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Volume 17, Issue 21: May 27, 2015

  1. The Patriot Act’s Mass Surveillance Must Go
  2. Can We Privatize the Welfare State?
  3. Will SCOTUS’s Ruling on Marriage Perpetuate Political Discord?
  4. Gulf States Should Provide Their Own Security
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

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1) The Patriot Act’s Mass Surveillance Must Go

Since its enactment 45 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the USA Patriot Act has been a thorn in the side of civil libertarians. Section 215 of the law, which the National Security Agency interprets as authorizing its collection of phone records for ordinary Americans, in bulk and without special warrants, is set to expire on June 1. This is all for the better, according to Independent Institute Research Fellows Abigail R. Hall and Sheldon L. Richman.

Writing in the Daily Caller, Richman suggests that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was onto something when it ruled recently that the surveillance agency has overstepped its legal authority—though it remained silent on whether or not bulk collections are constitutional. Some in Congress seek to reform Section 215 by requiring telecommunication companies to archive all phone records for the benefit of federal investigators, but Sheldon argues that “privatizing” intelligence gathering on ordinary people is no substitute for the genuine protection of civil liberties. “Government has no legitimate reason to scoop up everyone’s phone records, and deputizing the phone companies is no improvement,” he writes.

Hall also deplores the Section 215 bulk collections, but in a recent op-ed for the Washington Times she focuses on a feature of the Patriot Act that isn’t set to expire—the authorization of so-called National Security Letters. Under this provision, the FBI collects information about individuals’ phone records, emails, credit card transactions, and the like; it also imposes a gag order on the hapless subject—all without the burden of getting a judge’s approval. Requiring a judge’s permission and lifting the gag orders would be steps in the right direction, Hall argues. “In these ways, we may begin to take real steps to reform a program that is not only ineffective, but that also erodes our civil liberties.”

A Better Patriot Act, by Abigail R. Hall (The Washington Times, 5/24/15)

Phone Surveillance Must End, by Sheldon L. Richman (The Daily Caller, 5/21/15)


2) Can We Privatize the Welfare State?

The American welfare state has driven the United States deep into debt. The long-term deficits in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and scores of other welfare programs amount to an unfunded liability more than 12 times the size of our national income. The solution—or at least a key part of it—is to wean Americans from the public breast by strengthening incentives to spur private savings, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman.

The problem has been long in the making. The American welfare state has been the largest driver of big government since the 20th century, according to Goodman. Replacing it with a private (and more efficient and effective) alternative would require that the savings rate of households rise on average to about 10 percent of income—a feat that might be accomplished in a variety of ways, Goodman argues. To make such a transition politically viable, the federal government could guarantee a minimum level of retirement coverage comparable to what it would have spent without Social Security reform.

“We could ask workers to cut back on other consumption or substitute other saving,” Goodman writes, “and they might be willing to do that in return for a solid government guarantee that they can count on at the point of retirement. Or government could fund some or all of the contributions to the private accounts.” In any case, meaningful reform of America’s sprawling “entitlement” system, with its 184 means-tested programs, is not wishful thinking. It worked for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (whose rolls were cut by two-thirds), and it can work on a larger scale, too.

Power to the People: Can We Privatize the Welfare State?, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 5/13/15)

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman



3) Will SCOTUS’s Ruling on Marriage Perpetuate Political Discord?

Eleven states allow same-sex marriage, but 34 states prohibit it. Some states recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states; some don’t. This summer the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the fate of same-sex marriage bans by issuing a ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. If the Court sides with the petitioners and rules that state bans violate the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, this would limit state powers in ways reminiscent of how Roe v. Wade restricted state powers regarding abortion law. It would also likely have a similar effect on public debate for years to come, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr.

Whatever one thinks of the substantive issues in Roe v. Wade, the Court’s 7-to-2 decision had significant effects on public discourse—much of it negative, according to Watkins. The Court’s “one-size-fits-all, extra constitutional solution,” he writes, “only served to radicalize the opposing camps, creating great acrimony that bubbles up every election cycle.”

If the Court strikes down state bans on same-sex marriage, Watkins counsels us to be prepared to endure similarly acrimonious public discourse for years to come. “Respectful debate over an issue on which reasonable people have policy disagreements will be a thing of the past,” Watkins writes. “Each side will demonize the other and acerbity will replace the dignified (though at times fervent) debate on the proper definition of marriage. Let’s hope the court has learned from its mistakes and leaves this matter to the people of the states.”

Remember Roe: Don’t Nationalize Marriage, by William J. Watkins Jr. (South Coast Today, 5/17/15)

Nationalizing Marriage, by William J. Watkins Jr. (The Washington Times, 8/17/10)


4) Gulf States Should Provide Their Own Security

President Barack Obama has offered Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf generous military benefits, including enhanced maritime security, joint military exercises, assistance in countering Iran’s cyberattacks, and more. No matter. The framework he has proposed for a nuclear agreement with Tehran has earned their contempt. Their recent snubbing of him at Camp David underscores their ingratitude, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

Moreover, the lavish favors that Washington has given them over the years are wholly unwarranted. In his latest piece for the Huffington Post, Eland argues that the Gulf States should pay for their own defense, since they—not U.S. taxpayers and oil consumers—are the beneficiaries. Without the U.S. military umbrella, American oil consumers would rely on market prices and the profit motive to ensure that oil supply disruptions were only of short-term concern.

“Therefore, no reason exists to coddle the despotic Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian Gulf monarchies to get their oil,” Eland writes. “And if that’s the case, then there is no national security reason why the United States should not reach an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program and perhaps even cooperate in other areas. The United States shouldn’t love the autocratic Iranian regime either, but the U.S. government needs to look out for American interests, not bribe arrogant, wealthy allies—which just want ‘more, more, more’—to accept something that is clearly in their best interest: an agreement that will prevent hostile neighboring Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for at least 10 to 15 years and maybe forever.”

Tell the Rich Persian Gulf States to ‘Go Fish’, by Ivan Eland (Huffington Post, 5/18/15)

No War for Oil: U.S. Policy and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland


5) New Blog Posts

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

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


6) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless