Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

May 22, 2017

Where I stand

Filed under: Op-eds,Philosophy — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:50 am

It is no secret that we live in a contentious time right now. Not that this is unusual, we’ve been here before.

Nor is this necessarily a bad thing. I firmly believe that disagree is what free men do, and that the truth or at least a close approximation of it is best found in the riotous tumult of debate contending in the free marketplace of ideas.

But we do appear to be having a problem. For one, people are not arguing with each other, but often past each other.

How many times have you experienced lately the teeth-grinding frustration of having somebody argue with something you did not say?

Worse, though arguments are often misunderstood by people who assume they know what you believe, often on the strength of a single remark, these days there is a lot of deliberate misrepresentation of people’s positions by media figures.

And to be fair, if your world view is complex it’s hard to explain to people whose views rest on different foundations. Especially if their view rests on assumptions they haven’t thought deeply about.

I do not mean to be insulting or dismissive by that remark. Most people don’t make a habit of thinking deeply about the basic assumptions their lives rest on, as long as they are reasonably sure they’re working for them.

Those of us who aspire to be pundits however, are obliged to make clear where we are coming from and to explain ourselves when we are asking people to consider an issue from our point of view.

So, I consider myself to be an American patriot, a Western Civilization loyalist, and espouse a position that has variously been described as Libertarian-Conservative, Classical Liberal, or Philosophical Anarchist.

That probably doesn’t leave you any better informed than before, so here below I list a number of things I believe to be true that inform my opinions on pretty much everything else.


• Civilization is a Good Thing. The difference between civilized and savage is real and is not racism.

• Civilization can go bad, and when it does causes far more harm than any savage band ever could.

• Obviously, civilization could stand some improvement.

• The civilization most likely to improve and evolve into something better is the one we call Western Civilization.

• The reason for this is Western Civilization has evolved cultural and political institutions that support a greater degree of individual liberty than any other civilization. The result has been an explosion of wealth and prosperity unequaled in human history.

• This has created its own problems.

• The Western countries which have achieved this to the greatest extent are the English-speaking countries.

• The Western country that has been most successful at this to date (on a large scale at least) is the United States.

• The survival and success of liberty depends for the foreseeable future on the survival of Western Civilization.

• The survival of Western Civilization for the foreseeable future depends on the survival of the United States as a free country.

• Western Civilization in general and the United States in particular have external enemies who desire their destruction.

• Western Civilization in general and the United States in particular have internal enemies who desire their destruction and are willing to cooperate with their external enemies to bring this about.

• The internal enemies of the U.S. and the West come not from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed, but from the most affluent, educated and privileged parts of their societies. The people you’d expect would have the most at stake in preserving their civilization.

• The defenders of Western Civilization and the tradition of individual liberty are divided among themselves. This is a good thing in terms of intellectual diversity, and a bad thing in terms of coordinated action.

• There is a very real possibility of the United States breaking down into tyranny, disunity, disorder, or civil war, i.e. reverting to the norm of history. If this happens, the survival of the West is in serious doubt.

• The problem of free societies is how to be strong, free, rich and united all at once.

• There has not yet been found a permanent solution to the problem. There may not be one.

May 9, 2017

The First Freedom

Filed under: Free Speech,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:46 pm

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
– First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

At a recent speech at UC Berkeley former Federal Election Commission chairwoman Ann M. Ravel called for regulation of speech on the Internet as a move against “fake news.”

In the current issue of The Wellesley News, the student newspaper of Wellesley College, a staff editorial denies free speech is suppressed at the college but goes on to say there is no place for “discriminatory speech.”

“Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech.”

In other words, we don’t deny anybody’s right to free speech, we just tell them what they can’t say.

And lately there have been demonstrations, often turning violent, by black masked thugs who right up front proclaim there is no right of free speech for “Fascists.” They also proclaim their right to define who’s a fascist.
I wish I could say these were isolated incidences. They’re not.

In 2015, a poll by McLaughlin and Associates found that 95 percent of 800 college students polled said free speech was “very important” to them, and 87 percent said there was educational value in listening to views you disagree with.

Nonetheless 51 percent supported campus speech codes, 72 percent supported disciplinary action against “any student or faculty member on campus who uses language that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.” Half said they felt intimidated about sharing views that differed from their professors and classmates.

Note two things about this. One is that in answer to the question “Do you support freedom?” people are likely to respond, “Yes, but…” Followed by an elaborate justification why freedom to do or say something they personally disapprove of isn’t really about freedom.

That’s a common reaction shared by a great many people on all sides of the political divide, differing only in the specifics of what they want to make an exception.

More worrisome is the poll, and the Wellesley editorial, reveal the students don’t just disagree with freedom of speech, they have no conception of what it is.

I am old enough to remember when the major threats to free expression came from the right.

But back then it was mostly about porn. If you wanted to read Terry Southern’s erotic novel “Candy” you had to buy it in Europe and sneak it through customs.

And it was a common comedy schtick that all you had to do to sell out a play, or send sales of a book through the roof was to have reviewers denounce it as “filth.”

It was seldom ever about political speech, and on the rare occasions it was you could count on principled conservatives and classical liberals to defend the rights of people they disliked, to say things they despised.

Moreover, academics who took free inquiry seriously supported the right of people with different and antithetical views to teach in public universities.

Many lived to find out their tolerance was not reciprocated.

For the first time in a long time we have a significant number of people who favor repression of free speech in this country, and what is more are willing to act on it, sometimes personally and violently.

And these are not KKK yahoos but the most educated and affluent in our country. People who often call themselves “liberal” or “progressive” but who are neither liberal nor progressive. Some who call themselves “anarchists,” which ironically means “without rule” – but who mean to rule with an iron hand.

We live in a time when careers are wrecked by a chance remark, a careless joke, or expressing an opinion.

I do not think Americans will put up with this for much longer, it’s just not in our nature to be bullied. But I fear the damage done in the meantime.

April 25, 2017

The Return of Socialism

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:38 am

Well it happened again. Something I’ve run into from time to time starting in college.

Apropos of something I forget I remarked that after the catastrophic collapse of socialism worldwide in the late 1980s early ‘90s I thought socialism would never again be a viable movement.

Subsequent events have proven me wrong.

A very intelligent and articulate person with as I have, years of experience living in Eastern Europe, said those countries weren’t socialist, they were communist.

I countered they called themselves socialist and officially considered themselves as working through the transitional stage of socialism towards true communism.

He replied there are plenty of prosperous democratic socialist countries such as the Scandinavians, and if you wanted to see capitalism look at Russia today.

Stop me if you’ve hear this before.

“Oh the Nazis weren’t socialists.” Although National Socialist German Workers Party doesn’t sound like a right-wing trope to me.

“Oh they were communist, not socialist.” Though Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sounds, well… kind of socialist.

So what is going on here? Why is a political label associated with some of the most brutal tyrannies in history respectable, even popular again?

Firstly, I think there is a problem of definition. Those European countries cited as examples of democratic socialism are not socialist according to most dictionaries. They are welfare states, the desirability of which is an argument for another time.

The original and still primary definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production. There are arguments about how much government ownership. Some insist the government should own only “the commanding heights” of the economy but us little folks would be free to own shops with a few employees.

Many people who call themselves democratic socialists don’t advocate this. One even asked me, “Where’d you get that idea of socialism?”

(I told him, “The dictionary.”)

One Englishman said, “Nah, socialism means taking care of your mates.”

OK, I can get on board with that. But it sounds not much different from a church committee or a neighborhood association. Church social = socialism.

What a lot of people seem to mean by “socialism” is “not capitalism.”

Again, we’re running into problems of definition here. By capitalism many mean what we’ve got now; private ownership of the large scale means of production by powerful interests which wield great political influence through funding political campaigns, regulatory capture, lobbyists, and every way legislation – and legislators are bought and sold. Plus socialization of loss through bailouts, subsidies, etc.

To counter this, modern socialists advocate taking large-scale economic decisions away from individuals and put in the hands of “democratically elected officials.” That is to say, curing the problem by doubling down on what caused the problem.

Free market advocates break their hearts and work themselves into early graves trying to explain that’s not what they mean by “capitalism” and what they advocate is something else entirely. That in fact the modern idea of capitalism is pretty close to Musolinni-style fascist economics.

A free market rests on a few basic principles. Among them: property rights, voluntary trade, and personal responsibility.

Property rights. What’s yours is yours to use as you see fit. Simple in principle though often complicated in practice taking into consideration your neighbors’ property rights, and legitimate public interest such as roads, bridges, levees, etc.

Voluntarism. That to the greatest extent possible trade of labor, goods, and services should be carried out by mutual consent, without force (robbery, extortion) or fraud.

Responsibility. You assume the risks, you reap the rewards – or incur the loss. This also means you do not inflict your costs on your neighbors. Again, simple in theory and complicated in practice. We all do this a little when we drive our cars, which nobody minds much. We tend to notice when a neighbor starts up a pig farm though.

Though markets are complex and prone to error, mistakes of judgement and unforeseen consequences, any argument for a command economy has to explain why the choices of the many should be overruled and controlled by the few.

It’s as simple as that.

April 23, 2017

Today is Yom Hashoah–Holocaust Remembrance Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:02 pm

When the Nazi occupation government of Denmark announced the Yellow Star order, within days every patriotic Dane wore a yellow star. Denmark was the only occupied country the Nazis had to rescind the edict.
When a sympathetic German diplomat warned the Danish underground Jews were to be rounded up and shipped to concentration camps, the resistance smuggled almost all the Jews in the country to Sweden in a single night.
I hope I would have their courage in the same circumstances.


April 10, 2017

My letter to the president of Wichitaw State University, John Bardo

Filed under: Academic,Free Speech — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:17 pm

This is an article that appeared on the website of The FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Educaton). It begins:

Wichita State student government refuses to recognize libertarian student group because of First Amendment advocacy

By FIRE April 7, 2017

Student senators quizzed student group leader about her group’s stance on “free speech zones,” “hate speech,” and “safe spaces”
Student senator: “We’ve seen very dangerous statements being said in the name of free speech”
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that viewpoint-based discrimination against a student group is unconstitutional

This is the letter I wrote to the university president.

Dear President Bardo,

It is with some concern that I read of the recent decision by the WSU student government to deny recognition to the Young Americans for Liberty student group. I was particularly disconcerted to read the decision was apparently motivated by the group’s strong support for the First Amendment.

I am a journalist. I got my start in journalism while living and working as an English teacher in Eastern Europe in the years immediately following the fall of communism (1991-2004). I have worked with dissidents and former dissidents in Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus, and was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights in 1997.

Free speech means a great deal to me, because I have lived in countries where brave men and women spoke out for human rights at considerable risk to themselves.

I strongly urge you to overrule the decision of the student government and recognize Young Americans for Liberty as a student organization.

With regards
Stephen W. Browne

This is the reply I received:

Mr. Browne-
Thank you for your email. President Bardo understands and appreciates your concerns and has asked me to forward them on to the appropriate parties at Wichita State who will review the decision and respond to you shortly.

Anna Lanier Weyers

Director of Operations

Office of the President

February 19, 2017

Racism and identity politics

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:01 am

January 22, 2017

Adventures in Vloging

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:07 am

I’ve probably lost a lot of readers due to inactivity on the blog. Partly I’ve shifted a lot of commentary over to Facebook – which is unfortunately largely ephemeral. But I’ve also branched into Vloging – video bloging.
Here is my first commentary of the recent election that now seems so far in the past. I’ll post more as I produce them.

November 28, 2016

Death of a Dictator

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:19 pm

Well, he’s dead. At last.

Fidel Castro (1926-2016) the longest-ruling dictator in the Western Hemisphere died on November 25.

The encomiums were every bit as sickening as I expected.

“Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!” Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein wrote on Twitter.

“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn called Castro, “a huge figure in modern history, national independence, and 20th-century socialism.”

President Barack Obama was somewhat more circumspect in his eulogizing.

“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” Obama said in a press release.

Though hedging his praise a bit Obama failed to mention that the way Castro “altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” was to imprison, torture, and execute people who disagreed with the Cuban socialist vision, impoverish a country that had a standard of living equal to the United States, and send untold thousands of people across shark-infested seas on makeshift rafts on the slim chance of arriving penniless on America’s shore as the better alternative to living in Cuba.

Contrary opinions came from thousands of Cuban-Americans dancing in the streets of Miami, Cuban-American politicians such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and President-Elect Donald Trump.

“The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said.

Trump called for, “a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

One may hope.

Future generations may well wonder how and why a dictator not much different from any in the sad history of the 20th century was lionized by politicians, movie stars and media moguls who took tours of Cuban Potempkin villages and returned all aglow with the thrill of their brief proximity to absolute power.

Refugees and visitors who could evade their handlers reported magnificent works of architecture crumbing and decaying, mothers and housewives resorting to prostitution to feed themselves and their families, and the healthcare praised by Michael Moore doled out in filthy hospitals where patients had to bring their own bandages and bed linen.

Castro did defy the mighty United States from his little island, thus winning the admiration of America-haters around the world.

Though the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is generally thought of as a win for President John F. Kennedy there are accounts that Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba when he realized Castro and Che Guevara actually intended to use them to start World War III.

And at that Castro and Khrushchev got a win for their side by getting an agreement from Kennedy not to invade Cuba, for all intents and purposes abandoning the Monroe Doctrine.

Remarkably he continued to do so after the collapse of his superpower patron the USSR.

Boldness often wins the admiration of the timid. But there is more I think.

Castro appealed to everything base in human nature, the desire for ultimate power. To take what we want, to bend others to our will, and to kill on a whim.

A reasonably free country can offer the chance to rise very high, to the heights of wealth and fame of those who flocked to sit at Castro’s feet, and often sleep in his bed. But it cannot offer that.

Some of the most privileged of our fat happy country revealed the darkness in their souls by whom they chose to admire.

November 23, 2016

Dear America – chill!

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:42 am

Dear America,

Well the most bitterly contested election in recent memory is past and we have a new president-elect.

This was followed immediately by riots, calls to abolish the Electoral College, petitions to have the Electoral College overturn the election, charges of massive voter fraud, and most recently people disrupting a theater performance to protest the cast calling out the vice-president-elect at an earlier performance.

College students have held “cry-ins” and college administrations have offered “safe spaces” for students traumatized by their failure to get their own way.

Some have talked about impeachment – without considering that Trump actually has to be president before he can be impeached, and the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans so that’s not going anywhere.

In certain quarters there have been dark mutterings of secession and civil war.

In anticipation of potentially huge demonstrations against the president-elect at the inauguration, Bikers for Trump is planning a ride to Washington on the day. Joy forever unconfined!

America – chill!

I’ve spent some quality time in countries in the middle of regime change and civil war and I have to say that while the excitement was exhilarating I always knew I could wave my passport at the border and be gone when things got too tense.

We can’t do that here. Canada has made it plain they don’t want a herd of American refugees pouring across their border, Mexico would probably love the chance to laugh at us, and most of us don’t have passports anyway.

Take a deep breath (with or without preferred smoke) and calm down for heaven’s sake, because once you start down the road of violence it’s very hard to say you’re sorry and back off.

Now please consider a few things.

One is that the Electoral College is there for a reason. One of which is to insure a few densely populated areas don’t dominate the rest of the country. Another is to make it hard to steal an election by voter fraud.

And speaking of which, let’s investigate those charges of massive voter fraud. There are claims millions of non-citizens may have voted. Whether you believe that is true or not, let’s find out which and get that cloud of suspicion out of the way one way or another.

Both sides, remember that 46% of the electorate didn’t vote. That means nobody has a mandate. Only a little less than half of potential voters could muster enough enthusiasm to leave home and stand in a line for either candidate.

You on the losing side, you’re not helping your cause by behaving like spoiled children throwing a tantrum and breaking things.

You on the winning side, be humble. The job of “draining the swamp” in Washington is a daunting task that has so far been beyond the capability of any one man.

Losers, suck it up and consider giving the guy a chance. And ponder an expression used in England in the Mother of Parliaments. The expression is “the loyal opposition” and there is a world of meaning in it.

Winners, remember that your guy has unprecedented power to get things done by the previous assumption of power by a Democratic president and congress. Remember how corrupting the temptation of power is and consider exercising restraint rather than riding roughshod over the opposition. Because what goes around does indeed come around, as your opponents are just starting to realize.

And everybody keep in mind though we have deeply divisive disagreements on a whole lot of issues, disagree is what free men do.

November 15, 2016

Where do we go from here?

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:36 pm

Well this most contentious election in recent memory is over, and I’ll say it turned out kind of like I expected.

That is, I voted for Gary Johnson because I wanted to encourage the third party movement but had no illusions on that outcome.

I’ve never liked Donald Trump personally and haven’t since I saw him put his first wife down during an interview many years ago. I didn’t watch a single video of him during the entire campaign because I find his manner irritating and abrasive.

Nonetheless I’ve been warming to him quite against my will. I was jubilant when he won, and have been chortling with glee ever since.

Because Trump’s victory is a slap in the face for every snobby, self-righteous, holier-than-thou lefty who every issued those vile insults “racist,” fascist,” or “group-of-your-choice-phobe.”

Now I’m going to cease my chortling and offer some advice free of charge, to disconsolate Democrats on how to do better next time.

Hint 1: The insult “racist” wouldn’t sting so much if the target really was a racist. Real racists aren’t the least bit ashamed of being racist and freely call themselves racists.

Hint 2: It really isn’t a good idea to call someone a Nazi or fascist who has seen Auschwitz and whose children are considered in Nazi racist ideology to be half-Slav untermenschen unworthy of life.

Hint 3: When you nominate a candidate who is proven corrupt to the core and criminally careless with national security, by a pile of evidence Helen Keller could read from beyond the grave, and then insist she is not merely the lesser of two evils but pure as the driven snow and unfairly maligned by a 30-year campaign of slander – it’s scary. The kind of scary you feel when you’re alone
in a room with someone who appears normal then starts calmly stating things of breathtaking absurdity while going through the knives in the silverware drawer.

Hint 4: It does nothing to allay the suspicions of your fellow-countrymen when thousands of disappointed partisans assault their opponents, hold “cry-ins” on campuses across the country, riot and destroy property. Not to mention calling for the rules of the game to be changed after losing to overturn the election.

Yes there is a hateful fringe on the other side, but to date their hatefulness seems confined to graffiti and some taunting. Not to mention the reported assaults that turned out to be hoaxes.

You want to know how you could possibly have lost with almost the entire media and academic establishment on your side and a huge (excuse me YUGE!) war chest?

Are you willing to look in the mirror and see where the fault lies, or are you going to blame the FBI, the media (!!!), or Facebook? Do you really want to do better next time?

Here are my suggestions.

OK my Democrat friends, pull yourself out of your funk, and stop crying doom and gloom about being taken to the Camps in boxcars. Stop insulting your fellow citizens for disagreeing with you, and face the reality that you brought this on yourself with your insulting, self-righteous behavior.

Because we need you – and I mean that.

Republicans now have control of the top two tiers of government, the federal and the states – and yes that’s dangerous.

Because it’s dangerous for ANY party to have too much power for too long. One would have thought you’d have learned that by now. It was dangerous when you had it, and it’s not any less dangerous when they have it.

Drop the insults, stop the riots, get some sound arguments for your positions and present them like rational human beings!

Re-learn how to love your country and respect your fellow-Americans in spite of her flaws and your disagreement.

Because disagree, is what free men do.

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