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

Volume 16, Issue 34: August 26, 2014

  1. Will Ferguson Unrest Prompt Lawmakers to De-Militarize Local Police?
  2. The Institutional Racism of Government Intervention?
  3. Presidential Edicts Often Violate the U.S. Constitution
  4. Climate Change: The Old and the New
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts


1) Will Ferguson Unrest Prompt Lawmakers to De-Militarize Local Police?

The civil unrest that has shaken Ferguson, Missouri, since the August 9 killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, has prompted Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson to propose the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. The bill, which Johnson announced he would submit after Congress returns from its five-week recess in September, would curb the Defense Department’s sale of surplus military equipment to local police departments, a program that began in the early 1990s under the National Defense Authorization Act and grew after the law was amended in 1997, under Section 1033. However, despite widespread calls for the federal government to “do something” to de-militarize domestic law enforcement, Congress is unlikely to pass Johnson’s proposal, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy.

In her latest column for The Hill, McElroy explains why Congress probably won’t prevent local police forces from buying military hardware on the cheap. In part, this is because Washington has become so polarized that lawmakers can’t even agree to pass most appropriations bills—a core job duty for legislators. Moreover, while many Republicans have been comfortable with the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement, many Democrats have also supported the militarization of domestic police, McElroy argues.

“Democrats point accusing fingers at the Ferguson police who used mine-resistant armored vehicles, military-grade rifles, riot gear and camouflage uniforms against civilians of this city of some 21,000 residents,” McElroy writes. “Some will point fingers at Republicans who resist demilitarization. But all of Congress facilitated the armored vehicles now rolling down the streets of small town America. If any in Congress are liable, then all of them are. And voting records are easily procured.”

Democrats Are Part of the Problem in Ferguson, Too, by Wendy McElroy (The Hill, 8/19/14)

To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson

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2) The Institutional Racism of Government Intervention?

Is the criminal-justice system racist? The fallout from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this month has made this question a trending topic among pundits and the public. Citing racial disparities in drug-violation sentencing and similar measures, liberals such as commentator Ezra Klein and libertarians such as Senator Rand Paul answer in the affirmative. Writing in Townhall, Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman offers a more fundamental take on this issue.

The underlying problem, one most people have ignored, is that “most government intervention has a disparate racial impact,” Goodman writes. This is truth cover a wide range of well-meaning government programs and laws, including “popular” interventions whose effect is to trap low-income students in mediocre-to-failing government schools and to prevent low-skilled youth from entering the labor market, via minimum wage laws.

If you’re middle class, there’s a good chance that you haven’t directly experienced these barriers to economic and social mobility. But it’s a different story if you’re from a low-income household. “Regulations designed to protect entrenched special interests have succeeded in raising the costs of basic services so much that low-income families have been priced out of the market for many essential services,” Goodman continues. “Middle-class and poor communities differ not just by income. For the middle class, basic needs are met by markets, and they benefit from the customer-pleasing innovations that competition produces. All too often, the poor must turn to public programs with all of the customer-pleasing attributes of the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

Is the Criminal Justice System Racist?, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 8/17/14)

Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader, edited by Jonathan Bean

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3) Presidential Edicts Often Violate the U.S. Constitution

Barack Obama is hardly the first president to use executive orders to sidestep Congress. In fact, he has issued fewer official edicts than any occupant of the White House since Grover Cleveland. Nevertheless, his use of executive orders continues to corrode the integrity of the Framers’ vision for the republic. And nowhere is the problem of unconstitutional unilateral executive action more acute than in the realm of foreign policy. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland argues in the Huffington Post, the Constitution gives far more authority to the legislative branch to conduct foreign policy than it gives to the executive.

The problem goes back to the presidency of John Tyler, ironically the best president in terms of his fidelity to the Constitution, stance on war and peace, and policies that promoted prosperity. When the tenth U.S. president was faced with having to deal with a Senate hostile to some of his foreign policies, he opted to circumvent it by reaching agreements with other countries. It was an end run around the Constitution, and it set a precedent for every president who followed.

Now President Barack Obama is talking about bypassing the Senate in order to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran. The outcome may be desirable (a lower likelihood of war), but the means are destructive. “There are few people who want a deal between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program more than I do,” Eland writes. “To be constitutional, any agreement with Iran must be in the form of a treaty, which would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.”

President Must Get Proper Congressional Approval for Any Final Nuclear Agreement with Iran, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 8/17/14)

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

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

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4) Climate Change: The Old and the New

More than 600 people traveled to Las Vegas last month to hear scientists from 12 countries present their research on global warming—findings at odds with the alarmist stories that garner so much attention in the popular media—at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change. In his latest piece for American Thinker, astrophysicist and Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer looks at two issues examined at the meeting that attract broad interest: future temperatures and future sea-level rise.

How much would temperatures rise if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were to double? Interestingly, the mainstream Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has changed its answer significantly over the years. Its first Assessment Report, published in 1990, considered two recent warming periods and concluded that a doubling of CO2 would raise temperatures 4.5 degrees. Thereafter, its Assessment Reports have looked at only the second of the two periods and have reduced the estimated increases to 2.5 degrees. (Singer himself, however, believes that an accurate temperature rise is closer to zero degrees, probably because water vapor or clouds would act to reduce climate sensitivity to carbon concentrations.) Singer’s article also examines other changes in IPCC reports over the year, changes he says strengthen the case for skepticism about alarmist predictions of rising temperatures.

Regarding sea-level rise, Singer argues that the twentieth century showed increasing levels but no acceleration of the long-term trend. “My best estimate for the year 2100 is a further SL (sea-level) rise of about 15cm (centimeters) and continued rise thereafter of about the same value (18 centimeters per century)—independent of any short-term temperature fluctuations,” Singer writes. “In my opinion, there is nothing we can do about this natural rise, which will continue until the next Ice Age—when sea level will drop as ice accumulates in the Polar Regions and on glaciers. Meanwhile, we should follow the Dutch example: relax and build dikes.”

Climate Science Does Not Support IPCC Conclusions, by S. Fred Singer (American Thinker, 8/15/14)

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:

CalPERS Spikes the Cost of Government
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/25/14)

Do Big Infrastructure Projects Boost GDP?
Craig Eyermann (8/25/14)

Could the U.S. Tax Its Way Out of Debt and Inequality?
Craig Eyermann (8/21/14)

USPS Springs Back with More Losses
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/20/14)

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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