The Liberty Professor Returns

ID-100325327The Liberty Professor has decided to return from more than a year of self-imposed exile from writing.  Stay tuned for more of the honest political and social analysis that you have come to expect from this blog. It all comes with a new, fresh look for the blog website.

As Memorial Day approaches, remember those who have given the highest of all sacrifices. When you see a service member in public, please don’t be shy about offering a word of thanks.

Many of my regular readers have inquired of the reasons for my recent silence. It came from a misguided attempt to avoid causing offense to those whom I feel called to serve in ministry and education. But, as I say, that was misguided. The fact is that we humans are meaning-makers (“hermeneuts” as theologians and philosophers prefer to call us). In our task of making meaning of life we often find ourselves in disagreement. Perhaps this is as it should be, given the heavy responsibility we bear as people driven to find life’s purpose.

As we each find our way we are bound to disagree! Why must we shy from disagreement since it is such an obvious part of human life? I have decided not to retreat from it any further, but to return to passionate and respectful debate of the political and social issues of our time. Please join me. Let us be positive role models to our society of just what it can mean when mature adults argue their convictions with passion, but with respect as well.

Avoiding argumentation is futile of one realizes that the goal of arguing is to discover the truth. As I have pointed out before, the root of our word “argue” is the Latin word arguere, meaning “to make clear.” We owe it to one another to be able to argue respectfully. Staying silent cannot bring us closer to that goal.

With so much at stake in the current political climate, I have decided that silence is deadly. Join me in the debate!

Image courtesy of holohololand at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Obama’s Audacity: Using the Shutdown to Punish Some, Reward Others

immigration_rally_national_mall_APBarack Obama is nothing if not audacious. The title of his now-famous book seems to confirm it–The Audacity of Hope. His style of political campaigning confirms it, and although he did his best to hide the most extreme portions of his agenda, hints of it emerged during his original presidential campaign. He and Michelle want to leave a vastly different America in their wake when they leave the White House. “We’re going to have to move into a new place as a nation,” Michelle Obama promised. “We’re going to have to change our history, our traditions.”

When your agenda is that audacious, you have to destroy anyone who gets in the way. What better way is there for an community organizer to do that than to agitate all those who agree with him so that his political opponents are demonized? Let’s look at how community organizers do their work. Three methods are particularly effective: they inform their constituents of the government assistance to which they are entitled, they get them fired up and energetic about securing those entitlements while clamoring for more, and then they scapegoat any politician or political group that stands in their way.

This is exactly what Barack Obama and the Democrat party are doing at this moment with the government shutdown. Of course, “shutdown” is too strong a word. About 17% of the government has been turned off, and in some cases even furloughed workers are having to put in extra time to put up signs and ticket those brave citizens who dare trespass upon federal lands during a shutdown. It’s a selective shutdown.

The Obama administration is engaged in a calculated effort to punish some while rewarding others. As long as the political payoff is estimated to help the Democrat cause, it doesn’t matter who is harmed or what victims are made to suffer. Exemptions are gladly given, however, to those groups that support the cause.

Families of our military who have died in war since the shutdown began have been denied the death and burial benefits promised them. Chaplains have been threated with punitive action if they offer religious services to their congregations. Cancer trials for children have been halted. Parks, turnarounds, and scenic vistas–some of them nothing more than a patch of grass or concrete–have unnecessarily been blocked in order to make a point. In one case, a jogger was ticketed for being on federal land while it was declared to be closed. Private businesses that receive no federal funds are forced to close needlessly, simply because they are on federally-controlled land.

Is the average citizen so dangerous that he or she cannot even be present on federal property without supervision? Supposedly, the federal government maintains these lands on our behalf. Then why do we cower in fear when we imagine taking a stroll on “our” property?

Disgusted by the charade, a park ranger in DC explained the end game: “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can.”

Yet it is not so for all. Just two days ago a massive immigration rally was held on the National Mall in Washington, DC. That mall is officially closed due to the shutdown. The reason is simple enough. The rally was sponsored by the AFL-CIO and SEIU, two important unions serving as intimate allies to the Obama agenda.

To put it bluntly, while blaming the Republicans for the shutdown, the Democrats are refusing to budge on the issue of funding Obamacare. As long as they believe they have the upper hand they will not blink. They will cause inconvenience and even suffering–perhaps to the point of death from cancer–just to stand their ideological ground.

Harry Reid has exposed this nasty agenda on at least two occasions. He recently refused to consider a continuing resolution to fund NIH cancer trials for kids, as covered in my blog post from earlier this week. In addition, when publicly harassed by the mayor of Washington, DC for refusing to vote for funds needed by that city, Reid was inadvertently caught by cameras as telling him to quiet down. “I’m on your side,” he warned Mayor Vincent Gray, “don’t screw it up.”

As a political gamble this strategy may work. But there are hints that it may backfire. Obama’s approval rating is down to 37%, the lowest yet of his presidency. His pals in the media won’t talk much about it–and when they do, they’ll hide it someplace innocuous. A recent article from the Associated Press was headed by the announcement that the GOP is getting the blame for the shutdown, while hiding Obama’s low approval rating in the body of the article. There’s not much objectivity to be found there, as you can see. For an interesting Canadian analysis, click HERE.

This is the same government that kills American citizens overseas without benefit of arrest and trial. It is the same government that illegally passes personal data from IRS to White House. It’s the same government that places a harmful tax on medical equipment, refuses to enforce immigration law, and told us that Obamacare penalties aren’t a tax–until it argued before the Supreme Court and said that they are a tax. This audacious government will say almost anything, blame almost anyone, and give breaks and benefits to its friends and cronies. While blaming capitalism for our nation’s economic woes it engages in the worst form of crony capitalism and favoritism. We who recognize it are labeled as angry extremists.

It’s time to be angry. It’s past time. Audacity is a two-way street.

Wounding the Cause of Liberty

untitledIt’s being reported that President Obama boarded Marine One (the presidential helicopter) Friday morning, that he was saluted by a member of the United States Marine Corps, and that he failed to return the salute. It is also reported that the president climbed out of the helicopter a moment later to shake hands with the marine and to engage in a brief conversation.

Within moments (thanks to Twitter and members of the White House press pool), the event was reported online. It’s especially popular among the political adversaries of the president as well as those who just don’t like him.

On Thursday of last week the Turkish prime minister visited the White House.  When it began to rain, Obama asked nearby marines to help out by holding umbrellas over his head and that of the visiting dignitary. As with today’s episode, it was quickly reported as a sign that Barack Obama is not respectful to the military or that he expects special treatment. This is being done despite the fact that previous presidents have been accorded the same privilege.

In the long run, and in view of the genuine threats to our constitutionally-guaranteed rights, these incidents mean absolutely nothing. When liberty-minded citizens harp on such minor realities (“non-issues”) we actually do terrible damage to the political cause for which we stand. We look silly. We come off as hyper-critical, ridiculous, even childish–and the mainstream press is given another full quiver of arrows to aim at the genuine concerns of constitutionalists.  In other words, the silliness of trivial issues is pasted right on top of the critical issues for which we’re arguing. In the end, we shoot ourselves in the foot by pursuing the non-issues of presidential salutes and umbrellas. We are written off as kooks who have no respectable agenda rather than patriotic Americans who want the Constitution to be preserved for the benefit of all.

untitledIf you want to know exactly what I think about the politics of Barack Obama, you don’t have far to go. This blog is laden with very specific charges, along with explanations in profound detail. I believe I have legitimate concerns and I post those concerns in order to help others see the dangers that are inherent in the policies of our current government. The political vision and the economic goals of Barack Obama have no stronger opponent than me. Count me among the loyal opposition–loyal to the Constitution and opposed to every threat being levied against that sacred document.

But please don’t expect me to chime in and complain every time an umbrella is held for Obama, a salute is overlooked, or a presidential comment is misunderstood. My fellow constitutionalists, our energy and influence are better invested by dedicating ourselves to the challenge of reigning in excessive government. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

We’re in troublesome waters. The ship of freedom is in danger of sinking. We have no time to argue over the location of deck chairs or the music being played as the vessel goes down.

Barack Obama’s License to Kill

droneLet’s imagine for a moment that the Liberty Professor embarks on an extended study trip to an Islamic nation.  Since my area of expertise includes interreligious dialogue, it’s not an impossibility.  Perhaps a university in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or the peaceful regions of Afghanistan would give me a grant to spend a semester learning about the nation’s Islamic history and culture.  While visiting, it would not be unusual to make friends with some of the locals.  I might even become a regular at a busy coffee shop.

What if, unknown to me, members of a terrorist organization also frequent the shop?  If I visit the shop everyday, such terrorists might often be present at the same time that I am sipping tea.  Who knows?  I might even have regular conversations with them. After all, I’m an extrovert interested in learning about the culture and religious views of those who differ from me. I’ll talk to just about anybody who will talk to me … it’s an honest trait that I inherited from my mother!

Now let’s go one step further. What if my frequent visits and cordial relations with these people come to the attention of an informed, high-level official of the United States who believes that my coffee-shop acquaintances are actively promoting attacks against the United States? That official might wrongly come to the conclusion that I am an ally of these terrorists, even though I don’t even know they are terrorists. Then what happens?

Well, if the official believes it’s better to terminate me than to attempt my capture, Barack Obama and his Justice Department say that this is an acceptable action and that my rights–guaranteed under the United States Constitution–no longer apply. That’s right. This past Tuesday, a Justice Department “white paper” came to light laying out the administration’s case for killing an American overseas as long as the operation is “conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

In other words, if the government decides to go to war against an American citizen who is abroad, it can kill that citizen.

According to analysis by Jameel Jaffer at the American Civil Liberties Union, “this sweeping authority is said to exist even if the threat presented isn’t imminent in any ordinary sense of that word, even if the target has never been charged with a crime or informed of the allegations against him, and even if the target is not located anywhere near an actual battlefield.” If the government’s rights to do this are limited, those limitations are so vague in the paper as to be nearly non-existent. “Even more problematic,” says Jaffer of the ACLU, “the paper contends that the limits on the government’s claimed authority are not enforceable in any court.”  In other words, there is no appeal.

This should chill the blood of every American. It essentially means that if a US citizen overseas is deemed a threat, that citizen can be the target of lethal action by his own government without any warning and without due process of law. No judicial review is required, either before or after the killing. In fact, the government claims the right to carry out the entire affair in total secrecy. The preferred method of termination, of course, is a drone strike.

According to Fox News, “the US drone program has been ramped up dramatically” under Barack Obama’s leadership. “It has become one of the most important tools of the administration’s counterterrorism campaign.”  Those who believe that innocent lives can’t be extinguished by this policy should think again. In 2011, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (a US citizen) was killed in a drone strike two weeks after his father was killed in a previous attack.  His father was terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, who had renounced his citizenship. There is no evidence that his son ever did so, but there is strong evidence that he had not even seen his father for two years.

When confronted with questions about the matter a year later, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the boy “should have [had] a far more responsible father.”

What a frightening disregard for the life of a citizen by a spokesman for the highest office in the land! Our Constitution demands that the rights of American citizens cannot be so summarily dismissed. It is nothing short of approval for assassination. One might even imagine that a government official would wait to act against a citizen until that citizen went abroad. Knowing that the law had been construed to allow that citizen’s termination while overseas, and that there is no judicial oversight or appeal, what would prevent such a devious plan from being enacted?

When did we decide that a few powerful people in government should have such authority? Was it not for reasons such as this that the Constitution put constraints on government power? Those who think the US Constitution is out of date are dangerously mistaken. Questions like these demonstrate that it remains as vital and as relevant as it ever was.

I realize how improbable my fears may sound, but let’s be honest. When we allow such sweeping power to government, we cannot prevent the abuse of that power. This has always been the foundational insight for those of us who argue for tight limits on governmental power. You see, once power is taken by the government or given up by the people, it is normally very difficult to take it back. It usually takes a revolution.

It seems these days that our political landscape looks much like a badminton game. The Republicans get control for a while and so-called “conservatives” put in place the big-government policies they prefer, favoring those who assist them to remain in office. Then the birdie bounces into the other side of the court and the Democrats get control for awhile. Their radical “liberals” put in place the big-government policies of their preference, favoring those who keep them in office. Both sides squeeze the life out of the electorate, play voters against one another, and consolidate tremendous–frightening–amounts of power. The problem certainly didn’t start with Barack Obama, but he has used it (and abused it) to his full advantage and to the advantage of the federal government.

Section II.A of the white paper (page 5) specifically brings up the constitutional guarantee of due process for an offending citizen.  It is dismissed entirely:  “The Due Process Clause would not prohibit a lethal operation of the sort contemplated here.”

If you have tended to see this blog as an overreaction, or if you have not yet understood the destruction of our human liberties that is well underway in the United States of America, then read this white paper for yourself. If you are an American citizen, read it carefully. This is the US Justice Department explaining to a court and to the entire world why it can kill you, why it can do it secretly, and why it needs no oversight or court approval to do so. A few highly-placed government officials can reduce you, a person who pays their salaries, to ground meat.

This is the executive branch of our government at work “protecting us” by inventing the right to kill us without due process of trial and legal defense. As US district court Judge Colleen McMahon wrote, the federal government has created “a thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws.” Here is a judge who is awake to the danger falling upon us all.

Of course, some readers will scoff at my concerns. They will argue that I’m an alarmist. After all, the government insists that this move is designed to save American lives and defend the homeland. One must ask where this reasoning will take us next. If the threat is that bad, perhaps a day will soon come when strip searches in airports are not enough.

One must also ask why any level of government in the US needs increasing numbers of drones in our homeland skies. Who are they watching? What privacy is being taken away, and from whom? It is one thing to arrest a lawbreaker. It’s another thing entirely to participate in wholesale spying on citizens just because someone might be breaking the law.

Is a day coming soon when the feds will use attack machinery in our own cities? It appears that such plans are already being developed. As reported by CBS News, Black Hawk helicopters were deployed in Miami on January 25 as part of a military “training exercise.”  Such urban-assault exercises have been taking place in other large cities across the US recently, such as Houston and  St. Louis.

If we combine these preparations for “our safety” with the government’s insistence that it can kill us overseas for the nation’s survival, how long will it be before that same government decides it can kill us at home without due process–if it’s best for the country?

It’s probably a ridiculous question.

On the other hand … power, once it is seized by government, is rarely returned to the people voluntarily.

Political Discourse and the Beauty of the Brain

 Since I am a college professor, it probably won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog that this post is a plea for more thinking and less emotionalism in our political discourse.  Our emotions are a delightful part of what makes us human.  But while we should listen to our feelings, it’s not good to be ruled by them.  For the most part, we cannot control our emotions.  What we can control is our response to them–and this is where the beauty of our brains enters the conversation.

The musings of this post got their start as I read an article from the Tenth Amendment Center authored by Michael Maharrey entitled, “I Love George Washington.  Except for his Foreign Policy.”  Maharrey’s honesty in the piece is refreshing.  He’s a former neo-conservative who supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but who has now become more cautious in his estimation of how the United States should use its power abroad.

He argues that Ron Paul’s warnings about power projection should be heeded, but states clearly that he doesn’t agree with Paul on all issues.  Neither do I agree with Ron Paul on all elements of his foreign policy … but are you even still reading?  You see, for many of us, the mention of a particular politician with whom we disagree often causes an emotional disconnect to take place.  There’s the rub.

As Maharrey says, Ron Paul is not crazy.  I believe Paul is naive regarding Iran and its nuclear ambitions, but I also think we need to heed a great deal of the advice he offers when it comes to what George Washington called “foreign entanglements.”  Isolationism isn’t the answer, but neither is excessive interventionism. 

When it comes to the advice offered by Ron Paul or any other political leader of integrity, we must engage our intellectual sifters, excavating that advice for the precious nuggets it may contain.  To find a diamond of insight we sometimes have to dig through a bit of dirt.

American security has been greatly enhanced by the fact that forward-looking military leaders had the good sense to know when it was time to change course.  Early in the nation’s history it was foreseen that a strong navy was needed.  Not long after the start of the twentieth century it was proposed that air power would be a necessity.  In hindsight we can say that these innovations to our national policy were the right decisions.

For my way of thinking, we’re at another new juncture in our national history.  We need to reconsider our use of the military.  Our bases are scattered around the globe in more than a hundred countries.  In a world of increased connectedness and sophisicated technology, is this the most effective way to craft our military might?  Instead, could we have a smaller, more concentrated, more mobile military capable of projecting itself quickly, quietly, and with pin-point accuracy?  I suspect that the second of these options would serve us better.  It might also increase goodwill toward us around the world.

Some of my readers are retired military officers.  I look forward to their responses to this post.  In the meantime, to read the fine article by Michael Maharrey and the Tenth Amendment Center, click here.