bookmark_borderEpidemiologist “aghast” that tiny shreds of liberty still allowed to exist

When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker implemented new restrictions in response to the Covid pandemic, I was appalled. He and governors across the country had already thoroughly trampled on their citizens’ rights in the name of fighting the virus, so the fact that he would introduce even harsher measures was horrible. But now, unbelievably, according to the Boston Globe, numerous people are voicing their displeasure with the fact that Baker’s restrictions do not go far enough. They are demanding that he implement even stricter measures, something that did not even occur to me as a possibility.

For example, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, tweeted the following: “Over past 6 weeks, I’ve gone from uncomfortable to aghast at lack of action. Its incomprehensible. They must see different data because no rational explanation for lack of action.”

I can think of a rational explanation for lack of action: the fact that the actions in question – shutting down businesses, banning people from gathering, telling people to leave their homes as little as possible, etc. – would violate everyone’s rights. Rights are something that many epidemiologists do not seem to care about. Too many people presume that health and safety should be the sole considerations in determining which policies should be enacted. Liberty and freedom are completely disregarded. Jha is essentially saying that is uncomfortable with the fact that the government is only violating people’s rights a large amount, as opposed to a huge amount. He is aghast, and finds it incomprehensible, that a few tiny remnants of liberty are still allowed to exist. 

Making this statement even more bizarre is the fact that Jha was quoted in an article in the very same newspaper the previous day as saying, “Our job is to help people understand what the trade-offs are, but not necessarily to tell people what to do.” But his recent tweet expresses the exact opposite of this sentiment. If he does not think his job is to tell people what to do, why is he demanding that the government enact policies doing precisely that? In the article, Jha mentions receiving “scathing” letters from members of the public who disagree with his ideas. “Where are we as a country when that’s how people react to science?” he is quoted as asking.

If Jha truly refrained from telling people what to do, and simply explained what the trade-offs are when it comes to virus risk, then he would have a good point. There is no reason for people to be angry at an epidemiologist who is simply educating them about risks. But the sentiment that Jha expressed on Twitter demonstrates that he actually does believe people should be told what to do. Therefore, the scathing letters are completely justified. No one has the right to advocate for authoritarian policies and then to complain when he or she is criticized. Any person who expresses disrespect for liberty and individual rights deserves all the criticism that he or she gets.

bookmark_borderCharlie Baker, authoritarian dictator

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has gone too far. This week he announced new restrictions on individuals, groups, and businesses, including:

  • Requiring people to stay home between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (except for when working, buying groceries, going to doctor’s appointments, or taking a walk)
  • Requiring restaurants, liquor stores, marijuana stores, casinos, movie theaters, museums, zoos, hair and nail salons, gyms, sports, and all activities and gatherings to close/cease between 9:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
  • Requiring people to wear masks in all public places, including sidewalks, streets, parks, forests, and even cars when with members of other households
  • Limiting gatherings at people’s houses to 10 people if indoors or 25 people if outdoors

These restrictions, in my opinion, are highly objectionable infringements upon personal liberty, especially the mask mandate. Previously, people were required to wear masks only when expecting to be in a situation where they would be unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people. This essentially meant wearing a mask when going inside a store or business, taking the train or bus, or doing activities with other people (e.g. fitness classes, group get-togethers, meetings, walking with friends), but not while walking or spending time outdoors by oneself. The new mask requirement significantly affects my day-to-day life for the worse. Since the beginning of the pandemic, walking has been a huge part of my daily routine, whether to the park, through the woods, to the grocery store, to the ATM, or to get my daily coffee or tea. I have never worn a mask during my walks. I am fine with putting one on before going into a store or business, but I never considered it necessary to wear one during the walk itself. Starting this Friday, however, I will be required to wear a mask from the moment I leave my house until the moment I return. This seems excessive and unnecessary, as the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus is infinitesimal when walking by oneself.

At the risk of sounding petty and silly, the most problematic part of this new rule for me is the fact that if the rule is to be interpreted literally, whenever I buy a coffee or tea, I will not be able to start drinking it until I get home. Because I live about a 15-minute walk from the downtown area of my town, any hot beverage that I purchase will be lukewarm by the time I am allowed to drink it. Any foam, whipped cream, or caramel drizzle on top of the beverage is also likely to have dissolved or disintegrated. For people who either live right near a coffee or tea place, or drive to one, the new rule does not present a big problem, because they will be able to get to their home or car right away and begin drinking their beverage. But for people such as myself who walk a significant distance to their local coffee shop or, worse, for people who take public transportation, the rule creates a significant problem. This rule also creates problems with ice cream for the same reason (although this is not as applicable during the winter months). Any business that sells food or drink that is designed to be consumed while walking around will be significantly hurt by this new rule. 

More philosophically speaking, it is one thing to require masks inside a store or business, but another thing to require them on sidewalks, streets, parks, and forests. The former, although public places, are privately owned. The owners would be within their rights to kick me out or deny me entry if I’m not wearing a mask; it is their store after all. But the latter are public places, not owned by anyone. No one has a right to kick anyone else out of a street, park, or forest or impose any conditions for entry. The requirement that people wear a mask every time they leave their home makes me feel dangerously close to being under house arrest. It is a disturbing level of government overreach. 

Another sad consequence of this mean-spirited new set of rules is that the Encore Boston Harbor casino has been forced to reduce its hours and temporarily close its hotel. The restaurant industry, already struggling to survive, will undoubtedly be hurt as well. 

“Once again, it’s time for the people of Massachusetts to step up for one another — to play by the rules and to fight the fight,” Baker said when unveiling the new restrictions, according to “We’re telling people to go home, and not to go to their friend’s house or their neighbor’s house or somebody else… Do I expect everybody to follow these rules? No. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since the beginning of this, it’s the vast majority of people in Massachusetts are rule-followers and if you give them rules and guidance, they will do it.”

I generally am a rule-follower. But only up to a point, and only when the rules are fair. These are not. People are not obligated to step up for one another, or to follow rules that are unjust. The only fight that the people of Massachusetts should be fighting is against authoritarian government policies such as these. And what right does Baker have to tell people which houses they are and are not allowed to go to? He is treating the people of Massachusetts in a disrespectful and insulting manner. I am seriously considering simply not following this mask mandate. I am willing to make some changes to my daily routine to reduce my Covid risk and to be in compliance with the rules, but these new rules pass the point of reasonableness.

Baker argued that the new restrictions are needed to prevent the number of Covid cases from overwhelming the medical system. “If we do nothing and stay on the track we’re on now, we’ll create capacity problems for our healthcare system by the end of the calendar year,” he said. “Imagine what that would be like for your friends and neighbors who work in health care, if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at double digit rates straight into and through the holiday season: double shifts, no time for families, the same urgency and demands on their time that we placed on them last spring.”

At the risk of sounding callous and insensitive, my reaction to this is… too bad. It is the job of those who run the medical system to make decisions about how to handle capacity problems and how to allocate resources. It is the job of those who work in the medical system to work the shifts they are assigned. I have worked in a variety of different jobs and have experienced hectic days, heavy workloads, and long hours on numerous occasions. It’s exhausting and stressful. But government leaders have never encouraged the general public to alter their behavior in order to make my work situation less stressful, nor would I expect them to. So why should I alter my behavior in order to make someone else’s work situation less stressful? Getting my daily coffee or tea, and drinking it as I walk home, has been one of the few pleasures that I have still been allowed to enjoy in this age of authoritarianism. I am not obligated to sacrifice it, or my freedom, so that medical professionals can have a lighter workload.  

I used to be a supporter of Baker and even volunteered for his campaign in 2010 and 2014. But the restrictions that he has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic violate individual rights and are morally wrong. Baker has demonstrated that he is an authoritarian dictator, and that is not something that I can support.

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_borderExcellent article explaining why lockdowns are unconstitutional

I recently read an excellent opinion piece by David R. Geiger in Commonwealth Magazine entitled, “Governor’s COVID-19 orders are unconstitutional.” In this piece, Geiger explains in an eloquent, straightforward way why lockdown orders and stay-at-home orders – focusing on those implemented by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker – are wrong.

“The animating principle of our nation is the maximal safeguarding of human liberty,” Geiger reminds us.

Under Massachusetts laws dealing with public health and infectious diseases, he points out, “the only restraints on liberty the government may impose are temporary isolation of any ‘sick or infected person’ and quarantining of others in his household, in each case with compensation for resulting wage loss.”

To essentially quarantine the entire population of the state obviously exceeds these limits. Baker likely realized this and therefore decided instead to use the Civil Defense Act of 1950 to justify his totalitarian measures. But as Geiger points out, this law was intended to be used during wars, nuclear power plant radiation releases, fires, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters that physically alter the Earth in defined areas. Diseases don’t seem to fit this category.

Geiger lists all the ways that lockdown orders violate people’s rights:

Forced closures of businesses, schools, and places of worship; prohibitions on gatherings or of humans approaching or touching one another; and mandates that people cover their faces in public are radical and unprecedented, and unquestionably infringe both expressly enumerated and historically enjoyed rights. These include individuals’ rights to move about freely, associate with others as they choose, express themselves through their appearance, make decisions about their own health, educate their children, exercise their religion, and support themselves through their chosen occupation, and businesses’ rights to operate within the bounds of the law.

Government infringement on individual liberty cannot be justified by the mere existence of some degree of risk; rather, the individual’s conduct must pose a serious risk of significant harm. We do not limit freedom of movement by banning driving because it poses risk; instead, we prohibit only reckless or drunk driving. For this reason, Massachusetts’ public health statute does not authorize shutting down normal life due to the risk of infection, but instead restricts the liberty only of a person who is actually infectious, or his close household contacts who have a significant likelihood of being so.

Exactly! It’s one thing for the government to infringe upon the liberties of a person who actually has the coronavirus, but for the government to infringe upon the liberties of everyone merely because any given person might possibly have the virus is ridiculous.

Another favorite quote from the article (emphasis mine): “If some individuals are concerned about such risks they are free to protect themselves by keeping a distance or wearing a mask… But those who are willing to accept such risks in order to live life have a fundamental right to do so, and the fact that exercising this right may cause some increase in disease cases provides no ground to quash it.”

Geiger reminds readers of the “inherent harm in depriving Massachusetts residents of their fundamental freedoms,” something that proponents of lockdown orders tend to discount. “The people of the Commonwealth should rise up against them, insist that they cease immediately, and ensure that they never recur,” he writes.

I could not agree more. Everyone who calls lockdown opponents “selfish” or “irresponsible” needs to read this article.

bookmark_borderMassGOP gets it right on re-opening plan

In my home state of Massachusetts, the state Republican Party has been speaking out against excessive government restrictions to fight the coronavirus. Governor Charlie Baker has begun gradually allowing businesses to open (as if the government had a right to order businesses to close to begin with), and dismayingly but unsurprisingly, numerous politicians have been criticizing even this as too risky.

The Massachusetts Republican Party has come out on the side of individual liberty on this issue. On May 26, they and numerous supporters sent a letter to Gov. Baker urging him to stay the course on re-opening the state. The letter reads in part:

By now, it should be clear: the shutdown of private businesses, large and small, has given the Democratic Party — the party of government overreach — a political boost. This disastrous pandemic has led to unconstitutional decrees being set in stone almost overnight, creating what is unquestionably a dream scenario for the Democrats — stifle independence, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility, and you create a world dependent upon the state.

We write to you today to urge you to push back, publicly, on the Democrats’ demands to keep Massachusetts shuttered.

We write to you today to remind you that the most regulated businesses in the Commonwealth, our nursing homes, also happen to account for more than 61 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths.

We write to you today to convey the frustrations of small business owners, who have had to padlock their doors while their big-box competitors across the street are allowed to remain open. We write to you today to remind you that the Massachusetts business community lives and breathes on the ambitions, creativity, and dreams of its residents, but will die a painful death if it succumbs to the whims of an unelected bureaucracy. These business owners realize the importance of maintaining a hygienic environment — if the public does not trust them and their products, no amount of government intervention will keep them afloat….

Democrats like to talk about fatalities associated with this virus, but still unknown yet just as tragic are the deaths that will occur due to alcoholism, drug use, and suicide, all of which will be on the increase as long as residents are forced to lock themselves away.
Ten weeks of lockdowns have been enough. We’ve flattened the curve, prevented our hospitals from being overwhelmed, and sacrificed our liberties. We’ve watched as a hyper-partisan media has misfired on their forecasts of doom.

The full letter can be read here.

Additionally, the MassGOP issued a statement against a letter by 91 economists calling for – it makes me sick to even write this – new taxes to cover any budget shortfall resulting from the pandemic and associated shutdown. “Incredibly, these economists are calling for an income tax increase at the absolute worst possible time, when mandated business shutdowns have people struggling to make any income at all,” said MassGOP chairman Jim Lyons. I couldn’t have said it any better.

The MassGOP also has a petition to re-open the state, which can be signed here.

bookmark_borderVictory for gun rights in Massachusetts

An awesome victory for Second Amendment Rights took place today in my home state of Massachusetts. U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock issued a preliminary injunction allowing gun stores to open beginning on Saturday! Governor Charlie Baker had ordered them to close along with all other “non-essential” businesses as part of the state’s lockdown measures to fight Covid-19. This legal victory is the result of a lawsuit filed against Baker and his administration by a coalition of gun rights groups and individuals, including Firearms Policy Coalition, Commonwealth Second Amendment, and Second Amendment Foundation.

According to Judge Woodlock, the forced closure of gun stores amounted to an “improper burden” on people’s Second Amendment rights. “There’s no justification here between the goals of the emergency declared by the Commonwealth and the burdening of the constitutional rights of the defendants in this narrow area,” he said. “I have enough information to say, in this very small corner of this emergency, we don’t surrender our constitutional rights. These plaintiffs… have constitutional rights that deserve respect and vindication. And it becomes necessary for a court to do that.”

He also said: “There may be, in the background, a distaste or a lack of enthusiasm for the firearms industry in Massachusetts among political leaders. They’re entitled to their views as well. They just can’t transgress constitutional rights.”

Beginning on Saturday, gun stores can open for business between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. as long as they operate by appointment only and make sure customers stand 6 feet apart.

“The citizens of Massachusetts have been deprived of their right to acquire arms for defense of hearth and home for too long during a time where it is most critical,” said Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) Director of Legal Strategy Adam Kraut.

FPC President Brandon Combs said, “State and local governments cannot suspend the Constitution and its guarantee of fundamental human rights. Individuals have a human right to acquire firearms and ammunition for self-defense, and the need for self-defense is especially important during uncertain times. This important victory means people in the Bay State can exercise their right to keep and bear arms.”

This ruling affirms the fact that no pandemic or emergency of any kind should cancel out people’s fundamental rights. Thank you to the plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit and to Judge Woodlock for making the right ruling.

bookmark_borderRebels in Massachusetts

In my home state of Massachusetts, where the American Revolution began, there have been some acts of rebellion against stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.

A “Liberate Massachusetts” rally took place outside the Swampscott, MA home of Governor Charlie Baker. And although most of the news coverage emphasizes the fact that the protest was not very well-attended, this article from the Salem News includes some meaningful quotes from the protesters.

“If people are afraid that they are going to get this, then they should stay home,” said Dianna Ploss, one of the organizers of the protest. “But there are plenty of people who aren’t afraid and they should be allowed to come out.”

I agree with this sentiment 100%. In all areas of life, including when it comes to the coronavirus, people should be allowed to make their own decisions about how much risk they are willing to take. Those who prefer to err on the safe side should be free to take as many steps as they wish to reduce their risk of catching the disease, including staying home and reducing or eliminating contact with other people. But those who are willing to accept a higher amount of risk should be free to do so as well.

“I’m specifically here for my rights. My right to get up in the morning … and go out for a walk in this beautiful state and this beautiful country anywhere I please and any time I please. And, if you don’t know your rights, you can’t fight for them,” said another protester, John Lanni. “What I see here is a slow erosion of our rights.”

Ploss also pointed out the irony of the fact that liquor stores are allowed to remain open while churches are not.

Speaking of churches, the Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, MA held mass on Sunday, in defiance of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

“Some people aren’t happy we’re meeting today,” said Pastor Kris Casey. “To them, I say I’m sorry. I’m sorry you feel that way … but I would rather upset your feelings than disappoint my God. I’m thankful that you’ve got people who are taking a stand because they want to be a good Christian.”

The mass was attended by 53 people, and Casey has said he plans to continue holding them.

He sent a letter to Governor Baker and posted it on Facebook, in which he argues that the state’s forced shutdown of churches violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Kudos to him for standing up for his rights and those of his congregation.