Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Hornberger’s Blog, November 2008


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Guns and Ammo Deter Tyranny
by Jacob G. Hornberger

You may have noticed the many articles detailing the big run-up in the sale of guns and ammunition since the November elections. Apparently gun owners are concerned that President-elect Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress will enact bans on semi-automatic weapons and ammo.

Of course, that begs the question: What do they need all these weapons and ammunition for?

Well, one reason for the increase in demand might be simply the forbidden-fruit concept. Once government makes something illegal, it becomes more attractive to some people to have it.

Another possible reason is the fear of civil unrest. If such were to happen, people with guns would have the ability to deter marauding criminal gangs or to defend themselves from them.

Of course, some gun owners might want more guns for hunting, although it would seem that that would be the least likely reason for the big run-up in gun and ammunition sales.

Regardless of the particular motives of the gun and ammo buyers, we should never lose sight of the core reason that our American ancestors enshrined the right to keep and bear arms within the Second Amendment. That core reason is this: so that the American people could protect themselves through violent action from the tyranny of their very own federal government.

Now, that notion is shocking to some modern-day Americans. In their view, the federal government is their provider, their friend, and their benefactor. It’s the entity that bails them out of financial crises. It gives them their food stamps. It protects them from the terrorists, the drug dealers, the Muslims, and the illegal aliens. It helps their children get an education. It provides their retirement and healthcare.

Why in the world would Americans need to have weapons to protect themselves from their chief provider, protector, and benefactor?

The answer is simple: The federal government is the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people. That’s correct — it’s not the terrorists, the communists, the Muslims, the drug dealers, the illegal aliens, or any foreign dictator that constitutes the biggest threat to the American people. The biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people is the federal government itself.

In fact, the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights is an explicit acknowledgement of that fact. That’s why those documents place express constraints on the powers of federal officials.

Could things ever get so bad that Americans would have to take up arms against their own government? Of course they could. That’s the whole idea behind the Second Amendment — to provide people with the means of violent resistance should such ever become necessary. Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals referred to this concept as a “doomsday” provision — one that is unlikely ever to have be used but which is critically important to have. Here’s what he wrote in the case of Silveira v. Lockyer:

“The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

Ironically, the current increase in gun and ammunition sales makes the prospect of tyranny less likely. The reason is obvious: When would-be tyrants know that people have the means to resist tyranny with violence, the would-be tyrants are more cautious about implementing their tyrannical plans.

What is the first thing U.S. officials do when they invade some Third World country? They ensure that the citizenry remain disarmed. Why do they do that? To ensure that people readily obey whatever orders are issued to them. U.S. officials know what foreign dictators know: that a disarmed citizenry is an obedient citizenry.

Now, let’s assume an enormous crisis in which federal officials are threatening tyrannical measures against the American populace. At their staff meetings, at least one of the would-be tyrannical bureaucrats is certain to say, “Hey, this isn’t some Third-World country where everyone is disarmed and therefore obedient. This is the United States of America, where people have stockpiled enormous amounts of weaponry and ammunition in their homes. If we adopt these harsh tyrannical measures, things could get pretty nasty. I say we back off.”

Thus, the right to keep and bear arms not only serves as a sort of doomsday insurance policy in the event the worst were to happen, it also, at the same time, serves as an enormous deterrent to tyranny. The Second Amendment keeps Americans safe not only from burglars, thieves, and robbers but also from would-be tyrants.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The al-Marri Case Affects Us All
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Today the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to consider what is quite possibly the most important legal case in our lifetime. While the case involves a foreign citizen, Ali al-Marri, its outcome affects the freedom of every single American, especially those who wish to maintain the freedom to criticize the policies of the federal government in the future, especially during periods of crisis.

An editorial in today’s New York Times and an op-ed in today’s LA Times call on the Supreme Court to accept the case and to rule in favor of al-Marri. I highly recommend reading both articles.

In the last seven years, FFF supporters might have asked themselves, “Why has FFF taken a leading role in the defense of civil liberties? ” The al-Marri case provides a good answer to that question: Because the achievement of a free society will be extremely difficult if the government power at issue in the al-Marri case is upheld. That’s why we have repeatedly addressed the al-Marri case for the last five years:

Crossing the Rubicon” (2003) by Jacob G. Hornberger
Pentagon Learns About the Sixth Amendment” (2004) by Jacob G. Hornberger
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri: Charge Him or Release Him” (2005) by Jacob G. Hornberger
How the “Enemy Combatant” Label Is Being Used.” (2005) by Jesselyn Radack
Foreign Policy Threatens Our Freedom” (2005) by Jacob G. Hornberger
Bush’s Tyranny Thwarted – For Now” (2007) by Sheldon Richman
A Federal Inanity in the Fourth Circuit” (2007) by Jacob G. Hornberger
The Enemy Combatant Attack on Freedom” (2008) by Jacob G. Hornberger
The Fourth Circuit’s Ominous Decision ” (2008) by Jacob G. Hornberger
The Pentagon’s Bizarre “Judicial” System” (2008) by Jacob G. Hornberger
Crossing the Rubicon, Revisited” (2008) by Jacob G. Hornberger

The al-Marri case involves the power of the military to take any American — repeat any American, including newspaper editors, government critics, and dissidents — into custody and imprison him for the rest of his life as an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terrorism.” No grand jury indictment. No bail. No trial by jury. Just indefinite imprisonment in a military dungeon or prison camp and the possibility of being tortured or abused.

The assumption of such power, if upheld, would constitute one of the greatest transformations of power and liberty in American history. It would fortify the federal government’s position as master and that of the citizens as servants.

While Americans who were rounded up could still file petitions for a writ of habeas corpus, all that the government would have to do at the habeas corpus hearing is provide a bit of evidence establishing the person’s ties to terrorists. Upon the presentment of such evidence, the habeas corpus petition would be denied because there is no way that a judge is going to challenge the president and the Pentagon on military matters, especially during some big crisis involving “national security.”

Of course, a habeas corpus petition assumes that the military is going to let multitudes of “enemy combatants” contact their lawyers. How likely is that in the midst of a big crisis?

Why should Americans be concerned? After all, it’s just a foreigner they’re doing this to, right? Well, not exactly. They also did it to a man named Jose Padilla, who is an American. The point is this: If the power to do these things to al-Marri and Padilla is upheld, the power will automatically extend to all Americans.

One might be tempted to say, “Oh, there’s nothing to be concerned about. They’re only doing it to one or two people. It’s not like they’re rounding up hundreds or thousands.”

That’s not the way these types of tyrannical powers generally work. When they come into play is when there is a big crisis or emergency, when people are fearful and will support whatever the government is doing. At that point — in the midst of some big crisis — is when President Obama and the Pentagon would be most tempted to employ the powers they acquired in the al-Marri and Padilla cases.

And at that point, it will be too late for people to say, “Gosh, I sure hope this is stopped” because those who will be saying that will be in immediate danger of being among those being rounded up.

There are those who might be tempted to say, “But, golly, that could never happen in the United States.” They’re wrong. After all, don’t forget that it was our very own government that rounded up Japanese Americans and incarcerated them in the midst of a big wartime crisis. And don’t forget that there were officials in our very own government who supported the round up, torture, and execution of government critics and dissidents by military dictator Augustine Pinochet in Chile in the midst of a crisis.

Would U.S. troops obey orders to round up Americans? Of course they would, especially in the middle of big crisis. After all, how many U.S. soldiers have refused to participate in the jailing of al-Marri and Jose Padilla? How many have protested against such actions? How many of them have protested kidnappings, murders, tortures, and renditions by the CIA and the Pentagon?

The reason they don’t disobey orders or protest is because they put their faith in the president’s judgment, especially when “national security ” is at stake. In the minds of the troops, when they obey the orders of their commander in chief, they’re supporting and defending the Constitution and putting their lives on the line for their country. In the midst of a big crisis, the last thing the troops are going to do is question the president’s judgment on matters relating to war, enemy combatants, and national security.

There is no way a society can be considered free when the government wields the power to round up its citizens, incarcerate them without trial, and even torture them. Such power is the ultimate power in any dictatorship. Such rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to trial by jury become meaningless in the face of the power of government to simply go to your home, take you into custody, lock you up, throw away the key, and abuse you.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bailout Robbery
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Given all the talk about bailing out U.S. automakers, Citigroup, AIG, American banks, and others, the focus has primarily been on whether the bailouts will be successful, at least in terms of resolving the economic and financial crises facing America. That’s the basic rationale government officials provide for bailing out these companies.

We should, however, never lose sight of the fundamental immorality of what exactly is taking place with these bailouts. What government officials are doing is forcibly taking money from one group of people and transferring it to another group of people.

How moral is that? When private people do something like that, we call it theft and robbery.

Suppose I own a company that produces hats. For decades, the hats have been extremely popular with consumers, resulting in enormous sales and profits for my company. But one day, consumer tastes suddenly shift. People no longer like wearing hats. Sales plummet, profits disappear, and we start suffering losses.

I decide to take matters into my own hands. I hire some goons who proceed to go out in the street and begin accosting people. Holding a gun to their heads, they hold them up and extract $25 from each of them, which is the average cost of one of my hats. At the end of the month, they return with the loot and hand it over to me. After giving the goons their cut, it turns out that good times have returned to my firm. Profits are up, bonuses are paid, and everyone is happy again.

Everyone can easily see the wrongfulness of what I’ve done, right? I have stolen people’s money to make up for my losses from a drop in sales brought about by a change in consumer tastes. I will be indicted for the criminal offenses of theft and robbery, and rightfully so.

Suppose my company was in the top 10 of the Fortune 500, operated in all 50 states, and employed thousands of people. Would that make any difference? No, not in a moral sense. Taking people’s money against their will would still constitute theft and robbery no matter how much good it does my company, its employees, and the nation.

The basic moral principles is this: It’s wrong for me to take someone else’s money by force. The fact that I’m saving my company and keeping thousands of people from being unemployed is irrelevant. That is not a legitimate defense to stealing and robbing, either in a moral sense or a legal one.

Even though the recipients of the bailout money are using government goons, rather than private goons, to do the dirty work, the moral principle is no different. The IRS is forcibly taking money from people all over America — taxpayers — and transferring it to companies who are suffering financial losses in the marketplace.

Even if the government borrows the money to give to the companies, those loans must ultimately be paid back. The way that’s done is through taxes.

An important feature about a free-market economy is that the consumer, not the producer, is the sovereign. Anyone is free to start a business but he takes the chance that no one will buy his product. If people aren’t interested in his product, he has no right to force them to purchase it or to take their money from them when they don’t.

Thus, in a free-market system consumers decide which sellers are going to stay in business and which ones are not going to stay in business. And consumers can be fickle and heartless. Most of the time, they’re only interested in buying the best product for the least amount of money, not whether businesses are going to suffer financial harm because of their consumption decisions.

Moreover, oftentimes producers make bad or incorrect decisions with respect to the investments they make with the firm’s retained earnings. Who bears the responsibility for those decisions? The consumer? The taxpayer? Of course not. The firm itself, which made the bad investment decisions, bears the responsibility.

The U.S. government does not have a giant pool of self-produced wealth that it has at its disposal to dispense to private companies. The bailouts entail government’s use of force to take money from people to whom it rightfully belongs and giving it to people to whom it does not belong. That robbery might be legal, but it’s certainly not moral.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More CIA Killings, Lies, and Cover-Ups
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In June 2001 I wrote an article entitled “Drug-War Killings in Peru,” which condemned the CIA’s participation in the drug-war killings of a 35-year-old missionary named Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old baby Charity. They had been flying in a small private plane in Peru when CIA officials advised the Peruvian military that the plane might be smuggling drugs. A Peruvian military plane proceeded to shoot down the plane, only to find that it was all a mistake. More fortunate was Bowers’ husband, who survived the attack.

In 2005, the Justice Department shut down its investigation into the matter without prosecuting anyway based partly on representations by the CIA that it had followed standard drug-war procedures prior to the shoot-down.

According to a 2008 report by the CIA’s inspector general, it turns out that CIA officials knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately lied to investigators and covered up CIA wrongdoing in the killings. According to the New York Times :

“According to Mr. Helgerson’s report, C.I.A. officials ‘within hours’ of the downing explained the accident as a one-time mistake in an otherwise sound counternarcotics program. ‘In fact, this was not the case,’ the report said. It said that the C.I.A. repeatedly misled the White House and Congress between 1995 and 2001 about the Peru operation. The inspector general’s report said that after the downing of the missionaries’ plane, the C.I.A. had conducted internal reviews ‘that documented sustained and significant violations of required intercept procedures.’ But it said that the agency had denied Congress, the Department of Justice and the National Security Council access to these findings. Mr. Hoekstra said Thursday that the inspector general’s investigation specifically named C.I.A. officials responsible for the alleged cover-up, but he declined to name those officers.”

Republican Congressman Peter J. Hoekstra, who released unclassified portions of the report, observed, “This is about as ugly as it gets.”

Will the Justice Department pursue criminal prosecutions against the CIA officials involved in the lying and cover-up, as it did against Martha Stewart?

Will U.S. officials ask Peru to indict the CIA agents involved in the killings for murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide?

Don’t hold your breath.

As most everyone knows, the CIA is not just above the law, it is the law. And the CIA knows what everyone else knows — that few members of Congress and the executive branch will dare to touch an agency whose power is omnipotent and whose mission includes murder, assassination, torture, spying, and destruction.

After all, has any CIA official been indicted for the murder or torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Of course not. How many members of Congress have criticized that?

Has any CIA official been extradited to Italy to stand trial for kidnapping? Of course not. How many members of Congress have criticized that?

Has any CIA official been indicted for kidnapping and renditioning Maher Arar to Syria, whose government President Bush (falsely) claims U.S. officials don’t talk to, for the purpose of torture? Of course not. How many members of Congress have criticized that?

While we’re on the subject of the CIA, given that tomorrow is the 45th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, wouldn’t that be a good day for the CIA to finally release all its files on the JFK assassination — well, at least the ones the CIA hasn’t destroyed? Isn’t 45 years of resistance to releasing such files long enough? A good place to start would be those files relating to CIA agent George Joannides, who knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately obstructed justice in the JFK investigation.

Don’t hold your breath.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Repeal Insider-Trading Laws
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Two readers have sent me emails objecting to my blog post yesterday, “Free Mark Cuban and Abolish the SEC,” in which I opposed the SEC’s action against Mark Cuban for supposedly violating insider-trading laws. The readers said that insider trading is fraudulent and unfair.

Fraud involves the intentional misrepresentation of a material fact or the intentional omission of a material fact, with the intent to deceive.

Let’s assume that insider-trading laws were repealed. Each company would then be free to set its own policy on insider trading. Let’s assume ABC Company announces that its executives will be entitled to buy and sell the company’s stock based on inside information that has not yet been released to the stockholders or the public.

Where is the fraud in that situation? There has been neither a misrepresentation of fact nor an omission of a material fact. On the contrary, all the facts have been openly disclosed.

What if people don’t like the company’s insider-trading policy? They have a simple remedy: Don’t work there and don’t buy stock in that company. If they don’t buy stock, they can’t lose any money on the stock.

Why would a company establish a policy that would permit insider trading and why would people want to invest in such a company? The company might feel that the increase in compensation would attract extremely competent executives to run the company. Those executives might attract investors who would be seeking a nice return on their investment, notwithstanding the fact that the company’s executives are making lots of money trading on inside information.

Another company might set an entirely different policy, one which bars its executives from trading on inside information. Employees and investors could then make their employment and investment decisions accordingly. If an executive violated the company’s policy, the company could seek damages or other relief in a civil action against the executive.

Obviously, if a company were to lie about its insider-trading policy, that would mislead investors and constitute fraud. But if the company is open and above-board about its policy, there is no fraud because no one is misled.

Why do people support insider-trading laws and other economic regulations? The answer is similar to that in the war on terrorism, where Americans traded away their civil liberty in the hope that the government would keep them safe from “the terrorists.” People think that the government will provide them with economic security if they will just relinquish their freedom to the government. Thus, many decades ago — long before the war-on-terrorism trade was made — Americans traded away their economic liberty in the hope that government would keep their income, purchases, savings, and investments safe.

As Americans are learning with respect to both civil liberty and economic liberty, trading freedom for safety or security is just a fake, false, and fraudulent pipe dream. Trading away freedom for safety or security doesn’t make people safer or more secure. Instead, it actually accomplishes the opposite, especially given that the biggest threat to their freedom and well-being lies with the entity to whom they have traded away their freedom—the government. The situation is akin to a bunch of chickens trading away their freedom to a fox because the fox assures them that he will take care of them and keep them safe.

Isn’t it better to be free and insecure than to be not free and insecure? And even if government could guarantee safety, wouldn’t it be better to be free and insecure than to be secure and not free?

To learn more on the wrongfulness and harm of insider-trading laws, here is a list of articles on insider trading that The Future of Freedom Foundation has published over the years:

The Fraud of Insider Trading Laws by Sheldon Richman

Insider-Trading Prohibitions Should Go Out of Style by Donald J. Boudreaux

Martha Down Under: Kangaroos in the Courtroom by William L. Anderson and Candice E. Jackson

Business Ethics by Richard M. Ebeling

Martha Stewart Case: Where’s the Victim? by Sheldon Richman

Free Martha! Free Bobby! by Sheldon Richman

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Free Mark Cuban and Abolish the SEC
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Billionaire Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has been targeted by the SEC for insider trading. According to the SEC’s complaint, in 2003 Cuban was the owner of about 6 percent of the stock of a company named Momma.com. An executive of the company advised Cuban that the company was going to issue a public offering of stock, an action that ordinarily causes the value of already issued stock to go down. Cuban proceeded to sell his stock before the information went public, enabling him to avoid $750,000 in losses that would have been incurred had he waited until after the offering had been made public to sell his stock.

Some five years later, the SEC decided to go after Cuban seeking payment of the $750,000. While there hasn’t yet been a criminal indictment, who can doubt that the Justice Department, which ruined a large portion of Martha Stewart’s life, is waiting in the wings and licking its chops?

So far, Cuban, a devotee of Ayn Rand, is not playing the role that the feds expect American businessmen to play. He’s not confessing, expressing remorse, calling himself a bad person, seeking forgiveness, and offering to rat out other people. Instead, he’s telling it like it is, pointing out that the SEC is “infected by the misconduct of the staff of its enforcement division.”

Don’t be surprised to see the Feds go after one of Cuban’s family members. After all, that’s how they got Michael Milken to plead guilty to insider trading. They indicted his brother and then agreed to let the brother go as part of a plea bargain in which Milken pleaded guilty. Given Cuban’s strong independent streak and his libertarian leanings, however, don’t be surprised if such tactics fail to achieve their intended result.

Of course, the entire proceeding just goes to show how ridiculous insider trading laws are. Why shouldn’t companies be free to set whatever policy they want on insider trading? If people don’t like the company’s policy, they’re free not to invest in that company’s stock.

The Cuban case is even more egregious than the standard insider-trading violation because Cuban isn’t even an executive in the company. Instead, he is simply the recipient of information from an executive in the company. Why not let the company handle that? Why do we need government to be involved?

The SEC claims that Cuban promised to keep the information confidential, a claim that Cuban denies. However, even if it turns out that the SEC’s claim is false, it still might not make a difference. Insider-trading laws, believe it or not, place the recipient of insider information in essentially the same position as the insider himself, regardless of whether the recipient promised to keep the information secret or not.

An interesting twist to this is the timing of the SEC’s complaint. The complaint comes some five years after Cuban’s stock sale. While it might well be just a coincidence, according to the New York Times the complaint came after a lawyer for the SEC sent Cuban a letter questioning his patriotism for helping with the distribution of a documentary entitled “Loose Change,” which claims that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job planned by President Bush and other U.S. officials. The SEC lawyer proceeded to report (rat on) Cuban’s involvement with the film to SEC Chairman Chris Cox. The SEC then filed its insider-trading complaint against Cuban.

Now, of course we can’t be sure that that is what motivated the SEC to finally decide to go after Cuban after so much time had elapsed after the sale of the stock. But we do know one thing: that’s the value of insider-trading laws and other economic regulations. They provide the government with an ever-present Damocles Sword that enables federal officials to go after businessmen whenever they want.

When I was a student at VMI from 1968-1972, the administration had issued a set of extensive regulations governing the conduct of the cadet corps. The regulations had been compiled in a book entitled “The Blue Book.” Every room in barracks was required to maintain a copy of the book, and cadets were expected to comply fully with all the regulations.

Like most other VMI cadets, initially I did my best to study the Blue Book and fully comply with all its rules and regulations. But I finally came to the realization that that was impossible. Then I realized that that was the real value of the Blue Book. The VMI administration knew that there was no way a student could ever be in complete compliance with all the rules at any one time. So, if the administration wanted to go after a student, which was a realistic possibility given the anti-Vietnam War sentiments of many VMI cadets, it was extremely easy to do so by simply issuing demerits for violations of the Blue Book, a sufficient number of which would result in dismissal from the institution. Thus, the Blue Book served as a indirect but extremely effective means to ensure submissiveness, compliance, and obedience.

The principle is the same with respect to the regulated economy. The value of thousands of federal rules and regulations governing American companies and banks is that they ensure submissiveness, compliance, and obedience. If a businessman doesn’t toe the line, they’ll just go after him for violating some regulation, even while claiming that freedom of speech is alive and well in America.

Of course, the U.S. government is not the only government that employs regulatory crimes to keep businessmen in line. Russian and Chinese businessmen operate under the same type of regulatory regime.

A good example of this process took place in the case of Joseph Nacchio, the head of Qwest Communications, who refused to go along with President Bush’s illegal telecommunications spying scheme, even as other telecoms were going along with it. So what happened to Nacchio? Surprise, surprise! He got indicted by the feds and convicted for — you guessed it — insider trading. He received a 6-year sentence in the federal penitentiary. The feds say that their persecution of Nacchio had nothing to do with his opposition to the president’s illegal monitoring scheme. It was all just a coincidence, they say.

Here’s how the slimy bureaucrat Dr. Floyd Ferris put it in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against — then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of law-breakers — and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

There is really only one solution to this tyranny and oppression, and it’s not one that involves “reform”: Abolish the SEC, one of the most tyrannical, destructive, useless agencies in American history, and repeal all economic regulations, including insider-trading laws. Or to put it another way, restore free enterprise — that is, enterprise that is free of government control — to our nation.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Practicality of Libertarianism
by Jacob G. Hornberger

One of the criticisms sometimes directed toward libertarianism is that our philosophy is impractical because it fails to provide solutions to the woes produced by socialism and interventionism.

For example, consider the current financial crisis. People ask, “What is the libertarian solution to the financial crisis?” If libertarians respond, “We don’t have a solution,” the inevitable response arises: “You libertarians are so impractical.”

We’ve heard the same sort of thing during the 5 ½ years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. As the disaster unfolded, the common question became, “What is your plan for Iraq?” If libertarians responded, “We don’t have a plan for Iraq,” the inevitable response arose: “You libertarians are so impractical.”

The core principle of libertarianism is that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose so long as their conduct does not infringe in a violent or fraudulent way on the right of other people to do the same. Thus, so long as a person doesn’t engage in murder, rape, theft, robbery, fraud, burglary, and other such offenses, he should be free to do whatever he wants without being punished for it by the state.

That non-aggression principle obviously has many connotations when it comes to individual rights. Libertarianism encompasses, for example, the rights of free speech, assembly, freedom of religion, drug use, and ownership of weapons. In essence, it involves the right to be left alone by the state so long as one is engaging in purely peaceful behavior.

In the economics realm, libertarianism encompasses the following rights, which libertarians consider as fundamental as those just mentioned:

(1)The right to engage in any occupation or profession without a license or other permission from the government;
(2)The right to enter into mutually beneficial economic exchanges with others, a fundamental right often referred to as liberty of contract;
(3)The right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth; and
(4)The right to dispose of one’s wealth in any way a person sees fit.

A free market not only leaves people free to make their own economic choices, it also is the key to rising standards of living. This is true for two reasons:

One, in every economic exchange both sides benefit because they are both giving up something they value less for something they value more.

Two, when people are free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, they inevitably save a portion of their income, which provides the capital that makes people more productive. Higher productivity is the key to rising wage rates for workers.

Moreover, when people have more money at their disposal, many of them tend to be more charitable.

Socialist programs, which use government to forcibly take money from those to whom it belongs to give it to others, interfere with the right of people to accumulate wealth in the marketplace and to decide for themselves what to do with their own money. Examples of socialist, or redistributive, programs encompass progressive income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, public schooling, government grants, foreign aid, corporate subsidies, and many others.

Interventionist programs, which include rules, regulations, laws, and decrees, interfere with peaceful market activity. Examples include the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, stock-market regulations, banking regulations, legal-tender laws, licensing laws, price controls, and many others.

Thus, even though libertarianism does not purport to offer statists the way to fix the messes produced by socialist and interventionist programs, it does provide people with the keys to a peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous society. That’s what makes it an eminently practical philosophy.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cancel the Missile Project in Eastern Europe
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Among the first things that President Obama will have to decide when he assumes office is whether to continue President Bush’s and the Pentagon’s plans to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe. Let’s hope that he rejects those plans. Otherwise, all that will be accomplished will be to increase tensions with Russia, which, not surprisingly, will provide the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex with new excuses to increase their perpetually ever-growing budgets.

Weighing into the controversy, Air Force Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, stated that American interests would be “severely hurt” if Obama decides to abandon the project.

Obering is wrong. What would be hurt are the interests of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, which depend on ever-present crises and tensions to justify their ever-increasing requests for ever-more taxpayer money.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials in the Bush administration continue to maintain, with straight faces, that the missile interceptors are intended to protect Eastern Europe from an attack from … Iran! Never mind that Iran isn’t mobilizing to attack and invade Eastern Europe, the United States, or anywhere else.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has already threatened that if the missile interceptors are installed, Russia will respond with the installation of missiles on the Russian-Polish borders. He has said that if the U.S. abandons its plans, so will Russia.

That prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to call the Russian threat a misguided attempt that harkens back to the Cold War era. Gates also said that NATO, whose original mission was to protect Europe from Soviet aggression, will expand membership to Ukraine, another move that Russia naturally opposes.

Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state in the Clinton regime and who is now serving as a member of Obama’s transition team, suggested that Medvedev’s opposition to the U.S. government’s missile project made it appear that he was “anti-American.” In conflating the federal government and the country, Albright makes a mistake that is common to both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, her statement brings to mind her former boss Bill Clinton’s famously incorrect assertion that one cannot both love his country and hate the wrongdoing of his government. After all, if the federal government and the country are the same thing, why does the Bill of Rights expressly protect the country from the federal government?

Commentators are saying that Medvedev’s threat has made the situation more difficult for Obama. If Obama abandons the missile project, it will appear as if he crumbled in the face of the Russian threat, they say.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a U.S. president didn’t worry about such things and instead simply did what he knows to be right? Wouldn’t it be nice if Obama were to say something like this:

“The missile interceptors will not be installed in Eastern Europe. I can understand why the Russian regime would consider this a provocative act. If Russia were installing the same type of system in Cuba or in Mexico along the U.S. border, that would concern us. Such a project will accomplish nothing more than to increase tensions unnecessarily between our two countries, which it is already succeeding in doing. It’s time we reduced such tensions, especially given the urgent need to decrease U.S. federal spending, including on the military. While we’re on the subject, given that NATO’s mission of protecting Europe from Soviet attack expired with the fall of the Berlin Wall, isn’t it time to dismantle NATO rather than expand it?”

Given Obama’s campaign promise of change, a great place to begin changing things for the better would be the cancellation of the Bush regime’s missile interceptor project in Eastern Europe. While the cancellation of the project would run counter to the interests of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, it would definitely be in the interests of the American people.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Economic Liberty and Civil Liberty
by Jacob G. Hornberger

We had another great time at the second meeting of our Economic Liberty Lecture Series last night. 125 students and non-students came together for an evening of pizza, a movie, socializing, and a great talk by James Bovard, a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation. What was interesting is that many of the students were non-economics majors.

Jim’s talk was about the financial crisis and the bailout. He explained and emphasized how government intervention was the cause of the problem and that the bailout was doomed to just make matters worse, notwithstanding efforts by statists to blame the crisis on “free enterprise.” Lots of the students brought copies of Jim’s book Lost Rights to have him autograph it. The book is assigned reading in one of their economics classes.

Of course, much of Jim’s work for the past 8 years has been on civil liberties and the war on terrorism, just as FFF’s work has oriented in that direction as well. With our Economic Liberty Lecture series, we are emphasizing the importance of economic liberty.

One of the students asked, “What do we do from here? What would you like us to take away from this talk?”

It was an excellent question, and Bovard explained the importance of spreading ideas on liberty to others, given the woeful lack of understanding among so many Americans of the principles of economic liberty. Thus, all too many of them readily fall for the lies and deceptions, with the biggest one being that “free enterprise” is to blame for the crisis.

There is no question but that liberals have a blind spot when it comes to economic liberty. They honestly believe that socialistic and interventionist programs are necessary to help the poor and equalize wealth. They cannot see the fundamental immorality of using force to make people do the right thing. They cannot see that their methods actually end up harming the very people they purport to want to help. They are unable to understand how a genuinely free-market system helps everyone, especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Conservatives have a basic understanding of and devotion to free-market principles. In their seminars and conferences and on their websites, for example, they will inevitably extol the virtues of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.” The problem is that long ago, afraid of losing political power or credibility, they began supporting socialistic and interventionist programs even while continuing to preach the mantra of economic liberty.

When it comes to civil liberty, however, the situation is reversed. Conservatives have a blind spot when it comes to civil liberties. Either they don’t care about civil liberties or they think that civil liberties are silly devices that simply let guilty people go free. Conservative denigration of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments stretches back much further than 9/11. That was when they were pooh-poohing such things as the Miranda warnings and the exclusionary rule. This attitude manifested itself with full force and effect with the 9/11 attacks. That’s why conservatives supported the Pentagon’s decision to establish its prison camp at Guantanamo — so that the military and the CIA would be freed of the constraints of the Bill of Rights and interference by the federal judiciary that the Constitution established. It’s also why conservatives either remained mute or actively supported the suspension of habeas corpus by President Bush and the Congress.

Liberals, on the other hand, have a strong commitment to civil liberties and the procedural protections of the Bill of Rights. Thus, during the eight years of the Bush regime, liberals have played a leading role against such things as torture, denial of due process and trial by jury, Guantanamo, rendition, kidnapping, right to counsel, and right to a speedy and public trial.

The important thing to keep in mind is that people cannot be free without both economic liberty and civil liberty.

If government has the power to take a person’s money and give it to someone else, that person cannot be considered free.

If government has the power to force someone to do good, that person cannot be considered free.

If people are prohibited from spending their own money they way they want, they cannot be considered free.

By the same token, if the government has the power to arrest anyone and keep him in jail for as long as it wants, simply by accusing of terrorism and denying him a trial, then people in that society cannot be considered free.

If people can be arbitrarily subjected to warrantless searches or have their private affairs spied upon by government agents, then they cannot be considered free.

If people can be convicted of crimes without the government’s following centuries-old processes relating to due process, including right to counsel, right to trial by jury, and right to a speedy trial, then they cannot be considered free.

If people don’t have the right of habeas corpus, they cannot be considered free.

If people can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments, they cannot be considered free.

This is where libertarianism comes in. The free society requires both economic liberty and civil liberty. Achieving one without the other still leaves people living in an unfree society. That’s why libertarians advance both economic liberty and civil liberty (as well as all other aspects of freedom, such as gun rights, free speech, religious liberty, educational liberty, and drug legalization.)

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Conservative Malaise
by Jacob G. Hornberger

I suspect that the malaise that has afflicted the conservative movement is not simply due to the defeat of John McCain and Sarah Palin. I think that their despondency goes much deeper than an electoral defeat. My hunch is that their depression is much more owing to a sense of serious discomfort arising from the knowledge that Democrat Barack Obama is about to acquire all the omnipotent powers that conservatives relinquished to President Bush as part of his “war on terrorism.”

The power to arrest people, including Americans, as “enemy combatants.” Indefinite detention. Torture. Isolation and sensory deprivation. Rendition. Military tribunals. Denial of due process and trial by jury. Suspension of habeas corpus. Secret judicial proceedings. Use of hearsay and tortured testimony. Warrantless searches. Signing statements. Spying on Americans. The power to ignore constitutional and statutory constraints on presidential power. The power to invade and occupy foreign countries with no congressional declaration of war.

Conservatives were willing to let President Bush acquire and exercise all those dictatorial powers because, they said, national security depended on it. The terrorists were everywhere, they said, and they hate America for its freedom and values, not because of the U.S. government’s foreign policy. The war would last for decades, perhaps even forever. We have no choice, conservatives said, but to vest the president with full power to wage this war until we kill them all.

Whenever libertarians and some liberals defended civil liberties and the Bill of Rights during the past 8 years, conservatives went on the attack. We were just soft on terrorism, cowards, pacifists, unpatriotic, even treasonous, they said.

The conservatives know that they have boxed themselves in. Can they now argue that the war on terrorism is over when they previously said it would last for decades? Can they now argue that the president should not be trusted with such omnipotent powers? Can they now argue that such powers are unconstitutional? Can they now argue that national security no longer turns on the president’s wielding of such powers?

No, in their hearts conservatives know that they must now argue that President Obama, the man they are convinced is coming to take away their guns, increase their taxes, spend more money than even President Bush, has ties to terrorists, has a Muslim name, and is friends with a radical Christian preacher, should wield all the same dictatorial powers that they relinquished to President Bush.

No wonder conservatives are suffering from malaise, despondency, and depression.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Is the Chinese New Deal “Free Enterprise” Too?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Chinese government is placing many American statists in a very interesting position. It has unveiled a “stimulus plan” involving a massive expenditure of $586 billion dollars of government money.

Sounds familiar, uh?

As the Washington Post pointed out yesterday in a front-page article, economists are comparing the Chinese plan to the New Deal, which was the economic plan that President Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted to address the Great Depression.

American students, especially those in public schools and government-licensed private schools, have long been taught that the New Deal was a “free enterprise reform plan” that “saved free enterprise.” Having grown into adulthood, many of those students, not surprisingly, continue to hew to that official line that was ingrained into their minds year after year. The thought that Roosevelt’s New Deal was actually a combination of socialist and fascist measures that constituted an abandonment of the principles of economic liberty on which our nation was founded has, tragically, never even entered the minds of many Americans. (For an excellent analysis of Roosevelt’s New Deal, see Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.)

The major exception to this rule is libertarians, who have broken free of the official indoctrination. Libertarians realize that not only was Roosevelt’s New Deal a combination of socialistic and fascistic government programs, which actually exacerbated the Great Depression, but also that the Depression itself was the fault of Federal Reserve monetary manipulation rather than the “failure of free enterprise.”

So, how would American statists analyze the Chinese “stimulus plan,” given that it is comparable to Roosevelt’s New Deal? After all, everyone would have to concede that China has a socialist economic system. Would American statists honestly claim that China’s stimulus plan is actually a “free enterprise reform plan” to save socialism? Surely they couldn’t make that claim with a straight face.

Yet, many of them continue to claim, with a straight face, that “free enterprise” has caused the current financial debacle here in the United States and that their bailouts and stimulus plans are “free enterprise” reforms to “save free enterprise.” That’s the same claim they make about Roosevelt’s New Deal, to which the Chinese stimulus plan is now being compared and which is intended to save socialism.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Government-created institutions.

Monetary manipulation and bank regulation? The Federal Reserve.

Guarantees of mortgages? Government-granted.

Laws requiring the making of high-risk loans? Government enacted.

HUD? A corrupt government department.

Regulation of the stock market? The SEC.

Mortgage deductions? The IRS.

Despite all this government involvement in economic affairs, American statists steadfastly continue to maintain, with a straight face, that the current financial catastrophe constitutes the failure of “free enterprise” and that all their bailouts and stimulus plans are “free enterprise” methods to save “free enterprise.”

The Chinese stimulus plan is just another reflection of the life of the lie and the life of unreality that American statists have lived for so long. The unvarnished truth is that the Chinese stimulus plan is just more socialism and interventionism, just as the U.S. bailout and stimulus plans are. Facing such truth is a necessary prerequisite to getting our nation off the socialist and interventionist track that the Chinese socialists are taking and back on the right track — the track of economic liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Crossing the Rubicon, Revisited
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In July 2003, I wrote an article entitled “Crossing the Rubicon,” which addressed what the federal government was doing to a man named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar who was residing in the United States. Two years later, in March 2005, I published a follow-up article on the al-Marri case: “Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri: Charge Him or Release Him.”

The al-Marri case is significant for two reasons. One, it involves the unilateral assumption by the president and the military of one of the most ominous political powers ever exercised — the power to arrest and indefinitely incarcerate without trial any person on suspicion of being a terrorist. Two, such power now extends not only to foreigners but also to Americans. That’s what the Jose Padilla case was all about, which my articles also addressed.

Five years later, al-Marri is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case. It is in the interests of every American that the Court not only hear the case but also rule in favor of al-Marri. Failure to do so will result in presidential and military power that would be the envy of the most powerful dictatorships in history — the direct power to round up citizens and incarcerate them for as long as the government wants, without the benefit of a trial.

Al-Marri’s case began with a federal indictment, which has been the long-established method of handling terrorism and other criminal offenses. On the eve of trial, the government asked the judge to dismiss the charges on the ground that the government was now treating al-Marri as an “enemy combatant” in the war on terrorism. The judge granted the motion and al-Marri was whisked away to a military dungeon in South Carolina, the same facility in which Padilla was incarcerated and tortured. That’s where al-Marri has sat for the past five years.

The government initially took the position that its designation of al-Marri and Padilla as enemy combatants could not be reviewed by the federal courts. The courts rejected that notion, holding that al-Marri and Padilla could not be denied the right of habeas corpus, the centuries-old remedy enabling prisoners to challenge their detention.

However, even though the two men were entitled to habeas corpus, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguably the most conservative federal appellate court in the country, upheld the concept of “enemy combatant” in the Padilla case. That meant that as long as the government provided some evidence to sustain its finding of “enemy combatant,” the president and the Pentagon now wielded the omnipotent power to arrest and incarcerate any American.

Once the government secured its favorable appellate court ruling, the government swiftly switched Padilla from the status of an “enemy combatant” to criminal court defendant, securing a federal grand jury indictment against him. The reason the government did that was to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court would not have the opportunity to overturn the Fourth Circuit’s ruling. Since Padilla’s appellate court case was now moot, given that he was no longer an “enemy combatant,” the Supreme Court declined to hear his case. That left the Fourth Circuit’s ruling intact, exactly what the government wanted. In the “right” emergency, the military could begin rounding up people as “enemy combatants” and cite the Fourth Circuit’s decision in support of the round-ups.

When al-Marri’s case reached the Fourth Circuit, the court once again sustained the “enemy combatant” power. It is that decision that al-Marri is now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the government might try the same legal trickery it employed in the Padilla case, it might find it a bit more difficult to simply convert al-Marri from an “enemy combatant” to a federal criminal defendant. The reason? Recall that al-Marri began his long journey as a criminal defendant. When the federal judge granted the government’s motion to dismiss those charges, he did so “with prejudice,” which means that those particular charges are barred from ever being brought against al-Marri again. (While an article in Sunday’s Washington Post cited legal experts as saying that the government could transfer al-Marri back to federal court jurisdiction, the article failed to address the problem of the “with prejudice” dismissal of the original criminal charges against al-Marri.)

Here at The Future of Freedom Foundation, we have long argued against the assumption and exercise of the “enemy combatant” power, even with the right of habeas corpus. We have pointed out that those who were arguing that President Bush could be trusted with such power were misguided and short-sighted. We have said that such dictatorial power is irreconcilable with the principles of a free society. We have emphasized that the issue wasn’t whether Bush should be trusted with such power but rather whether one’s worst enemy should be trusted with such power.

But conservatives never thought the day would arrive when they would lose power to a Democratic president. Bush would be in power for 8 years, followed by a succession of Republican presidents, they felt, especially since Americans were unlikely to change parties in the midst of perpetual “war.”

Then, conservatives’ worst fear materialized — the election of a Democrat and, even worse from their perspective, one, they said, whose middle name was Hussein, whose father was a Muslim, who had ties to terrorists, and who associated with an extremist Christian preacher. He’s the man who now wields the omnipotent powers that, thanks to conservatives, were traded to the president and the military for the aura of “safety” from “the terrorists.”

Will Obama reverse the Bush administration’s position on the “enemy combatant” power? Will he ask the Supreme Court to hear the al-Marri case and rule in al-Marri’s favor ? Don’t count on it. As Stephen A. Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor, put it, Obama’s advisers may persuade him “that we have to worry about another attack, and in case of an attack we need this power.”

Will conservatives reverse their support of the “enemy combatant” power now that Obama will be wielding it? For that matter, will liberals who previously opposed such power reverse their position now that their man is wielding the power? One thing is certain: libertarians will remain consistent in their opposition against dictatorial power regardless of which political party is in power.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Conservative Soul-Searching
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The debate over the future of the GOP is beginning. Already, there is a spate of articles written by conservatives calling for a return of the Republican Party to its traditional mantra of “free enterprise and limited government.” These conservatives are arguing that the reason that Republicans were so soundly defeated in the recent election is that they abandoned their traditional “small government” philosophy during the Bush administration’s 8-year orgy of out-of-control federal spending and “big government.”

So far, however, none of these conservative soul-searching perspectives are addressing the fundamental problems that conservatives face.

First, in their haste to return to the traditional principles of “free enterprise and limited government,” conservatives have a big obstacle to overcome: their commitment to socialist and interventionist programs. I’m referring to such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, welfare, foreign aid, the drug war, bailouts, and such departments and agencies as the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Commerce, HUD, and Education, and the DEA, the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and dozens more.

How can a commitment to socialist and interventionist programs be reconciled with a wish to return to traditional principles of “free enterprise and limited government”? It can’t be. Free enterprise means enterprise that is free of government regulation and control. Limited government means a government whose powers are limited. The panoply of socialist and interventionist programs that conservatives favor are antithetical to free enterprise and limited government.

Libertarians don’t suffer from this dilemma. Since libertarians call for the repeal, not the reform, of all socialist and interventionist government programs, agencies, and departments, our position is entirely consistent with our devotion to genuine free enterprise and limited government.

Second, the soul-searching conservative articles, so far, are ignoring a great big elephant in the room — the traditional conservative position favoring “national defense.” Now, if by “national defense” they truly meant “national defense,” that would be one thing. But conservatives don’t really mean “national defense” when they call for “national defense.”

What conservatives mean by “national defense” is an aggressive foreign policy entailing attacks and wars of aggression on other countries, sanctions, embargoes, foreign aid, assassination, coups, regime change, and military occupations. Ever since 9/11 the phrase has also meant a perpetual “war on terrorism,” torture and sex abuse of detainees, kidnapping and rendition, secret overseas prison facilities, Guantanamo Bay, military tribunals, indefinite imprisonments, suspension of habeas corpus, infringements on civil liberties, warrantless searches and seizures, immunity for criminal acts, and denial of due process, right to counsel, right to trial by jury, and other procedural rights and guarantees enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

The conservative definition of “national defense” obviously requires an enormously large standing army along with an ever-growing military industrial complex, along with the ever-increasing taxes to fund its activities.

Yet, how is it possible to reconcile a commitment to that concept of “national defense” with a wish to return to traditional values of “free enterprise and limited government”? As the Founding Fathers pointed out, militarism, empire, interventionism, and war bring centralization of power, rules, regulations, and taxes. That is, they bring everything that is antithetical to free enterprise and limited government.

Libertarians, of course, do not have this dilemma. We favor genuine national defense — that is, the responsibility of the government to defend against an actual invasion of our country, a non-existent possibility at the present time given the fact that no nation has the military capacity to carry out such an invasion. Thus, given our opposition to militarism, foreign wars, foreign interventions, foreign aid, foreign meddling, assassinations, regime change, sanctions, embargoes, a standing army, and the military-industrial complex and our strong commitment to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and civil liberties, our positions can be easily reconciled with our commitment to genuine free enterprise and limited government.

Moreover, implicit in conservative soul-searching is the notion that “the economy” was the only reason American voters so soundly rejected conservatives in the recent election. My hunch is that the rejection had much more to do with just the economy. My hunch is that Americans were sick and tired of 8 years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight, the perpetual nature of the “war on terrorism,” the never-ending threat of terrorist blowback from U.S. foreign policy, the torture and sex abuse, the denigration of the procedural protections in the Bill of Rights, and the infringements on civil liberties.

What do conservatives do? In their quest to regain political power, they wish to return to traditional values of “free enterprise and limited government. Yet, they remain ardently committed to socialist, interventionist, and imperial policies and programs that are contradictory to free enterprise and limited government. One can only hope that in their soul-searching, conservatives do what libertarians do — pursue truth, principles, integrity, and reality, regardless of the political consequences.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How About Some Real Change in Foreign Policy?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The worldwide outpouring of support for Barack Obama brings to mind the worldwide outpouring of support for the American people after 9/11. That post-9/11 support didn’t last for long. It disappeared with George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, torture and sex abuse of detainees, kidnappings and renditions, attacks on civil liberties, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, indefinite detentions, criminal and civil immunity for criminal acts, and all the rest.

One sad part about all this is that all too many conservatives actually believe that all this has been the sunlight of “freedom” for the last 8 years. We’re at war against the terrorists and the Muslims, conservatives have repeatedly told us, and sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice freedom to preserve freedom.

Anyway, who cares about those stupid, silly civil liberties, right? They’re just constitutional technicalities designed to let guilty people go free, right? The war on terrorism enabled government officials to finally free themselves of those silly, pesky, quaint, outmoded constitutional technicalities. We don’t need those stupid Miranda warnings. We just need to torture people into confessing their crimes. That’s what Gitmo and those tribunals were all about.

Through it all, conservatives could not understand why the tremendous outpouring of sympathy for the American people after 9/11 had not only disappeared but actually turned into disgust. Conservatives were blinded to the fact that foreigners have always looked to the United States for guidance and leadership in the area of freedom and values. The principles of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights have long stood as inspirations for people all over the world. The world become disillusioned and disgusted when Bush and his conservative cohorts began sacrificing and abandoning those principles, especially with respect to their treatment of foreigners.

The disgust turned to anger and rage when Bush and the conservatives employed military responses to 9/11, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than pursue the criminal-justice methods that U.S. officials had employed after the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. What appalled the world was the indifference to the lives and limbs of foreigners. War is hell, U.S. officials responded. Collateral damage is regretted, they said, even as they killed and injured an ever-growing number of Afghanis and Iraqis.

Just this week, U.S. airstrikes have killed 40 more people and injured 28 others with an attack on another wedding party in Afghanistan, including women and children. (What is it about Afghan wedding parties that seem to attract U.S. bombs and missiles?) U.S. officials have issued the standard regrets, explaining for the umpteenth time that this is one of the horrible costs of war. The following day, U.S. airstrikes killed another 7 civilians. There will surely be more expressions of regret and explanations that war is hell.

And the beat goes on. More military strikes, more people killed and injured, more anger and rage, more attempts to oust the occupier, more military strikes, and on and on and on.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that Afghan officials helped insurgents ambush U.S. forces last July, resulting in the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers and in twenty-seven others being injured. Presumably the officials don’t like their country being occupied by foreign forces any more than the insurgents do.

How about just ordering the U.S. military out of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, and the rest of the world, forcing it to just leave people alone? If Barack Obama wants real change, that’s the order he should issue on assuming the presidency. Isn’t 8 years of death, maiming, destruction, and loss of liberty enough?

Will Obama bring about a change in direction? Who knows? There are conflicting signs. He wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, which is good, but he wants to shift them to Afghanistan, which is bad. He has spoken favorably of civil liberties but voted to grant immunity for the illegal spying conducted by U.S. telecoms. He has said he’ll close Guantanamo but has remained silent on the CIA’s secret prisons overseas.

Ultimately, the future direction of our nation lies with the American people, not with Barack Obama and his liberal cohorts. When the principles of liberty and republic once again become of foremost importance to the American people — when Americans are no longer willing to trade freedom for safety — when Americans decide enough is enough and demand that the U.S. military and the CIA be reined in and prevented from doing any more harm to foreigners — when Americans demand a restoration of their rights and freedoms — when Americans demand federal compliance with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, public officials will cower and obey. That will be the day when the world will truly stand in awe of the United States. That will be the day when free men everywhere will have something to truly celebrate.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Libertarian Possibilities under Obama
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Not surprisingly, conservatives are depressed and despondent over the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. But as I wrote yesterday, the Republicans deserved to lose. For the last 7 years, they have plunged our country into darkness, oppression, injustice, and tyranny, seizing on the 9/11 attacks to centralize federal power, suspend the civil liberties of the American people, and embark on one of the most shocking Big Spending sprees in history.

The election-eve argument that conservatives employed to get people to vote for McCain reflected how corrupted they have become with the unrestrained power they have wielded for the past 7 years. Their argument involved no apologies and no repentance for the damage and destruction they have brought to our nation or to the world. It instead boiled down to this: They said people should vote for McCain because he would not be as big a Big Spender as Obama. What better evidence of the moral bankruptcy of the conservative movement than that?

It’s true that as a liberal, Obama is likely to continue President Bush’s out-of-control federal spending habit. But there is no doubt that McCain would have done the same. In fact, the only time that conservatives rail against Big Spending is when they’re not the ones doing the spending. I’ll bet that with Obama’s election, conservatives begin railing against Big Spending almost immediately, with the promise to rein it in if they’re ever returned to power.

In other words, when it comes to domestic welfare-state policies, Americans were going to get badly squeezed whether Obama or McCain was elected.

If McCain had been elected, there is no doubt that we would also have had a continuation of Bush’s warfare-state policies: the war on terrorism, military attacks and wars of aggression on other countries, torture and sex abuse of detainees, the Patriot Act, the enemy-combatant doctrine, signing statements, denial of due process, Guantanamo, military tribunals, indefinite incarceration, kidnapping and rendition, warrantless searches and seizures, the continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and so forth.

While it’s possible that Obama will continue these warfare-state policies as well, that is not as certain as it would have been under McCain. As a liberal, a lawyer, and a former law professor, Obama has taken a vocal stand against some of these “dark side” policies. For example, he has spoken out against arbitrary arrests, in favor of habeas corpus, against the invasion of Iraq, against torture, and in favor of closing the Pentagon’s prison at Guantanamo Bay.

That’s not to say that Obama is a non-interventionist or even a consistent defender of civil liberties. For example, he ended up voting for telecom immunity (after opposing it), he has praised the “success” of “the surge” in Iraq, and he has promised to beef up U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

But with Obama’s election, libertarians will at least have a chance to make some significant headway toward restoring civil liberties and the procedural protections of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to our land, along with moving our country in a more positive direction with respect to foreign policy. That possibility would not have existed under a McCain administration.

There is another area in which we libertarians should redouble our efforts under an Obama administration — the war on drugs. As a liberal, a lawyer, and a law professor, Obama must be aware of the devastating effects of this failed federal policy, especially on people in the black community. While ridding our nation of the drug-war scourge will be difficult, there is at least a chance of achieving that goal in the next four years. That possibility would have been nonexistent under a McCain administration.

If we were able to get rid of the drug war and the war on terrorism, bring all the troops home, and restore civil liberties and the Bill of Rights to our land, it’s true that we would still be saddled with the welfare state, to which both conservatives and liberals remain committed. But once our fellow Americans saw how much better they were without the oppressive and tyrannical warfare-state policies, they would undoubtedly be more receptive to considering libertarian arguments for ridding our nation of the welfare-state scourge and for restoring economic liberty to our land.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

They Deserve to Lose
by Jacob G. Hornberger

If the Democrats win the presidency, it will not be because they deserve to win but because the Republicans deserve to lose.

When it comes to domestic policy, there really isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Barack Obama and John McCain. As a liberal and as a conservative, they share a common commitment to the socialistic welfare state and interventionism. Both of them are ardent supporters of such socialist and interventionist programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, public housing, the drug war, trade restrictions, immigration controls, economic regulations, and gun control. They firmly believe in the multitudes of federal agencies and departments, such as the IRS, the DEA, HUD, ICE, ATF, Homeland Security, and the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Energy, Commerce, and Education.

There are also no fundamental principles with respect to foreign policy. Given their liberal and conservative philosophy, McCain and Obama share a common commitment to foreign wars, foreign interventions, foreign aid, and the military-industrial complex. Thus, it’s no surprise that they both wish to continue Bush’s 7-year occupation of Afghanistan, even if it continues to kill brides, children, and old people. Sure, it’s true that Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq, but that was nothing but a lucky call, one made when Obama wasn’t in the U.S. Senate and subject to being called a coward and a traitor for voting the wrong way. Given Obama’s praise of “the surge,” it’s obvious that his opposition to invading Iraq was not based on any principled objection to foreign interventionism but was simply a decision based on political expediency.

With respect to a big-spending government, everyone should realize by now that there’s not any difference at all between Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives have long maintained that frugal Republicans are different from big-spending Democrats. When they tried employing that theme during the McCain campaign, their plea fell on deaf ears or was met with laughter. No one can deny that Republican President George W. Bush, with the full support of his Republican cohorts, has been Mr. Big Spender Par Excellence for the last 7 years.

The big reason that Obama hasn’t earned the presidency with his presidential campaign is his cowardly failure to condemn the Bush administration’s war on civil liberties. As a liberal and as a lawyer, he supposedly has a firm commitment to the Bill of Rights and civil liberties. Yet, throughout the campaign he chose to remain silent on such things as the Pentagon’s Guantanamo prison camp, torture and sex abuse of detainees, kidnapping and rendition, the enemy-combatant doctrine, denial of due process, denial of right to counsel, denial of speedy and public trials, warrantless searches, illegal spying on Americans, cancelation of habeas corpus, and military commissions.

Why did Obama choose to remain silent on those critically important issues of our time? In my opinion, there can be but one answer: Cowardice. He was afraid that if he attacked the Bush administration for its horrific 7-year assault on civil liberties, McCain and the Republicans would accuse him of being soft on terrorism and unpatriotic. By remaining silent, Obama obviously figured that he would deprive McCain of the opportunity of using the terrorism/patriotism card against him.

Like I say, cowardice.

But it is the Republicans, including McCain, who have the much greater shame because it is they who have be the ones who have actually committed these horrific acts or ardently supported their commission. As conservatives, they honestly believe in the morality and legitimacy of such things as the Pentagon’s Guantanamo prison camp, torture and sex abuse of detainees, kidnapping and rendition, the enemy-combatant doctrine, denial of due process, denial of right to counsel, denial of speedy and public trials, warrantless searches, illegal spying on Americans, cancelation of habeas corpus, and military commissions.

Republicans deserve to be put out to pasture, where they will have the opportunity to reflect upon the horrible damage they have done to our country. They deserve to lose. That doesn’t mean though that the Democrats deserve to win.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pre-Election Angst for the Serfs
by Jacob G. Hornberger

It’s kinda fun watching Republicans and Democrats suffering so much angst over whether John McCain or Barack Obama will be elected president.

Part of people’s anxiety, I suspect, is rooted in the realization that the candidate from the other party will have access to the trillions of dollars in tax loot to dispense to his buddies.

But I think the reason for people’s agitation goes much deeper than that.

For the past year, in their effort to garner favor from the electorate, the presidential candidates have had to be nice to people and curry favor with them in their quest to be elected. All sorts of promises have been made, which everyone knows are impossible to keep. No matter. The year before an election makes people feel like they’re in charge, given the subservience that the candidates pay to the citizenry.

But everyone, including the candidates, knows that on November 4 everything changes. Everyone knows that on that day, the roles are reversed. The people who win the election are now in charge. They assume their role as masters, answerable only to themselves. The citizens assume their role as serfs, once again subservient to those in power and doing their best to curry favor with them.

Think back to the slaves on the plantations in the Old South. Imagine that the law mandated that every four years there would be elections on the plantations in which the slaves would have the right to elect their taskmasters. In the months prior to the election, one can envision 3 or 4 taskmaster candidates vying for votes by being kind to the slaves and making all sorts of promises to them. In the months prior to the election, the slaves would feel a sense of empowerment. The process would provide a feeling of exhilaration for the slaves, as the candidates for taskmaster fought for their votes.

But as election day drew near, anxiety levels would begin rising because everyone would know what would happen on that day. Whichever taskmaster would be elected would no longer need to be kind and subservient. Promises could be broken or forgotten, and there would be nothing the slaves could do about it. After all, the new taskmaster would be the taskmaster and the slave would be the slave.

Given the omnipotent power that the president now wields, on Tuesday night either John McCain or Barack Obama will be America’s new taskmaster and Americans will continue to remain the serfs. People’s lives and fortunes will once again be unconditionally subject to the orders and decrees of the president, albeit a newly elected one. The fact that many people consider the president to be their “commander in chief,” viewing themselves as soldiers in an army or bees in a hive, only makes the situation worse.

What modern-day Americans fail to realize is that the right to elect one’s master does not change the status of the serf. It simply gives him the right to elect his taskmaster.

In fact, the only real value of democratic elections is that they provide the citizenry the means to effect regime change in society peacefully. In the absence of voting, the only way to effect regime change is through violence.

But we must never confuse voting with freedom. Freedom is achieved through the imposition and enforcement of external constraints on the exercise of power. With such constraints, the citizenry are the masters and the government officials the servants, regardless of who is elected to office.

Our 19th-century American ancestors did not suffer the pre-election anxieties that modern-day Americans suffer. Our ancestors knew that after Election Day, the president would continue to lack the power to tax their incomes, regulate their economic activities, provide them with welfare, conscript them, send them to die in foreign wars, force them to accept irredeemable paper money, confiscate their wealth through inflation, put them in jail for drug offenses, arbitrarily arrest them, indefinitely incarcerate them, spy on them, and torture and sexually abuse them.

Today’s Americans know full well that after tomorrow, either John McCain or Barack Obama will wield all those powers over the American people. It’s not surprising that such knowledge is producing pre-election anxiety within the serfs.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.