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, May 2009

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Friday, May 29, 2009

The Sotomayor Nomination Is another Yawner for Libertarians
by Jacob G. Hornberger

As a libertarian, it’s hard for me to get all worked up over President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, as conservatives and liberals are now doing. The only time I’d ever get excited about a Supreme Court nomination is if someone with a libertarian philosophy were nominated, such as Randy Barnett, Richard Epstein, or Andrew Napolitano. Heck, I’d also be excited over the nomination of what I would call principled liberals, such as Glenn Greenwald, Jonathan Turley, Joanne Mariner, and Joseph Margulies. Conservative Bruce Fein would be another great selection.

But a standard mainstream statist lawyer like Sotomayor? Yawn. Big deal.

Given a choice between a conservative and a liberal justice, my inclination has always been to favor the liberal, but with misgivings.

Ever since the Franklin Roosevelt administration, it has been a given that no liberal or conservative lawyer is ever going to uphold the concept of economic liberty. It is virtually impossible to find a liberal or conservative lawyer who believes that any welfare-state or regulatory program violates the Constitution.

But it’s also a given that conservative lawyers, by and large, hate the procedural protections in the Bill of Rights. They have long viewed them as nothing more than constitutional technicalities that let guilty people go free. In the ideal world of the conservative lawyer, the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments would be repealed or ignored. That’s why conservatives love the Pentagon’s new criminal-justice system at Guantanamo — because the federal government is finally able to completely ignore the “technicalities” in the Bill of Rights. If conservatives had their way, all criminal cases — not just terrorism ones — would fall under the jurisdiction of the Pentagon’s new criminal-justice system.

Liberals, on the other hand, traditionally have had a deep devotion to civil liberties and the Bill of Rights.

So, given the fact that both conservative and liberal lawyers hate the concept of economic liberty, I’ve always felt that on balance the proponents of liberty are better off having justices who are going to at least defend civil liberties.

However, one big reason I have misgivings in favoring liberal lawyers over conservative ones, however, is that liberals are likely to be very bad on gun issues while conservatives are likely to be better. Liberal lawyers have the same attitude toward the Second Amendment that conservative lawyers have toward the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments — that it should simply be repealed or ignored.

Another reason for my misgiving relates to the issues of property rights, regulatory takings, and eminent domain. Conservatives lawyers are more likely to protect private property than liberal ones.

The fact of the matter is that the lovers of liberty — i.e., libertarians — are going to come out on the losing end of the appointment of either a liberal or conservative lawyer to the Supreme Court.

The interesting thing about the Sotomayor nomination is that the defenders of civil liberties might still come out on the losing end with this nomination. It would be natural to assume that because Sotomayor has been nominated by a liberal president, she must be pro-civil liberties. Not necessarily. For one thing, keep in mind that Obama has endorsed all the Bush administration’s infringements on civil liberties as part of the “war on terrorism.” Therefore, it’s quite possible that he has nominated someone who he feels will sustain such infringements when the issues reach the Supreme Court. Second, keep in mind that Sotomayor was initially nominated to the federal district court bench by a conservative president, George H.W. Bush.

My favorite justices in Supreme Court history were the following: Stephen J. Field, George Sutherland, Willis van Devanter, Pierce Butler, and James McReynolds. I like Field for his masterful dissent in the Slaughterhouse Cases, where he developed the concept of economic liberty, which would come to influence the direction of the Court into the early 20th century. Sutherland, van Devanter, Butler, and McReynolds were the four justices who were voting as a bloc to strike down FDR’s New Deal programs as unconstitutional. The four of them have gone down in judicial history as the Four Horsemen.

Not surprisingly, the Four Horsemen are reviled by statist law professors in statist law schools across the country. But their judicial reasoning in the various New Deal cases deserves careful study and reflection by every single American, including non-lawyers. Their approach was one of judicial activism, a concept that conservative lawyers today detest, but it was a principled activism, one by which they were not afraid to declare laws unconstitutional.

Here are some great judicial opinions by the Four Horsemen and Field:

Majority Opinion of Justice Sutherland in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923)

Dissenting Opinion of Justice Sutherland in Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisell

Dissenting Opinion of Justice McReynolds in the Gold Clause Cases (1935)

Dissenting Opinion of Justice Sutherland in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1936)

Dissenting Opinion of Stephen Field in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that a U.S. Supreme Court justice doesn’t have to be a lawyer. My recommendation to Barack Obama: Scotch the Sotomayor nomination and nominate libertarian economist Walter E. Williams to the bench.

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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

China’s Internet Control Gives Hope to Libertarians
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Chinese government’s strict control over the Internet will come in handy during the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when Chinese troops, faithfully following orders of their superiors, opened fire on tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators.

Ironically, the tight control that the Chinese communist regime maintains on the Internet provides hope for libertarians here in the United States.

How so?

Because the Chinese government’s tight control over the Internet is powerful circumstantial evidence of the enormous power of truth and ideas on liberty, the power to bring down even governments whose power over the citizenry is omnipotent.

The Chinese Communist Party maintains a political monopoly in the country. No non-Communist Party member is permitted to compete in elections against the Party. Thus, there is no way to peacefully oust government officials from office through elections.

Violent overthrow of the government is also not an option. Long ago, the communist authorities established a nationwide ban on the private ownership of guns, thereby ensuring that the citizenry would forever be denied the ability to resist tyranny by force. When the troops opened up on the protestors in Tiananmen Square, they were certain that the protestors would not fire back owing to the long-established policy of gun control in China.

Why would a regime that maintains a monopoly on power care about controlling the Internet and other media? When they have total power and own all the guns, why should they care about what people are saying or writing?

The answer is that Chinese officials know that truth and ideas on liberty have a power that is immeasurable, a power that can energize and motivate a populace to demand the recognition of fundamental rights and liberty. They are fully aware that no matter how powerful a government might be and no matter how faithful and obedient its troops might be, it might have a difficult time standing against millions of aroused and knowledgeable citizens yearning and demanding to be a free people — free of the domination and control of their own government.

Here in the United States, libertarians face a daunting task in restoring liberty to our land.

First of all, we face the statism that is ardently embraced by both liberals and conservatives, as reflected by their joint commitment to socialism, interventionism, and empire.

Second, there is the political monopoly that Democrats and Republicans have established, which has proven almost as effective as the political monopoly that the Chinese communists enjoy. The statists like to pretend that their system is different from the Chinese system because there are two political parties competing against each other. But that’s just tripe. Actually, it’s one big party — the Statist Party — divided into two wings, the Democrats and Republicans, much as the NFL is divided into two competing conferences.

With their ballot-barrier restrictions, their campaign-finance rules, and their limits on campaign contributions, the Statist Party has effectively ensured that people who oppose its statism have a virtually impossible time competing with them in the political arena. Every once in while a non-statist will break through the monopoly, such as Ron Paul, but it’s a rare exception.

So, with all these forces arrayed against us, it might be tempting for libertarians to say, “Oh, what the heck? There’s no way we can bring all this socialism, interventionism, and empire to an end and restore liberty to our land.”

That temptation must be resisted, however. And the reason lies in the power of truth and sound ideas on liberty.

Think of the situation this way: At one end of the spectrum are us libertarians. At the other end are the statists — forget most of them, they are incorrigible and there is no way that they are going to change their minds. But in the middle are millions of people who are seeking the truth, seeking moral principles, seeking a better way. Those are the people that the statists, in China, the United States, and elsewhere fear.

So, we libertarians just need to keep speaking the truth and sharing our ideas on liberty, with faith and confidence that our efforts are moving us closer to restoring freedom to our land. In the final analysis, to paraphrase George Washington, the results of our efforts are in the hands of God.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Criminal Proceedings against the Torture-Memo Lawyers
by Jacob G. Hornberger

U.S. defenders of the war on terrorism are agog over the fact that a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, has initiated a criminal investigation of the Justice Department lawyers who prepared the infamous torture memos. Garzon is the same judge who initiated criminal proceedings in Spain against Chilean military strongman Augusto Pinochet for torture, murder, and other crimes committed by Pinochet’s subordinates in Chile.

Advocates of the war on terrorism are upset over Garzon’s application of a doctrine known as “universal jurisdiction.” That doctrine holds that when government officials commit crimes that are so egregious in nature as to constitute crimes against all, other regimes can put such officials on trial, even if the crime occurred outside the jurisdiction of the accusing country.

The problem that U.S. officials have is that they lack any real moral standing to object to the concept of universal jurisdiction. After all, what is the war on terrorism itself if not an absolutely perfect embodiment of the concept of universal jurisdiction?

Think about it: The U.S. government claims the power to wage its war on terrorism not just here in the United States but also all over the world. It claims the power to surreptitiously send its agents into any country on earth, kidnap people, and then rendition them to brutal regimes for the purpose of torturing the victims. As long as they’re waging their war on terrorism, the idea is that U.S. agents are immune from criminal and civil liability for violating the laws of other countries.

Consider, for example, Italy. The U.S. government sent CIA agents into Italy with orders to kidnap a resident of that country, notwithstanding that there are criminal laws against kidnapping in Italy. The CIA agents kidnapped the man, drugged him, whisked him away to the airport, and then transported him to a foreign regime for the purpose of torturing him.

Could the U.S. government have followed regular judicial procedures in Italy for arresting and extraditing the man? Of course. But the feeling of U.S. officials is: “We don’t have to do that. We’re waging our war on terrorism, which is universal in nature. Therefore, we can go into any country on earth and take people into custody who we feel are terrorists and cart them away for appropriate treatment.”

As it turns out, Garzon isn’t the only foreign judge who is initiating criminal proceedings against U.S. officials. An Italian judge indicted the CIA agents who kidnapped and renditioned the guy in Italy. But U.S. officials have steadfastly maintained that they will never comply with an extradition request from Italy, notwithstanding an extradition agreement between the two countries. The feeling is: “We’re at war against the terrorists, and it’s a universal war. Therefore, we don’t have to answer to anybody. We are the law, universally.”

It’s still not clear whether U.S. officials are going to permit other nations to wage war on the terrorists too. In other words, if foreign regimes begin sending their agents into other countries to kidnap and rendition people residing in those countries, it’s not at all clear that this is going to sit well with U.S. officials.

For example, if Venezuela or Cuba sent secret agents into the United States to kidnap Jose Posada Carriles, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist downing of a Cuban airliner over Venezuelan skies, my hunch is that U.S. officials would be angry and outraged over Venezuela’s and Cuba’s participation in the global war on terrorism.

And it gets more interesting than that. Recently, the Justice Department secured a criminal conviction in a federal district court here in the United States against Charles “Chuckie” Taylor Jr. for torturing people in Liberia. Yes, Liberia. The U.S. district judge sentenced Taylor to 97 years in a U.S. federal penitentiary for torture committed in Liberia, not here in the United States.

How is that different from Garzon’s initiation of criminal proceedings against U.S. officials who are alleged to have participated in a torture system outside Spain?

Of course, the chances that Garzon’s criminal investigation will ever result in jail sentences for U.S. officials are slim, especially given the enormous power and influence of the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, and the CIA. But one thing is for sure: For the rest of their lives, those U.S. officials who participated in the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation program, from the top on down, will no doubt want to think twice about vacationing in Spain … or any other country that might decide to honor an extradition request from Spain.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Was Rape an Enhanced Interrogation Technique?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

There are those who argue that U.S. officials who authorized waterboarding and who performed waterboarding should not be held criminally accountable, notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. government prosecuted Japanese military personnel who waterboarded U.S. POWs during World War II. Their reasoning goes as follows: Since the president’s attorneys redefined torture to mean only those actions that threaten death or serious injury to bodily organs, waterboarding did not meet that redefinition.

What about rape? It would seem that rape, like waterboarding, would not meet the Bush administration’s redefinition of torture. Rape doesn’t threaten death or serious injury to bodily organs. Should U.S. officials who authorized enhanced interrogation techniques be let off the hook for rapes committed by U.S. officials as part of enhanced interrogations of detainees?

That of course begs the question: Were people raped as part of the U.S. government’s enhanced interrogation techniques?

Well, think back to the Abu Ghrab photos and videos, which depicted sordid sexual acts being committed by U.S. personnel on Iraqi prisoners. You may have forgotten that there was a particular set of photos and videos that were never released to the public because they depicted acts that were apparently much worse than anything that was shown in the photos that were released. Therefore, U.S. officials decided to keep those particular photos and videos under lock and key.

What do those photos and videos reflect? We don’t really know, but according to an article dated July 15, 2004, on Salon.com, Seymour Hersh is quoted as saying in a speech to the ACLU:

Debating about it, ummm … Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib … The women were passing messages out saying “Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened” and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.

The Salon article concludes with the following paragraph:

(Update: A reader brought to our attention that the rape of boys at Abu Ghraib has been mentioned in some news accounts of the prisoner abuse evidence. The Telegraph and other news organizations described “a videotape, apparently made by US personnel, is said to show Iraqi guards raping young boys.” The Guardian reported “formal statements by inmates published yesterday describe horrific treatment at the hands of guards, including the rape of a teenage Iraqi boy by an army translator.”)

It should be noted that that batch of photos and videos is a different batch from the ones that the Obama administration is now doing its best to keep secret. The rationale for keeping both batches secret is that the photos and videos will inflame anger and hatred among foreigners against the United States. It’s difficult to imagine how the photos and videos that are being kept secret could be much worse than the Abu Ghraib photos and videos that were released, but one distinct possibility is that they show people being raped.

Is it inconceivable that rape was employed as an enhanced interrogation technique? Well, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a regime used rape as an enhanced interrogation technique. Think back to the Pinochet coup in Chile, a coup in which the CIA played a role — as yet undefined — in the murder of a young American journalist, Charles Horman, at the hands of Pinochet’s forces. According to an article in The Independent, “Prisoners at both centres were subjected to electric shocks, severe beatings, suspensions from ceilings until their wrists tore, and rapes.”

If U.S. officials are going to continue keeping both batches of photos and videos secret, isn’t it incumbent on them to put all questions to rest respecting the issue of rape? How about a sworn affidavit signed by three members of Congress who have viewed the evidence stating unequivocally that the photos and videos do not depict rape in any form or fashion?

If it turns out that the secret photos and videos do show that people were being raped pursuant to the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques, I’d like to see defenders of waterboarding explain why those who authorized, ordered, condoned, and performed such rapes should be let off the hook too.

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

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Empire Is Bankrupting America
by Jacob G. Hornberger

While Barack Obama was delivering his flowery speech justifying the indefinite imprisonment without trial of people suspected of violating laws against terrorism, the New York Times and Bloomberg were reporting on the financial consequences of out-of-control federal spending.

You’ll recall that the Bush administration, which was insistent on continuing the brutal embargo against Cuba, borrowed enormous sums of money from the communist regime in China to finance the U.S. Empire, especially the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the 8 years of the Bush administration, China became one of the U.S. government’s principal creditors. According to an article by Mark Gilbert in Bloomberg entitled “Dollar Is Dirt, Treasuries Are Toast, AAA Is Gone,” “China owns about $744 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds in its $2 trillion of foreign-exchange reserves.”

Guess what China is now doing. According to the New York Times article, while China continues to lend massive amounts of money to the U.S. government, it is shifting the mix of its investment portfolio by lowering its holdings of long-term U.S. debt and replacing it with short-term U.S. securities.

Why is it doing that? Chinese officials are obviously convinced that the out-of-control federal spending and rapidly growing U.S. debt will bring about a massive debasement of the dollar, which will crunch the value of long-term debt securities. As Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister put it earlier this year, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.”

According to the Times, China has also been stepping up its purchase of commodities, such as iron ore, crude oil, grain, gasoline, diesel, and sugar. Also, “after six years of silence, China unexpectedly disclosed last month that it has been gradually buying gold from domestic producers. The country’s reserves had climbed 600 tons in 2003 to 1,054 tons, worth $31.8 billion at prices late Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government just keeps spending and spending and spending, with no end in sight, especially given the ever-increasing military needs in Iraq and Afghanistan and ever-increasing welfare needs in the United States. According to Bloomberg, “President Barack Obama’s administration has pushed the nation’s marketable debt to an unprecedented $6.36 trillion. It raised on May 11 its estimate for the deficit this year to a record $1.84 trillion, up 5 percent from the February estimate, and equal to about 13 percent of the nation’s GDP.”

Standard and Poor is now threatening to downgrade the U.S. government’s AAA credit rating on its debt instruments, which it has just done to Great Britain’s credit rating. Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of Pacific Management Co., told Bloomberg, “The markets are beginning to anticipate the possibility” of a downgrade though “it’s certainly nothing that’s going to happen overnight.”

No wonder the Chinese are now talking about the Chinese renminbi replacing the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

While it is imperative that libertarians continue focusing on the fundamental immorality of U.S. foreign policy — that is, the assassinations, invasions, occupations, bombings, torture, indefinite imprisonments, denial of due process, denial of trial by jury, cancellation of habeas corpus, and other infringements on civil liberties — it is also imperative that we continue reminding our fellow Americans what these people are doing to the financial and economic well-being of our country. Empires bankrupt nations. And that’s precisely what the U.S. Empire is doing to America.

P.S. The debate on Afghanistan in which I recently participated is now online. It was sponsored by the Donald and Paula Smith Foundation in New York City. The debaters were Max Boot (Council on Foreign Relations), Chris Prebble (Cato Institute), Larry Goodson (Army War College), and Jacob Hornberger (president of The Future of Freedom Foundation). I think you’ll really enjoy this heated debate. One lady said that it was the best debate she had witnessed in the Smith Foundation debate series.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tyranny in Burma Holds Lessons for Americans
by Jacob G. Hornberger

An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “Myanmar’s Cowardly Generals” excoriates the brutal military regime in Myanmar, aka Burma, for threatening the country’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with additional criminal charges for letting an uninvited American visitor spend the night in her home. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner, has been under house arrest for 13 out of the last 19 years and has not been permitted to receive visitors. As a result of the man’s unexpected visit, she is now undergoing a criminal trial and facing an additional five years imprisonment.

Except for the most ardent supporters of military rule, everyone would agree that the people of Burma are suffering under tyranny. The tyranny is not just that the military regime in Burma hasn’t been elected. It’s also because the regime is extremely brutal.

The situation in Burma holds some valuable lessons for Americans.

First, there is strict gun control in Burma. That means the citizenry are not permitted to own weapons, a state of affairs that is the dream of gun-control advocates everywhere.

The result of gun control in Burma is obvious: the Burmese people have no means by which to resist violently the tyranny under which they suffer. They must meekly submit to the tyranny.

That’s not to say, of course, that they would resort to violence if they did own weapons. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, oftentimes people will tolerate a lot of oppression before resorting to force of arms in the attempt to throw off the shackles of tyranny. The reason for that is that violent revolutions produce lots of death and destruction and not guaranteed success. People must think long and hard before resorting to violent resistance to tyranny.

But the nice thing about the right to keep and bear arms is that at least it provides an option for people who are suffering under tyranny. If the tyranny becomes insufferable, people’s weaponry at least gives them the chance of overthrowing it. Without weapons, there is but one option: submit.

Second, the tyranny in Burma gives us a good example of the type of foreign policy envisioned by the Framers. As bad as things are for the Burmese people, the U.S. government is not invading and occupying the country. That is a good thing. An invasion and occupation would undoubtedly kill and maim hundreds of thousands of people and wreak devastation across the country, as it has in Iraq.

The fact is that the situation in Burma is the business of the Burmese people, not federal officials in Washington. This principle is no different in every other country on earth, including Iraq, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, and other countries where the U.S. government has attempted regime-change operations.

Third, there is another way to help people who are suffering under tyranny, oppression, or harsh economic conditions. It is the way that was envisioned by our American ancestors. Here was the message that early Americans effectively sent to the world when the United States were established: “We know that there are vile and brutal tyrannies all over the world. There always have been and there always will be. We will not send our military forces to save you from tyranny. However, let the word go forth that if people who are suffering under such conditions wish to escape, there will always be at least one country that will accept them and not force them back — the United States of America.”

Fourth, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial is a sham, one in which the outcome, one way or the other, is preordained. Given the military mindset in Burma, there is no way that military officials would ever accord the accused due process of law or trial by jury because then the result would be in doubt. Despite the fact that the trial has the trappings of a legal proceeding, British Ambassador Mark Canning put it well, “All the paraphernalia of the courtroom is there. The judges, the prosecution, the defence. That’s all there, but I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted.” (Although the first part of the trial was held in secret — national security, of course — Canning and other diplomats were allowed to witness a later part of the proceedings.)

We would be remiss if we failed to take note of the type of person that military officials consider to be a threat to national security — political dissidents and critics of the state.

Gun control. Military rule. Denial of due process and trial by jury. Let’s just hope that such tyranny never comes to America. Let’s also hope that the U.S. government leaves the Burmese people, along with everyone else in the world, alone.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where is the Change on Indefinite Detention?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

As part of the much-vaunted change that Barack Obama said that he was bringing to America as president, Obama has announced that he is dropping President Bush’s use of the term “enemy combatant” from his lexicon. At the same time, he has announced that he will continue the Bush administration’s post-911 assumption of power to arrest and incarcerate people for the rest of their lives without a trial.

That’s the change we can believe in? Come on!

By the way, the president’s embrace of indefinite detention as part of the “war on terrorism” also goes to show what a sham his recent actions were in the Ali al-Marri case. You’ll recall that al-Marri is a foreigner who was being held indefinitely by the Pentagon as an enemy combatant, after having begun his long legal sojourn as a criminal defendant in federal district court.

Just as al-Marri’s case was reaching the Supreme Court, Obama’s Justice Department announced that al-Marri was being reconverted to criminal-defendant status. The legal maneuvering deprived the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal, which would have provided the Court the opportunity to declare the power to detain people indefinitely in violation of the Constitution.

Obama’s legal maneuvering reminded us that Bush’s Justice Department had done the same thing in the Jose Padilla case. Once Bush had secured a favorable ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upholding his power to jail Americans indefinitely in military prisons, Padilla appealed to the Supreme Court. Before the Supreme Court could consider the appeal, however, Bush’s people converted Padilla to criminal-defendant status, thereby depriving the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal. That left the Second Circuit decision in the Padilla case intact.

As soon as Obama assumed the presidency, he did the same thing that Bush did. Obama’s supporters, however, argued that his motivations were honorable. Converting al-Marri to criminal-defendant status, they claimed, was not legal maneuvering to deprive the Supreme Court jurisdiction to hear the appeal but instead consistent with Obama’s supposed opposition to the indefinite-detention power assumed by Bush and the Pentagon after 9/11. They even pointed to the Justice Department’s request to have the appellate court decision against al-Marri vacated as proof of such good faith, conveniently ignoring that the same court’s decision in the Padilla case remained fully intact.

But Obama’s actions were all a sham, which has been confirmed by his announcement that he will continue to embrace Bush’s assumption of power to detain people indefinitely without trial.

It’s just another pathetic example of how Democrats and Republicans share the same philosophy and how it’s all just a contest to see who is going to get to wield power. Let’s face it: If John McCain had been elected president instead of Barack Obama, he would be doing the same things that Obama is doing and that Bush was doing — leading America to financial ruin by spending big on grandiose socialist and imperialist programs, making America less safe through the never-ending killing of foreigners, narrowing the scope of people’s freedom in the name of security, and using “crises” to expand power.

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

Monday, May 18, 2009

Justifying Iraq with Torture
by Jacob G. Hornberger

An increasing number of articles (see here and here and here and here) are pointing to evidence that U.S. officials tortured detainees to force them to disclose a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. The evidence includes an allegation by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has alleged that the enhanced interrogation program’s “principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at preempting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al Qaeda.”

Meanwhile, a man named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi has recently died in a Libyan prison. In his famous speech to the UN Security Council to build support for the planned invasion of Iraq, Powell relied on assertions made by al-Libi that turned out to be false. In his UN speech, Powell said he could “trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda.”

According to Wilkerson, U.S. officials pressured the Egyptian officials to torture al-Libi to get information out of him relating to the alleged Saddam-al-Qaeda link.

How did al-Libi get to Egypt? He was renditioned there by the CIA.

How did al-Libi get to Libya? He was renditioned there by the CIA, after Egypt returned him to the CIA.

If all that isn’t enough to warrant subpoenas and investigations, what is?

Yet, incredibly there are still people in this country who cry, “Leave it alone. Leave it buried. Let’s move on. The past is the past.”

Let’s keep in mind, after all, who runs Libya. It’s Mohammar Qaddafi. Remember him? He’s the man in charge of the regime that U.S. officials considered a state sponsor of terrorism, a regime that formally admitted responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

So, how does it come to be that U.S. officials entered into a torture partnership with Qaddafi’s regime? Who strikes such a deal? Who are the negotiators? Is the agreement put into writing or is it done through a handshake? Are U.S. officials present during the torture?

Wouldn’t you think that the members of Congress would want to know such things? Wouldn’t you think a federal grand jury would want answers? Wouldn’t you think an independent press would demand answers? Would you expect at least a bit of outrage over all this?

Alas, not in an age in which morality has become passé. Making torture deals with evil brutes, while coming up with bogus justifications for waging a war of aggression that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, is now just an accepted part of life in an empire.

By the way, the situation is the same with respect to Syria. Do you recall that President Bush would repeatedly say, “We don’t talk to Syria because Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism”?

Well, it was a lie. It had to be because at the same time that Bush was making his pronouncements, there were U.S. officials striking a deal with Syria to torture a Canadian named Maher Arar, who U.S. officials had kidnapped here in the United States and renditioned to Syria for the purpose of having him tortured.

Which U.S. officials actually spoke to Syria to make the torture deal? What were the terms of the agreement? Who were the Syrian officials who negotiated the deal? Was the torture deal struck without Bush’s knowledge and consent? Did he later ratify it?

Alas, not one of those questions was ever asked by any member of the press at any of Bush’s press conferences. They just blithely accepted Bush’s repeated bromide about not talking to Syria despite the conclusive evidence that Syria was torturing Arar pursant to a torture deal with Syria that had been struck by Bush’s subordinates.

The claim by Libyan officials that al-Libi committed suicide, of course, has to be taken with a grain of salt. If they murdered the guy to keep him silent, they would allege he committed suicide. Are the Libyan torturers capable of murdering their torture victims? Just ask the surviving victims of Pan Am Flight 103. While it’s possible that Qaddafi and his henchmen have been converted into saints, isn’t it much more likely that it’s just one more case in which the U.S. government has entered into a partnership with evil, brutal people as part of its pro-empire, interventionist foreign policy?

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were scrambling to find a legal justification for their war of aggression against Iraq. People have a right to know whether they employed torture in the hopes of finding that justification. People also have a right to know how the U.S. government came to enter into torture agreements with the brutal regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Syria and what the consequences of those torture agreements have been.

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

Friday, May 15, 2009

Illegal Aliens: Welfare or Work?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States has plummeted, to the tune of about a quarter-million people, a 25 percent decline. The article states:

“The trend emerged clearly with the onset of the recession and, demographers say, provides new evidence that illegal immigrants from Mexico, by far the biggest source of unauthorized migration to the United States, are drawn by jobs and respond to a sinking labor market by staying away. ‘If jobs are available, people come,’ said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. “If jobs are not available, people don’t come.”

Wait a minute! How is that possible? Haven’t the immigration warriors told us for years that illegal aliens come to America to get on welfare, not to work? Well, given the worldwide recession, wouldn’t it stand to reason then that illegal immigration should be soaring instead of plummeting? Given bad economic times, wouldn’t this be the time when people would be going on welfare more than ever?

My hunch is that deep down the immigration warriors have known the entire time that their welfare argument was bogus. Illegal immigrants risk their lives and their liberty in an effort to sustain and improve their lives and the lives of their families through labor. The notion that they’re going to risk their lives and liberty in order to walk into a welfare office in an attempt to defraud U.S. officials is ridiculous. These people are scared to death of public officials and will do everything they can to avoid contact with them, for fear of being caught and deported. All they want to do is work for American employers, who, by the way, recognize their value by hiring them.

In fact, take a look at this Washington Post article that appeared last Wednesday. It’s entitled “Vermont Dairy Farms Count on Illegal Immigrants.” A New Hampshire citizen, Nancy Sabin, puts the matter succinctly: “If it wasn’t for the Hispanics, there would be no family farms. There would be no farms, period.” The article goes on to speak the truth about illegal immigration in Vermont;

“This is the open secret behind the black-and-white Holsteins, rolling hills and postcard images: Unable to attract local workers for the grueling job of milking cows and working the farm, Vermont, the nation’s 14th-largest dairy state, props up its dairy industry with perhaps thousands of immigrant laborers, many of whom are in the U.S. illegally. ‘Everyone knows some of these people are illegal,’ says Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee. But, he says, ‘The system is broken. There’s the need for labor.’”

The system is indeed broken, as are so many other federal programs that have placed law in contradiction to moral principles. But the good news is that there is a way to fix the system: by restoring the principles of economic liberty, freedom of contract, freedom of association, and open immigration to our land.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Will They Hate Us for the Secret Photographs?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Recall that immediately after 9/11, U.S. officials put out the official version of what had motivated the terrorists. “They hate America for its freedom and values,” they cried. The anger and hatred that had motivated the attackers had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy, U.S. officials claimed.

Yet, today we have President Obama, on the extreme urging of the Pentagon, reneging not only on his campaign promise of “transparency” but also on the commitment U.S. officials made to release the latest batch of torture photos that the Pentagon has kept hidden for some five years.

What are Obama and the Pentagon using as an excuse to keep these photographs secret? They’re saying that foreigners will get angry if they see photographic evidence of bad things that U.S. officials have been doing to foreigners as part of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.

Isn’t that an implicit admission that foreigners do get angry over the bad things that the U.S. government does as part of its foreign policy? Wouldn’t the same principle apply to the bad things that the U.S. government was doing to people in the Middle East as part of U.S. foreign policy before 9/11?

Well, let’s review the bad things that the U.S. government was doing to people in the Middle East prior to 9/11.

1. The U.S. government supported Saddam Hussein, whom U.S. officials at a later date portrayed as the new Hitler. In fact, the reason the President Bush and Vice-President Cheney were certain that their invasion of Iraq would uncover WMDs is because they still had the receipts for the WMDs that the U.S. had delivered to Saddam during the 1980s so that he could use them to kill the Iranian people.

2. The U.S. government intervened in the Persian Gulf War, after having signaled to Saddam that it had no interest in the Iraq-Kuwait border dispute, killing countless Iraqis in the process. It was during that war that the Pentagon ordered the destruction of Iraqi water and sewage facilities after determining that doing so would help spread infection and disease among the Iraqi people.

3. The U.S. government and the UN (operating at the behest of the U.S. government) imposed a system of brutal sanctions for more than 10 years against Iraq, which prevented the country from repairing its water and sewage facilities, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

4. Speaking on behalf of the U.S. government, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright announced to the world that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it.”

5. U.S. officials establish “no-fly zones” over Iraq, without the consent of Congress or the UN, which kill more Iraqis.

6. U.S. officials station U.S. troops, who are viewed as infidels by many Muslims, near Mecca and Medina, which are considered among the holiest lands in the Muslim religion.

7. U.S. officials continued unconditional financial and military aid to the Israeli government.

If people in the Middle East would get so angry at seeing some more photographs depicting sex abuse of prisoners at the hands of U.S. personnel that U.S. national security would be threatened, as Obama and the Pentagon are now claiming, doesn’t it stand to reason that they’d get just as angry, if not more so, over the much worse things that the U.S. government was doing in the Middle East prior to 9/11? And doesn’t that imply that the “they hate us for our freedom and values” line was bogus from the get-go?

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lt. Erin Watada and a Standing Army
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The case of Lt. Erin Watada provides a good example of why our American ancestors opposed a standing army. You’ll recall that Watada is the U.S. military officer who refused orders to deploy to Iraq on the ground that to do so would constitute the war crime of waging a war of aggression. The U.S. Army prosecuted him for refusing to obey such orders but then screwed up by agreeing to the granting of a mistrial after Watada’s trial had already begun. Since another trial would have violated the constitutional provision on double jeopardy, U.S. military officials have recently decided to drop the charges. Still pending are charges relating to Watada’s criticism of President Bush.

Why did Watada incur the wrath of his superiors? One reason and one reason alone: Making an independent judgment that President Bush’s war on Iraq violated both the U.S. Constitution and international law, he refused to obey orders to deploy to Iraq. It’s that simple. In the eyes of the Pentagon, that’s not what a soldier, especially an officer, is supposed to do. A soldier loyally and obediently follows the orders of his commander in chief, no questions asked.

Look at the national torture debate. The CIA is saying, “Don’t prosecute us. We were just following orders.” And look at all the people who are sympathetic to their position. The idea is, “Hey, they’re the patriots. They were just doing their job by following orders. If anyone is at fault, it’s got to be the people who ordered them to violate the law, not those people who loyally and obediently obeyed the orders.” (Of course, never mind that many of those same people are saying that those who issued the orders shouldn’t be prosecuted either.)

But the point is that the military mindset is such that everyone, especially the officers, is expected to loyally and obediently obey the orders of his commander in chief. That’s what most of them define as fulfilling their oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” When they loyally and obediently follow the orders of their commander in chief, in their mind they are defending our freedoms, fighting for our country, keeping us safe, and supporting and defending the Constitution. And people like Watada, who follow their conscience and the law, are considered bad people who deserve to be prosecuted and punished as common criminals.

What happens if the president issues orders that violate the Constitution or statutory law? Theoretically, the soldier, especially the officer, is supposed to refuse to obey such orders. But as a practical matter, that’s not what happens. In the real world, the soldier is not supposed to make that type of determination. He is simply expected to loyally and obediently follow the orders of his commander in chief.

What better proof of this phenomenon than the Watada case? It is undisputed that Iraq never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It is also undisputed that President Bush never secured the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war against Iraq. It would be difficult to find a better example of an illegal and unconstitutional war, which is precisely why Watada refused to obey orders to participate in it.

But the U.S. military considers him to be the bad guy, which is why they prosecuted him as a criminal. In the eyes of the military, the good guys are the officers who loyally and obediently obeyed the president’s orders to invade and occupy Iraq, just as the good guys are those CIA agents who loyally violated the laws against torture.

The upshot of all this is that the president essentially has an enormous personal army at his disposal, one that is prepared to loyally and obediently carry out whatever orders he issues. That’s not a good thing when it comes to a free society. The Founding Fathers understood that principle, which is precisely why they opposed a standing army for the United States.

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Charade of Left and Right
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The soul-searching and handwringing within the conservative movement continues apace. Dick Cheney has entered the controversy by suggesting that Colin Powell should leave the Republican Party owing to Powell’s pre-election campaign endorsement of Barack Obama. Cheney’s view echoed that of conservative icon Rush Limbaugh, who Powell suggested was part of the reason that Republicans were in trouble.

Nothing could be more ridiculous. These people continue the charade they’ve played for decades, a charade that pretends that there are fundamental philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals.

In truth and in fact, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two. It’s all a bitter, intra-house fight over who is going to control the levers of federal power.

For decades, conservatives have postured themselves as defenders of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.” It’s their favorite mantra. Just go to the website of any prominent conservative think tank or educational foundation, and I’ll guarantee that you will find it there. They have it on their masthead, in their mission statement, in their stationery, and in their articles, and they repeat it ad infinitum, ad nauseam at their seminars and conferences. It’s how conservatives try to show how they’re different from liberals.

Yet, take a close look at those conservative websites, especially their positions on specific issues. You will find something very interesting: They support all the things that violate the principles of the mantra that they hold so dear. And guess what: Those are also the things that liberals hold dear.

Want some examples? Just to mention a few: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, income taxation, the drug war, government-business partnerships, education grants, public schooling, farm subsidies, SBA loans, the Federal Reserve, paper money, managed trade and immigration, a foreign military empire, the war on terrorism, the CIA, wars of aggression, foreign occupations, and sanctions and embargoes.

Now, ask yourself: How can any of those things be reconciled with the mantra “free enterprise, private property, and limited government”? They can’t be. As socialist, interventionist, and imperial programs, they violate principles of free enterprise and private property and produce a government of unlimited powers, especially in foreign affairs.

Recently Republican Senator Arlen Specter shocked the Republican-Democratic world by shifting to the Democrats. Yawn! What’s the big deal? With the exception of Ron Paul, every Republican and Democratic member of Congress could switch back and forth and it wouldn’t make any difference philosophically because they all share the same statist philosophy. The only difference it would make is with respect to control, which is what it’s all about.

Look at Barack Obama. Have you noticed any fundamental differences between his economic philosophy and foreign-policy philosophy and that of his predecessor George W. Bush? There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them. Obama has embraced every one of Bush’s foreign-policy programs and his infringements on civil liberties. He is also borrowing, spending, and printing as much money as Bush, if not more.

And why not? Like Bush, Obama believes in the socialistic welfare state and the planned economy. And like Bush, he believes in the empire and its right to impose its will on everyone else in the world.

The real ideological, moral, and economic battle in this country is between the lovers of liberty, on the one hand, and the lovers of statism, on the other hand. The lovers of liberty are the libertarians. The lovers of statism are the conservatives and liberals. Unlike the statists, who support and defend all those socialist, interventionist, and imperial programs, libertarians are committed to abolishing and repealing every single one of them. For libertarians, liberty and moral principles, not tax loot and political power, are the highest priority.

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

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Parasite
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Desperate for money and exposing the naked force of government, the socialist regime of Hugo Chavez is seizing the assets of foreign oil companies operating in Venezuela. At the same time, Chavez is implicitly acknowledging that socialism doesn’t work because he’s simultaneously soliciting bids from private oil companies in the West for new oil projects, no doubt hoping that the bidders ignore what he is doing to current operators.

Big government operates as a giant parasite on the body politic. Its aim is to suck as much lifeblood out of its victim as it can, but without killing him. The parasite knows that if it kills the host, the parasite itself will die.

That was one reason that the Framers limited the powers of the federal government and why our ancestors lived without income taxation and without a welfare state for more than 125 years. They knew that the propensity of government is to grow and grow and grow, while incessantly trying to satisfy its insatiable thirst for more and more and more money.

The challenge for those in the parasitic sector in a democracy is to come up with ways to convince the citizenry that the parasite is necessary and essential to their safety and well-being. In that case, the citizenry are more apt to support the parasite’s attachment to the body politic.

That’s where emergencies and crises come into play. What better opportunity to convince people to participate in the seizure of their own property than when they’re frightened like little children in the midst of an emergency or crisis, including those that are caused by the parasite itself?

Are Chavez’s seizures any different in principle from what the federal parasitic sector does here in the United States? What’s the difference between seizing oil company assets and imposing an “excess profits tax” on the money that oil companies earn? Don’t they both constitute the legalized stealing of things that belong to someone else?

And look at President Obama’s (and President Bush’s) out-of-control federal spending. We all know that someone is going to get looted as a consequence of all that borrowing, spending, and inflating that he and the Federal Reserve are engaging in to finance the voracious needs of the parasite. Most likely, the victims will be the people in the middle class.

One thing is for sure: when prices start to soar because of the Fed’s inflationary policies, Obama and his crew will mimic Chavez and his cohorts as they place the blame on speculators, big oil, OPEC, the rich, the terrorists, the greedy, entrepreneurs, free enterprise, capitalists, and businessmen.

When it comes to financing the needs of the parasite, don’t expect those in the parasitic sector to have any sympathy for people whose income or savings have dropped. The ever-growing needs of the parasite must be met, and don’t expect any reductions in the size of the parasite. People in the private sector — i.e., the host — will simply be expected to reduce their savings and consumption in order to maintain the ever-increasing needs of those in the public sector — i.e., the parasitic sector.

In other words, the needs of the parasite come first. Those of the host come second.

What happens if borrowing, taxes, and inflation fail to satisfy the voracious needs of the parasite? Then it will resort to the same measures that Chavez is resorting to: direct seizures of assets.

What are the likely candidates for direct seizure by the U.S. parasite? I can think of five:

1. Oil companies, through excess profits taxes.
2. Rich people, through raising their tax rates.
3. The middle class, through inflationary debasement of the currency.
4. Retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs, which are sitting like ripe plums for the taking.
5. Gold, which U.S. officials nationalized in the 1930s, just as Chavez is nationalizing oil operations today.

Frederic Bastiat pointed out, “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” A corollary principle is: The state is the great parasite that sucks the lifeblood out of a society, oftentimes with the support of the citizens themselves.

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

Friday, May 9, 2009

What about the Yamashita Doctrine?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In the wake of President Obama’s decision to not seek criminal prosecutions of U.S. officials who violated criminal statutes against torture, maybe this would be a good time to revisit the case of Tomoyuki Yamashita. He was a World War II Japanese army general in charge of troops in the Pacific. After the war, he was executed by U.S. military officials for being a “war criminal.”

Why did they consider Yamashita to be a war criminal? Not because he himself had committed any war crimes but because he had failed to prevent men under his command from committing war crimes.

Never mind that Yamashita had never authorized or condoned the commission of such war crimes. And never mind that as a military officer, he had stood in steadfast opposition to war crimes and had even executed some of his men for having committed them. And never mind that Allied bombing campaigns had destroyed his command and control over his troops. U.S. military officials said that as the commander, his failure to prevent his subordinates from committing such crimes rendered him subject to being prosecuted, convicted, and punished for being a war criminal.

Now, imagine if the Yamashita doctrine were to be applied to every single person in the chain of command in the Abu Ghraib torture, sex abuse, and murder scandal, starting from the commander-in-chief and going all the way down to the CIA agents and U.S. military personnel who actually committed the crimes.

Under the Yamashita doctrine, it would be difficult to see how those in the chain of command could escape criminal responsibility. After all, it’s undisputed that they failed to prevent the commission of the war crimes at Abu Ghraib.

In fact, it seems to me that U.S. officials are in a much worse position than Yamashita was, owing to the considerable evidence that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the logical outgrowth of the White House torture memos and the orders authorizing the use of “harsh interrogation methods.”

Of course, no one would expect U.S. officials to apply the same standards to themselves that they applied to Yamashita. But at least the Yamashita case can give us valuable insights into why foreigners resent so deeply the hypocrisy and double standards of the U.S. government.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Moving toward Drug Legalization
by Jacob G. Hornberger

While he says he remains opposed to legalizing marijuana, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just declared that he would welcome a debate on the issue.

In the 20 years I’ve been running The Future of Freedom Foundation, I have never seen as many pro-drug-legalization articles, editorials, and op-eds in the mainstream press as I have during the past year. During 2008, for example, we linked to 75 drug-war articles in our daily FFF Email Update. So far in 2009, we have linked to around 90.

I think we’ve got a real shot at knocking out the drug war in the near future. Ten years ago, the average person would never even consider the idea, despite the fact that such notable figures as Milton Friedman (Nobel Prize winner), Bill Buckley (noted conservative), Kurt Schmoke (mayor of Baltimore), and others were calling for an end to the drug war.

Today, even though there are a still plenty of people who won’t let go of the drug war, despite its manifest failure and destructiveness, everyone would concede that drug legalization is now a credible position, one that is being debated all across the country.

Why, just a few months ago the City Council of El Paso unanimously enacted a resolution calling on the federal government to consider drug legalization as the solution to ending the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s amazing! And they’re right — drug legalization would end the border violence, immediately.

Thirty years ago, the drug warriors could raise people’s hope with the prospect that “victory” was just around the corner. Today, they have no arguments in their arsenal. Over the past 3 decades, they have tried everything: cracking down on the buyers, cracking down on the sellers, asset-forfeiture laws, infringements on the Bill of Rights, use of the military, plea bargains, snitches, mandatory minimum sentences, and on and on. None of it has worked, which even the drug warriors themselves will admit.

As libertarians have pointed out for years, drug prohibition is no different from alcohol prohibition. Drug addicts will continue to violate the law. But what ends up happening is that in the process of enforcing the law, a multitude of adverse side effects occur that are significantly worse than drug addition. Robberies, murders, racism in enforcement, corruption of public officials, gang wars, torture, drug cartels, killing of law-enforcement officials and judges, and on and on.

Legalizing drugs would put an end to all of those adverse side effects, just as ending Prohibition brought an end to all the adverse side effects brought by making booze illegal. It would also encourage drug addicts to be more open and forthright about their addictions, thereby leading more of them into therapy and rehabilitation.

And of course, taxpayers would be saved the millions of dollars of taxpayer monies that go into waging this senseless and idiotic war.

We should always keep in mind the biggest reason for ending the drug war: the concept of individual liberty. The government has no more business monitoring and punishing a person for what he ingests than it does for what he reads. The right to ingest anything you want goes to the core of a free society. When the government wields the power to punish people for ingesting substances that public officials don’t approve of, there is no way that people in that society can legitimately be considered free. That’s why such sentiments as “Thank God I’m an American because at least I know I’m free” are ridiculous. They reflect what might be called living “the life of the lie.”

Since the drug warriors no longer have any legitimate intellectual arguments to sustain their position, what are the biggest obstacles we face to bringing about an end to the drug war? Money and power. There are lots of people making money off the drug war, and they are rich, powerful, and influential.

Of course, I’m not just talking about the drug lords and the drug cartels, who wield tremendous influence among government officials all over the world. I’m also talking about public officials at all levels of government, including here in the United States. Those law-enforcement agents and other public officials who have become dependent on bribes, payoffs, and salaries are not about to let go of this lucrative cash cow without a fight. Moreover, localities and law-enforcement agencies are making a killing off of asset-forfeiture laws, which enable them to seize untold amounts of money from people, many of whom are never even charged with a crime.

If libertarians are able to get the drug war knocked out in the near term, the American people will see the benefits immediately. That could start a trend toward dismantling other aspects of socialism, interventionism, and imperialism that have infected our land.

Governor Schwarnegger, the debate over drug legalization has been going on for a long time. Welcome to it!

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Exchanging Places in the Housing Market
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The New York Times is reporting that there has been a surge in the sales of foreclosed homes in Sacramento. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Chris and Rebecca Whitman, a young couple who just purchased a foreclosed home for $224,500. Such sales reflect, once again, the idiocy of bailouts, mortgage-moratorium laws, and other interventionist measures intended to prevent people from losing their homes.

The fact is that life is insecure, including financially and economically. No one is guaranteed that his investments will prosper or that his business will succeed. Sometimes circumstances go for you and sometimes they go against you.

Now, it’s true that government policy induces people to make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t make. That’s wrong. Government has no more business intervening in economic affairs than it does in religious or educational affairs. But we all know that it does and we have to factor that into our decision-making, notwithstanding the fact that government interventions might ultimately cause us severe losses.

It would be difficult to find a better example of this phenomenon than the housing market. With its mortgage-interest deductions, low interest rates, creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, subprime lending requirements, and other interventions, the U.S. government’s aim has been to encourage home ownership. The interventions succeeded in sucking lots of people into the housing market, including people who had no business doing so, especially from a financial standpoint.

When the bubble burst, many of those people got caught holding the bag. While interventionism was at the root of the problem, the fact is that those who got caught holding the bag bore responsibility for their actions. No one forced them to go out and buy a house and sign a promissory note.

When the bubble burst and people couldn’t make their note payments, the mortgage holder had the right to collect its money by foreclosing its lien on the property. Interventionists cried that it was unfair to evict people from their homes. Ironically, however, none of the interventionists offered to use their own money to pay off people’s notes. They simply wanted the government to use tax money to guarantee or pay off the mortgages or use force to prevent the mortgage owner from enforcing its rights.

Standing on the sidelines were people who were living in apartments, waiting to purchase a home at a low price. How come the interventionists didn’t cry about how unfair it was that those people were living in apartments instead of houses?

The surge in sales of foreclosed homes in Sacramento reflects that current homeowners who can’t make the high mortgage payments that they agreed to pay are moving into apartments, which are being vacated by people who are buying the foreclosed homes at reduced prices. People are simply exchanging places. What’s unfair about that? I seriously doubt that Chris and Rebecca Whitman think it’s unfair. Judging from the picture of them in the Times, they seem pretty happy with the new foreclosed home they just purchased.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We Don’t Torture … But Torture Does Work
by Jacob G. Hornberger

John Ashcroft, who served as U.S. attorney general from 2001 to 2005, has an op-ed in the New York Times today where he exclaims, “The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in the financial meltdown….”

Oh? And why is that, Mr. Ashcroft? Why not simply “move on”? Why not let bygones be bygones? Why not just schedule a financial-meltdown truth commission? How about just some promises that the wrongdoing will never happen again? Why must you be so vengeful? Why do you want retribution? Why not just leave the malefactors alone? Why would you want to tear the country apart with criminal prosecutions?

After all, isn’t this what people are saying about the torturers and those who authorized and ordered the torture? What’s the difference?

Torture advocates claim that torture is justified because it produces valuable information that helps save people’s lives. But if that’s the case, then why even have the Geneva Conventions, which another U.S. attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, described as “quaint”? Don’t POWs taken captive almost always possess information about enemy troop positions, movements, plans, and strategy? Wouldn’t acquiring that information help save the lives of U.S. soldiers? Aren’t the lives of the troops as valuable as the lives of civilians? Why not scotch that quaint Geneva Convention and just treat enemy POWs in the same way that suspected terrorists are treated?

What also befuddles me is why torture advocates limit themselves to “enhanced interrogation techniques” or what they might call “soft torture,” such as waterboarding, walling, beating, sleep deprivation, sex abuse, prolonged standing, sensory deprivation, cold water, temperature extremes, and isolation. If acquiring valuable information is the goal, why not go all the way? Why not employ the stuff that really works, such as thumbscrews, the rack, sawing a person in half, pulling fingernails, or rape? Isn’t that what government officials throughout history have done to acquire information?

Of course, I cannot help but wonder how the CIA and the Pentagon’s use of “soft torture” brought about the deaths of several people in their custody. Wouldn’t it be nice to at least know how and why those people were killed? Alas, we live in an era in which the murder of a few detainees produces nothing more than a ho-hum, lackadaisical, let’s-move-on reaction from public officials.

President Obama continues to steadfastly oppose criminal prosecutions for those who violated the torture statutes. He also opposes public investigations into the scandal. Apparently he takes the position that because he has repeated President Bush’s mantra, “We don’t torture,” the matter has been put to rest.

However, let’s think back to the Pentagon’s infamous School of the Americas torture manuals that the school was using to teach torture to Latin American military brutes. When those torture manuals came to light in 1996, weren’t the American people treated to the same sort of pronouncements that we’re being treated to today? Didn’t U.S. officials express the same sorts of regrets and promises that we hear today?

Yet, did any of the regrets and promises arising from the disclosure of the School of the America’s torture manuals dissuade U.S. military officials and CIA officials from employing the torture tactics described in those manuals some 15 years later as part of President Bush’s war on terrorism?

No.

So, in the absence of criminal prosecutions, why should anyone believe that the current set of expressions of regret and promises will produce a different result?

Could the reason that so many U.S. officials oppose accountability in the torture scandal be that they know that accountability might reveal that the torture scandal has been going on for decades rather than just a few years?

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

Monday, May 4, 2009

Libertarianism vs. Statism
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Pity the poor Republicans. Having suffered massive losses in the political process, they are now in search of a “new message” that they hope will restore them to political power. Their problem, however, is that given their unwavering commitment to socialist, interventionist, and imperial programs, the likelihood is that voters will see through the charade of a “new message.”

Consider, for example, Republicans’ post-Bush era return to their tried-and-true mantra favoring “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.” Doesn’t that mantra ring hollow given the fact that Republicans are just as fiercely committed to socialistic and interventionist programs as Democrats are?

Indeed, when one considers all the federal socialist and interventionist programs that have come into existence during the past several decades, how many do Republicans oppose? Answer: None. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, the drug war, subsidies, education grants, bailouts, SBA loans, and on and on, not to mention the multitudes of federal welfare-state, regulatory departments and agencies. The Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Energy, Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, DEA, SEC, ICE, IRS, and on and on.

Republicans support and embrace every one of them. At most, they’ll call for “reform” or for getting rid of “waste, fraud, and abuse.” But with the exception of Ron Paul, a Republican who is actually libertarian by philosophy, hardly ever will you see a Republican calling for the repeal or abolition of any of those federal programs, departments, or agencies.

Of course, it used to work. Voters would focus on the free-enterprise mantra and forget that Republicans favored the socialistic and interventionist programs that violated the mantra.

Not anymore, however. Because now there are the libertarians to contend with. Libertarians not only preach the “free enterprise, private property, limited government” mantra, they also call for the abolition and repeal, not the improvement or reform, of all those socialistic and interventionist programs favored by both Republicans and Democrats. Libertarians are the real deal.

In the foreign-policy arena, what do Republicans have to offer, especially given that President Obama has co-opted their occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and their war-on-terrorism infringements on civil liberties? Republicans, like Democrats, continue to support the existence of a U.S. Empire, continue to deny that the Empire’s presence and actions abroad produce the threat of terrorist blowback, continue to support the international drug war, and continue to call for ever-increasing infringements on civil liberties. Moreover, they continue to deny that U.S. personnel torture while, at the same time, continue defending torture because they say it works. And they continue defending the alternative kangaroo judicial system for trying accused terrorists that the Pentagon set up to compete against the constitutional system established by the Framers.

Meanwhile, federal spending continues unabated, with Obama likely to end up spending more federal money than even Bush and the Republicans did. Of course, now that Obama, rather than Bush, is doing the borrowing, taxing, spending, and inflating, Republicans are railing against it all, which they never did during the 8 years of the Bush era.

Yet, when you ask Republicans how federal spending can be reduced while, at the same time, maintaining the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the entire U.S. Empire abroad (troops in more than 100 countries) and all the socialistic and interventionist programs here at home, Republicans just get angry, frustrated, and silent.

That’s one reason they are so uncomfortable with libertarians. We remind them of what they aren’t — consistent defenders of moral principles, free markets, private property, the Constitution, and a limited-government republic.

In difficult times, people tend to look to scapegoats, and Republicans and Democrats are no exceptions. While Republicans rail against illegal aliens, drug dealers, terrorists, and Muslims, Democrats rail against speculators, greedy people, the rich, and businessmen. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have the courage or fortitude to confront the truth and accept responsibility for it — that it is they and their socialist, interventionist, and imperial programs, not the scapegoats, that are responsible for the morass in which our nation finds itself.

While Republicans and Democrats wage wars against their scapegoats, the real war is between libertarianism and statism. Despite the massive control that Republicans and Democrats still have on the mindsets, lives, and fortunes of the American people, I’m still putting my money on libertarianism to prevail. For if people decide they want morality, prosperity, harmony, and freedom, then there is only one way to go — libertarianism. That, of course, necessitates a rejection of the statism embraced by those pitiful Republicans and, well, for that matter, those pitiful Democrats as well.

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

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Flu and Terrorism
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Not surprisingly, immigration warriors are using the swine flu outbreak to buttress their case for closing the borders to the outside world. In the process, they miss a big problem, however, one that I have raised for many years. If we’re going to have the government close the borders to people coming into the country to protect us from infectious diseases, then we’re going to have to also close the borders in the other direction, which means prohibiting Americans from traveling to other countries, where they can catch diseases and bring them back. And that necessarily will mean a lot of control and tyranny, as citizen of North Korea will attest.

The news media is confirming this problem. It turns out that the swine flu outbreak in Maryland was not caused by Mexican immigrants but instead by an American. And guess which American: Robert Gibbs who just happens to be President Obama’s White House press aide. And guess how he caught the flu — by traveling to Mexico with President Obama himself!

So, I guess the immigration warriors are just going to have to prohibit every American, including the president and his staff, from traveling overseas, in order to keep us safe.

Oh well, at least there will be some collateral benefit to depriving Americans of their fundamental right to travel wherever they wish. Keeping all Americans locked in would also obviously mean that all CIA agents and U.S. soldiers would have to stay home too, which would mean no more overseas empire bases, invasions, wars of aggression, occupations, secret overseas prisons, etc.

Oh, another point: Why should we Virginians permit Marylanders to infect us with swine flu? Why aren’t the immigration warriors calling for closing the border between Virginia and Maryland? Are we supposed to let them infect us just because they’re fellow Americans instead of foreigners?

The answer to all this anti-freedom nonsense is this: Oftentimes life can be precarious and dangerous, but, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, are life and safety so dear that they should be purchased at any price, especially the loss of liberty and fundamental rights? Perish the thought!

Meanwhile, Ali al-Marri, who the Pentagon held as an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terrorism” for some 5 years, has entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court to the federal crime of terrorism. He now faces the possibility of 15 years in a federal penitentiary.

But wait a minute! Isn’t that impossible? Haven’t war-on-terrorism warriors been telling us for 8 years that terrorism is an act of war, not a federal criminal offense? Haven’t they been telling us that with respect to the people they’ve been holding at Guantanamo and other U.S. prison camps around the world? Didn’t they say that the 9/11 attacks were an act of war, not a criminal offense?

Well, those people had better get word to the federal judge who is presiding in the al-Marri case because he just accepted a plea of guilty to the federal crime of terrorism. For that matter, they might want to contact the federal judge in the Zacharias Moussaoui case, who also accepted a guilty plea to the federal crime of terrorism.

So, what about those people who the Pentagon and the CIA are still holding at Gitmo and elsewhere? Well, guess what! The Pentagon and the CIA continue to hold them under the rationale that terrorism is an act of war, not a crime. Imagine that!

Do you see a problem here?

As we have long been pointing out here at FFF, after 9/11 the federal government just assumed the power, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, to subject accused terrorists to two different judicial processes: the one established by the Pentagon after 9/11 and the federal-court process established by the Constitution.

Thus, ever since 9/11 the government has wielded the authority to treat two different people who are accused of committing the same offense in two completely different ways. It would be difficult to find a better example of a violation of the principle of the rule of law and the principle of equal treatment under law.

And the choice makes all the difference in the world. If the government had opted to continue subjecting al-Marri to the Pentagon’s system, he could have been held in prison forever without a trial, they could have continued to torture and abuse him, and they could have forced him to be tried by a kangaroo military tribunal whose outcome could be preordained.

By opting to send him into the constitutional process, everything changed. Al-Marri no longer could be tortured or abused, and he was accorded all the rights and guarantees of the Bill of Rights. The system worked, as the Framers envisioned it would work, and as we have been maintaining here at The Future of Freedom Foundation for the past 8 years.

Returning to Patrick Henry, are life and safety so dear that they should be purchased at any price, including the abandonment of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and such long-established principles as the rule of law and equal treatment under law? Perish the thought!

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.