The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

The Lighthouse®

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

Volume 10, Issue 26: June 30, 2008

  1. Not Only Are They Unconstitutional, Gun Bans Backfire, Too
  2. Democrats for the Surveillance State
  3. Despite Shake-Ups, Air Force Unlikely to Change Anytime Soon
  4. Argentina’s War on Farmers Raises Food Prices Around the World

1) Not Only Are They Unconstitutional, Gun Bans Backfire, Too

What’s next for gun control, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban as an unconstitutional violation of individual rights? One possibility is that the courts will examine the effectiveness of gun control. A thorough study would reveal that gun bans have often deterred the defensive use of guns by law-abiding citizens more than they have prevented criminals from committing homicides, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Don B. Kates, Jr., a criminologist and constitutional lawyer.

“Despite the false claims of anti-gun advocates that most murderers are not hardened criminals but rather others who use guns in moments of ungovernable anger,” writes Kates in a new op-ed, “the proof is overwhelming that the vast majority of individuals who commit homicide are not first-time offenders.”

Kates cites several reports to support his claim. A 2005 study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association found that homicide offenders in Illinois from 1990 to 2001 were “certainly concentrated among individuals with a criminal record.” A New York Times survey found that 90 percent of the murderers convicted from 2003 through 2005 had prior criminal records. A study by Harvard University researchers found that 95 percent of convicted murderers had been arraigned sometime before the murder. Kates’s own research reveals that about 90 percent of adult murders “have committed an average of four major felonies.” Some of the most important studies have been conducted by Florida State University Gary Kleck, who, Kates writes, “has discovered that each year the number of victims who use handguns to repel criminals is several times greater than the number of criminals who use handguns in attempting to commit crimes.”

“Supreme Court Affirms Individual Right: What’s Next?” by Don B. Kates, Jr. (6/26/08)

This Wednesday, July 2, Don B. Kates, Jr. and Stephen Halbrook will speak at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. The topic: “What the Second Amendment Means Today.” Event information.

Purchase The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook. Read a detailed book summary.

Praise for The Founders’ Second Amendment:

“Stephen Halbrook’s The Founders’ Second Amendment is first-rate work, utterly convincing. This is a solid and important work.”
—Forrest McDonald, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alabama


2) Democrats for the Surveillance State

Hoping to score points with a public increasingly wary of the Bush administration’s record on the rule of law, Democratic lawmakers have advertised themselves as defenders of constitutional protections of legal due process. But it’s clear from the recent passage of H.R. 6304 that the House Democrats are a house divided. That bipartisan bill—which essentially legalizes the White House’s warrantless surveillance program—passed 293 to 128, with 105 Democrats voting for it, including House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In a new op-ed, Independent Institute Research Analyst Anthony Gregory calls the bill’s passage “just the latest example in 30 years of Democratic betrayals of the Fourth Amendment.”

The bill, an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (which Jimmy Carter signed into law three decades ago), would expand the feds’ eavesdropping powers and indemnify telecom companies that shared phone data with the National Security Agency. The Washington Post says the bill “restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying.” That’s little comfort to civil libertarians: before 9/11, Gregory notes, the FISA court rejected not one single application for a surveillance warrant—out of more than 13,000 applications.

“FISA created too many loopholes in the Fourth Amendment,” writes Gregory. “The litany of unspeakable surveillance abuses under this and past administrations (both Republican and Democratic) and the executive’s tendency to defy even the flimsiest safeguards suggest that Americans serious about civil liberties should hold their representatives to a higher standard and bolder agenda: repeal this last monstrosity, scrap the Patriot Act, and give FISA itself the axe.”

“The Democrats Betray the Fourth Amendment,” by Anthony Gregory (6/24/08)

Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans,” by Charlotte Twight (The Independent Review, Fall 1999)

Purchase Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society, by Robert Higgs.


3) Despite Shake-Ups, Air Force Unlikely to Change Anytime Soon

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has put the U.S. Air Force in the doghouse, firing its top civilian and military leaders. The service earned Gates’s wrath not only for accidentally flying nuclear weapons over U.S. airspace and sending nuclear weapons fuses to Taiwan, but also for playing favorites in contracting and not contributing enough to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the smart money is on the Air Force to weather any setbacks and survive with most of what it wants, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

The Air Force has neglected its unmanned surveillance drones, although drones have contributed to operational successes in the battlefield. Instead, it has devoted much effort to lobbying Congress for the more expensive F-22 stealth fighter jets—even though the Soviet fighters they were designed to challenge never came into existence. It has also neglected its role in transporting troops and equipment to the theaters of operation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The underlying theme seems to be that the Air Force wants to be Top Gun in the halls of Congress by making costly fighter planes and pilots—not the support of other armed services—its number one priority. With Gates set to leave when administrations change in January, the Air Force merely has to play the waiting game. Any meaningful reform, therefore, could occur only in the long run.

“The one thing that could be done to at least loosen the grip of the military-industrial-congressional complex is to require the Air Force to drop excessively unique military specifications for components of weapon systems and instead use commercial components or slight variations thereof,” writes Eland in his latest op-ed. “If subcontractors had commercial business to fall back on when defense procurement was slow, there would be less pressure for the Air Force and Congress to buy unneeded systems to keep the welfare queens of the dedicated defense subcontracting industry aloft.”

“Can the Air Force Be Reformed?” by Ivan Eland (6/30/08)

Also see, “Promoting Air Power: The Influence of the U.S. Air Force on the Creation of the National Security State,” by Arlene Lazarowitz (The Independent Review, Spring 2005)

Purchase Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, by Ivan Eland.

“Eland...argues that even before the Bush binge, the United States was spending too much on defense and that the money is being spent on the wrong priorities...[H]is overall message is one that deserves a hearing before the United States embarks on a defense-spending binge.”
—Lawrence J. Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense; Vice President and Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations

Purchase The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed (Updated Edition), by Ivan Eland.

The Empire Has No Clothes is a comprehensive history of American imperialism, including a balanced treatment of various schools and definitions of imperialism as used by scholars, politicians, and pundits.... [It] should greatly influence the debate in this country about how to restore a Constitutional foreign policy. Read this book.”
—Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire and Blowback; President, Japan Policy Research Institute


4) Argentina’s War on Farmers Raises Food Prices Around the World

Rising food prices are a phenomenon that is neither limited to a few countries nor unavoidable. More than two dozen national governments have contributed to the global run-up in food prices by adopting policies that restrict the supply of grains and other agricultural commodities. (Loose monetary policies, which have fueled inflationary increases in demand, are another major cause.) In his latest column, “Killing the Golden Goose,” Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa illustrates this pathology by showing how Argentina’s policies have harmed its farmers and their customers.

Argentina’s political culture of populism, according to Vargas Llosa, has long infected both the right and the left, from Juan Peron to both Kirchner administrations. To foster political patronage and wealth redistribution, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, like her husband Nestor Kirchner, showers big agribusiness with subsidies but squeezes small and midsize farmers—the vast majority of the farm “oligarchy” she criticizes—with high taxes and counterproductive price controls. Three months ago, her administration tied agricultural export taxes to rising world prices. Consequently, export taxes now amount to nearly half of farmers’ revenues, and total taxes claim about three fourths. The combination of high taxes, price controls, and an annual inflation rate close to 30 percent has scared away new investment.

“The result is a drop in international supply at a time when demand is insatiable,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Chinese cattlemen—and therefore consumers of milk and meat—are paying the price of the Argentine government’s attack on soybeans.... Together with other populists, the Kirchners teach us that mistakes are no longer confined to home and that, in the 21st century, hunger is not so much a condition as a policy.”

“Killing the Golden Goose,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/25/08) Spanish Translation

Purchase Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Lessons from the Poor shows that the mightiest soldiers in the war on poverty are poor people themselves. . . . The message of the book is profoundly hopeful—as governments remove obstacles to entrepreneurship, there is much potential for the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.”
—William R. Easterly, Director, Development Research Institute, New York University


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless