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Guns and Surveillance; Lessons from France

Liberals and conservatives both resort to big government solutions when they are beset by the “We Must Do Something NOW” syndrome.



I watched a John Stossel program recently and it focused my attention on the big government ways of liberals and conservatives.  This similarity shows up vividly when they become subject to the “We Must Do Something NOW” mentality.

Rand Paul pointed out bulk surveillance of phone records by NSA has not stopped a single terrorist attack.  There have been some restrictions placed on these programs by Congress through the efforts Senator Paul and others.  The other Republican Presidential candidates argue that these restrictions reduce our ability to stop terrorism.

France has more extensive surveillance of its citizens than we do, Stossel pointed out, and that didn’t stop the attacks in Paris where 130 were killed.

That reminded me of the parallel with liberal calls for gun control in the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe and the recent attack in San Bernardino.  France and Belgium (Belgium being the home ground of some of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks) have much stricter gun control laws than we have in the United States.  Those controls didn’t stop the recent Paris attacks or the earlier Charlie Hebdo attack.

When the “We Must Do Something NOW” mentality takes hold, liberals and conservatives each go for their big government solutions.  That’s how we got the Patriot Act, shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.  That’s how we might get extensive gun control in the U.S. this time around.  Neither the liberal nor the conservative solution will make us safe.

I do not want to own a gun.  It’s just that we ought to have more evidence before we resort to giving the government more control over our lives.



Out of the Country

I am leaving for a trip out of the U.S. I had thought of writing a sarcastic piece asking the President to refrain from attacking me while overseas. This is too serious a matter for sarcasm. President Obama has authorized the killing of at least two overseas American citizens he deemed terrorists. Bush claimed the same authority. I don’t pretend to be important enough to attract such attention from the Administration, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

When I return President Obama has the authority to indefinitely detain me under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which he signed on the last day of 2011. It is arguable this was the day the U.S. became an unfree country. The Bush administration claimed authority under prior law to take this action as well, so I’m not saying it is all Obama; it is the power grabbing nature of government, which we ignore at our peril.

Rick Miller

I posted this piece on the Manhattan Libertarian site in January, 2014

Civil Liberties

Two disturbing stories appeared online February 5, 2013 about abuses of civil liberties by the Bush and Obama administrations.  It is getting scarier.  Today [written on the day I read the stories] is one of the first times I’ve felt afraid of government censorship when I emailed these stories to my email account.

One story was about research someone did on the Bush administration rendition program.  It said over 50 nations had been involved.  The administration sent prisoners to nations that had a reputation for torturing prisoners, even though the administration denied deliberately sending people to be tortured.  Some nations, such as Poland, housed CIA “black sites” i.e. prisons where CIA personnel could operate.  “Operate” might be a loaded choice of words.

I think some Eastern European countries, such as Poland, wanted to please the U.S. so much after having been under the shackles of the USSR that they went overboard.

The article pointed out the Obama administration ended rendition only in a formal sense, by getting “diplomatic assurances” from countries there would be no torture before sending a prisoner.  But there was no checking up.  The article implied it was a change in formality only, and that the Obama administration really has not changed policy, which I think is typical of the Obama administration; pretend to reject Bush abuses and continue them.

The second article was about a recent draft Department of Justice memo justifying killing Americans overseas who are engaging in threats to the U.S.  It has language stating that high officials can designate a citizen to be killed even if they are not engaged that moment in a dangerous plot.

The ACLU said the memo is “profoundly disturbing.”  I think it is reminiscent of Bush DOJ memos liberals rightly found so disturbing; will they now criticize Obama?  Well, the ACLU has and good for it.

The article noted the Obama administration killed two American citizens in Yemen in September, 2011.

I Support Our President

I support President Barack Obama and have since December 31, 2011 when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (“NDAA”).  I support him unequivocally.  My pledge remains in effect as long as the NDAA continues to authorize the President to indefinitely detain any American he or she thinks is a terrorist threat.

I support our Congress as well because it passed the law that President Obama signed last year.  This was a bipartisan law, passed by a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican House.  Therefore, I pledge my support to the Republican and Democratic parties, no matter what their positions.  I also state my support for President Bush, who claimed the same authority President Obama made official by signing the NDAA.

My pledge remains in effect until this law is repealed.

Let’s Go to Hong Kong or Snowden Si! Bush-Obama No!

I feel like going to Hong Kong to help form a human chain around the hotel where Edward Snowden resides to protect him from our government. He is the guy who, a few days ago, revealed to British and American newspapers the scope of some of the surveillance tools used by the National Security Agency (‘NSA’).

He is my latest hero. I know it is dangerous to believe in heroes; they so often disappoint, especially in politics. I might find out things about him that will change my mind. Based on what I have read so far, he is a patriot trying to alert us to the possibility or reality of a total surveillance state in the United States.

Will the NSA read this and target me too? Maybe, but I can think of three saving factors; there are many who feel as I do, I am not famous and the government is often incompetent despite all its resources.


Romney’s 47%

During the 2012 Presidential campaign a video came out showing Romney speaking to a private group about the 47% who receive government benefits and who would therefore vote for Obama.  He was roundly criticized for this and he later apologized.  He was both right and wrong.

The percentage of people who receive a substantial portion of their income from government is at least 47% and I’ve read in some sources that it is slightly over 50%.  I am one of those people; I receive Social Security and Medicare.  The myriad programs include not only the many programs supposedly targeted for the poor, such as welfare, Medicaid and food stamps, but also huge middle class entitlement programs that mainly target the elderly, such as the ones I receive.  So he was right.

Where he was wrong was the implication that it is a bunch of low income people living off government largesse.  I don’t want to put words in his mouth, even though I’m not a fan, so I’ll say that many conservatives and Republicans, if not Romney, tend to blame the poor for government spending.  Oh, Federal government spending is large, there should be no doubt about that; it is almost 25% of GDP, the highest peace-time spending we have ever had.  The Bush administration ramped up spending from approximately 20% of GDP to 25% with the bailouts and the Obama administration has maintained almost that level with its bailouts and stimulus spending.

Does most government spending go to the poor?  The poor are at most 15% of the population.  Many economists think we seriously overstate poverty, partly because official measurements of poverty exclude income in kind, such as medical care, housing and food stamps.  Let’s accept 15% as the maximum.

Could it be the rich?  The rich can be defined as the top 1%, 2%, or even 5%.  If 47% of the people, or more, are receiving a substantial portion of income from government, then we can’t reach anywhere near 47% even if we combine rich and poor people.  Rich and poor total at most 20% of the population.  So the people receiving significant government benefits have to be mainly in the middle and upper middle classes.  People such as myself!

That is what we need to realize.  I’ve written elsewhere about how conservatives tend to scapegoat the poor and liberals the rich; we have to get over this if we are to solve our nation’s spending problem.  And it is a problem; we have increased Federal spending from 20% of GDP to 25% in one year (2008) and have kept it there; this when we face a flood of spending from the oncoming retirement of the baby boom generation.

So who are these people receiving so many benefits if not mainly the rich and poor?  The largest special interest group by far is the elderly.  Medicare is a HUGE subsidy for people in my age group; we paid some taxes, sure, but not nearly equal to the benefits we receive.  That is one reason we tend to overuse medical care; we have no incentive to economize when someone else is paying most of the bill.  Nor do the healthcare providers have such an incentive, when the patients don’t even know or care about the cost of treatments.

This is a hard fact for people my age to face.  I recall attending a luncheon of conservatives and libertarians and began to speak to the person next to me about the huge subsidies inherent in entitlement programs.  She was adamantly against big government spending and then defended Medicare because “we paid for it.”   We, the elderly, have not paid anywhere near its full cost and we are bankrupting our children by refusing to face this.

There are other middle and upper class subsidies; certain farmers, many big corporations (GM, Chrysler, Boeing, GE and “green energy” companies), public sector employees, oil companies, bailed out financial institutions and others.  I emphasize certain farmers because lettuce and tomato farmers don’t receive subsidies, but wheat, corn, cotton and alpaca farmers do.  Go figure.  Could it be because of political clout?

Government largesse goes mainly to powerful segments of the middle class and that is true in every prosperous democracy, whether it is the U.S., Sweden, Japan or France.

It is true that means-tested programs, originally targeted for low income individuals, have expanded tremendously in the past few years and have reached well into the middle class.  The one type of government program I would support is a means-tested program, but not when eligibility standards are loosened so much that the program expands well beyond low income people.  Nicholas Eberstadt wrote a good piece about this for the American Enterprise Institute.  He pointed out that 35% of American families are receiving government help through means-tested programs such as Social Security disability and food stamps.  We need to curtail these programs too; they have become partly subsidies for people who don’t need subsidies.  It is important to bear in mind, though, that the biggest share of government spending comes from middle and upper class entitlement programs.

Bushama Economics

Bushama Economics 

Bush and Obama 

The Obama partisans think Bush and Obama are so different.  I wish they would subject Obama to the same standards to which they subjected Bush.  If they did, they couldn’t possibly support him. 

Surprisingly, economic policy is one area where they are more alike than different.  Both of them directed hundreds of billions of dollars to favored constituencies at the expense of the rest of us.  Bush directed money to faith based organizations as one clear example.  Other examples are more subtle.  He increased Federal education spending by leaps and bounds, to the benefit of public sector unions.  This was probably an attempt by the Republicans to convert this powerful interest group to their side.  The Republicans should have known the Democrats have the public sector unions locked up for the foreseeable future. 

Another Bush-Republican attempt to buy off an interest group was expansion of Medicare to include drug coverage, Medicare Part D.  That made sense politically because the elderly are the most powerful interest group in every democracy.  It doesn’t make sense as economic policy when 1) most of those receiving a subsidy don’t need it and 2) we can’t afford another entitlement program piled on top of the ones we already have. 

Obama and the Democrats have appropriated hundreds of billions of “stimulus” dollars to, among others, state and local governments.  Thus, public sector jobs (a Democratic Party constituency) have grown in number during much of the current recession while private sector jobs plummeted.  Any connection there?  If you are taking hundreds of billions out of the private sector, which is inevitable if the government is spending hundreds of billions to “stimulate” the economy, the private sector will lose jobs as a result.  Many people seem to think government spending comes out of dollars sitting around unused and don’t stop to think of what the economist Bastiat called the “unseen” effects of a given policy.  The unseen in this case is money removed from the private sector to support government. 

Both Presidents disregarded consumer interests from their first days in office.  Early on Bush placed tariffs on imported steel so that domestic manufacturers could raise prices.  This served the interests of steel manufacturers and powerful steel unions.  Why did he do it?  Because at that time there were some steel-producing states closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, such as West Virginia, and Bush wanted to tip the balance toward Republicans for the future.  We all paid the price for this favoritism in the form of higher prices for every product containing steel.  This policy was eventually rescinded because it was ruled illegal under international trade agreements. 

Obama changed a policy under Nafta during his first days in office.  He terminated the right of Mexican truckers to bring Mexican produce into the United States.  The produce had to be transported on U.S. driven trucks once it crossed the border.  He gave safety as the justification despite the fact Mexican drivers had a better safety record than U.S. drivers.  What was the real reason?  The Teamsters.  He promised during the campaign he would do this, thus acquiring Teamster support.  Recently he retreated from this policy as a result of negotiations with the Mexican government. 

Obama, like Bush, instituted a new entitlement program: Obamacare.  Not only is it an entitlement in a general sense because of its myriad subsidy schemes, it also contains specific entitlement programs within it.  One is called the CLASS Act, of all things.  It provides subsidies for the purchase of home care insurance and its structure almost guarantees trillions in additional unfunded liabilities.  Even the Obama administration has retreated on the CLASS Act because of the financial impossibility of the program. 

Bush and Obama have turned the U.S. into a crony-capitalist country.  One author speculated about the tipping point and concluded it occurred during either the Bush bailout or the Obama stimulus package, each one totaling almost one trillion dollars.  Does it really matter how we apportion blame when they both deserve it? 

The Who performed a rousing song about revolution entitled “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  The last line is “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” 

Republican and Democratic partisans argue about the righteousness of their parties, not acknowledging how similar the parties are in their desire for ever increasing power.  To Democrats I say:  “Subject Obama to the same standards you subjected Bush and you can’t rationally support him any more than Bush.”  To Republicans I say: “With friends like Bush, you don’t need enemies, especially if you are concerned with the fiscal disaster we are courting.”  Presidents such as Bush who have the label “conservative” are especially pernicious because fiscally conservative policies get blamed when in fact we had a spendthrift Bush-Republican regime. 

Rick Miller

Please also see my article on the Manhattan Libertarian Party website: