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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 14, Issue 45: November 6, 2012

  1. Must Campaign Ads Promote Style over Substance?
  2. Sandy’s Victims Harmed by Price Controls
  3. The Green Menace of 2013
  4. Defense Cuts Would Encourage Needed Improvements
  5. New Blog Posts


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1) Must Campaign Ads Promote Style over Substance?

Taken at face value, the official Obama campaign video “Your First Time” (starring filmmaker Lena Dunham) is a clever attempt to impart helpful—if clearly partisan—suggestions to first-time voters on the cusp of political adulthood. On another level, however, the video is an object lesson in spin and misleading innuendo. As Independent Institute Senior Vice President Mary L. G. Theroux suggests, one needn’t be a humorless archconservative to find it objectionable.

The minute-long advertisement glorifies style over substance, but this is par for the course in a presidential campaign in which the Obama and Romney camps combined have spent $1.7 billion (and counting). As to spin regarding the substantive issue of war and peace, Ms. Dunham says: “You wanna do it with a guy who brought the troops out of Iraq.” The implication is highly misleading. As Theroux notes, Obama sought a Status of Forces agreement that would have delayed the timetable for troop withdrawal set by the Bush administration but was rebuffed by Baghdad. Might our political culture be better served by deeply probing the nation’s most vital issues, rather than by circulating misleading innuendo?

Theroux writes: “Imagine if instead of expending sickening amounts of money and effort commissioning titillating and distorted homages to politicians who betray their promises, we promoted a continual campaign of informed holding to account elected representatives to their sworn duty to uphold and protect our individual rights and liberties.” What a wonderful world that would be.

“Your First Time,” by Mary L. G. Theroux (Huffington Post, 10/31/12)

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2) Sandy’s Victims Harmed by Price Controls

As consumers hit by Hurricane Sandy attempt to regain control of their lives—by purchasing basic commodities such as food and fuel—some state officials are working to put more obstacles in their way: they are threatening to prosecute sellers who have raised the prices of goods in short supply. In New Jersey, where businesses are prohibited from raising prices by more than 10 percent within 30 days of a declared state of emergency, Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa has issued subpoenas to 65 businesses under investigation for illegal “price gouging.” Such policies are misguided. Whatever the motives behind them, they harm customers by causing shortages, explains Benjamin Powell, senior fellow at the Independent Institute.

“High prices tell suppliers to bring more of a commodity to the distressed area,” Powell writes in the Huffington Post. “If gas prices in New York and New Jersey could rise high enough to reflect its true scarcity, the profit incentive would induce more suppliers to redirect gas from other states to these areas.”

Violating the laws of supply and demand is not a victimless crime. Indeed, countless people are harmed. Powell shows how ordinary citizens—men such as Tony Kurasz from Bayonne, New Jersey, and Reggie Ridley of Harlem, New York—have suffered from the shortages caused by price controls on gasoline. “As unpleasant as high prices are for consumers,” Powell continues, “those high prices ration the scarce gas to those who value it most highly. The prices communicate that people should use as little gas as possible and only those who value it most highly should use it…. It’s time politicians learned from economics and history and let prices coordinate our use of scarce resources.”

A Government Imposed Disaster: Price Controls in the Wake of Sandy, by Benjamin Powell (Huffington Post, 11/5/12)

Anti-Gouging Laws Prevent Prices from Sending the Right Signals, by Carl Close (The Beacon, 10/30/12)

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3) The Green Menace of 2013

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is slated to unleash a host of new regulations next year—a green menace that will hinder economic growth but do little to provide tangible environmental benefits. Even if Obama leaves the White House in January, the new administration “will have their hands full just reining in the EPA—an essential step in restoring economic growth,” according to S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist and research fellow at the Independent Institute.

In a piece for American Thinker, Singer discusses more than a dozen kinds of environmental regulations in the planning stages, including greenhouse gas restrictions on more than 37,000 farms and ranches (at an average annual cost of $23,000 per permit), new ozone standards that could threaten plant closures in 650 counties, and costly new standards for the sulfur content of gasoline that, Singer writes, “could add up to 9 cents per gallon in manufacturing costs.”

Singer also touches on impending green regs related to farm dust, hydraulic fracturing, water guidance, storm water, boiler and cement technology, coal ash, and spill prevention on farms and ranches. “This lengthy catalog of EPA horrors does not include schemes being hatched but not yet disclosed,” Singer continues. “Nor does it include initiatives by ‘junior EPAs’—such as the cap-and-trade plan by CARB (Calif. Air Resources Board).”

Obama’s EPA Plans for 2013, by S. Fred Singer (American Thinker, 10/25/12)

Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate, by S. Fred Singer

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4) Defense Cuts Would Encourage Needed Improvements

The U.S. Defense budget has not received nearly as much media scrutiny during this election cycle as it merits. Leaving such a vital topic almost exclusively in the hands of the usual cast of characters—defense secretaries, current and former; members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees; and retired chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—has given us a public debate that is “hysterical, misinformed, and most of all, misinforming,” according to defense analyst Winslow T. Wheeler, a research fellow at the Independent Institute. Wheeler debunks the current myths in two recent pieces for Time magazine’s Battleland military blog.

Perhaps the leading current example of hysterical misinformation regarding the defense budget involves the spending cuts scheduled to go into effect in January. Former defense secretary Leon Panetta deems them “catastrophic” and Sen. John McCain, “devastating.” These defense-budget hawks note that budget sequestration means that military spending will fall as a percentage of GDP, but this perspective overlooks crucial facts. First, even with the automatic spending cuts—which Wheeler describes as “unremarkable” and “modest”—U.S. military spending will continue to grow relative to worldwide defense spending. “Even under the sequester, the US [defense budget] is two and a half times that of any opponents or rivals—all combined,” Wheeler writes.

Second, even this comparison does not present a sufficiently clear picture of U.S. defense capabilities. The reason, Wheeler argues, is that spending per se is not a sound proxy for the country’s military strength. Technological and troop readiness are a better measure. These measures have actually decreased since 2001, despite a surge in defense spending. Consider the Air Force’s F-22 fighter/bomber. The aircraft has been incredibly expensive—each one costing more than $770 million in today’s dollars—but the pilots have been poorly trained. “Less training for F-22 pilots and a potentially toxic environment in an airplane that cannot vastly outperform older, cheaper ‘legacy’ aircraft is just one example of the high cost technological bloat that clogs our armed forces,” Wheeler writes. Military spending is a poor proxy for defense preparedness, and the focus on the size of the Pentagon budget is distorted. In reality, a bloated military budget and an obsession with expensive new weapons systems have invited Pentagon planners—and their benefactors in Congress—to be careless with the taxpayer’s dime. As a result, U.S. defense capabilities have suffered. The scheduled defense cuts therefore could prompt needed improvements.

Adventures in Babbleland: Desperate Rhetoric for Mundane Times, by Winslow T. Wheeler (Time, 10/1/12)

Adventures in Babbleland: Technological Bloat, by Winslow T. Wheeler (Time, 10/2/12)

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

The Government Gospel of Greed
Lloyd Billingsley (11/5/12)

Worldwide Wartime Levels of Debt, Without World Wars
Craig Eyermann (11/2/12)

Bipartisan Energy Bust
Lloyd Billingsley (10/31/12)

The Global Debt Clock
Craig Eyermann (10/30/12)

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

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