bookmark_borderPavel Bure’s refreshing comments on BLM

The recent protests by professional athletes in a variety of sports have been demoralizing to anyone who truly values justice. The decision by athletes and their leagues to cancel games as an expression of support for the Black Lives Matter movement has made me, until this point an avid sports fan, seriously consider boycotting watching sports.

It was refreshing when I happened upon some comments by retired Russian NHL superstar Pavel Bure on the BLM movement. “If we talk about equality, one law should be interpreted equally for everyone, he said, according to a translation by RT. “If something happens to a white person, it’s OK, but if he is black – it’s a big tragedy. All people should be treated equally. I worked in America for more than 20 years playing with guys from different ethnic groups. My best friend was Gino Odjick, an American Indian who introduced me to his ethnic community. But native Indians are the most oppressed nation in North America. Donald Brashear, a black guy, was also my friend and there was no racism. What is happening now is outrageous hysteria, reverse racism. Why should anyone apologize?”

Retired NHL goalie Ilya Bryzgalov also expressed refreshingly reasonable views on this topic. “I don’t see any connection between the NHL games and the Wisconsin shooting, which we know very little about,” he remarked, according to RT. “How can ice hockey and sport be linked to unlawful acts performed by a policeman?… I’m tired of this hype. Talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, I just want to ask, don’t the lives of other nations, like Latin Americans and Asians, matter? It’s highly politicized. Finding a connection between such things is absurd!”

Exactly. The fact that the NHL canceled games as a protest against a police shooting in Wisconsin is absurd. As both gentlemen expressed, everyone should be treated equally, and the BLM movement does the exact opposite of that. It is not appropriate for the NHL or any other sports league to express support for this movement. 

bookmark_borderPennsylvania coronavirus restrictions ruled unconstitutional

In a rare piece of good news in our increasingly conformist and authoritarian world, Judge William Stickman IV of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled the state’s coronavirus restrictions unconstitutional. The restrictions, implemented by Governor Tom Wolf, forbade people from leaving their homes or gathering in groups and shut down all “non-life-sustaining” businesses. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included hair salons, horse trainers, drive-in theaters, state legislators, and four Pennsylvania counties. 

“Even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” wrote Judge Stickman. “The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms — in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble. There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment. The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures.”

“The court found in all respects that the orders issued by the governor and the secretary of health were unconstitutional,” said Thomas King III, attorney for the plaintiffs, according to ABC6. “What it means is they can’t do it again, and they should not have done it in the past.”

“This ruling stands for the proposition that even in a pandemic, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do not forfeit their constitutionally protected rights,” Thomas Breth, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told WTAE.

“It actually brings tears to my eyes,” said Nichole Missino, owner of a barbershop that had been forcibly shut.

On the other hand, proponents of totalitarian policies that prioritize safety over individual rights were not pleased with the ruling. 

“The actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save lives,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for the governor. 

“Anything that limits our ability and the number of tools we have is a challenge to public health,” complained state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

News flash: the fact that many governors did something does not make it right. The fact that something saves lives does not make it right, either. And if respecting individual liberty is a challenge to public health, then so be it. Taking away people’s freedom of speech, privacy, movement, and association is not a tool that anyone should have. 

bookmark_borderConfederate statue removed in Charlottesville, Virginia

Yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia, a statue of a Confederate soldier known as “At Ready” was removed from outside the county courthouse. The statue had stood since 1909, but county supervisors voted to get rid of it in August after Governor Ralph Northam signed a law giving local governments the power to more easily get rid of statues.

Disgustingly, crowds of people celebrated this erasure of history by cheering, dancing, and playing music, according to the Washington Post. They voiced their happiness and satisfaction with the removal of the statue and expressed how offensive they found the statue and its pedestal to be. “This is a magnificent moment,” said community organizer Don Gathers. “Now we’re moving the needle in a positive way.” State Delegate Sally Hudson said, “These statues have been haunting the community for decades… Taking down this statue is one step in reclaiming these public spaces.”

Nothing could be further than the truth. As I’ve written numerous times on this blog, the removal of Confederate statues and other Confederate symbols is intolerant and bigoted. This politically correct assault on the Confederacy and its iconography is essentially the winning side of a war beating up on the losing side. The removal of the “At Ready” statue, like all instances in which Confederate statues are taken down, is a mean-spirited act of bullying, and every person who supports it is a bully. It is the furthest thing possible from a magnificent moment, and it is moving the needle in a negative way, not a positive one. As for Hudson’s comments that Confederate statues have been “haunting” the community… speak for yourself. People who like Confederate statues would not characterize themselves as being “haunted” by them. Similarly, the statue’s removal does not reclaim public spaces for everyone. Those who like the statue will now feel less, nor more, welcome in the public space around the courthouse. But as usual, opinions and wishes that do not conform with the current requirements of political correctness are completely disregarded.

One silver lining to this demoralizing moment is that the statue was given to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which is figuring out a plan for a new location. But naturally, even that tiny piece of good news was intolerable to some anti-Confederate bigots. “We feel like it’s just basically toxic waste disposal in another community,” said Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

To call a beautiful statue “toxic waste” is not merely incorrect, but despicable and reprehensible. Schmidt’s comment is beyond disrespectful to the brave soldiers represented by the statue, as well as to the artist who painstakingly sculpted it. Confederate statues belong not only on battlefields, but in front of courthouses, in parks, on city streets, and everywhere. The fact that Schmidt and those who share her views unjustly got their way is bad enough, but for them not to accept even one tiny consolation for their defeated opponents demonstrates the depths of their intolerance. Confederate statues, flags, and names are being removed all across the country, and it’s not okay for the minority of people who like this statue to have a place where they can go to admire it? It is disturbing that such a nasty, thoughtless bully was able to get a job as an associate professor. Jalane Schmidt is a piece of toxic waste who deserves to be fired.

bookmark_borderRestaurant PPE fees are not price transparency

As they struggle to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, some restaurants are charging their customers fees for the added expenses required to comply with safety regulations. In some ways, this is understandable. Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic, and they are spending extra money on masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, barriers, takeout containers, paper menus, and individually packaged utensils and condiments. But from the customer’s point of view, it is simpler and more transparent for restaurants to simply increase their prices, as opposed to charging diners an extra fee.

Boston.com did an article about this new trend. A few examples listed in the article: Brassica Kitchen + Café in Jamaica Plain is charging a 3% fee for all takeout orders in addition to the 3% administrative fee that it charges for in-restaurant dining; Five Horses Tavern, Worden Hall, and Elm Street Taproom have introduced a 3% PPE fee; Shy Bird in Cambridge and Branch Line in Watertown have introduced a 5% “Safe & Sustainable” fee; and Top Dog in Rockport has implemented a 75 cent fee per order.

Several restauranteurs were interviewed in the article and explained the reasoning behind their new fees. “Diners really want to know where their money is going, and we wanted to make it really clear,” said Rebecca Kean of Brassica Kitchen + Café. Laurie Russell of Top Dog said that if she were a customer, she’d much prefer a fee to a price increase. “I’d be so upset,” she said. “I really just didn’t want to raise prices.”

I disagree with these sentiments. As a customer, I would much rather see higher prices than a mandatory added fee. In my opinion, PPE fees and safe and sustainable fees are an example of lack of price transparency. Quite frankly, when I purchase a product, I’m not as concerned with seeing where my money is going as I am with simply knowing how much the product is going to cost me. Thanks to tips and taxes which are not included in the prices listed on the menu, the restaurant industry is already lacking in price transparency. The last thing I would want to see when I go to a restaurant (aside from mandatory contact tracing forms, but that’s a whole different issue) is the need to do more math to determine how much I actually have to pay. The price listed on the menu should be the actual price. If a restaurant needs to increase that price from what it was before, I would completely understand, and so would the vast majority of customers. Restaurants are struggling mightily during this pandemic, so I’m hesitant to criticize any of their efforts to make ends meet. But additional fees are not a good solution. Raising prices would be just as effective in covering a business’s added costs and would be more straightforward for customers. Just as shipping and handling charges should be incorporated into the price of an item instead of added on afterward, restaurants should simply set their prices at a level that allows them to stay in business. If something is not optional, it should not be a separate item on the bill.

bookmark_borderBig Brother on campus

As colleges and universities attempt to resume in-person learning this fall, they are adopting policies that should be disturbing to anyone who values privacy or individual liberty. Schools have been cracking down on students who gather in groups, with Syracuse University bashing students as “selfish” for attending a party, Ohio State University suspending 228 students for partying, the University of Alabama issuing 639 sanctions, and Northeastern University expelling 11 students and refusing to return their tuition, to give just a few examples.

More disturbingly, many colleges are requiring students and employees to undergo Covid-19 testing as a condition of being on campus. Colby College in Maine, for example, requires students and employees to be tested three times a week, which will eventually go down to twice a week, according to the Washington Post. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign requires twice a week testing, and Miami University of Ohio also requires tests for students living on campus. At Harvard, students who live on campus must be tested three times per week, employees who have a high degree of contact with students must be tested twice per week, and students who live off campus as well as any employee who works on campus more then 4 hours per week must be tested once per week. The good news is that, according to Harvard’s coronavirus information page, most of the testing will be self-administered, which I believe consists of swabbing the inside of one’s nostrils, but not in the painful and invasive way that is typical when medical professionals administer the test. Regardless of how the testing is conducted, requiring a medical procedure as a condition of employment or attending school is wrong. People have the right to make their own medical decisions, and no one should be required to undergo a test to prove that they are free of a virus.

College students’ privacy rights are also under assault. Harvard’s data collection policies, for example, state that the university will track people’s movements for contact tracing purposes by logging their card swipes and their wifi locations. Worse, Albion College in Michigan is not only requiring students to undergo testing but also requiring them to download an app that Cheryl Chumley of the Washington Times correctly called “a surveillance nightmare.” This app tracks students’ locations in real time and automatically sends an alert to school administrators if they violate safety precautions. One forbidden activity is leaving campus without permission; any contact with the outside world is considered unacceptably risky. In Chumley’s words, these requirements amount to “tracking students, monitoring students’ behaviors, and punishing students, long-distance, without regard for due process or, more figuratively speaking, trial by jury.”

Some people might argue that these testing and tracing requirements do not violate anyone’s rights because no one has to attend or work at any particular institution. If you don’t want to get tested or have your location tracked, just don’t go to one of these schools, the argument goes. The problem with this argument is that if schools and employers are allowed to institute these types of requirements, there is nothing stopping all schools and employers from instituting them. And if all schools and employers require that people give up their privacy and medical freedom in order to take classes or work there, then for all practical purposes, people have no choice but to give up their privacy and medical freedom. In other words, if declining testing or contact tracing means giving up one’s job or one’s chance to attend a prestigious college, that is not true freedom. Thankfully, there are currently still numerous companies and schools that do not require virus testing as a condition of employment (Texas A&M and the University of Florida are two examples), but those that do are setting a disturbing precedent. The more institutions that institute these requirements, the less realistic it becomes to tell people that if they don’t want to be tested or tracked, they can simply choose not to go there. No one should have to choose between their education or job, and their rights to privacy and bodily integrity. Institutions should be prohibited from requiring virus testing or location tracking of their students and employees.

bookmark_borderLawsuit planned against MA flu shot mandate

A group of over 5,000 people are planning to file a lawsuit challenging Massachusetts’s new requirement that all children and teens get a flu vaccine in order to attend school. The group, called Flu You Baker, is gathering signatures for a class action lawsuit that it plans to file next month.

Governor Charlie Baker implemented the requirement in August in an attempt to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Department of Public Health website, everyone who will be going to a day care or school, from 6 months old to high school seniors, is required to get a flu shot, even if they are planning on attending school remotely. Additionally, college and grad school students under age 30 are required to get a flu shot if they are attending classes on campus.

Dr. Larry Madoff of the Department of Public Health explained: “It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of Covid-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve health care resources.”

“I don’t believe in government overreach,” Vincent Delaney, and organizer of the lawsuit, said to NBC Boston. “I believe it should be between a parent, their child, and the doctor.”

Renee Viens, a mother who signed onto the lawsuit, told the station: “This should be a parental choice because this can become a very slippery slope. If people are forced to take the vaccine, then what’s next? Is it the Covid vaccine that’s going to be forced on us? I just don’t think this is good precedent to set.”

I support this lawsuit 100%. Just as the government does not have a right to take away people’s freedom of movement and association in order to prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed, it does not have the right to invade people’s bodies in order to prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed. Nor do people have the right to have the bodies of other people invaded in order to reduce their own risk of catching the flu. What is particularly disturbing about this flu shot requirement is that it applies to students attending private schools as well as public, and even more bizarrely, applies to students who will be learning online. Plus, this requirement is more onerous than the already existing requirement that public school students receive vaccines for hepatitis B, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. Unlike these vaccines, which a person generally only needs to get once and then never needs to worry about again, the flu vaccine only lasts for a year, so students will need to get it every year. This is a significant quality of life issue and a clear case of government overreach. Like with any medical procedure, whether or not to get a flu shot should be an individual choice.

bookmark_border“No justice, no Derby”

The Black Lives Matter movement yesterday chose the Kentucky Derby as its latest occasion for protests. Activists gathered in a park near Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and marched towards the racetrack chanting “No justice, no Derby!” The fact that the race was even run was described as insensitive, callous, and tone-deaf.

These criticisms are, in my opinion, ridiculous. There are legitimate concerns about police brutality, and people are understandably demanding justice in the police-involved shooting of Breonna Taylor, who lived in Louisville. But why is any of this a reason to cancel the Kentucky Derby? Police officers who abuse their authority deserve to be punished, as do all those who perpetrate racism in our society. But to cancel the Derby would not accomplish this. It would punish the hardworking trainers, jockeys, grooms, and owners who have dedicated their lives to caring for horses, as well as the racing fans, and most importantly, the horses themselves who have been training for this moment all year long.

There are all sorts of injustices and wrongs in our society. Racism against black people exists in some places, and racism against white people exists as well. Anti-Semitism exists, as does prejudice against gay, transgender, and asexual people. Income inequality, social pressure, animal cruelty, and climate change are all serious issues. As a person on the autism spectrum, I face discrimination and other challenges on a daily basis. But no one who is affected by any of these other issues has demanded that major sporting events be canceled. Yes, racism and police brutality deserve to be condemned and protested against. But so do all forms of injustice. All of the injustices that I listed are equally widespread and equally problematic as what the Black Lives Matter movement is protesting against, if not more so. So why do Black Lives Matter protesters believe that their issue should be treated preferentially to all others? To demand that the Kentucky Derby be canceled as a response to the injustices that the BLM movement cares about is unfair to everyone affected by other injustices, as well as to everyone who loves horse racing.

The fact that something unjust happened does not mean that events that have absolutely nothing to do with the injustice should be canceled or that people who have nothing to do with the injustice should be punished. The Kentucky Derby is not a frivolous social occasion. It is more than an excuse to wear fancy hats and drink mint juleps. It is a prestigious sporting event for equine athletes, which horsemen and horsewomen build their entire year around. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the race was rescheduled from the first Saturday in May to the first Saturday in September, and was held without fans. These measures are more than sufficient; there is no reason to demand that the race be canceled entirely. Supporters of BLM should focus their criticism and protests upon people who are racist and police who commit acts of brutality; not innocent horses and the people who work with them. To demand that the world of horse racing stop in its tracks for the BLM movement, after already being disrupted around the country by the pandemic, is truly tone-deaf.

P.S. Although I was rooting for Tiz the Law, congratulations to Authentic and all of his humans!

bookmark_borderBaker defends restrictions on restaurants

The toll that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on small businesses is, in my opinion, just as upsetting and heartbreaking as the death toll. But it is difficult to determine how much of the harm to businesses is due to the virus itself and how much is due to the strict measures governments have implemented in response to it.

In Massachusetts, for example, restaurants must space tables 6 feet apart, sanitize tables and chairs between each party, frequently sanitize door handles, sinks, toilet seats, etc., make hand sanitizer available, provide condiments only in single-serving containers, and screen employees for symptoms every day according to the state’s mandatory safety standards. These policies make sense from a safety standpoint but add to restaurants’ operating costs and reduce their capacity. Worse, bars are prohibited entirely from opening, and Governor Charlie Baker has indicated that he will not allow them to open until a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid-19 is found. And in an apparent attempt to make things as difficult as possible for beer gardens and breweries, Baker introduced a new rule prohibiting customers from drinking alcohol if they do not also purchase food prepared on site. “Bars are closed in Massachusetts,” Baker said when explaining this mean-spirited new measure. “And bars masquerading as restaurants also need to be closed.”

Baker recently addressed the loss of many Massachusetts restaurants but declined to place any of the blame on his own executive orders. “It’s heartbreaking to see the way some of this plays out,” he said. “But if the customers aren’t there, then the rules at some level at the end of the day really aren’t going to solve the problem.” Baker even implied that stringent restrictions might help the economy get back to normal in the long run: “Honestly it’s why we’ve been so aggressive about trying to get this notion across that the most important thing we need to do, as a commonwealth, is to beat this thing back, because the more we beat it back, the more opportunity there is for people to feel comfortable that they can do some of the things they were doing before… The economic consequences of the virus, period, even with things that are open and available to customers, is profound and significant, and in many cases incredibly distressing.”

In Boston, we’ve lost Cheers, Legal Test Kitchen, Bergamot, Parsnip, The Pour House, Dick’s Last Resort, Lir, Popover King, the Friendly Toast, and iconic sports bar The Fours, to name just a few (you can see a more extensive list here). Café chain Pret A Manger closed all of its Boston locations, and David’s Tea closed of all its stores in the U.S. The Lafayette House, a restaurant and inn in Foxboro built in 1784, closed and is slated for demolition. In my town of Malden, we’ve lost Chinese restaurant Mandarin, tea house Chatime, and convenience store Village Mart, to give just a few examples. Peruvian-Italian restaurant Taranta in Boston’s North End cited, among other things, the fact that it could only operate at 30% capacity due to the government restrictions as a reason for going out of business.

Baker is correct in pointing out that the economy as a whole, and restaurants in particular, would almost certainly be suffering somewhat even without any government restrictions. Many people do not feel safe doing the activities they used to do and are voluntarily curtailing their activities in order to reduce their risk of catching the virus. And there is some logic to Baker’s contention that in the long run, the sooner the virus disappears, the sooner business conditions will return to normal. But the problem is that many, if not most, businesses cannot wait that long. Instead of living under draconian restrictions in an attempt, which may or may not succeed, to eradicate the virus, the world needs to learn to live with the reality that every activity carries some risk. Letting businesses make their own decisions about what safety measures to implement and customers to make their own decisions about which businesses they feel safe patronizing, is the best and fairest path forward. It is impossible to determine what percentage of the pain for restaurants and bars is due to people’s voluntary curtailing of their activities and what percentage is due to the government restrictions. But it’s safe to say that the restrictions are certainly not helping. By implementing these restrictions, Baker has decided that he values safety more than both the survival of small businesses and people’s rights to make their own decisions. The virus is making  things hard enough on businesses; the last thing they need is government restrictions making things even harder.