Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Legal Actions Against Military Chaplains Pose Threat to Religious Freedom

The German submarine struck in the wee small hours, and despite all the precautions of its captain and crew, the USS Dorchester was hit hard and deep, and went down like a stone. The torpedo destroyed the ship’s electrical system, plunging those of the 900-plus soldiers aboard still alive into near total darkness, even before it took them down into the icy sea.

Only 230 would survive the sinking; many of them owed their lives at least in part to four chaplains who moved quickly amid the pitch-black corridors and general panic to herd them up on deck, then help them into life jackets and lifeboats. There weren’t enough of either.

When the life jackets ran out, all four of the chaplains instantly took off theirs. Though they represented four very different faiths, Methodist George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Catholic Priest John Washington, and Dutch Reformed Clark Poling made no effort to get their own last hope of survival into the hands of someone who shared their religious convictions; they just gave their jackets to the nearest outstretched hand.

None of the four tried to board one of the already overcrowded boats. They were last seen arm-in-arm, standing on the fast-tilting deck, singing hymns and praying together as the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic rapidly rose to engulf them.

In the years after that February 1943 tragedy, the nation honored the chaplains’ sacrifice with medals and monuments, their memory paintings and books, even an official day of remembrance. But somehow, many today have lost their respect for a particularly crucial aspect of their heroism that dark night.

To Americans of the World War era, the importance of faith—and admiration for those who held to their faith even in the face of chaos, fear, and death—was a given. Not everyone was a churchgoer, of course, but most recognized the critical role people of faith and their love of religious freedom had played in the nation’s founding.

They also understood, almost intuitively, that religious liberty was the linchpin that held all other civil liberties in place. After all, if you can take away a man’s right to honor and follow his conscience, it’s short work to rob him of his freedom to speak, to gather, to bear arms.

Polls seem to indicate that Americans today don’t necessarily share that understanding with the “Greatest Generation.” And efforts outside the military to crush religious freedom indicate that faith—even in this most recent time of chaos, fear, and death—no longer enjoys the same respect … or protections.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, for example, has moved aggressively during the coronavirus quarantine to urge crackdowns on overt expressions of faith by chaplains—acting on and encouraging the complaints of servicemen and women who are undaunted by foreign adversaries but apparently deeply afraid that a military chaplain might actually share his or her faith in a military setting.

Since COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, MRFF has filed complaints against chaplains around the country who have shared video sermons on military installation webpages (a legally approved forum), persuaded Facebook to remove videos of chaplains ’prayers, and pushed for formal charges against a Korea-stationed chaplain who shared a religious book with his subordinates as a ministry tool (no chaplain was required to read, much less use, the book).

The group even demanded and received a public apology from a Christian who shared hymns and encouragement from the balcony of his military housing apartment.

Presumably, MRFF and the military personnel it represents would want members of the military and their families to find comfort, strength, and hope during these difficult days of world pandemic—they just don’t want those encouragements coming from God, or from those who take God seriously.

Clearly, these activists have little appreciation for the critical role chaplains have long played in ministering to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the men and women of our armed forces. One almost wonders if, offered a lifejacket that night when the Dorchester went down, they’d have felt duty-bound to reject it as some unseemly expression of those chaplains’ faith. Or held out until some worthy atheist was willing to part with his.

These anti-Christian accusations by the MRFF are not only unjust to today’s military chaplains—they present an unworthy response to the legacy of the many courageous and conscientious chaplains who have served our military across the centuries … and reveal a sad contempt for America’s rich heritage of religious freedom.


Is this Really a Post-Liberal Era?

Even before the COVID-19 virus swept round the world, there was a growing chorus of voices declaring that the world was shifting from one political era to another and that in particular we were moving into a post-liberal era. The term ‘post-liberal’ began to spread as both a description and a self-identified label. These kinds of claims have become even more widespread as the pandemic and government responses to it have dominated the headlines.

There is a widespread, and understandable, feeling that an event of such magnitude marks some kind of dividing line or turning point.

What is interesting is the number of people who think that turn is from a liberal era of politics to a post-liberal one, in which, presumably, liberal ideas and policies are part of what is left behind. This doesn’t necessarily follow from the perception that the pandemic is some kind of watershed – why not a move to some other kind of future? It derives therefore from a feeling about the dominant features of the recent past and a growing perception of what the experience of the pandemic reveals.

In some sense the argument is correct but we need to understand how it is correct (because that sense is limited and specific). Liberals of all types should not despair and feel they are like Sir Edward Grey watching the lights of liberal civilisation go out all over Europe: if they understand better where we are then the new state of affairs could end up being an improvement over the way they have been for the last two to three decades.

What though does this glib phrase post-liberal actually mean? If we unwrap the term it has two implications or wider meanings. Firstly, the ‘post’ prefix implies that we have been in a liberal era, one in which liberal ideas and policies were dominant. This is a widespread view on the political left and also among a certain kind of conservative or right-wing thinker.

These very different people all believe that public debate and policy has been dominated by specifically liberal (or more narrowly ‘neoliberal’) ideas such as free markets, globalism and open borders, cultural and intellectual individualism, and limited government. One such person has gone so far as to claim that Ludwig von Mises has been the most influential economist of the last forty years.

Secondly, the term suggests that we have left this liberal dominated world behind us and are moving into a different one where non-liberal ideas will dominate public debate, without it necessarily being an anti-liberal world. The idea is that some of the legacy of the liberal period will survive. This kind of perspective is exactly the one that began to appear before that fateful Summer of 1914 and which became almost a commonplace in the years after the War.

The first of these meanings will provoke grim amusement among many classical liberals and individualists. In fact, the idea that we have been living through decades when public argument and policy were dominated by ideas of free markets, limited government, and individualism will provoke hysterical laughter from many. If only this were true, they will say.

However this is partly a matter of where one stands: a socialist or conservative will be more impressed by how far things have indeed moved in a liberal direction (or, more importantly, what they see as a liberal direction) whereas a liberal will be more struck by movement in the opposite direction or by how limited any movement that has taken place has been. In this context, as always, it helps to have historical perspective.

What this tells us is that the critics of liberalism have a point: over the longer term of several decades there has been a movement in a liberal direction, in several senses of that word. In particular there has been a decline in the coherence and influence of clearly non- or anti-liberal ways of thinking and acting. This is not merely or even primarily a matter of politics. In the more recent past, the last thirty years to be precise, that movement has taken a form that many liberals of all types are uncomfortable with, which is another reason why they do not recognise the picture painted by their critics.

In the longer term it makes sense to look back to the later 1940s. At that point liberalism of all kinds was at a low ebb and this remained the case for some time thereafter. Even though fascism (and indirectly, reactionary conservatism) had been defeated in World War II, anti-liberal ideas were still widespread and influential. In both the US and the UK there was a tense political and intellectual contest over whether to retain the extensive state controls that were put in place during the war and the outcome was in doubt for some time.

More obviously there was still a global threat from explicitly anti-liberal ideas, backed up by armed force. The big case was international communism, in the shape of the USSR and its foreign supporters but there was also the revolutionary nationalism that had captured many anti-colonial movements during the interwar years. There was also traditional despotism in places like Latin America and the Middle East, which the liberal West tolerated or even supported for geopolitical reasons. Even in the democratic nations liberals, both classical and revisionist, were very much a minority.

Democratic politics (which accepted and built on the achievements of nineteenth century liberalism) was dominated by traditions that had emerged during the crisis of classical liberalism at the end of the nineteenth century; democratic conservatism or Christian democracy on the right, social democracy on the left. At that point both of those traditions were non-liberal in their philosophy and much of their policy. Liberals had no choice but to make alliances of convenience with one or both of these traditions.

From the mid-1960s onwards these efforts, and the intellectual work of scholars, were partly successful. To simplify what was a complex process, classical or free market liberals persuaded democratic conservatives to move towards economic liberalism while both types of liberal succeeded in pushing social democrats towards social liberalism. (We often forget that before the 1960s or 1970s social democrats and labor movements were very socially conservative, as much if not more so than actual conservatives).

Later on, after 1990, there was some success in persuading a few conservatives of the good side of social liberalism and some social democrats of the benefits of economic liberty. In this sense the people mentioned earlier are correct; there was a movement towards liberalism in the years after 1970 and liberal ideas and policies did spread.

However, this does need to be heavily qualified. While the right became economically liberal and the left socially liberal, neither side bought into the entire liberal package or its underlying principles. Although liberal ideas and some of their policy applications had become more influential, liberalism as such had not. What emerged instead was a curious kind of hybrid.

In 1989-90 the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. China, while remaining a despotic state ruled by a ruthless oligarchy, was already no longer communist in a meaningful sense. At this point it seemed that liberal ideas of various varieties were triumphant. They had taken over the main democratic ideologies and now the other great anti-liberal force of the twentieth century had perished. It is the thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall that the critics are truly thinking of when they declare that we have lived through an era of liberalism (neo or otherwise) that we are now leaving behind us.

It seemed as though there was no other ideology left standing, as Francis Fukuyama famously declared. And yet, as already intimated, this supposed triumph was negative rather than positive. It was not that liberal ideas were now consciously and openly held and dominant. Rather it was that explicitly and openly anti-liberal ones had been discredited.

What happened therefore was the adoption of liberal policies in some areas but as a matter of technique or supposedly impartial expertise rather than as the consequence and expression of an actual philosophy. So far as the dominant politics of the last thirty years can be said to have a philosophy behind it, it is best described as technocratic managerialism, a belief in the ability of applied knowledge to devise the best way of organising economic and social life and, increasingly, private life as well.

This found expression in two kinds of public policy that the critics now deprecate. The first was a political economy that while apparently pro-market saw market relations as something that was created and sustained by a technocratic state and expert economists, instead of being something that emerged from what people did when they were left alone. In concrete terms this increasingly meant an economy that was organised and run to favour specific interests; in class terms those of a managerial class defined by professional certification, in institutional ones a network of large firms above all ones involved in finance.

A central part of this was an increasingly deranged monetary policy that, like an insidious drug, began to have cumulatively damaging effects on the economic fabric. The second was a social policy that promoted a kind of social and cultural individualism but one removed from concrete social relations and responsibilities. This went along with an expansion of state welfare and income transfers, for reasons that combined egalitarianism with individualism.

The central fact was that there were no more consistent and self-aware liberals, of either variety, than there had been in the early 1960s, even if their ideas had a wider hearing. Moreover, the core beliefs had lost something of their coherent identity and had become as much a matter of technique as principle. This kind of technocratic politics could not survive indefinitely, because it begged a whole series of foundational questions (in the correct sense of that expression).

Slowly, non-liberal or explicitly anti-liberal ideas and philosophies came back together and found new expression. On the right this has taken several forms; a revival of traditional reactionary conservatism (particularly in Europe but also in the Anglosphere), the appearance of an overtly anti-liberal form of religious thought; and the appearance in electoral politics of a politics that combines nationalism and economic dirigisme with hostility to cosmopolitanism and social liberalism.

On the left there are two tendencies that are increasingly in bitter conflict with each other as well as with both actual liberal ideas and the current style of politics. The first is a revival of classical socialism and even Marxism, as found in publications such as Jacobin magazine. The second is what is commonly described as the Social Justice Warrior left, a kind of politics that derives ultimately from post-modernism and combines a radically subjectivist idea of identity with a tribalistic notion of social life and a highly intolerant view of public discourse.

All of these are self-consciously opposed to the status quo, which they see as an expression of liberalism, and to liberal ideas in a more profound sense. They are also increasingly politically successful, even before the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has triggered.

This looks like a bad situation and in some ways it is: but, it may well trigger a beneficial response. The situation and experience of liberals in the post-War world led to an attenuation of their ideas and identity, even as their influence increased in some ways. The present position means that liberals in general and classical liberals in particular have to rediscover their foundational principles (which should not be conflated with a particular kind of policy perspective) and to become more aware of their own distinctive philosophical and ideological identity.

When confronted by explicitly anti-liberal politics the only way forward is to give a comprehensively liberal response. This will mean three things: a rearticulation of core or essential liberal ideas and values, such as that of personal autonomy and a strictly limited sphere of politics (which is more than small government); a concern with and exploration of the whole range of liberal thought on a wide range of questions, rather than a narrow fixation on one area or discipline; and a coming together of the divided parts of the liberal tradition, that agree on the fundamentals but disagree on one area (such as economics).

Political identities and traditions are often formed in response to a challenge by their opposite. After 1945 that opposite for liberals came from one location, which led to a series of tactical alliances. Faced now with anti-liberal assaults from several directions we much hope that a coherent liberal identity re-emerges in response. If that happens then we have clearer and more definitely liberal thought and action in the supposedly post-liberal era than we actually had before.


Israeli Annexation May Give Palestinians the Push They Need

Jeff Jacoby
Sometime this summer, Israel’s new government — a broad left-right unity coalition — may move ahead with plans to formally annex about 30 percent of the West Bank, applying Israeli civilian law to the Jordan Valley and to Jewish settlements established after 1967, when Israel seized the territory in the Six-Day War. It has formally been under military occupation ever since, while its permanent status has been up for negotiation.

While Israel will act only if it gets a green light from the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signaled that the Trump administration will not object. “That’s an Israeli decision,” Pompeo said last month. “And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in [a] private setting.”

Within Israel’s government, there is a solid consensus in favor of annexation. But much of the world has reacted to the prospect with condemnation.

On Tuesday, the French government warned Israel that any move to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank would damage relations with the European Union. The German government and the Palestinian Authority issued a joint statement calling annexation a “clear violation of international law” that would “seriously undermine” the likelihood of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, angrily declared (not for the first time) that he would abrogate all agreements made with Israel and the United States. There were denunciations from Russian and Vatican diplomats. Jordan’s King Abdullah II predicted a “massive conflict” if Israel goes ahead with annexation.

In the United States, Democratic voices joined the chorus of opposition. “I do not support annexation,” former Vice President Joe Biden told participants in an online fundraiser. Three Democratic senators circulated a letter avowing that annexation “would fray our unique bonds, imperil Israel’s future, and place out of reach the prospect of a lasting peace.” More than 30 former Democratic foreign policy officials called for adding language criticizing Israel and supporting Palestinian rights in the 2020 Democratic Party platform.

Faced with such antagonism, wouldn’t Israel be better off shelving the whole annexation idea?


For all the fulminating about the threat annexation poses to a “two-state solution,” the scenario being contemplated by Israel would not prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. None of the territory currently administered by the Palestinian Authority would be annexed, nor any Palestinian population center. The purpose of annexation is to extend Israeli sovereignty to existing Jewish communities that have long been seen as destined to remain part of Israel in any peace deal. That would still leave more than two-thirds of the West Bank, plus all of Gaza, for a sovereign Palestinian state.

But statehood has never been the goal of the Palestinian movement. Time and again, Palestinian leaders have been offered a “two-state solution.” Time and again they have said no. In 2000, Israel was willing to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, plus shared control of Jerusalem, only to be spurned by Yasser Arafat. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert repeated the offer to Abbas in 2008; he too was turned down. Not even Barack Obama, the most Palestinian-friendly president ever, could elicit a “yes” from the Palestinian Authority.

The root of the conflict has never been land; it has always been the refusal of Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state. That is why the “land for peace” strategy repeatedly failed. Unlike Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, who was prepared to accept Israel’s existence in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula, Palestinian leaders have steadfastly insisted that the land “from the river to the sea” must be cleansed of Jews. Israel’s comprehensive withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 — when every settlement was dismantled and the entire territory turned over to Palestinian control — led not to peace, as so many expected, but to increased violence.

By contrast, the conflict tends to recede when Israel asserts its own sovereignty. There was international condemnation when Israel annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, but the controversy faded without more bloodshed. There was outrage when the US embassy in Israel was moved to Jerusalem two years ago, but that storm abated too. Indeed, Biden has said that if he is elected, the embassy will stay where it is.

The most significant development in Israel’s relations with its neighbors in recent years has been the dramatic rise in cooperation with the Sunni Arab countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates. Those warming ties, which stem from antipathy to Iran and its menacing “Shia Crescent,” have not been derailed by Israel’s unresolved friction with the Palestinians. There is no reason to expect annexation, if it happens, to change that. Almost as if to underscore the point, Etihad Airways on Tuesday flew its first direct commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv. There may be pro forma rebukes from the Arab League. But Israel’s Arab friends won’t go to the mat to support Palestinian intransigence.

Extending Israeli sovereignty to a small part of the West Bank not inhabited by Palestinians won’t change anything on the ground. But maybe, just maybe, it can jolt Abbas and the Palestinian Authority into recognizing that their adamant refusal to compromise is getting them nowhere.

“Annexation can be seen as a step towards ending the deadlock between the parties,” argues Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum, in The Hill. By demonstrating in concrete terms that rejectionism has consequences, annexation might persuade Palestinian leaders that time is not on their side. Granted, it’s a long shot. But Israel has little to lose by taking it. There will be a hullabaloo, but it will pass.


Advertisements need more scutiny for false information

Misinformation, hoaxes, and fake cures have run rampant on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Will new measures be enough?
It is a rare moment in history when you can say with absolute certainty that tomorrow will be a great day.

But this tomorrow most certainly will be. The nation’s first and largest state – Australia’s birthplace of public education – is reopening all schools to all students.

It is a great day for society, for the economy and most importantly it is a great day for our kids. Education is the best antidote to poverty and disadvantage and the greatest gift we can give our children.

And so how did the most vital role of society – that of raising and educating its next generation – get arbitrarily shut down or suspended on the basis of no hard evidence nor top-level medical advice.

How is panic and fake information spreading so far and wide? How do we have supposedly educated people demanding the shutdown of educational institutions with no evidence to support it? And how do we have genuine concerns about the impact of such shutdowns likewise overtaken by lunatics who believe coronavirus is a myth altogether? Or caused by the 5G network? Or a conspiracy engineered by Bill Gates?

A clue to this lies in a cunning little experiment undertaken by a canny little think tank called Responsible Technology Australia (RTA), which was recently established out of concern that perhaps internet and social media giants aren’t quite as responsible and righteous as they pretend to be.

The test case was the online megalopolis Facebook, which despite its mission statement of “bringing the world closer together”, has been infamously exposed for peddling fake news stories deliberately designed to sow division.

After this came to light, a supposedly chastened Facebook claimed that it would move heaven and earth to stop the spread of false and dangerous information, just like a good global citizen should.

Only this week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the BBC “we don't want misinformation to be the content that is going viral” and that Facebook had and would remove any content likely to result in “immediate and imminent harm” when it came to COVID-19 conspiracies.

And that’s great to hear. The only problem is it hasn’t and it didn’t.

To prove this, the people at Responsible Technology Australia set up a Facebook page called “Ozzie News Network” and then set about posting the most dangerous misinformation they could think of.

These included:

*  COVID-19 pandemic “advice” ads urging users to turn off their 5G, drink more water and get 30 minutes of daily sunshine

*  Saying the Australia-Indonesia free trade agreement was just a front to allow mass migration from Jakarta

*  Telling 18-year-olds not to bother to enrol to vote

*  Saying that the new 5G network will allow the Australian police to spy on you through your phone

*  Telling people the AEC has assessed they live in a safe electorate and therefore shouldn’t bother voting

These posts perpetuated obvious lies and misinformation posing as official advice. At worst they encouraged people to risk their lives and break the law. And the kicker is that they were posted as ads that Facebook both reviewed and approved.

There is absolutely no way on earth they would ever have been allowed to run in a responsible mainstream media outlet. Not News Corp, not Nine; nor Ten nor Seven nor anywhere with a pair of human eyes.

But still, a global giant like Facebook with billions of users could hardly be expected to notice everything that was posted on its millions of pages. Surely once it was brought to their attention the ads would be removed, right?

Wrong. Even after the group reported their own ads to Facebook for fake and dangerous misinformation they were still not taken down.

“No traditional publisher or broadcaster would ever run ads like this,” RTA’s executive director Chris Cooper told

“But not only did Facebook review and approve them, even when we repeatedly reported them as misinformation they were never taken down.”

Yes, even after RTA did Facebook’s job for it and flagged the fake ads, still no action was taken – even though anyone following their advice could be putting themselves at risk. So much so that the group deliberately targeted the ads to an audience which had already been informed they were fake and consented to receiving them to ensure they did not inadvertently spread dangerous information themselves.

“Our fake ads deliberately play on people's fears in ways we know are typical,” Cooper says.

“This experiment proves just how easy it is to spread fake news on Facebook, and it would be easier still for an experienced malicious foreign actor.”

The posts were finally removed only after approached Facebook for comment. The company confirmed they violated its policy.

“We’re aggressively going after misinformation about COVID-19 and have teams across the company dedicated to this effort,” a spokesperson said.

“We’ve applied warning labels to millions of pieces of misinformation and remove content that could lead to imminent harm.”

But the fact they were able to be posted in the first place, were spread for so long and were not removed even after being reported should send a chill down the spine of anyone who still believes in facts or whatever the world has left of reality.

We have social media giants policing opinions while publishing obviously false information for the sake of a few bucks. And all the while using the journalism of real news organisations to cannibalise the advertising revenue that allows real journalism to survive.

This is the perfect petri dish for fake news. An Essential poll this week found one in eight Australians believed Bill Gates was somehow responsible for the coronavirus and it was being spread by the 5G network.

The corona crisis has already shown that even argument among politicians and experts can produce catastrophic results for both lives and livelihoods. Adding endless idiotic opinions to the mix makes things far worse, yet for anyone who believes in free speech it is a necessary evil.

But peddling false facts for cash is another level of devilry altogether, especially when you are pretending to be on the side of the angels.

Facebook and other social media titans have already helped forge a wild new world where facts are determined by sentiment instead of science and reality is a matter of opinion. The result has been a decade riven by extremes: Crazed conspiracy theories, right-wing populism and left-wing socialist fantasies.

The chaos they have fuelled on global issues ranging from coronavirus to climate change is often quite literally a matter of life and death. Surely they have profited from it enough without pocketing every last cent from dangerous and dodgy propaganda – not to mention the pontification they serve up for free.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here

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