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

Volume 10, Issue 21: May 28, 2008

  1. New U.S. Farm Subsidies Are Pure Pork
  2. Royal Society’s Evasions on Climate Change
  3. China’s Growing Ties Raise New Questions
  4. Privacy and the Paparazzi

1) New U.S. Farm Subsidies Are Pure Pork

The 2008 farm bill, which Congress passed over President Bush’s veto, started out as an attempt to reduce agricultural subsidies. That it didn’t end up that way is an understatement by anyone’s calculation. Rather than limiting government subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 or less, the Senate raised that limit to $750,000.

“Agricultural subsidies benefit some of America’s largest corporations and some of its wealthiest citizens at the expense not only of taxpayers, but of everyone who eats and consequently pays the higher food prices necessary to sustain a bloated, profligate farm program,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II in a recent op-ed.

Today’s federal farm programs are a textbook example of pork-barrel spending running amuck. First created to support farmers—temporarily—during the Great Depression, they have long been an “entitlement” for the politically connected. In 2006, the average household income of farmers ($77,654) was about 17 percent above the U.S. average. It is expected to reach $90,000 this year. Writes Shughart: “The old joke about how to starve a farmer—weld his mailbox shut so he can’t collect his government checks—is no laughing matter.”

“Farmers’ Harvest a Bumper Crop of Subsidies,” by William F. Shughart II (5/12/08)

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

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2) Royal Society’s Evasions on Climate Change

The venerable Royal Society of London has become a publicist for climate alarmism, having recently published a pamphlet that misrepresents the case against the theory of man-made warming catastrophe, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer.

Both the U.S. National Academy and the Russian Academy of Scientists turned down the Royal Society’s call for help with the pamphlet, yet the Royal Society claims to speak on behalf of a non-existent consensus of scientists.

“More than 31,000 American scientists recently signed the Oregon Petition, which expresses doubt about the major conclusions of the IPCC [the United Nations–sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], and opposes the drastic mitigation demands of the Kyoto Protocol and the proposed ‘cap-and-trade’ legislation of the U.S. Congress,” Singer writes.

The latest IPCC report ignores evidence that undermines its conclusions, according to Singer. Temperatures have not risen over the past decade, and any man-made global warming that occurred earlier in the twentieth century was likely overwhelmed by natural climate-change cycles, which can last one decade or 1,500 years, according to ice core samples discovered in Greenland. Variations in solar activity, solar wind, and cosmic rays all seem to have a greater impact on the earth’s climate than do rising levels of carbon dioxide. “It is a pity that the Royal Society, rather than facilitate debate, has tried to misrepresent the honest views of those who are skeptical of what has become climate change orthodoxy,” Singer concludes.

“Foggy Science in London,” by S. Fred Singer (New York Sun, 5/23/08)

Also see:

“Courts Confront Climate Change,” by S. Fred Singer (Washington Times, 1/24/08)

Purchase Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate, by S. Fred Singer.

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3) China’s Growing Ties Raise New Questions

China’s growing influence around the world is an object of curiosity among foreign-policy observers. On the one hand, China has provided cheap credit and consumer goods to the developing world. On the other hand, by supplying those goods to the market, China has also slowed down the emergence of those industries in the developing world. This may not be a worry to the extent that local entrepreneurs can provide goods and services. A more significant question, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow David Isenberg, is the effect of Chinese trade on human rights, since it does not attach human-rights strings to its trading partners.

“One example was in response to the December 2006 military coup in Fiji when Beijing promised to continue its aid programs on the grounds that the coup was Fiji’s ‘internal’ affair,’” writes Isenberg.

Isenberg notes some of the unintended consequences that may result from China’s policies. China may find, for example, that goodwill at the grassroots level wanes as it cozies up to oppressive governments. China’s outreach may also result in new, perhaps subtle, confrontations with Taiwan, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“A Hard Look at China’s Soft Power,” by David Isenberg (Asia Times, 5/16/08)

More by David Isenberg

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4) Privacy and the Paparazzi

A Spanish court has denied protection against photographers that has been requested by Telma Ortiz, sister of Princess Letizia, the future queen. Whether she likes it or not, the court ruled, Telma Ortiz is a public figure and therefore fair game for celebrity-hungry paparazzi. Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa concurs.

Under a legal system that protects individual rights, Vargas Llosa argues, “the media cannot cause Ortiz physical harm, trespass on her property in order to film her, cause her to lose money by having to slow down on her way to a meeting and thus miss it, or prevent her from walking into a store,” writes Vargas Llosa. “But, barring those types of invasions, the media are free to use the public space and therefore film her on the streets.”

The alternative would be for the courts to clear everywhere off-limits, thereby treating public property as if it were private—hardly an attractive proposition for information-hungry societies, even if what they yearn for is mere infotainment.

“Telma’s Ordeal,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (5/21/08) Spanish Translation

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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