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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 9, Issue 28: July 9, 2007

  1. How Not to Argue in Favor of a Free Press
  2. More Intervention Equals More Proliferation
  3. Declassified CIA Docs Shed Little Light on Latin American Operations
  4. U.S. Would be Largely Unharmed by Iraqi Civil War, Eland Argues

1) How Not to Argue in Favor of a Free Press

The murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the Danish cartoon controversy (among other recent events) have sparked a public outcry about freedom of the press. Much to the astonishment of civil libertarians, this clamor is not completely supportive of a free press: opinion polls in Europe and the United States reveal that large segments of the public believe that the right of free speech is overrated, and some wish to curtail it.

According to journalist Karen Horn, declining support for freedom of the press is the result, at least in part, of the widespread belief that a free press owes its justification to its contribution to the democratic process. Because freedom of the press is vital for the proper function of a democracy, the argument goes, the news media must be held to a different standard than the suppliers of other goods and services. In contrast, Horn argues that this is a dangerous non-sequitur: although a free press is integral to the democratic process, attempting to justify it on this basis, rather than grounding it on individual rights, invites slippery-slope “market failure” and “public-good” arguments for its curtailment.

“Even though the importance of a free press for the proper functioning of democracy cannot be denied, this correlation should not be ‘sanctified,’” writes Horn in the summer issue of The Independent Review. “Much more crucially, the free press, as a realization of the individual right of free speech, is not a mere tool; it has its own proper dignity.”

“A Market Like Any Other: Against the Double Standard in Judging the Media,” by Karen Horn (The Independent Review, Summer 2007)

Buy the summer 2007 issue of The Independent Review.

Subscribe to The Independent Review.

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2) More Intervention Equals More Proliferation

A nuclear weapon requires just 8 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium or 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, and the potential sources of these deadly ingredients are widespread. If terrorists were to smuggle them into the United States, there’s no guarantee that the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office would intercept them: ABC News has twice smuggled a small cylinder of depleted uranium into the country—foiling U.S. Customs officials once in Staten Island and once in Long Beach. Reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union—as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act attempts—is necessary, but it is hardly sufficient.

“Unfortunately, U.S. policies and actions have probably resulted in creating more potential sources of nuclear weapons rather than fewer,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Charles Peña in a new op-ed. According to Peña, American politicians from both parties have supported military interventions since the early 1990s—from the Balkan peninsula to the Middle East—that have increased the incentives for countries to try to acquire nuclear weapons. Nuclear proliferation, in turn, increases the opportunities for terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons.

“U.S. leaders need to face the reality that interventionist U.S. foreign policy has consequences on the nuclear proliferation front,” writes Peña. “Those who encouraged and supported America’s post-Cold War military interventions—Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals—need to ask themselves whether increasing the incentives for nuclear proliferation was worth the price of intervention when U.S. national security was not at stake,” writes Peña. “Especially when that price is now the potential threat of nuclear terrorism.”

“More Intervention Equals More Proliferation,” by Charles Peña (7/6/07) Spanish Translation

“Nuclear Nonproliferation in the Post-9/11 World,” by Charles Peña (6/11/07)

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3) Declassified CIA Docs Shed Little Light on Latin American Operations

Despite the CIA’s recent declassification of almost 700 pages of documents about illegal activities the agency undertook in the 1960s and ‘70s, many Latin Americans believe the agency continues to withhold information about its dubious operations south of the Rio Grande. In his latest column, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa gives two reasons for this suspicion. First, the CIA papers—known within the agency as the “family jewels”—focus on the agency’s illegal activities, but the CIA’s “black ops” in Latin America may have fallen within its official mandate. Second, the papers show evidence of having been censored; passages regarding possible break-ins of the Chilean embassy, for example, have been deleted.

“Could the CIA be more forthcoming with regard to Latin America? Of course it could,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Under an executive order given by President Clinton and enforced by President Bush, documents are automatically declassified after 25 years, with eight types of exceptions.” But the CIA is making heavy use of those exceptions, refusing, for example, to declassify papers pertaining to meetings between the agency and the head of Chile’s secret police under strongman Augusto Pinochet. This unwillingness to disclose more comes at a time when many Latin American countries have created truth commissions to bring to public light their own painful histories of rights violations via abusive government.

“It won’t hurt U.S. national security interests to fully disclose events that took place decades ago. It will only hurt those who fear the truth,” Vargas Llosa concludes.

“The Family Jewels,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (7/5/07) Spanish Translation

Also see Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s books:

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Director)

Spanish Website and Spanish Blog

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4) U.S. Would be Largely Unharmed by Iraqi Civil War, Eland Argues

A common argument against a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is that the ensuing power vacuum would ignite a full-blown civil war that would send crude oil prices soaring and produce an economic catastrophe in the industrialized world. According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, however, increased instability in the region is unlikely to produce major ill effects for American security or material well-being.

“Even the worst case after a total withdrawal—a full blown Iraqi civil war that drags in neighboring states—would be bad for Iraqis, but it would have only minimal effects on U.S. security,” Eland, director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, writes in his latest op-ed. “Many economists would even question whether the U.S. government needed to ‘defend’ oil using military forces.”

Eland cites economist Don Losman of National Defense University, who has reported that from late 1998 to 2000, Germany saw crude oil prices rise 211 percent, but economic growth continued, and unemployment and inflation actually fell during that time period. This episode and other evidence suggests to Eland that in the event of higher crude oil prices caused by the spread of unrest throughout the Middle East, the U.S. economic growth trends would be largely unaffected.

“In 2006 and 2007, the United States experienced significant increases in the price of oil but similarly maintained economic growth with low inflation. Thus, even much higher oil prices caused by any instability in Saudi Arabia, for example, could be weathered,” Eland writes.

“Would a Full-Blown Iraqi Civil War Really Be that Bad for the United States?” by Ivan Eland (7/9/07) Spanish Translation

Ivan Eland’s Center on Peace & Liberty

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

“The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government,” by Ivan Eland

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