bookmark_borderTrump orders creation of National Garden of American Heroes

President Trump continues to fight back in the war on statues. Yesterday he signed an executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a statuary park called the National Garden of American Heroes.

The executive order reads as follows:

America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices. Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before. Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens… In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.

These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal. They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten. These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation. These monuments express our noblest ideals: respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union. They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes. In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come. To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance. In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed. Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down. Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.

These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn. My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory. In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.

It is not yet clear where the National Garden of American Heroes will be located or when it will open, although Trump’s goal is to have it opened before July 4, 2026. Funding and administrative support for the garden will be provided by the Department of the Interior. The garden will enable the public to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and learn about history. Trump specifies in his order that the statues should be realistic, as opposed to abstract.

Trump provides the following list of specific people to be included in the garden: “John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.”

He also provides the following list of more general categories of people who should be considered for inclusion: “the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.”

And importantly, he points out: “None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.” Amen to that.

In addition to the garden, this executive order also directs funding towards the commissioning of new statues to be installed in cities and towns where statues of historically significant Americans have recently been removed or destroyed.

My only criticism is that no Confederate historical figures are included in the list. Hopefully a few of them will make it into the garden as well. Interestingly, the executive order mentions the possibility that the task force might “encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals.” Does this mean that statues that cities and towns have decided to remove might find a new home in the garden? I hope so, because it is a shame for beautiful, magnificent statues to languish in storage instead of being on display where the public can appreciate them.

bookmark_borderRe-opening the country is about freedom, not just the economy

A few weeks ago, when the U.S. first began to emerge from coronavirus-related restrictions, President Trump acknowledged that opening the country might result in more deaths than would have occurred it the country had remained locked down.

ABC’s David Muir asked Trump, “Do you believe that’s the reality that we’re facing, that lives will be lost to reopen the country?”

Trump replied: “It’s possible that there will be some because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house… Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

The ABC News article described Trump’s stance as “directly acknowledging there will be a real, negative human cost in prioritizing an economic revival over a more cautious approach in favor of public health.”

This is typical of the way the debate over reopening the country has been framed: as a trade-off between the economy on one hand and health and safety on the other hand. But it’s not just the economy that’s at issue: it’s people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. The paternalistic, authoritarian restrictions that governments put in place to slow the spread of the virus did not only completely destroy the economy, ruin businesses small and large, and take away the livelihoods of millions of people. They also violated the rights of every single person: the right to move about freely, the right to assemble, the right to protest, the right to privacy, the right to religious freedom, and the right to bear arms, just to name a few. Governments had no right to enact these restrictions in the first place; therefore they could not possibly end the restrictions too soon. If something violates people’s rights, then the sooner it stops, the better.

But far too many people have described even the first cautious steps towards reopening the country as reckless, immoral, irresponsible, and even (according to one acquaintance on social media) “sickening.”

Epidemiologists Dr. Abby Greenberg and Dr. Harvey Finkel expressed such sentiments in a Boston Globe letter to the editor. “Opening up society and businesses now, or soon, will lead to many deaths,” they wrote. “Death is permanent. Economic loss can eventually be recouped. Trading deaths for dollars is unconscionable. Inconvenience and boredom must be borne with equanimity.”  

But it is not a matter of trading deaths for dollars. Nor is it even a matter of trading deaths for freedom. Freedom is a right. If something is a right, it cannot be taken away, full stop. It makes no sense to even debate whether or not freedom should be traded for health, or safety, or even lives. It is never OK to violate rights, to any degree, no matter how many lives could be saved by doing so. Restoring freedoms that should never have been taken away in the first place is neither reckless, nor irresponsible, nor sickening, nor immoral, nor unconscionable. It is a fundamental moral obligation. Contrary to what Greenberg and Finkel argue, extending the lockdown would be unconscionable.

Furthermore, it’s not about “inconvenience and boredom.” It’s about the moral principle that people have the right to make their own decisions about their lives. It’s not about the specific things that are sacrificed in an effort to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus; it’s about the principle that people should be free to weigh risks and decide for themselves what sacrifices (if any) to make to reduce their risk. How dare Greenberg and Finkel (and the many other people who think similarly) reduce this moral argument against the lockdown to a complaint about inconvenience and boredom? How dare they demand that people “bear with equanimity” the trampling of our fundamental rights?

It is common to hear the argument that a particular policy position is correct because it “saves lives,” as so many people have argued with respect to lockdown orders. It is difficult for opponents to argue against any policy position framed this way without sounding like callous jerks. But the fact that something saves lives does not automatically make it morally right. This point is explained wonderfully in an article by Anthony Davies and James Harrigan entitled “No Policy Can Save Lives; It Can Only Trade Lives.” Here is an excerpt:

Regardless of whether we acknowledge them, tradeoffs exist. And acknowledging tradeoffs is an important part of constructing sound policy. Unfortunately, even mentioning tradeoffs in a time of crisis brings the accusation that only heartless beasts would balance human lives against dollars. But each one of us balances human lives against dollars, and any number of other things, every day.

Five-thousand Americans die each year from choking on solid food. We could save every one of those lives by mandating that all meals be pureed. Pureed food isn’t appetizing, but if it saves just one life, it must be worth doing. Your chance of dying while driving a car is almost double your chance of dying while driving an SUV. We could save lives by mandating that everyone drive bigger cars. SUVs are more expensive and worse for the environment, but if it saves just one life, it must be worth doing. Heart disease kills almost 650,000 Americans each year. We could reduce the incidence of heart disease by 14 percent by mandating that everyone exercise daily. Many won’t want to exercise every day, but if it saves just one life, it must be worth doing.

Legislating any of these things would be ridiculous, and most sane people know as much. How do we know? Because each of us makes choices like these every day that increase the chances of our dying. We do so because there are limits on what we’re willing to give up to improve our chances of staying alive. Our daily actions prove that none of us believes that “if it saves just one life” is a reasonable basis for making decisions.

In another thoughtful article, Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic argues that in addition to negatively impacting people’s quality of life, lockdown measures could negatively impact people’s life expectancy as much as, or more than, the virus itself. He cites the dangers posed by food shortages, the likelihood of suicide and/or drug use among those whose livelihoods are destroyed, and the impact of a crashing economy on the medical system:

The general point is that minimizing the number of COVID-19 deaths today or a month from now or six months from now may or may not minimize the human costs of the pandemic when the full spectrum of human consequences is considered. The last global depression created conditions for a catastrophic world war that killed roughly 75 to 80 million people. Is that a possibility? The downside risks and costs of every approach are real, frightening, and depressing, no matter how little one thinks of reopening now.

Anyone who thinks that the economic devastation caused by the government’s response to the coronavirus will simply be reversed in time might want to think again.

It is interesting that just three months ago, the idea of the government banning restaurants from offering dine-in service, sports teams from playing, and stores from opening would have been unthinkable. But now that most state governments has done just that, it is considered the default. Those who want to relax the restrictions bear the burden of proving that doing so is safe, and if they do not do that to the satisfaction of the medical and political establishment, they are attacked as irresponsible, greedy, and selfish. Yet it is those who want to extend the shutdown of our country who should bear the burden of proof; it is those who want to keep people imprisoned in their homes who are truly immoral.

bookmark_borderFacebook employees stage walkout over lack of discrimination

Dozens of employees at Facebook refused to work on Monday in protest of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to censor posts by President Trump. Employees have circulated petitions, threatened to quit, and publicly criticized the company, all because of the company’s decision to…allow freedom of expression and not discriminate against people based on their political views.

The offending post by President Trump is as follows:

“The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defense under the guise of freedom of expression,” wrote one employee on an internal message board. “Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people.”

Twitter added a warning label to the equivalent Trump tweet and a fact-check label to a different Trump tweet, but Facebook opted to leave the post alone, stating that it does not violate Facebook’s rules prohibiting incitement of violence.

In my opinion, Zuckerberg was completely correct not to censor the post, because it does not incite or advocate violence. It simply states that if protests become violent, and people loot businesses, law enforcement will respond with lethal force. In other words, Trump is not advocating for initiating violence against anyone; he is advocating responding in kind to those who initiate violence. What is wrong with that? Does advocating enforcement of very reasonable laws protecting private property now constitute a threat of violence? Is the president required to allow people to engage in rioting and looting without doing anything about it? As for the employee who posted on the message board, how can Trump’s post be interpreted as “advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people” if it does not even mention race?

Venture capitalist Roger McNamee criticized Facebook, saying: “In the U.S., Facebook has consistently ignored or altered its terms of service to the benefit of Trump. Until last week, Twitter did the same thing.”

According to the New York Times article, Zuckerberg is planning to hold a call with civil rights leaders who have criticized “Facebook’s protection of Mr. Trump’s posts.”

But there has been no protection of Trump’s posts. Facebook has not ignored or altered its terms of service to the benefit of Trump. It has simply enforced its terms of service consistently, treating Trump the same as it treats everyone else. Twitter, on the other hand, went out of its way to censor Trump, and the employees staging the walkout are demanding that Facebook do the same. They are demanding that their company take down posts that do not violate its rules, merely because they dislike the individual who made the posts and disagree with his political views. In other words, they are demanding that Facebook discriminate against Trump and treat his posts more harshly than the posts of someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum would be treated.

Now that is something that any person with a moral conscience should be against.

bookmark_borderTrump and DOJ join fight against authoritarian restrictions

President Trump is not perfect, and I don’t agree with him and his administration on all issues. However, it is encouraging that at least to some extent, he and Attorney General Bill Barr are pushing back against state governments’ restrictive measures designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in Illinois State Representative Darren Bailey’s lawsuit against Governor J.B. Pritzker. “Plaintiff has set forth a strong case that the Orders exceed the authority granted to the Governor by the Illinois legislature,” read the DOJ court filing.

A statement by Barr’s office said the court filing was part of his initiative “to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The state’s public health concern, the statement continued, “does not justify government restrictions imposed upon its citizens without legal authority.”

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the Governor under Illinois law,” said U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft of the Southern District of Illinois.

Additionally, President Trump has taken aim at states’ shutdowns of churches. “Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend,” he said at a press conference on Friday. He classified “houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services… Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

bookmark_borderIn defense of Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser’s tattoos and political views

With almost no sports happening at the moment, the NFL draft last month was a huge story. In New England, a large amount of attention has focused on kicker Justin Rohrwasser from Marshall University, who was drafted by the Pats in the fifth round.

According to a profile in the Boston Globe, Rohrwasser has numerous tattoos, including an American flag, one that reads “don’t tread on me,” another that reads “liberty or death,” and another that resembles the logo of a group called the Three Percenters. This group advocates for small government, freedom of speech, and gun rights. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Three Percenters are an “anti-government group,” meaning that they “advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines.” The Three Percenters, however, have characterized themselves as “very pro-government, so long as the government abides by the Constitution.”

Additionally, on Twitter, Rohrwasser has expressed support for President Trump, Ayn Rand, and psychologist Jordan Peterson. According to one of his college coaches, Jim Fleming, Rohrwasser wore a red “MAGA” hat at school and expressed conservative beliefs, particularly about economic policies, in conversations.

What is wrong with this, you may ask? In my opinion… absolutely nothing!

Yet because of his political beliefs, Rohrwasser has been inundated with criticism online, accused of being a racist and a bigot. This is an example of self-proclaimed “liberals” displaying qualities that are the very opposite of the tolerance they pretend to espouse. Rohrwasser has done nothing wrong by having, and expressing, conservative (or libertarian, or however one wishes to characterize them) beliefs. He has every right to get a Three Percenters tattoo. He has every right to “like” and retweet whatever tweets he wants to. There is no rule that every person must have moderate, mainstream, middle-of-the-road, politically correct views. To condemn someone for having non-traditional views is the true bigotry here. This is bullying, plain and simple.

As Rohrwasser’s high school coach, John Barber, put it: “For him to be called a racist thug and a Nazi and Hitler, it just turns my stomach, because that’s not who he is. They don’t understand the full story of who he is, just want to take something out of context and destroy a kid, which wasn’t called for.”

Continue reading “In defense of Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser’s tattoos and political views”

bookmark_borderProtests spread as Trump voices support

Protests against coronavirus-related restrictions on individual liberty are continuing to spread.

On Thursday, hundreds of demonstrators flooded the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. Some displayed a large sign reading “freedom” on the capitol steps, while others gathered in the public gallery of the building. The protest was organized by the organization Michigan United for Liberty.

“The solution is worse than the problem,” protester Ryan Kelley said of the state’s stay-at-home orders banning most businesses from operating and people from leaving their homes for all but essential reasons.

One of the protesters, Karen Kirkpatrick Hoop, called the demonstration “an incredibly beautiful and freedom-invoking vision… This is an international movement of people that are fed up with an increase in government control.”

Authoritarian politicians, unsurprisingly, were not so positive. “Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us,” complained State Senator Dayna Polehanki. “Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today.”

“Yesterday’s scene at the capitol was disturbing, to be quite honest,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Swastikas and Confederate flags, nooses and automatic rifles do not represent who we are as Michiganders. This state has a history of people coming together in times of crisis.”

My response to these criticisms of the protest is: if you don’t want people to protest against you, maybe you shouldn’t take away their fundamental rights. Whitmer might have a point about swastikas – although I did not see any of those in any photos or videos of the protest – but there is nothing wrong with Confederate flags or guns. As for the nooses, Whitmer seems to be referring to signs that said, “Tyrants get the rope.” To which I would respond, if you don’t want to see such signs, perhaps you should stop being a tyrant. Also, there is nothing honorable about “coming together in times of crisis” if coming together means complying with authoritarian policies. The protesters should be praised for their courage, not criticized.

President Trump voiced his support for the protests, tweeting, “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

More protests took place today in Chicago, Raleigh, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful tyranny,” read one protester’s sign outside the California State Capitol in Sacramento.

And even more protests all over the country are scheduled for this weekend.

bookmark_borderHarvest Box idea does not equal “trashing the poor”

In the Boston Globe yesterday, columnist Yvonne Abraham made an unjustified and hypocritical attack on the idea of giving food stamp recipients a monthly box of food instead of EBT cards. The Trump administration came up with this proposal, called “America’s Harvest Box,” which would involve replacing at least part of recipients’ EBT benefits with food delivered to their door.

There are legitimate differences of opinion about whether this would save the government money, and there’s definitely an argument that this would inconvenience recipients by providing them with food that isn’t necessarily to their liking instead of allowing them to choose what they want from the grocery store.

However, Abraham is out of bounds when she claims that the Trump administration’s reason for introducing this proposal is not to actually enact it but to “set a useful tone, furthering the narrative that those on public assistance are morally dubious, lazy, and not to be trusted.” Disagreeing with a policy idea is fine, but Abraham is ascribing motivations to the Trump administration with absolutely no evidence. She calls supporters of the Harvest Box idea “policy sadists,” motivated by a “nasty stereotype.” She calls the idea “patronizing,” “ugly,” and “insulting.” She criticizes Republicans because they allegedly “balloon deficits by giving tax cuts to the rich even as they trashed the poor” and tells them to “lay off SNAP recipients.”

Personally, when it comes to my opinions about welfare programs, the main thing I care about is for the government to spend as little money as possible. This is also the motivation behind the Harvest Box. There’s nothing sadistic, nasty, patronizing, ugly, or insulting about wanting to save money. It has nothing to do with any stereotypes and nothing to do with how hardworking or trustworthy recipients are. It has nothing to do with trashing anyone. It’s simply about what financially makes the most sense.

To make things worse, when discussing corn and sugar subsidies, Abraham writes, “Only the poor are stigmatized for eating the dreck marketed relentlessly to all; not Trump, whose diet is appalling.” First of all, this statement is false: when Abraham, a columnist in a major newspaper, describes Trump’s eating habits as “appalling,” then Trump’s eating habits are indeed being stigmatized, at least by one newspaper columnist. Additionally, this is hypocritical. Abraham uses words such as “nasty” and “ugliness” to describe a policy idea that she disagrees with, yet by choosing to call another person’s eating habits “appalling,” she is the one being nasty and insulting.

How about voicing and arguing for your opinions without personally attacking those who disagree with you?

bookmark_borderMy thoughts on Charlottesville & Boston, and why Trump is 100% right

When you have a crowd of 40,000 people protesting against a rally of a few dozen people, you cannot claim that the few dozen people are the oppressors.

The pictures above show the Free Speech Rally that took place on Boston Common on Saturday (right) and the crowd of people who decided to protest against it (left).

Pretty much everyone agrees that slavery and Jim Crow laws were bad, but our society has reached a point where things have gone too far in the opposite direction. The people who claim to be against hate, discrimination, and prejudice are actually more hateful, discriminatory, and prejudiced than the people they are protesting against. Continue reading “My thoughts on Charlottesville & Boston, and why Trump is 100% right”