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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 16, Issue 41: October 14, 2014

  1. Would Cuts to For-Profit Colleges Raise Government Spending?
  2. Obama Follows Predecessors Down Path of Unauthorized War
  3. Intellectual Property and YODA
  4. The Columbus-Day Wars
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts



1) Would Cuts to For-Profit Colleges Raise Government Spending?

The regulatory-welfare state is a strange beast that can create bewildering predicaments, including quandaries for those who wish it would go the way of the dodo bird. For example, severing one of its limbs can sometimes trigger the growth of another, stronger limb, making would-be beast slayers scratch their heads and rethink their tactics. Education-policy expert and Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger may have identified just such a case. At issue is the Obama administration’s hostility toward for-profit colleges.

For years, Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has threatened to cut off federal aid for students at for-profit colleges—unless the schools promote “gainful employment” (meaning government-approved fields of study) and meet federally mandated loan repayment rates and debt-to-earnings levels. In 2011, Duncan tried to implement such regulations, only to have a federal judge strike them down as “arbitrary and capricious.” But last year the Department of Education forged ahead with revised proposals that might survive a legal challenge. This development initially sounds positive to people who think the feds shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing higher education, but Alger suggests that it’s nothing for fiscal conservatives to celebrate. The reason? On average, according to Alger, a student receiving federal assistance to attend a for-profit college costs taxpayers $183 whereas a student who attends a public college costs taxpayers $13,000.

“If private for-profit options aren’t available, many of these students would have to transfer to public colleges that cost taxpayers nationwide an additional $1.7 billion annually,” Alger writes in Forbes. “In the long-run, gainful employment regulations could cost students and taxpayers even more.”

Obama Is Deploying ‘Gainful Employment’ Regulations to Threaten For-Profit Colleges, by Vicki E. Alger (Forbes, 10/6/14)

The Academy in Crisis: The Political Economy of Higher Education, edited by John W. Sommer

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2) Obama Follows Predecessors Down Path of Unauthorized War

Barack Obama is wrong to think he possesses the authority to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State terrorist army without obtaining congressional authorization. The authors of the U.S. Constitution stipulated that the nation’s chief executive was not to initiate war making without the approval of Congress: Observing the chaos and carnage brought on by Europe’s belligerent heads of state, America’s founders believed that war without the consent of the people was as unjust as taxation without representation.

Nor do the congressional resolutions that Congress gave President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 and prior to the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 confer on President Obama the authority to fight a different set of adversaries. Perhaps Obama doesn’t believe his new military campaign constitutes war making unless and until he deploys the proverbial “boots on the ground”—but that is certainly not how the Islamic State sees things, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, author of Recarving Rushmore, notes in the Huffington Post. More likely, Obama simply finds it more convenient to avoid seeking congressional approval.

In this regard, the President of “Change” is following the precedent set by America’s first truly imperial president, Harry Truman. Ever since the Korean War, U.S. presidents have routinely skipped the constitutionally required step of getting Congress to authorize their war making—a trend that should make the Constitution’s framers turn in their graves. As Eland writes, “The people’s representatives don’t always make the right decision—as they didn’t in President James Madison’s pointless War of 1812, James Polk’s war of aggression against the weaker Mexico to steal its land, William McKinley’s colonial Spanish-American War, or Woodrow Wilson’s ruining of the twentieth century by American entry into World War I—but they should at least get to vote, as the nation’s founders intended and the Constitution states.”

Presidents and the War Power, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 10/6/14)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty (Updated Edition), by Ivan Eland

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3) Intellectual Property and YODA

Over the past two decades, the nation’s intellectual property laws have metastasized. This has led to recent spectacles such as telecommunications firms successfully suing repair companies for the unauthorized servicing of their products, and cellphone makers legally preventing consumers from getting their phones “unlocked” after changing their carriers. Last month, however, Texas lawmaker Blake Farenthold introduced a bill that seeks to give consumers free rein to resell, reconfigure, or repair the goods they’ve purchased: the You Own Devices Act. As Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy puts in an op-ed for The Hill: Entered the House, YODA has.

The bill has major implications for consumers: “If YODA succeeds, Kindle owners will be able to lend or sell their e-books in the same manner as they do printed ones,” McElroy writes. “PlayStation owners will be able to remove the licensed software and replace it with a preferred version, such as Linux. A device could be repaired by anyone, not just an authorized agent of the manufacturer.”

Measures to lift copyright laws that prohibit the reselling of certain consumer electronic goods with protected software have provoked intense resistance from industry, and YODA is likely to inspire additional episodes. Stay tuned to see how the intellectual-property empire strikes back.

Entered the House, YODA Has, by Wendy McElroy (The Hill, 9/25/14)

Patent Trolls: Predatory Litigation and the Smothering of Innovation, by William J. Watkins Jr.

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4) The Columbus-Day Wars

In the early and mid 1990s, a “culture war” was breaking out in American academia, and former Stanford students (and later high-tech entrepreneurs) Peter Thiel and David Sacks chronicled the commotion in their 1996 book for the Independent Institute, The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus. Here are some excerpts from their related op-ed, “Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day”:

Many suspect that the West is not uniquely baneful, and realize that individual rights were not celebrated by cultures that bound women’s feet, sold their own people into slavery, routinely performed clitorectomies, or enforced rigid caste systems. Nevertheless, as recycled anti-Western banalities substitute for a genuine study of Western and non-Western cultures, multiculturalism effectively is wasting some of the best years of America’s brightest students. In this regard, the new curriculum exacts a steep price from liberals and conservatives, believers and heretics alike.

The major danger is not that today’s students will become left-wing acolytes of multiculturalism—the movement is too mindless for that—but that many students’ rejection of multiculturalism will become a rejection of learning itself. Until students are fed more than Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the intellectual equivalent of junk food, this generation will rightfully feel betrayed by its elders.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day, by David O. Sacks and Peter A. Thiel (The Wall Street Journal, 10/9/95)

The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus, by David O. Sacks and Peter A. Thiel

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Public-Employee Pension Fraud
Craig Eyermann (10/10/14)

Costing Out the Royal Presidency
K. Lloyd Billingsley (10/7/14)

Obamacare Enabling Waste and Fraud
Craig Eyermann (10/7/14)

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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