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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 12, Issue 29: July 19, 2010

  1. Would Kagan Defend Second Amendment Rights?
  2. Do Foreign Investors Threaten U.S. Financial Stability?
  3. Russia’s Pathetic Spies
  4. Uganda Suicide Bombings Highlight Risk of Blowback
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Would Kagan Defend Second Amendment Rights?

Would Elena Kagan—assuming the U.S. Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court—uphold the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms? It’s impossible to know ahead of time. Kagan’s assurances that she would uphold “settled law” prove nothing, Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook, author of Securing Civil Rights and The Founders’ Second Amendment, argued in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The backtracking of the previous nominee to the nation’s highest court, Sonia Sotomayor, illustrates why. During her confirmation hearings, Sotomayor said she would abide by the Court’s 2008 decision in Heller v. District of Columbia, which established that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. Yet last month she joined Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in McDonald v. Chicago and announced that Heller was wrongly decided and should be overturned. “Accordingly, statements from Ms. Kagan about Heller being ‘settled law’ provide not an iota of assurance that as a Justice she would support Heller, rather than attempt to eliminate it,” Halbrook said in his testimony.

More salient, of course, are Kagan’s prior efforts to undermine gun rights for law-abiding citizens, Halbrook argues. Those efforts include Kagan’s drafting of President Clinton’s 1997 order banning the importation of sporting rifles (which had been importable since 1968) and her 1997 suggestion of a Presidential decree criminalizing handgun sales if the Supreme Court invalidated the federal mandate that state and local law enforcement conduct background checks. Of course, it is possible that Kagan, if confirmed by the Senate, could become a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights—just as Justice Hugo Black, after his appointment to the Court, championed civil rights for racial minorities despite his prior membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

“Confirmation Hearings for the Appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court of the United States of America,” by Stephen P. Halbrook and David B. Kopel (7/1/10)

Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen Halbrook

UPCOMING EVENT: “The Supreme Court and the Battle for Second Amendment Rights,” featuring Stephen P. Halbrook and Donald E. J. Kilmer, Jr. (Oakland, Calif., 7/22/10)

“Heller, the Second Amendment, and Reconstruction: Protecting All Freedmen or Only Militiamen?” by Stephen P. Halbrook (Santa Clara Law Review, 5/1/10)

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2) Do Foreign Investors Threaten U.S. Financial Stability?

Should Americans worry that foreign investors now hold a majority share of U.S. public debt? Many pundits believe so. They warn that financial havoc and weakened U.S. national security would ensue if foreigners—particularly the leading U.S. creditors, mainland China and Hong Kong, which collectively hold about one trillion dollars worth of U.S. Treasury securities—were to dump their holdings en masse.

These predictions are hard to take seriously, however, because “any such sell-off would cause a tremendous fall in the price of the securities and cause huge capital losses for the Chinese holders,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs in latest issue of The Freeman.

Beijing will continue to diplomatically pressure Washington to put its fiscal house in better order, but it is unlikely to go so far as to provoke a nationalist backlash. Other foreign lenders will also become increasingly critical of Uncle Sam’s profligacy, Higgs predicts.

“Foreign Lenders: Friends Indeed to a U.S. Treasury in Need,” by Robert Higgs (The Freeman, July/August 2010)

Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs

Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity, by Robert Higgs

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3) Russia’s Pathetic Spies

Last month’s well-publicized break-up of a Russian spy ring operating in the United States says less about Moscow’s duplicity—after all, even friendly regimes spy on each other—than it says about that government’s profound incompetence. Spies are supposed to obtain valuable intelligence, but by all accounts this ring gave its masters no return on their investment, only easily obtainable public information and expense reports. They were more like Bullwinkle’s cartoon nemesis Boris Badenov than the image of a dedicated, hyper competent spy of the Soviet era.

“Everything about the spies was comically passé, including the technology—bags exchanged in train stations, shortwave radio, invisible ink,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa. “These pathetic agents confirm the gulf between the neo-Czarist illusions of grandeur and the reality of a country surpassed in economic and technological achievement by many Asian competitors. What kind of a bureaucrat allows an agent of Russian origin who speaks Spanish with a thick Slavic accent to claim he is Uruguayan, as Juan Lazaro, one of the men arrested by the FBI, routinely did in the U.S.?”

Vargas Llosa attributes the spy ring’s mediocrity to a deeper dysfunction of the Russian government—one that stems from the failure of a reform process that began during the Gorbachev years but never really got on its feet. This underlying failure explains far more than the incompetence of Russian intelligence gathering in the United States, although few commentators on the spy bust have made this point.

“Pathetic Spies,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (7/14/10) Spanish Translation

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

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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

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4) Uganda Suicide Bombings Highlight Risk of Blowback

Two recent suicide bombings of World Cup soccer viewers in Kampala, Uganda—which reportedly left at least 74 dead and 70 injured—illustrate the danger of foreign military involvement in the Muslim world, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

The bombings were carried out on July 11 by a Somali group known as al-Shabab. “Even now, al-Shabab explicitly said that it targeted Uganda in the soccer bombing because the nation is one of the two countries providing soldiers for the African Union (AU) forces that are combating the group,” writes Eland. “Also, the United States and its European allies are using Uganda to train Somalis to fight against al-Shabab.... Although radical Islam is present, al-Shabab’s main motivation for the international attacks is much the same as the other local Islamist groups—to get rid of foreign interference in their countries.”

Like the Kampala attacks, the failed attempted bombing of an airliner bound for Detroit last Christmas was also motivated largely in response to foreign military involvement—namely, U.S. support for the Yemen government’s anti-insurgency campaign, according to Eland. Similarly, an Islamist separatist group in Western China plotted against Western targets due to the West’s support for China’s campaign against them and the detention of ethnic Uighurs at the U.S. military post at Guantánamo Bay. A proper U.S. response to these terrorist attacks and plots, Eland concludes, is not to further meddle in conflicts that don’t threaten U.S. vital interests, but instead to focus only on neutralizing the main trunk of al-Qaeda.

“Soccer Bombing Should Not Prompt More U.S. Meddling,” by Ivan Eland (7/14/10)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

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

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

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5) This Week in The Beacon

The Beacon—the Independent Institute blog—offers commentary and announcements of interest to readers of The Lighthouse.

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