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Volume 11, Issue 23: June 8, 2009

  1. The Chavez Dictatorship
  2. San Francisco Mayor Wants to Tax Your Butts
  3. Obama Foreign Policy Belies His Rhetoric of “Change”
  4. Student Seminars to Explore Liberty and Economics (June 15–19 and August 10–14)
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) The Chavez Dictatorship

The Hugo Chavez regime picked the wrong targets when it detained four intellectuals who had just flown in to Venezuela to speak at a conference sponsored by Cedice, a think tank that favors liberal democracy and market economies. Rather than sweep their ideas under the rug, Chavez’s harassment policy inadvertently made their case for them, according to one of the detainees, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

“Thanks to Chavez’s overreaction, which gave the Cedice event a wider audience than expected, millions of Venezuelans were able to hear about our different experiences with authoritarian populism,” writes Vargas Llosa in his syndicated column.

Chavez’s acts of intimidation go far beyond the short-lived harassment of foreign critics visiting his country. He has harassed the independent television networks, has viciously prosecuted mayors and governors belonging to opposition political parties, and has even imprisoned his former allies, including a retired general who broke with him after his first constitutional referendum to allow an unlimited number of terms for the president. Writes Vargas Llosa: “The mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who gave our group a welcoming speech, dramatically told us that his country is now ‘a dictatorship.’”

“Showdown in Caracas,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/3/09) Spanish Translation

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

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

Video: Alvaro Vargas Llosa Reports His Detention (Spanish language)

Video: Alvaro Vargas Llosa on the Latin American Left (The News Hour, 4/29/05)


2) San Francisco Mayor Wants to Tax Your Butts

Facing a budget deficit of nearly half a billion dollars, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will ask the city’s Board of Supervisors next month to raise cigarette taxes by 33 cents per pack—ostensibly to cover the cost of removing cigarette butts from city streets. The federal cigarette tax was raised 69 cent per pack in April, and Congress is considering doubling the federal tax to $2 per pack to finance healthcare reform, but 

policymakers may have overestimated the legal price that smokers would be willing to pay to light up.

“It is sheer fantasy to predict, as Newsom has done, that his plan will produce $11 million in additional revenue,” writes William F. Shughart II, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, in a recent op-ed for the San Francisco Examiner. If the tax hike is implemented, San Francisco may finds that it loses too much revenue as smokers increase their purchases from neighboring cities. As Shughart notes, when the city of Washington, D.C., attempted to raise gasoline taxes by five cents per gallon, drivers began to line up for gas in northern Virginia and Maryland. The District lost so much tax revenue that it was forced to rescind the tax hike a month later.

Economics aside, fairness matters too, and the regressive cigarette tax falls disproportionately on lower-income consumers. “It is unconscionable to shift a large share of the burden of paying for [clean city streets] to the consumers of one product, no matter how shunned the product may be,” Shughart concludes.

“Nanny State Runs Amok with City’s Cigarette Tax,” by William F. Shughart II (San Francisco Examiner, 6/3/09)

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


3) Obama Foreign Policy Belies His Rhetoric of “Change”

After Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo last week, New York Times reporter Michael Slackman opined the President could dramatically improve the U.S. image in the Arab world only by addressing such problems as the region’s poverty, inadequate schools, and limits on democracy and human rights.

Slackman was correct in suggesting that deeds ultimately matter more than public relations rhetoric, but according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, the reporter erred in suggesting that humanitarian interventionism is the solution. To reduce the anti-U.S. animus that fosters terrorism, “the United States should stop meddling in that part of the world,” writes Eland in his latest op-ed.

But rather than adopt such a policy, the Obama administration is merely tweaking the policies put forth by the Bush administration, albeit using a gentler tone of voice. “Instead of winding down Bush’s nation-building quagmire in Afghanistan and focusing on neutralizing al Qaeda, Obama is escalating this un-winnable war,” Eland continues. “The war in Afghanistan has already fueled dangerous Islamist militancy in Pakisatan and had helped al Qaeda find more recruits.”

“Obama versus Osama,” by Ivan Eland (6/8/09)

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

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


4) Student Seminars to Explore Liberty and Economics (June 15–19 and August 10–14)

We are one week away from the first session of the Independent Institute’s Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars!

Held at the Independent Institute's Conference Center in Oakland, California, our five-day series of lectures, readings, films, multimedia presentations, and small group discussion teaches students what economics is, how it affects their lives, and how understanding it can help them achieve better lives for themselves, their communities, and the world at large.

Seminar Leader Brian Gothberg and Seminar Faculty James Ahiakpor, José Yulo, Fred Foldvary, Anthony Gregory, and Carl Close will address such issues as the ethics of liberty, economic development, immigration, monopolies, inflation and the business cycle, and peace and national security. Informative, inspiring, and fun, these seminars are an ideal way to make summer vacation intellectually rewarding.

Session I: June 15-19
Session II: August 10-14
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuition: $195 (includes books and lunch). A limited number of scholarships are still available. Please contact Carl Close at [email protected] or 510-632-1366.

Praise from past attendees:

"This is a really great program! I really enjoyed learning about all of the famous economists, their basic philosophies, and their influence on economic reasoning. Overall, an outstanding week!"

"I enjoyed having a small group, making it easier to concentrate on everyone's questions and statements, in a more comfortable atmosphere."

More information

"The Challenge of Liberty: A Fresh Perspective," by Katarina Koncokova (Hawaii Reporter, 7/19/2007)


5) This Week in The Beacon

If you haven’t done so yet, please be sure to check out the past week’s offerings from the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless