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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 16, Issue 38: September 23, 2014

  1. Coercive Foreign Policies and the Boomerang Effect
  2. Obamacare Falls Far Short of ‘Universal Coverage’
  3. Congress and the Equal Rights Amendment
  4. California’s Policies Feed Fire and Drought Disasters
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts


1) Coercive Foreign Policies and the Boomerang Effect

More than a century ago, Mark Twain noted that if a “Great Republic” goes about “trampling on the helpless abroad,” then that government stands a good chance of turning against its own citizens. But why does a government’s intervention into other countries raise the risk of curtailing liberties at home? The short answer, according to Independent Review co-editor Christopher J. Coyne and Independent Institute Research Fellow Abigail R. Hall, is that coercive foreign intervention sets in motion various politico-economic mechanisms that cause it to act like a boomerang, knocking down freedoms in the “throwing” country.

Coyne and Hall put forth their thesis of the “boomerang effect” in the Fall 2014 issue of The Independent Review. How does it work? When a government tries to impose social controls on foreign populations, the authors explain, typically it does so using means that expand the scope of government domestically. Those means include new skills and equipment to monitor and quell resistance, greater centralization of government power, and the inculcation of a willingness to impose more coercion on ordinary citizens. When mixed together, these ingredients act as a potent corrosive that erodes rights and liberties at home.

Coyne and Hall also offer two illuminating case studies of the boomerang effect. The first involves government surveillance of ordinary Americans. Its origins, they show, go back to the U.S. occupation of the Philippine Islands after the Spanish-American War, when Army Captain Ralph Van Deman helped create a data collection system to monitor Filipino insurgents and others. After his return stateside, Van Deman lobbied high-ranking officials to create a similar program that later spied on U.S. citizens who opposed America’s entry into World War I—a precursor to the NSA’s high-tech surveillance programs. Coyne and Hall’s second example examines the militarization of domestic policing. The paramilitary SWAT teams now common in police departments across the United States, they show, were first created by Los Angeles police chiefs eager to adapt what they learned from special military units during the Vietnam War and World War II. The lesson? Mark Twain could have summarized his point with one karmic aphorism: What goes around comes around.

Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control, by Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall (The Independent Review, Fall 2014)

Perfecting Tyranny, by Abigail Hall (The Beacon, 9/17/14)

AUDIO: Abigail Hall on the Scott Horton Show (9/19/14)

SPECIAL OFFER for The Independent Review: If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up now and receive a FREE book!

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2) Obamacare Falls Far Short of ‘Universal Coverage’

Four and half years after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement has fallen far short of his promise: to ensure that no American would go without health insurance. Writing in Townhall, Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman explains why near-universal coverage has eluded the Obama administration.

One reason Obamacare has fallen short of that goal, Goodman notes, is that millions of uninsured have been granted exemptions from the law’s controversial mandate—about 90 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services has expanded the list of those exempt from the mandate to include the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and renters facing eviction, as well as those who have been cut off from utilities, those whose properties have been damaged by floods or fires, those who’ve lost a loved one, those who’ve been saddled with large debts due to medical expenses—and even those whose health-insurance policies have been canceled.

Another source of the gap between rhetoric and reality is the number of insureds who are expected to lose coverage or drop out. According to Goodman, Aetna estimates that by year’s end it will have lost about 30 percent of its initial enrollees; Florida has seen one-quarter of initial enrollees drop out. In addition, Goodman writes, “Up to 80 percent of the people who had individual insurance last year will lose their coverage by the time all the Obamacare rules completely set it. Up to 90 percent of the plans that cover people at work will lose their grandfathered status.” Promising near-universal health-insurance coverage is one thing. Delivering on that promise is something else.

Is Obamacare Working?, by John C. Goodman (Townhall.com, 9/13/14)

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

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3) Congress and the Equal Rights Amendment

Senate and House Committees are slated to consider resolutions to amend the U.S. Constitution by adding two dozen words: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Although the wording sounds matter-of-fact, the implications are uncertain and potentially far-reaching, depending on how the courts interpret them, which is partly why, in 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment failed to muster ratification by 38 states, a requirement for amending the Constitution. However, as Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy explains in an op-ed for The Hill, the current push for the ERA employs two strategies that supporters believe greatly improve its chances of getting ratified.

Thirty-two years ago, 35 states ratified the Equal Rights Amendment—falling just three states short of the total needed. Some supporters hope to capitalize on the earlier effort by pushing the legal theory that the amendment needs to be ratified by only three more states in order reach the threshold. This is a credible strategy: Essentially the same theory led to the ratification of the Twenty-seventh Amendment in 1992, 202 years after Congress sent it to the states. A second strategy that ERA supporters are advancing is to push it through without the requirement of having to meet a deadline.

The two strategies are reflected in the resolutions now before congressional committees, but McElroy believes there is little chance they will succeed. The reason? Too many House Republicans are ideologically opposed to the ERA. Although the Republican Party put the amendment on its platform in 1940, four years before the Democrats followed suit, today’s GOP has a larger anti-ERA contingent. Again, this goes back, at least in part, to concerns about what ratification would mean for America. “In short, the Republican-Democratic ERA divide rests as much on differing definitions of equality as it does on specific issues,” McElroy concludes.

An Amendment Takes Congress Back in Time, by Wendy McElroy (The Hill, 9/16/14)

Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Wendy McElroy

Freedom, Feminism, and the State, edited by Wendy McElroy

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4) California’s Policies Feed Fire and Drought Disasters

California is in the throes of two calamities: It’s suffering from one of the worst droughts on record, and it’s battling several major forest fires. One factor contributing to the hardship is its misguided management of public lands, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan.

In his latest post for The Beacon, McQuillan cites a study by two University of California professors who claim that the Golden State has twice many trees as it had 100 years ago. Public-resource managers have contributed to forest overgrowth by imposing restrictions on timber harvesting and by curbing small-scale fires that reduce the kindling available to fuel megafires. The same measures have also, over the years, reduced the rain runoff that would otherwise have ended up in the state’s water reservoirs.

Writes McQuillan: “The solutions are to allow more naturally caused low-intensity fires to burn and allow timber companies to harvest small trees, especially thirsty pines, to thin the forest. But government policy has generally prevented either solution, often because of opposition by environmental groups. Once again, good intentions have resulted in harmful unintended consequences, this time less water for people and more high-severity forest fires when fires occur.”

Smarter Forest Management Could Yield Water for California’s Population Growth, by Lawrence J. McQuillan (The Beacon, 9/17/14)

As Fire Season Approaches, Let’s Create ‘Charter Forests,’ by Robert H. Nelson (The Sacramento Bee, 5/5/14)

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

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

The Expired Subsidy That Won’t Die
Craig Eyermann (9/19/14)

USDA at Odds with Immigrants’ Work Ethic
K. Lloyd Billingsley (9/18/14)

Federal NHTSA Unsafe at Any Speed
K. Lloyd Billingsley (9/16/14)

IRS Bureaucrat Paid for Nothing
Craig Eyermann (9/16/14)

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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  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org