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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 17, Issue 22: June 9, 2015

  1. Public Pension Crisis Forces Cuts in Government Services
  2. Free Speech versus Disruptive Speech
  3. Why Do Police Officers Look Like Soldiers?
  4. Magna Carta Now 800 Years Old
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

1) Public Pension Crisis Forces Cuts in Government Services

For years, state and local politicians have been promising public employees greater pension benefits, but they’ve neglected to ensure that sufficient funds will be available to make good on those promises. Consequently, a huge financial crisis is on the horizon, and in response governments throughout the United States are raising taxes and cutting back their services. What regions will be hit hardest? According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan, author of the new book California Dreaming: Lessons on How to Resolve America’s Public Pension Crisis, the states facing the largest estimated shortfalls include New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas, each with unfunded pension debts of more than $200 billion; Illinois and New York, with shortfalls greater than $300 billion each; and California, whose pension gap is estimated between $550 billion to $750 billion. In addition, many cities and counties face a similar financial crisis.

“Swelling pension costs are like tapeworms, starving the public of municipal services,” McQuillan writes in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee. In San Jose, Calif., for example, police staffing from 2002 to 2012 was cut by one-fifth while the police budget rose by nearly half. In Oakland, the police union refused a deal to retain 80 police officers because police officers would have had to contribute 9 percent of their paychecks toward their pensions. Other municipalities will face similar cut backs in policing, public libraries, parks, and other services.

Fortunately, through the efforts of McQuillan and others, the gathering crisis is getting more public attention. In November 2016, California voters may decide whether or not to pass a ballot measure intended to solve some of the problems by switching new public employees to a 401(k)-type defined-contribution pension plan. In addition, the Government Accounting Standards Board, a non-governmental organization that sets rules for public entities, is now requiring that governments report unfunded pension debt on their financial statements. “The new accounting rule will provide needed transparency, but action must follow,” McQuillan concludes.

Pension Payments Are Starving Basic City Services, by Lawrence J. McQuillan (The Sacramento Bee, 5/28/15)

California Dreaming: Lessons on How to Resolve America’s Public Pension Crisis, by Lawrence J. McQuillan

Video: Lawrence McQuillan discusses his new book (Newsmax TV, 5/29/15)

Video: Opinion Journal: Defusing California’s Pension Bomb, featuring Lawrence McQuillan (Wall Street Journal TV, 5/28/15)


2) Free Speech versus Disruptive Speech

Demonstrators across the United States—and viewers watching them on television—have witnessed an important trend in law enforcement: the growing militarization of police departments, replete with tanks and other equipment once reserved for military campaigns in far away places. How did the police come to look like soldiers? Drawing on their pioneering research, Independent Institute Research Fellows Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall take this up in a recent op-ed that has been published in 15 news outlets.

“Police militarization can be traced primarily to two policies: the war on drugs and the war on terror,” Coyne and Hall write. In 1981, for example, Congress passed a law that authorized the Pentagon to offer military equipment and training to local law enforcement, which in turn were under pressure to crack down on the illicit drug trade. This led to a surge in special weapons and tactics (SWAT) units. In 1997, the military created another program that hastened the proliferation of combat equipment in domestic police departments—Excess Property Program 1033. The response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 further increased the demand for such equipment.

To many, the growing militarization of the police is perceived as though the police consider protestors to be “enemy combatants”—a view supported by a memo using this term that was written by the Missouri National Guard after protests in Ferguson that followed the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in 2015. What would reverse the trend? “An initial step would be to end the 1033 program and similar initiatives that encourage the transfer of military equipment to the police,” Coyne and Hall write. “Citizens also should reconsider the costs along with any benefits of providing police forces with military-style assault training. Moreover, it’s time to seriously reconsider the larger policies under which police militarization occurred and expanded.”

How U.S. Police Came to Look Like Soldiers, by Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall (Detroit News, 5/22/15)

The Militarization of U.S. Domestic Policing, by Abigail R. Hall and Christopher J. Coyne (The Independent Review, Spring 2013)


3) Why Do Police Officers Look Like Soldiers?

Free speech on America’s college campuses is under assault, with politically correct student activists plotting—sometimes successfully—to silence talks by controversial professors and guest speakers. Ironically, the activists typically claim that they are merely asserting their free-speech rights and ensuring that civil discourse remains civil. But in fact, these self-appointed guardians of civility and good taste are guilty of violating the spirit of free inquiry and public discourse, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Donald A. Downs. Such a spirit is what animated the authors of the First Amendment as well as the leaders of the modern civil rights movement.

“Disrupting or silencing speakers is not reminiscent of the moral authority of civil rights leaders, but of the arrogance and bullying tactics of the wearers of jackboots and the bearers of Gulag arrest warrants,” Downs writes in a widely published op-ed. “Were such behavior to become the norm—and sadly too many college authorities confuse such action with free speech these days—political discourse would become nothing less than a shouting match. The bell would toll for free speech in America.”

Downs also clarifies various misunderstandings about the First Amendment. Because it stipulated that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” the amendment isn’t violated when student activists try to interrupt a speaker—not unless they are acting on a government’s behalf. Rather, what the activists are guilty of doing is undermining the ethos of free inquiry and expression on which a constitutional democracy depends. “Shouting speakers down is anathema to the cardinal principles of free speech even if the First Amendment is not directly at stake,” Downs writes. “Statutory laws punishing such behavior are legitimate.”

Ethically, Yes, It’s Time to Shut Down the Shouter-Downers, by Donald A. Downs (Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/2/15)

Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, by Donald A. Downs


4) Magna Carta Now 800 Years Old

Eight hundred years ago this month, one of the most important events in English history took place: On 15 June 1215, King John put his seal to the Great Charter. This was meant to appease rebellious barons who sought to curb the Crown’s tyrannical abuse of power. (Among John’s worst usurpations were his seizures of church property and private estates, as well as his unilateral increases in taxes.) But as Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr. notes in an op-ed for The Daily Caller, the greatest legacy of Magna Carta was to foster a lasting Anglo-American tradition of trying to check power with power.

“As a peace treaty, Magna Carta was a failure. John never intended to abide by the terms of the document and within weeks of his accepting it, hostilities began anew,” Watkins writes. “But as a charter of liberties—a beacon to which the oppressed could turn—Magna Carta endured.”

Among other documents, the Great Charter’s influence can be found in the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, for example, is based on Magna Carta’s 39th clause: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed ... except by the lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land.” Such influences on the Anglo-American tradition seem undeniable, and yet some writers and educators have denied them. “In the 20th century it became fashionable to dismiss the document as one by the nobles, for the nobles, and of the nobles,” Watkins continues. “In truth, Magna Carta contained something for everyone and was appealed to by great and small when threatened by an overreaching king or government.”

The Great Charter Turns 800, by William J. Watkins Jr. (The Daily Caller, 6/3/15)

Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins Jr.


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Social Security Disability Waste
Craig Eyermann (6/6/15)

What Social Security Trust Fund?
Craig Eyermann (6/2/15)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.


6) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless