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

Volume 9, Issue 1: January 2, 2007

  1. Bipartisan Threats to Civil Liberties
  2. Who Is Winning in Latin America?
  3. U.S. Foreign-Policy Blunders
  4. P. J. O'Rourke on Adam Smith's WEALTH OF NATIONS (Oakland, Calif., 2/9/06

1) Bipartisan Threats to Civil Liberties

Civil liberties defenders have lamented measures passed in recent years under the Bush administration, including not only the USA Patriot Act, but also the Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which empowers the president to summon the National Guard without authority from the states. Will the Democrats save our civil liberties?

Independent Institute Research Analyst Anthony Gregory is doubtful. In a recent op-ed, he writes, "Although the Democrats will sometimes attack an egregious Bush proposal, they have not used the power of the purse or the filibuster to do anything about it. Nor should we assume they will be so mindful of civil liberties now that they are in the Congressional majority and have their eyes set on the presidency."

Historically, Democrats have been little better than Republicans on the issue of civil liberties, Gregory argues. The Clinton administration, for example, "sought to allow the feds to peek at everyone's bank account, have a key to all private encryption and e-mail, and censor the Internet."

One test of our lawmakers' commitment to civil liberties will come after the Real ID Act takes effect in 2008. Signed into law on May 11, 2005, the law "aims to transform state drivers' licenses into uniform national identification cards with features that conform to the central government's requirements," explains Charlotte Twight in THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW. It also gives the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security full discretion to determine whether a card is valid. (Embedded memory chip containing your tax or traffic records, anyone?) Congress knew what it was doing when it passed the act, which had privacy advocates outraged. But expanding the federal government's ability to monitor ordinary citizens is a bipartisan project.

"Will the Democrats Save Our Civil Liberties?" by Anthony Gregory (12/20/06)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1877
"¿Salvarán los demócratas nuestras libertades civiles?"
http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1877

"Limited Government: Ave Atque Vale," by Charlotte Twight (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 2006)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=45&articleID=572

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2) Who Is Winning in Latin America?

The political left won nine of Latin America's 12 national elections last year, but those victories were almost equally divided between the far left (Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Venezuela) and the moderate left (Chile, Haiti, Cost Rica, Peru, and Brazil). The burning political question for 2007 therefore is, who will win the fight for the soul of the left: the moderates, or the far left?

"One factor could alter this balance of power: Cuba after Fidel," explains Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Global Prosperity, in his latest syndicated column. Chavez would likely assert his leadership over the far left, but his tense relationship with Castro's brother Raul, and other Cuban apparatchiks, could limit Chavez's influence on the direction of post-Fidel Cuba.

Vargas Llosa explains one possible consequence: "The symbolism of Cuba turning away from Venezuela would be powerful enough to do what three severe setbacks Chavez suffered in 2006 -- the Peruvian elections, the Mexican elections, and Venezuela’s failure to win the Latin American seat at the U.N. Security Council -- did not quite achieve: bringing his regional projection back to modest proportions."

On the domestic front, Chavez's much-hyped social programs haven't had much measurable success -- other than to keep Chavez in power. A new study based on Venezuela's Cuban-designed "Mision Robinson" literacy program, based on household survey data provided by the Venezuelan National Institute of Statistics, separates Chavez's hype from the reality.

"Our results show no evidence of the dramatic reduction in illiteracy claimed by the Venezuelan government," writes Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow Francisco Rodriguez, a co-author of the study. After two years of the program, the number of illiterates fell from 1,107,93 to 1,014,441 -- and most of this decline is due to demographic changes in Venezuelan society (e.g., older illiterates dying), rather than to the program's effectiveness.

If Chavez's failures become more widely known, this too would likely tip the balance of power away from Latin America's far left.

"Who Is Winning in Latin America?" by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (12/29/06)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1881
"¿Quién va ganando en América Latina?"
http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1881

"Is Chávez Helping the Venezuelan Poor?" by Francisco Rodriguez (12/27/06)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1882
"¿Está ayudando Chávez a los venezolanos pobres?"
http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1882

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3) U.S. Foreign-Policy Blunders

Regional conflict and political extremism gripped much of the world in 2006. According to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, U.S. foreign-policy blunders contributed to some of the most infamous examples of dangerous discord, including the crisis in Iraq, the Taliban revival in Afghanistan, the rise of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, and the rise of Islamist friends of al Qaeda in Somalia.

Although it has received relatively little press, the revival of the Taliban as a military force in Afghanistan is particularly troubling, Eland argues. "One major factor in the discredited Taliban's resurgence has been the continued presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan," he writes in his latest op-ed. "A better strategy would have been for the United States to withdraw its forces, and tell Afghans that they could choose any form of government that they wanted, but emphasize that any government sheltering anti-U.S. terrorists would again be taken out."

Eland sees little hope that U.S. foreign policy in the new year will be better conceived or executed: "The United States and the world would have been better served by the more 'humble' foreign policy that the president promised us in his first presidential campaign in 2000. In 2007, perhaps these disasters will make a stubborn president learn his lessons, but probably not."

See "The Best Friend of Instability and Islamism: George W. Bush," by Ivan Eland (12/29/06)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1884

"El mejor amigo de la inestabilidad y el islamismo: George W. Bush"
http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1884

THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland
http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1884

Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, Director)
http://www.independent.org/research/copal/

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4) P. J. O'Rourke on Adam Smith's WEALTH OF NATIONS (Oakland, Calif., 2/9/06

http://www.independent.org/events/detail.asp?eventID=124

America’s most provocative humorist, P. J. O’Rourke, has read pioneering economist Adam Smith’s THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, first published in 1776, “so we don’t have to” -- and the results are as entertaining as they are enlightening. Few writers could use Paris Hilton to explain Adam Smith, but in the hands of P. J. O’Rourke, Hilton, the world's most overexposed "celebutant," proves the timeless truth of Smith’s principles regarding the pursuit of self-interest, free markets, and the division of labor. The World Bank, defense spending, and PBS’s Bill Moyers also fall victim to P J.’s irreverent wit -- through the illuminating lens crafted by Smith.

Please join us on Friday, February 9, 2007, for what is sure to be a memorable and entertaining evening -- as P.J. O’Rourke speaks about his new book, ON THE WEALTH OF NATIONS. In a hilarious and insightful examination of Adam Smith and his ground-breaking work, P. J. will put his trademark wit to good use, and show us why Smith is still so relevant, and why what seems obvious now was once considered revolutionary. Trust us, you'll enjoy this event!

SPEAKER:

P. J. O'Rourke is America’s leading political humorist and the best-selling author of 11 books, including PARLIAMENT OF WHORES, GIVE WAR A CHANCE, and ALL THE TROUBLE IN THE WORLD. After graduating from Miami University and attending the graduate program at Johns Hopkins, O’Rourke began his career of skewering both the left and the right on the ends of his razor-sharp one-liners. Among the many publications for which O’Rourke has written are NATIONAL LAMPOON, for which he was editor-in-chief, AMERICAN SPECTATOR, PLAYBOY, ESQUIRE, VANITY FAIR, and HARPER'S. He was also the Foreign Affairs Desk Chief for ROLLING STONE, a position that allowed him to expose the hypocrisies of world politics from the Persian Gulf to the Philippines. Currently he is a correspondent for THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

WHEN:

Friday, February 9, 2007
Reception and book signing: 6:30 p.m.
Program: 7:00 p.m.

WHERE:

The Independent Institute Conference Center
100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428
For a map and directions, see
http://www.independent.org/aboutus/map.asp

TICKETS:

$15 per person ($10 for Independent Institute Members)
$30 Special Admission includes one copy of ON THE WEALTH OF NATIONS ($25 for Members)

Reserve tickets by calling (510) 632-1366 or ordering online at
http://www.independent.org/events/detail.asp?eventID=124

Praise for ON THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, by P. J. O'Rourke:

“P.J. O’Rourke has been called the funniest writer in America today, and we second that. But he is also a serious and fastidious thinker. Both talents are on display in this commentary on Adam Smith’s 1776 masterpiece THE WEALTH OF NATIONS.”
--Christopher Buckley, ForbesLife

“The opus magnum of the Scottish philosopher who defined free-market economics, usurped by O'Rourke as a matrix for social commentary and humor... An entertaining alternative to the heavy lifting required in confronting Adam Smith firsthand.”
--Kirkus Reviews

For more about this event, see
http://www.independent.org/events/detail.asp?eventID=124

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