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

Volume 15, Issue 33: August 13, 2013

  1. U.S. Foreign Aid: Hypocrisy, Corruption & Ingratitude
  2. The Man Behind the U.S. Energy Boom
  3. The Coming Airline Security Tax?
  4. Sea Level Rise Surprise
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

The Independent Review: Subscribe or renew today and get a free copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Crisis and Levithan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Robert Higgs.


1) U.S. Foreign Aid: Hypocrisy, Corruption & Ingratitude

When is a military coup not a military coup? That’s not an unsolvable riddle posed by the Sphinx. The answer is simple: When the deposed government has fallen out of favor with the U.S. State Department. Which is exactly what’s happened in Egypt. By avoiding calling the army’s ouster of duly elected President Mohamed Morsi a military coup, Washington can claim that it’s not bound by law to cut off the $1.5 billion it sends Cairo each year. (The applicable law, incidentally, is Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act.) This clear case of hypocrisy is only one problem with U.S. foreign assistance, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Charles V. Peña notes in a recent op-ed.

The U.S. government also shells out about $50 billion to other governments whose policies often seem to conflict with Washington’s official priorities—with Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq (in descending order) claiming the largest shares. According to Peña, U.S. aid goes to “some of the most corrupt governments in the world”—as measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. But the United States seems to get little or nothing in return for its foreign-aid expenditures. Most countries that receive U.S. assistance usually vote against their generous benefactor in the halls of the United Nations. In addition, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that some of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid overwhelmingly dislike the United States; Pakistan, which receives more than $2 billion annually, gave America a favorable rating of only 11 percent.

“Egypt is a clarion call to stop throwing good money after bad,” Peña writes. “U.S. foreign aid to corrupt and authoritarian regimes, with no realistic expectation that we’ll get a favorable payback, is a losing bet.”

What Egypt Tells Us About U.S. Foreign Aid, by Charles V. Pena (Anchorage Daily News, 8/7/13)

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2) The Man Behind the U.S. Energy Boom

For decades, energy news was bleak. But that’s the old news. The new trend is that the United States is quickly becoming the world’s largest producer of natural gas and crude oil. One of the heroes of this development passed away last month at age 94: goat-farmer turned oilman, George Mitchell. His innovations—and his remarkable life—should be widely celebrated, explains Independent Institute Research Director and Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II in USA Today.

Mitchell’s leading contribution was to figure out how to combine hydraulic fracturing (a/k/a “fracking”) and horizontal drilling. “Mitchell’s innovation was to drill straight down, then make a 90-degree turn thousands of feet underground to penetrate shale formations sideways,” Shughart writes. “A mixture of water, sand and chemicals was then injected under high pressure, releasing the trapped gas.”

This innovation has sparked a boom in natural-gas and crude-oil production, ending decades of declining U.S. energy output and driving U.S. energy prices significantly below prices in Europe and Asia. Other advantages, such as management and technical expertise, and a more hospitable investment climate, also suggest that the U.S. energy surge is here to stay. Yet at the root, Shughart reminds us, are the vision, risk-taking, and perseverance of one inventive energy pioneer: George Mitchell.

How a Goat-Farming Immigrant Changed Everything, by William F. Shughart II (USA Today, 8/4/13)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

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3) The Coming Airline Security Tax?

Given all that the U.S. government has done to make Americans the targets of international terrorists, there’s something particularly unseemly about PreCheck—the airport security program that allows passengers to pass through the TSA gauntlet more quickly if they pay $85 to submit to fingerprinting and background checks. Here’s how Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland puts it: “This is like paying a bumbling electrician to wire your house, subsequently suffering an electrical fire, and then having to pay him a fee to fix his botched handiwork so that a similar conflagration will never happen again.”

Admittedly, the analogy is imprecise. The situation is worse than above, in part because an average American citizen has about a one in 90 million chance of dying in a terrorist airplane incident, according to risk researcher Mark Stewart—less than the odds of being struck by lightning. That tiny risk would drop to even lower if the United States were to avoid needless interventions in the Muslim world, the source of blowback terrorism, Eland argues.

PreCheck is currently a voluntary program. But it’s conceivable that the Department of Homeland Security would someday make it mandatory for all air travelers to submit their fingerprints and obtain security clearances ahead of time—and for an additional fee. “Do you think this scenario is outlandish and would never happen?” Eland asks. “Many would not have surmised that we would be required to disrobe—either physically or electronically—before boarding a plane either.”

TSA: Ask the Fed for Relief...from the Fed?, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 8/7/13)

The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won, by Ivan Eland

No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland

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4) Sea Level Rise Surprise

The risk of sea levels rising from global warming has been blown out of proportion. Whereas Al Gore and James Hansen have predicted an astounding 600 centimeter rise by 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has kept lowering the upper limit of its sea-level rise (SLR) predictions with almost every assessment report. (Its latest, published in 2007, put the range at 18 to 59 cm, compared to 10 to 367 cm in its 1997 report.) Moreover, some evidence suggests that global warming might act to slow the rate of sea-level rise rather than increase it, according to astrophysicist and Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer.

“The data seem to show that SLR [sea level rise] slowed down slightly when the climate warmed, and then accelerated when the climate cooled,” Singer writes in American Thinker. “Evidently, ocean-water thermal expansion and mountain-glacier melting were less important than ice accumulation on the Antarctic continent (which lowers SL).”

One of the key causes of sea level rise is the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), which has been melting for millennia before the burning of fossil fuels. Global warming for a limited number of decades may increase precipitation and slow down the melting of WAIS, Singer argues. “This is not a recommendation to burn more coal in order to save Venice from drowning,” Singer continues. “It is a modest appeal to politicians to take note of new scientific developments and recognize that the drastic limits on energy use called for by climate-treaty negotiators will not stop the rising seas.”

Sea Level Rise Surprise, by S. Fred Singer (American Thinker, 7/31/13)

Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate, by S. Fred Singer

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

DEA Leaves Student Nearly DOA
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/12/13)

The Great Food Stamp Binge
Craig Eyermann (8/10/13)

NSA, TSA, SOS
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/9/13)

Farm Pork Even After Death
Carl Close (8/8/13)

How Washington, D.C., Works (or Not), Part 4
Craig Eyermann (8/8/13)

PorkIgration.con
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/7/13)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.

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6) Selected News Alerts

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