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

Volume 15, Issue 47: November 19, 2013

  1. 50 Years Later: Putting JFK in His Proper Place
  2. Fixing Obamacare’s Bogus Safety Net
  3. Common Core, Common Complaints
  4. Central Planning for Land-Use Discrimination
  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) 50 Years Later: Putting JFK in His Proper Place

This Friday, November 22, marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of one of the most popular—and overrated—U.S. presidents. Historians who plow beneath the glitter of Camelot and resist the mythmaking of the past five decades have unearthed serious problems in the standard account about John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s ill-fated presidency, but most myths about JFK have endured. In his latest op-ed for the Huffington Post, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland mentions several of those flaws—about Kennedy’s views on civil rights, about his motives for creating the Peace Corp and launching the race to the moon, and about his intentions in Vietnam—but he focuses his lens on the president’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The crisis was, according to Eland, one of Kennedy’s own making. The Soviet Union’s shipment of tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba was a predictable response to a series of U.S. measures—namely, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, outlandish attempts to kill Castro, and the placement of U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey, right on Russia’s doorstep. Moreover, Kennedy later revealed that he didn’t believe the missiles changed the balance of power between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.. “Kennedy and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, later admitted that Soviet missiles in Cuba would not have altered the strategic nuclear balance,” Eland writes, “and JFK confessed that if he had not made the prior public promise [to respond to a Cuban offensive capability against the United States], he would not have had to do anything in response to the Soviet missiles in Cuba.”

But what’s a poor boy from Brookline, Mass., surrounded by Cold War foreign-policy hawks, to do? If Kennedy had stepped out of the echo chamber he helped create, he could have employed quiet diplomacy behind the scenes—or even have ignored the missiles without further risk to the American public, Eland suggests. Instead, the president opted to play a deadly game of nuclear “chicken” with the moderate Krushchev—who would soon be replaced by potentially more worrisome Soviet hardliners. This foolish geo-political gamesmanship, according to Eland, merits ranking Kennedy as among the very worst presidents in U.S. history.

On the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination, Let’s Examine His True Legacy, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 11/13/13)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

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2) Fixing Obamacare’s Bogus Safety Net

President Obama’s healthcare reform law was touted as a cure for an ailing health safety net. It’s anything but that for hospitals that have received federal subsidies for treating low-income uninsured patients or patients on Medicaid. Obamacare is funded in part via cuts in those subsidies—cuts exceeding $18 billion through 2020, according to the New York Times. For a safety-net hospital such as Grady Health in Atlanta, that means an annual loss of about $100 million. Proponents of Obamacare argued that the cuts would not amount to a major problem due to the law’s expansion of health-insurance coverage, but this view ignores four facts about the new law, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman.

“First, half the newly insured will be going into the Medicaid program, and Medicaid will continue to pay well below the fees paid by garden variety private insurance,” Goodman writes in Forbes. “Second, once the newly insured are enrolled in Medicaid, they are likely to double their visits to hospital emergency rooms—especially those of safety net hospitals. Third, about half the states have not expanded their Medicaid programs (as was originally expected), and that means that millions of people won’t even be bringing hospitals Medicaid’s fees. Fourth, the private insurance being offered in the new health insurance exchanges doesn’t look like a standard BlueCross plan. In order to keep premiums down, insurers are offering very narrow networks of doctors and hospitals that will receive rock bottom payments.”

What’s the solution? Goodman has long put forth an idea he believes would make insurance coverage universal while fixing the safety net problem. His proposal: Offer tax credits for health insurance, regardless of whether or not a policy is purchased through one’s employer. In the case of individuals who decide not to purchase insurance, their unclaimed tax credits would be used to fund safety-net institutions in their local communities. “Real universal coverage is simple and uncomplicated,” Goodman adds. “It’s the halfway measures that are incredibly complex and that leave victims in their wake.”

President Obama’s Health Reform Will Shred the Safety Net, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 11/12/13)

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

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3) Common Core, Common Complaints

All but a few states have formally adopted Common Core, the state-driven campaign to improve educational outcomes for K-12 students by meeting common academic benchmarks, particularly in math and English. But the program has faced criticism across the spectrum. The basic flaw of Common Core, according to education policy expert and Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki Alger, is that its standards are “weak, costly, politicized, and unconstitutional.” In recent pieces in The Beacon, she has focused on two problems with Common Core: the political overtones of some of its reading recommendations, and the program’s threat to student and family privacy.

Common Core reading recommendations, Alger contends, include material that is pro-Obamacare and pro-union; an example of the latter was woven into the civics curriculum for third graders. But Common Core even politicizes math standards. Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram, who served as a member of the Common Core validation committee, complains that scholastic rigor was “compromised for the sake of political buy-in.” The academic content of Common Core is a major worry, but not the only cause for concern.

Alger notes that civil libertarians are increasingly anxious about Common Core’s threat to student and family privacy. Under a law called FERPA—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act—private contractors, consultants, and other non-government personnel may become privy to data about a student’s family income, religion, student disciplinary records, and parents’ political affiliations. Last month, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) pressed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to explain why, in at least one state, student Social Security numbers were given to a private data collection company. But “as interesting as any official response would be, there is still no legitimate, much less Constitutional, reason for the federal government to be spying on American citizens or their children,” Alger concludes.

Shocker: Common Core Is about Politics, Not Academic Standards, by Vicki Alger (The Beacon, 11/13/13)

More on Common Core: It’s about Snooping, Not Standards, by Vicki Alger (The Beacon, 11/13/13)

More on education

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4) Central Planning for Land-Use Discrimination

How should communities respond to population growth? It’s a question that citizens and local government across the United States will grapple with more and more in the coming decades. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where the population is expected to grow by almost 30 percent by 2040, urban planners at two agencies have approved something called “Plan Bay Area,” a land-use blueprint that uses the carrots and sticks of transportation funding to promote high-density residential housing in high-intensity commercial districts along mass transit lines. One goal is to help population growth to comply with state laws that restrict greenhouse gas emissions, but as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan notes, “the plan will disproportionately harm the region’s poor and minorities.” In other words, Plan Bay Area amounts to central planning for land-use discrimination.

Writing in the San Jose Mercury News, McQuillan explains that the plan creates “Priority Development Areas” that census records indicate are populated largely by economically vulnerable demographic groups, including residents of the eastern third of San Francisco, parts of San Jose, and West Oakland/Emeryville. The poor and elderly who live in those areas can expect Plan Bay Area to disproportionately push up land prices and rents in their neighborhoods, adding to economic pressure for them to relocate. One of the two agencies that approved Plan Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, “can withhold some transportation funding if local governments don’t abide by the plan, and private groups can sue local governments over housing allotments,” McQuillan writes.

As if squeezing population growth into poorer areas were not sufficiently incendiary, Plan Bay Area also restricts the development in so-called Priority Conservation Areas. Is there any way that such a plan could not have been politically controversial? “This is an elitist, uncreative and heavy-handed approach,” McQuillan writes. “A group called Bay Area Citizens has filed a lawsuit contending, among other things, planners ignored alternatives that would let people choose for themselves how and where they live. The opening brief is expected in December. The court should invalidate Plan Bay Area.”

Plan Bay Area: ‘Smart Growth’ and ‘Sustainable Communities’ Hurt the Poor,
by Lawrence J. McQuillan (San Jose Mercury News, 11/11/13)

Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis, edited by Randall G. Holcombe and Benjamin W. Powell

Property Rights: Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings Re-Examined, edited by Bruce L. Benson

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Silencers Are Golden for U.S. Navy
K. Lloyd Billingsley (11/18/13)

Filling in the Map and Draining the Slush Fund for Obamacare
Craig Eyermann (11/16/13)

Why Affordable Care Act First Does Harm, Period
K. Lloyd Billingsley (11/15/13)

Government Funded Tesla Is One Hot Ride
K. Lloyd Billingsley (11/13/13)

The Obamacare Slush Fund
Craig Eyermann (11/13/13)

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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