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, December 2008


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stop Foreign Aid to Israel (and Everywhere Else)
by Jacob G. Hornberger

I can already hear the pro-empire, pro-intervention crowd making their announcement after a terrorist attack in the United States by a victim of the Israeli bombing in Gaza: “The attack had nothing to do with anger and hatred arising from the unconditional financial and military aid that the U.S. government has furnished the Israeli regime. Instead, the attacker was motivated by hatred for America’s freedom and values.”

Regardless of which side one comes down on in the current outbreak of never-ending hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, there is one issue that should not be in dispute: The U.S. government should not be furnishing foreign aid to the Israeli government and, well, for that matter, to any other regime.

Isn’t foreign aid just another form of socialistic welfare, just like the bailouts of U.S. automobile companies? Under what moral authority does the U.S. government, operating through the IRS, seize the earnings of the American people to redistribute their wealth to anyone else, including the Israeli government, the Mexican government, automobile companies, banks, or any other welfare recipient?

Why shouldn’t Americans be free to do what they want with their own money? If Americans were free to keep everything they earned, they could donate as much money as they wanted to any foreign entity or anyone else, on a purely voluntary basis. Or they could refuse to do so.

What would be wrong with restoring that freedom to the American people? If such freedom was good enough for our American ancestors for more than 125 years, why isn’t it good enough for us?

Some Americans might argue, “But Israel couldn’t survive without the support of the U.S. government.” That might or might not be true, but that is not the responsibility of the U.S. government, either morally or constitutionally. If individual Americans feel strongly enough about the welfare of Israel, they would be free not only to donate their money to Israel but also travel overseas and join up with the Israeli armed forces, something that some Americans already do. Wouldn’t that encourage a sense of personal responsibility? Wouldn’t that be better than involving the U.S. government in a decades-long, intractable conflict that produces the perpetual threat of terrorist blowback against our nation, which is then used as the excuse for ever-increasing infringements on the civil liberties of the American people at the hands of the U.S. government?

Some people say that calling for the end of foreign aid to the Israeli government is evidence of anti-Semitism. That’s ridiculous and manipulative. After all, does calling for the end of foreign aid to Mexico and Colombia make someone anti-Hispanic? Does calling for the end of foreign aid to African countries mean that a person hates blacks?

No, U.S. foreign aid is simply an immoral form of welfare, one that is highly destructive to the best interests of our nation. Like all forms of socialist redistribution of wealth, it should be terminated immediately, not only to the Israeli government, not only to every other foreign regime, but also to every other welfare recipient feeding at the public trough.

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Socialism, Taxation, and Gold Seizures
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Those Americans with socialist propensities, including, of course, Barack Obama, are surely having their hearts warmed by recent actions of fellow traveler Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected dictator of Venezuela. Faced with falling oil revenues, Chavez has just announced the government seizure of several privately operated gold concessions, which, he pointed out, are held by “rich people.”

Chavez declared, “Social investment will not be halted. This, for us, is sacred.” That, of course, is also a deeply held sentiment among American socialists, one that perhaps is best reflected by Obama’s plan to foist a massive public-works project on the American people as soon as he takes office.

To fund his “social investment,” Obama won’t be as crude as Chavez. Rather than directly seize rich people’s businesses, as Chavez has done, Obama will instead either (1) borrow the money from the Chinese communist government, thereby adding to the $1 trillion already owed to that regime, or (2) have the Federal Reserve print the money, thereby adding to the further debasement of the dollar, or (3) have the IRS seize a larger percentage of the money that rich people earn from their businesses.

Consider the oil industry. While the Venezuelan government owns and operates the oil industry in that country, after having seized it from private companies, the U.S. government leaves the oil industry in private hands but every so often levies an “excess-profits tax” on the oil companies. Thus, while the U.S. method of financing its socialistic welfare-state programs is obviously different from that of the Venezuelans, the principle is the same — using government force to take from the rich to give to the poor (with some of the money, of course, being transferred to the bank accounts of government officials).

Given that Obama and his team are looking to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal for inspiration to save America from its economic woes, we should remind ourselves of what the Roosevelt administration did with respect to gold. While Chavez is nationalizing the gold industry, Roosevelt nationalized the gold itself. Americans were required to turn in their gold to the federal government and anyone caught holding gold was subject to a felony prosecution.

If the U.S. government were to suffer a severe downtown in tax revenues, Obama, like Chavez, will do whatever is necessary to continue the federal government’s “social investment” programs and, for that matter, its overseas imperial and interventionist programs. If such a “crisis” were to strike the U.S. government, as it has the Venezuelan government, Obama could be expected to adopt Chavez-type measures, including higher taxes on “the rich,” “excess profits” taxes on oil companies, and even another FDR-like seizure of all gold held by the American people.

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Private Property, Freedom, and Prosperity
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Two separate articles in yesterday’s New York Times reflect the meaning of private property. One article was about white farmers in Zimbabwe and the other was about a woman in Seattle named Edith Macefield.

In Zimbabwe the government has been taking farms away from white owners and giving them to black citizens. When one of the owners said, “Government takes what it wants,” a Zimbabwean official responded candidly: “That we won’t deny.”

What the Zimbabwean government is doing is simply the essence of a socialistic system, one in which government force is used to take from those who have in order to give to those who don’t have.

In Zimbabwe the issue involves land but the socialistic principle is really no different when it is applied to other property, such as money. When government force is used to take money from the rich in order to give it to the poor, that government is doing precisely what the Zimbabwean government is — using force to steal people’s private property for the purpose of giving it to others.

By the way, Zimbabwe is also where the government is inflating the currency, big time. Annual price increases are about 11.2 million percent. No sound money in Zimbabwe. It’s just another way for the government to loot private property owners and redistribute their wealth.

An economic pie inevitably becomes an enticing target for socialists. They just cannot resist the temptation to take it and begin dividing it up. What they never ask themselves is how the pie comes into existence. They simply consider the pie to be a given, believing that it comes into existence naturally and inevitably.

In actuality, the economic pie comes into existence because of the absence of socialism. Consider, for example, the United States. For most of the period of time from 1787 to the early 20th century, Americans lived without an income tax, a welfare state, and a regulated economy. They also lived with sound money (i.e., a gold standard). The result of this unusual economic system was an enormous economic pie in which the standard of living soared, especially for the poor.

Yet, socialists cannot come to grips with that fact. They think that 19th-century Americans were wealthier than others around the world because they lived in a country with vast natural resources. Of course, that’s ludicrous. The Indians lived in the United States and they didn’t have a high standard of living. Countries like Russia and Mexico are rich in natural resources but have low standards of living, especially for the poor. By contrast, Hong Kong, where economic activity was free of government control before the Chinese takeover, had few natural resources and a relatively high standard of living.

Thus, the key to an ever-increasing economic pie is a society in which people keep everything they earn (e.g., no income tax and coerced welfare) and operate with a monetary system of sound money (e.g., a gold standard). That is the way to rid any society of poverty.

What the socialists do is to take the pie that economic liberty brings into existence and reduce the size of the pie with their socialist redistributive programs. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that in Zimbabwe, “Since 2000, when Mr. Mugabe began encouraging the violent invasion of the country’s large, white-owned commercial farms — one the country’s largest employers — food production has collapsed, hunger has afflicted millions and the economy has never recovered.”

In Seattle, Edith Macefield refused to sell her small house, which had been built in 1900, to developers despite their offer of $1 million for it. Under the private-property tradition in the United States, Macefield was free to reject the offer and remain in her home. It is that tradition of private property that not only serves to protect individual liberty but also higher standards of living.

Of course, the socialists have made significant headway in leading America toward the ultimate socialist redistributive principle that is being demonstrated in Zimbabwe. For example, there is the progressive income tax and the estate tax, which are designed to seize the money of the rich to redistribute it to the poor. There is also a central bank—the Federal Reserve, which destroys the value of people’s money through its power to inflate the currency.

There is also the infamous Kelo decision, where the Supreme Court upheld the power of state and local governments to take away people’s land and give it to developers if the taking is part of a community redevelopment plan. Of course, “just compensation” must be paid, which provides some protection to the landowner but nonetheless constitutes a severe violation of the principle of private property.

As Americans continue to plunge into deeper economic despair, they would be wise to reflect upon the price that sometimes must be paid for the abandonment of principle. They would also be wise to begin reflecting on how right our ancestors were and how wrong the socialists of our time have been.

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bernard Madoff: Another Regulation Success Story
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The $50 billion fraud allegedly committed by Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff has got to be false. After all, we’ve got the SEC. Right? It’s been in existence since the 1930s. Right? Its purpose is to ensure that the American people are protected from fraud in the financial markets. Right?

Well, then how is it possible that a $50 billion fraud has occurred? It just cannot be.

The Madoff case exposes, once again, the dark little secret of government regulation: it doesn’t work. Just ask the people who have lost their fortune with Madoff or those, say, who lost money with Enron, another big company subject to SEC regulation.

Of course, be prepared for the standard line issued by interventionists: “The Madoff fraud reflects the failure of free enterprise and the need for regulation.” Never mind that Madoff’s fraud fell squarely within the ambit of SEC regulation.

Be prepared for the standard secondary line issued by interventionists: “The regulators were asleep at the wheel. We just need to get better, more awake bureaucrats in office.”

But that position doesn’t hold any water either, especially given a man named Harry Markopolos, an investment manager from Boston. Beginning in 1999, he began sending analyses to the SEC warning that Madoff was running an enormous Ponzi scheme. Yes — you read that right — 9 years of continuous warnings, yet ignored by SEC regulators.

What better evidence of the idiocy of government regulations than the Madoff case? What’s the point of having the SEC and financial regulation if they don’t even prevent a $50 billion — billion! — fraud committed in violation of SEC regulations and right under the noses of SEC regulators over a period of 9 regulated years and despite repeated warnings to the SEC of the fraud?

Like so many other government programs that don’t work (e.g., the drug war), the point is simply to provide nice, lucrative jobs for power-hungry people who spend their lives harassing innocent people (e.g., Michael Milkin and Martha Stewart) while making investors think that their government officials are taking care of them.

That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be fraud committed in a free market. But at least people would tend to be more cautious, more responsible, and more diligent than they are when they innocently believe that their government personnel are watching over them and protecting them from the frauds of the world.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why Not Treat the Shoe-Thrower As an Enemy Combatant?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

After being severely beaten by government officials in the free nation of Iraq, Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, the Iraqi man who threw his shoes at President Bush, is being charged with the crime of attacking a head of state, a crime that entails a possible prison sentence of 7 to 15 years.

Some people might consider the beating, which allegedly left al-Zaidi with a broken arm and ribs and injuries to an eye and leg, and the possibility of 15 years in jail, to be too light a punishment for someone who assaults the president of the United States.

But, hey, there’s another option: convert al-Zaidi from a criminal defendant to an enemy combatant in the war on terrorism, thereby entitling the U.S. military to subject him to the full panoply of Abu Ghraib/Gitmo torture-and-sex abuse techniques, and even better, keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.

After all, that’s pretty much what U.S. officials have done with Ali al-Marri. He was getting ready for trial in federal district court here in the United States, when U.S. officials converted him from a criminal defendant to an enemy combatant in the war on terrorism. They whisked him away to a U.S. military dungeon, where he will remain incarcerated for the rest of his life without a trial or as long as the Pentagon chooses.

It’s also what they’ve done with the people they have sent to Gitmo. While they have opted to treat some accused terrorists as criminal defendants (e.g., Zacharias Moussaoui, Timothy McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, etc.), ever since 9/11 the feds have wielded the discretionary power to treat suspected terrorists as either criminal defendants or as enemy combatants.

If a U.S. military tribunal at Gitmo were trying al-Zaidi, wouldn’t there be a much better chance of getting a conviction than if Iraqi judges are deciding his fate? Moreover, unlike in Iraq, if al-Zaidi were somehow acquitted at Gitmo, the Pentagon wields the power to ignore the verdict and keep him incarcerated anyway for the rest of his life as an enemy combatant.

Does it make a difference that al-Zaidi committed his act of terrorism in Iraq rather than the United States?

Of course not. Don’t forget: ever since 9/11, the entire world has become a battleground in the war on terrorism. Even better, al-Zaidi committed his terrorist act in the country that just happens to be the central front in the war on terrorism. If U.S. forces can kidnap suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and every other country on Earth and whisk them away to Cuba for treatment, then surely it can do so with respect to terrorists in Iraq as well.

To those who might claim that attacking a head of state is a criminal offense, not an act of war, there are two responses:

First, ever since 9/11 the U.S. government has wielded the power to convert a crime into an act of war. Indeed, isn’t that what the government has done with the crime of terrorism? If it can do so with one crime, it can do so with other crimes.

Second, the president of the United States is much more than just a head of state. He also happens to be the commander in chief of the military force that is charged with the principle role in waging the worldwide war on terrorism. Thus, since insurgents in Iraq are considered terrorists for attacking Bush’s army in Iraq, then surely someone who attacks its commander in chief is a terrorist too.

Of course, someone might say that throwing a shoe at the president is different from throwing a grenade at the troops. But isn’t that really a distinction without a difference? After all, we’re dealing with projectiles here. Who’s to say that a shoe, especially one with a sharp heel, can’t be just a dangerous as a grenade? Do we really want to be distinguishing criminals from enemy combatants by the type of projectiles they use against the troops and their military commanders?

Moreover, why limit the enemy combatant status to bullets, bombs, and shoes? Hurling words at government officials, especially when strung together in stinging criticism of their actions, can be just as dangerous as those projectiles, if not more so.

Oh, did I mention that al-Zaidi has also been charged with “insulting the Iraqi state”? Why not convert that crime into an act of war too and subject him to enemy combatant status for that act as well. Indeed, why not then expand that act of war to the American people, who are now subject to being treated as enemy combatants in the war on terrorism? If such a crime — insulting the state — is good enough for Iraq, which President Bush tells us is now “free,” then isn’t it just as good for the country that brought such “freedom” to Iraq. And think how much safer everyone would be from the terrorists.

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Our Federal Daddy-God
by Jacob G. Hornberger

A short paragraph in an editorial in today’s New York Times provides an excellent symptom of the cancer that infects the body politic in America. The editorial addresses Caroline Kennedy’s bid to replace Hillary Clinton as New York’s U.S. senator. The paragraph reads as follows:

“Another question being asked quietly among government and business types in New York is whether Ms. Kennedy has the legislative skills to help New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, and the rest of the state’s delegation, negotiate their state’s fair share of much-needed federal money in very difficult times.”

This type of thing has now become such an engrained feature of American political life that hardly anyone even bats an eyelash at the fact that it takes place. It’s just a given now that the federal government is the nation’s gigantic sugar daddy that has a large amount of candy at its disposal. Each state must do its best to elect congressmen and senators who are most adept at going to Washington and getting their fair share of the booty and bringing it home.

This evil, immoral, and corrupt process brings to mind Frédéric Bastiat’s famous dictum: “The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

Here’s how the system works: Each taxpayer is required to pay a certain amount of his income to the Internal Revenue Service. If he refuses to do so, he is sent to a federal penitentiary.

That giant pool of money is then placed at the disposal of Congress. There is no defined rule as to how the money is going to be divided up, but this is where the deal-making comes in, or as the Times calls it, “negotiation.” Trades are made in which congressmen agree to support each other’s grants. The most effective congressmen, as the Times suggests, are those who are able to bring large percentages of the money home to their district.

Oftentimes success is measured by how much the people in a district send to the IRS compared to how much money their representatives and senators are able to bring to their home district. Of course, never mind that the money brought home usually goes to local politicians, contractors, grant recipients, and the like, rather than the taxpayers themselves. If a congressman brings back more than what the taxpayers paid, he is hailed as a great leader and is usually returned to office.

Meanwhile, everyone has come to view the federal government as his daddy or his god. Whenever there’s a problem, the instinct is to look immediately to daddy or god to give them money. Never mind that the money has been forcibly extracted from everyone else by the force of the IRS.

The irony is that it’s this corrupt system itself that is at the root of many of the economic woes that people are suffering. Yet people cannot bring themselves to confront and accept that because it’s too scary. It would be akin to a child’s confronting the possibility that his parents might not be able to take care of him. So, people instead blame their woes on “freedom and the free market” and continue to call on their daddy-god to send them money, blocking out of their minds that it’s just going to make matters worse.

What happens if demands on the federal largess exceed the amount of money the IRS is collecting? No problem. Our federal daddy-god just prints the money to satisfy the ever-increasing demands of his adult-children. Our daddy-god even openly and honestly admits that, as reflected in following subtitle in a front-page article in today’s New York Times: “Agency vows to print as much money as needed to thaw credit markets.”

Of course, never mind the monetary debasement that comes with printing money. People will just blame that on greedy businessmen and mysterious market conditions, not their daddy-god.

Our federal daddy-god also has made all sorts of promises to help people in the future. According a website called U.S. Budget Watch, the U.S. Treasury is reporting $56 trillion in unfunded government liabilities. $56 trillion! That’s a lot of promises and guarantees, which by the way must be funded by taxation or printing of money. Ultimately Americans are responsible for making good on those liabilities.

Meanwhile, the spending just goes on and on, conditions keep getting worse and worse, and people just continue asking their federal daddy-god for more financial help. People are fighting desperately to get their hands on a larger piece of the federal pie but, at the same time, doing their best to guard their own wealth from the IRS. People just keep assuming that their federal daddy-god is all powerful and all-wealthy and that the process can go on forever.

Ultimately something has to give, however, and the piper will have to be paid. When the day of reckoning arrives, we can only hope that Americans will finally realize that the real God (as compared to their federal daddy-god that has provided them with all those goodies in response to their woes) has created a consistent universe, one in which evil, immoral, and corrupt means are incapable of producing good results, not even when people obstinately refuse to acknowledge the evil, immorality, and corruption.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Did the Shoe Thrower Hate America for Its Freedom and Values?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Notice an important aspect of the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq: No one is suggesting that the reason that the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush did so because of his hatred for America’s “freedom and values.”

That was the line that Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other U.S. officials immediately issued and repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseam immediately after the 9/11 attacks. They said that the terrorists hated America for its freedom and values, not because of the bad things that U.S. government officials had been doing to people in the Middle East for years.

The shoe-throwing journalist, Muntadar al-Zaidi, eloquently summed up the reason for his pent-up anger and rage by what he yelled as he threw his second shoe at Bush: “This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq!”

Nothing about America’s First Amendment. Nothing about Christianity. Nothing about rock and roll. Instead, one succinct point about the Iraqi people killed by Bush’s army.

It’s that point that all too many Americans have just never permitted themselves to understand or appreciate. It’s always about “the troops” — thanking them, glorifying them, honoring them. It’s never about the Iraqi people who have been killed, maimed, exiled, or made homeless by the massive death and destruction that Bush’s invasion and occupation have wrought on the people of Iraq.

There is also the callous indifference among U.S. officials to the Iraqi dead. Despite all their highfalutin rhetoric about wanting to help the Iraqi people, U.S. government officials have never given one whit for the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi people know it. Why, since the inception of the invasion and continuing through the seven years of occupation, Pentagon officials have steadfastly refused to even keep count of the Iraqi dead.

The fact is that any number of Iraqi deaths was acceptable to achieve regime change in Iraq. In the minds of U.S. officials, no sacrifice of Iraqi life was too great. Never mind, of course, that the dead were never asked whether they were willing to die for the sake of regime change. Never mind that their children, spouses, parents, and friends might not have considered the sacrifice to have been worth it. All that matters is that U.S. officials believed that sacrificing an unlimited number of Iraqis was worth it.

Of course, that was the same callous mindset that guided U.S. officials during the 1990s. That was the period of time when U.S. officials, after intentionally destroying Iraq’s water and sewage facilities with the aim of spreading illness and disease among the Iraqi populace, imposed one of the most brutal sanctions regime in history on Iraq. When U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was asked whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it,” her response went to the core of U.S. policy toward the Iraqi people: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

That statement, not surprisingly, reverberated throughout the Middle East, raising people’s blood to a boiling point. It had nothing to do with America’s “freedom and values.” Instead, it had to do with a U.S. government policy that caused massive death among Iraqi children, year after year for 11 years, and the callous indifference among U.S. officials to such deaths.

Today, it is not surprising that those who got placed into power in Iraq are happy with Bush’s invasion. It’s also not surprising that the multitudes who have lost loved ones in Bush’s invasion are none too happy about the sacrifices that Bush involuntarily imposed upon them in his war of aggression upon their country. In reflecting on the Iraqi dead and injured and the massive destruction wrought upon their country, we must never forget that neither the Iraqi people nor their government played any role in the 9/11 attacks on America. Maybe the anger and rage manifested by Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi will cause more Americans to finally confront not only the horror of U.S. policy toward Iraq but also U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Democracy, American-Style
by Jacob G. Hornberger

American schoolchildren are receiving some valuable lessons in democracy, American-style.

There is the matter of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of soliciting bribes in return for the appointment of a U.S. Senator to replace Barack Obama.

I really don’t see what all the hub-hub is about. After all, bribery is the name of the game in U.S. politics. It’s just that we don’t call it that for the sake of appearance and respectability.

What are campaign contributions if not a form of advance payment of bribes in return for expected favors down the line? Does anyone really think that all those big donors and bundlers are donating millions of dollars to federal politicians just because they love America and its politicians?

Of course not. Most everyone knows that they’re donating all that money because they expect to receive benefits in return. And the politicians know that if they don’t deliver the bennies after they are elected, the campaign contributions will dry up for subsequent campaigns.

The bribery also works in the other direction. What about all those campaign promises delivered by politicians promising “grants for your community” or some other welfare benefit? Aren’t those just a variation of bribery in that they offer the voters an anticipated benefit in return for their votes? Why do you think there is always a rash of such announcements in the months leading up to the election?

Oh, and for anyone who has convinced himself that Illinois is the exception and that all the other states are different, think again. According to USA Today, on a per-capita basis Illinois actually ranks 18th in number of convictions for public corruption.

There’s also the matter of the bailout for the automobile companies, a socialist program if there ever was one. The U.S. Senate failed to approve the measure. That prompted President Bush to announce that he is considering granting the auto companies their bailout anyway.


I must confess that when I heard that news story, I had to go back and confirm what I had heard. Don’t the teachers in high-school civics classes teach that bills must be approved by both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and then must be signed into law by the president to take effect?

How then does the president bail out auto companies when the U.S. Senate has refused to approve the deal? Isn’t that what dictatorship is all about?

It turns out that Bush takes the position that he can bail out the auto companies with the $700 billion that the Congress granted to him to bail out the Wall Street financial firms.

So, there you have another fine example of democracy, American-style — an enormous slush fund of U.S. taxpayer money that the president has at his disposal to bail out any company he wants, even if Congress refuses to approve the deal.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg is reporting that the Federal Reserve is refusing to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans and the collateral received to secure payment of the loans. The Fed takes the position that such secrecy is essential to its operations. The taxpayers, whose money is being used to make such loans, will just have to trust their appointed officials at the Fed. But hey, isn’t that type of secrecy found in communist and other totalitarian regimes?

American students are also learning a valuable lesson about how U.S. democracy works in foreign affairs. President Bush just signed an agreement for the continued occupation of Iraq that purports to tie the hands of incoming President Obama. While the Iraqi regime needed to secure approval from the Iraqi Parliament, Bush took the position that he could sign the agreement on his own, without the approval of Congress.

Isn’t that a strange way for democracy to operate? Doesn’t it seem more akin to dictatorship? After all, don’t forget that Bush ordered his army to invade Iraq without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. He then ordered his army to occupy the country indefinitely and to brutally suppress any resistance to the occupation. He then signed an agreement with the regime his invasion installed that extends the U.S. occupation for another 3 years. And unlike the Iraqi regime, which calls itself democratic, Bush refuses to get Congress to approve the deal and instead just signs it on his own.

Not that the agreement means anything anyway, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned. Over the weekend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, announced that U.S. troops would remain in Iraqi cities after the agreement’s summer 2009 deadline for exiting the cities.

So, what was the point of making the agreement if it wasn’t going to be honored? Is that the way politicians in democracies are supposed to behave?

Otto von Bismarck once said, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” The same holds true for politicians and bureaucrats in the U.S. and the dictatorial actions they take.

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Is Mexico’s Drug War a Model for the U.S.?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Throughout the decades-long history of the drug war, its proponents have had a favorite line when confronted with the abject failure of the war: “Well, it really hasn’t been waged at all. If they really fought it hard, we would have won long ago.”

Thus, no matter how many people were incarcerated, no matter how many drug gangs were busted, no matter how many drug dealers were incarcerated, no matter how much property was seized, no many how many raids were conducted, no matter how many searches were made, the answer has always been the same — that they just haven’t really waged the war on drugs viciously enough.

Now, let’s turn our attention to Mexico.

Surely the drug-war proponents won’t say that about Mexico. Right? Surely, they’ll admit that the Mexican government is waging the drug war with ferocity and viciousness. Why, the government is even replacing the police with the military in a valiant attempt to finally and forever win the war on drugs. And just recently Mexico’s Congress enacted a series of laws giving the authorities increased powers over the citizenry, just as America’s Congress has done in the “war on terrorism.”

Yet, what has been the result of Mexico’s attempt to ramp up its efforts to win the war on drugs?

Ever-increasing violence. Ever-increasing murders. Ever-increasing torture. Ever-increasing beheadings. Ever-increasing kidnappings. Ever-increasing military and police budgets. Ever-increasing governmental powers over the citizenry.

In other words, the more ferociously they have waged the war on drugs, the worse the situation has become.

Even the drug-war crowd has got to be a bit stunned by this turn of events. How can it seriously continue arguing for a ramping up of the drug war here in the United States knowing what has happened in Mexico in response to the ramping up of the drug war there?

Yet, don’t be too surprised to see the drug-war crowd nonetheless arguing for a ramping up of the drug war here at home not despite what has occurred in Mexico but because of it. After all, what better way to give federal authorities even more power over the lives and fortunes of the American people than by putting the drug war on the same operational basis as the war on terrorism? In that way, the military could protect the American people here at home from enemy combatants in both the war on drugs and the war on terrorism with torture, round-ups, indefinite detentions, and kangaroo tribunals.

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stimulating a New Planet
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In the 1951 sci-fi movie “When Worlds Collide,” a giant asteroid is headed toward our solar system and is going collide with Earth, destroying the planet and everyone on it. However, a smaller planet, whose atmosphere is similar to that of Earth, is circulating around the asteroid and provides hope for a limited number of people on Earth. Scientists calculate that after the collision, the smaller planet will begin orbiting around the sun. Thus, plans are put into place to have people shipped to the new planet in rocket ships prior to the collision.

Let’s assume that that was really about to happen. One hundred Americans are able to flee Earth and land on the new planet. Due to the emergency departure, each of them is able to bring only 3 months worth of food and water.

They quickly establish a new government modeled on that of the United States and elect a president and members of Congress.

Due to the desperate economic conditions on the new planet, the president and Congress announce an economic stimulus package to stimulate the economy. They announce that the government will give everyone a free one month’s supply of food and water.

One of the children, however, raises his hand, and asks, “How can the government give people anything when the government doesn’t have anything to give?”

No problem,” answers the president. “We’ll just tax each person one month’s supply of food and water in order to send everyone one month’s supply of food and water.”

The people hail the president for his genius. Most everyone is gleeful over the fact that he will soon be receiving his economic stimulus of one month’s supply of free food and water.

That precocious child, however, asks another pointed question: “How am I going to be better off if I’m having my food and water taken from me through taxation only to have it returned to me in the form of a stimulus package? I started with 3 month’s supply of food and water and I’m ending up with 3 month’s supply of food and water.”

An astute economist responds, “The boy might have a point. I recommend that the government simply borrow the food and water from each person rather than take it away in the form of taxation.”

So, the president announces his modified stimulus plan: “The government will now borrow one month’s supply of food and water from each person and then send everyone a free stimulus package of one month’s supply of food and water.”

The people begin celebrating again. The president awards the economist with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

That child, however, asks, “How am I better off? Didn’t I start with a 3-month supply of food and water and isn’t that what I’m ending up with after the president’s stimulus package?”

The economist responds, “Before the president’s plan, all you had was your three months of food and water. Now you have 3 months of food and water plus a promissory note from the government promising to pay you a month’s supply of food and water.”

“That’s true,” responds the boy. “But when the government pays off the promissory note, won’t it first have to tax me one month’s supply of food and water to pay off the loan?”

People begin scratching their heads, when all of sudden someone discovers that one of the colonists was actually able to bring hundreds of tools and thousands of food seeds with him from Earth.

That discovery prompts the president to announce a newly modified economic stimulus plan. “We’re going to take most of the rich guy’s tools and seeds and share them with everyone else. This sharing of the wealth will ensure that everyone is made more equal”

People are ecstatic once again. Not the rich guy though. He says, “Those tools and seeds rightfully belong to me. I was a very successful farmer on Earth and earned my money legitimately by establishing a big food-producing business that employed thousands of people. I intend to use my money to build a similar business here on the new planet and I plan to hire most of you. Others can devote themselves to producing other things that people will need. On Earth, I was also a great benefactor who helped the poor with voluntary donations out of the money I earned in the marketplace. You have no right to take my wealth away from me.”

The president responds, “Equality is an important principle in our new society. It is not fair that you have more when others have less. We need to start out with a level playing field, one in which no one has an unfair advantage. So, we are going to take most of your tools and seeds and share your wealth. You will still be considered a great benefactor because your tools and seeds will be going to help everyone else. We’ll even honor you with our new Medal of Benevolence.”

The kid raises his hand and asks, “What good will it do to have all those seeds and tools when the rest of us don’t know anything about farming? Wouldn’t we better off letting the rich guy keep his wealth so that he can use it to establish a big farm, which not only would provide people with jobs but which also would produce the food that all of us need? And isn’t it considered immoral to take that which does not belong to us?”

At that point, Congress quickly enacts a law prohibiting children from speaking without permission, which the president immediately signs into law.

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Enemy Combatants and Freedom of Speech
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Some Americans favor the federal government’s post-9/11 assumption of power to arrest Americans and treat them as “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism.” It doesn’t matter to them that the Pentagon now has the power to round up Americans, keep them in prison camps indefinitely, torture them, and deny them all the rights and guarantees enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The reason it doesn’t bother them is that they figure it would never happen to them, only to other people.

That attitude brings to mind the famous poem by German Pastor Martin Niemoller that was addressed to German intellectuals who failed to oppose the Nazi extermination of “enemies of the state” by pursuing a strategy of targeting separate groups:

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then … they came for me … And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

There is also another important factor relating to a free society that Americans should consider about this post-9/11 power that is now being claimed by the Pentagon and other federal officials. That factor involves the fundamental right of freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Once it seeps into the consciousness of the American people that the federal government now wields the omipotent power to arrest, punish, and detain people indefinitely without trial, a pall of silence will almost certainly fall over the land with respect to criticism of the Pentagon and the rest of the federal government.

Freedom of speech entails the certainty that no matter what you say about the government there is nothing that government officials can do about it. That certainty disappears, however, with the omnipotent power to take people into custody, torture them, and keep them imprisoned without a trial. Even though the power might not be employed, everyone will know that it can be employed at some opportune time in the future, especially in a major crisis.

Thus, the tendency will be to become more circumspect with respect to criticism of the federal government because of the possibilty that in the midst of a big “wartime” crisis, “patriotic” citizens will report to the authorities critical comments about government that people have made in the past. The attitude will tend toward, “Why take a chance? I’m better off just keeping my mouth shut, and so are my spouse and children.”

I personally experienced this phenomenon several years ago while visiting Chile. Chilean military strongman Augusto Pinochet had recently stepped down as president . I attempted to engage ordinary Chileans in political discussion and noticed a tremendous reticence among them to do so. I finally asked one of them why this was so. She explained to me that throughout the Pinochet regime people were very careful about making critical comments about the government.

The reason for that was that everyone was aware of Pinochet’s power to round up people as suspected terrorists, torture them and sexually abuse them, and incarcerate them indefinitely without trial — the same post-9/11 power that the U.S. government now wields over the American people. Even though Pinochet had mostly employed such power during the crisis period following his coup, everyone knew that he could employ it again at any time against any Chilean labeled a terrorist.

Moreover, much like the CIA has been doing since 9/11, Pinochet’s henchmen were traveling the world executing people they considerd to be terrorists, such as former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt.

Thus, even if Pinochet wasn’t still rounding up, torturing and abusing Chileans, and keeping them jailed indefinitely without trial, and sometimes executing them, the Chilean people knew that the power to do such things was always there on a standby basis. That’s why they remained so cautious about conversing about political matters, even several months after Pinochet had left office. The deeply seated mindset of caution and fear among the citizenry did not automatically disappear with Pinochet’s departure from office.

The power to take people people into custody as suspected terrorists, cart them away to some prison camp or dungeon, torture or sexually abuse them, incarcerate them without trial for the rest of their lives, and perhaps even execute them is the most tyrannical power of all. Freedom of speech and other fundamental rights are worthless in the face of such power. As Americans slowly come to that realization, the tendency will be for them to shut their mouths and, even worse, close their minds.

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hitler Favored Public Works Too
by Jacob G. Hornberger

As part of his plan to revive the economy, President-elect Obama is promising the largest public-works project since the Interstate Highway System. I realize that some people get upset when comparisons are made to Adolf Hitler but wouldn’t we be remiss if we didn’t recognize that public works was one of Hitler’s core programs for Nazi Germany? And yes, I realize that just because Hitler embraced a program doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing but shouldn’t it at least raise a red flag?

The Interstate Highway System was inspired by and modeled on Hitler’s massive public-works project know as the autobahn, which was designed to create jobs by building an extensive highway system across Germany. As U.S. troops were entering Germany during World War II, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was so impressed by Hitler’s autobahn that he later constructed the Interstate Highway System, the biggest public-works project in history, when he became president.

While Obama can point to the Interstate Highway System as a glorious socialistic project (i.e., government ownership and management of highways), just as Hitler did with the autobahn, the dark little secret of this big public-works boondoggle is the large number of people who were damaged or destroyed by the project, either by eminent domain or by having their tourist-oriented businesses circumvented by the new federal highways.

I described some of those horror stories back in 1993 in an article entitled “Highway to Collapse: Spending on Infrastructure.”

I opened that article with the following sentence: “Bill Clinton believes that spending on infrastructure will bring jobs and prosperity to America — and, in the process, finally prove, after sixty years of failure, that the welfare-state, managed-economy way of life can be a success after all. But spending on infrastructure is just another highway to collapse. It will only result in higher taxes, more impoverishment, and greater destruction of people’s lives.”

Déjà vu, anyone?

Unfortunately, Obama didn’t clarify exactly how a public-works project is supposed to bring economic prosperity to America.

After all, public-works projects cost money. Where is the federal government going to get the money to pay for these projects? It gets it from the taxpayers. And that has adverse consequences not only for the taxpayers but also for the people on whom they were going to spend the money that was taken from them.

Let’s assume that a taxpayer is taxed $5,000 to pay for Obama’s socialistic public-works projects. He would have spent that $5,000 on, say, a combination of clothing, food, education, and vacation. Those expenditures would have produced an increase in demand for products and labor in those sectors of the economy.

When Obama takes the $5,000 from you to, say, build a new highway somewhere, he will point to the new highway and proudly say, “This highway, which the federal government has brought to you, has produced jobs for your community.” But what people cannot see is all the products and services and jobs that did not come into existence by virtue of the fact that you didn’t get to spend your $5,000 the way you wanted.

Thus, Obama’s plan cannot and will not produce wealth. It will only redistribute it. His public-works plan will take money from Peter and give it to the Paul. That’s the essence of all socialistic projects.

Obama might respond, “No, I promise not to raise taxes to fund my public-works projects.”

Fair enough, but then how does he propose to pay the bills for the project. After all, contractors, engineers, builders, and all their employees aren’t going to work for free. Moreover, we know that the federal government is, for all practical purposes, broke. It has no savings and it is already committed to spending much more money than it receives in taxes, especially on Iraq, Afghanistan, the massive bailout programs, the military-industrial complex, and all its welfare and regulatory programs.

One option will be to borrow the money. Ultimately, however, that debt must be paid back, with interest. That means taxes. Moreover, the federal borrowing necessarily sucks money out of the capital markets that would have been put to uses designated by the private sector. Thus, while Obama will again be able to point to his public-works project and exclaim, “Jobs for your community!” what will be unseen are all the things that did not come into existence as a result of the diversion of capital from the private sector to the public sector.

The third option at Obama’s disposal is the one most likely to be used — using the Federal Reserve to simply print up the money to pay the bills. That’s what inflation is all about — the inflating of the currency. That necessarily means a debasement or depreciation of the dollar. The cost of that debasement or depreciation must fall on some people in society, most likely the poor and middle class. It will be reflected by a lower purchasing power of people’s money. That will be manifested by higher prices for most everything. Inflation is just another form of taxation. It’s just a question of who’s going to pay for it.

Ultimately, the American people are going to have to confront an uncomfortable fact: The welfare-state, interventionist economic system that came into existence during the 1930s is a failure. There is no way to revive it or save it, especially not through the adoption of such socialistic public-works projects that Adolf Hitler, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton embraced and that Barack Obama is now embracing. Such projects will only make a bad situation worse, and they will inevitably lead our nation toward more centralization of federal power and, thus, less freedom for the American people.

The “long run” that free-market advocates in the 1930s warned about has arrived and we’re suffering under it. When will Americans finally abandon this socialistic way of life and restore our nation’s founding libertarian principles of economic liberty, private property, and limited government?

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Nullification of the Bill of Rights
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Last Friday the U.S. Supreme decided to hear the Ali al-Marri case, about which we have written extensively during the past several years. See my November 25 blog post entitled “The al-Marri Case Affects Us All,” which includes links to most of the commentaries we have published on the al-Marri case.

The case involves the power of the U.S. government, including the U.S. military, to seize anyone and everyone, both foreigners and Americans, as “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism” and treat them accordingly — i.e., torture and sex abuse, waterboarding, isolation, sensory deprivation, stress positions, etc.

How long can such treatment last? Forever because that is how long the “war on terrorism” is going to last, especially since the “war on terrorism” generates an endless supply of terrorists.

When someone is designated an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terrorism,” the government no longer needs a criminal indictment against him. There is no jury trial. The military now has the authority to round up anyone and everyone, put them in a military dungeon or concentration camp, and throw away the key.

If a prisoner is lucky enough to contact a lawyer who files a habeas corpus petition, all that the government must do at the hearing is produce some evidence to sustain its finding of “enemy combatant.” Once that evidence is produced, federal judges are extremely unlikely to second-guess the government’s determination, especially in the midst of a big crisis when “national security” is at stake and the government is representing to the judge that the people they have in custody are dangerous enemies of the United States.

Make no mistake about it: The troops will carry out their orders, faithfully and obediently. In their minds, obedience of the orders of their commander in chief fulfills their oath to support and defend the Constitution. The last thing the troops are going to do is buck the president when “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism” are threatening the “national security” of the United States in the midst of a big crisis.

It’s important to recognize how U.S. officials accomplished this revolutionary transformation in American law, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. They simply declared a criminal offense — terrorism — to be an “act of war.” By doing so, they enabled themselves to avoid the application of that portion of the Bill of Rights that accords people fundamental procedural protections in federal criminal cases.

The Framers used the Constitution to bring the federal government into existence, with the understanding that government officials would prosecute people for crimes. But they also understood that throughout history government officials had the propensity to incarcerate and punish people for doing such things as criticizing or opposing the government.

To protect people from government abuse in the federal prosecution of crimes, our American ancestors demanded passage of the Bill of Rights. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments enumerate specific rights and guarantees that the federal government is required to honor with respect to the federal criminal justice system. Those rights and guarantees have protected people in federal criminal prosecutions since the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

But with its post-9/11 declaration that terrorism could now be considered either an act of war or a federal crime, federal officials took a fateful step, one that gave them the power to void the Bill of Rights for people whom the government chose to treat as “enemy combatants” in “war.”

Given the government’s discretionary power to treat terrorism as either an act of war or a criminal offense, it would be difficult to find a better example of a flagrant violation of the principles of the “rule of law” and “equal treatment under law.” Two people accused of the same conspiracy to commit terrorism can now be treated in two entirely different ways, at the discretion of federal officials.

While Ali Al-Marri is a foreign citizen, the principles applied in his case will apply to Americans as well. Thus, if the government wins in the al-Marri case, it will not only have the power to arbitrarily arrest and incarcerate Americans of foreign origin, as it did to Japanese Americans in the crisis of World War II — it will have the power to round up any and all Americans, regardless of national origin. And it will have the power to do so right now and forever as part of its ongoing, never-ending “war on terrorism.” That’s why every American who is committed to the principles of a free society should be extremely concerned with the outcome of the al-Marri case.

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

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chemical Ali and U.S. Hypocrisy in Iraq
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, also known as “Chemical Ali,” has just received a death sentence by an Iraqi court. According to the Washington Post, the punishment was for “his role in crushing a Shiite revolt in 1991, after the Persian Gulf War.”

The context in which the crushing of that revolt took place is an interesting one and actually helps to shed some light on the current President Bush’s fraudulent use of the supposed WMD threat from Saddam to garner support for his invasion and occupation of Iraq.

After the Persian Gulf intervention succeeded in ousting Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991, many conservatives were urging President George H.W. Bush to order his military to proceed on to Baghdad, oust Saddam Hussein from power, and install a pro-U.S. regime.

Concerned that a U.S. invasion of Iraq for the purpose of regime change might involve the U.S. in a civil war, Bush I rejected the conservatives’ pleas.

However, in a series of speeches Bush I encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up and oust Saddam Hussein from power. Among those who responded to Bush call were Shiites in the southern part of Iraq, the ones that Chemical Ali got sentenced for killing.

As Saddam’s forces were reconstituting themselves to attack and suppress the Shiite uprising, the revolutionaries assumed that the U.S. military would come to their assistance, especially given that the U.S. had just defeated Saddam’s forces in Kuwait and given President Bush’s repeated calls for the Iraqi people to rise up against the Saddam regime.

As Saddam’s forces began massacring the Shiites, the Shiites begged Bush to order his military to come to their assistance. Their pleas, however, fell on deaf ears. Moreover, the ceasefire with Saddam that Bush’s military commander in Iraq, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, negotiated allowed Iraqi helicopters to fly over the areas where the Shiites were fighting, enabling Iraqi forces to more easily massacre the Shiite revolutionaries.

Another interesting twist to the Chemical Ali story is described in a August 18, 2002, story in the New York Times entitled “Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas.” The story details a covert U.S. program during the Reagan administration in which U.S. officials helped Saddam Hussein with battle planning in his war on Iran, despite knowing that Saddam’s forces were using poisonous gas against the Iranians. Even while such secret assistance was taking place, the Reagan administration was publicly decrying Saddam’s use of gas. According to the article, “The Pentagon wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas, said one veteran of the program. It was just another way of killing people — whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference, he said.”

Now, carefully read the following sentence from that article:

“Iraq’s use of gas in that conflict is repeatedly cited by President Bush and, this week, by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as justification for regime change in Iraq.”

So, back in 2002 Bush and Rice were citing a past use of gas to justify their goal of regime change in Iraq. Keep in mind also that despite all the rhetoric about Saddam’s WMDs during the 11 years of brutal sanctions against Iraq, U.S. officials always made it clear that if the Iraqi people would just oust Saddam Hussein from power and install a U.S. puppet, the sanctions would be lifted.

Why is all this important? Because it shows that regime change has always been the principle goal of U.S. officials ever since they dissolved their partnership with Saddam Hussein in 1991— when they encouraged the Iraqi people to revolt, when they imposed the sanctions, and when they initially cited Saddam’s past use of gas as a justification for regime change.

That suggests that Bush II’s use of the WMD threat to garner support for his invasion of Iraq was bogus. It’s obvious that he decided to invade Iraq to accomplish what his father had failed to accomplish and what many conservatives wanted him to accomplish — regime change. He just needed a way to nullify opposition and garner support for his upcoming invasion and he knew that citing Saddam’s past use of gas might not be sufficient to garner support, especially if people were to find out that U.S. officials had helped Saddam with his battle plans knowing that he was using gas.

Believing that Saddam Hussein still had some of the gas left over as well as some of the other WMDs that the U.S. had furnished him during the 1980s, Bush obviously decided that his best bet to garner support for an invasion was to convince the American people that Saddam was preparing a massive WMD attack on America. He knew that Americans would trust him and that they would not require him to show them the secret evidence that he was relying upon. Bush’s plan obviously entailed invading Iraq, effecting regime change, finding some leftover gas and other WMDs, and proclaiming himself a savior for saving America from an imminent WMD attack from Iraq. Americans would never be the wiser and Bush would have accomplished what his father had failed to accomplish— the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power and his replacement with a pro-U.S. puppet.

Most Americans believed all the mushroom-cloud references and other WMD scare references that were emanating from Bush and his subordinates. That’s why they overwhelmingly supported the invasion — as a self-defense measure, not a welfare measure in which the Iraqi people were “liberated” from tyranny.

Undoubtedly, Chemical Ali will be sent to the gallows for his use of poisonous gas against the Iraqi people. Too bad those U.S. officials who secretly helped Saddam with his battle plans with full knowledge that Saddam was using such poisonous gas won’t be put on trial as well. The same, of course, holds true for those U.S. officials, including President Bush, who intentionally misled the American people as to why they were invading Iraq, an invasion that has left millions of Iraqis dead, maimed, or exiled from a country that has also been destroyed.

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

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Welfare-State Dependency in America
by Jacob G. Hornberger

How pathetic to see the executives of American automobile companies on their knees before the members of Congress, begging them to use taxpayer monies to bail them out of their financial difficulties. What a fine example of what the welfare state has done to Americans.

Self-reliance? Alas, a quaint and obsolete term that has no place in the modern-day welfare-state society. What now characterizes so many Americans is dependency on the government. Over a period of many decades, the political class has made Americans dependent on the state for their retirement, healthcare, unemployment pay, education, food, subsidies, loans, and much, much more.

The entire package of goodies that government provides to the citizenry could easily be described as welfare-state heroin.

Even more damaging than the dependency itself is the mindset of dependency that the welfare state has inculcated in the modern-day American. So many people honestly believe that they would never be able to survive, prosper, and get educated without the state.

One sees this phenomenon in all age groups.

Among the elderly, the mindset is: “I could never survive without Social Security. I am totally dependent on the government. I would starve to death if the state didn’t send me my Social Security check every month.”

We see it also within the younger crowd. “My children would never get educated if the state didn’t provide schooling for them. And how would the poor ever get educated if the government didn’t provide it?”

Modern-day dependents on government have convinced themselves that the absence of a welfare state means the absence of government entirely. Thus, oftentimes they are shocked to learn that our American ancestors lived without a welfare state for more than 125 years and yet still had federal, state, and local governments. That’s right: no welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidies, public (i.e., government) schooling, income taxation, and the like. Americans were once free to keep everything they earned and to decide for themselves what to do with it.

Despite all the maligning of 19th-century Americans that takes place in American schools and colleges (e.g., “They obviously hated their children because they sent them to work in dismal factories for long hours.”), the fact is that when Americans were free to keep everything they earned and to decide what to do with it, the result was the most prosperous and charitable society in history.

The reason for this was that people were saving large portions of their income, thereby producing the capital that is necessary to raise standards of living, and voluntarily donating other portions of their income to worthy causes. The savings built the businesses and industries that provided the jobs, and the charity built the churches, museums, and opera houses.

Among the chief characteristics of our American ancestors were self-reliance and a can-do spirit. The thought of looking to government to help them solve their problems would not even have occurred to most of them.

Ironically, in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, thousands of immigrants were flooding American shores, fleeing the socialism of Europe in order to come to a land where it was “root hog or die” — a land where people were on their own, where government lacked the power and the means to provide sustenance to them or bail them out of their difficulties.

This is what our American ancestors defined as freedom. It was a concept of freedom that was totally contrary to the dependency-on-government concept that today’s Americans define as freedom.

Our ancestors rejected socialistic measure not just because they favored a free, self-reliant, and voluntary society. They also rejected it on moral grounds.

In a free society, consumers decide which businesses are going to stay in business and which ones are not. U.S. automobile companies have the right to ask people to buy their cars. They have the right to issue bonds asking people to loan them money. They have the right to raise money through the issuance of stock.

The automobile companies, however, have no moral right to force people to buy their products, fund their loans, and give them money. For that matter, no one else has that right either.

Yet, as they get down on their knees before the members of Congress, that’s precisely what U.S. automobile executives are doing. How shameful. How immoral.

Is it possible to restore a free society to our land, given the deep sense of dependency that the welfare state has produced within the citizenry?

Absolutely. All it takes is faith in ourselves, in others, in freedom, and in God, and an unwavering commitment to restore moral principles to our land.

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why Not Expand Torture to the Drug War?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The pro-torture advocates claim that torture is an important tool in the arsenal of the U.S. military that is necessary to keep us safe from terrorist attacks. The idea is that if the military captures a terrorist who has information about a pending terrorist attack, the torturers will be able to torture the information out of him in order to interdict and prevent the pending attack.

Never mind that the suspect is unlikely to acknowledge — in the absence of torture — that he has information about a pending attack. Never mind that there is no way to know for certain whether the suspect is even guilty of participating in terrorism — that’s what a later trial is all about. Never mind that some torture victims are innocent and have no information to divulge. And never mind that information acquired by torture is notoriously unreliable given that many people will do anything, including falsely confessing to crimes and providing false information, to order to avoid being tortured.

An interesting aspect to all this is why the pro-torture crowd has, so far, limited their arguments to cases involving terrorism. I wonder why they haven’t extended their torture arguments to the entire U.S. criminal-justice system.

Consider murder, for example. Suppose cops in New York or Chicago or some other U.S. city believe that a suspect is involved in a conspiracy to kill someone. Why shouldn’t the cops have the same power to torture the suspect as the military does? Wouldn’t the cops be just as good at torturing information how of murder suspects as the military and the CIA do with suspected terrorists, well at least after some good torture training?

An even better example might be a drug suspect, given that the federal government has declared war on drugs just as it has declared war on terrorism. As Mexican government officials have learned, drug dealers can be just as violent as terrorists. If it’s okay to employ torture against terrorist suspects in the war on terrorism, then why not suspected drug violators in the war on drugs?

Suppose the cops take a suspected drug dealer into custody who refuses to snitch on his suppliers. Or suppose the cops are certain that a drug suspect is involved in a conspiracy to deliver a large amount of heroin or cocaine. Why shouldn’t the cops be able to torture the information out of such suspects? Don’t drugs kill people, just as terrorism does?

By declaring war on terrorism, U.S. officials have been able to revolutionize America’s criminal-justice system with respect to the crime of terrorism. That revolution, which has occurred without a constitutional amendment, has included denial of due process, denial of right to counsel, illegal searches, denial of trial by jury, indefinite detention, and torture and sex abuse of terrorist suspects.

Why shouldn’t the feds expand their criminal-justice revolution to suspected drug dealers, suspected murderers, suspected robbers, and the like? Aren’t those crimes oftentimes just as deadly and destructive as terrorism?

Heck, for that matter, why not simply ditch the entire U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights so that the military, the CIA, and the cops can do anything and everything to keep us safe from not just the terrorists but from all the bad guys?

Sorry, I don’t mean to give them any ideas. I simply wish to show how ridiculous and fallacious their war-on-terrorism revolution has been.

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lying About the Iraq Invasion
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In reflecting on his war on Iraq in an interview this week with ABC, President Bush made some revealing statements. He first said that “the biggest regret of all the presidency has been the intelligence failure in Iraq. I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.”

He was, of course, referring to Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be non-existent. According to AFP, Bush then “refused to say whether he would have ordered the March 2003 invasion if he had known that the late dictator Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, calling it an ‘interesting question.’”

The overwhelming weight of circumstantial evidence leads to but one conclusion: that after the 9/11 attacks, Bush intended to invade Iraq for the purpose of regime change and that the WMD “threat” was nothing more than a fake and false covering rationale for the invasion. Bush’s statements to ABC do nothing to dispel that conclusion.

Here is what the circumstantial evidence leads to:

After 9/11, Bush and Cheney decided that the opportunity was right to accomplish what Bush’s father had failed to accomplish and what 11 years of brutal sanctions against Iraq had failed to accomplish: the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power and the installation of a pro-U.S. regime.

However, Bush and Cheney knew that while they could effect regime change in Afghanistan on the basis that the Taliban had been “harboring” terrorists, no such excuse existed with respect to Iraq. Neither the Iraqi people nor their government had ever attacked the United States or threatened to do so.

Bush and Cheney felt they needed both legal and political cover for their invasion. That’s what their desperate attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attackers were all about. If they could establish such a link, then they could claim that they were attacking Iraq in “self-defense.”

When that rationale failed for lack of evidence, Bush and Cheney turned to the UN-resolution rationale. Saddam Hussein, they claimed, was violating UN resolutions by possessing WMDs. The big problem with that rationale, however, was that only the UN, not the U.S., could enforce UN resolutions, and the UN Security Council wasn’t willing to give Bush the authority to enforce resolutions with an invasion.

Bush and Cheney then turned to the imminent-threat-of-a-WMD-attack-on-the-U.S. rationale to garner support within Congress and among the American people for an invasion of Iraq. They figured that they were safe relying on this rationale since they knew that the U.S. and other Western countries had delivered the WMDs to Saddam during the 1980s. They still had the receipts! How likely was it that Saddam had destroyed all those WMDs that the U.S. had delivered to him? In the minds of Bush and Cheney, not very likely at all.

Thus, the idea was to invade Iraq, find WMDs, oust Saddam from power, and claim that Bush and Cheney had heroically saved America from an imminent WMD attack. Bush’s real regret has got to be not the intelligence failure but rather the fact that Saddam Hussein really did destroy the all the WMDs that the U.S. and its allies had delivered to him during the 1980s.

Bush and Cheney and their subordinates then embarked on their campaign to magnify the post-9/11 fears of the American people by conjuring up images of mushroom clouds and chemical and biological weapons that Saddam was supposedly about to unleash on the American people. Bush and Cheney knew that Congress and many Americans would take the position that “The president must know things that we are not privy to. We must trust him.”

That Bush lied about the reason for invading Iraq is also supported by the classified British memo that pointed out that President Bush had already decided to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2002 and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

So, why doesn’t Bush simply tell the truth — that the real reason he invaded Iraq was simply to accomplish what his father and sanctions had failed to accomplish — regime change? Because he knows that to invade a country simply for the purpose of regime change constitutes a war crime and he and Cheney do not want to be prosecuted for committing war crimes.

Bush continues to claim that his war on Iraq has turned out to be a big “success.” If the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis he has killed could speak, how likely is it that they would agree with that assessment?

Once he leaves office, Bush will have plenty of time to reflect upon the massive death and destruction he has wrought on a country that never attacked the United States or threatened to do so. He will also have time to wrestle with his conscience over the lies he has told to cover up his regime-change operation.

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

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai and the Horror of Gun Control
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, I can already hear the U.S. gun-control crowd calling for new gun-control measures here in the United States. There will be several big problems with their pleas.

One, as an article in the International Herald Tribune points out, India has strict gun-control laws. Those laws did not prevent the terrorist attack at the Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel. As libertarians have long been pointing out, terrorists and murderers have no reservations about disobeying gun-control laws. The long-held assumption among the gun-control crowd that murderers and terrorists will respect and obey gun-control laws, even while having no reservations about violating laws against murder and terrorism, is ridiculous, as the Mumbai killings once again demonstrate.

Two, another long-held assumption of the gun-controllers is that gun control will keep guns out of the hands of murderers and terrorists. Not so in Mumbai. The attackers simply brought their weapons with them when they landed on shore.

Third, gun-control laws are successful in disarming peaceful and law-abiding people, preventing them from defending themselves from murderers and terrorists, as the Mumbai killing once again demonstrate. There is no indication that any of the hotel guests fired back at their attackers. The reason had to be that the guests were complying with India’s gun-control laws by not having a gun in their possession.

Without gun control laws, everyone is safer, even those who don’t carry a gun. The reason is demonstrated by what happened in Mumbai. Let’s say that 5 percent of the hotel guests carried a weapon. There were 10 attackers. The guests who were carrying guns could have done some major damage because the attackers would not have known who was carrying guns and who wasn’t. When the attackers are certain that no one is carrying guns, they can move about with ease, shooting everyone they encounter, much as the shooter at Virginia Tech did.

Moreover, the likelihood that at least some people in a building are armed serves as a deterrent to murderers and terrorists. For example, how often do you hear about robberies, murders, and terrorist attacks taking place at U.S. gun shows?

Fourth, the gun-control crowd says that disarmed people can nonetheless rely on the police to protect them from murderers and terrorists. Not so in Mumbai, however, where some 200 innocent people have been killed. One reason was provided by Sebastian D’Souza, a photographer at the scene, who told the Belfast Telegraph: “There were armed policemen hiding all around the station and none of them did anything. At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, ‘Shoot them, they’re sitting ducks!’ but they just didn’t shoot back.”

As the Mumbia horror once again reminds us, gun-control laws are a disaster. They have no effect on murderers and terrorists. They do not prevent murderers and terrorists from acquiring weapons. They succeed in disarming innocent people, thereby preventing them from defending themselves from murderers and terrorists. And by the time the police get around to ending the threat, lots of innocent people have already died.

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.