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The Lighthouse®

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Volume 10, Issue 19: May 12, 2008

  1. Did Criticism of the Burmese Junta Slow Cyclone Relief?
  2. Sale of California’s Surplus Property Would Lower State’s Tax Liabilities
  3. Mexico’s Calderon Boldly Moves to Restructure Oil Industry
  4. Next President Faces Crossroads on U.S. Space Policy

1) Did Criticism of the Burmese Junta Slow Cyclone Relief?

One day after a White House ceremony honoring Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the Bush administration criticized Myanmar’s (Burma’s) ruling junta for obstructing humanitarian aid in the wake of the country’s deadly cyclone. Unfortunately, the administration’s harsh words, voiced by first lady Laura Bush, may have hindered the junta’s cooperation with foreign relief workers and therefore may have cost lives, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

In his latest op-ed, Eland observes that exiled Burmese political analyst Aung Naign Oo and Burmese historian and former United Nations official Thant Myint-U have denounced the White House’s remarks, which they said unnecessarily politicized the cyclone disaster and further alienated Myanmar’s leaders. Furthermore, contrary to Mrs. Bush’s criticisms, a Burmese government spokesman claims that the Burmese government issued public warnings two days before the storm, Eland reports.

Do the administration’s claims about the Burmese government parallel post-war claims about Iraq’s former leader? Eland thinks so. “So as with U.S. policy toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, administration attempts to score points in its campaign of global democratization against despotic regimes are unfortunately likely to result in much needless loss of life,” Eland concludes.

“The Bush Administration Politicizes Tragedy in Burma,” by Ivan Eland (5/12/08)

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The Empire Has No Clothes is a very important book. There are a lot of books out now about empire, but this is probably the most searching and the most provocative.”
—C. Boyden Gray, former Chief Counsel to the President of the United States


2) Sale of California’s Surplus Property Would Lower State’s Tax Liabilities

California is in a quandary. Facing up to $20 billion in red ink, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed issuing $3.3 billion in new bonds, postponing $1.5 billion of debt payment, and cutting spending. According to Independent Institute Research Fellow William F. Shughart II, the governor should consider another option for helping to balance the state’s books: selling some of the state’s 22,727 buildings and more than 6.7 million acres of land.

Unfortunately, this option has been completely overlooked. “As of last October,” writes Shughart, “bids were actively being solicited on just three properties: a Highway Patrol station in the South Lake Tahoe area, 2.7 acres of a 20-acre parcel at the Los Angeles Reception Center, and 17.6 acres in Santa Clara County at the Bay Area Research and Extension Center.”

Yes, the state’s taxpayers would have been better off had the state’s surplus properties been sold when property values were higher, Shughart notes, but the state’s house is in such fiscal disarray that a property sale would still improve the prospects of the state’s taxpayers. “Disposing of surplus property is a partial, short-run solution,” concludes Shughart. “The longer term answer is budget reform and spending restraint.”

“Sell State Assets to Close Budget Gap,” by William F. Shughart II (Press-Enterprise, 5/8/08) Spanish Translation

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

“Explicit manipulation of the tax system to control personal choices violates the long-standing principle that taxes should be general. Discrimination through taxation is as destructive to democracy and liberty as discrimination in any other form. Taxing Choice exposes the fiscal rot that ‘targeted’ tax adjustments represent.”
—James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economics, George Mason University


3) Mexico’s Calderon Boldly Moves to Restructure Oil Industry

At a time when Bolivian President Evo Morales has nationalized two oil companies, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has dared to touch the “third rail” of Mexican politics: he has taken steps to open his country’s oil sector to private investment. The topic has been taboo ever since Mexico nationalized its oil industry in 1938. But according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Calderon’s bold move is necessary to provide badly needed capital for the industry’s dwindling oil exploration. Calderon’s move also suggests how economically disastrous the nationalization of oil has been for many Mexicans.

“Had Mexico followed a different course in the 20th century,” Vargas Llosa writes, “its citizens probably would not be risking their lives or negotiating their dignity with ‘coyote’ mafias in order to sneak into the United States—the very country from which the 1938 nationalization was supposed to have made them independent.”

Although Calderon opposes the nationalization policies pursued by Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Mexican policy of denationalization of oil would not be without precedent. “There was a time when collective ownership of the communal land was seen as an expression of Mexican identity—and Mexico got rid of that law,” continues Vargas Llosa. “There was a time when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the child of the Mexican Revolution, was indistinguishable from national identity—and Mexicans got rid of the PRI at the polls. One day, they will get rid of state oil as an expression of national identity too.”

“Mexico’s Moment of Truth,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/30/08) Spanish Translation

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—Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico; Director, Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University


4) Next President Faces Crossroads on U.S. Space Policy

Last October, former New York Gov. George Pataki, acting as a public delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, said that the United States remains fully committed to the peaceful uses of space, but that updating the treaty that has banned space weapons since 1967 would be pointless. More recently, Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Mark Udall agreed that the next president would make important decisions for the country regarding the weaponization of space—but disagreed on which policy that president should implement.

The space weaponization may be the most important issue not yet addressed by aspirants for the Oval Office, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Mike Moore, whose recent book, Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance, argues for keeping space free of weapons.

“Military space dominance is a no-win proposition,” Moore writes in a new op-ed. “Rather than considering such ideas, the next president should push for a tough new space treaty, one that is verifiable and has teeth. It’s time for our country, which seeks to influence the world by example, to be visionary and bold. And what could be more visionary—for a nation and a new president—than leading the world to a treaty that would ensure that space remains free of weapons and free of conflict?”

“Memo to the Next U.S. President: Keep Space Free of Weapons,” by Mike Moore (San Jose Mercury News, 5/9/08) Spanish Translation

Purchase Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance, by Mike Moore.

“Sixty years ago I wrote ‘We will not take frontiers into space.’ Twilight War presents riveting and disturbing evidence that some nations are attempting just that—making the heavens unsafe for us all.”
—Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author, 2001: A Space Odyssey


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