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Volume 16, Issue 23: June 10, 2014

  1. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Taliban Prisoners, and President Obama
  2. Blue States Don’t Have Less Income Inequality
  3. Despite Meeting Enrollment Goals, Obamacare’s Hidden Costs to Rise
  4. The Propaganda War on Coal
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

1) Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Taliban Prisoners, and President Obama

Should President Barack Obama have secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by exchanging five reputed Taliban leaders from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility? Did he have the authority to do so? The May 31 prisoner swap is one of the most controversial stories related to the war in Afghanistan, and one badly in need of sober analysis. Fortunately, two Independent Institute fellows shed light on these issues—Ivan Eland and Anthony Gregory.

One complaint from critics of the Bergdahl-for-Taliban exchange is that it could create more U.S. military casualties on the battlefield after the five detainees are permitted to leave Qatar, where they are to be monitored for the next year. Such risk to American troops would have been greatly reduced, Senior Fellow Ivan Eland writes, “if Obama had simply done the right thing—declaring the war over and beginning an immediate American exit [from Afghanistan].” Eland, whose book Recarving Rushmore touches on peace and presidential power, also notes that it’s standard protocol for both sides to free all prisoners of war when a war has ended.

Did President Obama overstep his authority by releasing the Guantánamo detainees without first informing Congress? On the one hand, the National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision requiring such notification. On the other hand, a strong case can be made that this provision is unconstitutional and inconsistent with recognized powers of the president. “In short, if the president can release any non-impeachment related federal prisoner, even one convicted by a jury, surely he can release his own military war captives,” writes Research Fellow Anthony Gregory, an expert on federal detention. “There is nothing I see in the Constitution that allows Congress more authority to stop prisoner releases at Guantánamo than at Rikers.”

A Messy Endgame to the Afghan War, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 6/4/2014)

Interview: Ivan Eland on the prisoner exchange and negotiating with terrorists (Canada’s CTV)

Is the NDAA Notification Requirement Unconstitutional?, by Anthony Gregory (The Beacon, 6/4/14)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror, by Anthony Gregory


2) Blue States Don’t Have Less Income Inequality

Citing rising income inequality, liberals across the United States are pushing for tax increases on the wealthy, a hike in the federal minimum wage, and the expansion of government benefits. Leaving aside the question of whether or not it is moral for the government to take from Paul to give to Peter, would these measures actually reduce the gap between rich and poor? A comparison of policies and outcomes in each of the fifty states suggests that they wouldn’t, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Richard K. Vedder and Heritage Foundation chief economist Stephen J. Moore.

Writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, Vedder and Moore report on their new study that compares statistical measures of income inequality (ones economists call “Gini coefficients”) for red and blue states. Their findings, which rely on the latest Census Bureau data, should give pause to advocates of redistributionist economic policies. For example, none of the 19 states that have mandated a wage above the $7.25 per hour federal minimum has a significantly narrower gap between rich and poor than the other 31 states. Similarly, states with high income-tax rates “aren’t any more equal that states with no income tax,” Vedder and Moore write. In fact, states with the highest measures of income inequality are often states dominated by liberal politicians.

Vedder and Moore issue an important caveat: “To be clear, our findings do not show that state redistributionist policies cause more income inequality.” But their findings do suggest a hypothesis that warrants further study (one the authors have confirmed in the course of more than 25 years of research on state policy): Higher minimum wages and income-tax rates chase away taxpayers, jobs, and investment capital to states that have a more favorable business climate. The lesson? Instead of obsessing about reducing income inequality, politicians should focus on promoting economic growth. Write Vedder and Moore, “Our view is that John F. Kennedy had it right that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

The Blue-State Path to Inequality, by Richard K. Vedder and Stephen J. Moore (The Wall Street Journal, 6/4/14)

Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, by Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway


3) Despite Meeting Enrollment Goals, Obamacare’s Hidden Costs to Rise

Despite the much-publicized signup of eight million health-insurance customers through the Obamacare exchanges, the president’s healthcare reforms still face huge public-relations challenges. Independent Institute Senior Fellow John Graham catalogues many of these hurdles in his latest op-ed for the Daily Caller.

“Despite an apparently successful initial open enrollment, the many real costs of Obamacare continue to burden Americans,” Graham writes. Here are some of the casualties.

First, there are the 6 million people who have been told by their insurance carrier that they are destined to lose coverage. Second, there are the millions of people who will have less access to care when they lose coverage in the non-group market and enter the exchanges. Third, as a result of changes in deductibles, copayments or switches to different health plans offered by their existing insurance carrier, many businesses will lose their “grandfathered” status and face the higher costs of complying with dozens of new mandates. Fourth, insurance premiums will rise for many people in order to make up for rate restrictions on policyholders with preexisting conditions. Fifth, workers will see a delay in wage and benefit increases because their employers will need that money to provide more generous coverage for employees or offer coverage for the first time. Even employment will suffer: “The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 2.5 million full-time jobs will be lost in the long term because of Obamacare,” Graham writes.

Don’t Let Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Bury the Hard Facts, by John R. Graham (The Daily Caller, 6/4/14)

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


4) The Propaganda War on Coal

Last week on “The Colbert Report”—Comedy Central’s send-up of a mock-conservative political talk show host—a guest from Yale Law School who teaches environmental law and policy denied that the Obama administration was conducting a “war against coal.” The denial was laughable, considering that the EPA announced on June 2 that it would target coal-driven power plants in its quest to cut carbon-dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030. Unfortunately, the consequences of meeting that goal would be anything but humorous. As Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer notes, the White House’s goal for coal would raise energy prices significantly and cause major financial hardships for low-income Americans. Such a prospect would create political momentum for a new entitlement program: energy vouchers to help the poor deal with the higher fuel costs.

“These subsidies will have to be paid for by taxes—mainly from middle-income earners; they are the ones who will lose out in this scenario,” writes Singer, an atmospheric physicist. “But perhaps that’s the ultimate purpose: To make a larger fraction of the population more dependent on government handouts—a Machiavellian scheme.”

A few propaganda publications came out recently whose apparent function is to soften up public opposition to higher fossil fuel costs. On May 4, the National Climate Assessment (NCA) unveiled an alarmist study claiming that sea levels will rise twice as much as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in its 2013 Third Assessment. What the NCA report didn’t include was evidence to support its claim that the rise in the sea level (which, Singer says, has been “ongoing since the last ice age”) is accelerating. Second, the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget issued a study on the social costs of carbon dioxide—but it failed to include CO2’s benefits to agriculture in its calculation. Third, recent media reports of the shrinking West Antarctic Ice Sheet failed to mention how routine the observed changes are and how “global temperatures have been flat for the past 15 years—in spite of a 10% rise in the level of CO2,” Singer writes. Readers who seek worthwhile scientific studies that don’t square with the politicized agenda of the NCA and the IPCC, and that aren’t incorporated into their reports, are urged to insert “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” in their favorite Internet search engine.

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) Doubles Down on Doom, by S. Fred Singer (American Thinker, 6/3/14)

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


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Shell Game Shakes Down Taxpayers
K. Lloyd Billingsley (6/9/14)

One Million Regulations and Counting...
Craig Eyermann (6/6/14)

California Recovery Legend Ignores Debt of $340 Billion
K. Lloyd Billingsley (6/5/14)

California’s $500 Million Overstaffing Scandal
K. Lloyd Billingsley (6/3/14)

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


6) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless