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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 15: April 11, 2017

  1. Bridging a Divided America with Genuine Federalism
  2. California State Fire Agency Burns Taxpayers and Property Owners
  3. Lawmakers Should Invoke the Nuclear (Reprocessing) Option
  4. Educational Choice for California
  5. Work for Liberty: Job Openings at Independent Institute
  6. Independent Updates


1) Bridging a Divided America with Genuine Federalism

Recent opinion polls have confirmed what you probably already knew: The American political landscape has become the Great Divide, with debates over healthcare, education, the environment, and scores of other issues tearing the populace apart. How can we best reduce societal conflict and promote domestic harmony? The secret rests on returning to an earlier vision for America—not the vision reflected in the U.S. Constitution, but rather the one inherent in its predecessor, the Articles of Confederation. That’s because the Articles’ guiding principle—federalism and state sovereignty—prevented many political controversies from even rising to the national level in the first place, explains Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr., whose book Crossroads for Liberty has just won the 2017 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Political & Current Events.

The Articles of Confederation weren’t perfect, but they should have been mended, not ended, argues Watkins, who made the case for their virtues and ongoing relevance last Friday at the Independent Institute/Lincoln Initiative event “New Bridges: San Francisco.” Had the Founders salvaged the Articles, the result would have been greater political accountability from our representatives and greater tranquility and social cohesion than today. Under a federalist system, intensely heated topics such as criminal-justice reform, transgender identity, and healthcare policy remain “outside the federal government’s delegated powers and are rightly considered local issues,” Watkins writes in the Pulitzer Prize–winning East Bay Times.

Moreover, because genuine federalism takes state sovereignty seriously, each state is free to experiment with various public-policy alternatives—and to learn from other states’ failures and successes. In contrast, today’s weak “federalism” means that where states are allowed to set policy, often they must do so within strict limits set by the feds. But stifling state-level creativity and imposing one-size-fits-all national policies is hardly a sound way to promote “a more perfect union”—especially when so much conflict is the result of federal interference with the states. “We are a divided nation, but a renewed federalism can heal this divide and allow Americans to govern themselves in the various state and local assembles,” Watkins concludes.

Bridging Today’s Political Divide? Let States Do It, by William J. Watkins Jr. (The East Bay Times, 4/6/17)

Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America's First Constitution, by William J. Watkins Jr.

Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins Jr.

Event: New Bridges: Texas: Advancing Liberty & Prosperity in a Divided America (Dallas, 5/9/17)

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2) California State Fire Agency Burns Taxpayers and Property Owners

CAL FIRE, the Golden State’s fire-protection agency, has just “won” the Spring 2017 California Golden Fleece Award, recognition given quarterly to state or local agencies and projects that violate the public trust and swindle the taxpayers. Tasked with fighting fires in approximately one-third of the state, CAL FIRE has lost the confidence of Californians due to its poor handling of fire safety and costs, severe lack of accountability to taxpayers and landowners, and numerous scandals.

In 2016, there were 5,762 wildfires in areas of California where CAL FIRE has primary responsibility, about 600 more fires than in 2015 and about one thousand more than the five-year annual average. Had CAL FIRE made a higher priority of fire suppression, such as by culling dry undergrowth from the forests in its domain, it’s likely that recent fire seasons—including 2015, when the Valley Fire destroyed nearly 2,000 structures and took four lives—would have been far less destructive. Unfortunately, the agency seems stuck in its ways: Its proposed budget would make only 21 percent of a fire-suppression fund available as grants to local fire-prevention efforts.

These problems, as well as the agency’s personnel scandals, including a multi-year test-cheating scandal at the CAL FIRE Academy, suggest that Californians would be far better served by a transfer of fire-fighting resources and authority to the local level, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan. “By unshackling Californians from the burden of paying for and relying on the unreasonably costly, misincentivized, and scandal-ridden CAL FIRE,” he writes, “fire safety can be efficiently and effectively achieved.”

California Burning: CAL FIRE Wins Dishonor of the California Golden Fleece Award, by Lawrence J. McQuillan (3/29/17)

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3) Lawmakers Should Invoke the Nuclear (Reprocessing) Option

When President Jimmy Carter issued a federal ban on the reprocessing of nuclear waste in 1977, he thought it was a sensible trade-off that erred on the side of public safety. In hindsight, however, it was an abysmally bad move. While many politicians continue to demonize atomic energy, France has shown that nuclear waste processing can safely yield major benefits: It has enabled that country to sell billions of euros in electricity to other countries each year. It’s an instructive example that the United States should follow, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II.

“Reprocessing both reduces nuclear waste significantly and lowers the cost of nuclear-generated power,” Shughart writes in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Nuclear waste reprocessing reduces but does not eliminate the need for a deep-storage site. Lawmakers should therefore get the $32 billion Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility back on track for completion, after former Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) unplugged it. “Implementing reprocess and finishing a waste repository take time,” Shughart writes, “but spent nuclear fuel is a commodity too precious to waste.”

Reprocessing Nuclear Waste and Yucca Mountain Worth Another Look, by William F. Shughart II (The Salt Lake City Tribune, 4/1/17)

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4) Educational Choice for California

California’s political establishment has a love-hate relationship with vouchers. When it comes to housing for low-income families—they love them. When it comes to the Electronic Benefit Transfer program and the federal WIC program—they love them. But when it comes to vouchers for school choice—they hate them. The double standard is especially disheartening because student achievement in California is so low—not only for high schoolers, but also for first-year state-college students.

“California eagerly promotes housing and food vouchers for the homeless and unemployed but denies school-choice vouchers to embattled K-12 students and their families,” writes Independent Institute Policy Fellow K. Lloyd Billingsley. “Parents might call it a crisis situation, but no politician is rushing to the rescue with a voucher plan.”

This may change, however. Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger has been a prolific advocate for school choice—especially for their most potent version, Educational Savings Accounts. (Stay tuned for reports on her efforts in California.) The battle ahead in the Golden State won’t be easy, however. As Billingsley notes, “Governor Jerry Brown empowered government employee unions in his first go-round as governor, and he remains a champion of the education establishment.

California’s Double Standard on Vouchers, by K. Lloyd Billingsley (The Daily Caller, 4/3/17)

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

Video: Parental Choice in Education, featuring Vicki E. Alger (Kansas Policy Institute, 10/1/16)

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5) Work for Liberty: Job Openings at Independent Institute

Are you enthusiastic about liberty and eager to help it expand and flourish? If so, a new job opening at the Independent Institute might be up your alley. We have two opportunities:

Marketing Coordinator: This full-time position supports the work of our Marketing & Communications Department by coordinating marketing and sales for Independent’s publications and events and providing customer service, marketing logistics, and reporting.

Development Coordinator: This full-time position is responsible for coordinating development office operations with individual and foundation donors and maintaining data on development programs at Independent.

Still interested? Please read the full descriptions. If either position seems right for you, we would love to hear from you!

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6) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts

MyGovCost: New Blog Posts
Featured Video
News Alert

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  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org