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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 18, Issue 2: January 12, 2016

  1. Obama’s Gun Control Misfires
  2. Affordable Housing Mandates Are Costly and Unfair
  3. The Gulf War, 25 Years Later
  4. Diversity Dogma in California
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts



1) Obama’s Gun Control Misfires

President Obama’s executive action on gun control last week makes a mockery of the Constitution, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook. Under the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, gun collectors and hobbyists who sell or exchange firearms are exempt from federal requirements that commercial sellers must follow: the law applies only to gun sellers who are “engaged in business”—meaning sellers who profit through repetitive transactions. Obama’s attempt to expand mandatory background checks to collectors and hobbyists exempt from the 1986 law amounts to the president’s invention of new crimes; but defining crimes is not the business of the president.

“The President has no authority to require that persons not engaged in the business of dealing in firearms as defined by Congress obtain licenses and conduct background checks,” Halbrook writes. “The issue not only relates to Second Amendment rights and the need to restrain the over-criminalization of federal law, but more fundamentally to the premise that the Executive Branch simply cannot invent new crimes.”

President Obama likes to remind everyone that he has taught constitutional law. However, his words and deeds show that he follows the Constitution only when it suits him. Not only has he seemed to have forgotten about the separation of powers, but he also seems to have forgotten important case law bearing on his usurpation of powers reserved for the legislature and the courts—even a key Supreme Court decision written by one of his appointees, Justice Elena Kagan.

Gun Control by Presidential Decree?, by Stephen P. Halbrook (The Daily Caller, 1/5/16)

Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”, by Stephen P. Halbrook

The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook

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2) Affordable Housing Mandates Are Costly and Unfair

The Supreme Court will do homebuyers a world of good if it strikes down a controversial ordinance in San Jose, California, mandating that housing developers sell a portion of their houses at below market prices. Affordable housing mandates—also called inclusionary zoning—are a textbook example of a government policy that does the opposite of what their supporters claim. Rather than make housing less expensive, they raise home prices—usually by tens of thousands of dollars. Their counterproductive effects have been confirmed by numerous studies, as Independent Institute Research Fellow Gary M. Galles explained last week in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.

Studies of the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, and Massachusetts, Galles shows, all found that after a city enacted affordable housing mandates, construction fell and home prices rose. The reason shouldn’t be surprising: restricting supply in the face of growing demand is a sure recipe for pushing up prices. One can blame housing activists who are blind to evidence and logic, and one can blame politicians who seek reelection by repeating noble-sounding rhetoric. But another factor may also be at work.

“Perhaps the reason that inclusionary zoning mandates aren’t more widely opposed is that they transfer so much wealth from real estate developers and homebuyers to people who already own property,” Galles writes. “The mandates are portrayed as compassionate, but they survive because they have the opposite of the supposed intention, resulting in higher home prices, not lower.” But not only do housing mandates benefit homeowners at the expense of homebuyers and developers, they also violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against the taking of private property without just compensation. The Supreme Court should move quickly to strike them down.

How Affordable Housing Mandates Make Housing More Expensive, by Gary M. Galles (Los Angeles Times, 1/4/16)

Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis, edited by Randall G. Holcombe and Benjamin W. Powell

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3) The Gulf War, 25 Years Later

On January 17, 1991, the U.S. government began its military campaign to end Saddam Hussein’s takeover of Kuwait. It took less than three months for Operation Desert Storm to reach that goal, but the victory proved hollow. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland reminds us, the first Gulf War exacted a heavy toll, and even today many fail to acknowledge its total costs.

The White House believed that pushing Saddam Hussein’s forces back to Iraq would help keep oil in the Persian Gulf and Arabian peninsula flowing. But according to Eland, even if Saddam had conquered Saudi Arabia, any stoppage in Persian Gulf oil probably would have been much less disruptive than occurred during the Gulf War, when Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil fields were attacked, and under the post-war sanctions, when Iraq oil exports were limited. Why did the White House miscalculate so badly? President George H. W. Bush appears to have been captive to the Munich Syndrome—the view that failure to confront aggression would only embolden the aggressor.

Other costs became more apparent when Osama bin Laden—whose terrorist actions arose from his hate of the U.S. intervention in the Middle East in general and the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia in particular—unleashed the horrors of 9/11. The costs associated with the second Iraq War, which sought “regime change” by ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq, are also add-ons to the bill for the first Gulf War. In turn, the second Gulf War has contributed to another problem: ISIS, formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq. Eland writes: “As the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm rolls around, historians are finally beginning to question whether this short-term victory was really a long-term triumph.”

Desert Storm Anniversary Reminds Us that Even Victorious Wars Are Problematic, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 1/11/16)

No War for Oil: U.S. Policy and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland

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4) Diversity Dogma in California

Twenty years ago California voters banned racial and ethnic preferences in public education, public hiring, and public contracting. But now some in Sacramento, including the governor, the attorney general, and the new senate boss, wish to repeal it. But even if they succeeded in lifting or circumventing the ban, known as the California Civil Rights Initiative or Proposition 209, their policies would fail to achieve the proportional representation they claim to seek, according to Independent Institute Policy Fellow K. Lloyd Billingsley.

The reasons are especially clear in the case of college admissions. Whereas the exact proportion of various races and ethnicities in the general population at any given time is, in an important sense, arbitrary, the qualities that go into getting admitted into the University of California should not be. Academic eligibility and effort, for example, are not evenly distributed across all groups. Instead, these and other factors tend to cluster. Thus, writes Billingsley, “Asians represent 14.4 percent of the California population, but they account for 36 percent of the fall 2015 UC enrollment.” Tinkering with that percentage in order to promote “representative diversity” would be arbitrary and unfair.

The blatant unfairness on the part of opponents of Prop 209 can be shown with a simple thought experiment. Imagine that they were to introduce a ballot measure exactly like the one they oppose, but with a single key difference. Suppose it dropped the word “not” from the first provision in Prop 209: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” If the opponents of Prop 209 doubt that the public would be indignant, let them try it.

Diversity Dogma and the Quest for Quotafornia, by K. Lloyd Billingsley (The Daily Caller, 1/3/16)

The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus, by David Sacks and Peter Thiel

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

Powerball and the Lucas Critique
Robert Murphy (1/11/16)

Health Insurers’ Consensus on Obamacare Is Collapsing
John R. Graham (1/11/16)

Friedrichs v. CTA Could End Compulsory Union Dues
Lawrence J. McQuillan (1/7/16)

Parental Choice Is a Better Path to Student Proficiency
Vicki Alger (1/7/16)

New Video on History of Police Militarization
Abigail Hall (1/7/16)

Dear Mr. Obama: I’m Not the NRA, and Keep Your Hands Off My Gun Rights
Mary Theroux (1/6/16)

Education Results, Not Spending Rankings, Count Most
Vicki Alger (1/6/16)

Unpopular Individual Mandate Fails to Make People Buy Insurance
John R. Graham (1/6/16)

Barack Obama: Firearms Industry’s Best Friend
Randall Holcombe (1/5/16)

Paying for Drugs: Long-Term Benefits vs. Short-Term Costs
John R. Graham (1/5/16)

The Reconciliation Distraction
John R. Graham (1/4/16)

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

High Maintenance Government
K. Lloyd Billingsley (1/11/16)

Waiting for a Train That Never Comes In
Craig Eyermann (1/8/16)

Ruling Class Redistribution
K. Lloyd Billingsley (1/7/16)

Frauds on the Federal Payroll
Craig Eyermann (1/5/16)

You can find the Independent Institute's Spanish-language website here and blog here.

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6) Selected News Alerts

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