A TPM Reader Talks Back

I like this comment from reader AN at TPM:

… there has to come a point where people stop pretending that Obama is some superintelligent ninjalike political operator who’s playing the game at a level the rest of us novices cannot even comprehend and instead start holding him accountable for the decisions that he or his subordinates make.

When Geithner was nominated a lot of people complained that he was a poor choice because he was far too beholden to the big Wall Street players and their interests. Now it appears that he’s trying to do everything in his power to protect those very people at the expense of the American tax payer. For better or worse this falls squarely on Obama’s shoulders–as it should.

I think people want Obama to be something that perhaps he’s not–namely, a strong progressive democrat. Maybe he really is a centrist (and I don’t mean a vague meaningless Ben Nelson type) and that’s fine. But if a person is hoping for a more progressive president it won’t really do any good to pretend that he’d be more progressive if only he could. Sooner or later people are going to have to demand more progressive policy.

This is no time for an extended Obama honeymoon.

Beyond the Pale


The RCMP murdered Robert Dziekanski.  That’s what I think.  Of course, no charges will be laid against the officers.  The more that is revealed at the Braidwood Inquiry, the more firm I become in my view.  I can hardly bear to read it.

The RCMP tasered Dziekanski twice though he had done nothing more than wave his arms at them and walk away when they didn’t want him to walk away.  That’s my take on the video.  Help yourself – go watch it, as I have, again and again and again – mesmerized by the brutality, stupidity and inhumanity.  Watch while a passenger in the terminal chats with Dziekanski and calms him down.  Watch while four macho RCMP officers move in, don’t talk to him and behave in a way that would threaten anyone, never mind a non-English speaking person who’d been on a plane for hours and hours and hanging around the terminal looking for his mother for hours and hours and who hadn’t hurt a goddamned flea.

They tasered him twice and then noticed, while he was face down and cuffed, that he wasn’t moving.  They stood around for a bit and then called paramedics (never did call the on-site Emergency Response Team) and then wouldn’t let the medics treat him – wouldn’t remove his handcuffs so that he could be properly examined.  Robert Dziekanski died face down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back.  But that’s okay.  The paramilitary RCMP were just doing their jobs, as defined by them.  No one will hold them to account.

In the ’60s, we had a word for cops like these.  As I always told my sons, respect the police.  They kill people.

White Guilt a Good Thing?

Patricia Devine is an American research psychologist who has studies prejudice and how people break the “prejudice habit”.  It would appear, from her results, that “white guilt” does serve a purpose – for people who have been made aware of their prejudices and want to change:

Devine explains that eliminating prejudice is like breaking a habit — in the same way that she had to consciously stop biting her nails as a child, people who want to break the prejudice habit every day have to be aware of their own internal prejudice.

“[Eliminating prejudice] is a process. Making that decision is the first step, but then what you have to do is put some effort into it,” Devine says. “Just making the decision doesn’t mean you wake up one day, stretch and say ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because you have got this whole socialization experience that you grew up with.”

To support her view that people with conflicting responses are not liars, Devine broke up participants into two groups: high prejudice and low prejudice. The key difference between the two groups is that high-prejudice people will respond with prejudice and not have internal conflict, but low-prejudice people who respond with prejudice feel guilty afterward.

This guilt, what Devine calls prejudice with compunction, is the key to eliminating prejudice.

“When people’s values conflicted, what I predicted is that if they were sincere in their non-prejudicial beliefs, they would feel guilty and self-critical and they would hold themselves accountable,” Devine says. “When given a chance, [low-prejudice] people tried to learn from mistakes, tried to absorb material and at the next opportunity when prejudice was possible, they responded in a fair and unbiased way.”

Read the whole post at The Situationist

Plague on Both Houses

From lambert at Corrente:

One of the more frustrating things for me in this primary is the way that years of oppo that we’ve salted away on Republican sexual deviance and Republican torture and killing of animals has gone unused; and both issues speak directly to Republican abuses of power in with easy-to-understand stories that cry out for accountability.

So what do we get? Oppo on 17-year-old girls and trash talk about special needs babies.

Gad. Both houses, plague.

lol.  CNN on the Republicans dancing at the end of their convention:  “rhythmically challenged”.  I just caught it – didn’t notice who said it.

Oops, sorry, forgot the link to Corrente

Taser Co. Hosts Police Chiefs

Oh gimme a wtf break:

Taser International is a major sponsor of an upcoming police chiefs conference at which new research into electronic stun gun safety will be presented.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police commissioned a review into conducted energy weapons last fall after Robert Dziekanski of Poland died at Vancouver International Airport after being hit with the device by RCMP. At least five other Canadians have since died after being tasered by police.

Steve Palmer, executive director of the Canadian Police Research Centre, said he will present an overview of the report at the conference later this month in Montreal, but said the full review into the weapons commonly known as tasers is not yet complete.

“It’s an update,” said Mr. Palmer, who declined to give details. A final report is expected by next year after a full and independent peer review.

Called RESTRAINT, Risk of Death in Subjects That Resist, the review compares tasers with other methods police use to subdue difficult people.

It also looks at the characteristics of those who have been zapped, including excited delirium, a condition in which suspects are in a heart-pounding state of agitation. Excited delirium has been repeatedly cited to explain the sudden deaths of people after being tasered.

Taser International is one of the platinum sponsors of the conference that runs Aug. 24-27. The corporation has sponsored similar events in Canada and around the world.

For a minimum $25,000 fee, platinum sponsors can display their name on banners and signs, provide promotional items in delegate kits, be given an advance list of participants and attend conference sessions.

Steve Tuttle, vice-president of Arizona-based Taser International, said the company’s presence is important.

“You have to be there. It is a major sales event. It is advertising,” said Mr. Tuttle, who will be at the conference to answer questions about his company’s products.

Mr. Tuttle said while the new Canadian research is important, he has DVDs that contain 130 studies that have found the devices to be safe.

“You want to be there to be a conduit for information because clearly we have controversial issues in Canada, and the last thing that we want to be is shy. We stand behind our technology.”

Hilary Homes of Amnesty International Canada, which has called for a moratorium on stun guns, said having Taser as a sponsor and exhibitor sends a mixed message.

“It is very troubling,” Ms. Homes said from Ottawa. “What we need now is an objective discussion and accountability and this doesn’t seem to be creating the proper context for what needs to be a very frank and open debate.”

Officials with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police were not available for comment.

Taser staff will be on hand to exhibit the company’s trademark X26 model used by the RCMP and other Canadian police forces. Taser is not listed as an exhibitor under its own name, but under its Canadian distributor, M.D. Charlton Co. Ltd.

The company will also be promoting new products such as a wireless taser round that is fired from a shotgun and has a range of 20 metres, he said. There will also be information on new products being developed, including a system called Shockwave that fires multiple taser rounds that can incapacitate a number of people in an area up to 100 metres.

A special video camera and audio device that police can wear to show what happens when an officer restrains someone is also in the works. Cellphone video of Mr. Dziekanski’s death that was shot by a member of the public made headlines around the world, but there was no police video of the encounter.

“Right now we have officers that are being called into question because of controversial uses,” Mr. Tuttle said. “The rage right now is that people are recording police officers with their cellphones.”

A total of 22 people have died in Canada after being hit with tasers, which can deliver a shock of up to 50,000 volts.

I’m not sure that I can say anything you’re not already thinking.  It horrifies me that tasers that can affect more than one person are in the works, though why wouldn’t that be the case?  Taser use for crowd control is a pretty scarey thought though, given the tendency of the police to overreact in such circumstances.  To say nothing of the fact that there is less ability to make any judgments about the meaning of the behaviours of more than one person.  Freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate are more and more at risk.

Given the fact that the police have often shown little insight into the meaning of the behaviour of one person, that’s not exactly comforting.  This is an issue for the rights of the mentally ill as well.

As the Globe Falls

I was so conscious of my deliberation the first time I used “swear” words that I have an indelible memory of it.  I was likely about six-years old.  Someone had given me one of those wonderful globes with a scene inside.  When you held the globe (made of glass in those days) upside down, snow filled it and covered the delicious little house and garden inside.

I loved that little globe.  One day, while watching the snow fall,  I dropped the globe and it smashed on the floor, leaving a pool of water filled with gloppy white stuff and a shattered, imaginary world.

I had no one to blame.  No one but god who, I thought in that moment, was the only “person” who could have saved the globe.  And didn’t.  The problem of theodicy, right there in my little-girl bedroom.  All my childlike anger at the injustices of the world  became concentrated on that mucky pool of liquid.

In some ways, only in some ways, I had led a remarkably sheltered life.  My mother occasionally said “damn” and always apologized.  I knew there were “bad words” but I knew very few of them.  I had been taught that both my anger itself and expressions of it were “bad”.  And I was a little Catholic girl, sent off to catechism classes regularly.  I knew my ten commandments and was imaginative to boot.  I believed god fully capable of striking blasphemers dead on the spot.

Through some unclear collision of all those factors, I was quite sure that the absolute most rebellious and risky expression of my anger was to swear at god. 

“Shit bugger damn you, god,” is what I said to my empty bedroom.  Empty but for my god.

Then I waited to be struck dead, half in fear, but with a good deal of curiosity. Clearly, the seeds of doubt had already been sown.  Nothing happened, of course, nothing but the thrill of having transgressed in a way that was both almost unthinkable and absolutely private.

I never confessed to having taken the name of the lord in vain and I had my first experiece of doubting his existence because of his failure to take his revenge.

Ironic, isn’t it?  My faith was threatened because of the failure of this vengeful, not-very-Xian god to exert control over a member of his flock.  Some years later, when trying to reconcile all the lies I’d been told by my religion and about my religion, it occurred to me for the first time that god may have forgiven me for my pretty harmless outburst of anger, even though I’d asked for no forgiveness.  Or maybe even that god didn’t consider expressions of anger with no victim worth his notice.

My theories of life and the universe don’t now include the conversations that god might be having with himself.  I’m sure all the theologians out there are greatly relieved.

Still, perhaps because of the ways my brain was washed, perhaps for reasons that I know not of, I still think of myself as having been the recipient of “grace” that day.  I expressed my anger and no harm came of it.  Not even to me.  Or maybe no harm came because of the way I expressed it.  That experience did contribute to the formation of either superego or conscience, depending on how you choose to see it.

I’ve been wondering lately about the anger that gets tossed around by bloggers all over the sphere, including myself.  I’ve been wondering that perhaps especially since Jim David Adkisson killed two people and wounded others at TVUUC, quite possibly after reading and listening to people such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter.

I wonder it when I think about how I want to respond to the now famous “pro-feminist” blogger, Kyle Payne, who recently said, among other things, this:

While caring for the female student, I felt a sudden impulse to expose her breast. Not knowing how to deal with this feeling at the time – and to put it more clearly, not knowing how to make sense of such an urge, given my personal values and my politics – I acted upon it. With a digital camera I kept with me regularly, I briefly photographed and took a few seconds of video of the woman’s breast. She did not consent to this act, nor did she have any knowledge of it at the time. This event ended as quickly as it began, leaving me in a state of disbelief at what I had done.

Something that Hugo Schwyzer said in response to the TVUUC shootings comes to mind as I try to decide on my response:

Those of us who speak publicly or prophetically have a moral obligation to think about how the least balanced of our students, the least well-equipped of our followers, the least stable of our adherents might respond to what it is we say in anger. That doesn’t mean never speaking out against what we regard as sinful or destructive. I’m still going to lament the grave harm done by vivisection, factory farming, and the adult entertainiment industry. But I’m reminded by this incident of the challenge to be grace-filled, and of the challenge to avoid causing others to stumble. Someone — or a whole lot of someones — convinced Jim Adkisson that liberal Unitarians were deserving not only of his wrath, but of destruction. Though the legal punishment should fall on Adkisson alone, the moral culpability for his action is, I think, far more widely shared.

These comments moved me and I thought, with some guilt, of the instances on this blog when I’ve indulged my anger in not very constructive ways.  I think of these words now, when I examine my response to Kyle Payne.  I want to write an adult version of “shit bugger damn you, god”, whatever that might be.  Yet I think that’s unhelpful.  Not with respect to Payne, whose well-being is not in my hands.  It doesn’t help me.  And it doesn’t help anyone who reads what I write.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Payne needs to be called out and held accountable, not only for what he’s done, but for what he continues to do by writing this self-serving crap.  Many people have called Payne out on their blogs and I trust they’ll continue to do so as long as he’s around.  Pretty clear he’s dangerous.

But there’s an awful lot of ad hominem stuff too.  It might seem rather odd that I’d make that point about someone who has done so much to attract that kind of attention.  But it does us no harm to step back and look at the issues for at least a tiny moment.

I’m not going to cover the issue of men being “feminists” because I actually think it’s the least important of all. 

I want to try to respond to this:

As I have undergone a full psychological evaluation and begun a treatment program for various mental health issues, I am learning more and more each day about what factors led me to commit the act I have described. My experiences of child sexual abuse have produced a great deal of unresolved anger, primarily because I was unable to obtain necessary support during that period and have since worked very hard to repress those memories. That unresolved anger at the injustice and violation done to me is what led me initially to anti-rape work as a rape crisis advocate when I started college. I felt that helping others might allow me to find some sort of peace with what happened to me. Being an advocate did help me to better understand the socio-political context of my experiences of abuse, particularly as I began reading feminist theory. However, because I concentrated my energy solely on an advocacy role for others, rather than addressing my own experiences of abuse, nothing got better. In fact, things got much worse.

Where to start?  Let’s try this:  it’s very difficult to believe Payne at this point.  He has, in the recent past, denied the charges against him.  Apart from that, the man lived a lie in professing to be an advocate for women when he was using women and his self-description as a feminist to further his own predatory desires.  It’s always really hard for me to believe that the only criminal activity a person has engaged in is that for which he’s been charged.  I am fairly sure that only the tip of Payne’s iceberg is being dealt with.

And he was so focussed on advocating for others that he forgot about his own pain?  Gimme a break.  While therapists who don’t attend to themselves often burn out, they don’t sexually assault their clients while they’re doing it.  What a wonderful excuse.  I was so busy looking after that woman, I accidentally assaulted her.

But, putting my suspicions aside just for a moment, how ought Payne to be dealt with if he is telling the truth about his sexual abuse as a child?  He wonders how he might be re-admitted to the hallowed halls of feminism and even to work as a counsellor.  Here’s how one blogger responds:

Listen, you fucking moron asshole, YOU VIOLATED that woman. Period. End game. Who is to blame? YOU! Got it, jerk? YOU. I hope to ALL that is sane or holy YOU pay for it. You have NO place in feminist spaces, no place where victimized women might be, no place speaking for or with us, you stain. YOU are a predator, got it?

To that I can only say, right on.  Why?  Because Kyle Payne doesn’t get it.  And, since he still doesn’t seem able to truly contemplate the damage he has done and focuses only on himself and the ways in which his own predatory behaviour is related to sexual violence done to him, I’d have to say he hasn’t even begun.

In any case, no one who has abused the trust of vulnerable women by abusing their position ought ever to be placed in that position again, no matter what, and no matter the success of his “treatment”.  That conclusion is not based upon my wish to impose punishment on Mr. Payne, that decision is based on an absolute need for commitment to prevent this particular perpetrator from abusing the trust of someone else, based on his position. 

It’s also based on empirical data [pdf].  For instance: 

On average, sexual offenders who received treatment were less likely to reoffend than offenders who did not receive treatment. Not all treatments were equally effective. Treatments provided prior to 1980 appeared to have little effect. In contrast, current treatments were associated with a significant reduction in both sexual recidivism (from 17% to 10%) and general recidivism (51% to 32%).

That’s a reduction in recidivism.  As long as there exists a possibility that a person such as Payne will re-offend, such a person should never be placed in a position of trust with respect to women or children.  Period.  Absolutely period.  To do so would be criminally negligent.

Contrary to popular opinion, rates of recidivism  [pfd] for sexual offenders are lower than for other crimes (at least, rates of those charged and convicted).  But some people, like me, think that may mean that the most effective “treament” is catching offenders and punishing them according to law.  The reason I think that may work is because it interferes with the belief, common to sex offenders, that they are above or beyond the law, that they are acting in some private realm of shame and shaming.  Once they become aware that their actions may be subject to public exposure and reproach, they quit, as the results are unsatisfactory.  The power and control are gone.  And it’s the power and control that are really in play.  Kyle Payne is still trying to exert power and control through his blog writings.


There’s your answer Kyle.  You can’t ever come back.  That’s the price you pay.  It’s an awfully small price, compared from the one you’ve extracted from the woman (women?) you’ve criminally abused.  But even if it weren’t, I wouldn’t care.  A high price is called for. 
That Payne doesn’t know that is proof of the extremely early and limited state of his own counselling.  Anyone aware of the damage done to them by sexual abuse and assault would know this.  Anyone treating Payne from within a “feminist framework” would know this too.

Go do your work in treatment, Kyle.  Pay the price you are asked to pay at law.  And stop asking for the misty eyes of the women whose community you’ve hurt. 

Just one more thing before I end this excessively lengthy rumination.  The “abuse excuse”. 

There is surely no question that male (and some female – but we’re talking about a man here) victims of childhood sexual abuse very often go on to become predators.  That doesn’t make them insane adults who are neither morally nor criminally responsible:

Statistics involving men in New Jersey prisons convicted of sexual abuse, found that over 95% of the men, were in fact abused themselves. And we don’t know, but it could be that the 5% of non-abused men in that case don’t remember being abused as children; they may have amnesia or a traumatic dissociation.. Some abuse may be the attempt to relive one’s own abuse, with power roles reversed. Another reason may be these people have learned that abuse is a way of feeling in control. Fundamentally, in all cases of abuse, it certainly is about power and control.    […]  It’s a complex and still unclear set of issues that drives childhood sexual abuse. However, it is up to adults to control their own behaviors.

Once again, here’s how Payne describes what he did:

While caring for the female student, I felt a sudden impulse to expose her breast. Not knowing how to deal with this feeling at the time – and to put it more clearly, not knowing how to make sense of such an urge, given my personal values and my politics – I acted upon it. With a digital camera I kept with me regularly, I briefly photographed and took a few seconds of video of the woman’s breast. She did not consent to this act, nor did she have any knowledge of it at the time. This event ended as quickly as it began, leaving me in a state of disbelief at what I had done.

That’s the excuse of a child with his hand in a cookie jar:  woops, my hand slipped.  Give that one a rest, Kyle.  You say you didn’t know what to do with the urge?  That suggests you thought about what to do with it.  You know what the answer ought to have been.  You had time to think about it.  You had time to erase the photographs you took.  You had time to find treatment and confess what you’d done.  Apparently, you did none of that until, thankfully, you were caught and stopped.  I hope your therapist tells you what to do with that urge the next time you have it.  If not, check back here.

Or, you know Kyle, read your own fucking blog:

When faced with a message that challenges men’s violence, rather than reacting defensively […] we can call into question our own attitudes and behaviors about gender, sexuality, and power.

Shit bugger damn you, Kyle Payne.


Cara did a great job on this, with links and A#1 comments.

UPDATE:  Check Ren’s blog for a list of feminist and pro-feminist posts on Payne.

Torture by British Troops

[UK Public Interest Lawyer Phil] Shiner and his colleagues have witness statements and corroborations of prima facie crimes of an especially atrocious kind usually associated with the Americans. “The more cases I am dealing with, the worse it gets,” he says. These include an “incident” near the town of Majar al-Kabir in 2004, when British soldiers executed as many as 20 Iraqi prisoners after mutilating them. The latest is that of a 14-year-old boy who was forced to simulate anal and oral sex over a prolonged period.

“At the heart of the US and UK project,” says Shiner, “is a desire to avoid accountability for what they want to do. Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary renditions are part of the same struggle to avoid accountability through jurisdiction.” British soldiers, he says, use the same torture techniques as the Americans and deny that the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on Torture apply to them. And British torture is “commonplace”: so much so, that “the routine nature of this ill-treatment helps to explain why, despite the abuse of the soldiers and cries of the detainees being clearly audible, nobody, particularly in authority, took any notice”.

Unbelievably, says Shiner, the Ministry of Defence under Tony Blair decided that the 1972 Heath government’s ban on certain torture techniques applied only in the UK and Northern Ireland. Consequently, “many Iraqis were killed and tortured in UK detention facilities”. Shiner is working on 46 horrific cases.

Perhaps this explains why there has been no hue and cry from the UK with respect to the American proclivity toward torture of detainees.

UPDATE:  Repaired link to this article at Dandelion Salad

Quote of the Day

From the speech of Judge Dan Haywood, played by Spencer Tracy, in Judgment at Nuremberg as part of his reasons for convicting the German judges charged with war crimes:

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Abby Mann, the writer of these words, died on March 25 of this year.

American Rhetoric

Canadian Silence, US Cruelty

On Sunday I posted this horrible video of David Addington and John Yoo testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.  Or should I say not testifying.  Now Linda McQuaig has voiced the thoughts I found myself unable to form out of sheer disgust:

Does the president of the United States have the right to order a detainee buried alive?

Oddly, this grotesque question was posed at a U.S. Congressional hearing last week. Even odder was the answer — from John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, now a law professor at the University of California.

“I don’t think that I’ve ever given the advice that the president could bury somebody alive,” Yoo told a judiciary subcommittee hearing into detainee interrogations.

Well, I guess that’s comforting to know. But it was striking to watch Yoo evade answering whether he considered there was any treatment so vicious and inhuman that it would be beyond the president’s power to inflict it on a detainee, in the interests of national defence.

Apparently there isn’t. In a public debate in 2005, Yoo was asked if he thought it would be lawful for the president to authorize crushing the testicles of a detainee’s child.

It would seem like a simple “no” would suffice. But here’s how Yoo responded: “I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that.”

Asked about that line last week during his Congressional testimony, Yoo didn’t deny saying it, but protested that it was taken “out of context.” Does that mean there’s a context in which a top legal adviser might advise the president that that’s okay?

After 7 1/2 years of George W. Bush, much of the media and political establishment — which have never shown much interest in holding Bush to account — now appear anxious to simply move on. They seem determined to leave unexamined the full cruelty and mendacity of the Bush administration, with its unlawful wars and blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Moving on is a great idea – once there’s been some accountability, with a full public recognition of wrongdoing, and a commitment to bring about change. Otherwise, nothing will have been learned.

The comments of Yoo, who authored top-level internal memos justifying torture and virtually unlimited presidential power, suggest a moral depravity in very high places.

That depravity led to the horrific abuses at Abu Ghraib and at other U.S. prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and “black sites” around the world.

The dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Lawrence Velvel, argues that Bush and top administration officials, including Yoo, should be tried for war crimes. His law school is holding a conference in September to map out ways to try to pursue these prosecutions “if need be, to the ends of the Earth.”

Meanwhile, here in Canada, it seems we’re supposed to avert our gaze. Strong critiques of Bush are slapped down for being “anti-American.”

Certainly, the Harper government, while quick to spot anti-democratic behaviour in Zimbabwe, is blind to it south of the border. Not only has Ottawa failed to join European nations in protesting Guantanamo Bay — and refused to do anything to help the Canadian imprisoned there — it actively co-operates with the United States on security matters and has sent thousands of Canadian troops to Afghanistan to fight in the front lines of Bush’s “war on terror.”

All this is presented as helping our neighbour, and building democracy in Afghanistan. Another way to look at it is that we’re lending support to an administration whose moral compass doesn’t seem to rule out burying people alive or crushing the testicles of children.

[emphasis mine]