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, August 2009

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Torture Works. Just Ask U.S. POWs from the Korean War
by Jacob G. Hornberger

An August 29 Washington Post article entitled “How a Detainee Became an Asset” details how the CIA’s “harsh interrogation techniques” caused Khalid Sheik Mohammed to become a CIA “asset,” meaning that he sung like a canary, confessed his crimes, disclosed everything he knew, and cooperated with the CIA.

Well, there you have it. Torture really does work, probably even on the innocent. It converts terrorists and potential terrorists into allies and it saves lives. Hail torture!

But why stop at isolation, sensory deprivation, forced standing, waterboarding, walling, beating, and sex abuse? Why not the rack? Why not electricity on the genitals?

Here — take a look at some really good methods of torture that are depicted in the Medieval Torture Museum in San Gimignano, Italy. Why not utilize the Wake of Juda’s Cradle? Why not the Virgin of Nuremberg? I’ll bet those methods of torture garnered plenty of cooperation from their victims.

The reason that U.S. officials haven’t used those old methods of torture is because a few decades ago they learned the benefits of what might be called “touchless torture.” The beauty of touchless torture is that it doesn’t leave any physical scars on the victim but yet is just as effective as physical torture in securing confessions and cooperation. Touchless torture enables the torturers to say, “He’s lying! We haven’t tortured him at all. Who are you going to believe — a terrorist or your loyal, devoted, patriotic, flag-waving CIA agent or U.S. soldier?”

What does touchless torture consist of? Things like extensive periods of sensory deprivation, isolation, and forced standing, and extreme temperature changes.

Now, you might say, “Well, that’s no big deal. Why, anybody who can’t withstand that is a wuss.”

Well, except for one thing. Ask any American POW during the Korean War if touchless torture is no big deal. Because the fact is that touchless torture was successful in doing to American soldiers, including officers, what it succeeded in doing to Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The touchless torture employed by the North Korean communists so messed up the minds of American servicemen that they ended up zombie-like and confessing to all sorts of evil crimes, including waging biological warfare, against the communists.

Where did U.S. officials come up with the techniques of touchless torture? Yes, from those North Korean communists who they had denounced for “brainwashing” U.S. servicemen into becoming compliant assets of the communists. Of course, they’ve added some important additional techniques to their arsenal of “harsh interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, walling, beating, and sex abuse.

Anyone who thinks that what the CIA and the military have been doing since 9/11 is all new and is just the work of a few bad apples is living in la-la land. As Michael Otterman points out in his book American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, touchless torture has been a fundamental part of CIA and U.S. military operations for decades.

Go back to Operation Phoenix in the Vietnam War. You’ll find it there, big time. Go back to the torture manuals that the Pentagon employed at the School of the Americas. You’ll find it there, big time. Go back to the SERE program, which ostensibly taught U.S. servicemen to resist touchless torture. You’ll find it there, big time. And of course, after 9/11, you find it there, big time.

Undoubtedly, there are those who are hoping that the government will be able to pull off another Abu Ghraib by prosecuting a few “bad apples” but leaving intact the torture system itself and leaving alone those who ran it and continue running it. If they succeed in doing that, then why not at least end the deceit, charade, and hypocrisy by openly repealing criminal laws against torture and proudly proclaiming America as a pro-torture country?

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Prosecute the Torturers
by Jacob G. Hornberger

It’s interesting to see conservatives calling for the U.S. Attorney General to ignore evidence that people have knowingly violated federal criminal laws against torture. Aren’t conservatives usually the law-and-order crowd in this country?

The argument that conservatives are making for ignoring violations of federal criminal law seems to be that because the suspected criminals presumably had good intentions — e.g., protecting Americans from terrorism — federal prosecutors should refrain from prosecuting them for violating the law.

Yet, the simple fact remains — the law is the law. If the federal criminal statutes against torture provided that good intentions were a defense to criminal prosecution, that would be one thing. But they don’t. Therefore, the Attorney General’s duty is clear: Investigate and prosecute.

Otherwise, if the law isn’t going to be enforced, then what’s the point of having the law? As a facade? Moreover, if government officials are free to violate criminal laws whenever they have good intentions, then how is that any different from how government officials operate in such countries as Burma?

What about the claim that the suspected criminals saved American lives with the information they allegedly acquired through their violation of the torture statutes?

Again, the law does not provide that that’s a defense to prosecution. Instead, that’s a matter to be considered in mitigation of punishment.

For example, at sentencing the convicted torturer can argue to the judge that he broke the law because he felt that by doing so, he could save lives of Americans. He could show that his actions actually did save lives. The judge could then take such factors into consideration when imposing punishment.

But what the prosecutor cannot rightfully do is simply ignore violations of federal criminal law when faced with clear evidence that people have violated it, even if they claim to be well-motivated when they committed the violations.

Interestingly, the conservative law-and-order crowd, as well as the Attorney General himself and his team of federal prosecutors, seem to have a good understanding of these principles when it comes to violations of other federal criminal statutes, such as drug laws.

Suppose the DEA arrests a person here in Virginia in possession of marijuana. The person states, “I have cancer and this marijuana is alleviating the effects of my chemotherapy treatment.”

What will be the response of federal prosecutors? Will they ignore the drug laws based on the good motives of the drug-law violator? Of course not. They will say: “The law is the law and you have violated it. Explain your motives to the judge before he sentences you.”

Or suppose someone is caught selling a load of cocaine to an undercover DEA agent. The person says, “I need the money to pay for my mother’s heart operation. If she doesn’t have the operation, she’ll die.”

Will the feds let him off the hook with respect to prosecution? Of course not. Since the drug law does not provide that his good intentions constitute a defense to prosecution, they will prosecute him for violating the drug laws. They will tell him that he’s free to mention his motive at sentencing.

The same holds true for those who have violated laws against torture. With respect to prosecution, it makes no difference that the defendants allegedly were well-motivated or that their actions allegedly produced beneficial results. If they have violated the law, they need to be prosecuted for it. To permit them to escape prosecution makes a mockery of the law. They can tell their story to the judge at sentencing.

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Get Out of Afghanistan and Everywhere Else
by Jacob G. Hornberger

If there was ever a classic example of a quagmire, it has got to be Afghanistan. Hey, they’re going on 8 or 9 years of killing the terrorists and just now getting a good start. What began out as a quest to kill or capture Osama bin Laden has morphed into long-term occupation of the country.

Hardly a week goes by without reports of new deaths, including Afghani citizens and U.S. soldiers or allied foreign soldiers.

Yet, despite the constant death toll and the lack of a well-defined mission, the Pentagon insists on the importance of continuing the occupation of Afghanistan.

Why?

Because the Pentagon knows that if the troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and the Middle East, Americans might well begin asking the questions they should have asked in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came crashing down and the Soviet Empire disintegrated: What do we need a huge standing military force for? What do we need an overseas empire for? What do we need the enormous expanse of military bases across America for? Indeed, what do we need the Pentagon for?

The fact is that despite deeply seeded fears and anxieties that the federal government has succeeded in engendering within the psyches of the American people, there is no nation on earth that has the military capability of invading and occupying the United States. To cross either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans with an invasion force would require tens of thousands of ships and planes, a capability that is nonexistent among all foreign nations.

Of course, the big bugaboo that the Pentagon now uses to justify its existence (along with the enormous tax burden necessary to sustain its enormous military) is terrorism (as compared to communism, which was the bugaboo prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Soviet Empire).

But the threat of terrorism is a direct result of what the Pentagon did both prior to and after 9/11 as part of its aggressive, interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. That threat has remained constant, of course, given the continuous killing of people in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 8 years.

But the Pentagon knows that by withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Middle East, that constant threat of terrorist retaliation plummets. At that point, the only risk of terrorist retaliation would be from some disgruntled person whose family members or friends were killed by the U.S. military sometime in the past. There’s no need for an enormous military to deal with that possibility, and the Pentagon knows it.

If the Pentagon withdrew from the Middle East, military officials know that people might well ask, Why stop there? Why not withdraw from Europe? After all, the Cold War ended long ago. Why not withdraw from Japan? It surrendered soon after the atomic bombs were dropped. Why not withdraw from Korea? The war there ended decades ago. Why not withdraw from Africa? What business do the troops have there?

In fact, the only argument that the Pentagon will have left is the one it was making in 1989 to justify its continued existence: the drug war, especially in Latin America.

The Pentagon knows, however, that there are risks with that justification. One big risk is that people all over the world, including the United States, might finally decide to bring an end to this decrepit old war by legalizing drugs. Reputable and credible people from all over the world are now arguing that that is the only solution to the drug-war horror. In fact, in a move toward legalization Mexico recently legalized possession of small quantities of illicit drugs.

Moreover, the Pentagon knows that one of these days Latin Americans might start asking a discomforting question: If the American people will not permit the U.S. military to wage the war on drugs in the United States, why should Latin Americans permit it to wage the drug war in their countries?

The best way to avoid having Americans asking why we still need a big military force is simply to continue the occupation of Afghanistan. Not only does the occupation provide constant proof that there are still terrorists to kill, it also generates its own never-ending supply of terrorists. The Pentagon knows that under those circumstance people are less likely to question the existence of an enormous military, along with all the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to support it.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Free the Drug Users and Tax Resisters Too
by Jacob G. Hornberger

If we’re going to let federal officials who have violated federal criminal statutes against torture off the hook, then why shouldn’t drug users and tax resisters be pardoned at the same time? After all, what the drug users and tax resisters have done pales in comparison to what the torturers have done. If the torturers are permitted to go scot-free, then the drug users and tax resisters deserve to be freed as well.

Let’s compare the respective crimes.

The torturers have initiated force against other people in violation of federal criminal statutes. That force has sometimes caused terrible damage to the victims, including physical injury, psychological disorder, and even death.

There are those who say that since the torture was done to terrorists, the torturers should be let off the hook.

But there are two big problems with that justification.

First, while the people who have been tortured have been accused of terrorism, none of them has ever been convicted of the offense. Even the CIA and the military acknowledge that the suspected terrorists they have labeled as “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism” are entitled to a trial to determine whether they are in fact guilty of what they have been accused of. That’s what those kangaroo military tribunals are all about — to create the appearance that a fair trial is being held to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Under America’s system of justice, all people accused of a crime are presumed innocent. That presumption continues to operate continuously up to the point that a person is convicted of the crime with which he is charged.

Thus, the torturers have tortured people who have never been convicted of a crime, neither in federal court nor by a kangaroo military tribunal — people whose presumed innocence has never been altered by a criminal conviction.

In fact, many of those people whom the government labeled as “enemy-combatant terrorists” have been released by the government without any trial whatsoever, not even before a kangaroo military tribunal. That constitutes fairly strong circumstantial evidence that they were, in fact, innocent.

So, in violating federal criminal laws against torture, the torturers have severely harmed or killed people who have never been convicted of a crime, people whom the law presumes are innocent of the crime that the CIA or the military accused them of, many of whom were ultimately released without a trial by the authorities.

Second, even if a person is convicted of terrorism, whether in federal court or by a kangaroo military tribunal, where is the morality in torturing him at that point? There isn’t any. That’s in fact why our American ancestors, through the Bill of Rights, expressly prohibited federal officials from inflicting cruel and unusual punishments on people, including people who had been convicted of federal criminal offenses.

Now, compare the federal crimes of drug possession and tax evasion.

Many of the people who have been convicted of violating those federal criminal statutes are sitting in a federal penitentiary, possibly for the next several years or even the rest of their lives. Yet, what force did they initiate against other people? Answer: None. Unlike the torturers, they haven’t employed force that has resulted in physical or mental damage against anyone or caused the death of anyone.

In fact, the only damage that drug users have caused is to themselves and possibly their families. Is that a valid reason for keeping them incarcerated? Why shouldn’t that be their personal business and the business of their families? What business does the state have punishing them for having engaging in purely self-destructive conduct? Do we permit the state to do the same with respect to alcoholics or tobacco users?

In principle, it’s really no different with respect to tax resisters. They too haven’t initiated any force against other people that has resulted in mental or physical pain or death. All they’ve done is evade taxes, a purely peaceful act. Why should they be facing years in jail for that?

While Switzerland treats tax fraud (e.g., false documents) as a crime, it does not treat tax evasion as a criminal offense. When people are caught evading taxes, the Swiss government’s remedy is limited to a civil proceeding in which the government seeks payment of the back taxes plus penalty and interest. Their belief is that tax evasion is not a matter for criminal penalties, only civil ones.

If we’re going to let the torturers off the hook, then isn’t it only fair to let the drug users and tax resisters off the hook too? If the torturers aren’t going be punished for inflicting severe pain or even death in violation of federal criminal statutes, then the drug possessors and tax resisters, who haven’t initiated force against anyone, deserve no less.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Would Eric Holder Have Prosecuted the Nazis?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Let’s assume that a U.S. president authorizes the CIA to rape the family members of suspected terrorists as a way to get them to talk. He also authorizes his subordinates to place the suspected terrorists on a rack that stretches them apart until they confess and disclose all details of their suspected terrorism.

Before he issues the authorization order, however, the president secures a good-faith legal memo from Justice Department lawyers stating that suspected terrorists, as illegal combatants, are not entitled to any legal protections, including protection from torture and rape.

Under U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s new order authorizing a preliminary investigation into torture by CIA personnel, those CIA agents who have raped and tortured suspected terrorists would apparently be immune from prosecution.

Why?

Because Holder obviously feels that if CIA personnel are following the guidelines established by their superiors, it would be unfair to prosecute them for torturing the suspects or raping members of their family.

What about the president or others who authorized the rape and torture? According to Holder’s reasoning, apparently they too would be immune from prosecution if they were relying in good faith on legal opinions issued by Justice Department lawyers establishing the legality of the torture and the rape.

What about the attorneys who wrote the legal opinions? Would they be subject to prosecution? No, because they would simply be attorneys rendering good-faith legal opinions in response to a request from their superiors.

So, isn’t that nice? Everyone who rapes and tortures, everyone who authorizes the rapes and torture, and everyone who opined that the rapes and torture were legal would apparently go scot-free under Holder’s reasoning.

I know that there are those who get upset over comparisons to Nazi Germany but it seems to me that a comparison is in order.

When Hitler and his cohorts issued the order authorizing the Gestapo to round up Jews, incarcerate them in concentration camps, and kill them, the personnel who actually committed such acts could not be prosecuted under Holder’s rationale. The Gestapo agents would claim that they were simply following the orders of their superiors and show that their conduct fell within the guidelines established by their higher-ups.

Could Hitler and other higher-ups have been prosecuted for the Holocaust? No, at least not if they would have been able to produce legal opinions from Nazi lawyers opining that rounding up Jews, incarcerating them, and killing them was legal given the exigencies of war.

What about the Nazi lawyers? Could they have been prosecuted? No, because they would have just been lawyers delivering good-faith legal opinions that they knew would make their superiors happy, not the people who actually did the round-ups, incarcerations, and killings.

What a crock.

When people break the law, they need to be prosecuted whether they are German, American, British, Japanese, or any other nationality and whether their victims are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, or a

The “I was just following orders” defense should be disallowed. If people are too weak psychologically to say no to unlawful orders, then they shouldn’t be working for the CIA, the Gestapo, or any other government agency with the power to initiate force against others.

Higher-ups who authorize or order unlawful conduct should not be permitted to get off the hook simply because they have succeeded in securing legal opinions from sycophantic lawyers falsely opining that such conduct is lawful.

And sycophantic lawyers who issue false legal opinions to high government officials opining that unlawful conduct is legal should be subject to prosecution as well.

Otherwise, the United States is no different from any other country whose officials are immune from prosecution for torture, murder, rape, and other crimes.

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

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Conservatives and Liberals Dislike Libertarians
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The conservative masses are railing against the socialism coming out of the Obama administration, and rightfully so. Socialism has proven to be the bane of mankind. With its resurgence under the Obama administration, it continues to pose a giant threat to the economic freedom and well-being of the American people.

What the conservative masses fail to recognize, however, is that their crowd also poses a giant threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people, specifically with their pro-empire, pro-intervention foreign policy. The invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are good examples. By having killed, maimed, and tortured people in those countries for some 7 years, conservatives have produced the threat of terrorist retaliation against the United States, which has been used as the excuse to infringe on people’s civil liberties here at home.

Thus, we libertarians — and, well, the American people in general — are being squeezed on both sides — the conservative side and the liberal side.

Yet, when you think about it, conservatives and liberals aren’t really on different sides. They’re actually on the same side. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan. Is anything different about liberal Barack Obama’s policies, compared to those of George W. Bush? Of course not. The occupation of Iraq continues, with U.S. troops continuing to kill Iraqis. Obama is even expanding the occupation of Afghanistan, with the troops killing not only Afghanis but also Pakistanis.

Is it any different with respect to the entire overseas U.S. military empire? You know, the fact that there are U.S. troops stationed all over the world, including Europe, Korea, Africa, and Latin America? Not a bit of difference. Like Bush and the conservatives, Obama and the liberals are firmly wedded to the existence of the U.S. Empire.

What about civil liberties? Obama’s policies on civil liberties aren’t any different from those of Bush. Even worse, even though there are a few liberals taking Obama to task for embracing Bush’s denigration of civil liberties, all too many of them have chosen to seal their lips because it’s now their man in office, rather than Bush. What a disgrace.

What about Obama’s domestic policies? Well, it’s nice to see the conservative masses railing against socialism and fascism. But let’s face it: If it were Bush or John McCain calling for national health care, the conservatives would be singing a different tune. They’d be rallying around their commander in chief and telling us that we shouldn’t be criticizing the president during wartime. And they would be reminding us that wartime means forever, especially since there will always be terrorists in the world to kill.

And even though the conservative masses are protesting Obama’s health-care plan, let’s not forget all the other socialism and interventionism that conservatives won’t dare question: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public (i.e., government) schooling, farm subsidies, education grants, immigration controls, drug laws, trade restrictions, the Federal Reserve, the SEC, the Departments of Education, Commerce, Labor, and Energy, and on and on.

Now, add up the costs of the foreign policy and the domestic policy. What do you get? Massive unrestrained federal spending, which can only be paid through enormous taxes, borrowing, or inflation, none of which is beneficial to a country.

This is what conservatives and liberals have done — and are doing — to our country. While they fight over who is going to wield the reins of power, their socialism, interventionism, and imperialism threaten the freedom and well-being of the American people.

Is there a bright light in all this? You bet there is! That light is libertarianism, one of the grandest and most glorious movements in history. Libertarianism is the political philosophy that rejects socialism, interventionism, and imperialism and aims to restore America’s heritage of economic liberty, free markets, sound money, and a limited-government republic. Libertarianism aims to protect Americans from the statism of both the Left and the Right. Is it any wonder why conservatives and liberals dislike libertarians?

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Liberal Fear of Guns
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Liberal columnist David Sirota is scared, and he believes that the First Amendment is intended to eliminate his fear. In a column entitled “Freedom from Fear — and the Second Amendment,” Sirota argues that because some people get scared when they see guns and think that the gun owner is going to shoot them if they say the wrong thing, the Second Amendment is a threat to the First Amendment.

The purpose of the Constitution was to call into existence the federal government and, at the same time, to protect us from that government through the grant of very limited powers to the government.

The original Constitution wasn’t good enough for the American people, however, who had severe reservations about calling into existence a federal government, one that they were sure would threaten their rights and liberties. Thus, they demanded passage of the Bill of Rights, which was intended to be another express safeguard, on top of the Constitution, against the federal government.

Take a look at the First Amendment. Read it carefully. Does it say anything about gun owners’ threat to free speech? About freedom from fear?

No. It says that Congress shall be prohibited from infringing free speech. Now, that’s quite clear, isn’t it? It’s Congress that the First Amendment protects us from. Our American ancestors understood that the federal government, especially Congress, was the threat to people’s right to exercise free speech.

And why Congress? Because our ancestors understood that historically government officials don’t like people criticizing what they’re doing. So, they enact laws to punish people for criticizing government officials.

Why did our American ancestors enact the Second Amendment? Because they understood that without the right to keep and bear arms, the First Amendment becomes worthless. Why? Because if government officials realize that people lack the means to resist tyranny with force, those government officials will simply ignore the constitutional prohibition against freedom of speech by enacting laws that criminalize the criticism of government.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at what’s happening in Iran and China. Government officials are jailing people for criticizing the government knowing that the risk of violent revolution is virtually nonexistent.

But when the citizenry is armed, government officials have to factor that in to their deliberations when deciding whether to violate the restrictions in the First Amendment.

This is what liberals hate. They place their total trust in democracy. They won’t say so expressly but they absolutely hate the idea that people have the right of revolution, which is why they continue to pooh-pooh Jefferson’s quotation about watering the tree of liberty. If they were honest, they would just come out and denounce that part of the Declaration of Independence in which Jefferson stated that whenever any government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was formed, it is the right to the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government.

What about Sirota’s belief that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were intended to protect him from being scared. It’s just plain nonsense. The notion originated during the Great Depression, when liberal icon President Franklin Roosevelt used it to implement his socialist and facist program known as the New Deal. Running roughshod over the federal judiciary, which was declaring much of his program unconstitutional, FDR argued that he was just protecting people’s “freedom from fear.”

But the Constitution doesn’t say anything about protecting people from their own internal fears, anxieties, depressions, or other psychological ailments. Those are things that people must conquer on their own. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights protect us from the federal government.

Finally, Sirota makes a false and fallacious assumption about gun control that is common to liberals. He assumes that because a law is passed prohibiting people from carrying guns, prospective murderers will respect it and obey it.

But as libertarians have long pointed out, that’s just wishful nonsense. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if a murderer isn’t going to obey a law against murder, then he isn’t going to obey a law against possessing a gun.

There is no better place for a murderer to do his dirty deed than in a place that he is sure is a gun-free zone. After all, compare the number of murders in public schools to those that are committed at gun shows.

The right to keep and bear arms protects us from both the federal government and private criminals. For the sake of our safety and our freedom, we can never permit those who live in fear to eviscerate this vitally important fundamental right.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Liberal Inanity on Guns
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In separate op-eds, liberals Marie Cocco and E.J. Dionne are exclaiming against those people who have the audacity to exercise their right to keep and bear arms at political rallies.

Cocco says that the “gun guys” were “displaying their perfectly state-permitted firearms.”

State-permitted! How about that? The right to keep and bear arms isn’t a right at all. It’s a state-granted privilege, one that the state can revoke at any time.

No, Ms. Cocco. That’s not the way it works. The right to keep and bear arms has nothing to do with some type of permission or license from the state. It is a fundamental right that preexists the state. It is an inherent right, one that has been endowed in every individual. It’s one of those fundamental rights that Jefferson (you know — that dangerous radical who believed in the right of revolution) was referring to in the Declaration of Independence.

This is one of the big problems of statists. They honestly believe that their rights come from the government, rather than from nature or God. Thus, they see nothing wrong with the state’s regulating or even prohibiting the right.

The logical outcome of this statist mindset is what you see occurring in places like China and Iran. If people’s rights come from the state, then what’s wrong with the state’s punishing people for saying the wrong things or for protesting against things that they’re not supposed to protest against?

Another myth, one that both conservatives and liberals have promoted for many years, is that people’s rights come from the Constitution. Thus, if a right isn’t listed there, the argument goes, it must not exist.

That’s just standard liberal and conservative claptrap. Since people’s rights preexist government, they must preexist the document that brings government into existence. Doh!

Moreover, our American ancestors were not dumb. A careful reading of the Bill of Rights, for example, reveals that (preexisting) rights are protected from government infringement. That is, the Amendments don’t grant rights, they prohibit government from infringing (preexisting) rights.

Statists make a big deal over whether the Second Amendment applies to the states or not. What difference does it make? Even if the Second Amendment had never been enacted, people still would have the fundamental, preexisting, inherent right to keep and bear arms.

Dionne takes conservatives to task for having arrested protestors and dissenters during the Bush administration. He’s right in his criticism. He also points out, “I don’t think conservatives would have spoken out in defense of the right of every American Marxist to bear arms or to shed the blood of tyrants.” Again, he’s right. When it comes to the consistent application of rights and liberties, conservatives are notorious for abandoning principle.

Not so with libertarians, however. We libertarians would, for example, defend the right of Nazis sympathizers to freely express their views, as the ACLU did many years ago. We also would defend the right of Marxist sympathizers to keep and bear arms. Again, rights are fundamental and inherent, not state-granted privileges.

Cocco and Dionne suggest that people who bear arms to rallies are threatening to use violence against people who disagree with them and therefore are suppressing free speech.

That’s inane. Just because someone is scared of seeing a gun doesn’t mean that his rights have been violated. It simply means that he’s got an irrational fear, one that he himself must conquer.

Suppose some big liberal union thugs appear at a protest meeting with clenched fists and scowling faces, hoping to intimidate people into shutting up. Have they violated anyone’s rights with their appearance? Of course not! The timid folks who decide to remain silent because they’re afraid of antagonizing the union thugs must do the difficult work of overcoming their fears and mustering up personal courage.

Ever since the gun-toting controversy began, liberals have operated on the assumption that the people openly carrying arms are threatening to use their guns on the president or on people who disagree with them.

Obviously, that’s hasn’t turned out to be the case.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if someone is intent on doing the president or someone else harm, how likely would it be that he would be carrying his weapon openly?

Let’s assume that someone did appear at these protests with the intent of harming the president and people at the rally. If that were ever to happen, my hunch is that Cocco, Dionne, and other liberals will be grateful that there were law-abiding citizens able and willing to use their firearms to defend themselves and others from the murderers.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Bogus Right to Health Care
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Statists argue that people have a right to health care. They say the same thing about housing, education, clothing, food, and retirement pay. Maybe a car too.

Well, if someone has a right to such things, then doesn’t that mean that someone else is required to provide them?

Let’s say that I need a medical operation. The statists tell me that I have a right to the operation.

Doesn’t that mean that I can force the doctor to perform it? How can he have the right to say no when that would be denying me my right to health care?

Suppose I don’t want to pay what the doctor is charging me. I win because I have a right to health care. The doctor must give me my operation, like it or not. Otherwise, if the doctor has the right to demand payment, wouldn’t that interfere with my right to health care?

Of course, some statists don’t go that far. They say that I have a right to health care but that I can’t force the doctor to work for free. Fair enough. But what if I don’t have the money to pay for the operation?

The statists say that I have the right to take your money from you in order to pay the doctor. Hey, don’t complain — you’ve got the right to health care too, meaning that you can go take everyone else’s money to pay your doctor bills.

The same analysis holds true for all those other rights — the rights to education, food, clothing, housing, retirement pay, and a car. I’ve got the right to take your money from you in order to enjoy these things.

After all, if I don’t have the right to force suppliers to provide these things to me or if I don’t have the right to take your money from you to pay for them, then my so-called right to health care, food, housing, retirement, clothing, and a car is worthless.

Our American ancestors had a completely different view of rights from the one that guides today’s American statists, one that didn’t entail forcing people to work for free or that enabled people to get into other people’s pocketbooks without their consent.

They held that people have to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But to them, liberty wasn’t a license to enslave others or loot others. Instead, freedom entails the right to live your life the way you want so long as your conduct is peaceful, engage in any occupation without a license or permit, enter into mutually beneficial trades with others, accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth (no income taxation), and decide for yourself what to do with your money: spend, save, invest, or donate.

As our American ancestors discovered, a free-market society builds up the real income and wealth of people, which then enables them to pursue happiness in their own way, including through the purchase of such things as health care, education, clothing, food, transportation, and so forth.

Once the free market builds up that large wealth base, however, the statists pop up with their programs calling for coercion and plunder. That, in turn, inevitably leads to a shrinking of the wealth base, thereby condemning people to increasingly lower standards of living in terms of such things as health care, education, food, transportation, and the like. At the root of it all is the statists’ warped view of rights.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Economic Ignorance of Liberals
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In a recent article entitled Gunning for Health Care,” New York Times columnist Gail Collins made a catty remark about libertarians. Referring to William Kostric, the New Hampshire libertarian who was openly carrying a pistol during a protest, Collins wrote: “Beyond an air of mild surprise, he seemed like your average hard-core Ron Paul voter — male, smug and obsessed with the money supply.”

That smart remark reflects one of the big problems that afflict American liberals: their dismal understanding of economics. I’d be willing to bet that Collins, who was a journalist major in college and has a M.A in government, has never read one page of Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Rothbard, or Bastiat. My hunch is that her understanding of economics is primarily based on the Keynesian nonsense that was taught to her in her undergraduate and graduate programs.

Ms. Collins, it’s not just that libertarians are obsessed with the money supply, it’s that we don’t like what the federal government has done to people’s money, i.e., debase it decade after decade in order to fund the ever-increasing programs of the welfare-warfare state.

An interesting aspect of this is that liberals purport to love the poor. That’s what they based their support of the socialistic welfare state on. Yet, the Federal Reserve’s debasement of the currency has oftentimes hurt the poor the most, especially those on fixed incomes or those who naively invested their savings in government savings bonds.

Another interesting aspect to this is that many liberals have no idea that government is responsible for inflation. They think that inflation is some type of illness, like the flu, that periodically hits different nations.

Why are libertarians concerned about inflation? Not only because it’s so destructive but also because it’s a severely dishonest, even fraudulent, way for government to be funding its operations.

After all, if the government needs more money, then why not simply raise taxes? The reason they don’t do that is that they fear an angry and outraged citizenry, much like they fear those angry and outraged Town Hall participants.

So, instead of raising taxes they simply go out and print the money to pay for their projects, knowing that people like Ms. Collins won’t have any idea that the government is the cause of the inflation.

How is this increase in money supply ultimately manifested? Through a general increase in prices of everything that is priced in dollars. There’s no other way to reflect this decrease in the value of the dollar, a decrease that is brought about as a result of a tremendous increase in the number of dollars in circulation.

What will happen when down the road prices soar as a consequence of the Federal Reserve’s expansionary policies? I predict that Gail Collins, like most other liberals, is going to exclaim, “This inflation is the fault of the speculator, the businessman, the greedy people, and OPEC.”

You see, Collins and other liberals are not going to be able to recognize that it’s not actually the prices rising but rather the value of the dollar falling, which is manifested by rising prices. And the reason they won’t be able to recognize this is, alas, because liberals just don’t have a good understanding of economics.

Indeed, when prices begin soaring my prediction is that Collins and most other liberals will begin calling for price controls and even wearing buttons on their lapels exhorting people to “Whip Inflation Now” and perhaps even displaying bumper stickers on their cars saying “Support the Fed.”

Through it all, of course, they’ll be scratching their heads in befuddlement over why libertarians were “obsessed with the money supply.”

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

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kahre’s Conviction Is a Sad Day for America
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Last week, Las Vegas businessman Robert Kahre, the man who paid his workers in gold coins and silver coins, was convicted on all 57 counts of tax evasion. Forty-eight years old, he now faces the rest of his life in prison. His girlfriend and mother of his four children was also convicted. Sentencing will be in November.

There is something seriously wrong with a society that is convicting and jailing people like Robert Kahre, Michael Milkin, Martha Stewart, and Joseph Nacchio. As the Russian people have experienced so well, this is what a socialist and interventionist society ultimately ends up doing — punishing ordinary business people for violating economic crimes and tax crimes, crimes that would be nonexistent in a genuine free-market society.

If Kahre had been living sometime between 1787 and the early part of the 20th century, he wouldn’t have been convicted of income-tax evasion. The reason? Our American ancestors understood that an income tax and an IRS were antithetical to a free society. That’s why the United States was income-tax free for more than a century.

Then the progressive income tax came to America, along with all the socialist and interventionist schemes it funds and the myriad of economic crimes and tax crimes by which government officials are able to keep businessmen in line.

But it’s not just the IRS that was upset with Kahre. Lurking behind his prosecution is another federal agency, one that is just as powerful and destructive, if not more so, than the IRS — the Federal Reserve.

Suppose a person owes one hundred dollars in income taxes to the IRS. Let’s say he has inherited 5 gold coins issued by the U.S. mint, each one having a face value of $20. Let’s assume that each gold coin weighs one ounce and that the person is able to sell the coin in the marketplace for one thousand paper dollars. That means that the person’s 5 gold coins have a value of 5 thousand paper dollars.

Let’s assume that the person sends in his five $20 gold coins to the IRS, in payment of his one-hundred dollar tax bill. Will the IRS issue him a refund, representing the difference between the fair market value of the coins and the amount of the tax owed, i.e., 4,900 dollar bills?

Absolutely not. The IRS will say that the coins are legal tender at face value. They will keep the coins, sell them, and pocket the difference.

But as Kahre has demonstrated, the government’s representation that the gold coins are legal tender is false and fraudulent.

Kahre and his workers struck a deal in which he agreed to pay his workers, say, 5 gold coins. That meant that their income was one hundred dollars. But the IRS and the federal prosecutors cried, “No! For purposes of the IRS, the workers are required to report the free-market value of the coins, not their face value.”

In other words, those gold coins and silver coins are not legal tender after all. It’s all just a charade, one that Kahre had the audacity to expose.

Why is a $20 gold coin worth one thousand paper dollars instead of twenty paper dollars?

That’s where the Federal Reserve comes into the picture.

At one time, prior to the creation of the Federal Reserve, a $20 gold coin did trade for 20 paper dollars. In fact, the real money was the gold coin and the twenty-dollar bill was nothing more than a promise to pay the gold coin.

Then the U.S. government called into existence the Federal Reserve System, nationalized and confiscated people’s gold, and decreed a paper-money standard. Over the decades, it printed gobs and gobs of paper money to fund its ever-increasing welfare-warfare programs.

Thus, the reason that a twenty-dollar gold coin today exchanges in the marketplace for one-thousand paper dollars, instead of twenty paper dollars, is because the Federal Reserve has been flooding the marketplace, decade after decade, with paper money to fund the government’s operations.

But the feds don’t like people figuring that out because it might cause them to begin wondering whether the Federal Reserve should be abolished for having inflicted so much damage on the American people through monetary debasement. Kahre exposed in a very real way what the Federal Reserve has done to our money.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, after his conviction Kahre said to the judge:

“Your honor,” Kahre said when he stood to answer, “This last seventeen years of my life has been to get my issues” aired about taxation and the importance of a gold standard to back U.S. currency. “My life is basically over,” Kahre said, indicating that before sentencing he wants to “spend time with family and tie up some loose ends.”

It’s obviously a sad day for Bob Kahre. It’s also a sad day for America.

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Respect a Socialist
by Jacob G. Hornberger

I have respect for Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont. Why? Because he’s honest about what he is. He says “I’m a socialist and proud of it.”

How can you not admire that honesty, even if you disagree with his economic philosophy?

But how can you have any respect for liberals and conservatives, who share the exact same philosophy as Sanders but are ashamed to call themselves socialists?

Liberals profess to be the “savers of free enterprise,” claiming that the welfare state and regulated economy that Franklin Roosevelt imposed on America “saved free enterprise.”

For their part, conservatives proudly post on their stationery and websites their old mantra, “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” but at the same time support the same programs and philosophy that Bernie Sanders supports.

In essence, here is what both liberals and conservatives are saying: “We oppose socialism and believe in free enterprise and limited government … except for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, the drug war, economic regulations, trade restrictions, immigration controls, occupational licensure, welfare, subsidies, government-business partnerships, public housing, SBA loans, the FDA, the SEC, the minimum wage, price controls, the Federal Reserve, paper money, and all the various departments and agencies of the federal government.

How can anyone have any respect for that?

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

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Border Patrol Abuse Comes with Immigration Controls
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Today’s issue of FFF Email Update links to an article about a rancher from my hometown of Laredo, Texas, who is complaining about abuses at the hands of the U.S. Border Patrol.

I know what that Laredo rancher is talking about because I experienced the same sort of Border Patrol abuse that he has experienced.

I grew up on a farm that was located on the banks of the Rio Grande. When I was a kid, we would often drive down to the river to check on our irrigation pump. We could easily see Mexico across the river.

Our property was fenced and we had a gate at the entrance of our property. We were required to provide the Border Patrol with a key to the lock. The reason? Because the Border Patrol had the legal authority to trespass onto our property whenever it wanted. No warrant. No probable cause. Just the unfettered authority to come onto our land to go down to the river bank. Thus, if we failed to provide them with a key, they would simply shoot the lock off the gate and enter onto our property.

We hired illegal immigrants on our farm. They were the hardest working people I have ever seen. They would help us plant and harvest our crops, fix our equipment, water our fruit trees, and feed our livestock, even in the hot summer months. Americans receiving welfare checks at the unemployment office wouldn’t last more than two days. The illegal immigrants were also our friends, playing football with my brothers and me after work hours or regaling us with stories about Mexico.

But then the Border Patrol would show up. Sometimes, there would be sufficient time to hide. But other times, they would bust our workers, arrest them, handcuff them, and deport them to Mexico, with the threat that next time they’d be facing serious penitentiary time. Thus, oftentimes we would never see them again and would have to hire new ones.

One Friday afternoon, when I was about 27 years old I was traveling east on my way to spend a weekend at a beach town named Port Aransas. I was traveling by myself but was meeting friends there. I was minding my own business when a Border Patrol car came up behind me and turned on its lights.

I pulled over, and the agent asked me to get out of the car and open my trunk. I politely declined. I asked him to explain under what authority he had stopped me. He said under the Border Patrol’s authority to control the borders. I responded, “But you’re not operating from a fixed checkpoint. As a roving Border Patrol agent, you have no right to arbitrarily stop me and search my vehicle.”

He responded, “Aren’t you familiar with the drug problem existing here on the border?”

I responded, “Well, you’ve sort of compromised your position with that remark because you don’t have authority to stop me to look for drugs, do you? Isn’t your authority limited to looking for illegal aliens?”

He quickly responded, “Well, the reason I stopped you was to look for illegal aliens but if I happen to find drugs, I can charge you with a drug offense. Now, open up your trunk.”

I again politely declined, pointing out that he had neither probable cause nor a reasonable suspicion that I was committing a crime.

He said, “Here’s your choice: You can either open your trunk or you can come back with me to Border Patrol headquarters in Laredo where we will search your vehicle there.”

Since returning to Laredo would seriously delay my arrival at the beach, I finally relented and opened the trunk. I’m sure the guy fully expected to find an illegal alien jumping out or a big bail of marijuana to charge me with. After rummaging through my trunk, he appeared a bit disjointed at not finding anything. He let me go on my way.

One of my best friends in high school later told me that his father, who was the head of the local Border Patrol office, told him that I was the talk of the local Border Patrol office that day.

This is the type of Border Patrol abuse that people on the border have undergone on a regular basis for decades. It’s just part of living in what people on the border call America’s Constitution-free zone.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eric Holder’s Cover-Up
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a special prosecutor to investigate whether crimes relating to torture were committed by federal personnel during the Bush administration. There’s one big problem, however, with what Holder is proposing: His mandate to the special prosecutor would limit the investigation to underlings who committed acts outside the parameters set forth in the so-called torture memos and prohibit any investigation and prosecution of the higher-ups who designed the overall scheme or participated in its implementation. It also would prohibit prosecution of people who broke the law by committing acts that fell within the authorized parameters.

In principle, Holder’s plan would be no different from the many investigations into the torture at Abu Ghraib conducted by the Army, in that it would have the effect of making it look like the U.S. government stands against torture by going after underlings while, at the same time, protecting the higher-ups who are ultimately responsible for what their underlings have done.

What if conduct within the authorized parameters violated the law? Under Holder’s plan, that will not be investigated and will just have to be excused. The notion is that the underlings who committed those acts were just following orders.

What about the president, vice president, and other higher ups who designed and implemented the interrogation program? Undoubtedly, Holder would say that they should be immune from investigation and prosecution because they were just complying with the legal opinions of the lawyers in the Justice Department.

What about the attorneys themselves who issued the torture memos? Are they subject to criminal prosecution? Holder would say no, under the assumption they were just innocently issuing good-faith legal opinions in response to a request from the president. How can we prosecute lawyers for doing nothing more than issuing flawed legal opinions?

What a crock, and Holder knows it, because there is another distinct possibility that deserves investigation and, if confirmed, criminal prosecution: a conspiracy to violate laws on torture, one in which the torture-memo attorneys were actively involved by conspiring to issue bogus legal opinions to provide cover for the president and the vice president and other higher-ups who were designing and implementing the torture program.

For those who think that lawyers would never conspire to violate the law, don’t forget the occupation of the main co-conspirators in the Watergate conspiracy: lawyers. Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, John Dean, and John Erlichman.

Did such a conspiracy exist? Were the torture memo attorneys truly issuing good-faith legal opinions or were they knowingly issuing false legal opinions for the purpose of providing requested cover for the White House?

We don’t know the answers to those questions. That’s what a special prosecutor should be free to ferret out in a full investigation. By limiting the scope of the inquiry to underlings who went outside the authorized parameters, Eric Holder is ensuring that the American people never find out.

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Socialism Is Not Free
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Socialists who proudly proclaim the great success of the socialistic welfare state, including Social Security and Medicare, block out of their minds the fact that socialist programs are not free. The federal government is not an independent fountain of wealth or even an independent business operating alongside private businesses in the marketplace. Instead, the government is an entity that gets its money by taxing the private sector.

In effect, there are two segments of society — the private sector and the public (or government) sector.

In order to accumulate wealth, people in the private sector must produce a good or service that other people are willing to pay for. The process is entirely consensual and voluntary. If someone produces something that consumers don’t like, the producer cannot force people to buy it. Nor can the producer simply go out and forcibly take money away from people to fund his operation.

If a producer continues to satisfy consumer tastes, as manifested by sales of his product or service, his income rises. If he saves a portion of his income each year, his wealth increases. If consumers lose interest in what he is selling, his income drops and he ultimately goes out of business.

The federal government also provides goods and services. These include such things as mail delivery, courts, drug war, welfare, Social Security, Medicare, foreign aid, invasions, occupations, and the rebuilding of foreign nations.

However, unlike the private sector the government doesn’t depend on the voluntary decisions of consumers for its money. It forces the private sector to pay for its goods and services by simply confiscating (taxing) the income or wealth of people in the private sector. If someone refuses to pay his taxes, we all know what federal officials will do to him. The payment of taxes is not voluntary.

Obviously, the higher the income and wealth in a society, the more the government can confiscate. When everyone in the society is poor, the government will not be able to offer many goods and services because there isn’t very much income and wealth to confiscate to pay for such goods and services.

Welfare-state officials always want to spend much more money than what they are confiscating. One option, of course, is to simply increase the amount being confiscated, but that tends to get people upset. So, instead the government goes out and borrows the money.

But where does it borrow the money? From people in the private sector or from foreigner governments, such as China. When it takes it from the private sector, that means less money is available for capital projects in the private sector — that is, projects where private businesses wish to borrow money to expand their operations.

Today, the national debt — the total amount the federal government owes its creditors — is $11.6 trillion. That’s the amount of money that federal officials have borrowed, instead of taxing, to pay for their operations. That averages out to $38,000 per citizen. For a family of four, that comes to $152,000.

Then, of course, there are the unfunded liabilities, things like Social Security and Medicare. Those amount to $107 trillion — 10 times the amount of the national debt. Each year the government should have been setting aside a reserve fund to cover these expenses when they finally start coming due. It didn’t do that. Where is the government going to get the money to pay for those expenses? By confiscating the money from people in the private sector, or by piling on more debt, which ultimately is owed by the taxpayers.

What about simply printing the money to pay off all that debt and all those unfunded liabilities? Historically, that’s what governments do, in order to avoid having to directly confiscate people’s income and wealth. The confiscation takes place nonetheless but it’s indirect in that it reduces the value of people’s income and wealth through the debasement of the currency. Socialists inevitably blame the inflationary process on businessmen, speculators, greed, and free enterprise, never hinting that it’s the government that is actually behind the rapidly depreciating value of money.

Contrary to what the socialists tell you, socialism is not free. On the contrary, its financial price tag is always very high. Just calculate how much you pay in income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes. Then add how much you owe as your share of the $11.6 trillion in federal debt. And then calculate how much you’ll be paying as your share of those $107 trillion in unfunded liabilities coming down the pike.

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

Monday, August 10, 2009

Plaxico Burress’s Doomsday Weapon
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The inanity of gun control is manifesting itself in the case of former New York Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Thanks to New York City’s strict gun laws, which carry a mandatory minimum sentence, Burress is facing 3 1/2 years in the penitentiary.

Burress, who had an expired concealed carry permit issued by the State of Florida, took his 40-caliber Glock with him to New York. While he was at a bar, the weapon slipped down his sweatpants and discharged when Burress was reaching for it. Burress was injured on the thigh. No one else was injured.

Not surprisingly, the New York gun-control crowd has gone ballistic. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for enforcing the mandatory 3 1/2 year sentence, saying that anything less would be “a mockery of the law.”

Burress testified before the grand jury, hoping that it would show mercy and not issue an indictment. The grand jury returned an indictment anyway.

That leaves Burress with almost no options. If he pleads guilty, he’s facing the mandatory minimum sentence. If he pleads not guilty, the prosecutors will easily be able to prove his guilt, especially since they presumably now have his confession under oath before the grand jury. There is always the possibility that the prosecutors will offer him a plea bargain, but if they do they’re almost certain to demand jail time of at least a couple of years.

Burress does have one other legal option though, a doomsday weapon that would strike fear in the heart of every gun-control advocate in the country, especially those in New York City. He ought to move to dismiss the indictment on the ground that he has the right to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the country for purposes of self-defense and then carry that issue all the way to U.S. Supreme Court.

After all, given that people have the natural and God-given right to keep and bear arms, as the Second Amendment recognizes, why shouldn’t they have the right to keep such arms concealed? Under what moral or constitutional authority does the City of New York deprive a person of protecting himself from murderers, rapists, thugs, and other violent people?

After all, it’s not as if gun control has succeeded in preventing violent murders in New York City, any more than it has in Washington, D.C. As gun-rights advocates have been pointing out for decades, murderers don’t obey gun-control laws. Since they have no problems violating laws against murder, rape, robbery, and so forth, they also have no problems violating laws against using weapons to commit such crimes.

Therefore, all that gun control accomplishes is to prevent good people, such as Plaxico Burress, from defending themselves against the murderers, rapists, and robbers.

How moral is that? Not moral at all. It’s ridiculous.

Plaxico Burress has no more business going to jail than you and I do. He’s no criminal. What is criminal is New York City’s gun-control law.

Burress has nothing to lose. He ought to plead not guilty, contend that New York City’s gun-control law is unconstitutional, and take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He’d be doing us all a big favor.

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

Friday, August 7, 2009

How About a Posse Comitatus Act for Latin America?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The United States has long had a tradition of prohibiting the military from serving as the domestic police. We Americans consider a bad thing to have the military serving in that capacity. This tradition is reflected in the Posse Comitatus Act, which was enacted in 1878 and expressly prohibits U.S. military forces from engaging in domestic law enforcement.

The reason that Americans consider it a bad thing to have the military serve as cops is because militaries traditionally run roughshod over the rights and freedoms of the citizenry to a much greater extent than civilian cops do. The military mindset is: We’re at war, and everything must be done to win the war; we cannot surrender to the criminals.

The inevitable result is the type of things we’ve seen in the military’s war on terrorism — e.g., assassinations, murders, indefinite incarcerations, military tribunals, torture and sex abuse, denial of due process, cancellation of habeas corpus, kidnapping, rendition, bombing of wedding parties, missiles into cars, and so forth.

In the mind of the military, these types of things are considered perfectly normal because they’re part of waging war.

Thus, it’s not surprising that the Mexican people are now suffering major human-rights abuses at the hands of their own military forces, which are actively involved in waging that country’s war on drugs. The Mexican experience reminds us of why Americans have never wanted their military to be involved in enforcing the drug laws or any other domestic crime.

But if using the military for domestic law enforcement is a bad thing for Americans, then why isn’t it equally bad for Latin Americans?

For years the U.S. military has been actively involved as a domestic law-enforcement force in Latin America as part of the war on drugs. Colombia and Peru are good examples. In fact, the U.S. military bases sprinkled throughout Latin America are oftentimes justified as part of the U.S. government’s global war on drugs.

Why should the U.S. government be subjecting Latin Americans to the U.S. military as part of domestic law enforcement in their countries when Americans won’t permit themselves to be subjected to it here at home? Isn’t the use of the U.S. military in the war on drugs in Latin America, while prohibited from doing so here at home, just part and parcel of the arrogance and hypocrisy that has long characterized U.S. foreign policy?

This double standard should be ended. The way to do so is by closing all U.S. military bases in Latin America and withdrawing all U.S. troops from that part of the world and discharging them. (Of course, ending the war on drugs would be good too.)

Another important step is to close the U.S. military’s School of the Americas, which trains the military personnel of Latin American countries. Unlike the United States, the regimes in those countries use their militaries as domestic cops, which produces the negative consequences that come with such a policy. Thus, by training foreign military forces with full knowledge that they are serving as domestic cops back home, the School of the Americas reinforces a policy in Latin America that is inherently bad — i.e., the use of the military as domestic cop.

Of course, the risk that Americans face is that the U.S. government will end the double standard and hypocrisy the other way — by abolishing or ignoring the Posse Comitatus Act and copying what Latin American countries do in using the military as domestic cops.

Indeed, the U.S. military is practically champing at the bit to be sent to the U.S.-Mexican border to participate in the war on drugs, the war on immigrants, the war on guns, and the war on terrorism.

The American people would be wise to not abandon their heritage of prohibiting the military from serving in that capacity. They should extend that prohibition to Latin America and all other foreign countries.

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

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Older Americans Can Lead Us Out of Socialism
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Dear Older Americans:

As you no doubt know, our nation is mired in a socialist morass, one that is moving our country into financial bankruptcy. At the center of this mess are Social Security and Medicare, two socialist programs whose primary beneficiaries are you, the older people of America.

As socialist programs, both Social Security and Medicaid are based on the principle of using the force of the state to confiscate the income of the younger people in order to send the money to you, the older people. In other words, these two programs are nothing more than welfare-state transfer programs in which money is forcibly taken from one group and given to another group.

Some of you feel that you are entitled to Social Security because during your younger years you “put money into the system” and therefore are entitled to get it back. Yet, deep down you know that that is not the reality of the situation. No one has ever put anything into the system. From the very beginning, Social Security taxes were simply imposed on people and the money was then sent to older Americans.

Today, as you no doubt know younger people are struggling to make ends meet. Many of them are even losing their homes in the housing crisis. Contributing to their financial difficulties are the high taxes that they are forced to pay so that you can receive your Social Security check and your free health care.

Moreover, soon things are going to get even worse for those in the younger group. Not only will they owe ever-increasing amounts of money as their share of the national debt, owing to out-of-control federal spending, they also have staring at them the payment of trillions of dollars in additional Social Security and Medicare taxes as more older people begin retiring.

The politicians don’t dare mention the word “repeal” for fear of antagonizing you, the older people. That’s why they always speak in terms of “reform.” Yet, reforming an inherently defective and immoral system will only lead to calls for more reform down the line, as things continue to get worse and worse and worse.

However, if you, the older people of America, were to lead the way by demanding repeal, not reform, of socialism in America, political support for these programs would crumble because the politicians could no longer use you as the excuse for continuing the socialist programs.

Why should you lead the way in calling for the repeal of Social Security and Medicare?

Simply because it would be the morally right thing to do. It’s morally wrong for a person to forcibly take money that belongs to someone else. The fact that previous generations did bad things to you cannot serve as a moral justification for you to do the same to the younger generations.

Moreover, what greater gift could you leave America than the end of America’s disastrous experiment with socialism? To paraphrase John Kennedy, ask not what your government can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

There are those who say that you would starve to death and die of illness without Social Security and Medicare. Nonsense. That’s what socialism has done to Americans — make them lose their faith in freedom and the free market and give them mindsets of helplessness and dependency. Americans did without these socialist programs for more than a hundred years. No one starved to death and we once had the finest health-care system in the world.

With the repeal of these programs, everyone, including you, the older people, would do fine. Some of you have money to pay for your retirement. Others would return to the workplace, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it keeps older people in the mainstream of life. Others would depend on their children or church groups or people in the community. That’s the way it should be. Charity means nothing unless it’s from the willing heart of the individual.

The fact is that God has created a consistent universe, one in which freedom and the free market work, while socialism doesn’t. Before things get much worse, we need to restore freedom and the free market to our land, both on moral grounds and on practical ones. You have the ability to lead us out of the socialist morass. Will you do so?

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Moral Principle in the Socialist Debate
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Most everyone who is not a libertarian misses the central point in the health care debate. It’s the same point, by the way, in the Social Security debate. The point is the one that involves a basic moral principle: It’s wrong to take what doesn’t belong to you, whether you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, or whatever.

At the most basic level, all Americans would acknowledge that it is wrong to take someone else’s money without his consent. That basic principle is ingrained in us from childhood. Some would argue that it’s built into us as part of our DNA or imprinted into our conscience.

Cuba provides a good starting point for our analysis. In 1959, when Castro assumed power, there were lots of wealthy people in the country. They had large companies, such as those that produced rum or cigars. They lived in beautiful homes. They owned plantations.

Along comes Castro and decides to impose a socialist system on Cuba. He simply kicks the wealthy people out of their businesses, homes, and plantations and gives the property to the poor.

Many Americans would sense the fundamental immorality of what Castro has done. While he could get away with what he did legally, what he did was immoral. He had no moral right to take someone’s home, business, or farm away from him in order to give it to someone else.

People are equally able to apply this moral principle to the private sector. If someone accosts you, takes you to an ATM, and forces you to withdraw $1,000 from your bank account and then give it to him, most everyone would say that that is morally wrong.

What if the thief uses the money to pay for a medical operation for his ailing mother in order to save her life? What if he uses it to fund a poor person’s education? What if he gives it to his 90-year-old parents who are broke?

It wouldn’t matter. Most everyone would say that while such factors could be considered by the judge in sentencing, they would not excuse what the thief has done. The people had a right to their money and the thief, no matter how great his need for the money, had no right to take it from them.

The principle is really no different in any socialist program, including Social Security and Medicare. With these programs, the state is forcibly taking money from the young and productive and giving it to the elderly.

What is fascinating about the socialism debate are the mental contortions that many Americans engage in to justify or rationalize socialist programs, especially the ones that are benefitting them.

Consider, for example, Social Security. This program is based on a very simple principle: The state will take money from people who have earned it — i.e., the young and productive — in order to give it to people to whom it does not belong — i.e., old people. Medicare, of course, is based on the same violation of moral principle. It involves taking money from young people into order to pay the health care costs of old people.

Yet, this is what many supporters and beneficiaries of these programs say: “All my life I put my money into a trust fund, which the government has mismanaged. I am now retiring. The value of my assets has recently fallen. I need the money. I’m not taking anyone else’s money. I’m getting my money back.”

Yet, none of this is true. It’s all just mental contortions that enable people to avoid confronting the reality of what these programs are doing — taking money that rightfully belongs to young people and middle-aged people, many of whom are struggling in life, and giving it to people to whom it does not belong — i.e., old people.

Several decades ago, elderly Americans used these socialist programs to plunder the wealth of younger people. Those old people are now dead. That younger generation that they plundered is now the old people. What they’re now saying, in reality, is this: “People who are now dead took my money from me to fund their retirement. Since they did it to me, I have the right to do it the young people today. When they get old, they will have the right to do it to their children’s and grandchildren’s generation too.”

What can be said about a nation whose people are fighting hard to maintain socialist programs that at their core violate one of the most fundamental moral principles known to man? Not very much.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Love of Liberty vs. the Love of Government
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The real battle taking place in America is between the lovers of liberty and the lovers of government. That’s what the healthcare debate is all about. The lovers of government want the federal government to operate a healthcare program. The lovers of liberty prefer a free market in healthcare, that is, a market free of government interference.

The lasting legacy of the paternalistic welfare state is that it has produced a nation of government lovers. How? By making people dependent, in one way or another, on the welfare largess of the state. Once people began receiving such largess, independence and love of liberty went out the window.

Consider, for example, Social Security. For more than 150 years Americans lived without this paternalistic program. They retained everything they earned because there was no income taxation. They decided how much to save for their retirement. They decided how much to help their aging parents and others. They treasured the freedom to make these types of decisions.

Then, along came the Franklin Roosevelt regime, which got the idea of Social Security from Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany, who himself had gotten the idea from German socialists. Elderly Americans were put on the dole, notwithstanding the fact, of course, that that first generation of Social Security recipients had not put anything into the system.

Roosevelt and his socialist cohorts knew precisely what Bismarck and the German socialists knew: that once people are placed on the dole, the way they look at government totally changes. People who previously viewed government as the major threat to their freedom and well-being now began seeing government as their provider, caretaker, and keeper. That’s when Americans began falling in love with the federal government.

It’s no different with healthcare. Look at the number of elderly people that are now on Medicare. I’d guess that 99 percent of them would never support an immediate and total repeal of this socialist program. They are as psychologically dependent on this program as an addict is to heroin. They could never imagine life without it. They love the government for having provided it to them. And, after all, it’s all free!

Whatever else might be said about Barack Obama, he is not a dumb man, any more than Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were. Obama knows that if he can just get his government-run healthcare program enacted, that will expand the number of people who are dependent on the federal largess. What could warm the cockles of a socialist more than adding to the rolls of those who love the government as a result of their dependency on it?

Obama, like Roosevelt and Johnson, is also aware of a political fact: that once a socialist program comes into existence, it becomes difficult politically to get rid of it. That’s because few politicians will dare antagonize those people who are dependent on the dole by calling for its repeal. Instead, the magic word “reform” becomes the standard lexicon.

Socialists like to pretend that their programs are “free.” Of course, that’s just nonsense. Socialism involves using the force of government (e.g., the IRS) to take money from one group of people and give it to another. It also inevitably involves ever-increasing expenditures — and taxes — needed to keep it going.

At first, socialism appears to be a big success. But that’s simply because there is enough wealth to confiscate and give to people. Consider Cuba, for example, which has long had a “free” health care program for everyone. When the socialists took power in 1959, there were lots of wealthy people. Today, the entire country is mired in deep poverty. Over time, that’s inevitably what happens with socialism. Weighed down with ever-increasing taxes, the producers of wealth begin slowing down and many of them simply stop producing wealth by retiring. Of course, that leaves the government less money to confiscate and redistribute.

So, given all the Americans who are now on the socialist dole in countless ways, do the lovers of liberty have any hope in prevailing over the lovers of government? I think we do. While the lovers of government are extolling the great “success” of such welfare state programs as Social Security and Medicare, millions of young Americans and middle-aged Americans are going to soon start feeling the financial burden even more than they already are, especially as more Baby Boomers begin retiring and go on the dole.

The fact is no generation can legitimately bind another generation into accepting its system of government. Every generation has the right to implement its own system. Americans who are now dead and older Americans living today chose the paternalistic welfare state.

But young people and middle-aged people have the right to repeal the welfare state, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and restore a free market system to our land. It would be the best thing they could ever do, not only for themselves and their children but also for the elderly, who still have time to regain their love of liberty and personal independence before they pass on from this life.

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

Monday, August 3, 2009

The U.S. Government Is Not the USA
by Jacob G. Hornberger

I recently received a note from a former supporter of FFF telling me that the reason that she had stopped donating after 9/11 was because we had blamed “the USA” for the 9/11 attacks. She had supported our work from our inception in 1990 until 2001.

Eight years after the 9/11 attacks, I continue to be amazed over this phenomenon.

As I responded to our supporter, we never blamed “the USA” for the 9/11 attacks. We blamed the U.S. government, and specifically the bad things that it had been doing to people in the Middle East, for engendering the anger and hatred that so many people have in that part of the world for the United States. It was that anger and hatred that ultimately erupted in the 9/11 acts of violence.

One problem in all this is that many people honestly believe that the U.S. government and “the USA” are one and the same thing. In their minds they conflate the government and the country. Thus, to them if you criticize the government, you are criticizing the United States.

Yet, it is obvious that we’re talking about two separate and distinct entities here. One group is the government and the other group is the private sector, i.e. “the USA.”

When the American people called the federal government into existence with the Constitution, it was based on a critically important principle: the recognition that the federal government would be the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the country.

Take a look at the Bill of Rights, which the American people demanded as a condition for permitting the federal government to come into existence. You’ll notice something important: Implicit throughout the first ten amendments is a critical point: the biggest threat to people’s rights is the federal government, and the explicit purpose of the amendments is to protect the country from that enormous threat.

Ironically, even as some Americans cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that the federal government is capable of doing such bad things to people that they retaliate with terrorist attacks, the federal government itself is taking a different position. Today, federal officials are fighting hard to keep secret photographs and videotapes depicting U.S. troops torturing, sexually abusing, and possibly even raping Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Why are they doing that? Because U.S. officials feel that the release of the photos and videos will produce so much anger in the Middle East that people will seek to retaliate by killing U.S. troops.

Is that position any different in principle from the position we took with respect to the 9/11 attacks? Of course not. As we stated, both before and after the 9/11 attacks, when the U.S. government does bad things to people, the anger and hatred that is generated can produce retaliatory “blowback” against the United States.

What were the bad things that the federal government was doing to people in the Middle East prior to the 9/11 attacks? Here are some of them: the brutal sanctions that were enforced against the Iraqi people, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children; U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it”; the deadly and illegal no-fly zones over Iraq; the unconditional financial and military support of the Israeli government; and much more.

In a society in which many American citizens are criticizing the federal government for the bad things it has done with the economy, Social Security, Medicare, the drug war, bailouts, immigration, the dollar, and so much more, why do some Americans still consider it inappropriate to criticize what the federal government has done to foreigners? Isn’t it the responsibility of an enlightened citizenry to criticize the wrongdoing of its own government, both foreign and domestic, with the aim of keeping it on the right course? Isn’t that what genuine patriotism is all about?

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

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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.