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

Volume 6, Issue 6: February 9, 2004

  1. Super Bowl Stunt Exposes FCC Pretense
  2. U.S. Hints Spring Offensive against al Qaeda
  3. "The Promised Land of the Free" -- Next Independent Policy Forum, with Richard A. Epstein and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel (3/9/04)

1) Super Bowl Stunt Exposes FCC Pretense

Last week's Super Bowl halftime entertainment exposed more than Janet Jackson's right breast, it showed us a side of the Federal Communications Commission that many of us would rather not have seen.

The FCC chairman and four commissioners were quick to denounce the titillating halftime shenanigans and have promised a "through and swift" investigation, which could result in CBS facing fines of more than $5.5 million. This would exceed $27.50 for each of the 200,000 viewers who have complained to the FCC. But imagine if the FCC were to solicit equal time for those who found the stunt amusing. Perhaps we would find that their numbers dwarfed those who complained.

Such differences in taste should give pause to bureaucrats with the power to police the content of the airwaves in the name of the "public interest."

"A one-size-fits-all policy on obscenity can never satisfy everyone -- or even most people -- nor will it work," writes Anthony Gregory, a public policy intern at the Independent Institute, in a new op-ed. "If the pop stars defied a contract with CBS in their salaciousness, the market will handle it in the best possible way and CBS can always seek legal damages."

The ultimate solution to this and similar "public policy" problems, of course, is to remove such matters from realm of public policy altogether, Gregory explains.

"In order to place full responsibility where it belongs, the airwaves should be privatized, a system of full property rights over electro-magnetic spectrum should be established, and the FCC should stop policing content and let network owners decide what to air," writes Gregory. "They will respond to the broad spectrum of diverse demands that America’s tens of millions of viewers and hundreds of advertisers convey through the market. If some people find naked breasts -- or violence, or profane language, or anything else -- offensive, they won’t watch the offending channels or advertise their products on them.

"Mistakes will likely still occur, as they do now and probably always will," Gregory concludes. "Some viewers will always be offended by certain images. But we should at least eliminate the additional offensiveness of the unnecessary, wasteful and clumsy intervention of the FCC."

See "Keep the FCC out of the Halftime Show," by Anthony Gregory (2/6/04)

For more on FCC regulations, see "Rent Seeking Never Stops: An Essay on Telecommunications Policy," by James A. Montanye (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Fall 1996)

For a theory of free speech, see "Freedom of Speech: Constitutional Protection Reconsidered," by James A. Montanye (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 1999)

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2) U.S. Hints Spring Offensive against al Qaeda

The White House has indicated that an offensive against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been planned for the spring. This prompts (at least) two questions: why tell us (and al Qaeda)? and why so late?

It wouldn't be prudent to hint that new intelligence will help the U.S. locate the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his associates. "A more sympathetic line of reasoning might conclude that publicity for the new offensive is an attempt to scare bin Laden into doing something rash in order to smoke him out and capture him," writes Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, in his latest op-ed.

Unfortunately, the anti-terrorism tactics that the U.S. has in mind might risk losing the war for the hearts and minds of people who might otherwise cooperate in neutralizing al Qaeda. Pakistan, for example, has recently bulldozed the homes of families of al Qaeda suspects, presumably with U.S. approval.

"This wrong-headed strategy violates the doctrine of individual rights and responsibilities that is a cornerstone of American beliefs and will backfire among the heavily fundamentalist populations of the tribal areas, which already hate the Pakistan and U.S. governments," writes Eland. "Playing hardball in Pakistan's tribal areas will only increase support for bin Laden and al Qaeda in the short run."

In regard to the timing of the announcement of a spring offensive, two reasons come to mind: the Iraq war and the November election. The hunt for al Qaeda was diverted by the Iraq war, and post-war Iraq hasn't gone as well as Bush had hoped.

Concludes Eland: "Given the administration’s past tepid and even counterproductive efforts to fight al Qaeda, one can correctly examine its new advertising for a spring offensive in the context of the election year back home. Since Iraq policy is in shambles and President Bush wants to burnish national security credentials against any Democratic challenger, the administration has suddenly become more energetic in promoting its efforts against al Qaeda. This illustrates that a never-ending war on terrorism is ideal for an incumbent president. It’s just surprising that we didn’t see ads during the Super Bowl telecast."

See "Are We Fighting a Real War on Terror at All," by Ivan Eland (2/4/04)

Center on Peace & Liberty

War on Terrorism

OnPower.org -- Terrorist War

PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland

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3) "The Promised Land of the Free" -- Next Independent Policy Forum, with Richard A. Epstein and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel (3/9/04)

Throughout the world, America has been known as the "land of the free." Today, however, real life in the United States is quite different from the famous promise. Over the past century, the U.S. government has grown astronomically as the average citizen's life is increasingly taxed, regulated, and spied upon. In the last few years alone, federal spending has skyrocketed by almost 30 percent, creating the largest federal deficit in U.S. history and explosive corporate welfare, pork, and abuses of civil and economic liberties.

In his writings, noted legal scholar Richard Epstein goes to the root of the problem, addressing the moral and conceptual foundations of liberty and how they have been systematically undermined. Should individuals be free to make their own peaceful choices or should decisions by special interests, in the name of the "public good," be imposed by force? What about property rights, taxes, regulation, civil rights, and the welfare state? At this Independent Policy Forum, Richard Epstein and historian and economist Jeffrey Rogers Hummel will discuss why the time has come for a bold new defense of the free society.

SPEAKERS:

Richard Epstein is Professor of Law, University of Chicago, and author of SKEPTICISM AND FREEDOM: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism (University of Chicago Press).

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel is Professor of Economics, San Jose State University, and author of EMANCIPATING SLAVES, ENSLAVING FREE MEN (Open Court Publishers)

WHEN:
Tuesday, March 9, 2004
Reception and book signing: 7:00 p.m.
Program: 7:30 - 9:00 p.m.

WHERE:
The Independent Institute Conference Center
100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428
A map and directions

TICKETS: $45 Special Admission: Includes copy of SKEPTICISM AND FREEDOM. (25% off cover price!) Admission without a book is $15 per person (or $10 for Independent Institute Members). Reserve tickets by calling (510) 632-1366.

Praise for SKEPTICISM AND FREEDOM: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism, by Richard A. Epstein (University of Chicago Press):

"Epstein's new book, SKEPTICISM AND FREEDOM, belongs on the same shelf with [Adam] Smith's THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS. It is a book of enormous erudition lightly worn, working its way through the great issues of public policy conversationally, sensibly, and humanely."
-- Charles Murray, American Enterprise Institute

"SKEPTICISM AND FREEDOM is a signal, comprehensive, clear statement by a preeminent legal thinker. In the tradition of Hume, Hayek, and Friedman: Richard Epstein is radical without being unreasonable, practical without being compromised."
-- Charles Fried, Harvard Law School

"This is an elegantly written and powerful defense of classical liberalism -- of belief in a system with great economic and political freedoms and with only a limited role for government. Of particular interest is Epstein's argument that the proper scope of government is not made any greater on account of modern views holding that individuals do not have stable preferences, behave irrationally, and are subject to cognitive biases."
-- Steven M. Shavell, Harvard Law School

"Epstein has to be taken seriously, and not only because of the power of his reasoning and his authoritative command of the common law and political philosophy. . . His reasoning is strong, the knowledge of specific areas of policies is deep, and behind them stands his basic commitment to a more productive and efficient society."
--Nathan Glazer, The New York Times Book Review

More information about this event.

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