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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 17: April 28, 2008

  1. Special Interests Feeding at the Anti-Terrorism Trough
  2. U.S. Military Should Rethink Lax Recruiting Policies
  3. Schizophrenic Farm Policies
  4. Templeton Essay Contest: May 1st Deadline Approaches

1) Special Interests Feeding at the Anti-Terrorism Trough

Dunkin’ Donuts received $22 million in federal loans to safeguard its assets against terrorism. Augusta, Georgia, received $3 million to protect its fire hydrants against terrorist tampering. Veterinary schools have called for a four-fold increase in funding to fight hoof-and-mouth disease spread by future terrorists. With a half-billion dollars in homeland security funds available, virtually every interest group in the country is trying to grab a slice of the anti-terrorism pie, no matter how unlikely or bogus the threat. With the U.S. Congress authorizing so much wasteful spending in the name of fighting terrorism, perhaps the 9/11 terrorists got more than they bargained for.

“For a multitude of politicians, interest groups, professional associations, corporations, media organizations, universities, local and state governments and federal agency officials, the War on Terror is now a major profit center, a funding bonanza, and a set of slogans and sound bites to be inserted into budget, project, grant and contract proposals,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Ian S. Lustick in a recent op-ed. “For the country as a whole, however, it has become a maelstrom of waste and worry that distracts us from more serious problems.”

From 2003 to 2006, the list of potential terrorist targets compiled by the Department of Homeland Security has grown from 160 to 300,000. That anti-terrorism spending is running amuck is admitted quietly within parts of the federal government. In 2004, Lustick heard a federal official encourage scientists to pursue “outside the box” projects to fight terrorism, although, as Lustick explains in his report, “Our Own Strength Against Us,” the official later admitted off the record that much of the spending was for show, rather than for genuine security. In 2005, the Small Business Administration’s inspector general reported that 85 percent of the businesses granted low-interest SBA loans for counterterrorism failed to establish their eligibility. These and other episodes leave Lustick to conclude that “al Qaeda’s most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes, but to hijack our political system.”

“The War on Terror Feeding Frenzy,” by Ian S. Lustick (The Hill, 4/22/08)

Also see, “Our Own Strength Against Us: The War on Terror as a Self-Inflicted Disaster,” by Ian S. Lustick

Center on Peace & Liberty

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2) U.S. Military Should Rethink Lax Recruiting Policies

Desperate for new recruits, the U.S. Army and Marines have lowered their standards to admit more ex-cons. Last year, nearly 20 percent of army recruits were admitted under waivers for felonies and misdemeanors. Lowering conduct standards may help improve troop rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but lower-quality troops are less likely to practice the self-control and social bridge-building necessary to conduct successful counterinsurgency campaigns, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

“Especially violent people, or those who don’t properly control their behavior, might be adequate for all-out combat against a conventional enemy, but would not be good at winning hearts and minds,” writes Eland. “In fact, when faced with guerrillas who attack and then melt back into the general population, these recruits might be more apt to commit atrocities against the population.”

Eland not only criticizes the practice of admitting into the armed services more perpetrators of property and violent crime, but he also calls for an end to personnel policies that exclude gays from military service and women from serving in combat roles. “The obvious solutions to all of these problems are to avoid unnecessary brushfire wars and to change wacky military personnel policies that undermine the all-volunteer military,” Eland concludes.

“Quagmires and Wacky Personnel Policies Are Straining the All-Volunteer Military,” by Ivan Eland (4/28/08)

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

In The Empire Has No Clothes, Dr. Eland makes a persuasive case that current U.S. national security policy is contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives and is actually undermining our security and civil liberties. This book is an excellent contribution to the debate on the Bush Doctrine of waging preventive wars, maintaining hegemony, and spreading democracy by force.”
—Lawrence J. Korb, former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense

Purchase Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, by Ivan Eland.

“The book is a useful addition to a wide-ranging debate on defense spending today. Recommended for general readers, undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals.”
Choice

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3) Schizophrenic Farm Policies

The $280 billion farm bill pending in Congress provides a windfall for almost everyone involved in agriculture. Farmers who grow corn, wheat, cotton, or other major crops may qualify for commodity payments; farmers who don’t may qualify for government-subsidized farm credit. Farmers and ranchers who don’t qualify for private credit may also be eligible for credit subsidies. Subsidized crop insurance is also available, but many won’t purchase it because Congress regularly provides ad hoc disaster and emergency relief for droughts, freezes, and floods.

Massive pork-barrel subsidies to American farms are nothing new, of course. What is astounding is the contradictory nature of U.S. farm programs: some work to raise prices, while others work to lower them—which isn’t to say that the two tendencies work to cancel out any price changes. So what exactly is the goal? As Ernest C. Pasour Jr. and Randal R. Rucker explain in a recent op-ed, there is no coherent, over-arching principle guiding U.S. farm policy other than political expediency.

Agricultural policy is a mish-mash not only in the United States but also around the world, explains Alvaro Vargas Llosa in his latest syndicated column. He writes: “Farmers in Europe are paid to keep their land fallow because of a scheme called the Common Agricultural Policy; farmers in Argentina are being asked to give up 75 percent of their earnings through various taxes; farmers in the United States are more interested in feeding SUVs than in feeding people because the U.S. Congress has mandated a fivefold increase in the use of biofuels; and farmers in Africa are not experimenting with genetically modified crops because they are banned in many of the countries to which they might be able to export them.”

“The Schizophrenia of U.S. Farm Policy,” by Ernest C. Pasour Jr. and Randal R. Rucker (Investor’s Business Daily, 4/22/08)

“Where’s the Food?” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/23/08)

Purchase Plowshares & Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture, by Ernest C. Pasour Jr. and Randal R. Rucker.

“The superb book, Plowshares & Pork Barrels, by Pasour and Rucker, is both analytically rigorous and readable. It is the single best guide available to the historical path and complexities of U.S. agricultural policies.”
—Lee J. Alston, Professor of Economics, University of Colorado

Purchase Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Liberty for Latin America presents Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s thoughtful analysis of what has impeded Latin America’s progress and what needs to be done. It is well worth reading.”
—Lawrence Harrison, Professor, Fletcher School, Tufts University

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4) Templeton Essay Contest: May 1st Deadline Approaches

Are property rights human rights? How are they related? What are their similarities and differences? If property rights are human rights, why have they enjoyed fewer legal protections and intellectual champions than have other human rights?

If you’re a college student (undergraduate or grad student) or an untenured college teacher with insights about these questions (and are not older than 35), the Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest may interest you.

Student Division:
First Prize: $2,500
Second Prize: $1,500
Third prize: $1,000

Junior Faculty Division:
First Prize: $10,000
Second Prize: $5,000
Third Prize: $1,500

More about the Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest

Deadline: May 1, 2008

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