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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 6, Issue 24: June 14, 2004

  1. “Torture-gate”
  2. Reagan’s Legacy Lives on in Foreign Policy
  3. “Promised Land of the Free” -- Transcript Now Available

1) “Torture-gate”

Congressional oversight of the executive branch is a vital doctrine in the U.S. Constitution. According to news reports, the Bush administration has been obstructive and secretive when speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, on whether it approved of torture in U.S. military prisons.

“Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly resisted calls to release memos that – if the Wall Street Journal is correct – sanction the use of torture by military personnel,” writes Brigid O’Neil, a researcher at the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, in a new op-ed. “All of these administration officials have acted in a way that holds the interests of the Bush administration above those of the American people.”

The failure of the Bush administration to confront torture allegations directly has irritated members of Congress, such as Senator Richard Durbin’s warning to Attorney General John Aschroft, “…you are not citing a law and you are not claiming executive privilege. And frankly, this is what contempt of Congress is all about.”

O’Neil argues that, aside from being a dangerous precedent for the balance of power in Washington, the administration’s deceitful behavior is especially perilous given the topic of the controversy. If the U.S. government allows torture, its enemies may see it as an excuse to follow suit.

As Senator Joseph Biden reminded Ashcroft: “There’s a reason why we sign these treaties: to protect my son in the military.”

According to O’Neil, “stonewalling the truth” has become a trend for the administration, and it is therefore the duty of Congress to stand up and hold the administration accountable.

“Now that the executive has abdicated any responsibility for the scandal, Congress needs to pick up the reins and fulfill its constitutional mandate as a check against unbridled executive power…. As the first constitutional republic the world has ever known, we cannot afford to let the United States carry the legacy of a despot.”

See “America’s Last Chance: Congressional Oversight and ‘Torture-gate’,” by Brigid O’Neil (6/14/04)

Center on Peace & Liberty

OnPower.org -- Terrorist War

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2) Reagan’s Legacy Lives on in Foreign Policy

It is sometimes said that the best eulogy for the recently departed should not solely embellish their heroism or service as much as memorialize their character in all of its humanity, including fallibility.

In a new op-ed, “Mourn the Man's Death but also His Legacy,” noted foreign policy expert and Director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace and Liberty, Ivan Eland, urges just such an assessment of the Reagan legacy, especially in the area of foreign policy.

While Reagan is rightly credited for negotiating the first arms control treaty with the Soviet Union, he also engaged in a host of interventions harmful to the American republic and people elsewhere around the world. Eland argues that in attempting to bog the Soviet Union down in Afghanistan, for example, Reagan provided “support of the most radical Islamic jihadists against the Soviet occupier [which] ultimately created al Qaeda, one of the few severe foreign threats to the American homeland in the history of the republic.” The result has been the terrorists who “have already inflicted more damage to the United States than the Soviet Union ever did.”

Eland further argues that "[o]ther unintended consequences from Reagan's macho meddling in remote parts of the world were equally dangerous to American citizens and U.S. constitutional government. Reagan's secret support for Saddam Hussein in his victorious war against Iran would upset the balance of power in the Persian Gulf region and lead to years of confrontation with, and now a perilous occupation of, Iraq."

When we honor a charismatic public figure solely on his words and overlook the consequences of his actions we not only blur the lessons of history, but endanger our future as well. And that would be a legacy Ronald Reagan would most likely not wish to leave.

See “Mourn the Man's Death but also His Legacy,” by Ivan Eland (6/14/04)

More information about the June 17th Independent Policy Forum: "THE FUTURE OF IRAQ: Democracy or Quagmire?" featuring George Bisharat, Ivan Eland, James H. Noyes, and Robert Scheer.

More information about Ivan Eland’s forthcoming book, THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed

Order the videotape, “UNDERSTANDING AMERICA’S TERRORIST CRISIS: What Should be Done?,” featuring Gore Vidal, Robert Higgs, Barton Bernstein, and Thomas Gale Moore.

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3) “Promised Land of the Free” -- Transcript Now Available

Can today’s high tax rates, massive bureaucratic regimes, Byzantine regulations, and government attacks on property rights all be reconciled with the founding principles of America?

According to economist Richard Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, the U.S. government has grown enormously to the detriment of individual liberty, constitutional republicanism, and the common law – especially in the realms of eminent domain, contract law, wealth distribution and federalism.

Epstein, author of the new book, “Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism,” spoke at the recent Independent Policy Forum entitled, “The Promised Land of the Free,” presenting his argument that the classical liberal traditions of America’s past have suffered incredibly under the weight of U.S. government bureaucracy and imprudent judicial activism.

Whereas in the period between the Civil War and the New Deal, the courts generally upheld the doctrine that “the basic liberties that people had … included the right of people to dispose their labor as they saw fit,” Epstein admonished post-New Deal court decisions that expanded “the commerce power to give the federal government plenary power to regulate essentially every economic activity under the sun.”

But while Epstein believes that government is needed “to supply some kind of social infrastructure,” which means society needs “a system of taxes” and “a system of takings,” San Jose State economics professor Jeffrey Rogers Hummel doesn’t agree.

Also speaking at “The Promised Land of the Free,” Hummel argued that Epstein gives too many concessions to government. Borrowing a phrase from the title of Epstein’s earlier book, Simple Rules for a Complex World, Hummel critiqued Epstein’s analysis on the basis that “his simple rules for a complex world, as they apply to government, are not simple enough.”

In particular, Hummel argued that taxation is unethical and unnecessary and that economic regulation, since it shields firms from competition, is a “cure [that] proves worse than the disease.” And while Epstein favors utilitarian arguments against government policies, Hummel prefers the use of moral arguments to sway the general public away from embracing government policies such as taxation.

During the Q&A portion of the event, Epstein and Hummel discussed many topics, including the differences between behavioral and consequentialist economics, the viability of achieving limited government, political organization as a strategy for liberty, constitutional interpretation, and the triumphs and losses for American freedom in recent years.

For a transcript of “The Promised Land of the Free,” featuring Richard Epstein and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel (3/9/04)

Also see, “Taxation, Forced Labor and Theft,” by Edward Feser (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Fall 2000)

For the subsequent debate (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Fall 2001), please see:
“Taxation, Forced Labor and Theft: Comment,” by James Rolph Edwards

and
“Taxation, Forced Labor and Theft: Reply,” by Edward Feser

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