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

Volume 7, Issue 19: May 9, 2005

  1. Super-Sized Statistics
  2. Democratic Nation-Building and Political Violence
  3. USA PATRIOT Act Assaults Founders' Intent
  4. 2005 "Liberty, Economy & Society" Summer Seminars

1) Super-Sized Statistics

Which of the following claims is more correct -- that obesity and inactivity kill 400,000 Americans a year, or that they kill 26,000 a year?

As a reader of THE LIGHTHOUSE (and therefore presumably an informed and critical consumer of news), there's a good chance you've heard that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued reports supporting both estimates -- more recently the lower number. But you may not have heard some of the reasons why the earlier obesity statistics had become "super-sized."

Two episodes regarding obesity research and policy are indicative. Case 1: University of Vermont obesity researcher Eric T. Poehlman won nearly $3 million in government funding by "fabricating data in 17 applications for federal grants to make his work seem more promising," according to the BOSTON GLOBE. Inference: The availability of government funding tempts unscrupulous researchers to exaggerate the gravity of some social problems.

Case 2: To reduce his city's budget deficit, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick recently proposed a two percent tax on fast food. Inference: Politicians may seek to raise tax revenue by imposing a punitive excise tax on products, services, and activities widely deemed undesirable.

Observations similar to these are not uncommon. In a 1998 editorial the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE questioned the motives and findings of a then-reported estimate of 300,00 annual premature obesity-related deaths. The journal was accurate in stating that the medical campaign against obesity was rooted in (as it put it) "a tendency to medicalize behavior we do not approve of," as Research Fellow Wendy McElroy notes in new op-ed.

"Medicalized behavior is behavior that government deems proper to control," writes McElroy. "If the food going into your mouth is an addiction or an epidemic, then your diet ceases to be a personal choice and becomes an issue of public safety. The lunch you pack for your children becomes a matter of public policy."

Concludes McElroy: "Government intervention is a wrong and a dangerous option, on several grounds. Just one of them: individuals should be assuming, not relinquishing personal control over their own health. We should down-size government’s interest in what we eat and right-size the statistics it’s feeding us."

See "Super-Sized Statistics," Wendy McElroy (5/4/05)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1506
SPANISH TRANSLATION:
"Estadísticas Agrandadas"
http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1506

For a thorough analysis of sin taxes, see TAXING CHOICE: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, ed. by William F. Shughart II, see
http://www.independent.org/publications/books/book_summary.asp?bookID=48

To purchase LIBERTY FOR WOMEN: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, ed. by Wendy McElroy, see
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=43

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2) Democratic Nation-Building and Political Violence

To say that democratic nation-building isn't easy would be to utter a gross understatement. Long before the recent tenuous elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government had spent much in treasure and blood in failed attempts to impose democracy in such places as Cuba (where U.S. Marines were sent on three separate occasions in first two decades after the Spanish-American War) and in Haiti (which the U.S. occupied from 1915 to 1934).

Yet despite the failure to plant democracy in those countries, the idealism of democratic nation-builders persists. As recently as last year, State Department Undersecretary Paula Dobriansky said no culture could prevent the emergence of democracy. In contrast, many scholarly critics have concluded the opposite -- some having listed more than a dozen perquisites that must be met for a democracy to take root and thrive.

Which camp is right? According to James L. Payne, both democratic nation-builders and their critics have greatly overstated their cases. Failed democracies, Payne argues in the spring 2005 issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, lack only one ingredient necessary for the creation and survival of a democracy, but one whose importance cannot be overestimated.

"What is that minimum?" asks Payne. "I would put it this way: a restraint in the use of violence in domestic political affairs."

High-violence societies -- places where violence is not only common but is practiced or condoned by political elites -- are inherently inhospitable to democratic government. In contrast, democratic societies are highly averse to political violence even when electoral fraud is rampant, Payne notes.

"With regard to political violence, Iraq in the early twenty-first century is almost exactly what England was in the mid-fifteenth century," writes Payne. "The question we need to ask, then, is not 'What went wrong with Iraq?' Instead, it is 'What went right with England -- and the other areas that evolved away from the violent politics of an earlier time?'"

Payne identifies several elements involved in a culture's move away from violence and offers words of caution for today's democratic nation-builders:

"An occupying country such as the United States may pay lip service to (and expend human lives for) the idea of establishing democracy in such high-violence societies, but in the short term that goal has no well-founded chance to succeed. In practice, the occupier will end up following a policy of stability, which involves the following elements: (1) violent repression of the most visible violent opposition forces; (2) truces with gangs and warlords willing to keep a lower profile; and (3) creation of a puppet government that eventually becomes or gives way to a dictatorship. It is only after many decades of autocratic rule that the society may achieve the transition away from violence, thus making the emergence of democracy possible.

"It would probably not be correct to say, then, that a high-violence society such as Iraq cannot become a democracy. It probably will become one in the long run. One doubts, however, that those who urged the invasion of Iraq in order to establish democracy there had any inkling that the process will most likely require the greater part of a century."

See "The Prospects for Democracy in High-Violence Societies," by James L. Payne (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 2005)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=41&articleID=524

Subscribe to THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW: A Journal of Political Economy
http://www.independent.org/store/tir/subscriptions.asp

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3) USA PATRIOT Act Assaults Founders' Intent

The Bush Administration is lobbying Congress to renew controversial provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act scheduled to expire by year's end. But Congress should not only not cave in, it should repeal the entire law, argues Ivan Eland, senior fellow director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, in his latest op-ed.

Along with scrapping the PATRIOT ACT, the United States should abandon the interventionist foreign policies that put Americans at risk of terrorist attacks and thus create a rationale for the Act. Both measures are essential for making Americans free and secure, according to Eland.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act is especially troublesome, Eland argues, because it allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain a search warrant from a secret intelligence court without having to present evidence that the subject is a spy or a terrorist -- the FBI need only "certify" to the court that the subject is part of a terrorism or espionage investigation.

"In short, this provision of the PATRIOT Act eliminates the check of judicial review of the FBI," writes Eland.

"Thus, the FBI can investigate anybody without 'probable cause' -- that is, citizens not suspected of crimes -- and without having to show that the subject's records are relevant to an investigation. In other words, the lower legal standards for intelligence collection of the secret court can now be applied to criminal investigations other than those for terrorism or espionage, further undermining the Constitution's guarantee of a 'probable cause' standard for search warrants."

Section 215 is not the only section of the Act that assaults the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans, Eland argues. "For example, other provisions of the law -- such as roving wiretaps and national, instead of local, jurisdiction for warrants for electronic evidence -- appear to erode Fourth Amendment requirements that warrants specifically describe persons, places, and things to be searched."

Eland concludes his op-ed by challenging a premise fundamental to the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism: "The purported tradeoff between civil liberties and national security is a false one. No need for dubious usurpations of freedom like the PATIOT Act would exist if the United States would avoid unnecessarily creating and inflaming anti-American groups overseas with its overly interventionist foreign policy. A more restrained policy abroad would better preserve both liberty and security at home."

See "True Patriots Should Worry More about Freedom at Home," by Ivan Eland (5/9/05)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1508
SPANISH TRANSLATION:
"Los Auténticos Patriotas Deberían Preocuparse Más Por la Libertad en el País" http://www.elindependent.org/articulos/article.asp?id=1508

To purchase THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland, see
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=54

To purchase PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK IN U.S. DEFENSE POLICY, by Ivan Eland, see
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=19

"The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government," by Ivan Eland
http://www.independent.org/publications/policy_reports/detail.asp?type=full&id=16

Center on Peace & Liberty
http://www.independent.org/research/copal/

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4) 2005 "Liberty, Economy & Society" Summer Seminars

For High School and College Students (Oakland, Calif., June 13-17 & August 8-12)

http://www.independent.org/students/seminars/

Attention, Students:

Want to learn how the world really works -- and how to improve it? "Liberty, Economy & Society," is a fascinating, five-day seminar on the workings of market forces and how they affect your life.

Led by economist Brian Gothberg, each session includes a stimulating and fun lecture on economic principles, their applications in history and current affairs, and plenty of classroom discussion to help you become more confident in communicating your social ideas and values.

In this informal but information-packed seminar, you will learn:

* How the price system creates order out of "chaos"

* About the causes and effects of the ongoing battle between competition and monopoly

* The root causes of unemployment, inflation, homelessness, environmental decline, crime, failed schools, and much more

* Solutions for making the world a better place in which to live!

Space is limited, so early registration is encouraged. For more information, visit

http://www.independent.org/students/seminars/

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