dormant or otherwise, is a reminder about how state operatives go about their business of sowing terror when they prefer to avoid courts.

While the death penalty has, at its core, a flawed philosophy, its attractiveness often lies in its sheer conclusiveness.  Such decisions are final, doing away with the problem.  They are economic – a corpse is less of a strain on the public purse than a living inmate.  To that end, imposing the death penalty can result from trivial impulses.

Such monstrous triviality was recently in play in Thailand. In Phuket, the airport authorities have been entertaining the possibility of grave punishments for those taking “selfies” on Mai Khao Beach, a site known for sightings of low, incoming aircraft.

“People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos,” an emphatic Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam has claimed.  He issued further warnings: no drones, no shining lights, quite frankly nothing at all to distract incoming planes, would be tolerated.  Violating the provisions of the Air Navigation Act was a matter, quite literally, of death.  “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”  Distractive idiocy, the authorities in Phuket suggest, is no excuse.

Glossip v. Gross: the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States

On June 29, 2015 the United States Supreme Court argued in Glossip v. Gross that executions may continue with the use of lethal drug cocktails including the use of midazolam, an extremely painful drug, which in effect, burns to death the condemned by scorching internal organs. The use of midazolam, according to the Court, does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. The Court found that condemned prisoners can only challenge their method of execution after providing a known and available alternative method.

In dissenting views justices opened the legal door for future challenges to the death penalty. In a meticulously crafted dissent Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg initiated a timely counterargument to capital punishment. This was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in diverging dissents of their own. The dissents were significant in that they outline the legal framework for the abolition of the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment. Nevertheless, Sotomayor and Kagan argued in separate opinions that the use of lethal chemicals in executions was intolerably painful.

In turn this begged the question, for many, as to whether or not executions could ever be legitimized since executions must necessarily involve physical or mental pain. In all democratic societies, intentionally inflicting pain on another human being is torture.

This article addresses the Court’s concerns, expressed in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, that protests against Glossip’s anticipated execution was a “guerilla war” against the death penalty and that inflicting physical or mental pain intentionally on a human being is an acceptable component of execution and consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

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In Gregg v. Gerogia (1976) the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 7-2 decision that capital punishment did not violate the Eighth Amendment. This, in effect, reversed Furman v. Georgia (1972) which placed a moratorium on capital punishment in the United States. Robert Bork argued the case for the United States, that capital punishment and judicious use of the death penalty may be appropriate if carefully used. The Supreme Court argued that the Court was not prepared to overrule the Georgia legislature who has by law defined capital punishment an effective tool in the deterrence of future capital crimes and as an appropriate means of social retribution (retributive justice) against the most serious offenders

On April 29, 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case which challenged the use of the anti-anxiety drug midazolam in lethal injection executions. Petitioners argued in their brief to the Court that there is “undisputed evidence . . . that midazolam cannot reliably ensure the ‘deep, coma-like unconsciousness’ required where a State intends to cause death with painful drugs” (Brief for Petitioner at p. 29). Use of this drug to carry out executions by lethal injection does not comport with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual suffering. In the last year alone, midazolam was used in several botched executions. Then on June 29, 2015, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Glossip v. Gross, ruling that the anti-anxiety medication midazolam is constitutional for use as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection formula. The case was brought by death row prisoners in Oklahoma, who argued that the state’s use of midazolam in this manner creates an “objectively intolerable risk of harm.”

The Glossip ruling evidenced two Justices directly challenging the legal foundation of capital punishment based on the Eighth Amendment which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Indeed, states such as Nebraska have recently abolished the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment, making it the nineteenth state to do so, and the seventh to abolish capital punishment since 2007. Nonetheless, a majority of justices on the Supreme Court at the time – John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – still maintain the constitutionality of the death penalty, as argued in Glossip.

In Baze v. Rees (2008), the Supreme Court reviewed the three-drug protocol then used for lethal injection by at least thirty states, in which the first drug, an short-acting barbiturate, rendered the prisoner unconscious, and the second and third drugs, a paralytic and potassium chloride, paralyzed the prisoner and stopped the heart. The Court noted that the first drug, the barbiturate, causes a “deep, coma-like unconsciousness” and therefore “ensures that the prisoner does not experience any pain associated with the paralysis and cardiac arrest caused by the second and third drugs.” The Oklahoma drug protocol challenged in Glossip was also a three-drug protocol that uses a paralytic and potassium chloride as the second and third drugs, but it substitutes the benzodiazepine midazolam for the first drug, creating risk of “severe pain, needless suffering and a lingering death.”

As the Brief for Petitioner states:

In Baze, there was consensus that sodium thiopental, if properly administered, would produce deep coma-like unconsciousness. With midazolam, the opposite is true. Midazolam is not approved for use as the sole anesthetic for painful surgery. Clinical studies showed that midazolam does not reliably induce deep unconsciousness; when used in surgery, patients felt pain. The medical consensus is that midazolam cannot generate deep, coma-like unconsciousness. There is also no substantial practice among the states of using midazolam for lethal injections. Although sodium thiopental was widely used in lethal injections for years, only four states have used midazolam in an execution, and only two have tried to use it as anesthesia. On these undisputed facts, the use of midazolam to create deep coma-like unconsciousness presents an “objectively intolerable risk of harm” (Baze, 553 U.S.).

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Midazolam is not a barbiturate, but a benzodiazepine commonly used in pre-operative settings to alleviate anxiety. It is the shortest-acting drug in the same class of anti-anxiety drugs as Xanax, Atavan and Valium. All of the experts who testified in a three-day hearing in Oklahoma in December 2014, including the state’s expert, agree that midazolam has a ceiling effect, above which additional dosing has no additional effect, and no analgesic (pain-relieving) qualities (Joint Appendix to Brief for Petitioner, medical testimony from three-day hearing at pp. 199, 256, 274). The four states which have used midazolam in lethal injection executions are Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma. Three executions that used midazolam triggered formal state investigations into why they did not go as planned (Brief for Petitioner at p. 31). In all of these botched executions, the prisoners initially appeared to lose consciousness, but then started moving and demonstrating signs of struggle and suffering.

Glossip v. Gross originated in federal court in Oklahoma as a response to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. Charles Warner was originally one of the Petitioners, but the Court denied a stay of execution in his case, and he was executed using midazolam in a three-drug formula on January 15, 2015, just eight days before the Court accepted this case for review. On January 28, 2015, the Court stayed the executions of the three Petitioners, Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, who are Oklahoma death row prisoners. In their Petition for Certiorari, Petitioners asked the Court to “provide urgently needed guidance” to prisoners and courts addressing new, experimental lethal injection protocols.

In her dissent from the denial of a stay for Charles Warner, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by three other justices, recognized that the district court relied on a “single purported expert” who testified from suspect sources and in a manner that contradicts empirical data. Justice Sotomayor explained, “In contending that midazolam will work as the State intends, Dr. Evans cited no studies, but instead appeared to rely primarily on the Web site www.drugs.com. Here, given the evidence before the District Court, I struggle to see how its decision to credit the testimony of a single purported expert can be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence.”

Justice Breyer, who has served twenty years on the Supreme Court, never argued that the death penalty was unconstitutional. What both Breyer and Ginsburg argued was that new evidence over the past two decades had convinced them that the death penalty is costly, ineffective, and unreliable, not that it was necessarily inhumane. Their argument was based on cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and the real possibility of wrongful execution. More than one hundred death row inmates had their convictions or sentences dismissed in the last decade.

Nevertheless, in the majority opinion Justice Alito countered Sotomayor and Kagen’s view arguing that pain is simply part of what constitutes an execution. He states, “Because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”1 Breyer, nevertheless argued, that the broader issue of wrongful convictions takes greater precedence since executing innocent people can never be remediated. Moreover, Breyer and Ginsburg argued that “increasingly lengthy delays” of several decades between convictions and executions undermined the deterrence argument that executions deter crimes.2

Prior to Glossip, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, in essence, echoed the opinion of Justice Harry Blackmun who, in 1994, argued that the death penalty in the United States was unable to be impartial toward minorities, specifically African Americans. Likewise, in 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens concluded that the death penalty was arbitrary and unreliable as a deterrent and ineffective in terms of punishment. However, in Glossip, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, while not joining in Breyer and Ginsburg’s dissent, nevertheless wrote what could arguably be the strongest dissent. The two justices claimed that the majority on the court allowed a “method of execution that is intolerably painful – even to the point of being the chemical equivalent of burning alive.”

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Alito’s position is one in which the inflicting of pain on others, as torture, is a necessary component of execution. This is a plausible position to hold. However, in that Alito and the majority argue that torture does not contradict the U.S. Constitution and the Eighth Amendment is subject to serious question.

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As stated earlier, torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain on a human being by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture. But under U.S. law, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Torture has been carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups, and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, and forms of torture can vary greatly in duration from only a few minutes to several days or longer. Reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, political re-education, deterrence and even coercion.

Alternatively, some forms of torture are designed to inflict psychological pain or leave as little physical injury or evidence as possible while achieving the same psychological devastation. The torturer may or may not kill or injure the victim, but torture may result in a deliberate death and serves as a form of capital punishment. Depending on the aim, even a form of torture that is intentionally fatal may be prolonged to allow the victim to suffer as long as possible, such as half-hanging or even inadvertently seizing in pain from lethal injections.

In other cases, the torturer may be indifferent to the condition of the victim or simply take delight in the sadistic gratification of torture in whatever form.

This indifference best fits the Alito majority. On one hand, indifference may be its most compassionate form of torture, while on the other it very well could mean that sociopaths exist on the highest court in the land. And in Glossip the Eighth Amendment is once again desecrated and Alito’s majority decision exalts the deviant status of the Torture Court of the United States.

  1. Glossip v. Gross, June 29, 2015, No. 14-7955, SCOTUS, I, A, Majority Opinion, Justice Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, Oyez, ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology.
  2. Death Penalty Focus, Working for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, May 31, 2013.

In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is escalating his war on the Palestinian people, although for reasons almost entirely related to Israeli politics. He has just given the greenlight to a legislation that would make it easier for Israeli courts to issue death sentences against Palestinians accused of carrying out ‘terrorist’ acts.

Netanyahu’s decision was made on November 4, but the wrangling over the issue has been taking place for some time.

The ‘Death Penalty’ bill has been the rally cry for the Israel Beiteinu party, led by ultra-nationalist Israeli politician and current Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, during its 2015 election campaign.

But when Lieberman attempted to push the bill in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) soon after the forming of the current coalition government in July 2015, the draft was resoundingly defeated by 94 to 6 with Netanyahu himself opposing it.

It has been defeated several times since then. However, the political mood in Israel has shifted in ways that has obliged Netanyahu into conceding to the demands of the even more hawkish politicians within his own government.

As Netanyahu’s coalition grew bolder and more unhinged, the Israeli Prime Minister joined the chorus. It is time “to wipe the smile off the terrorist’s face,” he said in July 2017, while visiting the illegal Jewish settlement of Halamish, following the killing of three settlers. At the time, he called for the death penalty in “severe cases.”

Ultimately, Netanyahu’s position on the issue evolved to become a carbon copy of that of Lieberman. The latter had made the ‘death penalty’ one of his main conditions to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

Last January, the Israel Beiteinu’s proposed bill passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset. Months later, on November 4, the first reading of the bill was approved by Israeli legislators, with the support of Netanyahu himself.

Lieberman prevailed.

This reality reflects the competing currents in Israeli politics, where the long-reigning Israeli Prime Minister is increasingly embattled, by accusations from within his coalition and outside of being too weak in his handling of the Gaza Resistance.

Coupled with the tightening ring of police investigation pertaining to corruption by Netanyahu, his family and closest aides, the Israeli leader is pounding on Palestinians with every possible opportunity to display his prowess.

Even the likes of former Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, is attempting to resurrect his failed career as a politician by comparing his past violence against Palestinians with the supposedly weaker Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is “weak”, “afraid” and is unable to take decisive steps to rein in Gaza, “therefore he should go home,” Barak recently said during an interview with Israeli TV Channel 10.

Comparing his supposed heroism with Netanyahu’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian Resistance, Barak bragged about killing “more than 300 Hamas members (in) three and a half minutes,” when he was the country’s Defense Minister.

Barak’s sinister statement was made with reference to the killing of hundreds of Gazans, including women, children and newly graduated police cadets in Gaza on December 27, 2008. That was the start of a war that killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians and set the stage for more, equally lethal, wars that followed.

When such ominous comments are made by a person considered in Israel’s political lexicon as a ‘dove’, one can only imagine the vengeful political discourse championed by Netanyahu and his extremist coalition.

In Israel, wars – as well as racist laws that target Palestinians – are often the outcome of Israeli politicking. Unchallenged by a strong party and unfazed by United Nations criticism, Israeli leaders continue to flex their muscles, appeal to their radicalized constituency and define their political turfs at the expense of Palestinians.

The Death Penalty bill is no exception.

The bill, once enshrined in Israeli law, will expectedly be applied to Palestinians only, because in Israel the term ‘terrorism’ almost always applies to Palestinian Arabs, and hardly, if ever, to Israeli Jews.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and one of a few embattled Arab members of the Knesset, like most Palestinians, understands the intentions of the bill.

The law is “intended mainly for the Palestinian people,” she told reporters last January. “It’s not going to be implemented against Jews who commit terrorist attacks against Palestinians, for sure,” as the bill is drafted and championed by the country’s “extreme right.”

Moreover, the Death Penalty bill must be understood in the larger context of the growing racism and chauvinism in Israel, and the undermining of whatever feeble claim to democracy that Israel possessed, until recently.

On July 19 of this year, the Israeli government approved the Jewish ‘Nation-state Law’ which designates Israel as the ‘nation state of the Jewish people’, while openly denigrating the Palestinian Arab citizens of the state, their culture, language and identity.

As many have feared, Israel’s racist self-definition is now inspiring a host of new laws that would further target and marginalize the country’s native Palestinian inhabitants.

The Death Penalty law would be the icing on the cake in this horrific and unchallenged Israeli agenda that transcends party lines and unites most of the country’s Jewish citizens and politicians in an ongoing hate-fest.

Of course, Israel has already executed hundreds of Palestinians in what is known as “targeted assassinations” and “neutralization”, while killing many more in cold blood.

So, in a sense, the Israeli Bill, once it becomes law, will change little in terms of the bloody dynamics that governs Israel’s behavior.

However, executing Palestinians for resisting Israel’s violent Occupation will further highlight the growing extremism in Israeli society, and the increasing vulnerability of Palestinians.

Just like the ‘Nation-state Law’, the Death Penalty bill targeting Palestinians exposes Israel’s racist nature and complete disregard for international law, a painful reality that should be urgently and openly challenged by the international community.

Those who have allowed themselves to ‘stay on the fence’ as Israel brutalizes Palestinians, should immediately break their silence.

No government, not even Israel, should be allowed to embrace racism and violate human rights so brazenly and without a minimum degree of accountability.

It Is Us

The war mentality represents an unfortunate confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice, and profit. … The ignorance exists in its own right and is further perpetuated by government propaganda. The fear is that of ordinary people scared by misinformation but also that of leaders who may know better but are intimidated by the political costs of speaking out on such a heavily moralized and charged issue.

— Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, 2009

The manufacturing of Russia as the arch enemy of not just the U.S. but mankind in general has reached levels of absurdity and pathology. This is all sort of obvious, though, I think. The yellow journalism of the creepy Max Boot at the NY Times is emblematic of the current toxic demand for war. I do wonder what these people are thinking. I mean, do they know something I don’t? And the list of propagandists, both in media and governments throughout the west, is quite long. In fact, finding someone who objects to this war mongering is much harder. There are some, of course, but they are largely invisible in mainstream media.

What does the ruling class want? Almost every major government official who propagates the anti Russia rhetoric is wealthy. Or at least affluent. Why do they want to promote conflict? To make more money? If so, what can that extra money buy them? What does John Bolton not have that he wants? What does Rachel Maddow want that she can’t afford? This has always troubled me. When I ask such questions I usually get an answer like “they want power” or “they want control”. But why? What does more power bring you? The ability to create institutions in your own image, in accordance with your ideological leanings? Is that it? If this is correct, for some, what does being able to shape institutional authority actually bring you? What benefits? Is it some moral demand for change?

Is Mike Pompeo driven by moral or ethical issues? What do the Clintons want? Are they motivated by a moral calling? What does Chuck Shurmer want, or Nancy Pelosi? They lead extraordinarily comfortable privileged lives. What would an even limited conflict with Russia or China bring such people? Are the Koch brothers concerned with the happiness of the people of the world? Of course not. They are, in their minds, concerned with their own happiness. But does promoting their irrational ideology bring them a feeling of well being? But then I am not at all sure what happiness looks like to Charles Koch. Not what it looks like to you or me I’d venture to guess.

No, the answer is more complex. It is maybe even, in considerable measure, unconscious. It is resentment and fear, it is ambivalence and narcissism. For the reality is that nobody benefits from a nuclear war. NOBODY. But tens of millions die. And maybe everyone dies.

Is this not something the propagandists know? Do they want to die? All month I’ve been thinking of Wilhelm Reich’s small book Listen, Little Man!

This is why I am afraid of you Little Man, deadly afraid. For on you depends the fate of humanity I am afraid of you because there is nothing you flee as much from as yourself. You are sick, very sick, Little Man. It is not your fault. But it is your responsibility to rid yourself of this sickness. You would have long since shaken off your oppressors had you not tolerated oppression and often actively supported it.

Anyone not angered is not well. But I think many are angry, but they feel unable to formulate ways to express this anger. Dissent is an unpopular position. It might cost you work. It might get you fired. And for many, they think of their families. Their children must eat. So they stay silent. They use pseudonyms when they do protest. But it is hard to blame them, really. And yet, and yet, the world is hurtling toward extinction. In the United States there are working families living under freeway bridges and in shelters and living off food stamps. The affluent liberal in America is OUTRAGED at gun laws. And yet they are indifferent to the massive violence visited upon countries like Yemen or Libya or Honduras or Iraq. They claim not to like war but they will salute soldiers and thank them for their service. Nothing is quite so ridiculous as that ‘thanks for your service’ meme. Service to what? To whom? I really do want to know. What is being served? What good does the military do for anyone? The answer, if you ask most people, is to protect them from foreign invasion. In today’s case that means Russia. They are OUTRAGED Putin tried (or succeeded, depending on who they believe) meddling in the US elections. Are they not aware their own government has meddled in dozens of foreign elections? Or worse, have orchestrated coups and propped up dictators. Do they not know Mobutu was a US invention? Do they know their own government trained SAVAK, the secret police of The Shah? They do remember it was the U.S. who labeled Mandela a terrorist ? Do they remember Vietnam? Do they care?

Do they believe Muslim terrorists are on the verge of attacking America? They remind you of 9/11 …three thousand died….but that body count is about what Yemen suffers each day, and has suffered for the last year or two each day. How many Iraqis have died at the hands of the US military? Do they know what happened at Fallujah? Many are angry at Trump. Which is fine, but they are not angry at Obama or Hillary or Bernie. Do they believe Trump is some significant sea change in governance? Do they realize all his Pentagon advisors were advising Obama, too. And George Bush. Why do so many people regard US foreign policy as coherent? The answer is the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t think about US foreign policy at all. They might know of Kim Jong Il, but they know nothing of the history of US/Korean relations. And they have no idea just how extensively the CIA has funded the very same Muslim jihadists they fear are ready to break into their homes. They hear some mainstream media story, often with a celebrity front person, about stopping this or that genocide (invariably caused by the United States) and decide yes, *we stood by* in Rwanda. Or, *we HAD to go into Yugoslavia to stop the Serbs*, etc. The reality is always diametrically opposed to the one manufactured by the U.S. State Department. The reality of Kagame or Milosevic, or Hezbollah, or China, or Venezuela is obscured and mystified. And the “white saviour” narrative remains the most popular. Posit that the third world NEEDS western help and you have a winner in the minds of most Americans.

And any opportunity to ridicule and demean other cultures, so it seems, is readily embraced. Americans are, by and large, an astoundingly mean-spirited people. At least white America. Snarky, snide, suspicious, vainglorious and provincial; THAT is the great USA, as well as Puritanical, prudish, narcissistic, and generally xenophobic.

On twitter, certifiable retired general Barry McCaffrey tweeted the following:

Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security. He is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that is he, for some unknown reason, under the sway of Mr. Putin.

Now this is not in, and of, itself unexpected but what is unexpected is the number of Democrats and liberals re-tweeting it approvingly. The bourgeoisie is aligning itself openly with the most fascist elements in the authority structure of the US military. One conclusion that is reached from all this is that Trump is indeed a very useful tool of the ruling class. The sheer revulsion he elicits in most people is being harnessed, quite consciously, to the propaganda machine of the US state — it is as if the personal repugnance of Trump helps to pull focus from historical precedent and actual material policy implications to the subjective feelings of disgust Trump the man brings out in people. And I get it, I really do. Having to watch Trump and his damaged family and various hangers-on and cronies on a daily basis is enough to cause a certain genuine palpable nausea. But this use of Trump is effective because of the basic fundamental narcissism of the bourgeoisie. What matters is how THEY feel. Not the death of children in Gaza, or slavery flourishing in Libya, or mass rape by the Cedras Junta in Haiti back under the Clinton regime — let alone cholera in Yemen and massive displacement of hundreds of thousands in Syria — no, it is the personal *feelings* of liberal Americans. They don’t *like* Trump. And as I say, I get it. Nobody likes Donald Trump. Just as nobody likes Jeff Sessions. Nobody likes Mike Pompeo or John Kelley or John Bolton or H.R. McMaster, or Betsy DeVos or Jared Kushner. It is literally as distasteful an assemblage of humanity as it’s possible to imagine. But then who liked Rahm Emanuel, or Joe Biden? We know NOBODY likes Hillary Clinton. But the optics were managed. It’s almost as if Trump wants people to recoil in disgust. Why would that be?

Look at the United States today. In Oklahoma the Corrections Department came up with a new way to execute people (cost saving benefits) — they force the oxygen out of them (by forcing in Nitrogen.). This innovative new experiment in death is the result of a shortage of the usual drugs used in lethal injection. This sort of logic is apparently perfectly acceptable in Oklahoma. Mike Christian (sic), the former highway patrolman who came up with the idea, is quoted in The Intercept article on the topic, as saying…one way or another “we will put these beasts to death”.

I think the average person in the US has lost touch with just how barbaric and compassionless the culture is today. How insensitive and sadistic. People take refuge psychologically in small circles of friends — many of whom might in other contexts be just as sadistic as society overall– and manage the engagements with these friends so as to not have to discuss unpleasant topics. The so called Chinese wall (sic) that has migrated from the legal and political professions to people’s personal lives. As a sort of psychic safety valve they simply ignore the rest of the country they live in.

Remember that Trump’s moronic reality TV show was a big hit. It ran for six years I believe. So many of the same people who recoil in horror at Trump the President were happy to watch, with feelings of superiority, the cartoon millionaire exercising meaningless edicts. It was kistch schadenfreude. I guess, anyway. The entire Trump political narrative is fraught with temptation to imagine just who is or was pulling the strings. Who wanted him as President? Whatever the story behind the story the fact is that the people running the United States, and these are people largely invisible to the public, operate from motivations I simply cannot fathom.

Yes, to make MORE money, I get it, I get it. But this is a loaded sort of thought experiment. I understand this. Why does anyone want more than they can use or need? Let alone a thousand times more than they can use in a lifetime, or in their children or grandchildren’s lifetime. Why does anyone want to live in bizarre five hundred room mansions full of expensive furniture and with multiple swimming pools and tennis courts? What do people feel as they stroll around their estate? Do they feel deserving? Does it not occur to them that most of global humanity live in dire soul deadening poverty? I remember Barbara Bush during a photo op tour of post Katrina New Orleans commenting about not troubling her beautiful mind about such things. Does she really believe she has a beautiful mind? So one question has to do with the subjective mind of the ruling class. The second has to do with the people who vote FOR their own oppression. Who actively support inequality.

There is a new TV reality show where celebrities take part in trying to run a 5 star hotel. They don’t take part in trying to run a homeless shelter, no, for that isn’t very fun now, is it? Why does anyone care about who the British royal family is going to marry? But people do care, and they spend money following this sort of news. Even people living week to week, working two jobs and hanging on by a thread — often even they are consuming the same cultural product as the more affluent populace. Why are people not angrier? Why is there not far more social unrest and open revolt? Is it simply fear? I can understand that in a nation that incarcerates over 2 million people. The last growth industries are prison construction and private security. Both relate to a growing underclass that looms as a threat to the very wealthy. Remember that the policing apparatus of the US, on both federal, state, and local levels is draconian and operates with almost total impunity. City police departments trace their origin back to *Slave Patrols*. I think many sense that it is not far fetched to imagine being arrested and then subjected to years of both custody and legal expense.

And behind all this is Hollywood and the endless stream of jingoistic and racist TV and film. In fact, Russia is now a plot point in nearly all TV drama. If you think that is an exaggeration, then you haven’t been watching. The extraordinary xenophobia of American television is mind numbing, honestly. From shows like Designated Survivor to Madame Secretary to stuff like The Shooter or Chicago PD or SEAL Team — the message is uniform. There are no TV dramas with socialists or politically radical protagonists. No shows questioning the virtue of the military (thank you for your service). An Oscar for the portrayal of Churchill, a war criminal racist colonialist. Who wins Oscars for portraying Lenin or Toussaint L’Ouverture? But then those films don’t get bankrolled by Hollywood. Do screenwriters simply instinctively know that back stories that feature ‘tours in Iraq’ or the like as the accepted character foundation for heroism? It is breathtaking how alike most Hollywood product really is and how nakedly reactionary.

Meanwhile the US lurches toward military conflict with nuclear powers. Conflicts that would wipe out humanity. At the least the US is manufacturing a new Cold War. Perhaps that provides a certain comfort. People are given an external enemy to hate, an enemy on which to focus their frustration, resentment, and aggression. The system encourages managed protest about issues that are themselves of little consequence. Gun control for one. Nobody talks about the MILLIONS of dead at the hands of the US military over the last twenty years. Nobody protests 900 military bases globally. What are those bases there for? Oh, to protect us….from *enemies*. The US needs its enemies.

Identity issues are fine to argue about, just don’t argue about class inequality. Argue about gender and racial identity. About multiculturalism but not about a hierarchical social structure where 1% of the populace own 90% of the wealth. Why is there such poverty if America is so special? A bridge collapses the other day in Dade County, Florida. The infrastructure is falling apart, literally, as I write this. It won’t be the last bridge to fall down. Infant mortality is the same as that of Peru, last I looked. And Peru is seen as an inferior nation in the eyes of most Americans. Don’t raise the issue of military pollution, military rape, military economic waste, or military sadism. Funny how those photos of Abu Ghraib have mostly disappeared from the collective memory of the U.S. The 50th anniversary of My Lai passed without much comment. Vietnam is being given a revisionist re-narration. “Mistakes” were made. etc. Ask about Israel and you get a lot of either hostility or discomfort. Did Russia attack one of our navel vessels? No, that was Israel. Greg Barrett has an article out now pointing out similar realities…

The Russians, therefore, are not responsible for the destruction of the Iraqi state, for the more than one million civilian casualties since the invasion, for the massive waves of terrorism and sectarian violence and refugees entering Turkey and Europe which have resulted, or for the birth of ISIS in the US-controlled Abu Ghraib prison — the same ISIS which was formed by former Saddam military officers imprisoned there.  The Russians did not join together with the UK and France in 2011 to destroy the Libyan state in a major bombing campaign which killed an estimated 30,000 civilians, following US/UK support for Libyan rebels designed to set up the “revolution” in Africa’s most prosperous nation. The Russians then did not abandon the country to its fate, which soon turned out to be rival governments and militias, a growing ISIS presence, actual slave markets where helpless refugees are sold like cattle, and thousands of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean after paying human traffickers to take them to Europe in tiny, overloaded boats. The Russians did not respond to a question about the death of Libyan head of state Muammar Gaddafi — by sodomization with a long blade — by laughing maniacally and loudly on national US television and proclaiming, “We came, we saw, he DIED! Ha ha ha!

And on and on. It was not Russia who bankrolled Osama bin Ladin and it wasn’t Russia who supported ISIS as they targeted Assad for removal. It wasn’t Russia who just helped Saudi Arabia from day one in their genocidal assault on Yemen. Nor did Russia annex Crimea, for the record (as Greg points out “unless a vote of 98% of the population to return to Mother Russia, of which they had always been a historical part until the 1960s, is considered invalid. No responsible party has challenged those numbers.”) Nor does Russia engage in assassination by drone. That is the USA. In fact, most of the Muslim world (save the puppet regimes in the KSA, Jordan, and the UAE) aligns with Russia and feels nothing but anger toward the US. And the people in the streets of Jordan and the UAE et al are also aligned against the US, not with it, despite what their corrupt leaders say. Wasn’t Russia who orchestrated the destruction of the former Yugoslavia either. But the public does not engage in such discourse. It is not allowed, for all intents and purposes. The public today, in the US, knows what to say and what to believe. And they rarely go off script.

Which brings me back to what these people want, the ones manufacturing this wave of anti Russian propaganda. Is it war? I don’t honestly know if they are that crazy or not. Some are, lunatics like John Bolton or Robert Kagen or his brutish wife Victoria Nuland. Does anyone ask during presidential debates about Ukraine and the US support for an open Nazi Party? One answer is that they want *global hegemony*. But what does that mean? Why do they want that? What does that provide for them personally? Millions dead and they get what? Power? And what does power give you? Does it provide peace of mind? Happiness? A rich sense of self worth? I honestly don’t know. Maybe I am just dense. But I have never understood the idea of seeking privilege unless everyone can have it. I don’t want to fly first class if anyone is flying coach. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t feel special. Why do so many Americans fawn over the rich? Why are the wealthy so admired? I know some partial answers; I know Americans, or American white males, in particular, see the world through a lens that lumps everyone into two categories: winners and losers. On social media the other day there was a story about a man who has lived in the US for forty years but is being deported. The comments were astounding and yet utterly predictable. Men said he was a ‘dumb ass’ for not getting his citizenship. Compassion? That’s for sissies. For losers. And people wonder at the spate of school shootings? Oh, it must be guns, too many guns. No, it is the psychology of Capitalism that creates such violence. Competition against your neighbour, not cooperation. Hoarding not sharing. It is a culture of violent scapegoating and stigmatizing and shaming. All reality TV is really the same show and that show is humiliation. Vicarious voyeuristic sadism.

Your life will be good and secure when aliveness will mean more to you than security; low more than money; your freedom more than party line or public opinion; when the mood of Beethoven or Bach will be the mood of your total existence (you have it in you, Little Man, buried deeply in a corner of your existence); when your thinking will be in harmony, and no longer at variance, with your feelings; when you will be able to comprehend your gifts in time and to recognize your ageing in time; when you will live the thoughts of great men instead of the misdeeds of great warriors; when the teachers of your children will be better paid than the politicians…
— Wilhelm Reich

Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer.
— Gabor Mate

Perhaps Mate is right. It is a self hating nation that internalized the ethos of Puritanism and produced Manifest Destiny. It was a slave owning nation. It was, at its inception, a genocidal nation. A nation founded on those sorts of psychic wounds is a nation that is repressing and sublimating at extraordinary rates and degrees. It is this self loathing America, the only real failed state in the world, as far as I can see, that is now a dire threat to the survival of humanity. The one core truth for me today, at least politically, is one must resist western Imperialism. You don’t have to agree with the rest of the world that resists it, but you must stand with them. It is only white privilege, hubris, that allows for a westerner, an American, to criticise Maduro, or Assad, or the DPRK. Or Iran. Yes, Iran was a conservative revolution, but they are part of a bulwark against the nightmare of Western capital today. Self determination. America has never wanted to save anyone. Ever. America has always had ulterior motives. The self loathing American. The Ugly American. We have met the enemy, and it is us.