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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 18, Issue 21: May 24, 2016

  1. John Muir versus Yosemite’s Miwok Indians
  2. Kicking the Feds Out of the Schools
  3. Eight GOP Health Proposals to Avoid
  4. Schwarzenegger, Cronyism, and the Miscarriage of Justice
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts



1) John Muir versus Yosemite’s Miwok Indians

Yosemite National Park is home to majestic valleys, breathtaking waterfalls, and an endless labyrinth of hiking trails. It’s been a mecca for vacationing families and intrepid backpackers for more than 100 years. Longer ago, however, it became home to the Mikwok Indians, who cultivated crops in the lush Yosemite Valley. John Muir, the naturalist and activist who secured Yosemite for the National Park System, urged government officials to remove the Miwok. Their expulsion is one of many tragedies—including the killing of 300 Shoshone Indians for the sake of depopulating Yellowstone—resulting from the “balance of nature” doctrine, an idea that scientific ecologists have long since abandoned, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Ryan M. Yonk, co-author of Nature Unbound.

The idea that ecosystems naturally exist in some ideal balance, one disrupted easily and only by human activity, is a myth that persists among environmental activists, policymakers, and much of the general public. In reality, natural habitats constantly change, creating selection pressures that favor some flora and fauna at the expense of others. Thus the preservation of biodiversity can require active human management of forests and other habitats.

“Those clinging to the ‘balance of nature’ ideology often oppose management activities even as basic as restoring water pipelines or cutting trees to manage insect infestations and protect recreationists from injury,” Yonk writes at History News Network. “Such an ethic insists that even when human actions are beneficial ecologically, they ought to be avoided in order to preserve nature’s wildness. That view is every bit as misguided as the eviction of the Miwoks from Yosemite Valley for the crime of growing crops. The preference should be for inclusion, not exclusion.”

Did You Know that John Muir Wanted to Force Indians Out of the Yosemite Valley?, by Ryan M. Yonk (History News Network, 5/5/16)

Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment, by Randy T Simmons, Ryan M. Yonk, and Kenneth J. Sim

VIDEO: The True Cost of Wind, featuring Ryan M. Yonk (Challenge of Liberty Seminars 2016)

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2) Kicking the Feds Out of the Schools

Should the federal government get out of K-12 education and cede all control to local school boards? A newspaper recently put the question to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger. You can probably infer her answer from the title of her forthcoming book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children. Yes, she argues, of course the feds should get out of education.

Despite the creation of the federal Department of Education 36 years ago, student academic performance has scarcely budged. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold standard for measuring academic improvement, shows that 17-year-olds as a group are only slightly better on math than they were in 1978, and their reading ability has remained flat since 1971. The problem isn’t for lack of federal funding: the agency’s annual budget is about $70 billion. What’s needed, according to Alger, is to decentralize K-12 education, return policymaking authority to the states, to local school districts, and—especially—to the parents.

“Research shows that when parents have more choices in education, students and schools benefit and do so at a fraction of the cost of top-heavy federal programs,” Alger writes. “The resulting competition for students and their associated funding puts powerful pressure on schools to improve. Little wonder that some seven out of ten likely voters believe competition improves public schools and support greater parental choice, particularly education savings accounts, or ESAs.”

Federal Authorities Flunk in Every Category but Promises, by Vicki E. Alger (Sacramento Bee, 5/19/16)

Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, by Vicki E. Alger

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3) Eight GOP Health Proposals to Avoid

Most Republican voters (56 percent, according to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll) favor scrapping the Affordable Care Act. Their party representatives in Congress, however, have proposed numerous alternatives that could prove even less popular than Obamacare itself. In a recent column at Forbes, Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman, cites eight proposals that would be especially damaging. Half of them involve healthcare taxes.

Some lawmakers have proposed taxing health insurance as a way to curb healthcare spending and thereby slow the rise of healthcare costs. In most cases, the Republican tax proposals have been more onerous than Obamacare’s so-called Cadillac tax plan. Other GOP proposals involve shifting healthcare taxes from special interests to ordinary workers; offering tax subsidies that unfairly favor those who least need help; enacting tax subsidies that raise marginal tax rates; and offering a tax credit that is too small to do much good.

Instead of these faulty healthcare tax reforms, Goodman calls for “allowing employers to choose the tax credit option instead of the current system” and offering “a uniform tax credit that is the same for everyone, regardless of where they obtain health insurance.” He also calls for enabling a market in health-status insurance, sending “some portion of unclaimed tax credits to the localities where the uninsured live”; and the promotion of Roth-style Health Savings Accounts. Goodman warns that healthcare policy is a topic with enough complexity to induce people to settle for inferior public policies. “So to our friends on Capitol Hill, we say: resist this tendency,” he concludes.

Eight Health Reforms the GOP Should Avoid, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 5/9/16)

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman

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4) Schwarzenegger, Cronyism, and the Miscarriage of Justice

Arnold Schwarzenegger became California’s governor on November 17, 2003, replacing Gray Davis, who lost in the recall election. The bodybuilder-turned-actor made several political promises during his campaign and throughout his tenure in Sacramento, but what the family of murdered college student Louis Santos may think about most is a promise, whether spoken behind closed doors or only hinted at silently, to a friend and political ally. The reason for their rumination has to do with what Independent Institute Policy Fellow K. Lloyd Billingsley calls “criminal cronyism.”

Whether or not there was a verbal understanding between the Republican Schwarzenegger and the Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, the ally who helped the governor on climate change legislation, one of the governor’s last official acts was one that could only have delighted his friend: Schwarzenegger shortened the prison sentence of the man convicted of murdering Santos, Nuñez’s son Esteban to “a paltry seven years,” Billingsley writes.

Last month, when the state prison authorities announced Esteban Nuñez’s release, the former governor refused to return calls from the press. The Nuñez family released a statement expressing relief. But the Santos family must somehow manage to live with their loss, while Esteban’s co-defendant continues to serve out a 16-year sentence. “As the case shows, cronyism is not the exclusive property of any political party of ideology,” Billingsley writes. And in matters of criminal justice, cronyism is particularly loathsome.”

California’s Criminal Cronyism: Why the Governator Reduced a Violent Felon’s Sentence, by K. Lloyd Billingsley (The Daily Caller, 5/2/16)

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

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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