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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 38: September 22, 2008

  1. Forensic Evidence Must Be Improved
  2. How to Defeat Al-Qaeda and Neutralize the Taliban
  3. Entrepreneurs in Poor Countries Offer a Truly Shining Path Out of Poverty
  4. Change Congress, Urges Donald Downs
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Forensic Evidence Must Be Improved

A Mississippi judge recently allocated public funds for a murder defendant to hire a forensic expert in his defense. In the name of justice, courts elsewhere should emulate this example, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Roger Koppl and Wright State University biology professor Dan Krane.

Although forensic science plays a growing role in deciding whether a defendant is found innocent or guilty, “forensic evidence often is flawed,” write Koppl and Krane in a new op-ed. “So, in fairness, defendants should have a right to forensic expertise, just as they have a right to an attorney.”

Koppl and Krane cite a 2007 University of California study that found that DNA tests sometimes produce ambiguous results subject to multiple interpretations. The consequences are serious: Josiah Sutton, for example, served four years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit before mistakes in DNA testing came to light and led to his exoneration. If the court had put a forensics expert in Sutton’s corner, he might never have suffered that injustice. Koppl and Krane also urge that crime labs be kept independent of law enforcement agencies. These reforms, they argue, would likely create checks and balances that over time would improve forensics. Each side in a case would have incentives to inform the court of flaws in the forensic evidence offered by the opposing side. “Slowly, case by case, the system will improve.”

“Potentially Flawed Science Deciding Many Cases,” by Roger Koppl and Dan Krane (Athens Banner-Herald, 9/14/08)

More on crime

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2) How to Defeat Al-Qaeda and Neutralize the Taliban

Because Osama bin Laden and some of his al-Qaeda brethren have long been suspected of hiding out in Pakistan’s western frontier region, the recent step up of U.S. Special Forces in that area is long overdue. Unfortunately, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, that new counterterrorism campaign also has a major strike against it: along with the presence of U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan, it is making the Taliban increasingly popular. In his latest op-ed, Eland offers a strategy for solving this problem.

“To deflate the Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” writes Eland, “the vast majority of U.S. and allied forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving only a small contingent of clandestine Special Forces and Predators to take advantage of any window of opportunity, should bin Laden or any other leadership targets be located.”

Eland also recommends that the U.S. military implement in Pakistan and Afghanistan a strategy that seems to be working in Iraq: paying off the enemy. Allegiances in that part of the world, according to Eland, can often be bought with cold, hard cash, so the U.S. should offer a lot of cash. “The amount will no doubt be much more than the measly $50 million sum the U.S. government currently has on bin Laden’s head,” continues Eland. “Such a sum seems like a lot, but is chump change for countries and political movements, such as the Taliban.”

“The U.S. Should Worry About Bin Laden, Not the Taliban,” by Ivan Eland (9/22/08) Spanish Translation

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

Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, Director)

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3) Entrepreneurs in Poor Countries Offer a Truly Shining Path Out of Poverty

An enduring myth of economic development is that lifting poor countries out of poverty requires transfers of wealth from rich countries—usually through grants, cheap credit and subsidies. In a recent op-ed for Barron’s, and based on his recent book Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa argues that government transfers have little to do with economic success.

Two examples from Peru illustrate his point. The Añaños family lived on a small farm in Ayocucho, an impoverished area terrorized by the Maoist militant group Shining Path. Sensing opportunity in the chaos, they hatched a plan to grow their family business by creating a new product for the Peruvian market—all without any government assistance. Thus was born a new soft-drink, Kola Real. “The Añañoses invited unemployed Peruvians with old vehicles to buy Kola Real at the bottling plants and resell it in their neighborhoods,” writes Vargas Llosa. “They created a second tier of entrepreneurs who would prosper from Kola Real’s success.” Today, the family’s company manufactures the leading nonalcoholic beverage from Latin America, with 8,000 employees and an estimated $1 billion in annual sales.

Similarly, Aquilino Flores moved from the dirt-poor Huancavelica region of Peru to Lima and began to wash cars for a living. A clothing merchant urged Flores to sell his cotton t-shirts, eventually putting Flores on the path to making and selling his own line of clothing. Today, the company he started—Topy Top—is Peru’s leading textile exporter, earning more then $100 million annually and employing about 5,000 workers.

“The Añaños and Flores families’ stories are not isolated cases,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Similar entrepreneurial, free-enterprise successes are occurring all over the world.... These stories should remind us of something many people in rich countries have lost sight of, perhaps because they started their successful journeys so long ago: Free-enterprise capitalism, embodied in entrepreneurialism, is all about the little guy. Big companies exist because some little guys some time in the past beat the odds.... People who start and grow businesses don’t need a government’s help; they need assurances that government will not destroy their efforts through taxation or regulation or—worse and most common of all—by bestowing favors on their competitors.”

“Lessons From the Poor,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (Barron’s, 9/8/08)

Purchase Lessons from the Poor: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

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

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Director)

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4) Change Congress, Urges Donald Downs

Both McCain and Obama claim to promote “change.” Skepticism comes not only from doubting their willingness to implement meaningful change, but also in their ability to do so. Echoing Will Rogers, Independent Institute Research Fellow Donald Downs argues that few fundamental improvements can occur in Washington, D.C., so long as Congress is in session.

Three examples of Congress’s intransigence are enough to illustrate this claim, according to Downs. First, independent economists told Congress for years that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needed a major overhaul. Yet consider its recent bailout of those government-sponsored enterprise. Congress has left Fannie’s and Freddie’s lobbying machine intact, while increasing their power and lending authority. Second, Congress has done precious little to loosen the bottleneck in the energy supply line. Third, the House of Representatives has made itself an increasingly safe place for politicians running for reelection, with 94 percent of the incumbents who sought reelection in 2004 holding on to power.

Unfortunately, for Washington, D.C., to change for the better, change must occur at the congressional level. Downs urges voters to keep that in mind when they enter the voting booth (or mail their absentee ballot) this November. “Reelect those who truly stand for constructive change, and throw out those dedicated to maintaining the perquisites of the political class,” Downs writes. “The incumbency protection racket makes this an unending struggle, but Congress’s 15 percent national approval rating—half that of one of the most unpopular presidents on record—provides a measure of hope.”

“A New Congress Would be Change to Believe in,” by Donald Downs (9/2/08)

Also by Donald Downs: Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Here is the latest from The Beacon—the weblog of the Independent Institute:

As always, The Beacon is open for your comments.

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