Then What the Hell Is It?

From the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

Dick: There are three branches of government. Those are the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The Constitution puts the Vice President’s office in the executive branch. If you aren’t part the executive branch, then what branch do you think you are in?

Please, Dick, answer the question. This is fascinating. I really want to know what you think.

As described in a letter from Chairman Waxman to the Vice President, the National Archives protested the Vice President’s position in letters written in June 2006 and August 2006. When these letters were ignored, the National Archives wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January 2007 to seek a resolution of the impasse. The Vice President’s staff responded by seeking to abolish the agency within the Archives that is responsible for implementing the President’s executive order.

I want to reassign the lot of them to this branch.


From Think Progress:

The Senate Judiciary Committee just voted 13-3 to authorize chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to issue subpoenas for documents related to the NSA warrantless surveillance program. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) voted with the Democrats on the committee to authorize the subpoenas for any legal opinions and advice the Bush administration has received regarding the NSA program.

The Center on Democracy & Technology has released a list of the seven “most wanted surveillance documents.” See the full list here.

The confrontation over the documents “could set the stage for a constitutional showdown over the separation of powers.” The Senate Judiciary Committee had previously scheduled to authorize subpoenas last week, but Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) blocked the Judiciary Committee from voting on the subpoenas.

Unsafe in Any Election

Ralph Nader is thinking about running for president again. Whoop dee doo.

Ralph Nader says he is seriously considering running for president in 2008 because he foresees another Tweedledum-Tweedledee election that offers little real choice to voters.

He said the same thing in 2000, when the choices were Al Gore and George W. Bush. Some people were dumb enough to believe him then, and some will believe him now. I have little to add to what this fella says, except to advise people to watch Ralph’s modus operandi. He’ll say something about how one party is as bad as the other and then spend the rest of the evening bashing Democrats. Republicans, as a rule, get a pass from Ralph.

One wonders what his motivation is. If he’s trying to reform the Dems — and Lord knows they could use it — this is not the way to go about it. Personally, I think he just wants the attention.

The Wisdom of Doubt, Part II

Yesterday President Bush vetoed a bill that would have provided for federal funding of some embryonic stem cell research. John Amato writes,

He falsely asked for Congress to stop politicizing Stem Cell research, but that’s what he did today and took a ridiculous moral position. This is why we need separation of Church and State. Religion cannot dictate Science. Here’s the role call of the vote … Update: Fact Check Bush on Stem Cell via The Democratic Caucus’s Senate Journal. 68 percent support funding, in the latest ABC/Post poll to measure views on the issue, in April.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times,

“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical,” Mr. Bush said during a brief ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He called America “a nation founded on the principle that all human life is sacred.”

Picking up where the last post left off … Our culture places a high value on certainty and considers not-knowing a flaw. And moral clarity is ballyhooed as the sine qua non of all that is Good and Righteous.

As I’ve written elsewhere, achieving moral clarity is remarkably easy.

First, take a firm and inflexible position on a moral question. Then, studiously ignore any factors that might call that opinion into question. If the factors refuse to go away, make up lies to neutralize them.

See? Nothin’ to it.

If you are foolish enough to take all facets of an issue into account, you risk not being clear. In fact, the more gut-level honest you are about a messy, unpleasant issue, the less clear you are likely to be. And this is a problem for conservatives, who by nature cannot stand ambiguity. One of the most basic traits of conservatives, in fact, is a compulsion to sort the world into rigid binary categories — right and wrong, good and evil, white and black. Any muddling of categories sends them into nervous fits. But once all things and all issues are properly sorted, they can relax and bask in their moral clarity.

The standard way to achieve moral clarity on the abortion issue, for example, is to completely disregard women. Examples of such “clear” moralizing include this op ed by Dean Barnett and this one by Michael Gerson. See also Digby:

This is not the first time I’ve heard this argument and it’s always quite compelling to hear a man make such a stark and simple logical argument about something which others seem to find so complicated. I suspect that is because there is one person involved in this great moral question who is rarely mentioned in such pieces. In fact, if you read the whole thing you will find that this man has managed to write an entire article about fetuses, pregnancy and abortion without even noting in passing the fully formed sentient human being involved so intimately in this that the whole argument takes place inside her body.

Abortion presents a painful choice, and although I oppose criminalization I understand why people agonize over this issue. But embryonic stem cell research? Particularly when there are boatloads of frozen embryos that will almost certainly be discarded anyway? You’re balancing the “rights” of a cluster of frozen cells against sentient children and adults suffering from terrible diseases. I see absolutely nothing “ethical” in Bush’s veto.

Weirdly, people who have “moral clarity” that embryonic stem cell research is bad often are compelled to lie — to us, to each other, to themselves — about the facts of the embryonic stem cell issue.

Satyam writes for Think Progress:

Faced with the opposition of nearly two-thirds of Americans, White House spokesperson Tony Snow today attempted to spin the veto as a positive development. Snow claimed that Bush has a “unique and unprecedented role” in supporting stem cell research, and attacked critics for “misstating” the administration’s policies, claiming that Bush was in fact “putting science before ideology.”

In an attempt to drum up support for less potent alternatives to embryonic stem cell research, Snow falsely characterized the science behind stem cell research, claiming scientists “are not even entirely sure about what the possible benefits of embryonic stem cells [are].” …

…Snow’s claim doesn’t pass the laugh test. Contrary to what Snow says, Bush has held a backwards and overly ideological perspective on scientific research. In 2001, Bush neutered the ability of scientists to engage in stem cell research by curbing funding for new embryonic lines. In 2006, he vetoed legislation lifting those restrictions. Even Bush’s top scientists have criticized him for these actions.

Currently, “not a single scientist who is pursuing research on any kind of cell has said that research involving embryonic stem cells should stop.” And scientists have seen potential treatments from embryonic stem cell research for a variety of ailments.

The only thing stopping federally-funded stem cell research from progressing is the White House’s insistence on putting right-wing ideology ahead of science.

UPDATE: More on the administration’s misinformation here and here.

As I said, whenever any messy facts get between you and moral clarity, just lie about them. That’s the ticket.

There is something self-evidently screwy about “ethics” that value frozen blastocysts above children and adults suffering and dying from terrible disease. But “moral clarity” on the stem cell issue — born of a stubborn refusal to look at all facets of the issue honestly — results in myriad unfortunate side effects. As explained here, for example, thanks to morally clear policies doctors performing in vitro fertilization cannot research ways to reduce multiple births. And multiple births increase the risks for both babies and mothers.

In other words, the rigid “right-to-life” policy is killing babies.

Essentially, “moral clarity” is about bullshitting yourself. It’s about not dealing honestly and compassionately with all aspects of a moral issue. Instead, the “morally clear” begin with the position they want to take and work backward to justify it, scamming themselves and others when necessary to achieve the desired outcome. This twisted way of achieving “clarity” is founded in the dualistic thinking Glenn Greenwald writes about. This dualism assumes one side of an issue must be “good” and the other must be “bad.” Thus, in much anti-choice literature embryos can talk and women who choose abortions are either ignored or assumed to have evil or selfish motivations. But real-world moral issues often involve multiple “good” sides. It is actually quite rare for people and facts to so neatly sort themselves into “good” and “bad” boxes as the morally clear want to sort them. And by achieving “clarity” based on lies and false assumptions, the “clarifiers” actually create more pain and complication.

Moral clarity takes inflexible positions based on rigid, narrow concepts of good and bad, life and death, self and other; see the “One Watch” series for further explanation of this. The morally clear like to talk about “standing firm.” The philosophical Taoists would tell you this is a bone-headed and disastrous way to approach morality. The Tao (way) is harmonious and does not take sides. Taoists call the Tao “soft,” and like water it naturally finds its best course without having to be forced. You understand it not by its actions but by its effects. The American Right is the Anti-Tao, always striving to impose their hard will on others and refusing to acknowledge how much harm they do and how much suffering they cause.

In John Wu’s translation of verse 38 of the Tao Teh Ching (Shambhala, 1989), I think the word ceremony can be read as either “organized religion” or “social convention.” I say that because other translations use ritual or etiquette instead of ceremony. Other than that, I think the verse applies as well to 21st century America as it did to China in 500 BCE.

High virtue is non-virtuous;
Therefore it has Virtue.
Low Virtue never frees itself from virtuousness;
Therefore it has no Virtue.

High Virtue makes no fuss and has no private ends to serve:
Low Virtue not only fusses but has private ends to serve.

High humanity fusses but has no private ends to serve:
High morality not only fusses but has private ends to serve.
High ceremony fusses but finds to response;
Then it tries to enforce itself with rolled-up sleeves.

Failing Tao, man resorts to Virtue.
Failing Virtue, man resorts to humanity.
Failing humanity, man resorts to morality.
Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony.
Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty;
It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.

As to foreknowledge, it is only the flower of Tao,
And the beginning of folly.

Therefore, the full-grown man sets his heart upon the substance rather than the husk;
Upon the fruit rather than the flower.
Truly, he prefers what is within to what is without.

See also:Mr. Bush’s Stem Cell Diversion.” Click here for The Mahablog stem cell archives.