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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

“If you don’t live here, it’s none of your business”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd August 2010

A closer look at Rand Paul’s campaign contributors

In The Fall and Rise of Rand Paul (Jonathan Miller, Details Magazine), Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul reveals appalling ignorance about the environmental calamity of mountaintop removal mining (MTR):

“I think they should name it something better,” he says. “The top ends up flatter, but we’re not talking about Mount Everest. We’re talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I’ve seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass.” Most people, he continues, “would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it.”

“Let’s let you decide what to do with your land,” he says. “Really, it’s a private-property issue.”

…something between indifference and diffidence about the role corporate wrongdoing played in the Big Branch mine disaster earlier this year:

“Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?” Paul says at the Harlan Center, in response to a question about the Big Branch disaster. “The bottom line is I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs. I know that doesn’t sound…” Here he stumbles, trying to parse his words properly but only presaging his campaign misstep. “I want to be compassionate,” he concludes, “and I’m sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?”

…and some astonishing ignorance about the state he hopes to represent as a Senator:

Rand Paul and I are trying to remember why Harlan, Kentucky might be famous. That’s where Paul is driving me, on a coiling back road through the low green mountains of the state’s southeastern corner, in his big black GMC Yukon festooned with RON PAUL 2008 and RAND PAUL 2010 stickers. Something about Harlan has lodged itself in my brain the way a shard of barbecue gets stuck in one’s teeth, and I’ve asked Paul for help. “I don’t know,” he says in an elusive accent that’s not quite southern and not quite not-southern. The town of Hazard is nearby, he notes: “It’s famous for, like, The Dukes of Hazzard.” (links added)

But it’s the way he summed up his libertarian purism for a meeting in Harlan, Kentucky that I’d like to focus on particularly.  Again, it was in reference to mountaintop removal; here’s how Nola Sizemore of the Harlan Daily Enterprise reported his remarks:

I think some of these people complaining about [mountaintop removal] need to come and take a look at it. I say, if you don’t live here, it’s none of your business. Ask the people who live here about it.

Paul said he can’t see why residents of Louisville and Lexington should have any say in what people do with their land in other areas. He said he hadn’t heard any complaints from people who live here. (emphasis added)

Maybe because the ones who are against MTR know it’s a waste of time showing up at your events, Mr. Paul.  At any rate, they’d be right to suspect he doesn’t think it’s any of their business either, once they got a look at where his campaign contributions are coming from.  As Greg Skilling of the Louisville Independent Examiner puts it,

“Rand Paul believes almost everything should be handled at the state and local level – everything except for campaign fundraising.  A quick look at Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports filed by Rand Paul’s campaign and it becomes immediately clear that Kentuckians are vastly outnumbered on the donor list by people who live outside the Bluegrass State. Like his father Ron, Rand Paul has used the Internet to successfully solicit out-of-state campaign contributions from individuals.

Skilling identifies out-of-state PAC contributions from Sarah Palin’s PAC, Duke Energy, and the like, but left his analysis at “vastly outnumbered.”  So I had a closer look at those FEC reports, and specifically at the breakout of individual vs. committee and in-state versus out-of-state contributions.  The resulting summary sheet can be seen here.*

The upshot: over 76% of all contributions to Rand Paul’s Senate campaign — nearly 75% of individual contributions and nearly 92% of political action committee contributions —  are from out of state.  Those donors don’t live in Kentucky either, but I guess Rand Paul figures it’s their business anyway who should be its next senator.  Or maybe he doesn’t, but takes their silver anyway:

Unamuno’s “San Manuel Bueno, Mártir” is, he says, “a great short story. It’s about a priest who doesn’t really believe in God but feels he needs to protect his parishioners from this disbelief, that it’s too much for them.” This calls to mind another favorite story of Paul’s, Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.” “Once again about a conflicted priest,” he says. Priests in a crisis of faith, I point out, appears to be a theme with him. Lightly, he says, “I went to a Baptist college. I had to have an outlet.”

There’s something especially galling about so-called libertarian candidates who — whodathunkit? — wind up consistently protecting the interests of big business in the guise of protecting local control or individual rights.

Do I have a problem with out of state contributions to a Senate candidate?  Of course not — I do it myself all the time.  But I don’t go around saying “if you don’t live here, it’s none of your business” either.  I know people in other states who have to work in unsafe mines or live downstream from MTR runoff need help from individuals like me, and from the federal government, if they’re to have a chance against well-financed corporations — and their glib spokesmen like Rand Paul.

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* I can send the full workbook to readers on request. In a nutshell, the FEC data must be copied in pieces and pasted to an Excel workbook as HTML. Functions of the form “=IF(MID($B21,1,2)=”KY”,$D20,0)” then isolate the two-letter state designation for individual contributions, and tally the contributor or his/her dollar contribution to a new column — “KY” (Kentucky) or “elsewhere”. Addresses were not provided in the initial committee tallies, but there were few enough that I could find the home state of each committee “by hand.”

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th May 2008

  • A stalled U.S. peace movement? Antiwar activity since 2001 (janinsanfran, “Happening Here”) — This is the fifth and last post of a series Jan wrote to gather her thoughts for a history workshop, and the whole series is worth your while. Jan concludes:

    A more effective peace movement needs to be offering a vision of a plausible, sustainable global community that doesn’t hinge on U.S. use of force to maintain empire. Elements of that vision clearly need to include challenges related to technology, climate change, and how to rein in cancerous capitalism. We really haven’t known how to put out such a vision yet.

    That’s not surprising — it is hard and perhaps, also, the struggle against empire may not have changed us enough so that we could see it. But the group(s) that find elements of that vision will discover that millions are already with them, looking for something similar, ready to elaborate something as yet unknown. They just don’t currently identify with the peace movement.

  • The Cynic and Senator Obama (Charles Pierce, Esquire) — This is one of the best political essays I’ve read in a long time. Self-described cynic Pierce considers Obama’s oratory and politics, and finds them serviceable but not entirely satisfying:

    There is one point in the stump speech, however, that catches the cynic up short every time. It comes near to the end, when Obama talks about cynics. Obama says that cynics believe they are smarter than everyone else. The cynic thinks he’s wrong. The cynic doesn’t think he’s wiser or more clever or more politically attuned than anyone else. It’s just that he fears that, every morning, he’ll discover that his country has done something to deface itself further, that something else he thought solid will tremble and quake and fall to ruin, that his fellow citizens will sell more of their birthright for some silver that they can forge into shackles. He has come to believe that the worst thing a citizen of the United States of America can believe is that his country will not do something simply because it’s wrong. It would be a mistake for anyone — but especially for a presidential candidate — to believe that the cynic thinks himself wise or safe or liberated. In 2008, the cynic is more modest. He considers himself merely adequate to the times.

    I could go on quoting this piece at length, but I’ll make do with two quotes — one that made me nod my head as the main thing I hold against Obama (link added):

    In 2007, when asked about the possibility — just the possibility — of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

    He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

    The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet.

    And one that made me laugh:

    “I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

  • Race to the Bottom, (Betsy Reed, “The Nation”) — Reed stipulates that misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton have happened and are deplorable, but thinks declaring “sexism the greater scourge” than racism is not helpful. She continues:

    Yet what is most troubling–and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement–is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival’s race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior “electability,” she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right–in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country–seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security.

  • Women and the Invisible Fist (Charles Johnson, Rad Geek People’s Daily) — Libertarians (and others) grant and even assume the possibility of spontaneous order; but if so, must they not also grant the possibility of spontaneous repression? An interesting essay by libertarian Charles Johnson argues yes, with a close examination of writings by feminist theorist Susan Brownmiller. The latter coined the ugly but compelling “Myrmidon theory” of rape — that men as a class or gender benefit from the transgressions of rapists.* Roughly speaking, the thinking is that the “good” men often identify themselves as protectors, women often agree, and society as a whole shapes itself around the ever-present threat. Johnson:

    But if widely distributed forms of intelligence, knowledge, virtue, or prudence can add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an benign undesigned order, then there’s no reason why widely distributed forms of stupidity, ignorance, prejudice, vice, or folly might not add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an unintended but malign undesigned order. Moreover, if you consider that spontaneous orders can emerge as unintended consequences of certain widespread forms of violence, then it ought to be especially clear that not all undesigned orders can be considered benign from a libertarian point of view.

    Via Jim Henley, who seems lately to be about metamorphosing your father’s (and/or mother’s) libertarianism into something more honest, multifaceted, and interesting. See also in this respect Henley’s Art of the Possible post, and the site as a whole: “Liberals and libertarians on common ground… and otherwise.” Henley says that the challenge is to “correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.” I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement. But I’m interested that libertarians are thinking about the challenge.

  • “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government,” Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, April 30, 2008 — From Senator Russ Feingold’s opening statement:

    “More than any other Administration in recent history, this Administration has a penchant for secrecy. To an unprecedented degree, it has invoked executive privilege to thwart congressional oversight and the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits. It has relied increasingly on secret evidence and closed tribunals, not only in Guantanamo but here in the United States. And it has initiated secret programs involving surveillance, detention, and interrogation, some of the details of which remain unavailable today, even to Congress.

    “These examples are the topic of much discussion and concern, and appropriately so. But there is a particularly sinister trend that has gone relatively unnoticed – the increasing prevalence in our country of secret law.

    Feingold went on to list examples like the secret Yoo memoranda on torture and (as we now know) on warrantless surveillance. Testimony by Federation of American Scientists secrecy expert Steven Aftergood, former Clinton OLC lawyer Dawn Johnsen, and University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser, among others, delineate the problem and suggest some legislative solutions, or at least balances. Kitrosser:

    …as the experience with the surveillance and torture programs demonstrate, the oversight system too often cracks under the weight of executive branch disregard and legislative acquiescence in the same. Such disregard and acquiescence is facilitated in part by the same arguments used to justify the circumvention of substantive statutory directives. That is, the executive branch often simply asserts that statutorily required disclosures or requested disclosures would prove too dangerous, and these assertions too often are met with acquiescence.

    Johnsen:

    Given the Bush Administration’s propensity to claim that it is simply engaging in statutory interpretation when it in effect is claiming the authority to disregard a statute, Congress should amend the current notification requirement to extend beyond cases in which the executive branch acknowledges iti is refusing to comply with a statute. Presidents should explain publicly not only when they determine a statute is unconstitutional and need not be enforced, but also whenever they purport to rely upon the constitutional avoidance canon to interpret a statute.

    (“Constitutional avoidance” is when a statute admitting of an unconstitutional interpretation is instead is interpreted in such a way that the result is constitutional.) Administration spokesbot Bradford Berenson had his say as well; find it yourself. Via Marty Lederman (“Balkinization”).

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* The term “Myrmidon” is from the Iliad, where Myrmidons were Achilles’ henchmen soldiers, who did his bidding: “Loyal and unquestioning, the Myrmidons served their master well, functioning in anonymity as effective agents of terror.”

UPDATE, 6/2: “Rad Geek” elaborates on his points in a lengthy and worthwhile comment here. Also, reading between the lines of Henley’s link to this post, I wonder if I gave offense; that was not my intent. Maybe what’s metamorphosing are my own views, not libertarian thinking. I meant that I see Henley as having his own considerable impact on reshaping libertarian thinking (and/or promoting understanding of it) for the better. Glenn Greenwald is another example. Thanks also to Avedon Carol for her nice link to this post.
UPDATE, 6/10: “Rad Geek” comments on our discussion here at his own blog: “10,000 ways to lose your freedom.”

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Bon mots extended

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd April 2003

Via Jim Henley, I learn that Jesse Walker has offered these three pithy descriptions:

Patriotism: I love my dad
Nationalism: My dad can beat up your dad.
Imperialism: Here he comes now.

Nice! Let me add a couple more:

Totalitarianism: I like grinding my foot in your dad’s face.
Libertarianism: Say, that looks painful. Probably some local custom. None of my business, though.

All in good fun!

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Rand in the Gears

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th November 2002

Tony Woodlief, whose blog is titled “Sand in the Gears,” is writing an interesting series of critiques* of libertarianism from the most unexpected point of view: a libertarian’s. (Eyes narrowing: …or so he says.)

Woodlief argues that — to paraphrase — libertarianism is fine in theory, but you might not want to actually live there. Libertarians (defined as “you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone”) celebrate individualism, but ignore or (sometimes) deride communal and spiritual values. They have abundant faith in the contention that less government is always morally and economically best, no matter how little government there is left (Woodlief suggests dropping “economically”). They have little realism to offer about how to face foreign threats, and little that seems admirable to offer about standing by threatened friends, or opposing threatened atrocities. They neither understand how to gain power, or having gained it, how to keep it.

Let’s be clear: Woodlief would probably disagree with nearly all of what I’ve said in the past week, ranging from topics like energy policy to gun control, and possibly all the way to my use of the words “and” and “the,” given his repeated derision of and contempt for “the Left”:

The Left remains committed to brainwashing children and co-opting public and private organizations. […]

Deprived of principle, integrity, or honor, they are happy to snip the bottom rungs as they climb the ladder of power. (3)

This may be to salvage “street cred” with libertarian brethren who need an enemy caricature to hoot about. But while these comments are the weakest part of Woodlief’s writing, they are just asides; otherwise the four remarkable essays present a thorough criticism of classical libertarianism and particularly Ayn Rand Libertarians. On Rand:

Recall Ayn Rand’s latter years, when she held her own secret tribunals by which members of the fold were cast out for being unorthodox. […]

In any event, Rand’s portrait of utopia is most compelling to healthy young people without children, and to old curmudgeons with an overly exaggerated sense of their ability to create value. […]

Ayn Rand aside, selfish, godless people do not a good society make. (1,2,4)

On foreign policy:

These arguments against foreign intervention derive from the libertarian principle that coercion is wrong, which is really no fixed principle at all, because nearly all libertarians admit that a military financed through taxation is a necessity for the protection of liberty. Somewhere in their calculus, however, they conclude that this coercion shouldn’t extend to financing the liberation of non-Americans. […]

The point is that in the area of foreign policy libertarians are most likely to argue from principle, yet this is the area where consequentialism is most required. Nobody cares about principle if it leads to enslavement or death. (3)

On drug policy:

If libertarians were serious about taking and maintaining power — truly serious — then they would drop the caterwauling over drug criminalization and focus every drop of energy on building schools. The latter is hard work, however, and forces consideration of messy things like moral instruction, and self-discipline, and what makes for good parenting. It’s far easier to toke up in the discounted hotel room at the Libertarian Party Convention and rail against the DEA. Thus libertarianism remains less a force for change than a tool for self-expression. (3)

On moral values:

I think this reluctance to pronounce moral opprobrium on bad behavior results from a fear that behaviors labeled as immoral tend to be regulated by the state. The libertarian response to this reality seems to be to pretend that such behaviors really aren’t so bad after all, or at least not nearly so bad as theft by taxation. (4)

All of this rings a bell with me: I recall the drug legalization discussion I had once upon a time with other bloggers. I recall other conversations in which I was startled to hear United States efforts in Kosovo and Bosnia dismissed as empire building, rather than celebrated as a stand of the decent against the swine. I recall strangely convoluted discussions** of slavery and the South that would evaporate at the first photograph of a slave’s whipped back.

I can’t claim I share Woodlief’s moral grounding in what I assume is the Christian faith. But — believe it or not — I struggle to uphold my principles, integrity, and honor, too. At any rate, I think Woodlief is right for detecting a hole at the center of Libertarianism, the Philosophy. I’m just not sure the lower-case version is much more powerful.

It’s odd that I sometimes can only think of a German word for an idea; in this case, it’s “weltfremd” — “world foreign”. Think 1 tablespoon “naivete”, 1 tablespoon “academic”, sprinkle with a bit of “doesn’t get out much,” you’ve got it. (And I suppose we’ve all got a bit of that.) I’ll grant I’m not familiar with the writings of the high priests Rand, Rothbard, and so on, I have to go by what I see from their disciples. And I see a lot of “weltfremd” libertarianism as practiced and preached these days.

What I see offers nothing when facing people who have freely chosen evil, because it barely recognizes evil in the first place. What I see offers nothing when the excessive pursuit of happiness (drug-induced or commons-befouling) is the problem, because it can’t conceive of that pursuit being anything but the solution. What I see offers nothing when an abstraction called “the market” coalesces into real human organizations expanding and abusing private power, because it’s obsessively focused on concentrations of public power.

I may be constructing a straw man version of libertarianism, but I’ve tried to abstract it, however unsuccessfully, both from experience and these comments by an eloquent writer who “probably come[s] close to being a libertarian.” As a creed or as a philosophy, libertarianism is inherently limited; as Woodlief observes in one of the essay titles: “It’s all about Me.” Woodlief is right to argue that a political movement must be about more than that. Personally, I think libertarianism is to politics as a hammer is to a tool chest: it’s useful, even essential sometimes, but you need much more than that. But if all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. Especially if you’re a Hammerarian.

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*(1) Libertarianism: Bringing Back the Lower Case; (2) Libertarianism II: Internal Contradictions; (3) Libertarianism III: It’s all about Me and My Needs; (4) Libertarianism IV: Hey, You, Get off of My Cloud. Give them a shot: it would be a shame if you got this far and didn’t have a look for yourself, they’re very well written.

**Via Charles Dodgson’s “Through the Looking Glass”, and mentioned once before on this blog.

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Nice work, Looking Glass

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th February 2002

An excellent post by Charles Dodgson, who throws a few well-aimed barbs at radical libertarian blind spots when it comes to “market forces,” and illustrates with a nice takedown of a Samizdatista (“Johnny Student”) for callow views on slavery, the Civil War, and the Confederacy. (However, a style point deduction for the Southern accent parody.)

Also by way of illustration, Dodgson also relays a sickening account of the sex slave trade in tribal area Pakistan. Doubtless no libertarians I know of approve of such abuses, nor does their creed. But it’s still fair game to wonder how, and by whom, libertarians want slavery and other crimes by the powerful against the (relatively) powerless actually prevented in practice.

Nice work, Mr. Murtaugh
On Monday, Charles Murtaugh responded with the same objection (among others) that I had to Glenn Reynolds’ Fox News article on reproductive cloning. He goes on to state his version of some of Eve Tushnet’s and Leon Kass’ more psychological/family-ethical concerns. For my part, I think it might be a bit of tough row to hoe to be a healthy child clone, but I’m more concerned with the ones who turn out to be congenitally damaged. But Murtaugh’s, Tushnet’s, and (horrors) even Leon Kass’ points in this regard deserve to be considered.

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Reproductive cloning: blog debates overtaken by events

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th January 2002

On January 11, libertarian Jason Soon promised a response to readers’ e-mails (one of them mine) about his January 6 posting on reproductive cloning. He’s been busy moving, but has now apparently resumed posting. In my reaction to his January 6 piece, I argued that reproductive cloning will necessarily mean experiments on humans which they can not consent to and can not withdraw or be withdrawn from. Which to me means reproductive cloning research and development (where these experiments would be necessary) should be banned. Which obviously would put the kibosh on reproductive cloning, period, but I’m less ideologically committed to the pursuit of any research any time for any reason than libertarians seem to be.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that a National Academy of Sciences panel released a report recommending that human reproductive cloning should be banned, but not therapeutic cloning, an outcome that I strongly support. According to the Post,

The production of babies by cloning “is dangerous and likely to fail,” the 113-page report concludes. “The panel therefore unanimously supports the proposal that there should be a legally enforceable ban on the practice of human reproductive cloning.” […]

The House has already passed a bill that would ban both the creation of human embryo clones and the transferring of those clones to a womb. A coalition of patient advocates and medical research groups hopes the Senate will pass a bill along the lines of the NAS recommendations, which would outlaw only the transfer of cloned embryos to the womb.

Meanwhile, back at competing libertarian HQs Reason magazine and dynamist.com, eye-rolling continues about principled objections to reproductive cloning. In Reason, Jacob Sullum comes within one thought of shooting down his own article, “Twin Room“:

Kass’ most compelling argument against reproductive cloning is that it would frequently produce babies with serious birth defects. Most scientists agree that, given the current state of technology, trying to produce a cloned baby now would be reckless. But this objection will lose its force once the technology improves to the point where birth defects are no more likely in cloned babies than in babies produced the usual way.

Sullum thus fails to consider exactly how that technology will be developed and validated — with human test clones — and appears to gloss over what his own scenario implies: an interim time period where cloning birth defects are in fact more likely than normal.

Meanwhile, Ms. Postrel recirculates Glenn Reynolds and Dave Kopel’s uninteresting claim that federalism precludes Congress from passing laws regulating cloning. My reaction to this is that these are not matters of interstate commerce, but human rights I hope are already protected by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. While admitting my lack of legal expertise, I suggest that the 8th amendment right to freedom from cruel or unusual punishment might be one legal foundation for banning reproductive cloning research.

My feeling about libertarians on this issue is increasingly that they’re ideologically blinded to reasonable and even essential limits on human behavior. Many libertarian writiers on the subject are so committed to freedom of research — usually an excellent sentiment — that they at best fail to consider the details of that research, and thus the human rights of the research subjects. And at worst, writers like Sullum seem to simply take those details and trampled lives in stride. Half the time I used to call myself a libertarian. But these libertarians, and this issue, make me wonder why. (And that’s before even touching that whole “well-regulated Militia” thing).

So I’m still looking forward to Mr. Soon’s libertarian reactions to these developments, and his responses to readers like myself. Mr. Soon’s first article was thoughtful and worthwhile, and the topic seems timely enough for him to revisit it.

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Update, 1/21: Ask and ye shall receive: Mr. Soon responds, raising (1) IVF and (2) eugenics issues I’ve already addressed — to some extent — in an earlier piece on reproductive cloning. Briefly: (1) IVF is a far less chromosomally and developmentally disruptive technique than cloning protocols are, both in principle and in fact, and (2) good point! But I’m willing to distinguish between “unskilled labor” and laboratory techniques for making babies. I may respond at more length later.

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