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

Volume 6, Issue 18: May 3, 2004

  1. P.O.W. Scandal Didn't Begin in Iraq
  2. Against the Draft
  3. Medicare's Fatal Enlargement
  4. Correction: LifeSharers Organ Donor Network

1) P.O.W. Scandal Didn't Begin in Iraq

The Iraqi prisoner scandal represents a new low in the U.S.-led occupation. Not only does it represent a deep and inexcusable moral lapse, it compounds the practical problems facing the occupational forces. Now that the infamous photos have been publicized throughout the Muslim world, even more jihadists are likely to join the anti-U.S. hostilities.

Are the top U.S. military and political leaders absolved of guilt?

"In an unnecessary war, the leaders of the offensive action should be blamed for all torture and abuse by 'rogue' elements," writes Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, in a new op-ed.

"Just as those leaders are morally responsible for all deaths in the enemy military and accidental killings of innocents (the military euphemism is 'collateral damage') on the battlefield, they also should be culpable for abuses of those same groups when held as prisoners."

Unfortunately, by no means is the torture of war prisoners a first for the U.S. military, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William Marina. During the Spanish-American War, U.S. atrocities in the Philippines were so common and gruesome that Mark Twain, General and Senator Carl Schurz and others joined the Anti-Imperialist League to "draw attention to what the U.S. Army was doing in the Islands." Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed during the conflagration -- an ugly historical episode all but forgotten today.

"To talk about the Philippines as a 'great aberration,' as the historian Samuel Flagg Bemis once did, is errant nonsense," Marina continues. "The U.S.’s imperial policies, and especially the 'national security' bureaucracies and military forces that carry them out, have been developing for at least a century now. They were not disbanded after Vietnam, and without a major sea change in opinion, the frustrations of Iraq are not likely to cause them to be dismantled in the future."

"Already, the sins of this quagmire are many," Eland concludes. "The moral bankruptcy of torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners, many of whom have done nothing wrong, can be added to the ever-growing pile.

"Torturing Iraq in an Unnecessary War," by Ivan Eland (5/4/04)

"Torture and Civilian Deaths in Three Counterinsurgencies," by William Marina (5/3/04)

"Just War? Moral Soldiers?" by Laurie Calhoun (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW,Winter 2000)

Center on Peace & Liberty

OnPower.org -- U.S. Foreign Policy

PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland

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2) Against the Draft

Pundits and politicos on the left and right are calling for a reinstatement of military conscription. But "bringing back the draft is terrible policy and is completely unnecessary, even if one accepts the dubious notion that keeping large numbers of U.S. forces bogged down in Iraq is a good idea," according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty.

"On all levels -- from the highest philosophical plane moving through mid-range practical considerations to more base political motivations -- reinstating the draft is a bad idea," Eland writes in his latest op-ed.

Conscription, Eland argues, is not necessary to meet the White House's military objectives. Approximately 100,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Europe to defend against a non-existent threat from Warsaw Pact nations, and about the same number of U.S. troops are stationed in East Asia, including a large contingent to defend wealthy South Korea from impoverished North Korea. Were the United States to remove U.S. troops currently stationed in Europe and South Korea, our allies could take up the slack.

And if the U.S. military were to engage in more "nation-building" missions -- a dubious proposition -- it would need fewer combat troops and more support forces, such as military police and civil affairs units. "Although many such units in the Army are underused, support forces in the active and reserve components are in short supply and stretched to the breaking point," writes Eland. "Once again, the politicians need either to compel the Army to reorganize so that its manpower is used more optimally or, more preferably, to scale back or eliminate nation-building missions."

But encouraging the military to use labor more effectively is exactly what conscription would not do.

"Conscription -- which undermines the liberties of young Americans and harms the civilian economy by their absence from highly productive labor -- allows politicians to avoid the tough choice of getting rid of outdated military commitments or making the Army more efficient. Although putting young peoples’ lives at risk for paltry compensation might save the government money at a time of budget deficits, these hidden (off-budget) societal costs and inefficiencies of a draft would be staggering. The civilian economy would be drained of billions of dollars worth of skilled labor."

See "The Ill-Wind of the Draft," by Ivan Eland (4/27/04)

"War and Leviathan in Twentieth-Century America: Conscription as the Keystone," by Robert Higgs

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3) Medicare's Fatal Enlargement

President George W. Bush's signing of the Medicare Modernization Act last year may well spark drastic changes in Medicare by bankrupting the program 15 years from now -- seven years earlier than previously expected -- according to Medicare's Board of Trustees.

Although the new prescription drug subsidies -- estimated to cost $400 billion to $1 trillion over the next decade -- put Medicare on track to go bankrupt in 2019, the nation's healthcare program for seniors has been sick practically since its creation in 1965, according to Independent Institute Policy Intern Anthony Gregory.

"Since its inception, virtually every reform intended to fix [Medicare] and keep it afloat has increased medical costs, decreased health care quality for the elderly, and created problems that politicians would use as excuses to pass new reforms," writes Gregory in a new op-ed.

Medicare spending grew from $1 billion in 1965 to $7.9 billion in 1971. To deal with increasing health insurance costs, Congress passed the Health Maintenance Act, forcing employers to offer the programs to their employees. Congress then restricted the construction of hospitals, limited the length of hospital stays for Medicare patients, and criminalized "treatments uncovered by Medicare even if [Medicare] patients wish to pay out of pocket for such services," Gregory writes.

"Bush claims that the new plan will save the elderly money, even as Medicare is headed straight for bankruptcy. However, just like all the reforms in the years between, it will fail. Neither small reforms nor huge spending increases will fix the underlying problem. As long as government subsidizes healthcare, prices will rise to whatever the government is willing to pay, taxpayers will suffer, and the elderly will still be left out."

See "The Bankruptcy of Medicare," by Anthony Gregory (4/27/04)

Also see:

AMERICAN HEALTH CARE: Government, Market Processes and the Public Interest, edited by Roger D. Feldman

"Medicare's Progeny: The 1996 Health Care Legislation" by Charlotte Twight (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 1998)

Independent Institute archive on health care:

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4) Correction: LifeSharers Organ Donor Network

In "Curing the Human Organ Shortage" (4/12) the LIGHTHOUSE misstated the name of the human organ and tissue donor network, LifeSharers. We deeply regret the error.

This innovative non-profit organization is small but is growing rapidly. According to its May newsletter, LifeSharers now has 2,267 members (up 4 percent from last month) in 49 states and the District of Columbia. More than 1,600 LifeSharer members now qualify "for preferred access to the organs and tissue of fellow members. Members are eligible for preferred access 180 days after joining LifeSharers."

"Life-Saving Incentives: Consequences, Costs, and Solutions to the Organ Shortage," by Alexander Tabarrok (4/5/04)

"A Moral Solution to the Organ Shortage," by Alexander Tabarrok (2/19/01)

"A Free Market in Kidneys: Efficient and Equitable," by William Barnett II, Michael Saliba, and Deborah Walker (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 2001)

"A Market for Organs," by Andy H. Barnett, Roger D. Blair, and David L. Kaserman. Chapter 6 in ENTREPRENEURIAL ECONOMICS: Bright Ideas From the Dismal Science, edited by Alex Tabarrok (The Independent Institute/Oxford University Press, 2002), and "The Organ Shortage: A Tragedy of the Commons?" by Alex Tabarrok. Chapter 7 in ENTREPRENEURIAL ECONOMICS.

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