Harry Browne's Journal

This Journal provides random thoughts on news items and other issues. There won't be new postings every day, but most weeks there should be one to four new entries. This isn't an interactive blog where you can post your thoughts. However, you can email me — and if your email seems to be of general interest, I might respond in this Journal. I can't provide a personal answer, because I don't have the time to do many things I'd like to do.

March 31, 2005

Please forgive this long delay between entries. This time it wasn't traveling that caused it. I've been home, but overloaded with commitments and work on coming projects. Next Friday (April 8) my new Internet TV show debuts on the Free Market News Network. The show will be posted each week at 6pm Eastern Time on Friday, but it will remain on the site, available for access permanently. I'll be taping the first two shows this coming Tuesday. Before that I'll be in Arizona for a seminar. So it may be a week before the Journal entries start flowing for April.

I've forgotten to mention that I have accepted the Presidency of the Free Market News Network. FMNN offers news, commentary, radio interviews, and TV presentations on political and investment subjects. I've been very impressed with what FMNN has achieved in a little over a year online. I suggest you check it out. Anthony Wile, the entrepreneurial genius who founded the network and is the Chairman of the Board, will continue to be the Chief Executive Officer.

I hope you'll read "Fool Me Once . . ." The writing of it also contributed to the long gap here in the Journal. It started as a fairly simple rebuttal to someone's reference to what everyone knows (or seems to). But it turned into a full-fledged essay, attempting to bury once and for all the idea that we should take seriously anything that flows from the Bush administration about foreign policy (or anything else, for that matter).

Terri Schiavo: I won't attempt to take sides between the husband and the woman's family. That was a civil case contesting the claims of the husband and her relatives. We can’t argue the merits of the case, because we don’t know whether Michael Schiavo’s statements about his wife's wishes are true or false. One can take an ironclad position only if one is opposed to suicide or assisted suicide under all circumstances (or, I suppose, if one is opposed to life under all circumstances).

When participants can’t agree, our system provides only one remedy — a civil court case. And in this case the courts decided in favor of the husband. The judges ruled on questions of law; they weren't trying to produce Solomonic decisions of "what's best."

What we should look at are the political aspects. And there's no question in my mind that the Republican response to the situation was entirely political. The Congress and the President were speaking the only language politicians know — the language of Grandstanding.

Congress passed a law that applied to only one person. That fact alone demonstrates that there was no principle involved — only a desire to bring about a specific outcome. Had there been a principle involved, the law would have applied to all Americans, not just to one person. Not only that, what Congress passed was an ex post facto law — changing the rules relating to a specific case after the case was underway.

As we've seen over and over, Congressmen consider themselves in a position to use their power to force anything they want on the American people — from overruling courts in the case of a dying woman to whether or not steroids should be prohibited in Major League Baseball.

Perhaps next year they'll legislate that all houses on your block should be painted purple.

President Bush joined in the Grandstanding. In the wee small hours of Monday, March 21, he interrupted one of his frequent vacations to fly back to Washington to sign the bill Congress had passed — the bill that allowed the Schiavo family to sue in federal court (a power that is given to Congress nowhere in the Constitution).

Bush's flight to Washington was purely political. His aides frequently fly to Texas to have him sign bills before time runs out for him to sign them. There was no reason they couldn't have done that this time. His going to Washington was purely symbolic. In fact, after signing the bill to much ado, he flew all the way back West for a town meeting in Tucson, Arizona.

At the town meeting, he explained his signing of the bill by saying, "It is wise to always err on the side of life." I'm not sure I'm aware of any other situation where he's taken that position. Certainly, he didn't hesitate to plunge into Iraq — and he still says that whatever he thinks he's achieved there is worth the tens of thousands of lives that were snuffed out.

But back to our exciting story.

The next day the poll results began to surface. Time magazine found that 75% thought it was wrong for Congress to intervene. A CBS poll found that 82% thought Congress and the President should butt out. Those opposed to government intervening even included Republicans and evangelicals.

So what did our President, who always errs on the side of life, do?

He backtracked, of course. The White House apparently leaked the information that President Bush hadn't really wanted to sign the bill; he did so only because of pressure from his political base. That, of course, is what great leaders do — allow themselves to be tossed and turned by the whims of their political backers. Leaders are not expected to help shape public opinion by educating people; they're expected to follow public opinion. A "great leader" is someone who can rush to the front of an existing parade.

It's just that occasionally the leader jumps in front of the wrong parade by mistake.

Taking responsibility: The trials of the Abu Ghraib torturers have given the U.S. government the opportunity to say that this demonstrates that, unlike other countries, America holds people responsible for their sins. But that’s like prosecuting a lance corporal in the Wehrmacht and saying it showed that Nazi Germany held people responsible for the Holocaust.

Speaking of which, it has now been revealed that Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the highest ranking U.S. officer in Iraq, personally authorized the torturous interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq.

This after telling us for the past year that a few rogue enlisted men committed atrocities on their own.

But everything they tell us from now on will be the truth.

Bill of Rights not important: But it doesn't really matter if the people being tortured are terrorists, does it?

After all, the Bill of Rights shouldn't apply to people who are trying to destroy our country, should it?

Well, you tell me. The Pentagon just released 38 Guantanamo detainees, saying that those prisoners weren't really "enemy combatants" after all. So 38 men were kept in confinement, half a world away from their families for over three years, and possibly tortured —but it turns out they weren't really part of the enemy. If the Bill of Rights had been enforced, these men would have been cleared a long time ago, because they would have had a right to an attorney, a speedy trial, and a day in court governed by the rules of evidence.

The Bill of Rights has to apply to "terrorists," because we don't know they're really terrorists until the rule of law has been applied to their cases.

In war, truth is the first casualty. But reason is a very close second. 

One-sided coverage?: From the mailbag:

Americans have been beheaded in Iraq. Why aren't you concerned about that in your writings?

Because it isn't my government doing the beheadings. I'm writing only about those things over which I might have some influence, however small.

And no American would be beheaded in Iraq if our government hadn't sent Americans to Iraq in the first place.

March 19, 2005

Good/bad news: Here's some good news and bad news.

The good news: By an amazing vote of 420 to 2, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit the use of federal funds for the torture of detainees in American custody and for sending detainees to countries that practice torture. The prohibition is an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. It will have to be reconciled with the Senate bill to become law.

The bad news: That Supplemental Appropriations Bill adds over $68 billion to the 2005 federal budget.

Cost in human misery be damned: The BBC reports that Major General Walter Wodjakowski, the second most senior U.S. general in Iraq, told Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, "I don’t care if we’re holding 15,000 innocent civilians, we’re winning the war."

This was in response to General Karpinski's concern that children were being held prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison, and that some prisoners couldn't possibly be terrorists.

Once again, the ends justify the means. Just as war hawks disregard the over 100,000 lives lost already in order to bring "democracy" to Iraq.

Don't I recall conservatives years ago railing against those who believe the ends justify the means?

They don't seem to be concerned about the means anymore.

March 16, 2005

The first step?: Syrian troops and intelligence agents have begun withdrawing from Lebanon, to the great joy of foreigners and some Lebanese. After all, no country should be occupied by a foreign power.

Now if we could just get the Americans out of Iraq.

Now you know: Many times I've lamented that there isn't a single problem or desire in the United States of America that Congress would consider out of bounds for legislation. If someone wants something, it can be brought before Congress for a vote — whether or not Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution provides any authority of Congress to legislate on it.

Then we have the Congressional committees that have no reluctance to stick their noses in anyone's business, and who relish the power to haul anyone they want into a hearing and be made to justify the ways they run their lives. Again, one has to wonder whether there's a single area of life that Congressmen would shy away from. And now I guess I know the answer.

This past Sunday, March 12, on NBC's Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked the following question of Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA):

What authority does your committee have? Could you look into drugs in Hollywood, drugs in the music business? How widespread do you feel you can go?

To which Congressman Davis answered:

Rule 10, Clause 4C2 gives us the ability to hold a hearing on any matter at any time. We’re the major investigatory committee of Congress. [Emphasis added]

So there you have it. There is nothing beyond the jurisdiction of the United States Congress. Who knows? If you've been having a weekly poker game with your friends, Congress might decide to hold hearings on the alarming spread of private, in-home gambling, and subpoena you to come to Washington (at your own expense) to testify.

Correction: In "Is George Bush Right?" I quoted extensively from an article by Jeff Jacoby in which he quoted liberals who seemed to be conceding that George Bush has been right all along and conservatives who were gloating over their apparent victory. I took it for granted that Jeff also believed that Bush had triumphed.

However, Jeff has emailed me as follows:

It's interesting how many people took this column the way you did. My intention was to warn supporters of Bush and the war against premature gloating — by reminding them of "Mission Accomplished" on the aircraft carrier, etc. And yet quite a few readers thought I was joining in the gloating. The drawbacks of writing on deadline, I guess. I realize now that I should have made my skepticism clear earlier in the column than I did.

For what it's worth, I am opposed to triumphalism and gleeful
declarations that "Bush was right." I hope that will prove to be true, but
it is early yet, and nothing is assured.

I'm glad to clear that up.

March 9, 2005

The nuclear danger: During the past three years, as George Bush has been scaring us with the thought that states such as Iraq, Iran, or North Korea might be acquiring nuclear weapons, I couldn't help but wonder what the fuss was all about. Even if it had been proven before the current war that Iraq did have nuclear weapons, I still would have opposed the war. It simply is not America's role to rule the world and enforce the wishes of the President of the United States.

And if the U.S. government would pay more attention to finding ways to defend America, and less attention to other people's business, we probably wouldn't have to worry what weapons any nation possesses.

I've wondered as well why no one on television has bothered to point out that the biggest stockpiler of nuclear weapons has been America itself. Finally, however, we have a very good article summarizing the hypocrisy in America's position on WMDs. It is an editorial in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald. The article also deals with the dangers presented by Israel's nuclear weapons program.

George Bush has been hammering home the point that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran is a signatory to, prohibits Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But that same treaty requires the United States (and other nuclear powers) to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. The U.S. has steadfastly refused to obey the treaty — and, in fact, is developing new nuclear weapons.

But then consistency and integrity have never been George Bush's strong points.

Iranian oil: Whenever the Iranians protest that their nuclear program is solely for the production of nuclear energy, and not nuclear weapons, someone on TV is sure to scoff that the Iranians produce far more oil than the country can use. So what do they need with nuclear energy?

Well, let's see. General Motors produces far more cars than its officers, shareholders, and employees can drive. So why does it produce so many cars? Because it can sell them on the open market and put money in the pockets of all those officers, shareholders, and employees.

In the same way, if Iran can utilize nuclear energy for its own electricity needs, it will have more oil to sell in the world market — putting more money in the pockets of all those Mullahs, Imams, and other assorted Persians.

Book woes: During the past couple of years I have several times committed an author's #1 faux pas: I have mentioned publicly that I'm in the process of writing a book called The War Racket — cataloging the lies and promises the U.S. government has told over the past century to drag us into war after war after war.

Thus I administered to myself the Kiss of Death — meaning that by announcing a forthcoming book I jinxed myself and so, needless to say, the project has been derailed. I started with World War I, amassed a great deal of research, and then wrote that "chapter." It turned out to be more than half the length of a manageable book. I'm currently working on World War II, which promises to be equally as long.

So many lies and so little space.

Publication of the book has been delayed not just by the overwhelming amount of material I've amassed — all of which I find to be intensely interesting — but also by the fact that I've been sidetracked into some very exciting new projects, which I'll be in a position to announce in the near future. (I've learned my lesson about announcing things in advance.)

Since several people have written to me over the past few months to inquire about the progress of The War Racket, I thought I'd better mention here that the current projected year of publication is 2022.

March 4, 2005

The Devil's Dictionary: The Republicans have become adept at redefining words to suit their purposes, relabeling people and events, shuffling people around to slip out from under inconvenient words or laws, or simply inventing new phrases to suit their purposes.

For example, the Bush administration people say that the prisoners they've captured in the so-called "War on Terror" can be treated any way the U.S. military chooses — including ways that international law would define as torture. The Bushies say the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to these captives because they aren't prisoners of war, they're "enemy combatants."

Yes, but what about U.S. laws prohibiting the government from using torture on anyone? Well, they've slipped out from under that restriction as well. They say that U.S. criminal laws don’t apply because the prisoners are not on American soil — they’re in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo, where U.S. laws obviously have no authority.

So all you have to do is invent new labels or move people around — and the laws don't apply.

These "War on Terror" linguistic techniques are inspiring similar tactics elsewhere. As you may have heard, the Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." You might gather from this that Congress can make no law abridging the freedom of speech. But Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) is pushing legislation to restrict what cable TV channels can show on their networks. Senator Stevens says this isn't "censorship" (which, of course, would be unconstitutional), it's simply establishing a "standard of decency."

Pretty soon they could start passing legislation that would imprison you for criticizing the administration, praying, sweating, having sex, doing crossword puzzles, leaving your home after 7pm, or maybe even watching anything other than Fox TV News.

If anyone complains that such laws are unconstitutional, they'll simply tell you that these aren't laws; they're "directives," and so they're not bound by the Constitution.

March 3, 2005

Extra! Extra!  Read All about It!  Danger to America!  Critical Situation!: On Wednesday, President Bush signed an order continuing a state of national emergency because of an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States."

My heavens! "From where comes this extraordinary threat?" you might ask.

And if you don’t ask, I will. From where comes this extraordinary threat?

From the all-powerful nation of — wait for it — Zimbabwe!

On Wednesday, the President released the following statement:

On March 6, 2003, by Executive Order 13288, I declared a national emergency blocking the property of persons undermining democratic processes or institutions in Zimbabwe, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 17011706). I took this action to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe's democratic processes or institutions, thus contributing to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Zimbabwe, to politically motivated violence and intimidation in that country, and to political and economic instability in the southern African region.

Because the actions and policies of these persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States, the national emergency declared on March 6, 2003, and the measures adopted on that date to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond March 6, 2005. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency blocking the property of persons undermining democratic processes or institutions in Zimbabwe.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go into the backyard and start digging my bomb shelter.

February 2005 Journal