bookmark_borderRights are not privileges

Numerous people have been posting the following post on Facebook in the wake of George Floyd’s death:

I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
#BlackLivesMatter

Although it’s always a good thing to raise awareness of instances of injustice and to consider the experiences of other people, I strongly disagree with the concept of “white privilege.”

All of the things listed in the post are rights, not privileges. To go birding is a right. To go jogging or running is a right. To relax in the comfort of one’s own home is a right. To go to church or to Walmart or to a corner store is a right. To hold a cell phone or skittles or even a weapon is a right. To cash a check is a right. To go to a party, decorate for a party, or leave a party is a right. Sleeping is a right. Breathing is a right. Living is a right.

To classify these things as privileges is to argue that people do not have a right to do them. It is to argue that the problem is the fact that white people are able to do these things without thinking twice, as opposed to the fact that black people are not.  

Even if you accept that all of the people listed in the post were victimized because they were black – which I do not, because in many of the instances there is no evidence that racial motivation was involved – that does not mean that white people have privilege. What it means is that the rights of black people are being violated. This is an injustice that everyone should fight against, and the way to fight against it is to make it so that black people’s rights are not being violated anymore, not to make it so that white people’s rights are being violated too.

Let’s work towards a society in which everyone, regardless of skin color, can walk and run about freely, not a society in which no one can.

bookmark_borderCoronavirus vaccine should not be mandatory

When a vaccine for the coronavirus is eventually developed, it will be a huge benefit to those who want the protection and peace of mind that it brings. There will also almost certainly be a minority of people who – for one reason or another – would prefer not to receive the vaccine.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That’s why it’s disturbing that Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz said in an interview:

If a safe vaccine is to be developed for Covid-19, I hope it’s mandated, and I will defend it… Let me put it very clearly, you have no constitutional right to endanger the public and spread the disease, even if you disagree. You have no right not to be vaccinated, you have no right not to wear a mask, you have no right to open up your business… And if you refuse to be vaccinated, the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm.

Like most proponents of forcing people to undergo medial procedures against their will, Dershowitz points to the Supreme Court’s decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), in which the court ruled that states may require people to be vaccinated if their boards of health deem it necessary for public health or safety. As World Net Daily puts it: “If any individual is allowed to act without regard to the welfare of others, true liberty does not exist, the court argued.”

I strongly disagree with this school of thought. Each person has a right to do anything he or she wishes, as long as those actions do not violate the rights of anyone else. What determines whether an action violates someone’s rights? One must compare the effect of the action on other people against the effect of banning the action on the person or people who wish to do the action.

In the case of vaccines, the question is: Which has a more direct impact on a person, having other people existing in the world who have not been vaccinated, or being forced to be vaccinated against one’s will?

As Dershowitz and the Jacobson court note, people are affected somewhat by the existence of other people who do not get vaccines. The percentage of people in a community who have or have not been vaccinated does affect each individual’s risk of catching a disease. People who are not able to get vaccines for medical reasons can catch illnesses from those who have chosen not to get the vaccine.

However, this impact is indirect. Actually getting sick has a large and direct impact on someone’s life, but a person who hasn’t gotten a vaccine does not cause anyone to become sick. The disease does. The presence of unvaccinated people merely affects a person’s risk of catching a disease; it does not cause a person to catch a disease.

On the other hand, being required to undergo a medical procedure such as vaccination affects a person directly. It involves a person’s skin being pierced by a needle and a substance being injected into his or her body.

A person’s right to make decisions about his/her own body outweighs any supposed right to make decisions about the bodies of other people in order to manage one’s own disease risk. In other words, the importance of being able to decide for oneself whether or not to get vaccines outweighs the importance of being able to decide whether or not the people around you get vaccines.

A country in which the government has the power to take someone to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into their arm is a country without liberty in any meaningful sense of the word. To claim, as the Jacobson court did, that there is no true liberty without being able to control other people’s actions that might have an indirect impact on you, is ridiculous.

I would likely choose to get the coronavirus vaccine when it comes out. But it should be my choice.

bookmark_borderStudent loans and bad analogies

Another post that I began a long time ago but did not have time to finish until now…

A while ago, former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich tweeted, “If leftists want to forgive student debt shouldn’t they also propose giving back the money to everyone who worked hard and paid off their student loans?”

I agree with this sentiment 100%. Forgiving debt, as appealing as it may sound given the exorbitant cost of college and the crushing loans people incur in order to pay for it, poses significant fairness issues.

In regards to paying for college (or any expensive item, for that matter), there are essentially three different options:

  1. Someone could save up money and pay for college without taking out any loans.
  2. Someone could take out loans to pay for college.
  3. Someone could simply decide not to go to college.

Forgiving loans gives a benefit to people in category #2, but not to people in category #1 or category #3. It essentially gives free money to those who chose to pay for college through loans, while giving nothing to people who saved up for college or who opted out of college entirely.

In other words, forgiving loans is deciding to make something free after some people have already paid for it. If you are going to do this, fairness requires that you also refund the money for those who have already paid.

Various people in the twitterverse came up with snide responses to Newt’s tweet that on the surface sound witty and clever but actually don’t make sense.

First of al, several people personally attacked Gingrich for his sex life and the fact that he went through a divorce (imagine what the reaction on Twitter would be if someone attacked a female politician with this type of criticism), something that is not appropriate and has nothing to do with the issue of student loan forgiveness.

“Child labor laws… seems like a good idea, but have you thought about how frustrated all the kids who already lost limbs in the mill will feel??” tweeted @SamAdlerBell.

“Guys, look. We can cure cancer but what about everyone who already died from it? IDK seems unfair,” tweeted @sssh_sstrn

These analogies do not make sense. This is because saving up to pay for college – unlike losing a limb at work or dying of cancer – is something a person chooses to do.

For everyone in category #1 above, the option of borrowing money was available to them; they simply choose not to because, based on the rules in existence at the time, paying upfront made more financial sense. The decision to pay upfront for college is based on the presumption that if one took out loans, one would then be in debt and would eventually have to pay back the loans with interest, which would mean paying more in total. If people knew that student loans were going to be forgiven, no one in their right mind would pay for college; everyone would simply take out loans knowing that the loans would be forgiven and college would effectively be free. In other words, changing the rules so that loans are  forgiven makes it so that taking out loans actually would have made more financial sense, but there was no way for people to know this at the time. It is not OK to change rules after people have already made decisions based on the old rules.

My parents are an example of this. Ever since I was born, they gradually saved up money for college. Both of them worked at middle-class jobs and saved money every month. They were not poor, but they were not rich either. If the government announced that student debt was going to be forgiven, my parents and I would have legitimate reason to be upset. If they had known that there was no need to save for college, my parents would have had that much more discretionary income to spend. My family would have taken more vacations or bought a larger house or more clothes or toys. Perhaps one of my parents would have chosen not to work.

This simply does not apply to the situations claimed to be analogous by the people on Twitter. After workplace safety laws are passed, no worker thinks, “I wouldn’t have chosen to lose my limb had I known these workplace safety laws were going to be passed.” That would make absolutely no sense. Losing one’s limb is an accident; it is not something anyone chooses to do. Similarly, no one chooses to have cancer. So the anti-Newt tweeters are missing the point: student loan forgiveness is problematic because it changes the rules after people have already made decisions based on the old rules. The other situations have nothing to do with this.

Another Twitter user named @dave_petr wrote about his desire for future generations to have it better than he did and asserted that “selfless sacrifice is kinder.” But there is nothing kind about bestowing a benefit on some people while leaving out others who are equally deserving. People who have scrimped and saved to pay for college deserve kindness as well. They do not deserve to see other people receive the thing that they have scrimped and saved for, for free.

Either choose an amount of money (perhaps the cost of a typical college education, or the average amount of student debt per person) and give everyone that amount of money, or do nothing. Giving free money to some people and not others is unfair and morally wrong.

bookmark_borderPelosi calls anti-lockdown protests “unfortunate”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the recent protests against authoritarian, coronavirus-related government policies “unfortunate.”

Speaking on Fox News, she said: “That is really the answer. Testing. Tracing. Treatment. Shelter in place… But, you know, people will do what they do.” She added, “The fact is, we’re all impatient. We all want out. But what they’re doing is really unfortunate.”

I could not disagree more strongly. There is nothing “unfortunate” about people bravely fighting back against tyrannical governments. That is especially true when the government policies being protested against are endorsed as necessary and appropriate by the majority of people.

The anti-lockdown protests do not have to do with people being “impatient.” They have to do with people believing (correctly, in my opinion) that the government’s lockdown orders are morally wrong and violate people’s rights.

It may well be true that the measures Pelosi lists – shelter in place orders, testing, contact tracing, and treatment – are the best ways to reduce the risk posed by the coronavirus. But what she does not take into account is that reducing risk is not necessarily the most important value, to be maximized at all costs. Individual rights and liberty matter as well. It is OK for the government to take away people’s freedom of movement in order to slow the spread of the virus? How about to ban people from transacting business, thereby destroying their ability to make a living? And to what extent is it OK to take away people’s privacy through attempts to trace and monitor who they come in contact with?

People can legitimately come up with differing answers to these questions. Those with minority views on how best to deal with the coronavirus pandemic deserve to be heard. Their opinions are just as valid and important as those of the majority. Pelosi is wrong to presume that her opinions are automatically correct and that her values are the only ones that matter.

The fact the America has such a small-minded, unimaginative, and intolerant Speaker of the House is truly unfortunate.

bookmark_borderProtesting is labeled a “non-essential activity” in North Carolina

On Tuesday, over 100 people gathered in Raleigh, NC to protest against the state government’s stay-at-home orders. The group organizing the protest, ReOpenNC, characterizes (correctly, in my opinion) the restrictions on people and businesses imposed by Governor Roy Cooper as unconstitutional.

“You are in violation of the executive order,” a cop told the crowd. “You are posing a risk to public health. If you do not disperse, you will be taken and processed at Wake County jail.” Although most protesters eventually dispersed, one protestor, Monica Faith Ussery, was arrested and charged with violating the stay-at-home executive order. “I have a right to peacefully assemble,” she said.

After the protest, the Raleigh Police Department tweeted in response to a question, “Protesting is a non-essential activity.” In a separate statement, they wrote “More important is the health and wellness of all who live in our community… We simply want everyone to be safe during this very serious public health crisis.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing that the government can ban a fundamental First Amendment right simply because it is not essential. Ms. Ussery has a point: the First Amendment explicitly prohibits the government from making any law abridging “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” In other words, protesting against government policies is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to protect. Health and wellness are important, but the government’s primary job should be to protect people’s freedoms. When a fundamental right can be taken away merely because it poses a risk to public health, then we are not living in a free country.

bookmark_borderCoronavirus is no excuse for totalitarianism

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold suffering, from the lives lost to the economic devastation to the stress of routines being upended. But the most upsetting aspect of the crisis, in my opinion, is the curtailment of individual liberty. Local, state, and national governments have implemented increasingly strict measures to stop the spread of the virus, many of which violate people’s rights and therefore are morally wrong.

Many, if not most, states in the U.S. have enacted stay-at-home orders, meaning that all businesses are banned from operating, other than those that the government has deemed essential. Restaurant service, sporting events, and most retail shopping is banned. So are gatherings of more than ten people. People are urged, with varying degrees of coerciveness, not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

As Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes in an excellent column, the amount of power that the government has seized merely by declaring an emergency is disturbing. “In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker is empowered by state law to ‘exercise any and all authority over persons and property’ in whatever way he deems necessary to cope with the crisis. The law allows him to do virtually anything – from banning weddings to prohibiting travel to commandeering utilities to closing schools to throwing innumerable people out of work by declaring their jobs nonessential. Legislative approval is not required. Nor is a public vote. Nor is there any fixed date on which those godlike powers must be surrendered. Similarly sweeping emergency powers are available to governors in other states. Many similar powers are available to the president.”

Continue reading “Coronavirus is no excuse for totalitarianism”

bookmark_borderDestroying other people’s property is not OK (even if it’s a $30,000 purse)

While browsing around the internet recently, I came across this story about a woman who is suing a country club for negligence because a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 purse. The country club responded by filing a cross-claim against the waiter, its own employee.

This incident happened when Maryana Beyder and her husband were dining at the Alpine Country Club in New Jersey last year. It is unclear whether the waiter spilled the wine intentionally or not. “Whoever the waiter was proceeded to pour red wine and didn’t stop,” said Beyder’s lawyer. “Poured it all over her. Poured it all over her husband. And poured it all over a very expensive Hermes bag.” The lawyer expressed disappointment with the country club’s suit against the waiter, saying “There was never any intention of my client to go after this person at all. The only intention was to have the employer take responsibility.”

In my opinion, the waiter is the person who should have to pay for the damage to the purse. After all, the waiter is the person who caused the damage.

Continue reading “Destroying other people’s property is not OK (even if it’s a $30,000 purse)”

bookmark_borderMGM should not be punished for Las Vegas shooting

Recently, MGM Resorts agreed to pay $800,000 to victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Survivors and victims’ family members had sued the company, which owns the Mandalay Bay Resort, the hotel from which gunman Stephen Paddock fired on attendees at a country music festival from his suite on the 32nd floor. According to the Washington Post, various lawsuits in the aftermath of the 2017 shooting accused MGM of negligence for “failing to monitor the gunman as he delivered guns and ammunition to his room.”

The settlement “sends a strong message to the hospitality industry that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken,” said Muhammad S. Aziz, a lawyer representing over 1,300 victims and survivors.

Although it is completely understandable to want to do everything possible to prevent such tragedies, and to compensate their victims, the lawsuits against MGM are morally wrong and the company should not have to pay anything.

It is simply not true that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken. It is the moral duty of every person to respect the rights of others and to refrain from harming innocent people. But no person, company, or organization has a duty to actively prevent crime. To argue that MGM had a duty to monitor Paddock and the items he was bringing to his room is to argue that hotel guests have no privacy rights. This is morally wrong. What a hotel guest does in his/her room, and which items he/she brings there, are none of the hotel’s business. It is not clear how far hotels would have to go in violating guests’ privacy rights in order to avoid lawsuits. Would they need to search all bags brought into the hotel? Would they need to require guests to go through metal detectors, or though full-body scanners, or to be strip-searched? Would they need to install cameras in all rooms to monitor everything guests do? To take the logic behind the lawsuits further, one might argue that hotels have a duty to require psychological evaluations before anyone is allowed to make a reservation. And why stop at hotels? Mass shootings have taken place at schools, movie theaters, churches, and all different types of places. Would these places need to require strip searches and psychological evaluations for everyone who enters as well?

Clearly, a world in which “all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken” is a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. It is a world with no privacy and no freedom. Businesses and organizations should not be allowed, let alone required, to adopt policies and procedures that take away people’s privacy and freedom of movement.

“This settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” said Robert Eglet, another attorney involved in the lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

But there is nothing fair about punishing an innocent company that did nothing wrong. Stephen Paddock is to blame for the shooting, and no one else. Because Paddock died by suicide after the shooting, it is impossible for victims to obtain financial compensation from him. And as understandable as it is to seek compensation elsewhere, one cannot simply find another person or entity to sue without regard for whether that person or entity is actually to blame for the shooting.

The lawsuits against MGM, and the resulting settlement, send the message that privacy, fairness, and individual responsibility do not matter. This is just wrong. Fundamental moral principles should not be sacrificed in the name of preventing tragedies.

bookmark_borderAdditional thoughts on Straight Pride Parade, protests, and District Attorney

The Straight Pride Parade that took place two weeks ago inspired a wide variety of reactions from politicians, judges, law enforcement officials, and others. Here is a summary of these developments and my opinions on them:

Battle between Suffolk D.A. and judge

36 people who protested against the parade were arrested for crimes such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on police officers. For 20 arrestees charged only with the first two crimes, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office attempted to drop the charges, but Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott ordered them to be arraigned anyways. This did not please Suffolk D.A. Rachael Rollins, who successfully petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the judge’s decision. “By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest,” Rollins said in a statement. “At my request, prosecutors used the discretion constitutionally allocated to the executive branch to triage cases and use our resources most effectively to protect public safety… For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech—many of whom had no prior criminal record—I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role.”

But from what I observed at the parade, the protesters were not merely exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech. They were attempting to prevent the parade marchers, whom they vastly outnumbered, from exercising theirs. Screaming at, swearing at, taunting, and insulting people for expressing a minority viewpoint is not free speech; it is bullying. Some protesters against the parade went so far as to openly advocate violence. According to the Boston Herald, an Antifa member named Jon Crowley said that violence was the only appropriate response to the parade. “We’re covered in black so when we attack these guys we can’t be prosecuted,” Crowley said. “They are fascists, 100%. How else are you going to get them to shut up?”

News flash: you do not have a right to get people to “shut up” when you disagree with their views. That’s the whole point of the First Amendment. People who attempt to silence and bully those with unpopular views should, when their actions rise to the level of breaking the law, be prosecuted as zealously and punished as severely as the law allows. Situations like what happened at the parade are the least appropriate situation for prosecutors to consider dropping charges. Also, contrary to what D.A. Rollins implied in her statement, public safety should not be the most important priority of the D.A.’s office; justice should be. And the most important part of justice is standing up for the rights of individuals (such as the parade marchers) against those who would trample on them (such as the jeering mobs of protesters).

John Ciccone, editor of South Boston Today, expressed his thoughts in an emailed statement with which I wholeheartedly agree: “It is the opinion of this newspaper and the overwhelming majority of readers heard from on this matter that the position and action Suffolk County DA Rollins has taken is absolutely wrong. In regard to the members of the so called ANTIFA organization, DA Rollins’ actions encourages the thug like violence of that group, who routinely have denied the rights of free speech and legal and peaceful protest of those they disagree with, not only in Boston during last weekend’s incidents, but in cities all across the nation. Those members of ANTIFA should be made an example of and be prosecuted to the full extend of what the law allows and if found guilty, given the maximum penalty. The message sent out should be loud and clear that they will not be allowed to come into Suffolk County and attack civilians and members of law enforcement without paying a heavy price for those actions.”

Continue reading “Additional thoughts on Straight Pride Parade, protests, and District Attorney”

bookmark_borderStraight Pride Parade protesters demonstrate intolerance and hypocrisy

On Saturday, August 31, a Straight Pride Parade and rally took place in Boston. This provided an opportunity for so-called liberals to take to the streets and demonstrate their intolerance and hypocrisy.

The protesters chanted things such as “Boston hates you,” “go away,” “f*** you,” and “Nazi scum, get off our streets.” They ridiculed the fact that fewer people attended the parade than the protests against it. And they ridiculed the classical music that played as rally organizers waited for more supporters to arrive, saying “Your music is 500 years old, just like your values.” (What does how old values are have to do with whether they are right or wrong?) They taunted police officers, asking “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” (as if protecting an unpopular minority against a bullying majority is a bad thing). They pointed their middle fingers as the parade made its way down Boylston Street and as the rally began on City Hall Plaza. One protester screamed, “What do you have to be proud of? What have you done?” (Can you imagine what the reaction would be if someone asked this of gay pride demonstrators?)

Continue reading “Straight Pride Parade protesters demonstrate intolerance and hypocrisy”