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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 13, Issue 15: April 12, 2011

  1. Above the Law
  2. Disaster Relief as Bad Government Policy
  3. Will Armed “Humanitarianism” Help Libya?
  4. Brazil at the Crossroads
  5. New Blog Posts

1) Above the Law

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court last month sided against John Thompson, a former Louisiana prison inmate who sat on death row for 14 years until proof surfaced that prosecutors had withheld evidence of his innocence. The Court reversed a lower court’s ruling that New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. (the father of the famous pop singer) could be held liable for poorly training Thompson’s prosecutors with respect to their obligations to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence.

The Court’s decision is another black mark against the U.S. legal system, according to Independent Institute Research Editor Anthony Gregory. The Court “essentially immunized the entire municipality” against lawsuits for misconduct and represents “the newest peak into the gross corruption of American criminal justice, and a reminder of what government power means,” he writes in an op-ed published in the Birmingham News.

More concretely, not only must Thompson forgo the $14 million in damages awarded by the lower court, but he must also cope with the knowledge that a couple of his prosecutors still practice law. These injustices should anger all Americans, Gregory argues. “State criminality is above the legal standards that apply to the rest of us,” he laments. “This is the real nature of government—the right of state agents to do what would be criminal if done by common people.”

“Putting Prosecutors above the Law,” by Anthony Gregory (Birmingham News, 4/5/11)

The Pursuit of Justice: Law and Economics of Legal Institutions, edited by Edward J. López

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2) Disaster Relief as Bad Government Policy

Only 25 percent of the respondents to a survey conducted in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina identified government as their most important source of aid. The poor overall performance of government disaster protection and relief resulted largely from the incentives and constraints facing elected officials and their staffs, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II. In other words, the levees failed due to cracks in the political system.

“The humdrum, largely invisible job of levee maintenance took a backseat to more newsworthy and more politically rewarding lakefront-development initiatives,” Shughart writes in the latest issue of The Independent Review. As one Louisiana levee district board member put it, “We never talked about levees.”

Harmful political incentives fostered government paralysis at all levels of authority before and after Katrina made landfall. They also led to post-disaster aid that may have set the stage for future catastrophes: Congress has authorized billions in non-repayable grants for homeowners who want to rebuild in flood zones but who were not insured. The expectation of getting publicly funded disaster relief may explain why, according to Shughart, 69 percent of coastal Mississippi residents did not have federal flood insurance when Katrina hit.

“Disaster Relief as Bad Public Policy,” by William F. Shughart II (The Independent Review, Spring 2011)

Subscribe to The Independent Review. Special Internet Offer: Sign up online for a paid subscription of $28.95 and receive the next six issues for the price of four. A savings of 33% compared to the newsstand price. Available to new subscribers only, not renewals.

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3) Will Armed “Humanitarianism” Help Libya?

President Obama cited humanitarian concerns as a key reason for ordering U.S. airstrikes on Libyan military targets. The plan could backfire, however, undermining any humanitarian justification for the armed intervention, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

For starters, some anti-tyranny opposition groups backed by the United States made the ultimate sacrifice but with little to show for it, because U.S. support proved to be unreliable. After the first Gulf War in 1991, for example, Washington encouraged the Kurds and Shi’ite Arabs to rebel against Saddam Hussein but stood by and watched while they were slaughtered, just as it had done during the Nixon years when Kissinger goaded the Kurds into rebelling.

Moreover, U.S. support for rebels eager to overthrow their oppressors through the use of violence “sends the wrong signal to other opposition groups around the world,” Eland writes. It can encourage careless or irresponsible rebels and thereby lead to more carnage without securing liberty. A better approach, according to Eland, is for freedom fighters to embrace strategies of nonviolence, an approach that ultimately worked for the most part in the former Soviet bloc and, more recently, in Egypt and Tunisia.

“Libyan Intervention Fraught with Risks,” by Ivan Eland (4/6/11)

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

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

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

The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.

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4) Brazil at the Crossroads

Brazil made tremendous economic gains during the past decade. Thirty million Brazilians entered the middle class, and the once-popular squatters’ movement has lost members largely because construction has boomed.

But Brazil’s economic progress seems to have hit a wall. For the country to advance, it must streamline its labyrinthine political system and rid it of cronyism, according to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, senior fellow at the Independent Institute’s Center on Global Prosperity. To cite but one example of Brazil’s recent stagnation, “applications for patents fell by 20 percent last year compared to a 50 percent increase in China and 20 percent [increase] in South Korea,” Vargas Llosa writes in his latest column.

A couple examples illustrate the cause of Brazil’s new stagnation: “In the 1990s, the government consumed one-quarter of the national wealth,” Vargas Llosa continues. “Today it consumes 40 percent.” Entrepreneurs, such as a toy importer he interviewed, now complain about taxes and red tape. President Dilma Rousseff has promised to work for more fiscal discipline, less favoritism for specific companies, and more innovation in the private economy. If those promises go unfulfilled, Brazil will find its hopes of becoming a first-tier economic power dashed.

“Whither Brazil?” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/6/11) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of 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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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

The Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog is available here.

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