bookmark_borderPsaki’s ignorant comments on bullying

Recently, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made some truly idiotic comments about the Florida law prohibiting education about sex and gender related topics for kids in preschool through third grade.

Here is what she said, according to the Daily Wire:

“A bill like this, that would discriminate against families, against kids, put these kids in the position of not getting the support they need at a time where that’s exactly what they need. It’s discriminatory. It’s a form of bullying. It is horrific… I think the most important question now is why are Florida leaders deciding they need to discriminate against kids who are members of the LGBTQI community? What prompts them to do that? Is it meanness? Is it wanting to make kids have more difficult times in school and in their communities?”

The fact that Psaki uses words such as “discriminatory,” “bullying,” “horrific,” and “meanness” to describe this law demonstrates a complete lack of empathy towards people who have actually been discriminated against and bullied. Psaki’s comments are particularly objectionable because a huge amount of the discrimination, bullying, and meanness that has occurred lately has been perpetrated by the Biden administration.

To give just one example*, President Biden has repeatedly used rhetoric that insults, threatens, and aggresses against people who opt not to get the covid vaccine. He has attempted to implement policies requiring people to get the vaccine in order to work for the federal government, for any company that contracts with the federal government, for any employer in the medical field, or for any employer with 100 or more employees. He has also used rhetoric to encourage all employers not covered by the above categories to force their employees to get the vaccine as well.

Essentially, Biden chose to use the power of the presidency to force people to undergo a medical procedure against their will. And as Press Secretary, Psaki has enthusiastically defended these efforts. Forcing people to undergo a medical procedure against their will is the epitome of discrimination. It is the epitome of bullying. It is the epitome of meanness. Forcing people to undergo a medical procedure against their will is truly horrific. And requiring medical documentation in order to participate in public life truly, to use Psaki’s words, causes people to have more difficult times in their communities.

For Psaki to describe the Florida law using all of these terms, while completely ignoring the fact that these terms actually apply to her own actions and those of her employer, is deeply illogical, hypocritical, and immoral. Psaki clearly has no idea what discrimination actually is, what bullying actually is, or what meanness actually is. To truly understand what these terms mean, Psaki would need merely to look in the mirror.

 

*Another example that comes to mind is the brutal campaign of destruction that has been waged against statues and monuments to unpopular historical figures. These actions are infinitely more discriminatory, bully-like, horrific, and mean than a law limiting what types of sex ed can be presented to young children, yet Psaki has not uttered a single word of criticism when it comes to this topic.

bookmark_borderBiden urges companies to violate employees’ rights in response to SCOTUS ruling

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the federal vaccine mandate for companies with over 100 employees, Joe Biden unsurprisingly made some authoritarian comments.

Here is what Biden said:

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law. This emergency standard allowed employers to require vaccinations or to permit workers to refuse to be vaccinated, so long as they were tested once a week and wore a mask at work: a very modest burden. As a result of the Court’s decision, it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated. The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy. I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including one third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”

First of all, although not the least bit surprising given that the vaccine mandate was instituted by OSHA at Biden’s urging, it’s still difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could be disappointed at a ruling protecting individual rights from an egregious violation. It’s notable that Biden made no mention of morality, individual rights, or liberty in his address. He describes vaccine mandates as “life-saving,” “common-sense,” and “grounded squarely in both science and the law.” These things might be true (although the majority of the SCOTUS justices would disagree with the “grounded in the law” part), but none of them make it okay to require people to get a vaccine as a condition of employment. Doing so violates people’s rights and is therefore morally wrong. But clearly, the rights of individuals to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives are not particularly important to Biden.

It is telling that Biden characterizes the decision of whether individual businesses are going institute vaccine mandates as a decision about making businesses safe for employees and consumers and protecting people’s health and the economy. The debate over vaccine mandates is fundamentally a question of whether or not businesses are going to violate the rights of their employees. Although health, safety, and a booming economy are all good things to have, none of these things is as important as protecting individual rights. (With regards to Biden’s point about protecting workers, customers, and communities, I believe that forcing workers to do something they do not want to do is the opposite of protecting them, as I explained in a previous blog post.) Contrary to what Biden claims, instituting vaccine mandates is not “the right thing,” but the wrong thing. Instituting vaccine mandates is not “stepping up,” as Biden characterizes it, but rather an act of aggression against employees.

Thanks to the First Amendment, Biden does have a legal right to use his voice to encourage businesses to do the wrong thing. He does have a legal right to advocate that companies violate the rights of their employees. But that does not make it morally right of him to do so. 

The most disturbing part of Biden’s comments was his characterization of the vaccine-or-test requirement as a “very modest burden.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither shots nor Covid tests are particularly invasive medical procedures, but that does not make it okay to require them as a condition of employment. Requiring people to provide documentation that they’ve undergone a medical procedure is demeaning, degrading, and dehumanizing. It takes away privacy, it takes away liberty, and it takes away human dignity. When an employer has the power to decide what medical interventions an individual person must get, that individual person is deprived of the right to govern his/her body and his/her life. What is at issue here is not a specific vaccine, nor the act of having one’s nose swabbed. It is the concept of bodily autonomy and self-ownership. It is the fundamental right to make one’s own medical decisions, and that includes the right to decline any medical intervention. Although getting a shot or getting one’s nose swabbed may not be a big deal in itself, the loss of the freedom to independently make medical decisions is absolutely a big deal.

To be forced to submit to medical procedures in order to keep one’s job means to lose one’s dignity, one’s autonomy, and one’s ownership of one’s body. This is far from a “modest burden.”

bookmark_borderThoughts on the Supreme Court ruling

Like everyone who believes in respecting people’s fundamental rights and dignity, I was relieved by the Supreme Court’s ruling declaring unconstitutional the OSHA rule requiring businesses with over 100 employees to force their employees to undergo medical procedures. For this rule to have gone into effect would have been a tragedy, a grave injustice, and an unprecedented disaster for individual liberty. 

Here are a few of my thoughts on the ruling: 

First of all, as many people have pointed out, the ruling did not go far enough. The court upheld the federal policy requiring the Covid vaccine for all employees at medical places that accept Medicare and/or Medicaid funds. This is unjust and wrong because it eliminates an entire career field as a possibility for people who value their dignity, their privacy, and their right to make their own medical decisions. But at least the ability to work at a company with 100 or more employees is not completely eliminated, as the Biden administration was attempting to do.

Second, the ruling established merely that OSHA does not have the power to require businesses to force their employees to undergo medical procedures. The ruling does nothing to bar Congress from enacting such a policy, let alone states, cities, or individual companies. This is disturbing. In my opinion, no one has a right to require medical procedures as a condition of doing anything. Neither Congress nor states nor cities nor individual companies should be able to enact such a requirement. If the United States was truly a free country, the federal government would take the initiative to protect individual liberty by enacting a law banning medical mandates by any entity.

Defenders of the OSHA rule have argued that the provision giving employees the option of getting a Covid test every week in lieu of the vaccine addresses concerns about medical liberty. I strongly disagree with this claim. Covid vaccination and Covid tests are both medical procedures. And the OSHA rule would have required employees at companies with over 100 workers to do one or the other. Telling someone, “It’s fine not to do this medical procedure; you just have to do this other medical procedure instead ” is completely unacceptable, because it eliminates the option of doing neither. The right to decline medical procedures is fundamental and absolute. It cannot be taken away under any circumstances. Some people consider Covid tests less objectionable than vaccination. But that does not matter. People have a fundamental right to do neither. The OSHA rule would have taken that right away.

Another observation is that many people have characterized the debate over the OSHA rule as a question of employers’ rights. Many people argue that the rule violates the rights of companies by forcing them to be the “vaccine police” for their employees. This is true, but in my opinion the more fundamental problem with the OSHA rule is that it violates employees’ rights. By forcing companies to violate their workers’ rights, the federal government is certainly harming companies, but it is more fundamentally harming workers, because they are the ones being forced to get unwanted medical procedures. 

As the majority of the justices pointed out, the fundamental reason why the OSHA rule is wrong is that it invades employees’ private lives. Unlike, say, masks, respirators, face shields, goggles, gloves, or other PPE, a vaccine is not something that one puts on in the workplace and can take off when one goes home. Unlike, say, bans on smoking or carrying firearms while at work, medical mandates do not merely govern people’s conduct at work and allow them to do what their please in their own time. Undergoing a medical intervention such as a vaccine affects a person while they are at work as well as while they are at home. It affects them while on the clock and while off the clock. Medical decisions about one’s body are the most personal decisions that an individual makes. These decisions are well outside the scope of what an employer should be able to control, regulate, or even know about.

I have heard people use the word “protect” to characterize what the OSHA rule would have done to workers at affected companies. Nothing could be further from the truth. OSHA was founded to protect workers from hazards at the workplace. It was founded to prevent employers from forcing their workers to be around toxic chemicals, to operate dangerous machinery, or do repetitive motions that cause injury, for example. In other words, the purpose of OSHA is to prevent companies from doing harmful things to their workers. However, by enacting the vaccine-or-test policy, OSHA required companies to do harmful things to their workers. To force people to do something they do not want to do is inherently harmful and therefore the exact opposite of protecting them. Under the direction of the Biden administration, a government entity whose purpose is to protect workers did the opposite. 

Thank goodness that the Supreme Court (at least partially) righted this terrible wrong.

bookmark_borderBiden the bully

There’s been a lot of discussion, much of it negative, about the below post on the official White House website. In this blog post, I will join in the discussion and give my thoughts

First of all, I’m not a fan of using the terms “the vaccinated” and “the unvaccinated.” I prefer to talk about people who have gotten the Covid vaccine and people who haven’t. I find it wrong, and somewhat demeaning, to use language that defines people by whether or not they have gotten a medical procedure. 

More substantively, I disagree with the assertion that “the vaccinated” have “done the right thing.” Getting a vaccine is morally neutral. Opting for and opting against vaccination are equally good, acceptable, and valid options. There is nothing morally virtuous about getting a medical procedure, and there is nothing wrong or immoral whatsoever about abstaining from doing so.

Additionally, as many others have expressed, I find the tone of the second paragraph to be disturbing. It is clear that Biden (or whichever of his employees wrote the post) is intending to threaten and intimidate people into getting the vaccine. He is essentially saying: if you make a medical decision that is different than mine, then horrible things are going to happen to you. Plus, he tries to induce guilt and shame by telling those who opt out that they will “overwhelm” hospitals, causing other people to be unable to get the medical services they need. In addition to being factually inaccurate (data indicate that the omicron variant is generally mild regardless of vaccine status, and that the vast majority of people who get it do not require hospitalization), Biden’s words are mean-spirited and smack of authoritarianism and bullying. It is inappropriate, unkind, unjust, and wrong to introduce moral condemnation into a non-moral topic

The hypocrisy of Biden’s words is also noteworthy. Throughout his campaign, and in his inaugural address, Biden presented himself as being all about decency, civility, and unity. Yet now he is praising one group of people while condemning and threatening another, solely on the basis of the personal medical decisions that they have made. It is ironic that so many people who relentlessly attacked Donald Trump for being a “bully” are perfectly fine with a president who condemns, coerces, and threatens people for making a medical decision that differs from that of the majority.

This statement, and the many similar ones that he has made so far during his presidency, show Biden to be far more of a bully than Trump ever was. Biden’s policies and rhetoric are the antithesis of decency, civility, and unity.

bookmark_borderBiden’s totalitarianism reaches new lows (again)

I have been so heartbroken, furious, and disgusted by Joe Biden’s September 9 announcement that I have not been able to write coherently about this subject. Reading about and watching his speech was horrifying, and I am ashamed to be from a country that elected him president. I can confidently say that I have never in my life been a fan of Biden, but the degree of authoritarianism and disregard for individual liberty that he has demonstrated is far beyond what I ever imagined possible. For the better part of five days, I have felt completely exhausted, beaten down, and sick to my stomach. I have felt as if my chest is being crushed in a vice and a noose slowly being tightened around my neck.

With that said, here are a few semi-coherent thoughts on Biden’s reprehensible speech:

  • Biden’s comments that “it’s not about freedom or personal choice” are preposterous. The issue of whether people should be required to get Covid vaccines or testing is fundamentally a matter of freedom and personal choice; that is self-evident. Clearly, Biden does not think freedom or personal choice are important. His executive order takes these basic rights away from millions of people. But the fact that Biden is taking the anti-freedom position on an issue does not make the issue not about freedom.
  • Biden says that his “patience is wearing thin” with people who opt not to get the Covid vaccine. This makes no sense. People who opt not to get the vaccine are doing nothing wrong; therefore there is no reason for their existence to make anyone upset, angry, or frustrated in any way. I don’t know about you, but my patience has completely run out with this fascist government and its attempts to take away people’s power over their own bodies and lives.
  • The purpose of OSHA is to protect workers. Under Biden’s executive order, OSHA would require employers to require workers to do medical procedures that they do not want to do. This is the exact opposite of protecting workers, and therefore the exact opposite of what OSHA is supposed to be doing.
  • For those who argue that Biden’s executive order protects workers by lowering everyone’s Covid risk, it is true that the executive order benefits those workers whose sole concern is having the lowest Covid risk possible, and who care nothing about freedom, individual rights, or the well-being of those with different preferences than themselves. But people who have this attitude are wrong. Their desire for safety does not override the rights of others to make decisions about their own bodies. Biden’s executive order gives paranoid, anti-freedom people a benefit that they do not deserve by invading the bodies of their co-workers. This is unjust and wrong.
  • One person on Twitter equated requiring vaccination with banning people from waving a chainsaw around at work. This analogy is ridiculous. Employers have the right to make rules about what employees are and are not allowed to do while at work, and waving a chainsaw is definitely something that employers have a right to ban. Vaccine and testing requirements are different in two ways. First, they compel people to actively take an action as opposed to banning an action. Second, requiring people to undergo a medical procedure does not merely affect them during their work hours; it physically invades their body. By working for a company, people agree to give up specified amounts of time and energy in exchange for money. But bodily integrity is far more intimate and is beyond the scope of what people should have to give up in order to secure employment.
  • The fact that the vaccination/testing requirement will likely apply even to people who work from home defeats any attempt to justify it by invoking workplace safety. Clearly, the vaccination status of those who work 100% remotely has no impact on the safety of their co-workers. This demonstrates that the executive order is not primarily about protecting workers; it is about pressuring as many people as possible into getting the vaccine.
  • As for Biden’s comments that if governors will not help to beat the pandemic, he will get them out of the way, this is not only disturbingly totalitarian, but philosophically unsound. Believe it or not, there are more important things than beating the pandemic, such as individual liberty. Of course, beating the pandemic is a worthy goal, but it is never acceptable to violate people’s rights in order to do so. Individual rights must always come first, no exceptions. Governors who recognize this, and who are courageously standing up for the rights of their people, should be praised, not criticized and threatened.

A real leader would have banned businesses from requiring Covid vaccination or testing. A real leader would have instructed OSHA to draft a rule fining businesses for requiring Covid vaccination or testing, not for failing to do so. A real leader would have stood up for individual rights, not trampled on them. A real leader would have threatened to “get out of the way” those businesses and states which are trampling on the rights of their people, not those that are failing to trample.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we now live in a totalitarian society. Biden’s executive order is the most severe violation of individual rights that has ever been enacted in the United States. Your body is the most fundamental piece of property that you own, and the right to make decisions about it is the most fundamental right there is. If people can be deprived of this right, then people are no longer free in any meaningful sense. The fact that such a thing has happened in the United States is heartbreaking, infuriating, and sickening.

bookmark_borderBiden’s totalitarianism reaches new lows

Thanks to the FDA’s decision to officially approve the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, Joe Biden got a new excuse to act like a totalitarian dictator and to trample on everyone’s fundamental rights.

In a public address, he called on all employers, including private companies, organizations, state governments, and local governments, to require their workers to get the vaccine. “I’m calling on more companies and the private sector to step up with vaccine requirements that will reach millions more people,” the president said.

It’s absolutely appalling that the president of the United States, a nation founded upon the ideal of individual liberty, used the power of his office to urge companies to take away their employees’ freedom to make their own medical decisions. He urged companies to “step up” and violate people’s fundamental rights, as if violating people’s fundamental rights is somehow a good thing. As if bringing intrusion into personal medical decisions to millions more people is somehow a positive thing that makes people’s lives better, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

To value and protect individual liberty is both the job of the president of the United States and a requirement for being a morally decent person. Yet Biden is doing the exact opposite of this. As the most powerful person in the world, he chose to use that power to advocate for a world with less freedom, less dignity, and fewer rights for individuals. He chose to advocate for a world in which more people are forced to do medical procedures that they do not want to do. I can’t think of a worse way for a leader to use his or her power. Not only is Biden by far the worst president the United States has ever had, but he is also a despicable human being and far more of a bully than Donald Trump ever was. 

bookmark_borderJoe Biden, authoritarian dictator

This past week, President Joe Biden published a series of tweets about the Covid-19 vaccine that are despicable and reprehensible for a variety of reasons:

First of all, as anyone who believes in the non-aggression principle knows, people have a fundamental right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. Each person has the right to either get the vaccine or not, and each person has the right to either wear a mask or not, regardless of vaccination status. Biden therefore has absolutely no right to tell people to do what he is telling people to do in these tweets. To provide advice or recommendations is fine. To provide information about the relative safety of various activities is fine. And indeed this is what the CDC did when it issued its recent guidance stating that vaccinated people can safely go mask-less indoors and outdoors, which prompted Biden’s tweets. But Biden is phrasing this guidance as a rule, which is fascist and violates everyone’s rights.

It’s also noteworthy that Biden does not even acknowledge the possibility that a person might choose not to get the vaccine. He uses the word “yet” and uses the word “until” as opposed to “unless,” which presumes that every person will eventually get the vaccine. This demonstrates a complete disregard for people’s right to make their own medical decisions. People have every right to opt not to get the vaccine, and Biden needs to use language that acknowledges this.

Another disturbing thing about these tweets is that Biden is not characterizing masks as a tool that people can use to protect themselves, but instead as a punishment for people who do not get the vaccine. It would be one thing to say something to the effect of, “If you choose not to get the vaccine, we recommend wearing a mask to protect yourself.” But Biden is essentially saying, “If you don’t get the vaccine, you have to wear a mask everywhere you go for the rest of you life as a punishment.” Using a respectful tone would have made a world of difference, but instead of being respectful, Biden chose to be mean-spirited and punitive towards people who are doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Additionally, Biden’s unilaterally announced “rule” not only makes requirements less strict for people who’ve gotten the vaccine but simultaneously makes requirements more strict than they previously were for people who haven’t gotten the vaccine. Before this week’s guidance, the CDC had issued guidance a few weeks earlier stating that people can safely go mask-less while outside by themselves regardless of vaccination status. The CDC also said that a person who hasn’t gotten the vaccine can safely get together mask-less in a small group with people who have. But now Biden is telling vaccine-less people that they are not allowed to do either of these things. He is telling them that they need to wear a mask at all times, which is stricter than the CDC’s recommendations. Again, he is being punitive towards people who have done nothing to deserve punishment. 

And not only is Biden punishing people for opting not to get a medical procedure, he is imposing a punishment that is publicly visible and therefore stigmatizing. He is imposing a punishment that visually differentiates those who have gotten the vaccine from those who haven’t. This reminds me of the red “A” that Hester Prynne had to wear on her dress in “The Scarlet Letter” or the yellow stars that Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany. 

In conclusion, throughout his campaign and in his inaugural address, Joe Biden has repeatedly characterized himself as embodying decency, civility, and unity. He promised to listen to the voices of those who disagree with him and to be a president for all Americans. Yet he is now using Twitter to bully, coerce, and browbeat people into undergoing a medical procedure and insulting them if they do not. I fully expected Biden to be a terrible president, but these tweets are disappointing. This unprofessional and un-presidential behavior falls short of even my very low expectations. Biden has demonstrated that he is a bully with no decency, no civility, no respect for people who are different from him, and no regard for individual rights, freedom, liberty, or bodily autonomy. I am ashamed to be American and embarrassed to have Biden as my president.

bookmark_borderDiscrimination shouldn’t be part of Covid relief package

One idea that has been proposed as part of the latest Covid economic relief package is issuing payments of $3,000 and up to people who have children. Specifically, a bill proposed by Rep. Richard Neal would pay families $3,600 for each child under age 6 and $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17. Sen. Mitt Romney introduced a similar proposal that would give even more money to people with children. Even worse, some Democrats in Congress and White House officials want to make the policy permanent, meaning that people will continue to get free money from the government every year for no other reason than the fact that they have children. 

This is a terrible idea, which anyone who believes in equality and justice should oppose. Giving a benefit to people with children, but not to people without children, is discriminatory. Any Covid relief or stimulus package should give the same amount of money to everyone, regardless of family status. Unfortunately, discrimination against people without children is pervasive in our society and is rarely even recognized as discrimination. This unjust state of affairs is demonstrated by the fact that political leaders from both parties have introduced these discriminatory economic plans and that no one in the media (as far as I have seen or heard) has raised the idea that these policies might be discriminatory.

“Biden’s proposed child benefit has quickly emerged as a potentially defining feature of his administration’s economic agenda – one that could make a lasting imprint on American welfare policy,” gushes the Washington Post. The Post’s article details the various options with regards to how the payments would be administered, whether they would be sent every month or every year, what the income limits would be, and whether they would be based on the current or previous year’s tax returns, but does not even mention the possibility that the entire idea of giving money only to people with children might be unjust. The article also mentions the fact that some conservatives oppose these benefits because they provide money to both working and non-working people, but ignores the most significant reason for objecting to the benefits: the fact that they exclude people who do not have children.

“This pandemic is driving families deeper and deeper into poverty, and it’s devastating,” said Rep. Neal. “This money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone’s head or food on their table. This is how the tax code is supposed to work for those who need it most.” 

Sen. Cory Booker called the policy “the biggest impact we can make for economic justice in our country.” 

These comments completely miss the point. People without children need a roof over their head and food on their table as well, and it’s just as devastating for someone without children to be driven into poverty (if not more so, because the stress of living in poverty is compounded by the stress of living in a society that systematically discriminates against you). Discriminating against people based on their family status is exactly how the tax code is not supposed to work. And contrary to Booker’s claim, discriminatory policies like these constitute economic injustice.

From taking away everyone’s Second Amendment rights, to essentially sentencing the entire population to house arrest because of the existence of a novel virus, to obliterating the works of art that give cities and states their identities, this is just another example of how those in power are attempting to make the United States as bad a place as possible. To use a Covid relief bill to further entrench discrimination into our society is exactly what our country does not need.

bookmark_border2020 thoughts

It would be a cliche to say that 2020 was a horrible year. Almost everyone has been affected negatively by the Covid-19 pandemic in one way or another. For me, the most demoralizing, dispiriting, and discouraging events during 2020 were governments’ authoritarian policies imposed in response to the pandemic, Biden’s victory, and the widespread destruction of historical statues and monuments by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. In this blog post I will discuss how these events affected me personally and how I hope to move forward in 2021. 

I’ve written at length about authoritarian coronavirus restrictions. The fact that they have been implemented almost universally by governments around the world and embraced without question by the vast majority of people is beyond dismaying. Because I’ve already written about this topic dozens of times, I won’t go into it in any more detail in this post. 

The election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States was another demoralizing event. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that the reaction of Biden’s supporters was more demoralizing and upsetting than the election result itself. In every election, one side ends up happy, and the other heartbroken. But the meanness, nastiness, viciousness, and brutality that Biden’s supporters demonstrated was surprisingly irrational and inappropriate.

Social media was flooded with post after post after post expressing joy, relief, gratitude, the feeling of a weight being, lifted et cetera et cetera. Even when posting pictures of sunsets, cityscapes, pets, and babies, far too many people were unable to resist alluding to Biden’s victory as the reason for their happiness. One (now former) Facebook friend shared a meme urging people to start working on “dismantling white supremacy” now that Biden has won the presidency. Another shared a tweet ridiculing Trump supporters and calling them “weirdos” for wearing hats and flying flags with his name on them. Another opined that a vote for Trump was the same as a vote for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. Preposterously, people described Biden’s election as a “new birth of freedom” and posted videos of and lyrics to the song “Battle Cry of Freedom” (how, pray tell, does it constitute a new birth of freedom to elect a president who believes in giving people less freedom in their day-to-day lives than his predecessor?). Worst of all, numerous people have expressed the idea that one should not “go easy on” Trump supporters but should, in the words of one (former) friend, “focus on the harm caused.” This is based on a false premise, namely that Trump supporters have somehow done something wrong for which we deserve to be punished. Refraining from personally attacking and insulting people who have done nothing wrong is not “going easy.” It is a basic requirement of being a morally decent person. Trump supporters did not cause any harm; the only harm is that caused by the intolerant bullies who have been contaminating the internet with their vile personal attacks on anyone whose views differ from theirs.

Continue reading “2020 thoughts”

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.