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Posts tagged Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney’s Greatest Hits

So this week we learned that Vice President Dick Cheney created a CIA hit squad taking orders directly from his office — a little factoid which he happened to keep secret throughout the remainder of the Bush Administration. From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The CIA withheld information from the U.S. Congress about a secret counterterrorism program on orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, a senator said on Sunday as Democrats called for an investigation. … The still-secret program, which The New York Times said never became operational, began after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

The Wall Street Journal said the secret initiative terminated by Panetta was an effort to carry out a 2001 authorization by then Republican President George W. Bush to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives.

— Reuters (2009-07-12): Cheney hid CIA program from Congress: senator

Let’s get some reactions from arch-liberal power-brokers Patrick Leahy and Diane Feinstein:

Feinstein and Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, insisted no one should go outside the law.

Asked about Cheney’s alleged involvement, Leahy told the CBS program Face the Nation: I’d like to know if it’s true or not. I mean, nobody in this country is above the law … You can’t have somebody say, well, if you’re vice president, you don’t have to obey the law.

Feinstein said Congress should have been told.

This is a big problem, because the law is very clear. And I understand the need of the day, which was when America was in shock after September 11, she said on Fox. But … I think you weaken your case when you go outside of the law.

— Reuters (2009-07-12): Cheney hid CIA program from Congress: senator

Oh, well. It was wrong because it wasn’t The Law.

So, just so we’re clear, if Cheney and Bush had gotten Congress to change the federal laws so that it would be perfectly legal for the Vice President of the United States to create unaccountable secret international death squads that take orders from, and report only to the highest levels of, Executive power, would that have somehow made it alright?


See also:

What’s really wrong with relativism?

Over in the comments on GT 2006-04-09: Freedom Movement Celebrity Deathmatch, Jeremy (of Social Memory Complex) asks the following question, referring back to an exchange I had with Lady Aster (1, 2), and an exchange that Jeremy and I had at his blog (1 et seq.):

In your reply to Aster you spoke of the danger of relativism. Is it possible for you to expand on this concept? Can you be more descriptive and perhaps specific about the danger you see in a relativist view of the morality? Or perhaps you have written about this elsewhere and can direct me to your existing writing. I only ask because we've recently discussed this and I'm interested in your argument here.

I initially posted this reply as a very long comment; after thinking about it, I decided that it would be of general enough interest, even though it’s a fairly sketchy overview, to make it a post of its own.

Jeremy, I think that the best reply partly depends on what sort of dangers you’re interested in.

I have philosophical reasons for believing that moral relativism is theoretically flawed. If relativism is intended to be a description of the logic behind people’s actual use of moral terms, then it’s not an accurate description; it’s not really a theory of morality at all, but rather a theory of something else — etiquette, taste, or, in its crudest forms, conventional wisdom or personal pleasure. If, on the other hand, it’s intended to be a normative theory about the criteria that people ought to use in making certain kinds of judgments — by, say, abandoning the morality-game’s requirements for certain kinds of consistency across differences of culture or personal psychology, and adopting some other, relativistic set of requirements — then I think that that theory is undermotivated, false, and, at least in most versions, logically incoherent. If it’s intended as a meta-ethical theory, which takes for granted the rules of the morality-game as they are, and doesn’t specifically counsel abandoning those rules, but which claims that those rules either don’t express factual claims at all, or else express factual claims that presuppose something false, then what you’ve got is not really relativism exactly, but either non-cognitivism or an error theory (respectively). I have my own logical and philosophical problems with each of those, which we can discuss at more length if you want.

I also have reasons for thinking that relativism is a moral danger, in the sense that I believe that, under many circumstances, indulging in relativistic argument is in fact a moral vice, and that it tends to encourage other kinds of moral vice. Basically because on any form of relativism (cultural relativism, agent relativism, speaker relativism, etc.) you necessarily, in order to remain a relativist, must fail to hold some people to moral standards that it’s appropriate to hold them to, and to hold some other people to moral standards that it’s inappropriate to hold them to. It amounts to either excuse-making or bigotry, depending on the case. (For example, consider the very common, implicitly culturally-relativist claim that contemporary writers shouldn’t judge George Washington harshly for enslaving hundreds of his fellow human beings if most of his contemporaries, or at least most of the minority faction of his contemporaries whose opinions he cared about — the white and propertied ones — believed that slavery was O.K. and if Washington’s methods weren’t especially harsh by their standards. I don’t think there is any possible way to make this kind of claim without, thereby, expressing a really massive callousness toward the well-being, dignity, and rights of the hundreds of people that George Washington enslaved. Not only do I regard it as being philosophically mistaken, but the callousness itself is wrong. And if you live the kind of life that that kind of immorality accords with, well, that’s a problem with your life, not a problem with morality.)

I also have reasons for thinking that libertarians should regard relativism in general, and relativism about the duty to respect other people’s rights in particular, as a political danger. If justice is thought of as something that’s less than universally and categorically binding, which individual people or cultures of people can take or leave as it pleases them, then I don’t think it is very surprising that what will soon follow is a whole host of reasons or excuses for leaving it in favor of some putative benefit to be got through coercion. Politically speaking, I’m not just interested in theories which proclaim my reasons for not beating, burning, and bombing innocent people; I wouldn’t do that anyway, and just about nobody would support me or make excuses on my behalf if I did. I’m much more concerned with theories which proclaim George W. Bush’s or Dick Cheney’s reasons for not beating, burning, and bombing innocent people, because the problem in this case is precisely those who don’t believe that they have any personal reason not to do that.

Of course, I could instead adopt a moral theory on which it’s O.K. for them to act like that, but also O.K. for me to try to resist them, and a sociological theory which predicts that if I stick to my values and they convert to similar values, it’ll lead to a better outcome for the both of us than if we each stick to our values, or if I convert to Bush’s and Cheney’s. (Maybe that’s what Max Stirner believed.)

But, again, in addition to the theoretical and the moral problems that I’ve already mentioned, I also think that this kind of theory is unlikely to get you much political traction, because it underplays your dialectical hand. (I think that binding moral claims are really much stronger, rhetorically and dialectically, than most people seem to believe they are. Lots of people very often rule out a stark moral arguments–say against slavery, or imprisoning nonviolent drug users, or forced pregnancy, or the war on Iraq–in favor of some much more complicated technical argument, or a pseudo-conciliatory hand-wringing argument, because they dismiss the moral argument as somehow impractical, even though it would be perfectly convincing to them, and even though they would find complicated or hand-wringing argument confusing, unfocused, or worse, if they were the ones listening to the argument. The problem in these cases is often not with the moral argument but rather with the arguer underestimating her audience.) I also think that these kind of approaches very often involve a mistake about the best target for your argument; sometimes it makes sense to try to persuade aggressors to stop being aggressive by argument, but it’s much more often the case that the smarter goal would be to try to convince other victims of aggression to resist, or at least stop collaborating with, the aggressor, and stark moral arguments against the legitimacy of the aggression are very often going to be the most effective way to inspire comrades and shame collaborators.

But, setting aside political strategy, I think the most important reasons are the moral and logical ones. The fact that relativism and relativistic arguments are dangerous to the political prospects for liberty, if that is a fact, is just a secondary reason to more strongly dislike it. The primary reason to oppose it is that the position is false, the arguments are fallacious, and the vision of human life and moral discourse that it presents — one in which people are just so many bigots and partisans, divided in our basically irreconcilable values by personal temperament or, worse, cultural or parochial loyalties, whose normative discourse consists of battering their own preferences against other people, to whom those preferences are ultimately alien, in the hope that their opponents will eventually be remade in their own image and their own preferences will triumph, through means explicitly other than rational conviction, which of course has been ruled out from the get-go by the relativist premise — is a narrow and mean and miserable thing compared to the vision on which we are, each of us, fellow citizens of a cosmopolis of all rational creatures, open to each other’s reasons and concerns, and in both amenable to, and hopefully guided by, reason, when it comes to the things that are most important to each of our individual lives. The highest form of flourishing is one in which I neither regard myself as made for the use of others, nor regard others as made for my own use, but rather see my taste and idiosyncratic projects, other people’s taste and idiosyncratic projects, and the common tastes and projects which we may agree to cultivate cooperatively, as all existing within the scope of shared and universally intelligible norms of respect, consent, humanity, and rational discourse. Relativism often advances itself as if it promoted that form of flourishing, under the veneer of a phony tolerance, but in fact to the extent that it attacks the sharedness and universal intelligibility of those norms, it is attacking that form of flourishing, and attempting to claim that tolerance means my right to make you tolerate whatever I want you to (or vice versa), since (after all) the relativistic version of tolerance can in principle include tolerance of absolutely any value, including values for coercion, aggression, parasitism, and sadism.

I should note before I conclude that I don’t think that the argument of Aster’s which I was originally responding to is at all guilty of relativism. I think that’s a danger implicit in the kind of language she recommends, but there are other, related dangers of authoritarianism which are implicit in the kind of language that she criticizes; whichever kind of language you choose, there’s dialectical work to be done in making clear what you want to make clear while avoiding the error that the language might suggest in careless hands. And if she does at some point fall into a relativistic error about the status of rights — which as far as I know she doesn’t, and which I certainly don’t mean to attribute to her –then I’m quite certain, based on what she’s written here and elsewhere, that it’s not for some of the reasons (e.g. underestimating her audience or confusion about the appropriate audience) that I discuss here. I think all forms of relativism involve at least some of these confusions, but only some forms involve all of them.

Anyway, I hope this helps somewhat in explaining, but I think that I probably haven’t covered what you wanted me to cover in the detail that you wanted. But I think there are a lot of different points to cover, and to cover any given point more deeply and more illustratively, I’d need to know a bit more about what specific kind of dangers, and in what context of discourse, you’re interested in my views on. A conversation that I’d be happy to have in comments, for those that are interested.

Further reading:

Cry havoc! and let slip the pronouns of war…

Here’s the New York Times’s report on Hordak‘s latest battle-cry:

BRUSSELS, May 11 — Vice President Dick Cheney used the deck of an American aircraft carrier just 150 miles off Iran's coast as the backdrop today to warn the country that the United States was prepared to use its naval power to keep Tehran from disrupting off oil routes or gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.

… Mr. Cheney's sharp warnings appeared to be part of a two-track administration campaign to push back at Iran, while leaving the door open to negotiations. It was almost exactly a year ago that the United States offered to negotiate with Iran as long as it first agreed to halt enriching uranium, a decision in which Mr. Cheney, participants said, was not a major player. Similarly, the speech today was not circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered, a senior American diplomat said. He kind of runs by his own rules, the official said.

With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike, he said. We'll keep the sea lanes open. We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We'll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We'll continue bringing relief to those who suffer, and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom. And we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.

I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat, Mr. Cheney said. We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honor.

— David E. Sanger, New York Times (2006-05-11): On Carrier in Gulf, Cheney Warns Iran

According to the story, after Dick Cheney completes his Middle East mission of sending clear messages, he will return home, sometime next week. No word yet on when American soldiers will complete their mission of opposing, disrupting, relieving, delivering military justice, occupying, keeping the sea lanes open, etc., or when he and his buddies will allow them to return home. Nor is there any word yet on when he and his buddies will stop forcing the American people, i.e. the rest of us, to foot the bill for his plans against our will.

Further reading:

Antifeminist scholarship

Here’s conservative scholar Harvey C. Mansfield, interviewed a few days ago in the New York Times Magazine by Deborah Solomon, about his new book Manliness. Let’s how leading conservative scholars from Harvard stand up for academic integrity and daring, substantial research, in the teeth of the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific hordes of lazy Black philosophers and hysterical female biologists…

Q: As a staunch neoconservative and the author of a new feminism-bashing book called Manliness, how are you treated by your fellow government professors at Harvard?

Look, if I only consorted with conservatives, I would be by myself all the time.

So your generally left-leaning colleagues are willing to talk to you?

People listen to me, but they don’t pay attention to what I say. I should punch them out, but I don’t.

In your latest book, you bemoan the disappearance of manliness in our “gender neutral” society. How, exactly, would you define manliness?

My quick definition is confidence in a situation of risk. A manly man has to know what he is doing.

Hasn’t technology lessened the need for risk taking, at least of the physical sort?

It has. But it hasn’t removed it. Technology gives you the instruments, and social sciences give you the rules. But manliness is more a quality of the soul.

Here’s how the contenders stack up:

How does someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger stack up?

I would include him as a manly man.

What about President Bush? He’s a risk taker, but wouldn’t his penchant for long vacations be a strike against him?

I wouldn’t say industriousness is a sign of manliness. That’s sort of wonkish. Experts do that.

What about Dick Cheney?

He hunts. And he curses openly. Lynne Cheney is kind of manly, too. I once worked with her on the advisory council of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In your book, you say Margaret Thatcher is an ideal woman, but isn’t she the manliest of all?

I was told by someone who visited her that she is very feminine with her husband.

Why is that so important to you in light of her other achievements?

We need roles. Roles give us mutual expectations of what is either correct or good behavior. Women are neater than men, they make nests, and all these other stereotypes are mostly true. Wives and mothers correct you; they hold you to a standard; they want to make you better.

I am beginning to wonder if you have ever spoken to a woman. …

Here’s political scientist Mansfield’s vigorous defense of economist Larry Summers’ genetic theories against the politically correct sniping of female biologists:

Were you sorry to see Harvard’s outgoing president, Lawrence Summers, attacked for saying that men and women may have different mental capacities?

He was taking seriously the notion that women, innately, have less capacity than men at the highest level of science. I think it’s probably true. It’s common sense if you just look at who the top scientists are.

But couldn’t that simply reflect the institutional bias against women over the centuries?

It could, but I don’t think it does. We have been going a couple of generations now. There are certain things that haven’t changed. For example, in New York City, the doormen are still 98 percent men.

Yes, but fewer jobs depend on that sort of physical brawn [?! sic] as society becomes more technologically adept. Physical advantages are practically meaningless now that men are no longer hunter-gatherers.

I disagree with that.

When was the last time you did something that required physical strength?

It’s true that nothing in my career requires physical strength, but in my relations with women, yes.

Such as?

Lifting things, opening things. My wife is quite small.

What do you lift?

Furniture. Not every night, but routinely.

Further reading:

Ho Ho Ho.

In the news the past couple weeks:

A perfect opportunity for hilarity:

LAFAYETTE — A 21-year-old man was accidentally shot by his 17-year-old girlfriend last night while they were hunting for raccoons near his farmhouse.

Josh Kayser, who lives just north of the Lafayette city limits, was taken to Avista Hospital in Louisville after a bullet grazed his right ear and left forearm, according to a report by Boulder County Sheriff's Commander Phil West. He is in good condition this morning.

The couple was hunting raccoons that had been preying on the family's chickens and as Kayser crouched to peer under a shed for a wounded raccoon, he was shot, West said.

His girlfriend, whose name wasn't released, was holding the .22-caliber rifle for him and it unintentionally discharged.

— Rocky Mountain News (2006-02-14): Lafayette man shot during raccoon hunt

A veritable laugh riot:

A 10-year-old was listed in critical condition Sunday night after being shot with a shotgun. Hampton Police say the boy and his friends were playing with it when it went off.

It happened around 7:30 at the Lincoln Park Apartments off of LaSalle Avenue. Police said the little boy was shot in the head and hand. Neighbors tell us it was a horrifying sight.

He was in a chair and there was blood on his head and stuff,> said Tanya Smallwood.

Police said there was an adult in the apartment when the shotgun fired. It’s unclear if the shooting victim lived there or was visiting. It’s also unknown if the gun belonged to one of the adults who lived in that unit.

Joanne Smith also watched on as the boy was put into the ambulance. She said he was conscious. She has two kids of her own. She wants to know how the gun got into the hands of a child. She said she always reminds her children never to treat guns like toys.

WTKR Norfolk, Virginia (2006-02-20): Ten Year Old Accidentally Shot In Hampton

An investigation revealed that the victim was visiting relatives, when he was accidentally shot by another juvenile inside the home. The victim and two other juveniles were in a bedroom when the suspect retrieved the weapon.

The suspect was showing off the weapon, and the gun discharged striking the victim.

— WAVY Hampton Roads, Virginia (2006-02-20): Child Accidentally Shot in Hampton, Teen Charged

So funny it hurts:

The Modesto teenager, a Johansen High School freshman, was hunting Nov. 12 with his father and friends when he was hit in the chest, arm and head with a shotgun blast. …

Blake had a punctured lung from one of the pellets, but his heart was protected by his shotgun. Blake’s eyes were the most seriously injured. In December, after multiple surgeries, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to see clearly again. He could see light from one eye, but not the other.

Since then, said his mother, Robin Searls, his vision has improved, but doctors had to remove the lenses from both eyes because Blake was developing cataracts. At Easter or during summer vacation, she said, doctors will remove the oil they injected to keep the retina in his best eye in place and determine at that time whether to implant new lenses or give Blake contact lenses.

He went back to school last month, she said. We were able to get a bifocal prescription for him, and when he’s holding the book close he can read with his good eye.

We’re not sure at this point (what his prognosis will be). His eyes are still healing. He has bad scarring going on, and they’re keeping a close eye on that.

— Modesto Bee (2006-02-19): Teen knows about being shot

You see, there’s this one dude, and there’s this other dude, and one of the dudes shot the other dude. The injury may not be lethal but the victim’s going to need close medical care, possibly for the next several years. Har har har.

How much funnier can you get? What more perfect opportunity could you have for some chuckles, and making some snide little funny at the shooter’s expense? Maybe you can retread an old song from the 1990s to imply the shooter is dangerous. Maybe you could even write a nasty little shoot-em-up game featuring the the shooter and his other buddies!. Ho ho ho.

There’s nothing like a good laugh. It might all seem a little pointless; it might even seem a little mean. But hey, lighten up; it’s not like anybody got hurt or anything.

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