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.

February 22, 2005

Voting for brutality: More and more news is surfacing of prisoners being tortured by U.S. interrogators — in Afghanistan, throughout Iraq, at Guantanamo, of "renditions" wherein the U.S. military or the CIA flies prisoners to countries like Syria or Egypt (countries with less democracy than Iraq had under Hussein) to be tortured without Americans getting their hands dirty.

Of course, each such revelation is countered by the claim that such abuse is an aberration — a great exception to the general rule, which presumably is that prisoners are treated humanely.

But two points must be noticed. First, what we’ve heard so far is only what we’ve heard so far. We should never assume that today is the end of history. The revelations most likely are just the beginning of the scandals.

Second, those who supported going to war — against Afghanistan, against Iraq, against "terrorism" — should understand that they asked for the torturing, the renditions, the shocking brutality. He who calls for war calls for the torture of prisoners, for the killing of civilians, for the destruction of the Bill of Rights, for much bigger government, and for other atrocities. Once war begins, all these things are unavoidable. That's why war should be considered as an option only when America is actually attacked — not when a President thinks it would be a keen idea to rearrange some other country.

Apparently, at least 100,000 Iraqis have died in this war. And at a minimum, half those who died must be civilians — men, women, and children killed by cluster bombs, missile attacks, the flattening of Fallujah, misguided attacks, misunderstandings at check points, and all the other ways that civilians inevitably die for no reason other than that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

To bring "democracy" to Iraq, how many people must die, how many prisoners must be tortured, how many freedoms must Americans give up, how much bigger must government be?

What wars achieve: Woodrow Wilson dragged America into a war that was of no concern to the U.S. — because he had the big idea that he could make the world safe for democracy and self-determination. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, World War I took the lives of 21 million people (including 53,000 Americans). And I defy anyone to point to a single benefit that would justify the death of even one person. In fact, "self-determination" was one of the war's losers — as millions of people were herded against their will into countries where they didn’t even speak the language.

Franklin D. Roosevelt manipulated the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor so that Americans would support going to war — because Roosevelt had the big idea that he could bestow the Four Freedoms on the world. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, World War II cost the lives of at least 20 million people (including 292,000 Americans). And it caused half of Europe and all of China to become prisoners of the Communists.

The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the bombing of Libya, the invasions of Cuba, Grenada, and Panama, the Marines in Lebanon, the Gulf War, the bombing of Serbia, and the dozens of other military adventures and intrigues of the U.S. government since World War II repeat over and over the same pattern — little Napoleons trying to implement their big ideas by playing God with the lives of other people, leaving millions dead and millions more homeless. And no demonstrable benefit from any of it.

So now we have another tinhorn cowboy in the White House who has the big (but not original) idea that he’s going to solve the thousand-year-old problems in the Middle East. It may cost a few lives but "freedom is always worth it" (so long as it’s other people’s lives that are sacrificed).

It’s doubtful that he’s ever paid any attention to the futility associated with previous wars. And why should he? He has the power to go to war, so why not give it a try? If it doesn’t work out as he promised, he can always change the rationale for going to war. And there will always be an army of publicists in the press, radio, and television to support him — whatever happens.

While Iraqis are dying, homes are destroyed, electricity and water supplies are interrupted, the cowboy is in Brussels with Jacques Chirac dining on lobster risotto with truffle sauce and filet of beef with Bordelaise sauce, discussing the future of other people’s lives (at least the future for those people who aren't killed in the process).

If liberty-loving people ever again gain control of the U.S. government, we must bind down future Presidents with new chains for the Constitution — depriving the politicians of the power to commit the mayhem that has been perpetrated by 13 of the last 16 Presidents.

February 17, 2005

The "small government' President: When George Bush ran for President in 2000, and again in 2004, he tried to make us believe in each case that his Democratic opponent was a big-spending liberal and that he — George Bush — was a proponent of small, limited government.

He just submitted his 5th budget to Congress. Those five budgets have increased the size of the federal government by 38%. But after 8 years in the Presidency, Bill Clinton had increased the size of government by only 32%. "Small government" George is way, way ahead of "big government" Bill.

You can't blame the recent increases on Congress, because George Bush still hasn't vetoed a single bill in over 4 years in office.

Yes, Albert Gore and John Kerry are certainly liberals. But what is George Bush?

February 9, 2005

George Bush's 'heartless' budget: The game has begun. George Bush has introduced a budget that contains "tough cuts" in programs. The Democrats are screaming, and "libertarian" Republicans are cheering Bush's courage.

But let's see what's going on.

For fiscal 2005, the latest estimate is that the federal government will spend $2.4 trillion.

For fiscal 2006, the President is proposing a tough, no-nonsense, program-slashing budget of $2.6 trillion.

So with all "Bush's proposed cuts," we wind up with a federal government that's 7% larger.

In addition, we must note that the actual budget almost always exceeds the President's proposed budget — usually by several percent. So what we're hearing is the same old "we're going to . . . " that we always hear from the Republicans. The reality undoubtedly will be only a tiny fraction of what they're promising now, and more likely will be the opposite of what they're promising.

But, all together now, let's give a round of applause to President Bush for holding the increase in spending down to 7%. Isn't that exactly what we've been hoping for?

I guess not.

The whole thing is a game. Republicans pretend to cut, to appeal to free-market Republicans — and the Democrats pretend to be outraged, to appeal to their socialist supporters. In reality, nothing will actually change. It never does.

Republicans are great at two things: (1) taking credit for promises that haven't been fulfilled yet, and (2) coming up with excuses when the promises aren't fulfilled..

'Would You Believe?' Department: Something I never thought I'd see: A Democratic governor is proposing real cuts in Medicaid.

Medicaid is a federal program that's supposed to provide health care to poor people who can't afford or can't get health insurance. Each state government receives money from the federal government, adds money from its own budget, and sets up its own program. In Tennessee it's called TennCare. Governor Phil Bredesen is a Democrat who was elected in 2002. While his Republican predecessor was dedicated to pushing a state income tax on one of the few states without such an abomination, Bredesen has steadfastly refused to balance budgets by introducing new taxes or raising old ones.

Don't get me wrong, Bredesen is a politician — and I could fill this page with boondoggles and intrusions that he's introduced, both as governor and previously as mayor of Nashville. But at least he works within the revenues available and doesn't ask for more.

Now he has said, "The way in which Medicaid pays for services has more in common with a socialist economy than the commonsense economic and business principles that do such a good job allocating resources efficiently in other parts of our American life." I can't remember the last time I heard a politician utter the word "socialist" while discussing a government program — or compare government inefficiency with free-market efficiency.

Bredesen is proposing a number of changes in the program — most notably the removal of 323,000 non-Medicaid-eligible people from the program, to save $575 million in Tennessee dollars. Needless to say, it has produced howls of anguish from the usual suspects.

What he has proposed is still just a proposal. As with any politician we have to wait and see how hard he actually works to make the proposal a reality. In the meantime, the dialogue is refreshing.

Investment radio show: I've received emails from people who say they've heard that my Sunday afternoon investment show has been discontinued. And this supposition was enhanced last Sunday when the network mistakenly inserted another show in place of mine. But the show is alive and well — one hour every Sunday at 4pm Eastern time. If there isn't a Genesis station near you, you can hear it live on the Internet or hear it later through the archives on this site.

The New Era: As you may remember, when the Iraqi war started, all the TV news networks — when reporting about the war — displayed the caption "Operation Iraqi Freedom" at the bottom of the screen. This was the name the Bush administration gave to the operation. When the violence continued into the "postwar" period, most networks stopped using the slogan — although I did see it once about a month ago (I've forgotten which network displayed it).

This afternoon, while getting something in the kitchen, I turned on the TV to Fox News. The network now has a new, post-election slogan at the bottom of the screen when reporting on the war: "Iraq: A New Era." Unfortunately, while this was displayed, the announcer was reporting on today's Iraqi violence. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the New Era from the Old Era.

February 8, 2005

From the mail bag (or inbox): This email message poses a poignant question:

In his prolific writings, has Harry ever said what he would do, without
altering history, to prevent these terrorist fanatics from killing? Please send a
link.

I've said quite a bit on this subject. You can find links to a number of solution-type articles on the page "What Should We Do about Terrorism?"

Your constant whining and lack of pleasure with anything is really starting to wear me down, and dampen my enthusiasm for anything close to you. I got over it once, and even though most of your bellyaching did not come to fruition, I'd thought I'd give you another chance. But here we are, millions did not die, Iraq is progressing better than you ever predicted, and you still are finding fault.

You must have me mixed up with someone else. I didn't predict that millions would die. Neither did I make any prediction regarding what would happen in Iraq. I said only that our government had no business making war on a country that hadn't attacked us.

Even if WMDs had been found in Iraq, it wouldn't have justified invading Iraq — any more than the existence of WMDs in Russia, Israel, China, Pakistan, France, England, India, or anywhere else would justify attacking a country that hasn't threatened us.

As to "Iraq is progressing better," I hardly think the deaths of 100,000 people are something to celebrate. But, then, we may not value life in the same way.

And, finally, as to my whining, I'm sorry if it bothers you, but to remain silent while our government systematically attacks and devastates other countries seems to me to be the highest form of treason. I love America too much to watch its government go down the self-destructive road of empire and not try to stop it.

Why the disdain for Fox TV News? Did you prefer the status of the media before, when the big three sang the New York Times song in harmony?  Fox isn't perfect, but it is a fresh voice, and far more libertarian than what was before.

I've said often that the press in general is pro-government. Fox TV News is no exception. I wrote about the network in the recent article simply because it was the network that I happened to watch the night of the Iraqi elections. However, because the network is overtly pro-Bush, the ridiculous assertions I quoted in my article probably exceeded those that were made on the other networks. I might have had less material for an article if I'd watched CNN or MSNBC. 

February 2, 2005

The old hypothetical: I received the following inquiry a couple of days ago:

Consider a country that is a throw-back to pre-civilization. It is run by thugs and tyrants and it kills its own people, concentration camps and all, at the drop of a hat. It's tough to swallow, but I can respect the argument that says: "That is their problem and not one American soldier [and I have a son in the Army] should risk his life to fix this."

But now history evolves and technologies exist to create chemical/biological weapons and nuclear weapons. This crazy country just discussed is big enough to dig holes under mountains and steal enough from their people to hire physicists, chemists, and machinists plus the needed equipment to start building these weapons. They also, not surprisingly since they are tyrants and mindless brutes, subscribe to a religion that says they should kill all Americans. They want to do this because they don't understand the source of our wealth (they are not budding Adam Smiths) and they think they can steal it.

So we learn they are making progress and in a few years might have the capacity to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans (maybe millions). In fact they routinely indicate (publicly) that they want to kill us all and just can't wait to get on with it.

The facts are not subject to debate, because this is a hypothetical situation. But the questions remains: what would you do?

 
But it isn't hypothetical. This is exactly the story we were told 2-3 years ago. And so over 1,000 Americans and close to 100,000 Iraqis have been killed — only to find out that the story wasn't true.
 
If Hussein harbored any hatred at all toward Americans, it wasn't because of our wealth or freedom, or because he had world-conquering ambitions. It was because the U.S. politicians broke their word and intervened in an Iraq-Kuwait dispute of which not one American in a thousand knows any of the details; because American politicians imposed bombings, missile attacks, and sanctions entirely on their own; because U.S. politicians refused to lift the sanctions no matter what Hussein did; and because an American president came into office determined to overthrow Hussein.
 
I couldn't even count the number of emails I received from people in 2002-2003 recounting a hypothetical story of someone who was planning to kill me, thereby justifying my pre-emptive action to kill him first. Such stories are meaningless because there is never any proof of such a murderous intention — just as the Bush administration had no proof.
 
If we had a government that stuck to the Constitution and kept its nose out of other people's affairs, no one would want to kill us — not for our wealth, not out of contempt for our freedoms, not for our heresy, not from religious fanaticism. If you don't believe me, look at Switzerland or any one of several other countries that are as rich, as free, as non-Islamic as America is — but who aren't threatened by anyone. The principal difference between those countries and the U.S. is without question the fact that those countries stay out of the affairs of other nations.
 
America is living in a state of siege — where thought police can read your emails and security guards can humiliate you at airports. Is it worth this, is it worth 3,000 Americans dying on September 11th to be able to continue posing as the world's rulers?
 
I don't think so. And I don't understand why anyone outside the Bush White House would think so.

Are we still talking about Iraq?: Another note recently received:

I'm old enough and wise enough to read what you write and know it is nonsense. Stop whining and realize we at last have a President who will do more to protect you than you are used to. I guess you expected the Iraqis to have the fear of death that you must have. Thank God for Bush and the BRAVE troops and strong Iraqis.

If you aren't afraid of death, I presume you're writing from Iraq.

Or are you brave only with other people's lives?

On the other hand: The number of emails I received after publishing my article "Why I Am Obsessed with War" was exceeded only by the number I received after publishing "When Will We Learn?" on September 12, 2001. But, while the emails for the latter article were split about 50-50 between approval and disapproval, the emails for the Obsession article were almost entirely positive.

I mention this only to thank all those who wrote, and to apologize for not being able to send a personal response. It's just not possible for me to do so. But I do appreciate all feedback — positive or negative.

 

January 2005 Journal

 

 

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