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

Volume 16, Issue 6: February 11, 2014

  1. Protest Our Orwellian Surveillance State
  2. Coal and America’s Energy Future
  3. Italy’s Political Circus Needs Reformers, Not Clowns
  4. P. J. O’Rourke “Talkin’ ‘Bout His Generation” – Oakland, Calif., 2/13/14
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts


1) Protest Our Orwellian Surveillance State

“Don’t let the terrorists win.” That slogan, a commonplace in the days and weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was meant to encourage ordinary people to live their everyday lives without cowering in fear of further attacks. Unfortunately, another threat to freedom and security has arisen: Ostensibly in reaction to the threat of terrorism, the U.S. government may be doing far more harm to liberty than Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers ever planned to inflict. We refer, of course, to the extensive surveillance apparatus made visible by fugitive NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden. In response, privacy and civil liberties organizations have organized a mass-action protest against the new Orwellian surveillance state, for Tuesday, February 11, dubbed “The Day We Fight Back.”

If ever there were a cause to unite diverse groups across the political spectrum, this should be it. “Privacy is a foundational value of civilization,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Anthony Gregory, in an op-ed in support of the protests. “Protection against unreasonable searches and seizure is one of the most precious of human rights. If we do not take a stand against the whole of the total surveillance state, we will soon awake to a society with few freedoms remaining—a horrible fate that no terrorists could have inflicted upon us.”

Although Snowden has become something of a poster boy for the movement against government surveillance, we might suggest an alternative symbol: Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr., the “anti-Snowden.” When Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, testified recently on terrorist threats before the Senate Intelligence Committee, his duplicity illustrated the “culture of misinformation” that has become routine in the executive branch of government, thanks in no small part to the government’s anti-privacy policies. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland writes in the Huffington Post, “even though some of Clapper’s comments about Snowden’s giving too much [classified intelligence] away to foreign countries and terrorists might have some merit, the general’s own transgressions are far worse for a republic.” About the government’s mass surveillance, Independent Institute Senior Vice President Mary L. G. Theroux writes, “If this concerns you, please join our efforts to shut the NSA down. Government doesn’t reform itself.”

Stop the Surveillance State, by Anthony Gregory (2/10/14)

Intelligence Chief’s Histrionics Hide Downgrade in Terrorist Threat, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 2/4/14)

Believe It: NSA Collects and Stores Content, Not Just “Metadata”
Mary Theroux (The Beacon, 2/4/14)

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

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2) Coal and America’s Energy Future

When hazardous coal-cleaning chemicals leaked from a storage tank into West Virginia’s Elk River last month, the anti-coal lobby found itself armed with another arrow in its quiver. But its fight against coal power is shortsighted: If Americans want reliable and affordable energy, then coal-fired power plants (along with nuclear power, another frequently demonized energy source) should be part of the mix, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II.

The United States has witnessed a boom in natural gas production, and some environmental activists see this as an opportunity for tightening a noose around the neck of the coal-power industry. Government agencies should resist the onslaught. One reason they should not favor natural gas by penalizing coal production, Shughart explains in an op-ed for Utah’s Standard-Examiner, is that the price of natural gas can be highly volatile. For example, in Texas, a state that relies on natural gas to generate more than half of its electricity supply, recent extreme cold weather caused wholesale prices to reach $5,000 per megawatt hour compared to the typical range of $50 to $75. Unfortunately, regulators seem to be moving ahead with an anti-coal agenda: The federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that coal-using utilities capture and store carbon by-products deep underground, even though such measures are not yet technologically feasible.

As for preventing environmental disasters like the one that befell the Elk River, conservationists should consider approaches that rely on the strict enforcement of property rights, rather than command-and-control regulations that are vulnerable to regulatory failure. “If ever there was a time for a reassessment of environmental policy toward coal, it is now, while the consequences of Elk River still are fresh,” Shughart writes. “That reassessment should include market-based solutions to managing the nation’s water resources and the environment more generally (see Aquanomics, published by The Independent Institute in 2012).”

Don’t Abandon Coal after Elk River, by William F. Shughart II (Standard Examiner, 2/7/14)

Aquanomics: Water Markets and the Environment, edited by B. Delworth Gardner and Randy T. Simmons

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3) Italy’s Political Circus Needs Reformers, Not Clowns

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a breath of fresh air when, in the early 1990s, he added reform-minded political speeches to his portfolio of pastimes, which mostly included running a huge media conglomerate. Unfortunately, he seldom attempted to turn his reform rhetoric into reality—which should be no surprise given that he owed his TV licenses and fortune to a disgraced socialist predecessor, Bettino Craxi, and spent much of his time embroiled in lawsuits. But Berlusconi’s luck now seems to have run out: he faces a new series of legal troubles—including charges of tax evasion, bribery, and solicitation of underage prostitutes—and was expelled from the Italian Senate last autumn.

But the former prime minister still wields enough popular support to prevent any genuine reformers from gaining enough traction to liberate a stifled economy, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa. “He may lack the authority and the [legal] immunity, but he has the charisma, the money, and the motivation to keep wrecking the chances that the center-right will cleanse itself of his leadership and of the mindset he has come to personify,” Vargas Llosa writes in The National Interest.

Center-right reformers must keep Berlusconi from sabotaging their efforts, and they must also fight the challenge represented by Beppe Grillo, a comedian who leads a populist movement that could keep the economy mired in recession and increase government debt that now totals about 130 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Concludes Vargas Llosa: “Until Italy finds a way to evolve beyond Berlusconi and his way of doing things, that wonderful country’s politics will indeed be a comedian’s stage.”

The End of Berlusconi?, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The National Interest, 1/31/14)

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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4) P. J. O’Rourke “Talkin’ ‘Bout His Generation” – Oakland, Calif., 2/13/14

As the youngest Baby Boomers turn fifty, best-selling humorist P. J. O’Rourke says it’s time for “the generation that changed everything” to weigh what it wrought and tally what it added to and subtracted existence.

Please join us for a special event on Thursday, February 13, at the Independent Institute’s headquarters in Oakland, Calf., as O’Rourke shares insights from his new book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way...And It Wasn’t My Fault...And I’ll Never Do It Again.

“As a cultural analyst, O’Rourke’s ability and willingness to simultaneously lampoon and celebrate himself and his generation are unequaled.” —Publishers Weekly

Who: P. J. O’Rourke, author of The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way...And It Wasn’t My Fault...And I’ll Never Do It Again

When: Thursday, February 13, 2014 
Reception and Book Signing: 6:00 p.m. 
Program: 7:00 p.m.

Where: The Independent Institute, Oakland, Calif. (Map and Directions)

Tickets: Overflow Room: $20 ($15 for Members)

OR $40 Special Admission includes one copy of The Baby Boom ($35 for Members). Books ordered will be distributed at the event. If you order a book and do not attend, we will ship the book to you.

More event details

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

The “Weaponizing of Government”
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/10/14)

Tanks for the Memories
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/7/14)

CBO: How Much Does Obamacare Cost?
Craig Eyermann (2/6/14)

IRS Bonuses Reward Ruling-Class Rot
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/5/14)

CBO: Mandatory Spending Is the Problem
Craig Eyermann (2/4/14)

Obamabuse, Continued
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/4/14)

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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