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Three Days of Hatred and Mayhem: Musings on the Value of Life, Human Rights, Freedom and Justice

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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On Tuesday the 5th of July in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, Alton Sterling, a black man selling videos in front of a hardware-store, was pinned down to the ground by two policemen and then killed in cold blood. The next day, on Wednesday the 6th of July in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, another killing by a policeman ensued; that of Philando Castile who, in the presence of his girlfriend and her terrified four year old girl, was killed inside his car while trying to retrieve his driving license. Both outrageous incidents were live streamed and subsequently shown in the news on national TV, and widely announced by the media.

This was subsequent to a series of similar incidents the nation has witnessed in the last three or four years, where many of the victims were unarmed, or were actually walking away when they were shot. Some seem to have been killed simply because they dared to talk back to the officer, who responded violently. Some of those officers were indicted and even tried and prosecuted but few, if any, have been punished, pointing to some kind of problem in a justice system where blacks are three times more likely to be incarcerated or killed than the rest of the population, and this despite the fact that we have a black President occupying the White House. Some wise men, of the ilk of a Donald Trump, would say, it is because of it.

Then on Wednesday night July 7th, while a peaceful march and demonstration on the above incidents was going on in downtown Dallas (only a few blocks away from where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963) a barrage of shots from a sniper with an assault weapon rang out bringing down three policemen immediately. The shooting and counter-shooting, all shown live on national TV, went on all night. It was like watching a crime reality show. At the end there were five policemen dead and seven severely wounded. These three incidents can only be characterized as mayhem and lawlessness pure and simple, executed with guns, which of course are innocent, necessary, and beneficial for self-defense as the NRA continues to insist.

Just as it happened with the phenomenon of mass incarceration (we are now the preeminent country for number of incarcerated citizens, mostly black), a reality show is soon to appear on Fox News dubbed Murder Police: a police animated series described as “the thin blue line that separates civilization from chaos.” What the heck, if we make light of the whole issue, make it humorous, perhaps it does not have to be seriously debated and discussed and we can carry on with our normal routine lives dedicated to making money, sports, and amusements galore.

Predictably, this tragedy was promptly followed by words of commiseration and sympathy from pundits and “experts” alike, memorial prayers, improvised monuments and flowers, vigils and eulogies by clerics and religiously inclined people, crocodile tears galore from sentimentalists and utopians alike, eulogies, political comments by politicians urging healing and reconciliation; what can only be characterized as a confused circus scene, pointing to a nation that seems to have lost its moral compass and its very identity. Much more rare are the voices of reasonableness and common sense; those advocating a serious analysis followed by a rational dialogue and a logical prognosis on this urgent matter which has to do mostly with civil and human rights. They exist but few pay attention to them.

I’d like to offer a reflection or two of my own on this matter. Not that I too have much hope of being listened to. Many better men than I have been crying in the desert lately and have been frustrated and stymied; but at least I will later on be able to tell my grandchildren that I was not one of those who saw what was going on and said nothing, and did nothing. To be sure, a writer’s pen may not be as powerful as a gun but it has been known to be persuasive at times and to have more lasting effects. At least so we may continue hoping, for the alternative is to give up in despair.

The first thing to observe and reflect upon in this event in Dallas, it seems to me, is the identity of the shooter. His name is Micah Johnson and he was 25 years old. One would expect him to be a criminal type with a long police wrap-sheet. But low and behold he had no criminal record. In fact he was a decorated veteran of the US army who served in the army reserve for six years (2009-2015), went to Afghanistan for two years and earned a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among other awards. Moreover, he did not live in a crime infested underprivileged part of Dallas but in an upper scale suburb (20 miles away for the center of Dallas): Misquite. Now, this seems far from the “unhinged psychopath” portrayed in the media. In fact, branding someone a psychopath or unhinged, absolves a journalist or a politician or a sociologist, even a novelist, from having to do some hard thinking and research on a perpetrator’s background to determine his precise motivation.

I remember a young student in one of my beginner philosophy classes, who made an intriguing comment on the ethics of war under discussion, and how intentionality can make all the difference, that one’s intention in going to war should never be that of killing for the sake of killing but that of defending one’s country, preventing a greater evil, protecting vulnerable people, or even more nobly, to defend democracy, or freedom. His comment was this: “but professor, when I was trained in the marines I was told that to be a good marine I had to become a perfect killing machine.” I must confess that I was taken aback by the comment.

Thinking about it, it would make sense to assume that Micah Johnson too was trained to be a perfect killing machine. It is safe to assume it since he more than proved it: he took on by himself an entire police department and managed to kill five of them and wound seven others; all facilitated of course by the fact that lethal arms suitable for a war battle are readily available in the US with the blessing of the NRA and the politicians beholden to it for their election.

But let us continue with the speculation: we train a perfect killing machine and then send him half-way across the world to fight for freedom and democracy, quite often ending with the sacrifice of his life. This “killing machine” then comes home expecting to enjoy the fruits of the values he fought for: freedom and democracy and prosperity. Instead, to his great surprise, he finds himself treated as a second class citizen, deprived of civil and human rights, respect and dignity by a justice system which is biased and divisive. He concludes that he was tricked: he went to fight to get for others around the world what he himself lacks at home.

The question arises: what would we do, were we in the same situation; would we be angry? The question is not asked to condone the violence of the misguided disturbed young man, which remains despicable and reprehensible, but as an attempt to understand his motives. Why did he think that, in his own twisted way, he was doing justice? Was it because he saw no justice being administered and so misguidedly took things in his own hands? To simply say that he was unhinged and leave it at that, is just too easy and solves absolutely nothing.

There is a final thought to contemplate and it is this: the young man, after having been cornered and afforded the opportunity to surrender by the police, was not finally killed by a man pitting the skills of one warrior against those of another, but by a robotic bomb who literally blew him up and destroyed him as a physical human being. In war one would call such an operation “overkill.” One kills, not with a precise bullet skillfully aimed and delivered, but by dropping a surprise bomb on the individual.

And of course, just as guns remain innocent and neutral, the robot also remains innocent and neutral, possessing no ethical conscience and feeling no guilt or regrets. No need to put it on a trial and prosecute it. The perfect killing machine, the robo-bomb, has just performed its job, the job of a killing machine. He does not even know that it is just a robot doing the same thing that some human beings also do, willingly or reluctantly, at times feeling guilt, or hatred or resentment, and at times feeling nothing because they have already dehumanized themselves.

Plenty of food for thought here, but I suspect that the inanities and the boring specious arguments will go on in the media; those seem to be more entertaining, require less thinking and gather better ratings.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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