Can We Finally Retire Scientific Superstition?





Photo credit: trackrecord (Creative Commons)

What an absolutely astounding admission former Fed boss Alan Greenspan makes about his new book The Map and The Territory: “Not a single major forecaster of note or institution caught it [the 2008 crash]. The Federal Reserve has got the most elaborate econometric model, which incorporates all the newfangled models of how the world works—and it missed it completely. I was actually flabbergasted. It upended my view of how the world worked.”

That this epitome of Washington brilliance and establishment power really thought the little models could actually forecast the future takes one’s breath away! One could expect that such models would be used as rough guides to action and to keep naive investors calm; but that he was surprised the models did not predict specific events is incredible, especially for someone who supposedly had believed in markets. He admits he just now realizes that irrational fears influence how people behave! But we are supposed to trust these guys with $3 trillion sitting in the Fed, telling us they have a way out because the models are scientific, right?

Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek predicted that people in the future looking back would “discover that the most widely held ideas which dominated the twentieth century” like scientific planning “were all based on superstitions…an overestimation of what science has achieved.” Hayek noted more than a half century ago that there were more intercortical connections in one person’s mind in a few moments than there are atoms in the entire solar system. While the material world still largely remains a mystery to science, human behavior is a real black hole. With billions of people’s minds and untold interactions between them, the total human complexity is overwhelming. No super-mind in some Federal Reserve or White House can comprehend this complexity, much less control it. The progressive pretension to understand what they cannot possibly know is the true source of today’s discontent.

The number of books today rediscovering this truth is becoming a torrent. The Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer hit number seven on the New York Times bestseller list with his stunning new book, Darwin’s Doubt. The title reflects the fact that even Charles Darwin had one great doubt about his materialistic theory of human evolution, that natural selection by random mutation is the sole explanation of life on earth. Specifically, he questioned whether what was called the Cambrian Explosion of 500 million years ago could have occurred that recently (out of an estimate of only 3 billion total years of life on earth). How could higher life arise over such a short period of time? And where were the fossils demonstrating such a progression of forms?

Much of Meyer’s detailed book systematically analyzes attempts to fill in the fossil record and to explain the short time period. In sum, he demonstrates conclusively that modern science is no closer to explaining the missing data than it was 150 years ago when Darwin predicted it would soon show up. The odds that these links will appear after all this time is remote. More important, to mutate into new body parts we now know would require new genetic/DNA and epi-genetic/non-DNA biological information be placed into already enormously complex information sequences that would often be lethal to them–while to transition to new life requires being viable at every stage. The odds against this are very great, and the evidence we do have is against it.

We know so much more than did Darwin. His contemporary and supporter Ernst Haeckel believed (as Darwin presumably did) that a cell was a mere lump of matter. Now we understand (something) more about real cells. They are not lumps but incredibly complex with DNA and cell structure both playing a role in its integrity. We have just begun to understand how the two percent of DNA thought to be functional (rather than “junk”) might work. But we have even more recently discovered that some epigenetic information may be just as important as DNA in the cell, although we do not know quite how. Then comes the prestigious journal Nature to report that the ENCODE project now estimates that at least 80 percent of DNA actually serves some biochemical purpose. Seventy-eight percent we thought was cell junk now must be taken seriously. This is really getting complicated!

George Gilder, the influential author of the bestselling Wealth and Poverty, thinks he has an explanation in his recent blockbuster, Knowledge and Power. He offers a “science of information” as the way to understand the complexity. His theory is a mathematical model of entropy (or disorder) based on the logic of physical entropy where at one extreme the world is considered totally disordered and unexplainable. The opposite is a small part of reality that seems to be ordered so that we understand it. “Surprise” or change or “noise” is when new information increases what is ordered and understood. New understanding requires a low entropy channel relatively interference-free. All information can be explained in this context, he argues, and so information theory would seem to solve the problem of complexity. But there is a kicker–the creation or change process itself “defies every logical and mathematical system.”

The materialist reductionism of the modern scientific worldview throws up its hands at this lack of system. Its complexity so increases the number of interactions required to sustain evolution; for example, it must invent “parallel universes” out of whole cloth to explain what is inexplicable in the universe that we actually live in. In the real world, DNA codes can define the amino acids that form proteins; but the proteins cannot specify the codes that define their antecedents. Indeed, only human intelligence can pierce through the immense disorder to create new understandings. There is a hierarchy–human intelligence reveals the physical world as the human programmer defines the physical computer. The GeneChip can search millions of bits of information; but without intelligence, there is no logic how to search in a complex reality greater than the atoms in the universe, Gilder concludes, using the same analogy Hayek used back in 1944.

In his new book, Mind and Cosmos, New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel concludes that simple materialism cannot fully explain the world as we now understand it, especially the mind. He attempts to develop a third way between materialism and theological explanation but was widely criticized by his academic friends for such unorthodoxy in challenging materialism as a sufficient cause. As far as religion, Nagel replied, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” But he still insisted that materialism by itself cannot explain mind.

Nagel even spoke respectfully of the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who has probably written the most radical argument questioning the lack of science supporting Darwinism and the whole materialist hypothesis it rests upon. While Where the Conflict Really Lies has no argument against evolution explaining how some material change takes place, he argues that it cannot explain the more complex systems. As his title suggests, Plantinga is mostly interested in refuting that traditional religion is in conflict with real science. He refutes the popular alleged conflicts between the two, explains why the real conflicts are superficial and why the two realms are mostly in concord.

In ending his argument, Plantinga quotes materialist molecular biologist James Shapiro that “there are no detailed Darwinian accounts for evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system only a variety of wishful speculations.” Materialism only is an assumption not an empirical conclusion. Materialism only, particularly in Darwinism, Plantinga concludes, is simply a religious-like assumption. Hayek’s term “superstition” would seem apt.

What difference does this make? The practical side is that all modern public administration rests upon the superstition of a naturalist science fully explaining human action, which in turn can be manipulated by government experts to provide for society’s welfare. Until we develop a more sophisticated idea than this simplistic materialism in trying to explain our complex human social, economic, and political life, we can expect the same “flabbergasted” results. Greenspan has learned too late, but perhaps there is still time for the rest of us.

 

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, taught university political science and methodology for a quarter century, and served as Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

 

Photo credit: trackrecord (Creative Commons)

Can We Finally Retire Scientific Superstition?





Photo credit: trackrecord (Creative Commons)

What an absolutely astounding admission former Fed boss Alan Greenspan makes about his new book The Map and The Territory: “Not a single major forecaster of note or institution caught it [the 2008 crash]. The Federal Reserve has got the most elaborate econometric model, which incorporates all the newfangled models of how the world works—and it missed it completely. I was actually flabbergasted. It upended my view of how the world worked.”

That this epitome of Washington brilliance and establishment power really thought the little models could actually forecast the future takes one’s breath away! One could expect that such models would be used as rough guides to action and to keep naive investors calm; but that he was surprised the models did not predict specific events is incredible, especially for someone who supposedly had believed in markets. He admits he just now realizes that irrational fears influence how people behave! But we are supposed to trust these guys with $3 trillion sitting in the Fed, telling us they have a way out because the models are scientific, right?

Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek predicted that people in the future looking back would “discover that the most widely held ideas which dominated the twentieth century” like scientific planning “were all based on superstitions…an overestimation of what science has achieved.” Hayek noted more than a half century ago that there were more intercortical connections in one person’s mind in a few moments than there are atoms in the entire solar system. While the material world still largely remains a mystery to science, human behavior is a real black hole. With billions of people’s minds and untold interactions between them, the total human complexity is overwhelming. No super-mind in some Federal Reserve or White House can comprehend this complexity, much less control it. The progressive pretension to understand what they cannot possibly know is the true source of today’s discontent.

The number of books today rediscovering this truth is becoming a torrent. The Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer hit number seven on the New York Times bestseller list with his stunning new book, Darwin’s Doubt. The title reflects the fact that even Charles Darwin had one great doubt about his materialistic theory of human evolution, that natural selection by random mutation is the sole explanation of life on earth. Specifically, he questioned whether what was called the Cambrian Explosion of 500 million years ago could have occurred that recently (out of an estimate of only 3 billion total years of life on earth). How could higher life arise over such a short period of time? And where were the fossils demonstrating such a progression of forms?

Much of Meyer’s detailed book systematically analyzes attempts to fill in the fossil record and to explain the short time period. In sum, he demonstrates conclusively that modern science is no closer to explaining the missing data than it was 150 years ago when Darwin predicted it would soon show up. The odds that these links will appear after all this time is remote. More important, to mutate into new body parts we now know would require new genetic/DNA and epi-genetic/non-DNA biological information be placed into already enormously complex information sequences that would often be lethal to them–while to transition to new life requires being viable at every stage. The odds against this are very great, and the evidence we do have is against it.

We know so much more than did Darwin. His contemporary and supporter Ernst Haeckel believed (as Darwin presumably did) that a cell was a mere lump of matter. Now we understand (something) more about real cells. They are not lumps but incredibly complex with DNA and cell structure both playing a role in its integrity. We have just begun to understand how the two percent of DNA thought to be functional (rather than “junk”) might work. But we have even more recently discovered that some epigenetic information may be just as important as DNA in the cell, although we do not know quite how. Then comes the prestigious journal Nature to report that the ENCODE project now estimates that at least 80 percent of DNA actually serves some biochemical purpose. Seventy-eight percent we thought was cell junk now must be taken seriously. This is really getting complicated!

George Gilder, the influential author of the bestselling Wealth and Poverty, thinks he has an explanation in his recent blockbuster, Knowledge and Power. He offers a “science of information” as the way to understand the complexity. His theory is a mathematical model of entropy (or disorder) based on the logic of physical entropy where at one extreme the world is considered totally disordered and unexplainable. The opposite is a small part of reality that seems to be ordered so that we understand it. “Surprise” or change or “noise” is when new information increases what is ordered and understood. New understanding requires a low entropy channel relatively interference-free. All information can be explained in this context, he argues, and so information theory would seem to solve the problem of complexity. But there is a kicker–the creation or change process itself “defies every logical and mathematical system.”

The materialist reductionism of the modern scientific worldview throws up its hands at this lack of system. Its complexity so increases the number of interactions required to sustain evolution; for example, it must invent “parallel universes” out of whole cloth to explain what is inexplicable in the universe that we actually live in. In the real world, DNA codes can define the amino acids that form proteins; but the proteins cannot specify the codes that define their antecedents. Indeed, only human intelligence can pierce through the immense disorder to create new understandings. There is a hierarchy–human intelligence reveals the physical world as the human programmer defines the physical computer. The GeneChip can search millions of bits of information; but without intelligence, there is no logic how to search in a complex reality greater than the atoms in the universe, Gilder concludes, using the same analogy Hayek used back in 1944.

In his new book, Mind and Cosmos, New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel concludes that simple materialism cannot fully explain the world as we now understand it, especially the mind. He attempts to develop a third way between materialism and theological explanation but was widely criticized by his academic friends for such unorthodoxy in challenging materialism as a sufficient cause. As far as religion, Nagel replied, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” But he still insisted that materialism by itself cannot explain mind.

Nagel even spoke respectfully of the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who has probably written the most radical argument questioning the lack of science supporting Darwinism and the whole materialist hypothesis it rests upon. While Where the Conflict Really Lies has no argument against evolution explaining how some material change takes place, he argues that it cannot explain the more complex systems. As his title suggests, Plantinga is mostly interested in refuting that traditional religion is in conflict with real science. He refutes the popular alleged conflicts between the two, explains why the real conflicts are superficial and why the two realms are mostly in concord.

In ending his argument, Plantinga quotes materialist molecular biologist James Shapiro that “there are no detailed Darwinian accounts for evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system only a variety of wishful speculations.” Materialism only is an assumption not an empirical conclusion. Materialism only, particularly in Darwinism, Plantinga concludes, is simply a religious-like assumption. Hayek’s term “superstition” would seem apt.

What difference does this make? The practical side is that all modern public administration rests upon the superstition of a naturalist science fully explaining human action, which in turn can be manipulated by government experts to provide for society’s welfare. Until we develop a more sophisticated idea than this simplistic materialism in trying to explain our complex human social, economic, and political life, we can expect the same “flabbergasted” results. Greenspan has learned too late, but perhaps there is still time for the rest of us.

 

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, taught university political science and methodology for a quarter century, and served as Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

 

Photo credit: trackrecord (Creative Commons)

Are American Christians Paranoid?





Church

Eighty percent of Americans consider themselves Christians—but today, many of them consider themselves a persecuted remnant. Is it mere paranoia? Remember, even the paranoid have enemies.

An Anti-Defamation League poll in 2005 found that 64 percent of Americans believed that religion was under attack in the U.S. It was 75 percent among Christians who attend church regularly. A Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum by lawyer Jay Alan Sekulow warned in 2012:

All across America, religious institutions and individuals are being subjected to increasing restrictions on their free exercise of religion and freedom of speech—a crackdown that can be seen in a variety of different contexts ranging from employers or health care professionals being required to provide or facilitate abortions against the dictates of their faith to street evangelists and public school students seeking to share their religious viewpoints with others. This rising disregard for religious liberty represents a marked break from the long-standing American tradition of accommodating religious practice and expression that predates the ratification of the Constitution.

Under the Obamacare health care law, religious employers will be required to pay for insurance to cover medical procedures such as abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization procedures they oppose on moral grounds. Religious individuals too will be forced to participate in such programs or pay fines. Employers and employees of actual houses of worship are excluded from the requirement, but not religious charities, schools, hospitals, or other related institutions at the center of Christian life. Some are opposing these provisions in court, demanding exemptions from the law. They are not optimistic. Many now believe the entire establishment is against them.

It is clear that not all of this is paranoia. The atheist professor, author, and producer Richard Dawkins is not even subtle about it. One of his scripts—aired on British television and later on American public TV—was titled The Root of All Evil? Evil, naturally, was religion. He criticized all “three Abrahamic religions,” because their “irrational roots are nourishing intolerance and murder” around the world. They “preach morality, peace, and hope; in fact, they bring intolerance, violence, and destruction.”

His main target is Christianity since he considers it the most powerful. Dawkins characterized Christianity’s belief that Jesus had to be “hideously tortured and killed so that we might be redeemed” as a “nasty sadomasochistic doctrine.” He complains that Christian religious schools promote a “poisonous system of morals.” He compares the teaching of religion to a virus that infects young people and spreads from generation to generation. He considers families teaching religion to be “child abuse.” These views are now suitable for prime time television.

Or consider former Yale dean and classics scholar Donald Kagan. He recently complained to the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski that democracy seems to have run its course in America and the West as the morality that has sustained them has atrophied. What morality? While the “Romans had no qualms about quashing their enemies, big or small” and the U.S. had relentlessly won two world wars “and imposed and protected the current global order, the recent record shows failed or inconclusive engagements.” The problem is that “We’re a certain kind of culture which makes it hard for us to behave rationally when the rational thing is to be tough.” The culture that makes this difficult is “unsubtle Christianity” and its strong strain of pacifism. “Who else has a religion filled with the notion ‘turn the other cheek’? Who ever heard of such a thing? If you’re going to turn the other cheek, go home. Give up the ball.” Today, such sentiments about Christianity run in the country’s leading newspapers and pass without any notice at all.

Every day, even first-rate newspapers and quality television shows display total ignorance about the first 1,500 years of Western civilization. Following Voltaire, moderns consider the whole formative period of our culture to be a “dark age,” contrary to any serious modern scholarship about the period. No major Western worldview has had reason to look at the age favorably. Voltaire’s atheists believe that all thinkers before themselves were unenlightened; Protestants saw the whole period as repressed under a corrupt Papacy; and even post-Trent Catholics wanted to forget the whole previous era and begin over again. A recent Discovery Chanel documentary did bring in medieval scholars who demonstrated—by displaying its actual discoveries—that most thinking about the period is simplistic, but that was a rare exception.

Even serious, Christian-friendly authors like Avi Beker get it muddled. As Hillel Fradkin noted about Beker’s wonderful history of the Jews and anti-semitism, The Chosen, the author made the “common error” of believing that the Christian reaction to Jews was much worse than the Islamic reaction, whereas “Muslim persecution of Jews was equal if not greater than Christian persecution as Maimonides and Halevi both testified.” Part of the error was Beker’s “assimilation of the Holocaust to the history of Christianity.” Christian Europe often disposed many to be unfavorable to Jews; but “Nazism must be laid at the door of modernity,” not Christianity. While Beker is generous in praising modern Christianity for its toleration, his Enlightenment-centric history makes it difficult for him to understand the fact that “the most serious form of contemporary anti-semitism is not that of Christians but of Muslims and their sometimes secular allies on the left.”

The normal assumption is that such observations are the detached reflections of neutral experts merely reporting the facts. Take New York University Professor Thomas Nagel, the very model of academic objectivity. He wrote a fine book, Mind and Cosmos, that seeks a third way between materialism and religion, one that any theist could admire as a courageous and open-minded attempt at a reasonable solution. But his underlying thinking outside the book is not the cool rationality most assume to be the atheistic mindset. The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson reported that Nagel told the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga that he always pursues truth, but “if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith.”

Nagel conceded that pure materialism is rationally a failure, but continued “I want atheism to be true and I am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” Nagel has become the object of unfair leftist scorn for questioning materialism, but can one imagine any traditionalist admitting a similar bias and surviving at all?

In fact, many passionately dislike what Christians and other religious people believe. That is fine as long as the passion is from the Nagels of the world who are merely seeking truth, ardently or otherwise. Even threats from those such as Dawkins can be answered. It is only when opponents use coercion and raw political power to limit freedom that a real menace emerges. It is in an Obamacare law where the implementing zealots are convinced that they know what is good for everyone that the threat resides. Much more danger comes from those who claim the whole truth and are determined to force it for the other person’s good, no matter how much that person abhors it.

As Albert Camus once noted, “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.”

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies and is author of America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution [1]. He was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

Commander-in-Chief Romney

 

Mitt Romney 8 SC Commander in Chief Romney

A surprising number of conservative foreign policy realists are threatening to vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson as a safer foreign policy president than Gov. Mitt Romney. What are the facts?

The fear is that Maureen Dowd might be right for a change when she recently charged: “After 9/11, the neocons captured one Republican president who was naïve about the world. Now, amid contagious Arab rage sparked on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, they have captured another would-be Republican president and vice president, both jejeune about the world.”

These worried conservatives became more concerned when neoconservative American Enterprise Institute foreign policy vice president Danielle Pletka endorsed Romney’s widely-promoted foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute as a “far cry from his previous perorations” and “a serious speech,” at bottom perhaps “even more than enough” to satisfy those of an interventionist neoconservative persuasion.

It is clear neoconservatives have high hopes for a Romney Commander-in-Chief. Neo high priest Bill Kristol was an early supporter and predicted his election on the basis of the foreign policy debate performance. Former Iraq coalition spokesman and leading neoconservative writer Dan Senior is a top official of Romney’s foreign policy team. Dowd calls him the “neocon puppet master” most responsible for the aggressive foreign policy stance of the Romney campaign. While he is a major voice for the campaign, the adverse reaction to Romney’s Jerusalem and British ventures under Senior’s direction have taken some of the luster off his influence.

To assess the degree Gov. Romney has or has not imbibed of the neocon cool-aid, it is necessary to look at precisely what he has said on foreign policy. No question the VMI speech was his most well-considered, and its rhetoric was hot. But I agree with author and columnist Fareed Zakaria that the substance of the VMI speech was “surprisingly moderate. It signaled no major change of policy. Romney affirmed the timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan; he did not propose sending troops back into Iraq and did not advocate military strikes on Iran. He pledged to work toward a two state solution in the Middle East. He even left out the belligerence toward China that had been a staple of his speeches in recent months.”

Syria was the only area where he was more aggressive at VMI. Yet, Zakaria is correct that even here, Romney’s was a “carefully worded, passive construction” in which he did not say he would arm the Syrian opposition but merely that he would “ensure they obtain the arms they need.” But the “they” was only “those members of the opposition who share our values.” That indeed would be a very select group. In his foreign policy TV debate with President Obama, Romney ruled out use of either U.S. military force or enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria.

Even on the matter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Romney has made some careful comments. While he was rather conventional in the VMI speech and the debate supporting a two state solution and a secure Israel, at an earlier private May 17th fundraiser in Boca Raton, he was more forthcoming. He responded to a question on the “Palestinian problem” that “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.” While counting Israel as an ally, “There is not much that the United States can do, so you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.” He then compared that conflict to the one between China and Taiwan, arguing that “we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

Mr. Romney was the less belligerent in the debate on a range of issues. Former defense assistant secretary Bing West expressed it best: “A man from the moon, having read about the past five decades of American history and sent to Earth to listen to the foreign policy debate, would have concluded that the aggressive Mr. Obama was the conservative Republican and the inoffensive Mr. Romney was the moderate Democrat. Only gradually did it become clear that the Romney strategy was not to fight, but to woo. The difference between the genders in the choice of candidates has been striking, and Romney’s performance would lead no reasonable undecided voter, female or male, to worry he was too bellicose.”

 

Romney listens to many non-neoconservatives who may give him a more balanced view. Former Secretary of State James Baker is reported to have some influence. Realist former assistant secretary of state and Treasury Secretary Robert Zoelick heads the foreign policy section of the Romney transition. Romney advisor John Bolton is more hawkish than these but realist enough to have argued that the U.S. should have stuck with strongman Hosni Mubarak rather than the “democracy” of the Muslim Brotherhood now running Egypt.

It is also relevant that the Romney “moderation” since his nomination that concerns conservatives and libertarians on domestic policy likewise suggests a similar moderation on foreign policy. It is hard to picture Mr. Romney lusting to bring democracy to the world even when hearing him mouth some platitude to that effect. In the debate speaking about the Arab Spring, Romney said “we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam…reject this radical violent extremism.” He even distanced himself from President George W. Bush, saying: “We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan.” He summed that his policy was based on “principals of peace,” echoing Ronald Reagan’s 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter.

Mitt Romney will not be a perfect conservative or libertarian president, but there is no question he will be to the right domestically of Barack Obama who is a believing big government progressive who has been a disaster economically and socially and has no program for a second term except to drift further left, probably surreptitiously through regulations rather than by convincing Congress or the country. If his Oslo speech does not persuade one that the president is a conventional liberal internationalist on foreign affairs, perhaps his action to provide the necessary air support for the Libya intervention, which has zero prospects for a democratic future, would be sufficient to complete the case.

Will Romney be more realistic than Obama on foreign policy? One cannot know for sure. But neocon Pletka was disappointed that Romney “limped in distinguishing himself from Obama on Iran” in the VMI speech and “shied away from tougher talk about the challenge of an increasingly aggressive Peoples’ Republic of China.” Rich Lowry criticized Romney’s debate performance for being too weak on Afghanistan. Their disquiet may be the most prudent guide to those considering throwing away a vote to a third party candidate who cannot possibly win.

 

Donald Devine, the editor of ConservativeBattleline On Line, was the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management from 1981-1985 under Ronald Reagan and is Senior Scholar at The Fund for American Studies.

 

Photo Credit: davelawrence8 (Creative Commons)

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Conservative Law And Order

Roger Clemens SC Conservative Law and Order

Baseball Hall of Famer Roger Clemens has just been acquitted on all six charges of lying about taking drugs 14 years ago, after having faced trial two years previously from the same Federal prosecutors. Barry Bonds encountered a similar experience a few years earlier. The recent decision followed acquittal on one count and deadlock and dismissal on others for former Senator John Edwards for supposed campaign finance violations. In all three cases, the accused were charged and put in jeopardy for minor infractions carrying long sentences and so were forced to expend funds that few other American could afford to prove their innocence.

Even more seriously, Californian Frank O’Connell was charged and convicted of murder in 1985 based on eyewitness testimony and an ambiguous dying declaration by the victim. He served a quarter century in jail but was exonerated in 2012 after the key eyewitness admitted he never recognized the killer in the first place, and it was discovered that police had hidden evidence of other suspects and improperly influenced the now recanted identification procedure.

Conservatives have always been for law and order. But it is essential to understand what that phrase means. Obviously, there was some type of law and order even in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, but that, contrary to the hallucinations of the Left, is not the type of order conservatives propose.

Most conservatives recognize the arbitrariness of much of U.S. bureaucratic law these days, but what is more alarming is the increasingly capricious nature of criminal law. A National Registry of Exonerations from criminal convictions has recently been compiled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law to list all known exonerations in the United States since 1989. This registry now contains 891 case files of the estimated 2,000 legal exonerations as a result of pardons, dismissals, acquittals, or certificates of innocence during this period. DNA evidence has resulted in 37 percent of exonerations, 63 percent in cases of accused rape.

The cases are disturbing. A 56 percent majority of homicide exonerations resulted from misconduct by police or legal officialsThe leading contributing causes to these miscarriages of justice, 66 percent, were perjury or false accusation - mostly deliberate misidentifications (44%). Some exonerates were falsely implicated by a co-defendant who confessed. Including such cases, the convictions in 39 percent of homicide exonerations were caused in part by false confessions. Homicide exonerations represent 76 percent of all false confessions in the data. Juvenile and mentally disabled were, respectively, five times and nine times more likely to falsely confess than adults without known mental disabilities.

Or consider sexual assault exonerations. These resulted overwhelmingly, 80 percent, from cases with mistaken eyewitness identifications. A majority of 53 percent of all sexual assault exonerations resulted from mistaken eyewitness identifications involving black men who were accused of raping white women. The study suggests this huge racial disproportion (about 10 to 1) is probably caused primarily by the difficulty of cross-racial eyewitness identification. Many sexual assault cases also include bad forensic evidence (37%). Child sex abuse exonerations are even more troubling, primarily resulting from fabricated crimes that never occurred at all (74%). Robbery exonerations (like adult rape exonerations) are overwhelmingly cases with mistaken eyewitness identifications (81%).

Most exonerations depend on otherwise finding proof that someone other than the defendant actually committed the crime for which the defendant was convicted. Obviously, if in truth no crime occurred, no one else can be found. A small number of no-crime exonerations involve mistakes, usually cases in which a suicide or an accidental death is mistaken for homicide. Five exonerated defendants were convicted of killing or severely injuring infants by shaking them under circumstances that recent evidence has shown could not result in death. Six exonerated defendants were convicted of arson or murder based on forensic evidence that is now recognized as valueless. The investigators believe there are many more false convictions such as these.

Most no-crime exonerations are sexual assault cases in which the complaining witnesses fabricated crimes (89 of 129 cases). Most of these fictitious reports were child sex abuse cases (70). Two-thirds of the child sex abuse exonerations are child sex abuse hysteria convictions from the 1980s and early 1990s. By far, the largest concentrations of no-crime cases are group exonerations: at least 1,170 defendants were exonerated in the aftermath of the discovery of 13 major scandals around the country in which police officers fabricated crimes, usually by planting drugs or guns on innocent defendants.

As the Report concedes, “even 2,000 exonerations over 23 years is a tiny number in a country with 2.3 million people in prison and jails.” The problem is that we do not know how many others exist, and logic suggests there must be more. “If we could spot them easily they wouldn’t happen in the first place.” Moreover, 83 percent of the exonerations were for the serious crimes of murder and rape, but these represent only two percent of crimes. Surely, criminal actions that receive less publicity have similar problems. It is difficult to know. The Center for Wrongful Convictions will not even investigate if a prisoner has less than ten years to serve given limited resources, the time necessary to gather the facts and the greater stakes involved elsewhere.

The problem is compounded by the fact that 90 percent of criminal convictions today are by plea bargaining. It is enormously difficult to exonerate someone who pleads guilty, although given the errors we know about, some accused who are not guilty fear going to court to receive even harsher sentences. Indeed, the files show 135 people who confessed to a crime who were later exonerated. Sixty percent of these exonerations were originally based on coerced confessions. Even assume that this is rare. There is something very disturbing about a legal system that the vast majority of accused people is afraid to use.

The American public views violent crime as the more serious, but half of state and ninety percent of national prisoners are jailed for nonviolent crimes. There are so many of these today; a popular book is titled Three Felonies a Day, saying that a number of crimes are committed by average persons every day without even knowing it. Narrowing the number of supposed crimes is a first step so that the law can at least be known. As far as sentencing non-violent criminals, certainly more can be done with supervised restitution regimes paid to victims, fines, more effective probation, house arrests with electronic monitoring, weekend jail time, halfway houses, public shaming such as on neighborhood billboards, and other such punishments rather than jail that many consider more effective in reducing future crimes.

Even restricting the number of crimes will still leave murder, assault, robbery, rape and sexual battery, and the rest. Of course, violent crime is a serious business that needs to be controlled, and prisons will be necessary for some. Even for serious crimes, alternatives are possible such as required alcohol or drug breathalyzers, turning off ignitions for dangerous drivers, or even chemical castration for repeat sexual offenders. Unfortunately, it is not even clear much crime is prevented by punishment regimes anyway since the legal system normally acts only after something happens. Obviously, once convicted, a guilty criminal is placed where he cannot hurt society again – and that is necessary. But 67 percent of prisoners commit similar crimes within three years of release, and that suggests the present system does not work very well.

Americans used to be more creative. The Declaration of Independence was to a great degree a rejection of using a professional standing army quartered on the people to control them. The Constitution specifically wrote in local militia clauses, time restrictions on military appropriations, protections of habeas corpus, and a 10th Amendment limiting national control. As noted by historian George Liebmann, even a professionalized police force in the U.S. is only a bit more than a century old, and for 600 years in the mother country and from the birth of the U.S., order was kept by a local elected constable responsible to a small community whose purpose was to deter rather than apprehend, relying primarily on consensus rather than force. This lone constable was backed only by a neighborhood watch and then by a posse commitatus and militia of all adult citizens, supervised by a circuit-riding judge.

The best and most just anti-crime program creates an order that prevents crime from occurring in the first place. In his wonderfully creative book Neighborhoods Future, Liebmann reports the interesting fact that dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the modern professionalized and militarized police force has led to a “spontaneous recreation of the earlier institutions. Today, nearly 30 percent of the American population lives in residential-community associations with elected officers, a large percentage of which have assumed some security functions.”  Wanted posters have moved to neighborhoods, shopping bags, and local newspapers; neighborhood policing has been revived; and gated communities and neighborhood watches have grown exponentially with little or no national encouragement or even attention.

News stories are usually limited to very rare examples of violence such as the recent killing of Trayvon Martin by watch volunteer George Zimmerman.  Even if he overreacted, it is clear that Zimmermann was injured by Martin and that the community had created a neighborhood watch to keep a peace they thought was threatened. In fact, neighborhood watches do limit crime. These watches tend to be limited to more affluent areas, but there is no reason they could not be encouraged everywhere since costs are minor. Deputy New York City Mayor Stephen Goldsmith was notable in encouraging what he called “municipal federalism” as Indianapolis mayor and in New York, and Liebmann demonstrates that sub-local institutions still flourish in the U.S and throughout the world. That should be the model for a true conservative law and order program.

A criminal justice system is the first responsibility of government, and none can be perfect. But there are too many errors in the present system: it is too adversarial, too bureaucratic, too nitpicking, too large, too focused on locking people up, and, generally, too unimaginative. Conservative ideas about decentralization, experimentation, and restricted scope of criminalized behavior can help to make it better, more humane, and more efficient in promoting order.

Donald Devine, the editor of ConservativeBattleline On Line, was the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management from 1981-1985 under Ronald Reagan and is Senior Scholar at The Fund for American Studies.

Photo credit: Michael P. Whelan (Creative Commons)

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