February 20, 2009

The eight years of the Bush Administration were, for many of our liberal pundits, a certifiable catastrophe for civil liberties in the United States.  Regularly paraded before us  in the nation’s newspapers is the evidence:  the Patriot Act of 2002  which, according to informed opinion, validated  the invasion of individual privacy;  the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a vehicle for insidious personal searches at airports; the NSA Wire Tapping Scheme, an excuse to spy on Americans and the alleged torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay  -a mark of shame for the American military.


All of these actions provided damning proof of a malignant Bush Administration seeking as its ultimate objective the destruction of the constitutional liberties of the American people.


But putting aside the motivations and intentionality of the Bush Administration, does our 43rd president really deserve the award for the most outrageous abuser of constitutional rights?


The answer is a defiant no. Those awards fall to two presidents who are not usually associated with serial human rights abuses.


Abraham Lincoln is revered almost universally as the savior of the nation, holding the Union together almost single handedly during its time of greatest crisis.  But in order to bring about that salvation Lincoln was forced to take extraordinary measures, actions that had he performed them today, would have gotten him impeached.


Perhaps the most egregious of these was the suspension of habeas corpus. The concept of Habeas Corpus, the prohibition against detention without cause, was enshrined in Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution and was the only direct import from English Common Law.  It must be remembered that in the 1860s, America was still a society of small  farmers where most people never saw a national army and certainly never encountered a national police force. In this small town environment the writ of  habeas corpus came to represent America’s commitment to personal freedom, a guarantee of a right to a fair trial and a hedge against arbitrary arrest.  .


But in April 1861, not a month after taking office, Lincoln was faced with the reality of an outright insurrection and with the secession of seven southern states.   When some of the border states looked as though they might also tumble into the Confederacy, Lincoln became nervous. It was obvious to the North that if Maryland seceded, Washington D.C. itself would be surrounded, cut off from the rest of the Union and a virtual decapitation of  the nation’s  leadership would ensue.


When then, on April 19, 1861,  20,000 Confederate sympathizers in Baltimore tried to stop Union troops from traveling from one train station to another en route to Washington, Lincoln quickly decided to  suspended the habeas corpus privilege on points along the Philadelphia-Washington route. That meant Union generals could arrest and detain without trial anyone in the area who threatened “public safety.”   When a Marylander, John Merryman , was arrested under the edict, he filed a complaint under the Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Supreme Court.  The chief justice, Roger Tanney, thereafter issued an order for Merryman to be released.  However the commanding officer at Fort McHenry, where Merryman was held, refused to do so, citing the conflict with the Chief Executive’s order.  Merryman was not released


If that wasn’t bad enough, then Lincoln’s actions in July, 1862 should surely have cast him as the constitutional villain of the 19th Century. 


Following the institution of the highly unpopular draft in the summer of 1862, Secretary of War Edward Stanton, at Lincoln‘s behest, issued sweeping orders on August 8 suspending habeas corpus nationwide  – the first time the writ was suspended in the country’s history beyond a narrowly defined emergency area.   Stanton decreed that anyone “engaged, by act, speech, or writing, in discouraging volunteer enlistments, or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or in any other disloyal practice against the United States” was subject to arrest and trial “before a military commission.”


Overall, between 10,000 and 15,000 people were incarcerated without a prompt trial. Very few historians have ever contended that  their detention truly enhanced American security or hastened a Union victory.


Our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, has been showered  by history with a  reputation for humanitarianism, devotion to principle and fairness.   But his record on civil rights is somewhat less than pristine.

After the United States’ entry into the First World in April, 1917, Wilson moved quickly and firmly to silent dissent to his policies.  The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to obstruct or criticize the war and gave the postmaster general the right to censor “seditious” magazines and newspapers. The Sedition Act of 1918 (an amended version of the Espionage Act) went further and said it was a crime to “willfully utter, print, write or publish” any expression of disloyalty toward or criticism of the U.S. government, its Constitution, its flag, or its military uniforms.

During World War I, a massive domestic intelligence system was erected to protect Americans on their own soil.   It was the largest corps of homeland spies ever assembled in any nation during wartime and it included at least 300,000 volunteer spies in organizations such as the American Protective League, the National Security League, the Liberty League, the Home Defense League, the Sedition Slammers, and the Boy Spies of America.

The Armistice in November 1918 did not bring these draconian measures to an end. Rather, in 1919 wartime legislation intended to curb criticism of the government was extended and even strengthened. And decorated African-American soldiers, returning home to claim the democracy for which they had risked their lives, were greeted with lynchings across the south, accelerated discrimination and the arrival of secret agents from the government’s “Negro Subversion” unit who routinely shadowed outspoken black leaders.  

Despite all of these abuses, both Lincoln and Wilson remain firmly lodged in the popular imagination as great presidents who used their office to advance broad national goals, promote national cohesion and security and to enunciate principles that have long guided their successors.

So what would Abe and Woodrow do today if faced with our security threats?  Can there really be any doubt that these redoubtable presidents, informed of significant internal and external threats to the safety and security of the American public, would have acted just as Bush did?  In fact, both might have even regarded Bush’s actions as inadequate in effecting a full defense of the homeland and may have called upon him to enact even more stringent measures.  

No one should pretend that there is some kind of manual which provides American presidents with  absolute guidance on to how to operate in all manner of crises.  It is easy as a presidential candidate to decry what is seen from a distance as arbitrary measures taken against American citizens.  But the long view of history offers a much deeper perspective on presidential action and it is not forgiving of errors which allow for breaches in national security.

Suffice to say the new American president will soon learn that the conflict between individual liberty and national security, is the defining conflict of this century.   There is no one who can assure Barack Obama now  of how history will judge his actions in addressing that struggle.   He must trust to his instincts, far more than popular opinion, in determining the brake   that is needed to be placed on individual liberties in a time of conflict.. 

And he should remember that in a nuclear age, when rogue regimes and terrorist organizations have increasing access to weapons which could annihilate the United States, the margin for error grows slimmer with each passing year. 








February 17, 2009

Many years ago I learned how thoroughly evolutionary theory had penetrated our culture. While watching the first installment of the Disney movie The Land Before Time with my sons I gazed with some amusement as colorful one celled organisms struggled through the soupy blue-green sludge to evolve, though several mutations and incarnations, into the adorable little dinos who would populate the movie and then, one day, the Earth.

Of course the nexus between that opaque little cell and the extraordinary creatures who would relentlessly pound the earth billions of years later is never clearly established. But then again, how the dinosaurs emerge speaking idiomatic English with outbursts of American slang is never made too clear either.   It all makes good television.

The question today is whether it all makes good science.

The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth will be celebrated this week, as will be his most famous work On The Origins of Species which was published in November, 1859 almost exactly 150 years ago. Back then the book hit Victorian England with the power of a full force gale, lifting the sheeting right off the rooftops of the Anglican Church and exposing the narrowness and impossibility of the Biblical narrative of Creation.

For the Church itself it was a call to arms since the evolutionary theory articulated by Darwin suggested that life could never have sprung into existence ab initio but required a slow process of mutation and transformation which probably took billions of years. In light of Darwin’s theory, it was then preposterous to declare the world only 5,000 years old and that man had entered it at more or less the same time as all other living creatures.

But the Darwinist revolution had an even more significant cosmological impact. If the Biblical narrative of Creation was demonstrably untrue, then perhaps the existence of a Deity, masterminding that Creation could also be dealt a death blow. Extrapolating further, order in the universe, and indeed its very purpose and meaning, could be questioned. Life, if one followed Darwin’s irreducible logic, actually had very little direction or purpose without the guiding hand of a Creator. Consistent Darwinism meant no life after death, no foundation for ethics, no free will, no ultimate meaning in life.

It is not an exaggeration then to state that the advent of Darwinism heralded the reign of secular humanism in British life and the eventual ennoblement of atheism throughout the western hemisphere. It was the midwife to Nietzcheian existentialism and the foster mother of 20th Century nihilism. Today, evolutionary theory and the concept of scientific materialism that it enshrines has become an ideological fortress that one assaults at his own peril. You can barely whisper a word of doubt about evolutionary theory without being immediately shelled with lethal amounts of outrage and scorn by our intellectual elites. For them, evolutionary theory has not just become a building block of modern science, but an unassailable truth, as accurate as a mathematical formula and as empirically proven as the earth’s orbit of the sun.

That, of course, would be fine if evolutionary theory had been proven unassailable. But the fact is that the theory, over the past 150 years, has been repeatedly punctured, leaving gaping holes that have been extraordinary difficult to fill. Missing is the fossil evidence which would reveal how one species changed and adapted over several billion years to produce the final product. Or as physicist Gerald Schroeder puts it:

“ In the entire fossil record, with its millions of specimens, there has been found no midway transitional fossil at the basic levels of phylum….. no trace of an animal that was half the predecessor and half the successor of its parent group.”

In other words, no missing link.

On the contrary, the fossil record portrays the continuity of the same morphology of plant and animal forms for billions of years, only to be upset by a sudden transformation which began in the Cambrian period. Therefore evolutionary theory’s linear, gradual transformations of plant and animal life has not been proven, not enough at least to justify the Darwinists’ claim that the theory is incontrovertible. That proof may still be waiting, buried thousands of feet under the earth’s surface; or perhaps lying embedded on an ocean floor. But until it is revealed, the jury is still out on evolution.

I will leave to others, such as the molecular biologist Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box, the philosopher David Stove in Darwinian Fairy Tales ( an AFA recommended book of the month) or the mathematician William Dembski’s The Design of Life to amplify the claim that the proofs adduced by both Darwin and his successors have presented far more questions than they have ever answered. Suffice to say they show the Darwinian mechanism of chance variation and natural selection to be inadequate in accounting for the full diversity of life in the universe.

But I wouldn’t tell that to Richard Dawkins. The best selling author who has made millions debunking religious faith has declared that “ it is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.” The naturalist Edmund O. Wilson has stated that “ evolutionary theory is so ingrained in our intellectual approach to the world that anyone who disavows it should be regarded as mentally incompetent.” The Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has stated that from all his research into the substance and mechanics of the universe he finds the universe to be pointless and “only a little above the level of farce – and only a fool would think otherwise.” These guardians of evolutionary theory, together with the late professors Stephen J. Gould and Carl Sagan have become the celebrity high priests of a movement that they regard – and demand that society regard – as inviolable.

But be warned. The dogmatism that has attached to the defense of evolutionary theory since its beginnings, can also stand accused as the progenitor of some of the most malign practices and political movements of the 20th century. The pervasive Darwinian notion of the survival of the fittest (a term coined not by Darwin but by the 19th Century philologist Herbert Spencer) gave Nazi propaganda regarding Jewish unfitness for life most of its intellectual heft. Marxism ( and Leninism for that matter) built on the notion of static inherent social conditions, a sociological variant of Darwinism and relied heavily on the necessity for violent confrontation rather than dialogue and cooperation in seeking to redress social wrongs. The eugenics movement of the 1930s, which sought to isolate, quarantine and ultimately eradicate defective human genes, led 30 U.S. states by 1935 to enact forced sterilization laws. At the legal level, the American eugenics crusade culminated in the infamous Supreme Court decision in Buck vs Bell, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declared that compulsory sterilization for the mentally handicapped was constitutional because, afterall, “ three generations of imbeciles is enough.”

Extreme shades of multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism today further represent forms of the same scientific materialism. Proponents of these ideologies often assert that human beings are so programmed by their race, gender or class that their political views, morality and religious beliefs are mere mechanical by-products of their social condition and that nothing can change them. This, of course, leads to the refusal to debate or discuss with seriousness the basis for their complaints against our society and often leads to violent confrontation.

And yet the wonder of how life began stubbornly persists. You don’t need to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist or a Sorbonne educated philosopher to understand the issue. One view of the night sky with the understanding that the light of any star you see may have been traveling towards you for a million years or the examination through a microscope of the infinite complexity of a cell – a galaxy unto itself – should be enough to make even a child ask powerful questions about ultimate cause. Science, of course, has helped us along in capturing this awe and wonder. We know, for instance, that almost four billion years ago, an exquisite, efficient system for encoding and transmitting the information necessary to guide an organism’s development from seed to adult, appeared. That same system, the double helix of our genetic DNA, guides the growth and characteristics of all living organisms. We also know that the development of a cell requires a perfect configuration of approximately 250 proteins and that the odds of this arrangement occurring by random chance from nothing, is several trillion to one.

The question then that any astronomer, molecular biologist and philosopher worth his salt must ask, is where did it all begin? Where did that first extraordinary cell which became the progenitor for all life derive its origins? Why did it develop and what, in the end, was its purpose?

Evolutionary biologists have no convincing answers for any of these questions.

Given this huge inadequacy, one is entitled to ask how is it possible to have such an intricately structured universe of such deep complexity, largely beyond human understanding or comprehension, and not be impressed by the hand of design? Curiously it is the scientific evidence – the significant discoveries of gravity, relativity, DNA, quantum mechanics and molecular biology and their irreducible complexity ( to borrow a term from Michael Behe) that points to the reality of intelligence in the origins and development of life.

The Intelligent Design theory, advanced by the authors I identify above, highlighted in Ben Stein’s excellent documentary Expelled and supported by hundreds of other scientists, philosophers and commentators throughout the world, does not demand to be the only theory advanced to explain the origins of life. But it demands and deserves to be heard.

But it is not heard, at least not audibly enough. Professors on our college campuses who even hint at the possibility of intelligent design suffer the threat of censure, research grant cuts and even termination. Books on intelligent design cannot be found in many college or community libraries or even in many book stores, as I found to my surprise in conducting research for this article. Scientists who espouse intelligent design are ridiculed on talk shows and news programs as simplistic born-again Christians, with a religious agenda, even if they practice no religion. A virtual witch hunt ensues in our society for those who wish to pursue alternative theories to evolutionary theory.

Oddly enough, it is science itself which has opened up the questions about intelligent design by leaving unanswered fundamental questions. Shouldn’t science then be the vehicle to examine it more fully? Do not the demands of free inquiry, one of the hallmarks of academic freedom and one of the absolute necessities for human progress, require our universities to take countervailing theories which seek to plug the gaping holes in old ideas with a level of seriousness?

Since the late 1850s we have seen where fanatical adherence to a philosophy and theory which brooks no opposition can lead. In the ontological approach it propounds, evolutionary theory has not led to the discovery of universal truths. On the contrary, the atheism of which evolutionary theory is a natural corollary has failed us, leading us to doubt, despair, ennui and societal breakdown. In its political incarnation it did not engender tolerance, cooperation and understanding as the scientific community might have once promised us, but instead led to competition, struggle and violence. The perniciousness of the theory as it has developed, unintended by its author, would probably shock him today.

What is at stake in all of this? Why should the debate over ultimate cause, evolution and intelligent design matter to any non-scientist? It is fairly simply stated. If life on earth is a product of blind, purposeless natural causes, brought into existence by random associations, then our lives are a mere cosmic accident. There is no source for overarching moral imperatives, no unique dignity for human life and no sense of purpose at all. Why should we fight to preserve human life or battle for a culture or a civilization when none of it has any transcendental meaning?

On the other hand, if life is the product of foresight and design, then human beings are not merely randomly associated chunks of matter, whose atoms will be spewed back into the ether to be reformed into space dust, but organisms whose existence have a direction and a purpose. With such assurance we can firmly fix our place in the universe and discern meaning in our daily lives. We have reason to defend our families, our values and our civilization.

At stake, ultimately, is which world view will shape our culture and our future.

At stake, may be our very survival.


February 6, 2009

The debate in Congress rages this week about President Obam

a’s $815 billion stimulus package and yet the most important question is not being asked:


Who is going to own America? 


The debt that Americans are being asked being asked to assume, which could amount to many trillions of dollars over the next 20 years, is obviously going to be fronted by creditors with deep pockets.


So who exactly are they, these creditors?  The American citizen?   Nope.  American citizens don’t have that kind of money.  The government?

t itself?  No, it does not have that kind of money on hand.    Then who does?  


The answer is foreign governments.  And among those governments are those whose agenda may not necessarily embrace the life, liberty and happiness of the average American taxpayer.


In short, Russia, China and Saudia Arabia are about to become America’s somewhat suspect sugar daddies .


These governments, in case you don’t know, already own trillions of dollars in U.S. treasury bonds. Should we be offering them even more?   It is very much like placing bars on your windows to deter the thief  and then leaving the front door key under the mat for whenever he feels inclined to enter your home. 


To be fair, it has been argued (and quite convincingly) that these nations have a vested interest in propping up the American economy.  For while the U.S. citizenry accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population, it accounts for 25% of global GDP.    That makes the U.S. market place, with its enormous potential for consumption, the trough from which the rest of the world feeds.   Would these nations, asks the economist,really  sever the pipeline which provides them with their own source of nutrition? 


The answer most economists give is no.   These nations, they claim, have signed on for a life long, no-going-back adventure with the American economy.  Never again will they  have recourse to their capital.  Never again will they indulge in the dream of buying up major American properties or other assets with their profits.    When their treasury bonds come due, the only thing they will be able to do with the money is buy new bonds.   In this scenario they are not loaning money at all.  They are investing in the American economy in perpetuity. 


The trouble with this picture is that the potentates of Moscow, Beijing and Riyadh may have a somewhat different understanding of their role in our future.   As Frank Gaffney points out in his book War Footing ( an AFA recommended book of the month), China is poised for a  military confrontation with the United States some time over the next twenty years and all its economic planning, military posture and foreign policy maneuverings are geared towards that eventuality.   Russia, almost needless to say, has re-entered world politics convinced that it deserves recognition and respect as a great power and is making a determined effort to restore 19th Century style balance of power politics – at the expense of the United States.   Saudia Arabia has been the international financier of  the global jihad for at least 30 years and despite the fondness of its leaders for Western styled luxuries, is pretty well committed to the West’s destruction. 


Some sugar daddies.


So what if the projections are wrong?   What if instead of recognizing the virtues of  interdependence the leaders of these countries embark on a meglomaniacal drive for world domination? Do these much vaunted economic safeguards really clamp the vault shut  on their global ambitions?


Israel learned about top heavy ownership of its economy the hard way. In the 1990s, seeking to free itself from its economically suffocating socialist heritage, the government began to sell off huge chunks of its communications, banking and transportation sectors.  But this privatization process soured when it was realized that the buyers of these plum assets would be cash -flush Israeli companies who could build virtual monopolies with all the goodies they could now collect at auction.  Today the Israeli economy is in a sorry state because of it, with 65% of the country’s assets controlled by only 18 families.  It is this oligarchy which essentially rules the country, effectively asphyxiating the political culture and disempowering the citizenry.


The danger in owing your economic survival to the good graces of people who despise you, cannot be underestimated.  Not all nations act rationally; not all leaders are honest about their intentions; not all care even about their own long term survival (witness our dear friends among the mullahocracy in Iran).


Before committing to a prescription of debt recovery medicine, it might be best, then, to determine the credentials of our doctors.  Are we, in the end, being advised to quaff medicine that will make us well?   Or are we being duped into drinking a decidedly unhealthy poison? 




February 6, 2009

While the American media is engrossed in reporting baseless accounts of Israeli atrocities in Gaza, far more alarming atrocities are occurring just across our own border.


Unknown and under appreciated by most Americans, the Republic of Mexico is wobbling on the brink of collapse, auguring a humanitarian and security crisis for the United States which could dwarf any terrorism threat from the Middle East.


It is almost routine these days to pick up a paper and find buried on page 10 news that eight police officers were found beheaded in the State of Sinaloa or that 15 people were executed gangland style in Tijuana. The victims in these gruesome killings are often not wanted criminals or cartel operatives but  simple citizens – a father and his daughter driving to school;  a taco stand vendor setting up his stall or a school teacher preparing  for the next day’s class.  In 2008 over 6,000 people were reported murdered throughout Mexico as a result of  drug related violence.  Almost none of the killers have been apprehended or brought to justice.


Why is this happening?    It is because powerful drug cartels are at war with both one another and with the Mexican government. The lucrative $50 billion drug trade in the United States is at stake and drug lords who were quietly accommodated by a succession of Mexican governments over the past 30 years, have grown powerful and restive.  Developing their own militias and possessed of highly sophisticated equipment and training, they are more than a match for the Mexican army which only in recent years has stepped up a campaign to challenge them.


But it may be too late.  The range of influence exercised by the drug cartels has likely already penetrated the highest echelons of  Felipe Calderon’s government, the Mexican military, its  judiciary and  the federal and State police forces.  This has and will cripple any serious attempt to confront the drug lords.  With the growing ineffectiveness of government intervention, Mexican citizens in battleground states are finding themselves with very few good alternatives in deciding how to protect the lives of their families.  Increasingly, Mexicans in these areas look to the drug cartels for protection and as a result fear has become endemic to modern life.


In such a society a culture of graft and corruption does not come into existence only because of greed.  It develops from fear that the government cannot shield life from intimidating elements, and the need to side with those who ostensibly can.  This may be a weak moral excuse for paying protection money or becoming a drug collaborator.   But these are matters of life and death for many Mexicans, and moral questions are not so easily answered under such circumstances.  


The consequences of such societal collapse on  the U.S’  very doorstep are deeply troubling.  The abdication of government oversight  would  induce the kind of mayhem that we, who live with a smug guarantee of stability, can barely fathom.   As Mexico spirals into civil war, rioting, murder, rape, kidnappings and arson would become commonplace; armed gangs would wander streets of cities and villages imposing curfews and staking out territory; millions of people could be displaced from their homes as violence escalates.  Eventually hundreds of thousands of ordinary Mexicans would stream toward the U.S. border seeking asylum, while overloaded boats of refugees would account for multiple drownings in the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Mexico.


Even more telling would be threat of this same struggle spilling over into American cities.  And not just border cities.  Texas, New Mexico and California have all reported the escalation of violence in Hispanic turf wars which are increasingly related to drugs.  The enormous financial clout of the cartels may also have started to buy them influence and protection in U.S. political, economic and social circles, securing a U.S. beachhead for a new kind of mafia with the muscle to  influence American foreign and domestic policy.


All of this is alluded to in a new report from the United States Joint Forces Command  titled The Joint Operating Environment .

 This report identifies both Mexico and Pakistan as failing states whose implosion could pose a significant security risk for the United States.  In the case of Mexico the report hints at the eventual necessity of U.S. military intervention to secure the 2,000 mile long border and to eliminate the menace to American security.


It would certainly not be the first time.   In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson sent an expeditionary force into Mexico to punish renegade bandits, led by Pancho Villa, who had attacked towns and killed  American citizens on the New Mexico border.  Villa drew the American forces deep into the Mexican hinterland, cut off their sources of supply and eventually forced an ignominious retreat. 


Today the U.S. military and border police would need to play a smarter game.  Crushing the cartels and restoring a semblance of order would require the development of guerilla tactics and a broad intelligence network that could employ Mexican disaffection with cartel brutality to its advantage.  In the event the United States intervenes, the U.S. military should also not shy away from the creation of a buffer zone which will act as a base for intelligence gathering and spontaneous raids.  Military training and aid  should today be offered to the Calderon government but only on strict condition of  a careful screening and a  thorough vetting of the Mexican security forces.


While Mexico’s collapse is far from a certainty, ( as the JOE states itself), we lose nothing by preparing for its eventuality.  That kind of preparedness gives us the opportunity to examine the rising waters on the other side of our border and the knowledge of what to do if and when the dam breaks.


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