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Volume 11, Issue 8: February 23, 2009

  1. Separation of Television and State
  2. Obama Retains Some of Bush’s Controversial “War on Terror” Tactics
  3. NAACP Turns 100, Forgets Its Original Mission
  4. Chavez Victory Tempered by Growing Opposition
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Separation of Television and State

Last week’s official delay of the national conversion to digital television highlighted the most visible problem resulting from central planning in telecommunications: the folly of trying to prepare everyone—including small stations in rural markets and TV viewers who may have missed the ubiquitous announcements about imminent conversion—for the arbitrary February 11 deadline. But, as Independent Institute Research Analyst Anthony Gregory notes in a recent op-ed, the federally imposed scheme is troubled by other shortcomings as well.

Some problems were foreshadowed last September when Wilmington, North Carolina, converted to digital, resulting in a flood of calls to the Federal Communications Commission, including complaints from people who had followed instructions but had gotten no signal. Expect more of the same after the new June 12 deadline. Television viewers in cities where terrain is problematic (e.g., Denver, tall buildings) or where high-powered analog is used (e.g., Buffalo) may face additional difficulties. Stations not affiliated with the largest networks now face a greater financial burden as they continue to operate in analog until the new deadline. Worse, the federal agency created in early 1934 to regulate the airwaves drove out a potentially far superior arrangement based on property rights and homesteading, which the courts had upheld in 1926.

“In the Internet age, a national plan for universal digital TV is a clumsy anachronism,” writes Gregory. “High picture quality, consumer availability, and liberty would be better served by separation of television and state.”

“Separation of Television and State,” by Anthony Gregory (2/16/09) Spanish Translation

More by Anthony Gregory


2) Obama Retains Some of Bush’s Controversial “War on Terror” Tactics

Despite recent executive orders closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center and CIA secret prisons, ending CIA torture, suspending military tribunals for suspected terrorists, and pledging more openness than the secretive Bush administration, the Obama administration plans to continue other controversial practices of its predecessor. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland highlights Obama’s unwillingness to fully break with the Bush legacy on civil liberties.

How closely does the Obama administration resemble that of Bush? For starters, Leon Panetta, the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said recently that the United States will continue to use “extraordinary rendition” to transfer suspected terrorists to countries that practice harsh torture. Also, Elena Kagan, the new nominee for Solicitor General, pledged to continue detaining prisoners indefinitely without trial, even if they were noncombatants arrested far from a combat zone. In addition, the Obama administration has continued to use the “state secrets” rationale to keep former CIA detainees from suing the government.

Eland writes: “The Obama administration is new and should be given a chance to do the right thing. Although certainly better than the lawless Bush administration, the new boss unsurprisingly resembles the old boss.”

“Obama’s Policy on Civil Liberties: Bush Lite?” by Ivan Eland (2/21/09)

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

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

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

“Book TV” on C-Span 2 has archived last month’s Independent Policy Forum, “Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promises,” featuring Ivan Eland, Ron Paul, and Richard Shenkman. See it here.


3) NAACP Turns 100, Forgets Its Original Mission

Long before the late Thurgood Marshall left the NAACP to become the first African American on the U.S. Supreme Court, he favored a quotation that guided his litigation on behalf of civil rights: “Our constitution is color-blind.” He got that from Justice Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson and cited it in brief after brief. It was indicative of an NAACP dedicated passionately to colorblindness in the law, economic self-reliance, and individual freedom.

But, during this centennial year of that venerable organization, it is worth noting how the NAACP’s leadership in recent decades abandoned its earlier, more individualistic orientation in favor of “racial preferences, welfare, and a public school monopoly that traps poor children in failed schools,” writes historian Jonathan Bean, editor of the forthcoming Independent Institute book, Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.

“The wayward NAACP needs the smelling salts of dissidents who can recapture the proud tradition that recent leaders have betrayed,” Bean continues. “They can begin by honestly presenting the history of ‘the civil rights century.’ That history would be marked by the quest for a colorblind society—a legacy of liberty that contemporary NAACP leaders have abandoned.”

“NAACP 100th Anniversary: Exploiting Color Instead of Erasing It,” by Jonathan J. Bean (U.S. News & World Report, 2/12/09)

Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader, edited by Jonathan J. Bean

More by Jonathan Bean


4) Chavez Victory Tempered by Growing Opposition

Despite high inflation, food shortages, rampant crime, and a political climate marred by his own thuggish practices, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez won a constitutional referendum that will enable him to run for re-election indefinitely. Upon close inspection, however, the election results showed that Chavez has lost much of the political support he would need to impose a full dictatorship, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Chavez’s referendum won with a smaller margin of votes than when he was re-elected in 2006. Chavez lost in five key states, including Merida, which is governed by one of his supporters. More significantly, Chavez lost support in major urban centers. In addition, the collapse of oil prices is harming Chavez’s ability to buy political support.

“During the [election] run-up, the government controlled 85 percent of TV airtime and unleashed violent mobs to intimidate the opposition,” Vargas Llosa writes. “But one thing is certain: While the opposition does not command enough support to overcome Chavez’s juggernaut, the Venezuelan president still does not command enough power to achieve his totalitarian dream.”

“Venezuela’s Bright Side,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (2/18/09) 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


5) This Week in The Beacon

Here are the past week’s offerings from The Beacon, the web log of the Independent Institute:


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless