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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 13, Issue 3: January 17, 2012

  1. Free-Speech Restrictions Are Indecent
  2. Defense Budget Debate Needs to ‘Get Real’
  3. The Worship of Leviathan Has Enabled Its Atrocities
  4. New Blog Posts

1) Free-Speech Restrictions Are Indecent

Television technology has changed dramatically in the years since 1972, when comedian George Carlin first joked about the seven words you can never say on TV. The proliferation of cable television has brought those words and a slew of other vulgarities to the boob tube--and during prime time, no less. It is therefore anachronistic for the Federal Communications Commission to enforce one set of decency standards for broadcasters and another set for the cable television industry. But not only that, it’s also indecent for the government to restrict free speech, according to Independent Institute Research Editor Anthony Gregory.

“The real obscenity exists in trusting government officials, whether in robes or suits, with the authority to override our freedom of expression and speech,” Gregory writes in a commentary for the Huffington Post. The piece was prompted by last week’s oral arguments in FCC v. Fox, a Supreme Court case that originated from the agency’s imposition of fines against Fox Television Stations for broadcasting obscenities dropped by Cher and Bono during televised awards programs. The manner in which federal officials acquired legal authority over the airwaves illustrates the pitfalls of treating a resource as common property, Gregory explains. And the result disincentivizes private producers to set language protocols and police themselves.

The Federal Radio Act of 1927 claimed that the airwaves are “common property,” worthy of federal regulation “in the public interest.” But private interests played an important part—perhaps the decisive role—in the establishment of regulations that followed. This outcome could have been predicted. In the 1920s Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover held conferences on broadcasting regulations to solicit input from industry leaders. “The top industrialists tended to favor more federal control to prevent competitors from jumping on the radio at increasingly lower overhead costs,” writes Gregory. In the late 1940s, the same anti-competitive ethos was applied to the budding television industry. The artificial scarcity of broadcast airwaves has long served as a rationale of subsequent government regulation of television and radio stations and networks—and an excuse to help restrict competition in favor of entrenched special interests. At root, however, the greatest problem with federal restrictions on the television and radio industries (and on mass communication in general) is that they are an affront to liberty, and an unconstitutional one at that.

The Indecency of the FCC, by Anthony Gregory (Huffington Post, 1/11/12)

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2) Defense Budget Debate Needs to ‘Get Real’

Over the next decade, the U.S. military faces approximately $480 billion in cuts—or rather, “cuts”: the use of quotation marks matters a lot. For as President Obama admitted in a recent speech, the defense budget is actually projected to grow over the next ten years at a rate roughly equal to inflation. The alleged “cuts” that have the Pentagon’s big spenders (and their allies) up in arms are not reductions in absolute terms, but rather reductions of an increase. Unfortunately, the “lamestream media” has done a poor job of explaining this distinction to the public, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

Moreover, even the fake cuts cannot be counted upon to take effect, because spending levels could change if a new occupant moves into the White House next year. In addition, alleged spending reductions associated with the U.S.-Russia START Treaty may also be illusory: nuclear warheads taken off deployment may incur huge storage costs. For these and other reasons, public debate about the Pentagon budget is extremely misleading, Eland explains.

A key impediment to a well-informed debate about U.S. military spending comes from the man in charge of the Pentagon: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. In a lengthy analysis published last month on Time Magazine’s Battleland Blog, Independent Institute Research Fellow Winslow T. Wheeler, who has studied defense spending for more than three decades, chastises Panetta for not submitting a defense budget that takes into account the spending cuts required by sequestration—i.e., the so-called “Doomsday Mechanism” that is supposed to go into effect because the congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee failed its assignment to recommend specific federal spending reductions. “Managers who refuse to make any adjustment in the face of likely events, and who use politically charged rhetoric to distort the perception of realities, are obviously an impediment to coping with the future,” Wheeler writes. “Secretary Panetta is such a manager. Is this the man we want and need to be secretary of defense in the era that is coming?”

Is Leon Panetta the Right Man to be Secretary of Defense?, by Winslow T. Wheeler (Time Magazine’s Battleland Blog, 12/13/11)

Don’t Count on Obama’s Defense Cuts, by Ivan Eland (1/11/12)

No War for Oil: U.S. Dependence and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland. Available in paperback, cloth, or ebook.

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3) The Worship of Leviathan Has Enabled Its Atrocities

The all-powerful modern nation-state—and the atrocities committed by it—are the result of social and intellectual developments that began centuries ago. A key causal factor in the rise of Leviathan is a distinctive ideological orientation, what might be termed “secular theocracy”—the worship of the secular state. This ideology arose in the West just as the traditional arbiter of standards for worship—the church—was losing its hold on the Western mind. Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau dismissed natural law and conferred a sacred status on political institutions. Edward Gibbon and Voltaire asserted that the secular state would put an end to wars of religion. In reality, the world they championed was tyrannical and far bloodier and than they claimed, according to Independent Institute President David J. Theroux.

“In the actual period of European state building, the most serious cause of violence and the central factor in the growth of the state was the attempt to collect taxes from an unwilling populace with local elites resisting the state-building efforts of kings and emperors,” Theroux writes. “The point is that the rise of the modern state was in no way the solution to the violence of religion.”

What occurred was a process of substitution. During the Enlightenment, nationalism began to replace traditional religion as the belief system that dominated the public square. Wars and mass violence were condemned when committed in the name of traditional religion but celebrated when executed on behalf of the secular state. “The religious-secular split,” Theroux continues, “enables public loyalty by Christians to the nation state’s secular violence, including invasive wars, torture, and ‘collateral damage,’ while avoiding direct confrontation with Christian beliefs about the supremacy of God and natural law teachings.”

Secular Theocracy: The Foundations and Folly of Modern Tyranny, by David J. Theroux (1/11/12)

C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, by David J. Theroux (Culture and Civilization, 8/23/10)

What Is the West?, by Bogdan C. Enache (The Independent Review, Winter 2010)

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4) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

The President’s Government Spending Priorities
Craig Eyermann (1/14/12)

Federal Debt Climbs Past Annual GDP
Emily Skarbek (1/14/12)

Debt Ceiling Debate Revisited
Stephanie Freedman (1/13/12)

Glancing at the 2012 Budget Plan from the White House
Stephanie Freedman (1/11/12)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog here.

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