Volume 7, Issue 11: March 14, 2005
1) Big Brother and the REAL ID Act
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the REAL ID -- a piece of legislation likely to become as controversial as the USA PATRIOT Act.
"Although the Act will make it easier for the national government to monitor suspected terrorists, it also lays the groundwork for a national identification system that threatens to invade the privacy of ordinary Americans," writes Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins.
Perhaps the most ominous feature of the bill is that it empowers the Homeland Security Secretary to order the use of a "common machine-readable technology," such as radio frequency identification (RFID) chips -- miniscule chips that can hold volumes of information about one's employment history, family medical history, criminal history, firearm ownership, and much more. These chips could be required in one's driver's license, and as RFID technology improves, "could even be read remotely at greater distances, permitting the federal and state governments to know a citizen's location at any time," writes Watkins in a new op-ed.
"It also lays the groundwork for a national ID system common in some European and South American counties," Watkins continues. "In many of these systems, citizens are required to keep their ID cards ('your papers') with them at all times, and they face stiff penalties for failure to comply. Americans have been insulated from such a system in which government officials can arbitrarily demand their 'papers.' The REAL ID Act is unfortunately a giant step in this direction.
"James Madison envisioned the Senate blocking legislation sparked by 'irregular passions' and 'artful misrepresentations' that might influence the House of Representatives. There are perhaps no two better phrases to describe the impetus behind REAL ID Act than those used by Madison over 200 years ago. Let us hope that the Senate will live up to Mr. Madison's expectations by rejecting this latest legislation that unnecessarily circumscribes liberty in the name of national security."
See "The New Threat of Big Brother: The REAL ID Act," by William J. Watkins Jr. (3/10/05)
Also see, "Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans," by Charlotte Twight (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Fall 1999)
To order RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins Jr., see
2) Morning in the Islamic World?
Commentators inside and outside the Bush administration have heralded seemingly democratic recent developments in the Middle East -- ostensibly signs that the new "forward" foreign policy of the United States is working. But there are good reasons to be skeptical that the region is undergoing positive, lasting changes attributable to U.S. policy, according to Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty.
Each country offered as an example of the silver lining of the Iraq war and the war on terrorism has ominous clouds looming over its horizon, Eland argues in his latest op-ed.
Iraq is still struggling with a violent insurgency -- one that could morph into a civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites. Palestinian leader Abu Mazen (a.k.a. Mahmoud Abbas) may lose power to more radical anti-Israeli groups. Lebanon is vulnerable to rule by Islamist theocrats -- and to civil war. With government-selected electoral candidates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia look more like examples of "Potemkin democracy" than the real thing. Mushariff's military dictatorship in Pakistan is supported by the U.S. And Libyan dictator Qaddafi was found to have been plotting the assassination of Crown Prince Abdullah, the leader of Saudi Arabia, at the same time the Bush administration was heralding success in getting Qaddafi to give up his WMD programs.
Caution, not euphoria, is the therefore appropriate response to the region's latest developments.
"Even some opponents of the U.S invasion of Iraq are marveling about its alleged democratic ripple effects in the Middle East," writes Eland. "Yet the specific mechanism by which the invasion led to such effects is never identified, and many of these developments can be explained by other causes. Moreover, in the long term, promoting democracy at gunpoint is likely to be counterproductive, because it is associated with the foreign invader. The United States is so hated in the Islamic world that many pro-democratic groups there try to distance themselves from U.S. policy.
"Thus, the cause of liberty in Islamic countries would benefit from more quiet and less grandiose and militaristic promotion of it by the United States. Perhaps the United States would be better served by resurrecting its founders' policy of promoting freedom through leading by example."
See "Morning in the Islamic World?" by Ivan Eland (3/14/05)
To purchase THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland, see
To purchase PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK IN U.S. DEFENSE POLICY, by Ivan Eland, see
"The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government," by Ivan Eland
Center on Peace & Liberty
3) The Case Against Farm Subsidies
With federal spending at record levels (even for non-defense programs), perhaps any proposed cut in government largess should be heralded by those who favor fiscal common sense. But the White House's proposed cut in federal farm subsidies -- amounting to a reduction of $587 million in 2006 -- could be so much more to celebrate, argues Benjamin Powell, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation.
"Federal spending on agriculture was $16.4 billion in 2003," Powell notes. Thus, $587 million is a drop in the bucket. Subsidies to individual farmers would be reduced from up to $360,000 to $250,000. This is a significant change? Why not unburden taxpayers completely by eliminating farm subsidies altogether?
"An end to farm subsidies would not mean an end to farming in the U.S.," Powell explains. "Prices of farmland would decline, allowing some farmers to remain in business, and we would reshuffle production to those crops that American farmers most efficiently produce.
"Instead of a politics-as-usual debate over a trivial 3.5 percent decrease in agricultural subsidies, policymakers should reconsider why the federal government subsidizes agriculture at all. It hurts the world's poor, makes food prices higher for consumers in the U.S., and the benefits don't accrue to small farmers. Of course politicians don't debate ending farm subsidies because it would eliminate one type of 'food' -- the pork congress members get to dole out."
"Don't Just Reduce Farm Subsidies: Eliminate Them," Benjamin Powell (3/11/05) http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1477
To order AGRICULTURE AND THE STATE: Market Process and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr., see
For more on agricultural policy, see the Independent Institute's archives at