Roaming Charges: Shrinkwrapped, How Sham Psychology Fueled the Texas Death Machine

The death couch of Dr. Coons. Image: JSC and AI Art Generator.

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“The long-run goal is the same for every human being, that politically he or she may be allowed to live free from fear, insecurity, terror, and oppression, free also from the possibility of exercising unequal or unjust domination over others.”

– Edward Said

In April 1990, Brent Brewer and his new girlfriend, whom he’d met in a psychiatric hospital weeks earlier, hitched a ride to a Salvation Army store in Amarillo, Texas with a local flooring store owner named Robert Doyle Lamarck. During the drive, Brewer and the woman tried to rob Lamarck at knifepoint. The three struggled for the blade and Brewer ended up stabbing Lamarck fatally in the neck. Brewer was 19 and had been suicidal for weeks at the time of the murder.

By all accounts, Brent Brewer had a brutal childhood. He and his mother were repeatedly abused by both his father and his stepfather. As a child, Brewer was verbally assaulted and frequently thrashed with belts, cables, and extension cords. When he was 15, Brewer used a broom handle to fend off his biological father from beating his mother. Brewer suffered from depression and anxiety as a teenager and began to numb himself with drugs. A few months before the murder, Brewer was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital after his grandmother found a suicide note he’d written. 

None of these circumstances mattered at his trial, where the Texas death machine quickly found him guilty of capital murder. The verdict was based on the bogus testimony of a crank doctor, who assured jurors that Brewer represented “a terminally dangerous menace to society” and the manufactured confusion of the jury instructions in Texas capital cases, which have led so many others to death row.

The death verdict was primarily based on the testimony of a discredited forensic psychologist named Richard Coons, who made something of a career out of testifying for the prosecution about the alleged “future dangerousness” of defendants. Despite having never interviewed Brewer, Dr. Coons testified that Brewer had “no conscience” and would  “probably” join a gang in prison and commit criminal acts of violence if given a life sentence. Coons’ testimony ignored Brewer’s exemplary record, where during his more than 30 years of incarceration he has shown no history of violence in prison. Brewer is deeply religious and has counseled many others on death row.

Still, not all of the jurors bought Coons’ sham science. One of the jurors at Brewer’s trial later said she wanted to vote for a life sentence. She said wasn’t convinced that Brewer had acted with premeditation when he killed Lamarck and she didn’t think Brewer would be a danger in the future. But she was misled into thinking that the jury instructions in Texas meant that the vote for a life sentence had to be unanimous, instead of a death verdict. In fact, a single life vote would have meant a life sentence for Brewer and saved him from death row. In a deposition for Brewer’s appeal, the juror also said that one of her fellow jurors shared her desire to vote for life and was similarly confused and coerced into going along with the death verdict.

The Texas legislature has been aware for years that the jury instructions are confusing and problematic and the Texas State House has passed numerous bills in recent years aimed at fixing the instructions that misled jurors about the unanimity requirement for a death sentence. Although those bills have won bipartisan majorities in the State House, none has passed the Texas State Senate.

Not long after Brewer’s trial, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Dr. Coons’s “future dangerousness” testimony in other cases was unreliable. The Court noted that Coons, who had testified as an expert in dozens of capital trials, was unable to point to any “books, articles, journals, or even other forensic psychiatrists who practice in this area” to buttress his self-originated theory. Despite billing $480 per hour for his lethal mumbo jumbo, Coons also admitted that not only did he rarely interview the people he assessed, he never followed up to see if his predictions of “future dangerousness” were borne out. In the wake of that decision, Coons stopped testifying in capital cases altogether.

But when Brewer challenged his conviction on the same grounds, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to consider the issue because his trial lawyer failed to object to Dr. Coons’s testimony. When he filed another appeal arguing “ineffectiveness of counsel” for failing to object to Coons’ quackery, the appeals court inexplicably ruled that even if Brewer’s lawyers had made a mistake by not challenging Coons’ testimony, Brewer wasn’t prejudiced by it. So even though the State of Texas admits that Coons should not have been allowed to testify at Brewer’s trial and that his theory is junk science, it still wants to put Brewer to death.

On Monday, the US Supreme Court denied Texas Brewer’s petition for certiorari in a single line with no dissents, clearing the way for his scheduled execution on November 9th. Brewer’s last hope now is a grant of clemency from the death-happy governor of Texas, Gregg Abbott.

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+ Here’s some harrowing new body cam footage of the Lahaina fire:

+ There is now a greater than 99 percent chance that 2023 will be the hottest year on record.

+ When Hurricane Otis tore into Acapulco, it unfurled wind gusts of 205 mph –among the most powerful ever seen on Earth. The storm, the first Category Five storm to ever hit the Pacific Coast of Mexico, killed at least 46 people, with another 58 still missing. Economic damages are expected to exceed $10 billion.

+ Between October 9 to October 25, western Mexico was hit by four eastern North Pacific tropical cyclones. Three were hurricanes at landfall. Lidia and Otis were major hurricanes that rapidly intensified on approach to land.

+ In an open letter to the International Criminal Court, human rights groups called on the court’s prosecutor to begin gathering evidence on the way climate-amplified extreme weather, heat, drought, and flooding are driving armed conflict and war crimes.

+ Over the last 50 years, extreme weather and climate-related events caused a staggering $4.3 trillion in economic losses worldwide, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization.

+ Africa’s extreme weather has killed more than 15,000 people in 2023.

+ If climate change continues at its current pace, scientists predict that by 2100 summer-like weather will last nearly six months of the year and wintry weather will last less than two.

+ Indigenous people in Amazonia are demanding that the Brazilian government declare a climate emergency as their villages have no drinking water, food, or medicine due to a severe drought that has dried up rivers vital for travel in the rainforest. More than 600,000 people are imperiled by the drought, which has left one of the major tributaries of the Amazon, the Rio Negro’s water levels at a 121-year low.

+ Amid the deepening drought, crossings of the Panama Canal will be cut back from an average of about 36 per day gradually to only 18 a day.

+ Ocean heat uptake has accelerated dramatically since the 1990s, nearly doubling during 2010–2020 relative to 1990–2000, according to a new study in Nature.

+ Over the last 12 months, ocean heat content has increased by 42 zettajoules, about 72 times as much as the total energy produced by all human activities on Earth last year.

+ Sea surface temperatures in the western Caribbean are about as warm now at the beginning of November as at any previous time of the year before 2023.

+ Coral bleaching is now taking place hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, at depths where coral was once believed to be safely insulated from the effects of warming oceans.

According to Andreas Aepli, CFO of Direct Air CaptureCompany carbon removal and capture will be applicable and financially viable for only about 10% of emissions.

+ Oil and gas companies are capturing an estimated 18 million metric tons of CO2 every year in the U.S. But most of it is still going into new oil, through the discredited practice of “enhanced oil recovery.” Much of it is subsidized by the federal government.

+ An investigation by Inside Climate News found that oil and gas companies have spilled nearly 150 million gallons of toxic, highly saline wastewater in Texas over the last decade.

+ According to new research from the Barrow Neurological Institute, people living in regions with even median levels of air pollution have a 56 percent greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease compared to those living in regions with the lowest level of air pollution.

+ The pace of global deforestation accelerated by 4 percent last year from 2021. More than 25,000 square miles of forest were destroyed in 2022, an area twice the size of Belgium. 96 percent of the forest loss occurs in tropical regions of the Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asia, where a football field of forest is lost every five seconds.

+ Top 10 Fossil Fuel Emitters of 2023…

1. China
2. USA
3. India
4. EU
5. Russia
6. Japan
7. Indonesia
8. Iran
9. Saudi Arabia
10. South Korea

+ If the world ever manages to get the temperature rise back down to 1.5C the melting would eventually stop. However, by the time we can get back down to 1.5C, sea levels will be 2 or 3 meters higher than today.

+ According to Goldman Sachs’ decarbonization cost curve, it is getting cheaper to decarbonize the economy.

+ NOAA reports that Miami reached the current level of King Tide flooding twice last year, but by 2050 it could happen as often as 50 days a year.

+ Researchers at UT Austin have developed an AI algorithm that correctly predicted 70% of earthquakes a week before they happened during a seven-month trial in China.

+ An estimated 1,551 bison were killed outside Yellowstone Park in 2022-23, around 27% of the 2022 summer population of about 6,000 animals. This summer’s population was estimated in August at about 4,800 animals. The plan is to kill another 1100 bison this winter.

+ From 2012 to 2021, more than 32 million acres, or 50,000 square miles, of grassland on the Great Plains have been plowed up and converted to agricultural land, largely row crops, according to the Plowprint Report. The Great Plains lost 1.6 million acres of grassland in 2021 alone.

+ The Michigan attorney general’s office has officially ended its pursuit of criminal prosecutions over the Flint water crisis after seven years with no convictions. The Flint prosecution team says the cases are now “closed.” And the water still isn’t safe to drink…

+ Between 2000 to 2019, at least 123 of the 226 reported deaths from acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children under 10 in the Amazon and Cerrado regions of Brazil have been linked to increases in local pesticide use.

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The lines of property in America. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ There are now at least 74 border walls in the world, six times the number at the end of the Cold War, according to research by Elisabeth Vallet at the University of Quebec. The length of the walls totals more than 20,000 miles.

+ This week the Biden administration added to those grim numbers by secretly awarding a $229 million contract for border wall construction to a company that got similar contracts from Trump and Greg Abbot. There was no public announcement or hearing on the deal.

+  In 1907, Ellis Island processed 10,000 immigrants a day. Now the Adams administration claims that admitting10,000 immigrants a month is putting an unbearable strain on the city. Speaking of the Mayor, this week the FBI raided the home of his top fundraiser Brianna Suggs. In April, the New York Daily News reported that “Suggs solicited cash for Adams’ 2025 bid last year while simultaneously being paid to lobby his administration on behalf of a property owner with business before the city.”

+ Colin Berryhill, the Memphis cop they called “Taserface,” was being investigated by internal affairs for three separate incidents of excessive force for using his taser while making arrests, including tasering a motorist named Owen Buzzard, while he was handcuffed. “He’s not police material,’’ Buzzard later said. But before Berryhill was brought up on misconduct charge, he quit the Memphis force and took a job as a patrol officer at the Southaven (Mississippi) Police Department, where he was recently feted as the department’s officer of the month.

+ Philadelphia’s juvenile jail is still dangerously overcrowded with children sleeping on benches and floors in cramped, filthy cells where the lights are often kept on 24 hours a day.

+ More than 3,300 people in the U.S. have been exonerated since 1989 of crimes for which they were imprisoned, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

+ Orange County, California’s District Attorney Todd Spitzer is refusing to publicly release racial data on who his office prosecutes, following a court order on the issue.

+ Got this disturbing note from the incarcerated journalist and CounterPunch contributor Christopher Blackwell: “Today Securus, a predatory prison communication co, silenced journalists. With no warning, they deleted all drafts of writing. Years of work. Manuscripts. Articles. Everything gone. We’re no longer able to save drafts. Now near impossible to write.”

+ In 2021, all California counties combined spent about $3.9 billion on adult jails.

+ The age of the average police officer in California, 40.4 years, is three years older than in 1991.

+ Back in January 2021, Joshua Garton was arrested after he posted a meme showing two people pissing on a tombstone featuring the photo of a Dickson County sheriff’s deputy who had been shot and killed in 2018. Garton captioned his post: “Just showing my respect to deputy Daniel Baker from the #dicksoncountypolicedepartment.” Garton was charged with harassment and jailed for nearly two weeks on a $76,000 bond until a Dickson County judge dismissed the charges. Garton sued for false arrest and violation of his First Amendment rights. This week the State of Tennessee settled the case and agreed to pay Garton $125,000.”

+ The Alabama Personnel Board has reinstated Timothy McCorvey, a correctional officer at the Ventress Correctional Facility, who was dismissed on his warden’s recommendation earlier this year after he struck inmate Brandon Crosby and dragged Crosby by his shirt collar into the hallway outside the dorm. Prison video showed that McCorvey leaned down and spoke to Crosby, then punched him before placing him in handcuffs. After he was handcuffed on the ground, Crosby grabbed McCorvey’s leg and raised his head slightly. Then, an Administrative Law Judge who reviewed a video of the incident concluded: “It appears McCorvey hit Crosby a second time in the video. Crosby’s head snapped toward the floor after McCorvey made a sudden movement toward Crosby. Crosby rolled over onto his side and appeared in distress until the end of the video.” Crosby, 36, died at the hospital later that day from blunt force trauma. An autopsy showed extensive hemorrhaging around Crosby’s brain as well as multiple rib fractures, liver and spleen lacerations, and deep bruising on his neck.

+ The cops in Lewiston, Maine knew mass shooter Robert Card was a threat, a man who “might snap and do a mass shooting,” and did nothing to track him down or prevent the attack and then, after shutting down much of the state for 48 hours, couldn’t find him afterward, even though his body a lot adjacent to where his car was parked.

+++

+ Like those old EF Hutton ads at a tennis match with investors whispering stock tips as the ball is being whacked back and forth across the net, except with an exchange of ICBMS…

+ Olivier DeShutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, excoriated the CEOs of Walmart, Amazon, and DoorDash for keeping their workers in poverty, reliant on food stamps and Medicaid, because of “shamefully” low wages and union-busting.

+ According to an FTC lawsuit, Amazon used a secret algorithm that essentially helped the company raise prices on other websites and “destroyed” some internal communications as the FTC was investigating the company.

+ After six weeks on strike, the UAW reached a tentative contract deal with Stellantis that follows the model set by Ford, with similar 25% general wage increases.

+ Here’s What UAW Workers Won at Ford

+ 25% raise over 4 1/2 yrs

+ 11% raise at ratification

+ 68% jump in starting pay

+ 33% increase in the top wage

+ 150% raise for temps

+ Increased retirement benefits

+ Restoration of COLA

+ According to CoStar, an international real estate analytics company, not a single market-rate apartment project broke ground during the first half of this year in Silicon Valley.”

+ A report by retail analysts at William Blair (summarized in this piece in Entrepreneur) confirms what many of us have been saying for the past couple of years: retailers have largely manufactured the “organized retail theft” crisis to shift blame from their own management mistakes.

+ The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House GOP’s IRS bill will add $12,5 billion to the deficit. Of course, the GOP has never really cared about budget shortfalls. To quote Dark Lord Cheney: “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.” In fact, they’re quite happy to run the deficit up in order to pay off their donors with tax cuts and use the red ink they manufactured as an excuse to cut Social Security and Medicare.

+ The infant mortality rate in the United States has risen for the first time since 2002, with 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

+ In the E.U., the infant mortality rate is 3.1 per 1,000. For every 31 babies who die in Europe, 54 American babies die.

+ This week Biden issued the first executive order aimed at regulating artificial intelligence. He was apparently motivated to take action after watching the latest installment of Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise, Dead Reckoning. Can someone ask Cruise to make universal health care or climate change plot elements in the sequel?

+ An Alaska man named Arthur Graham, apparently enraged over his impending eviction from his home on the Kenai Peninsula, emailed Senator Lisa Murkowski, threatening to “cut the flesh off your body and wear your skin like clothes…I’ll live inside of YOU… because I ain’t got nowhere else to live.”

+ The UN says nearly seven million people are now internally displaced within the Democratic Republic of Congo due to escalating violence.

+++

+ Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education apparently thinks the T in CRT stands for “transgenderism”. Who will tell him?

+ This week Idaho brought charges against a Pocatello teenager and his mother for taking his pregnant girlfriend to Oregon to get an abortion pill. The Idaho police used geolocation software to track the family to a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Bend. Idaho was one of the first states to enact Abortion Trafficking laws.

+ Frank LaRose, the anti-abortion Secretary of State in Ohio, purged 27,000 voters from the rolls before the vote on Issue 1, a ballot measure that would codify the right to an abortion in the state. The purged voters can re-register—but not in time to vote on the ballot measure. The deadline for this election was Oct. 10.

+ If Mike Pence suspended his campaign and no one was there to hear it, is it really suspended?

+ In the wake of two mass shootings, the NRA rolled out an ad featuring new House Speaker Mike Johnson saying he opposes background checks and waiting periods to purchase firearms.

+ So far this year there have been 584 mass shootings in 43 different states (and Washington D.C.) in the 304 days of 2023. The US is on pace for more than 700 in 2023.

+ According to the Gun Violence Archive, mass shootings in the US have become nearly 2.5 times more common than they were only 10 years ago:

2014: .75 per day
2015: .91 per day
2016: 1.05 per day
2017: .95 per day
2018: .92 per day
2019: 1.13 per day
2020: 1.67 per day
2021: 1.89 per day
2022: 1.77 per day
2023: 1.92 per day

+ House Speaker Mike Johnson’s wife, Kelly, Mike Johnson, is a conversion therapist, whose counseling service has compared being gay to bestiality and incest.

+ In his entire Congressional career, Mike Johnson, who made nearly $200,000 last year, has never listed a bank account on his financial disclosure form. On his newest disclosure, he doesn’t disclose a single asset at all:  no retirement savings, no bonds, and no stocks. According to the Daily Beast, Johnson’s has a 250-500,000 mortgage, a home equity loan, a personal loan, and less than $5,000 in cash.

+ Johnson’s top contributor for 2021-22 is AIPAC: $25,000.

+ Neal Katyal: “The thing to watch just in the next week is not someone who’s gonna fold, but  Ivanka Trump testifying against her husband, against, excuse me, against her father.”

+ Ivanka Trump is the latest public figure endorsing a “humanitarian pause”…from her testimony. Why? Court taking place during the school week creates an “undue hardship.”

+ A year ago Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion. Last week, employees at the company were informed Musk now believes it is worth $19 billion, a decline of 55 percent.

+ Crypto-conman Sam Bankman-Fried, who was convicted on all charges this week: “I would never read a book…I don’t want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that…if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.”

+ Top political donors to the campaigns of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves have received at least $1.4 billion in state contracts and grants from the agencies Reeves oversees, according to an investigation by Mississippi Today.

+ After the release of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, the US Air Force and Strategic Air Command grew so worried that the movie might undermine public support for the US nuclear weapons program that they produced their own film titled, Strategic Command Post, to reassure people the weapons were in safe hands. Here’s a clip: 

+ As the melting Arctic becomes the focus of a rapid military build-up of both NATO and Russian forces, a top NATO official says that the lines of communication between military leaders on both sides are virtually non-existent.

+ This week the UN General Assembly almost unanimously adopted a resolution on the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The vote was 187 in favor to 2 against (Israel and the US). They couldn’t even coerce Ukraine to vote against it, just a lonely, half-hearted abstention…

+ From March 2022 to February 2023, the US blockade caused an estimated $4.8 billion in losses to Cuba, representing more than $555,000 for each hour of the blockade.

+ Tulsi Gabbard, darling of Glenn Greenwald and Jimmy Dore, on FoxNews:

Islamist jihadists, both Sunni and Shiite, openly call for wiping out all Jews from the face of the earth—yet Cori Bush, the Squad, and others support or act as apologists for such jihadists and say that Israel is guilty of human rights abuses and genocide. This is one of the main reasons I left the Democratic Party—because it is led by and rife with apologists for Islamist jihadists.

+ Will she run as RKF, Jr.’s sidekick?

+ Political dissatisfaction is running high. RFK and Cornel West combined for 25% in a recent poll. According to the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, only one poll since the 1990s had third-party candidates polling that robustly.

+ RFK is raking in more campaign money from former Trump donors, than former Biden donors.

+ Contrast the depraved ranting from the likes of Gabbard and Kennedy to some of the last words written by the courageous full-employment activist Ady Barkan, who died from ALS this week at 39: “I do not expect to live to see the liberation of the Palestinian people. But I maintain hope that my toddler son will. If he does, it will be because young American Jews like him do the honest self-reflection taught by our forebears.”

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+ More groundbreaking reporting from the New York Times…

+ Katie Weeman on the meaninglessness of time at the poles: “At the North Pole, 24 time zones collide at a single point, rendering them meaningless. It’s simultaneously all of Earth’s time zones and none of them. There are no boundaries of any kind in this abyss, in part because there is no land and no people. The sun rises and sets just once per year, so “time of day” is irrelevant as well.

+ Mikhail Bulgakov’s diary, October 30, 1935: “During the day there was a ring at our door. I went out and there was [Anna] Akhmatova with such a dreadful face, and so much thinner, that I scarcely recognized her; nor did Misha. It turned out that in one and the same night both her husband (Punin) and her son (Gumilyov) had been arrested. She had come to deliver a letter to Yosif Vaissarionovich [Stalin]. She was quite clearly in a confused state and was muttering things to herself.”

+ Gertrude Stein on Ezra Pound: “A village explainer, excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”

+ Ezra Pound in a 1933 letter to the poet TC Wilson:

I don’t think there is any chance for any yng. feller making a dent in the pubk. or highly select consciousness by means of pomes writ in the style of 1913/15. An thet’s flat and no use my handlin you with gloves.

I do not believe there are more than two roads:

1. The old man’s road (vide Tom. Hardy)–content, the insides, the subject.

2. Music. And I am slowly gettin round to a few formulations, shocked largely by the god damn ignorance in which I have lived, and which wuz inherited from the generation of boobs who preceded me.

+ The late and great Bill Knott on Ezra Pound: “He made the quatrains run on time.”

+ John Cage’s dedication of “0’00” (4′ 33″ No. 2)” to Yoko Ono and Toshi Ichiyanagi…

+ In his latest Real Life Rock Top 10 column, Greil Marcus shreds the Rolling Stones’s latest feeble offering, Hackney Diamonds: “This is a gruesome piece of work from the beginning until almost the end. The sound is cold to the touch. Soullessness is trumpeted as a value. The songs are jerry-built out of dead catchphrases and rhythms that could have been cut out of a book of fonts. The guitar solos are everywhere and betray no hint that they were actually played by anyone as opposed to anyone else.”

No VIP in the Hall of Fame, I’m RIP on the Walk of Shame

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Mountains of Fire: the Menace, Meaning and Magic Secret Lives of Volcanoes
Clive Oppenheimer
(Hodder & Stoughton)

Pharmanomics: How Big Pharma Destroys Public Health
Nick Dearden
(Verso)

Care: The Highest Stage of Capitalism
Premilla Nadasen
(Haymarket)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

God Games
The Kills
(Domino)

Clap!
Erik Trufazz
(Blue Note)

Half-Eaten by Dogs
The Surfs
(Trouble in Mind)

The Submerged Mind of Empire

“One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.” – JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3