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

Volume 15, Issue 34: August 20, 2013

  1. White House Hypocrisy Is No Secret
  2. What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Habeas Corpus
  3. No Child Left Behind: End, Don’t Mend
  4. New Bill Poses Threat to California Taxpayers
  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) White House Hypocrisy Is No Secret

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden kicked off an international debate about the scope of the U.S. government’s intelligence surveillance programs when he leaked classified documents to the Guardian newspaper in June. He also revealed a glaring inconsistency: Presidential candidate Barack Obama had promised to make the executive branch more transparent, but he and his administration have instead made it more secretive than ever—even to the point of stepping up prosecutions against whistleblowers who have provided the public with credible evidence of government wrongdoing.

For anyone who cherishes civil liberties, the significance of the Snowden Affair is hard to overestimate. And yet despite its importance, this episode is only one data point in a pattern of White House hypocrisy, according to Independent Institute Senior Vice President Mary L. G. Theroux. The same administration that calls for Moscow to release the leaker into U.S. custody has also spied on AP and Fox News journalists, held Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning in solitary confinement for three years, and sentenced former CIA officer John Kiriakou to 30 months in prison for disclosing on national television the illegal waterboarding of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. Such betrayals of the public trust demand immediate rectification.

Writes Theroux: “Given President Obama’s track record on keeping promises—and the incredibly high stakes of government’s capturing and indefinitely storing virtually every communication, transaction, and activity of every American—we ought to demand proof over promises: an end of all drone programs, closing the NSA, dismantling the Bluffdale facility storing all Americans’ data, the revocation of the PATRIOT Act, the release and exoneration of whistleblowers, an end to government by executive order, and the return to the strictest adherence to the Constitution and all ten amendments of the Bill of Rights.”

Obama: Fool Me Thrice, Shame on Whom?, by Mary L. G. Theroux (The Huffington Post, 8/14/13)

Video: Civil Liberties and Security in the Age of Terrorism, featuring Robert Higgs, Anthony Gregory, and Mary L. G. Theroux (7/18/13)

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2) What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Habeas Corpus

Habeas corpus is held in highest esteem in Anglo-American thought. Most Americans—if they think about it at all—believe it is responsible for keeping the United States free from the tyranny of unjust detection. In reality, from the standpoint of liberty the legacy of habeas corpus is mixed. Before the Civil War, for example, habeas corpus was used both free slaves and to capture them. This is just one of the many surprises that Independent Institute Research Fellow Anthony Gregory discovered while writing his new book on the subject, The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.

“The great writ’s usage to seize blacks in northern states with personal liberty laws, and return them to bondage, is a most shameful and neglected episode in U.S. legal history,” Gregory writes in an op-ed at Mises.org. Here’s another little-known aspect of that history: habeas corpus has played a key role in the struggle between the federal government and the states. In colonial America, habeas corpus was treated as a decentralized power—Americans romanticized its history and ignored the centralizing role it had played in England. When the U.S. Constitution was created, the Suspension Clause granted the central government a new power: the authority to override habeas corpus during rebellions or invasions. This didn’t prevent state courts from using habeas to challenge the lawfulness of detention by federal officials. The states possessed and wielded this power against the federal government until 1871, when the U.S. Supreme Court stripped the states of it in Tarble’s Case.

The Supreme Court’s mixed legacy regarding habeas corpus continues to the modern era: although it ruled in 2008 that inmates at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp possess habeas-corpus rights, many are still held captive even though the Bush and Obama administrations deemed them innocent or unworthy of imprisonment. “Perhaps the ambiguous record of the most revered legal institution in the English-speaking world will surprise many readers,” Gregory writes, “but it shouldn’t surprise those of us who understand the true nature of state power.”

The Habeas Corpus Myth, by Anthony Gregory (Mises.org, 8/14/13)

The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror, by Anthony Gregory

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3) No Child Left Behind: End, Don’t Mend

George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, but the legislation’s roots go back to President Johnson’s War on Poverty, when the federal government created programs targeting problems that had previously been left for state and local governments to handle. The program has many critics who deride it as “one-size-fits-all” approach to educational standards. The inability of most states to live up to those standards has prompted the Obama administration to grant waivers to 39 states that sought exemption from the program, lest they face penalties for falling short. This failure should prompt lawmakers to scrap rather than reauthorize the program.

“NCLB has failed and may be hindering the state-level, parent-driven innovations that create real educational opportunities for all students,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger in the Daily Caller.

Alger argues that NCLB has done nothing significant to improve school performance: average math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress are about what they were 40 years ago—as are high-school graduation rates. Moreover, this non-progress is expensive: it cost more than $235 million in 2011 alone. This money would be better spent if it were returned to the states—and perhaps spent on parental choice programs, Alger suggests. “Washington needs to stop tinkering with old federal education laws and recognize that getting out of the way and allowing taxpayer dollars to fund what works for each student is the best way to improve education throughout the United States,” Alger concludes.

Don’t Fix No Child Left Behind, End It, by Vicki E. Alger (The Daily Caller, 7/24/13)

Can Teachers Own Their Own Schools? New Strategies for Educational Excellence, by Richard K. Vedder

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4) New Bill Poses Threat to California Taxpayers

California has been called the Land of Sunshine and Opportunity. That’s accurate—if you don’t mind redefining your terms. A new bill now before the state Assembly Appropriations Committee, for example, would cast a dark glow over taxpayers and property owners while providing new opportunities for local politicians and politically connected developers. The legislation—SB 1—enables any city or county in California to create a “Sustainable Community Investment Authority” with the power to build projects consistent with the state’s climate change law, AB 32. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan notes, there are several reasons why its passage would be bad news for Californians—and much worse than the redevelopment agencies that were shut down throughout the state last year.

One problem is that SB 1 threatens property rights by allowing an expansive definition of “blight” for the purposes of eminent domain. Rather than allowing local jurisdictions to make such a determination—which is bad enough—SB 1 defines “blight” legislatively. For example, lawmakers in Sacramento could declare that an area suffers from “blight” if it fails to meet arbitrary standards for water consumption, energy consumption, traffic congestion, or affordable housing. The newly created “Authorities” would then have the power to issue bonds to raise funds for green redevelopment projects—bonds not subject to voter approval—and also to raise local sales taxes. Read McQuillan’s exposé for more details.

“Californians know from experience that government redevelopment leads to massive private property abuses and loss of tax revenue for public services,” McQuillan writes. “SB 1 is redevelopment on steroids and merits defeat... If the bill makes it to Gov. Jerry Brown, who understands the serious problems with government redevelopment authorizes, he should swiftly veto it.”

Why Senator Steinberg’s SB-1 Deserves Defeat—or a Veto, by Lawrence J. McQuillan (Flash Report, 8/13/13)

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

How Government Abuse Generates Waste – and Absurdity
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/19/13)

U.S. National Debt Really over $70 Trillion?
Craig Eyermann (8/18/13)

USPS Still a Loser
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/14/13)

The Sequester Furloughs Fizzle
Craig Eyermann (8/14/13)

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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