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

Volume 6, Issue 25: June 21, 2004

  1. Reagan and Draft Registration
  2. Privatizing Space Flight
  3. The Saddam/Al-Qaeda "Connection"

1) Reagan and Draft Registration

In 1980 presidential candidate Ronald Reagan promised to abolish Selective Service registration, which President Jimmy Carter had reinstated after a five-year absence. Reagan opposed registration because he believed conscription was immoral, as Anthony Gregory, policy research intern at the Independent Institute, notes in a recent op-ed.

The draft, said candidate Reagan, "rests on the assumption that your kids belong to the state.... That assumption isn't a new one. The Nazis thought it was a great idea."

Yet Reagan reneged on his pledge to abolish Selective Service registration. Today, the Selective Service System trains 11,000 volunteers at its many branches across the country so that if a draft is reinstated, according to the agency's website, they will be able to process the draftees "fairly and equitably."

Fairly and equitably?

"The draft has a history of brutal enforcement in America," as Gregory writes, ranging from President Lincoln's shelling of a draft protest in New York City -- depicted in the 2002 movie, "The Gangs of New York" -- to the incarceration of thousands of conscientious objectors during America's wars of the twentieth century. However, Gregory notes that conscription's fundamental evil is rooted not in its brutal enforcement in American history but in its essential nature, as Reagan noted before becoming president.

"The bottom line is that mandatory service is anathema to a free society," writes Gregory."It strips away the fundamental liberties -- and in many cases the lives -- of the same Americans that the government’s wars ostensibly defend.

"The Selective Service has no purpose if the draft will never come back, and the draft has no place in the land of the free. To defend American freedom, one of the first things we should do is honor the noble promise Ronald Reagan was unable to keep, and abolish the Selective Service, destroy the agency’s records, and never let the draft rear its barbaric head again."

See "Honor Reagan’s Promise and Abolish the Selective Service," by Anthony Gregory (6/15/04)

Also see:

"The Ill-Wind of the Draft," by Ivan Eland (April 27, 2004)

"War and Leviathan in Twentieth-Century America: Conscription as the Keystone," by Robert Higgs (Society, Sept./Oct. 1996)

Center on Peace & Liberty

AGAINST LEVIATHAN: Government Power and a Free Society, by Robert Higgs

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2) Privatizing Space Flight

ShapeShipOne, a private spacecraft designed by Burt Rutan, took a "giant leap for mankind" as it flew to 62.5 miles above sea level today in California's Mojave Desert, making it the first privately funded manned space flight in history. It also took a giant leap for its company, Scaled Composites, which is one step closer to winning the $10 million X Prize, an award created to spur privately funded space travel. (The X Prize Foundation requires competitors to send three people to the distance that SpaceShipOne reached today and to repeat the feat in the same vehicle within two weeks, a hurdle that today's launch shows is technically surmountable.)

Although the prize money would cover probably less than half of what Rutan's firm will spend pursuing it, incentives such as prize money -- and the recognition that comes with it -- are powerful motivators. (Charles A. Lindbergh's historic solo flight across the Atlantic, it should be remembered, brought him $25,000 as well as world fame.)

Private-sector incentives may well provide the motive power for even more space travel, as Frederick Giarrusso, research fellow at the Independent Institute (as well as former principal of a private space research company), noted in a February op-ed.

While the power of incentives to spur private industry to new heights seems to have been overlooked by President Bush, who in January called for a federally funded program to put astronauts on the moon again by 2020 and to land a manned spacecraft on Mars, private funding may play a large role sooner than most people expected, according to a recent president commission which calls for contracting out much space R&D to private industry.

As Giarrusso noted, although NASA isn't up to the task, America is. If our political leaders wish to set a truly inspiring goal, we can think of little better than full privatization -- not just of the space program, but of scientific and technological research across the board. Privatization is the final frontier.

"Private Craft Soars into Space, History," by Michael Coren (CNN, 6/21/04)

"Our Future in Space," by Frederick Giarrusso (2/17/04)

For the case against government funding of scientific and technological research, see part 3 of THE ACADEMY IN CRISIS: The Political Economy of Higher Education, edited by John W. Summer (The Independent Institute/Transaction Publishers, 1995)

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3) The Saddam/Al-Qaeda "Connection"

What can be said about Al Qaeda's "relationship" with Saddam Hussein's regime? If we rely on the statements offered by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, it sure didn't seem like a relationship to write home about.

According to Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute, the scant meetings -- in which Iraq apparently ignored Al Qaeda's request for assistance -- are about as much of a "relationship" as a non-profit organization meeting with a corporation only to have its follow-up calls and letters ignored.

"All the Bush administration's quibbling about the definition of the word 'relationship' is as ridiculous as President Clinton's hair-splitting over the definition of the word 'is' during the Monica Lewinsky scandal," writes Eland in his latest op-ed. "When a president's justification for actions taken hinges on the definition of a single word, that usually spells trouble."

Cheney, in fact, still refers to a supposed meeting in Prague between 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer, although "the Czech government, the CIA, the 9/11 commission and phone records and other evidence [shows] that Atta was in Florida at that time," writes Eland.

Futher, former CIA director George Tenet, according to the NEW YORK TIMES, "admitted that [alleged Al Qaeda operative] Zarqawi did not work with the Iraqi government and was not under the direction of Al Qaeda," as the White House previously suggested.

"The amazing part is that the administration continues to claim that its Goebbels-like 'big lie' propaganda is true after all, no matter how much evidence amasses to the contrary," Eland concludes.

See "Bush Continues the 'Big Lie' in the Face of Mountains of Contrary Evidence," by Ivan Eland (6/20/04)

Information on Ivan Eland's forthcoming book, THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed

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