When I read about Pope Benedict quoting a fourteenth-century Christian’s attack on the integrity of Islam, I thought to myself, “How appropriate.” Western civilization seems to be drifting back to a mind set that was the norm before the age of reason. Trying to strengthen support for the church or for “Christian” governments by stirring up animosity toward Muslims is just one example.
Another is the preference for religious ideology over scientific inquiry. For example: the refusal to accept the evidence of climate change brought about by the release of green house gases, the refusal of the FDA to accept the recommendations of their advisory panel of scientists in regard to the “morning after” pill, the refusal of the administration to support stem cell research, and the refusal to accept evolution and the transmutation of species as the basis for the understanding of biology. Somehow the responses to Copernicus and Galileo come to mind.
The use of torture in attempts to extract information and confessions has come back into fashion. I thought that with the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791, at least in this country, we accepted the principle that no person could be compelled to be a witness against himself. If the principle doesn’t hold any longer for non-citizens, how long will it be before any accused person can be put on the rack?
Although the right of habeas corpus may not have been as firmly established by the Magna Carta in 1215 as I was taught in high school, the principle was deemed to be sufficiently important to be embodied in the 1789 Constitution of the United States (Article I, Section 9). When I read that the new national security laws permit the government to deny habeas corpus to green card holders, I thought of my son-in-law Slavčo, and my blood ran cold. He has black hair and a dark complexion. All it would take for him to be locked up indefinitely without recourse to the courts would be for someone to accuse him of having a terrorist connection. Locking up suspicious people indefinitely was a primary way for the church and the king to maintain order in the middle ages and earlier in human history.
Tax farming was common in biblical days and continued to be practiced for centuries, but I never expected to see in this country contractors making a living by a percentage of the back taxes that they can extract from helpless delinquents. Although the government could increase tax revenues more efficiently by expanding the number of IRS agents, that approach would go against the promise to slim down the federal government. The government would probably net $1.1 billion from private debt collectors over 10 years, compared with the $87 billion that could be reaped if the agency hired more revenue officers, as former commissioner Charles O. Rossotti has recommended.