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

Volume 14, Issue 22: May 30, 2012

  1. CSI: Unbiased Edition
  2. School Choice for Military Kids
  3. Outdated Tax Laws Penalize Working Wives and Families
  4. Obama’s Stealth Campaign to Strengthen NATO
  5. New Blog Posts

The Challenge of Liberty
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1) CSI: Unbiased Edition

Crime scene investigation (CSI) can play an essential role in helping to render justice—but only if it is performed in an unbiased manner. Last month’s resignation of Indianapolis’s police chief—amidst a scandal involving allegations of a police cover-up—underscores the need for a wall of separation between forensic science and law enforcement. Houston Mayor Annise Parker seems to understand this need better than most politicians. In response to several reports of systemic bias or misconduct by forensic scientists—including an episode that led to the conviction of 16-year old Josiah Sutton for a rape that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit—Mayor Parker called for Houston’s crime labs to be placed under the control of independent boards, instead of under law enforcement or the county medical examiner. Economists E. James Cowan and Roger Koppel (the latter a contributor to the Independent Institute book The Pursuit of Justice) concur with Parker’s recommendation.

“In order to be as unbiased as possible, [crime labs] should report to independent boards,” Cowan and Koppl write in the National Law Journal. “The boards should represent a diverse group of stakeholders, including a local prosecutor, a prominent defense attorney, a representative from the public defender’s office, a traditional scientist working, perhaps, at a university, and a forensic scientist from another jurisdiction.”

Oversight by a diverse group of stakeholders—with full authority to hire and fire—would go a long way toward eliminating the biases that can lead to wrongful convictions or uncorrected police misconduct. Cowan and Koppl continue: “[I]f crime labs answer to a broad constituency, rather than just law enforcement, we should have fewer Josiah Sutton convictions, fewer mishandled blood samples and more justice.”

Steps to Take to Resolve Crime Lab Problems, by E. James Cowan and Roger Koppl (The National Law Journal, 5/21/12)

Science Rules the FBI Should Obey, by Roger Koppl and Dan Krane (Forth Worth Star-Telegram, 1/12/10)

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

“The American legal system is not just fraying at the edges, in some ways it is fundamentally broken. The Pursuit of Justice is a cutting-edge look at what went wrong and where to go from here. Everyone interested in law and economics should read it.”
—Tyler Cowen, George Mason University; co-author, MarginalRevolution.com

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2) School Choice for Military Kids

Can the United States do a better job helping veterans and service members in ways that make no new demands on taxpayers? Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger thinks so. In a new op-ed for Townhall.com, she offers a proposal that may appeal to large segments of the population: allow veterans and service members to transfer their G.I. Bill benefits to their elementary school children, just as they are now allowed to transfer their educational benefits to their college-age children.

Military Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), Alger explains, would help the more than one million K-12 children in America who have a parent in the military. They could use the help. These children move more frequently and have higher disability rates than their civilian peers, and many of them attend schools that don’t meet state academic standards.

“Military ESAs would help expand education options without adding costs to national and state budgets because they would simply let veterans direct their existing or unused education benefits into tax free savings accounts for their school-aged children,” Alger writes. “As with existing Coverdell ESAs, qualified education expenditures from Military ESAs would be tax free.” Funds not spent on K-12 tuition, books and supplies, homeschooling materials, transportation, or special educational services could go toward the child’s postsecondary education or training.

Honor Veterans by Giving Their Children Better Education Options, by Vicki E. Alger (Townhall.com, 5/25/12)

School Choices: True and False, by John D. Merrifield

“In School Choices, Merrifield has produced a scholarly call-to-arms [that] deserves serious consideration by the strategists of the choice movement.”
—Eric A. Hanshek, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

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3) Outdated Tax Laws Penalize Working Wives and Families

The U.S. tax code penalizes married women. For example, a woman from a middle-class household who works a full-time job at minimum wage can expect to take home about 32 cents out of each dollar she earns. Similarly, employee-benefits law is too rigid: Dual-income couples who have duplicate benefits usually can’t negotiate with an employer to receive higher wages in exchange for fewer benefits, because the IRS would penalize the employer. And U.S. labor laws make it hard for parents with young children to choose alternatives to the traditional 40-hour week. These injustices stem from anachronistic laws ill suited to today’s workforce, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman.

Such injustices could be prevented by updating labor laws and the tax code. “Unlike the left wing approach to ‘women’s issues,’ these reforms do not assume that in order for some people to be successful we must limit the freedom or raise the taxes of others,” Goodman writes in a recent piece. “Instead, we need to liberate women from outdated institutions that unfairly penalize them.”

Goodman advocates changing the law so that it provides the same tax relief for health insurance and retirement savings, regardless of whether workers obtain them through their employer or on their own. Goodman also offers several other recommendations. “We need a completely new approach to the treatment of spouses receiving Social Security retirement benefits and widows receiving survivor’s benefits,” he concludes.

The Real Women’s Issues, by John C. Goodman (5/16/12)

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

Priceless is an important contribution to a market-friendly approach to reforming health care.” —Martin S. Feldstein, George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University

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4) Obama’s Stealth Campaign to Strengthen NATO

Despite the nuclear deterrents possessed by Britain and France, and the end of the Cold War, the Obama Administration is quietly working to strengthen NATO in Europe. You wouldn’t have learned about this from news coverage of the recent alliance summit in Chicago, which seemed fixated on NATO’s role in Afghanistan, but Obama has proposed arming the organization with surveillance drones, giving it control of U.S. missile-defense sites in Europe, and moving U.S. troops from Afghanistan to the European continent. Instead of shoring up NATO, the United States should be leaving it, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

In his latest op-ed, Eland calls for the Europeans to pay for their own defense, instead of riding on the backs of the American taxpayer. Unfortunately, the free riding is likely to worsen, he argues. And to add insult to injury, the Europeans have yet to fully open their markets to American goods and services.

“As NATO’s Afghanistan mission winds down, to save money to prevent its own financial meltdown, the United States needs to withdraw from the alliance and let Europe defend itself from a now manageable threat,” Eland writes. “Alas, the United States seems unable to give up its addiction to meddling in and attempting to control the affairs of Europe.”

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

“Ivan Eland has produced a devastating indictment of the ‘oil rationale’ for the intrusive, counterproductive U.S. military presence in the Middle East. No War for Oil should help debunk the most prominent justification for that misguided policy.” —Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Institute

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

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

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