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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 18: May 5, 2008

  1. John Semmens on How Not to Ease Traffic Congestion
  2. Stephen Baskerville on Child-Support Enforcement
  3. Alvaro Vargas Llosa on Paraguay’s President Lugo
  4. Ivan Eland on What Rev. Wright Got Right

1) John Semmens on How Not to Ease Traffic Congestion

Can light-rail transit (LRT) reduce traffic congestion better than other alternatives? That question has become increasingly important as more and more cities consider constructing LRT to ease the burden of their congested roads. Advocates of LRT often claim that a light-rail line can carry as much traffic as an eight-lane freeway. That may be true of LRT’s potential, but its actual ridership is another matter, as Arizona transportation research manager and Independent Institute Research Fellow John Semmens explains in a new op-ed.

“National figures indicate that on average, LRT carries about 5,000 people per track-mile per day, while urban freeways carry over 20,000 per lane-mile per day,” writes Semmens. Cost comparisons are also unfavorable to LTR: high-occupancy vehicle lanes, high-occupancy toll lanes, general purpose lanes, and bus rapid transit on high-occupancy vehicle lanes are all less expensive than light rail – although studies which reach this conclusion seem not to have slowed LRT’s political momentum.

“It is clear that the space in the medians of urban freeways is too precious to be wasted on LRT,” continues Semmens. “Such space would produce more congestion-mitigating benefits if used to accommodate automobiles and buses. Displacing space that could be used for a roadway lane with a rail line would be a costly error.”

“Is Putting Rail Transit in Freeway Medians a Good Idea?” by John Semmens (Statesman Journal, 5/3/08)

Also see, “De-Socializing the Roads,” by John Semmens. Chapter 2 in Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth.

News Flash! On April 25, 2008, the Independent Institute received a Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award for Street Smart.

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2) Stephen Baskerville on Child-Support Enforcement

Child support in the United States has changed drastically in the past generation. What started out as a welfare system for the poor has become a criminal justice system for the middle class, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen Baskerville.

“During the 1980s and 1990s—without explanation or public debate—enforcement machinery created for children in poverty was dramatically expanded to cover all child-support cases, including those not receiving welfare,” writes Baskerville in a new op-ed, “From Welfare State to Police State,” which draws from his Winter 2008 Independent Review article. “This vastly expanded the program by bringing in millions of middle-class divorce cases. The system was intended for welfare—but other cases now account for 83% of its cases and 92% of the money collected.”

The plot thickens. Thanks to federal incentive payments, state governments now collect money for middle-class child support from federal taxpayers, as well as from “deadbeat dads”—who, statistically speaking, aren’t deadbeats, although they have been mischaracterized as such. Continues Baskerville: “Divorce courts are pressured to cut children off from their fathers to conform to the welfare model of ‘custodial’ and ‘noncustodial.’ These perverse incentives further criminalize fathers, by impelling states to make child-support levels as onerous as possible and to squeeze every dollar from every parent available.”

“From Welfare State to Police State,” by Stephen Baskerville (5/4/08)

“From Welfare State to Police State,” by Stephen Baskerville (The Independent Review, Winter 2008)

Special Internet Offer: Receive two complimentary issues of The Independent Review. Sign up on-line for a paid subscription of $28.95 and receive the next six issues for the price of four.  A savings of 33% compared to the newsstand price.

Recommend The Independent Review to your library!

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3) Alvaro Vargas Llosa on Paraguay’s President Lugo

Despite his ideological roots in liberation theology, Paraguay’s new president, former cleric Fernando Lugo, is not an easy shoe-in for membership in the left-wing Chavez-Morales club. According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Paraguay’s voters supported Lugo in April’s election not because of who he is, but rather because of who he isn’t—namely, he is not a member of the Colorado Party, which had ruled the country for six decades.

Lugo may wish to govern from the left, but his own party—the Patriotic Alliance for Change—will be a minority in Congress. Also, he owes his election victory to a coalition that included the center-right Authentic Radical Liberty Party, which may pull a few strings of its own. In addition, foreign political pressures—especially from Paraguay’s top trading partner, Brazil—may also help tame Lugo’s left-wing instincts.

“We don’t know which way Lugo is going to go,” writes Vargas Llosa. “But we do know this: Paraguayans did not vote against globalization, free markets or good relations with the United States. They voted against authoritarian rule, patronage, elitism and corruption—the very characteristics of Latin American populism of the kind that Chavez, Morales, Correa and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega are implementing.”

See “Whither Lugo?” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/30/08)

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

“You may not agree with everything Alvaro Vargas Llosa says in his Liberty for Latin America, but you should take very seriously his central argument: that lack of political and economic freedom is at the root of our region’s underdevelopment. With this volume, Alvaro makes an important contribution to the present debate on the causes of Latin America’s poor economic and social performance.”
—Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico; Director, Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University

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4) Ivan Eland on What Rev. Wright Got Right

Senator Barack Obama has publicly parted ways with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose controversial views on race and AIDS, among other things, had made him too large a liability for the presidential hopeful. However, some of Wright’s views on terrorism and U.S. foreign policy warrant Obama’s serious consideration, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Ivan Eland.

“Presidential candidate Barack Obama lumped all of Wright’s views into one basket and denounced them as being offensive; but he should have taken a second look at Wright’s analysis of terrorism,” writes Eland. Wright, he notes, echos comments made by former Reagan administration ambassador Edward Peck (among others), that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were motivated as reprisals against U.S. foreign-policy interventions in the Muslim world.

“Poll after poll in the Arab/Islamic world indicates that U.S. political and economic freedoms, technology, and even culture are popular in these countries, but U.S. interventionist foreign policy toward the Middle East is not,” writes Eland. “Bin Laden has repeatedly said that he attacks the United States because of its occupation of Muslim lands and its support for corrupt Middle Eastern governments. Finally, empirical studies have linked U.S. foreign occupation and military interventions with blowback terrorism against the U.S. targets.”

“Reverend Wright Is Not Totally Wrong,” Ivan Eland (5/5/08)

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

The Empire Has No Clothes is a very important book. There are a lot of books out now about empire, but this is probably the most searching and the most provocative.”
—C. Boyden Gray, former Chief Counsel to the President of the United States

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