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Volume 10, Issue 48: December 1, 2008

  1. Ivan Eland Reassesses the U.S. Presidents in Recarving Rushmore
  2. Chavez’s Opponents Score Strategic Gains in Venezuelan Election
  3. NATO Expansion and the New Cold War
  4. Templeton Essay Contest Asks College Students and Teachers to Examine Link Between Freedom and Virtue
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Ivan Eland Reassesses the U.S. Presidents in Recarving Rushmore

Media pundits and academics often give their highest marks to presidents who are “war heroes” or who have expanded the powers of the presidency, but Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland takes a distinctly new approach. In Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, Eland profiles presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush, analyzes their policy decisions, and ranks them based on whether or not they fostered peace, prosperity, and liberty.

Figuratively speaking, Eland concludes that the “recarving” of Mount Rushmore is long overdue. Of the four presidents represented on that majestic mountain, Eland considers only Washington “good.” He rates Teddy Roosevelt as “poor,” and rates Lincoln and Jefferson as “bad.”

It’s not surprising that the presidents who deserve the highest praise—John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, and Rutherford B. Hayes—are among the least known today, Eland suggests. “Most of the ‘excellent’ presidents,” he writes, “are remembered as bland men with gray personalities, but they largely respected the Constitution’s intention of limiting government and restraining executive power, especially in regard to war.”

Eland’s Recarving Rushmore has something for everyone. Students of American history will learn fascinating tidbits about each U.S. president. Academics will enjoy deliberating and debating about Eland’s peace, prosperity, and liberty rankings. Pundits will be challenged to re-examine what it means to be a “great president.” And the general public will be inspired to think deeply about the role the Constitution’s framers envisioned when they created the executive branch of “history’s greatest experiment in self-government.”

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


2) Chavez’s Opponents Score Strategic Gains in Venezuelan Election

Although Hugo Chavez won 17 of the 22 governorships at stake in Venezuela’s election last month, his opponents won four of the five most important races, including those in and around the country’s capital. Chavez’s opponents will therefore acquire an institutional stronghold from which to resist Chavez’s long sought-after constitutional referendum to make him president for life. Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa evaluates this development in his latest syndicated column for the Washington Post Writers Group.

“One election will not be enough to get rid of Chavez anytime soon,” writes Vargas Llosa. “But it means the opposition will be able to continue its political war of attrition against the government’s juggernaut with renewed confidence.”

One factor working against Chavez is world economic recession, which has significantly reduced the demand for crude oil and therefore drained the Venezuelan autocrat’s slush fund. As Vargas Llosa explains it, “there is no question that the international crisis will limit his ability to bribe a large part of society through political patronage.”

“Chavez’s Stumble,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (11/26/08) Spanish Translation

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

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa


3) NATO Expansion and the New Cold War

The Russian navy has just kicked-off joint exercises with Venezuela off the coast of South America—the largest operation of its kind in the Western Hemisphere since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This event may signal a new tone emanating from Moscow, one that could potentially lead to a very dangerous fracture in U.S.-Russian relations, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland suggests in his latest op-ed.

During the Clinton and (George W.) Bush administrations, Russia’s leaders accused the United States of taking undue advantage of Russia’s decline as superpower by flaunting U.S. power on the world stage. Russia is especially incensed about the prospect of a U.S. military influence across the border of what was once the Soviet Union. The Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises indicate a new willingness by Russia to meet provocation with provocation.

“Threats against allies accepting missile defense hardware and naval exercises in the U.S. sphere of influence are Russia’s way of signaling that further NATO expansion to include Russia’s key neighbors will meet stiff resistance,” writes Eland. “The up-to-now oblivious U.S. government needs to finally heed these warnings. More importantly, the incoming Obama administration and the U.S. public should ponder whether they want to ultimately hold their cities hostage to nuclear holocaust to preserve the territorial integrity of these two faraway and non-strategic states [i.e., Georgia and Ukraine]. The answer should be an emphatic ‘no.’”

“Heed Russia’s Warnings About Further NATO Expansion,” by Ivan Eland (12/1/08)

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

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


4) Templeton Essay Contest Asks College Students and Teachers to Examine Link Between Freedom and Virtue

The Independent Institute is now accepting applications for the 2009 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Contest, an international essay competition open to college students and untenured college teachers under 36 years of age. Cash prizes will be awarded for outstanding essays on the following topic:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.  As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” --Benjamin Franklin

Which virtues contribute the most toward achieving freedom, and how can the institutions of civil society encourage the exercise of those virtues?

Student Division
First Prize: $2,500
Second Prize: $1,500
Third Prize: $1,000

Junior Faculty Division
First Prize: $10,000
Second Prize: $5,000
Third Prize: $1,500

In addition to the cash prizes, winners will receive assistance in getting their articles published and two-year subscriptions to The Independent Review. The deadline is May 1, 2009.

More information about the 2009 Templeton Essay Contest, including guidelines, bibliography, and winning essays from previous years


5) This Week in The Beacon

Below are the past week’s offerings from The Beacon, the web log of the Independent Institute. Please post your comments to the blog.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless