bookmark_borderSacrificing for the greater good is nice, but not necessary

One sentiment that I hear again and again during the Covid-19 pandemic is that everyone must work to slow the spread of the virus. In other words, people must make sacrifices for the greater good. 

All over the internet and the news media, people voice the idea that those who do not work and sacrifice to combat the virus are lacking in character. (Sometimes people use much nastier and more offensive language than “lacking in character.”) Journalist Dan Rather, for example, tweeted: “You want college football? Well guess what. You don’t get it if you don’t work to ensure America isn’t awash in a sea of deadly virus.” Reverend John F. Hudson expressed similar views in a column that I read in my local newspaper. He criticizes people who argue, “You are not taking away my right to do nothing.” All that is being asked of people, he points out, is to wear masks and stay six feet apart. “Why is this so hard for so many?” he asks rhetorically. “Why is this request twisted by some into the absurd idea that by actually following these public health mandates, we are somehow giving up our civil liberties?”

Actually, the idea that requiring people to follow public health mandates violates civil liberties is neither twisted nor absurd. It’s correct. People do have a right to do nothing. This idea is called the non-aggression principle. 

Wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from other people isn’t necessarily a huge sacrifice (although the idea that this is the only sacrifice people are being asked to make ignores the fact that in the beginning stages of the pandemic, governments banned people from parks and beaches and forcibly closed all non-essential businesses, even when these activities could be done with social distancing). I personally do not mind wearing a mask inside stores and businesses and staying 6 feet apart from others while walking around. But people are not morally obligated to make any sacrifice, no matter how small. As long as one does not actively inflict harm on another person, one is not doing anything wrong. Sure, making sacrifices for the greater good is nice. But it’s not obligatory, and people who don’t do it are not bad people. Requiring work and sacrifices as a condition of living in America violates people’s rights and goes against the idea of liberty upon which our country was founded. 

bookmark_borderAttorney General Barr is 100% right on Covid restrictions

Attorney General William Barr recently expressed the same sentiments that I have been writing about for a long time on this blog: that the restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and association that have been implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic are a violation of individual rights.

“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said during a Constitution Day speech at Hillsdale College. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Unsurprisingly, various authoritarian politicians and commentators criticized Barr’s remarks.

Joe Biden asked rhetorically, “Did you ever, ever think, any of you that following the recommendations of the scientific community to save your and other peoples’ lives is equivalent to slavery, people being put in chains?” 

Rep. James Clyburn called Barr’s comments “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” and pointed out that “slavery was not about saving lives,” while “this pandemic is a threat to human life.”

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe called Barr’s comments an “obscene comparison” and called Barr “an evil fool.”

Sunny Hostin of The View tweeted, “Statements like these make you realize many in this country know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.”

“If you think that this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history, I’d suggest you read up on the Alien Sedition Acts,” complained historian Jon Meacham. “I’d suggest you talk to the Japanese Americans who were interned during the Second World War. Talk to the victims of Joe McCarthy. Talk to the victims of one of Barr’s predecessors, A. Mitchel Palmer, who led raids in 1919 and 1920 as part of the first Red Scare. And talk to the Black folks who, in my native region, lived under apartheid until about 60 years ago… We’re talking about scientifically uncontroversial public health measures. This is not some ideologically-driven plot on behalf of the public health officials, and the alleged deep state, to change American lives. It’s to try to save American lives because of a global pandemic.”

It is disturbing that so many prominent individuals believe that telling people they cannot leave their homes for any but essential purposes is no big deal. Let’s address their arguments one by one:

First of all, contrary to Clyburn’s and Tribe’s claims, Barr’s comments are neither ridiculous, nor God-awful, nor obscene, and Barr is neither evil nor a fool. Rather, Barr’s comments are correct, and he is a good and intelligent person for making them. It is the criticisms of Barr that are ridiculous, awful, and obscene, and the people defending lockdowns who are evil. As for Clyburn’s allegation that Barr’s comments are “tone-deaf,” I do not understand this criticism. What is relevant is whether the content of a statement is right or wrong, not the tone in which it is expressed. Barr’s statement was right, and desperately needed. Therefore, it was right of him to make it.

Second, there is the argument, made by Biden and Meacham for example, that because stay-at-home orders were “scientifically uncontroversial” and recommended by experts in public health, they do not violate civil liberties. But the fact that something is recommended by the scientific community has nothing to do with whether or not it is an intrusion on civil liberties. One can accept the claim that stay-at-home orders are the best way to slow the spread of the virus while at the same time believing that they are morally wrong. This is because factual claims and moral claims are completely different and independent. Science is a great way of gaining factual knowledge, e.g. how the world works, which things tend to be correlated with each other, which are the best ways of achieving particular outcomes. But science cannot tell us anything about moral right and wrong, e.g. what constitutes justice, which rights people have, whether or not a particular action violates civil liberties. Only philosophy – thinking logically about a topic – can do that.

Similarly, Barr’s critics make the argument that because stay-at-home orders were motivated by the desire to save lives, they do not violate civil liberties. But the motivation of an action has nothing to do with whether or not it violates civil liberties. Clyburn is correct that slavery was not about saving lives, while the pandemic is a threat to human life, and saving lives is the motivation behind the lockdown measures. But this is irrelevant. Meacham may be correct that public health officials are not motivated by any sinister desire to destroy people’s freedoms. But regardless of their motivation, destroying people’s freedoms is what they are doing. Restricting liberty in the way that governors around the country have done during the coronavirus pandemic is morally wrong regardless of its motivation and regardless of how many infections it prevents or lives it saves.

Then there is Hostin’s claim that opponents of stay-at-home orders “know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.” Actually, it is defenders of stay-at-home orders who know nothing about what it means to be oppressed. Remember, we are talking about state and municipal governments telling their citizens that they cannot walk around at parks or beaches, go to church, buy guns (a right explicitly protected by the Constitution), or get together with other people. We are talking about state and municipal governments forcibly closing all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to sports teams to barbershops to book stores to clothing stores. We are talking about governments telling their citizens that even for those few “essential” purposes for which they are allowed to leave their homes, they must do so as seldom as possible and avoid stopping to browse or chat. We are talking about governments requiring their citizens to disclose their recent contacts and whereabouts for contact-tracing purposes. That this is oppression is an understatement. Anyone who cannot see this has no idea what oppression is.

And finally there is Meacham’s list of incidents from history that he claims are worse intrusions on civil liberties than stay-at-home orders. Some of the items on the list are, indeed, violations of civil liberties. But none of them are worse than the restrictions on people’s freedoms that have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, for example, was certainly wrong, but it affected 112,000 people, while the coronavirus restrictions take away the liberty of every single person in America (approximately 320 million people). The Alien and Sedition Acts, McCarthyism, and Palmer’s raids did violate the rights of the individuals targeted, but this is nowhere near as problematic as stripping away freedom of movement from the entire populace. No one would defend Jim Crow laws, but if it’s wrong to force people to use segregated restaurants, stores, and beaches, isn’t it even more wrong to ban people from these places entirely? In scope and scale, in terms of the number of people harmed, the number of rights taken away, and the areas of life affected, none of the historical events mentioned by Barr’s critics matches the wide-ranging deprivation of freedom inflicted by governments in response to the pandemic.

To sum up, the arguments against Barr and in defense of stay-at-home orders are ignorant, illogical, offensive, and wrong. Barr should be commended, not insulted, for speaking out in defense of the Constitution and individual rights. However, there is one respect in which I disagree slightly with Barr’s comments. I would get rid of the “other than slavery” part, because I believe that stay-at-home orders are worse than slavery. Kudos to Attorney General Barr for condemning these restrictions as the egregious violation of civil liberties that they are.

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_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_borderGloucester mayor’s unprofessional, authoritarian comments

Sefatia Romeo Theken, the Mayor of Gloucester, Massachusetts, recently made some highly offensive and unprofessional comments bashing people for getting together on boats.

“I’m tired of everyone’s baloney,” she said in an interview with WHDH. “If you want to go in the ocean, respect it. Just because it’s open doesn’t mean it’s all yours.” These comments were directed at people who have the audacity to go boating, tie their boats together with other boats, and go swimming together in the ocean.

How does the decision of people to do an activity that does not harm anyone and does not infringe on anyone else’s rights constitute “baloney”? How can someone be “tired” of something that does not affect her and is not her business? And how does getting together with people on other boats constitute treating the ocean like it’s “all yours”? Doing this does not prevent other people from using the ocean in any way; therefore I do not see what is wrong with it. The true baloney is politicians’ belief that they have the right to tell individuals what they are and are not allowed to do. The people of Massachusetts are the ones who should be tired of her baloney, not the other way around.

In a different interview, Theken criticized boaters for “putting everyone else’s life in jeopardy.”

“It’s not your constitutional right to come onto a beach,” she continued. “It’s not your amendment. It’s respect. What happened to respect? You’re not entitled to this. We all work for it. We’re supposed to be in it together. Massachusetts for Massachusetts. Gloucester is a welcoming community all the time, but respect us. That’s all I’m asking — respect.”

Actually it is everyone’s constitutional right to come onto a beach. There is no amendment to the Constitution that includes the word “beach,” but that does not mean people do not have a constitutional right to go there. The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And the Tenth Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” These amendments mean that anything not explicitly prohibited in the Constitution is allowed. The Constitution does not include any language prohibiting people from going to the beach or from gathering together with other boaters on the ocean; therefore people have a constitutional right to do both these things.

Additionally, regardless of what the Constitution says, people have a moral right to go to the beach and get together with other boaters if they wish to. Yes, doing so carries an increased risk of virus transmission compared to boating solo or staying in one’s house. But it is incorrect to say that doing so “puts everyone else’s life in jeopardy.” The virus puts everyone’s life in jeopardy. People have no moral obligation to actively work to reduce transmission of the virus; therefore the fact that an activity carries an increased risk of transmission does not make the activity morally wrong. In other words, contrary to Theken’s claim, people are entitled to go to the beach and to do any activities they wish there, so long as those activities do not interfere with other people’s ability to do the same.

What is morally wrong is Theken’s nasty criticism of people who have done nothing to deserve it, as well as her apparent belief that she has a right to tell other people what they are and are not allowed to do. Her talk of respect is ludicrous. There is nothing disrespectful whatsoever about what these boaters are doing. They are minding their own business and doing an activity that they have every right to do. Theken, on the other hand, is demonstrating profound disrespect: disrespect for her fellow human beings, disrespect for individual liberty, and disrespect for the fact that people have different tolerances for risk and the right to make decisions accordingly. She has no right to ask for respect when she demonstrates not one iota of respect for the rights of others.

Making matters even worse, Theken tweeted similar sentiments to those that she expressed in interviews:

I doubt anyone thinks that COVID doesn’t go out to sea. People are aware that boating get-togethers carry a risk of virus transmission but are willing to live with this risk, as is their right. Theken is correct that low-risk is not the same as zero risk. That is the whole point. People have a right to make their own decisions about how to manage risk. Some people prefer to be cautious and stay home as much as possible, while others are comfortable with group activities and believe that the benefits of these activities outweigh the risks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Does Theken believe that only activities with zero risk of virus transmission are acceptable? That is utterly preposterous – every activity, including grocery shopping, mailing a letter, walking down the street, or receiving a delivery, carries some risk – yet it is what the above tweet implies.

These comments demonstrate a lack of professionalism, poor command of both logic and grammar, and most importantly, a disturbing tendency towards authoritarianism. I don’t even live in Gloucester, but I am tired of her baloney, and every resident of Gloucester should be as well.

bookmark_borderYes, COVID-19 restrictions really are tyranny

Numerous people, including myself right here on this blog, have characterized government policies designed to combat COVID-19 as tyrannical. Dictionary.com has several definitions of “tyranny,” including “arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority,” “oppressive or unjustly severe government on the part of any ruler,” and “undue severity or harshness.” In my opinion, the stay-at-home orders unilaterally imposed by governors across the country, prohibiting citizens from moving about freely and conducting their daily lives, fit this definition perfectly. But in a recent column, journalist and political consultant Gary Pearce dismisses the arguments against these authoritarian policies and claims instead that systemic racism is the real tyranny.

Pearce derisively writes that “people across North Carolina and the nation protested against what they called the ‘tyranny’ of COVID-19 restrictions that kept them from bars, gyms and hair salons for a few months.” He claims, “COVID restrictions aren’t tyranny. They’re an inconvenience during a public health crisis.” What Americans should truly be concerned about, according to Pearce, is “the tyranny of racism that has terrorized African Americans for centuries and continues today.”

While some of the examples that Pearce lists, such as slavery, Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws, arguably constitute tyranny, these things have long ago been abolished. Other examples that he mentions do (at least occasionally) happen today: lynchings, beatings, and instances of police brutality such as that which took the life of George Floyd, for example. But while I would never deny (nor would anyone in their right mind) that these things are horrible and unquestioningly violate the rights of their victims, they do not constitute tyranny. This is because these actions are not carried out as part of a deliberate government policy but are isolated incidents, almost universally condemned and punished just as any other crime would be. Crimes committed by individual people, as wrong as they are, are not tyranny.

Pearce also alleges that the police response to the Black Lives Matter protests constitutes tyranny. He criticizes police officers’ “menacing presence,” their use of clubs, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protesters, and their armored cars, riot gear, and semiautomatic weapons. “Sometimes the police looked more like military units,” he writes. How can the way that police officers look, the weapons that they carry, the gear that they wear, or the vehicles that they drive, constitute tyranny? As for the use of clubs, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protesters, these would constitute tyranny if used systematically against innocent people, but the protesters against whom these things were used were far from innocent. Over the past few months, people associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have assaulted police officers and civilians, burned, smashed, and otherwise destroyed property, looted businesses, and vandalized countless statues and monuments. Although there have been a few isolated instances of police using excessive force against innocent people, the vast majority of instances of use of force were in response to acts of aggression by protesters. Defending people and property against violent mobs is not tyranny.

Contrary to what Pearce argues, COVID restrictions are the true tyranny here. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, governments around the country and world have trampled on individual rights on a massive scale. People have been told that they cannot run their businesses, shop at stores, eat in restaurants, attend church, gather in groups, go to parks or beaches, or even leave their homes, sometimes under penalty of fines or prison time. How can anyone argue that this is not tyranny? The fact that these policies have been instituted in response to a health crisis does not make them any less tyrannical. A pandemic does not mean that individual rights no longer exist, nor that it is okay to violate them. If it is tyrannical to force blacks and whites to use separate restaurants, stores, and barber shops as Pearce alleges, how can it not be tyrannical to ban all people from restaurants, stores, and barber shops altogether?

So in conclusion, although instances of racism and police brutality are certainly unjust, they are not systemic, nor do they constitute tyranny. Stay-at-home orders, on the other hand, violate everyone’s fundamental rights to make their own choices and therefore are the true tyranny. In the words of John Wilkes Booth (and also the Virginia state motto), sic semper tyrannis!

bookmark_borderNew Jersey gym owners standing up for freedom

Two New Jersey men named Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti are facing fines of $10,000 per day and jail time for the horrendous crime of… opening their gym.

Pursuant to Governor Phil Murphy’s executive order, gyms are still not allowed to be open except for one-on-one personal training. But that did not stop Smith and Trumbetti from opening Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey. Back in May, the gym opened in defiance of the stay-at-home order. Supporters holding American flags and chanting “Reopen New Jersey,” “We are not afraid,” and “Murphy’s a tyrant” filled the parking lot. State officials issued summonses for disorderly conduct to the owners and ordered the gym to close. In June, the gym was allowed to open again for nutrition and clothing sales only, but they soon began welcoming customers for indoor workouts. Since then, the gym has been issued 14 citations and has been ordered to close by a judge. Smith and Trumbetti steadfastly refused and were arrested on July 27 for contempt of court, obstruction, and violation of a disaster control law. After they got out of jail, they removed the gym’s front doors so that state officials could not change the locks. In response, state officials boarded up the entrance with plywood. Then, Smith and Trumbetti kicked down the plywood barricades in front of a cheering crowd and once again allowed members into the gym. Now the state is pushing to impose fines of $10,000 per day as well as additional jail time.

“I am grateful that the court recognized the need for compliance,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal when a judge initially ordered Atilis Gym to close. “The vast majority of businesses and residents are following these rules and doing their part to keep their friends and neighbors safe, and those few companies who flout our Executive Orders are once again on notice that we will hold them accountable, and that there will be serious consequences for their actions.”

This statement is typical of the authoritarian attitudes that so many government officials have adopted during the Covid pandemic. Neither the gym’s owners nor its customers are doing anything wrong – each person has the right to decide for himself or herself how best to balance safety and quality of life amidst the pandemic. No one is obligated to follow unjust rules, and no one should be punished for merely operating a business and providing a place for their fellow citizens to exercise. This talk of compliance, consequences, and being held accountable is nothing short of Orwellian.

Smith and Trumbetti have sued Murphy and his administration, alleging that his restrictions are unconstitutional. “The government has to trust its citizens at some point, and say — you know what, everybody needs to be responsible,” said their lawyer, James Mermigis. “We all know how contagious and horrible this disease can be, I’m not disputing that at all, but there needs to be a balance”

Interviewed by Neil Cavuto of Fox News, Trumbetti vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court. “Good luck,” Trumbetti said. “You’re going to be violating our Constitutional rights, and we’ll go ahead with a lawsuit against them and we will stay in business… We will be open.”

“There’s no excuse for the way that we’ve been treated,” Smith added. “We started this peacefully and kept it peaceful the entire time.”

Right on. Salute to these two brave individuals who are standing up to tyranny.

bookmark_borderBiased NYT article about Covid in Sweden

The New York Times recently published an article criticizing Sweden’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for not being authoritarian enough. Instead of ordering individuals to stay in their homes and businesses to close, Sweden chose a policy of educating its citizens about risks and allowing them to make their own decisions. Restaurants, bars, stores, gyms, and parks have remained open, and people have been free to go about their lives with few restrictions.

The article by Peter Goodman of the New York Times states: “Not only have thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden’s economy has fared little better.” The article criticizes “the assumption that governments must balance saving lives against the imperative to spare jobs, with the extra health risks of rolling back social distancing potentially justified by a resulting boost to prosperity. But Sweden’s grim result — more death and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one: A failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.”

The article quotes Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who says: “They literally gained nothing. It’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”

This viewpoint completely ignores the importance of liberty and individual rights. The main problem with lockdowns and other restrictions on people’s movement and activity is not that they hurt the economy (although that is a big downside); it is that they violate people’s rights. People have a fundamental right to move about freely and to decide for themselves how they wish to balance safety with quality of life. It is morally wrong for the government to order people to stay in their homes and to ban activities because it believes they are too dangerous for people to be allowed to do. So contrary to Kirkegaard’s claims, Sweden did indeed gain something: approximately four months of its citizens living in freedom, with their fundamental rights being respected! Unlike other countries, Sweden refrained from trampling on the rights of its people. That is not nothing.

The tradeoff that governments face when deciding how best to respond to a pandemic is not between safety and economic prosperity. Nor is it, as Goodman’s article suggests, a no-brainer of protecting both safety and the economy as opposed to doing nothing and allowing both to suffer. It is a question of whether or not to sacrifice individual liberty for the common good. And the answer to this question should always be, NO! Individual liberty is not simply a consideration to be balanced against other considerations, such as safety, health, or the economy. Respecting individual liberty is a requirement. As soon as one begins speaking of balancing individual liberty with something else, individual liberty has lost. Rights are absolute, and respecting them is mandatory, regardless of the effects on health, safety, and the economy.

Another claim made in the article is that the virus itself, not restrictive government policies imposed in response to it, is the cause of economic damage. Goodman points out that even in countries such as Sweden that have not forcibly shut businesses down, many people have been voluntarily avoiding businesses because of concerns about catching the virus. He cites a study by the University of Copenhagen which found that people over 70 in Sweden reduced their spending more than they did in Denmark, indicating that they considered shopping to be more risky without government-imposed social distancing measures in place.

But that is exactly what is supposed to happen. People have the right to make their own decisions about which risks, if any, they are willing to take with regards to the virus. This means that people who are comfortable going to stores and restaurants should be free to do so, while people who are not comfortable should be free to stay home. If the fact that the government is not trampling on everyone’s rights makes some people feel less safe, and therefore causes them to decide to stay home, then so be it! People’s decisions to curtail their activities may have the same economic result as forcible shutdowns, but the fact that one of these things is voluntary and the other is not, makes all the moral difference in the world.

By not violating the rights of its citizens, Sweden has done the right thing. The results of this policy, whether measured in lives lost or economic damage, are irrelevant. If a policy violates individual rights – as the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders implemented by most countries do – then it is morally wrong, regardless of how many lives are saved. By assuming that the result of a policy is the only thing that matters, the New York Times article is ignoring the most important thing in the world: individual rights.