The Absurdity of Cultural Patrimony

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, some South Africans are demanding the return of “The Great Star of Africa” diamond, one of the world’s largest.  They are falsely claiming the diamond was removed from South Africa when it was under colonial rule, and therefore, was not acquired legitimately.  They are claiming the diamond is part of their nations “natural heritage” and should not reside in any other nation. 

This whole concept of cultural patrimony, or natural heritage, is ridiculous and an absurd attempt to equate normal practices of the past with the current morals of some. It is also an attempt by certain countries to acquire objects which were legitimately sold or given to others according to the agreements of the time.

Whether we care to admit it or not, every nation on earth was created as the result of conquest. Initially, stronger clans and tribes of people drove out or assimilated with weaker groups and asserted their dominance. Over time, tribes were replaced by nations and religions, each of whom increased their dominions through conquest. And every time a given group was conquered, their goods (and often, their people) were taken, sometimes through legitimate trade, but more often, through plunder.

Colonialism was one of the more recent forms of conquest. There were certainly elements of colonialism which are considered unacceptable by current standards. But if one were to look at the total historical record, colonialism, as a form of conquest, was far more humane than prior (and in many instances, subsequent) forms of conquest. If one were to carefully look at the events in many post-colonial countries, their governments and actions were far less enlightened than when they were ruled by their prior colonial masters. And almost none of these post-colonial nations are ruled by their original indigenous populations. They just happen to be ruled by groups who engaged in their own forms of conquest, either before or after colonialism.

One of the primary purposed of colonialism was to acquire the resources of the conquered areas. In fact, prior to the advent of mercantilism, and later, capitalism, conquest was the dominant method of gaining access to riches and resources from other nations. Based upon the mores of the times, colonialism was a legitimate method of accessing resources, and those resources were sometimes even accessed through relatively fair trade.

Current “national heritage laws” are a cynical attempt to deny the real history of the past and a way for certain nations to fleece the possessions of others by claiming cultural patrimony rights. Aided by the United Nations, these countries are attempting to secure riches and artifacts, many of doubtful provenance, by claiming they are part of the nation’s historical heritage.

“The Great Star of Africa” diamond was acquired by Great Britain legitimately, according to the customs and laws of the time. It is disingenuous to claim that changes in customs should also require that property be surrendered just because someone claims it to be part of their heritage. Suppose at some point, free trade is later to be found in opposition to futural morals. Should all American couples be forced to surrender engagement rings, because almost all diamonds originated in Africa?

One of the most absurd claims of cultural patrimony involves coins. By their very nature, coins were created to be freely traded as an essential component of commerce. They were meant to circulate across national borders. To now claim that an item created for the sole purpose of circulating throughout the world is part of a specific nation’s “heritage,” and should be returned to that nation, defies belief. Yet, many countries claim any coin minted, or circulated in their geography should be the property of that nation. Even worse, countries that should know better are fleecing their own citizens and forcing them to return these instruments of commerce to their supposed nations of origin, even though these coins were intended to circulate widely.

Acceptable morals change over time, and in specific timeframes, are not even universally agreed upon. There is no need to upend society, and trade, just because certain groups of people or nations claim victimization from events which occurred long before their lifetimes. If an item was legally acquired at the time it was actually acquired, it is the property of the owner. Subsequent changes in laws or morals shouldn’t negate those property rights. Just because someone claims to be a victim, does not necessarily mean they are.

Trump’s Despotic Rhetoric

Donald Trump is now calling for the execution of drug dealers and human traffickers.  This is stupid and dangerous rhetoric, and is the antithesis of his supposed desire to “Make America Great Again.”

First of all, the state should not be in the business of taking the lives of its citizens.  Capital punishment is applied arbitrarily and has sometimes taken the lives of innocent people.  If a criminal penalty cannot be cancelled when evidence of innocence is uncovered, it should not be used.  If even one innocent person has been executed by the state (in fact, there have been many), the use of capital punishment must be abolished.  Regardless of popular opinion, the state has no right to deny any citizen his or her right to life.  The death penalty is merely a means of creating populist retribution and is the ultimate tool of tyrants.

Secondly, when there is a demand for a product or service, people will provide them, and others will consume them, regardless of their legality.  There is, and has always been, a demand for drugs ruled illegal by the United States Congress.  Despite the so-called “War on Drugs,” demand and consumption has not changed because drugs are illegal.  Not only has consumption not changed, but crime has increased solely due to the illegality of the substances.

In a free society, any adult should be permitted to consume any substance he or she wishes.  Naturally, that person must also be held responsible for the consequences of his or her actions.  Government should not be engaging is social engineering in order to create a society deemed palatable by a group of elites or a mob.  Rather than ramping up the rhetoric to execute drug dealers, government should instead lift all its prohibitions of specific substances.

The same holds true for prostitution.  Prostitution is said to be the “world’s oldest profession.”  Despite its illegality in most jurisdictions, the practice of selling sexual favors for money persists.  Social engineers have tried to reinforce the validity of making prostitution illegal by claiming most prostitutes are unwilling victims of “human traffickers.”  Although this rhetoric is certainly exaggerated, exploitation of women and forced prostitution is a result of prostitution’s illegality, not its presence.  In the few jurisdictions in which prostitution is legal in the United States, prostitutes voluntarily participate and are not the victims of pimps or traffickers.  Pimps and human traffickers only exist because prostitution is illegal.

Just as any adult should be permitted to consume anything he or she wishes, any adult should also be permitted to voluntarily sell or purchase any service, including sex.  Puritan attitudes and elite social engineering experiments are not sufficient reasons to prohibit the sale or consumption of sexual favors by consenting adults.

When crime ensues in the drug trade or around prostitution, that crime is caused by the illegality of the product or service, not the product or service itself.  Drug dealers compete, often violently, for territory, and consumers sometimes steal because prices are artificially inflated due to their illegal nature.  Although the incidence of human trafficking has been exaggerated, exploitation of sex workers is a result of laws prohibiting prostitution, rather than prostitution itself.  The primary dangers of the profession are caused by its prohibition, not the act of selling or buying sex.

The rise in crime when the 18th Amendment outlawed alcohol in the United States led to the rise of bootleggers and crime.  Alcoholic beverages were still in demand, but criminals, instead of legitimate traders, provided the product.  Bootlegging aided the creation and rise of organized crime, and caused significant crime as the newly defined criminals fought for territory.  Like drugs and sex, alcoholic drinks were still wanted by a significant portion of the population.  Prohibition does not end the demand for the product or service it outlaws; it merely drives the industries underground.  In a free society, no product or service should be denied to consenting adults.

Donald Trump is following the populist tendency to deliver dangerous rhetoric to appeal to the basest emotions of people, not their reason.  Trump’s balderdash negates his supposed desire to “make America great again.”  The United States was founded upon the principle of individual liberty, not governmental overreach and control.  Although many people may find drug use, prostitution, or even alcohol distasteful, true freedom protects goods and activities that others despise.  Trump would be far better served by studying the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the documents created during the founding of our nation than by riling up the emotions of frustrated and angry citizens.  If Trump truly wanted to “make America great again,” he would embrace liberty and the founding values of our nation.  Instead, like every other populist, he is creating an empty cult of personality that preys upon the fears of others.  Unfortunately for our nation, cults of personality almost always result in despotism.

Government will not function correctly, nor will it regain credibility, by embracing social engineering schemes and then instituting harsh penalties against those who defy such schemes.  Trump’s call to execute drug dealers and human traffickers is not only exaggerated, nonsensical blather, it is also the antithesis of truly “making America great again.”  The prohibition of any substances and services desired by the populace should be repealed.  The so-called “War on Drugs” has been a failure, and so have attempts to suppress prostitution.  Making certain substances and services illegal does not extinguish demand.  Instead, it just drives demand underground.  If Trump truly wants to “make America great again,” he should be demanding more freedom, instead of more governmental control and repression.

What does the Biden Administration and the Venezuelan Dictatorship Have in Common?

What does Venezuela’s desire to adopt a totally cashless society and the Biden administration’s plan to require banks to report all transactions over $600 to the IRS have in common?  They are both about establishing government control over our finances and diminishing personal privacy.

The Biden administration believes that requiring banks to report all transactions over $600 to the government would reduce income tax evasion.  However, the IRS can already gather all the financial information it may need for an audit without adding this cumbersome requirement.  If instituted, the compliance costs to report all transactions over $600 will be enormous and the reporting process will be a bureaucratic nightmare.

In addition to the compliance costs, which would drive up the fees charged by banking institutions, the privacy implications are alarming.  The IRS would have access to information about any banking transaction exceeding $600.  If you’re withdrawing a few thousand dollars to purchase a used car, the government will know about it.  If you received a thousand dollars in wedding gifts, the government will know about it (and try to tax it).  If you spend $600 to attend a protest event, the government will know about it.  Even if you move money from one account to another, not only will the government know about it, it would also likely trigger an IRS audit. There is no telling what the government will ultimately do with the information they collect about individual spending, saving, and earning habits.

It is all but certain the reporting of transactions over $600 will be reported electronically.  Not only will the government have unconstrained access to most people’s financial activities, but so will hackers and other nefarious actors.  Considering the increasing number of data breeches against supposedly secure credit card transaction and personal information, it is inevitable that individual financial data will be leaked.  This data provides a treasure trove of information that may be used by criminals.  Under this proposal, not only will bureaucrats in Washington have access to your private information, but so will criminals in China, Russia, and the rest of Eastern Europe. 

This idea seems to always turn up like a bad penny anytime Democrats engage in a federal spending binge.  In 2010, as part of the so-called Affordable Care Act, Democrats wanted small business owners to submit a 1099 form to any vendor with whom they spent $600 or more in a calendar year.  This would have meant, for example, that a company which ordered a few cases of printer paper and pencils from Staples would have to send them a 1099 form at the end of the year.  Companies whose employees stayed at a Sheraton Hotel on a business trip would have had to send Sheraton a 1099 form (for each separate location).  The list goes on and on.

Had a few sane legislators not noticed this insertion into a massive spending bill, and had not small business owners lobbied against this, every small business owner would have been saddled with huge paperwork requirements and thousands of dollars in additional accounting costs.  The costs to comply with the proposed dictates would have dwarfed the small amount of additional taxes collected by the IRS as a result of these requirements.

Democrats seem to have a fixation with the $600 number.  That was their preference in 2010, and it has appeared again this year.  They believe that infringing upon the financial privacy of Americans is a small price to pay in order to fund their vote-buying programs.  They also totally ignore the costs of maintaining compliance, and the fact that such costs will be passed down to all users of banking services.  If inflation wasn’t already bad enough with gasoline prices more than a dollar per gallon expensive than it was a year ago, this bill will surely send inflation spiraling out of control.

What does this have to do with Venezuela?  Ever since the Venezuelans elected a socialist government, which shortly became a dictatorship, inflation has skyrocketed.  Even their currency could not keep up with the rate of inflation.  Before Hugo Chávez became president, the Venezuelan bolivar typically traded at 3 to 4 bolivars to one United States dollar.  Even after several currency reevaluations, it now takes 4,146,022 bolivars to purchase a single U.S. dollar.

Venezuela can not print currency fast enough to keep up with their rate of inflation.  Their largest denomination bank note, 50,000 bolivars, is now only worth a couple of cents in United States currency.  Bank notes are often obsolete even before they enter circulation.  Because of the huge inflation rate, bank notes are rarely used in commerce, and coins have completely disappeared from circulation.

In light of this, Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro has announced plans to abolish physical cash and go to an entirely cashless society.  In a cashless society, all transactions are electronically recorded and available to the government upon request.  This allows the government to track the finances and transactions of specific individuals and to limit the places in which money may be spent.  If, for example, an opposition party is attempting to raise funds to challenge the incumbent government, the dictatorship could prevent any funds from being used for this purpose.  It will be impossible to purchase books, artwork, newspapers, or anything else not approved by the government.  Electronic records of all financial transactions is the secret police force’s best friend.

Will the proposed reporting requirements in the United States be as intrusive as those used by Venezuela?  Not immediately.  However, we must remember the Patriot Act was ostensibly created to thwart international terrorists.  Yet, its use of secret warrants and indictments has been employed more often to prosecute crimes within the United States, rather than foreign terrorists.  The Internal Revenue Service has been used, not only to collect taxes, but to target political organizations opposing the incumbent administration.  And while the FBI has not yet become as much of a political secret police force as Venezuela’s Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, it has many times exceeded its authority to achieve political aims.  Granting the government another excuse to spy upon its citizens’ economic transactions does not bode well for the future of liberty.

Will those determined to evade United States taxation be thwarted by the bank reporting requirements?  For the most part, no.  Those with large resources will begin conducting transactions using unregulated cyber currencies, tangible metals (silver and gold), and sophisticated barter systems.  They will remove themselves from the United States fiat currency system.  In fact, the bank reporting requirements may result in a reduction to tax collection by driving many economic transactions underground.

The real victims of the proposed reporting requirements will likely be middle-class wage earners and small-business owners.  The government will use the data collected to harass (often innocent) citizens through intrusive audits and civil forfeiture provisions.  Even citizens who innocently moved money from one account to another may find themselves bullied by zealous IRS agents or local police forces hungry for the proceeds of civil forfeiture. 

And all this damage is being done so the Democratic administration can attempt to buy votes by dramatically expanding social and spending programs.  It’s hardly a good bargain.

Why Must we Surrender our Rights during times of Perceived Crises?

Once again, our nation surrendered its liberties – our natural rights endowed upon us by our Creator – because of fear and panic.  We did not sacrifice our rights to some “greater cause,” for there is no cause greater than the natural state of freedom that makes us all human.  Instead, we compliantly surrendered that which makes us human, that which makes us American, to scare-mongering “experts” who conned us into believing their priorities, preferences, and judgements were somehow superior to everyone else’s.  We willingly relinquished our own powers of critical thinking and allowed our emotions, particularly our fears, to limit our own judgements.  We allowed a small cabal of so-called experts and politicians to strip us of our right to free will and choice, in exchange for being serfs to their own choices.

The United States of America was founded upon the principle that all humans were granted natural rights by our Creator.  These rights are not abstractions that a benevolent or despotic government can freely grant or deny.  They are an extension of the free will provided to us by our Lord – a recognition that such free will, choice, and liberty is the natural state of every human.  Legitimate governments strive, at all times, to preserve and protect individual liberty.  Despotic governments seek to control humanity by infringing upon these natural rights.

Anatomy of Despotism

During the coronavirus pandemic, governmental officials, usually governors and members of the federal and state executive branches, abandoned any pretext of protecting individual rights and, instead, chose to rule by dictate and decree.  Most of the nation’s governors chose to put their own citizens under various forms of house arrest, through “stay at home” or “lockdown” orders.  They arbitrarily closed businesses they deemed “nonessential” with little thought given to the real impact this would have on the business owners, their employees, their suppliers, and the communities they serve.  When confronted with a perceived crisis, these supposed leaders reflexively resorted to the most intrusive and excessively coercive mechanisms of governmental power, rather than trusting their citizens to independently make the choices right for them.

This was partially caused by mass hysteria driven by the sensationalist and alarmist pronouncements of the media and by opportunistic “experts” seeking personal publicity or the raw exercise of power.  The so-called “experts” were granted levels of influence and power far beyond their areas of expertise, and the public eagerly and willingly acquiesced to even the most draconian recommendations of these individuals.  It is a sad reality of human nature that when given an opportunity to exercise power over others, most people will gladly wield that power to their own ends.  Far too often, the public meekly complies.

Whether you choose to call the technique “gaslighting”, or as Hitler termed it, “the Big Lie,” when something is repeated often enough and with enough conviction, the public will eventually believe, and then, embrace the lie.  The panic and raw emotional reactions to the perceived threat of COVID-19 was a classic example of this phenomenon.

The Path to Dictatorship

Initially, most Americans, including most politicians, believed COVID-19 would not cause much trouble, and even branded those who disagreed as racists against the Chinese.  It was not uncommon to see mayors and other political figures tour Chinatowns in their cities and encourage people to visit their restaurants and businesses.

That all changed in late February and early March of 2020.  The news media seized upon the worst aspects of the outbreak in Europe, particularly in Italy and quickly sensationalized their coverage in a desperate search for ratings and readers.  Then, on March 16, Imperial College in Britain published a model which predicted that half a million people in Britain would die from COVID-19, and two million from the United States.  Even though the authors of the Imperial College model quickly walked back their predictions, the press, and swiftly afterwards, the public and the politicians, seized upon these alarmist predictions and repeated them like a mantra.

Driven by public demand to “do something!,” California’s governor issued the first “stay at home” order on March 19, 2020.  All but seven states quickly followed.  These “stay at home” orders closed businesses deemed nonessential by the state governors, prohibited elective surgeries in hospitals, limited gatherings of more than a handful of people, and often closed public parks, beaches, and other outdoor recreation venues.  Some restrictions, such as those imposed by Michigan Governor Whitmer, were more arbitrary and draconian than others, including forbidding lawn service companies from cutting lawns, preventing residents from purchasing plants and seeds from shops already open, and banning motorboats on waterways, but permitting non-motorized watercraft.  Clearly, all these restrictions violated the rights to free exercise of religion, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, the right to not being denied liberty or property without due process of law, the right to not have excess fines imposed, and a host of other Constitutionally-enumerated rights.

Few governors gave thought to the health and economic consequences of their decisions, and often imposed restrictions in spite of the lack of empirical evidence supporting them.  The initial justification was that the restrictions were necessary to “flatten the curve” and later, to limit new cases of coronavirus. When it became obvious COVID-19 was still spreading in spite of stay at home orders, governors opted for new requirements, like mandating masks in public, even though the value of the public wearing homemade masks is questionable.  Instead of admitting their policies were little more than ineffective political theater and abandoning their overreaching dictates, pot-committed governors often doubled down by extending existing restrictions and even imposing new ones.

The Myth of “Killing Grandma”

Those who questioned and protested the governmental dictates were attacked as being selfish, anti-science, and even racist.  Those who protested the infringement of their liberties were even accused of wanting to “kill grandma.”

In many states, these lockdowns, which often weren’t even voted upon by state legislatures, still exist, despite statistical evidence stay at home orders have no impact on coronavirus infection or fatality rates.  In fact, nationwide, over 1/3 of all coronavirus cases and fatalities occur in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living communities.  The fatality rate predictably rises by age, with those under 65 unlikely to perish from the disease unless other comorbidity factors already exist.  Transmission of COVID-19 is very rare during fleeting contacts, such as passing an infected person in a store.  Even governmental officials are implicitly recognizing this, by limiting contact tracing to persons with close and constant contact with infected persons.

There is no disputing COVID-19 is more contagious and more serious than typical strains of influenza.  Worldwide, the fatality rate appears to be about 1.3% for those with symptomatic cases of coronavirus.  The vast majority of people who contract coronavirus recover, including a majority of the most vulnerable patients (those over the age of 85).  In addition, it is estimated that 25% to 50% of all coronavirus cases are asymptomatic. Although the risk of coronavirus should not be understated, it need not be exaggerated either.  Although the raw numbers of cases and deaths may appear alarming, the chance of contracting COVID-19 and having a bad final outcome is still statistically minimal.

Humans are naturally social animals.  They create family units, extended clans, communities, and entire civilizations though voluntary interactions.  These voluntary interactions and socialization are essential to the success of the species.  The United States has developed the most advanced nation in the world through its principles, which are eloquently documented in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The inevitable advancement of our nation was never hindered by the temporary challenges of disease, war, financial depressions, or any other perceived crisis.  Indeed, it is the values of individual liberty that allowed us to weather these challenges.  We are not weakened by our rights and our liberties; we are weakened when we surrender our rights and our liberties.

There are risks throughout life, and each person has the natural right to determine how best to navigate through these risks.  Some may choose to avoid most risks by sequestering themselves in safe environments and avoiding any activities that may potentially be dangerous.  Others may choose to embrace risks, feeling they experience life best while risking it.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle, prudently avoiding likely risks, attempting to mitigate serious, but unlikely outcomes, and living normal lives.  Everyone has the right to determine how they each, individually, wish to balance life’s risks with actually living their lives.

By instituting policies, particularly one-size-fits-all policies, in an attempt to slow the progressions of coronavirus, those holding governmental power have not only implemented ineffective “solutions” that have likely generated more problems than they solved, they have also denied people the natural right to determine their own fates.  The individuals possessing the coercive power of government have determined they alone, not the people themselves, possess the unerring wisdom to dictate the preferences, priorities, and risks each individual may hold.  They have failed to consider that every policy decision has trade-offs, which are often negative.  While responding to the unbridled panic of the public by infringing upon individual liberties, these pandering politicians have failed to address the social and health costs of deferred medical care, the loss of jobs and income, the loss of life savings and businesses that took a lifetime to build, and the ensuing stress, anxiety, and depression tied to these factors.  Most importantly, these smug “leaders” have denied the nation’s citizens their inherent rights to choose their own actions, their own tolerance for risk, and their own paths in life.

Individuals should not be subjected to the whims and preferences of governmental officials and “experts,” especially when those whims directly infringe upon the liberties of the citizens.  Each person has a right to determine the actions he or she wishes to take as it pertains to COVID-19.  A younger adult, in good health who has invested her life savings in a small business may legitimately arrive at the conclusion that the risk of contracting coronavirus, and the risk of permanent adverse impacts, is much less than the risk of losing her business and life savings.  A senior citizen with high blood pressure and diabetes may decide sheltering at home is the safer alternative.  When people decide they have more important priorities than hiding from a virus, particularly if the virus is unlikely to cause them significant harm, no one has the right to prevent them from engaging in the activities of their choice.  Likewise, a person who may be at high risk of adverse outcomes is free to choose to shelter at home until the threat abates. 

Nobody will be “killing grandma.”  If grandma feels she is at risk for adverse outcomes, she is welcome to shelter in place until the viral threat subsides.  Grandma, however, does not have the right to demand everyone else put their lives on hold.

We’re Not “All in This Together”

It is always troubling when someone pretentiously announces “we’re all in this together,” and “everyone must make a sacrifice for the common good.”  There is no common good; there are only tradeoffs inherent in any policy that may benefit some and disadvantage others.  Those demanding “sacrifice” are usually only demanding others sacrifice their liberties to those most fearful in society.  They, themselves, are the last to truly sacrifice anything.  Those who most loudly demand government solutions to somehow manage a natural phenomenon are viewing government as in parentis loco.  In other words, they are plaintively begging their mommies to tell them everything will turn out all right.

Things won’t turn out all right.  COVID-19 is a very contagious disease with a higher-than-average fatality rate.  Although the odds of any one person dying is statistically remote, particularly those in their younger years, millions of people will contract the virus and hundreds of thousands or more will die from it.  Unless an effective vaccine is developed in record time, or the virus unexpectedly mutates into a less potent form, the virus will likely be with us for several years to come.  We can hunker down, destroy our society and economy in the hope the virus will pass us by, or we can live our lives, with each of us taking the precautions we each feel are necessary to avoid or mitigate the impact of the virus.  This is not a decision that should be dictated from above.  It’s a decision that rightfully belongs to each and every individual.

An old adage says, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

Similarly, when politicians are asked to address a problem, their only tool is the blatant exercise of coercive governmental power, usually resulting in the infringement of people’s rights.  Why do we, as a citizenry, compliantly accept the dictates of those wielding political power, especially when those dictates involve an unconstitutional infringement of individual rights?   Why shouldn’t we demand that our representatives figure out ways to address problems (if they really should be involved in the first place) that don’t involve the diminution of our natural and constitutional rights? Why should every response to perceived crises first involve dictatorship and infringement of our liberties?

The media and politicians thrive on creating, exaggerating, and fueling perceived crises.  Addressing crises gives them purpose, drives reader and viewership, and wins them votes.  Unfortunately, crises are also used to instill emotional reactions in the populace, usually fear.  When the population is driven by emotions, particularly panic and fear, they are often willing to surrender their individual rights and sovereignty to whomever promises them security, whether that security really exists or not.  As citizens, we must use reason, rather than emotion, to address the validity and severity of alleged crises, and demand that any governmental actions not involve dictatorship or the deprivation of liberties.

The Romans lost their republic when they voluntarily ceded their rights and self-representation to magistrates granted dictatorial powers to respond to crises or “emergencies.”  Over time, these crises and emergencies grew so frequent that Rome was constantly ruled by dictators, rather than their own Senators.  It did not take long for the Roman Republic to be replaced by the autocratic Roman Empire.

Every time Americans were required to surrender their liberties in response to some perceived crisis, it was later concluded that such actions were unnecessary and an example of governmental overreach or abuse of power.  In spite of this historical reality, we are constantly told it is selfish to resist the dictates of the state, for those dictates are for our own good.  Instead of compliantly submitting to regular governmental dictates to surrender our rights, we should be demanding government respect and protect our rights, and seek out solutions to any emergencies that don’t infringe upon individual choice or liberty.

The Nation’s Governors Respond to Trump’s Gaffes – “Here, Hold my Beer!”

President Trump has embarrassed himself many times by speaking off-the-cuff about the coronavirus.  His challenger, Vice President Biden, has embarrassed himself many times by not being able to complete a sentence when speaking about his COVID-19 plans (as well as just about everything else).

There must be something inherent in a crisis that exposes the abject stupidity of politicians and their complete obliviousness in enacting meaningful and effective policies to deal with crises like the coronavirus outbreak.  They are only capable of crafting extreme policies that amount to nothing more than political theater, which usually have adverse consequences that ultimately cause more problems than the crises these politicians are trying to address.  Not to mention the obvious fact these politicians are merely imitating one another – very few actually consider the implications of their policies and perform their own analysis.

It’s almost like several of the nation’s governors have looked at Trump’s gaffes and said, “Hold my beer!”

Michigan Governor Whitmer banned people from purchasing house paint and seeds for gardening at shops that were already open!  She banned landscape maintenance services from mowing residents’ lawns.  Individuals could not use motorboats, but boats without motors were permissible.  Of course, Whitmer had to protect her patronage of political hacks; those who supposedly “perform necessary government activities” were exempt from her draconian restrictions.

New Jersey Governor Murphy has seemed far more concerned with the economic impact COVID-19 would have on illegal aliens in his state, than on the economic devastation his policies are causing to the small businesses and jobs of New Jersey citizens and legal residents.

43 states enacted arbitrary, and ultimately ineffective, lockdown regulations.  There was no rhyme or reason behind many of these policies.  “Essential” workers and businesses were allowed to continue to operate, although the definition of “essential” was arbitrary and inconsistent between, and in some cases, within, states.  It was obvious governors were winging it by placating their fearful and panicked residents with empty and ineffective political theater, none of which were justified by any empirical evidence.  Unfortunately, their acts of political pandering did have genuine negative impacts on the health and economies of their residents.

Although Governor Whitmer has been cited as instituting the most stupid, arbitrary, and heavy-handed regulations, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has quickly established himself as the most tone-deaf, presumptuous, and incompetent governor in the nation.  Despite his almost-daily dog and pony show, Cuomo has excelled in instituting ineffective regulations, while at the same time feigning ignorance or ignoring actions that would have truly been effective at addressing coronavirus in the nation’s hardest hit state.

It’s probably not fair to point out the recommendations that New York purchase additional ventilators and supplies in 2015 went unheeded.  Yet Cuomo was not alone in ignoring these recommendations.  Governors in several other states overlooked their own need to restock critical supplies, as did the federal government.  Indeed, it would have been hard to justify those expenses to taxpayers without an obvious, immediate need.  Hindsight is 20/20 and we shouldn’t fault politicians for not having crystal balls.

We can even forgive Cuomo for his self-serving appearance at a location staged to look like a full warehouse early in the outbreak.

More recent actions, and inaction, have displayed that while Cuomo is busy preening on national television, he has failed to actually implement policies that would truly protect his residents from coronavirus.  Cuomo has proven himself to be tone-deaf and incompetent in not only recognizing the consequences of his actions, but also in protecting the most vulnerable residents in his state.

When residents began protesting against Cuomo’s policies, complaining they were first prohibited from performing their jobs and then hadn’t received their unemployment checks, Cuomo failed to empathize with fate his constituents who were quickly running out of money and unable to feed their families and pay their bills.  Instead, Cuomo’s contemptuous response was, “”You want to go to work?” Cuomo said. “Go take a job as an essential worker. Do it tomorrow.”

Never mind that these workers would NOT have been unemployed had it not been for Cuomo’s ill-advised policy to lockdown the state except for favored individuals and institutions he deemed “essential.”  And never mind that these workers, many of them small business owners, toiled for years to develop the unique skills to perform their real jobs.  It is not simple, nor is it lucrative, for these workers to quickly transform themselves into “essential” workers.

These people HAD jobs, and Cuomo’s directives took those jobs away.  Cuomo could have displayed just a little bit of empathy and consideration for the individuals harmed by his own policies.

More seriously, while Cuomo was engaging in the political theater of ineffective, one-size-fits-all lockdowns, he was ignoring the needs and the plight of New York’s most vulnerable residents.

It was obvious, even before COVID-19 established a toehold in the United States, that coronavirus was particularly dangerous to the elderly and people with certain existing health issues.  This reality was driven home when the first substantial U.S. outbreak, in Washington state, impacted a nursing home. 

In spite of these known factors, New York established a policy which REQUIRED nursing homes to admit patients who have tested positive for coronavirus.  New York failed to appreciate, or purposely ignored, the danger of introducing a contagious individual in a closed environment filled with aged and vulnerable people.  Instead of establish segregated facilities for individuals infected with coronavirus, New York’s policies REQUIRED nursing home operators to accept individuals who posed a real and direct threat to their elderly residents. 

When a formerly compliant media finally asked Cuomo about the policy, the governor feigned ignorance, “That’s a good question. I don’t know.”

Wouldn’t one think, when most states are seeing 40% + of their coronavirus fatalities occurring in nursing homes and senior assisted living communities, the governor would be on top of this situation and rescind such a dangerous directive?  Instead of focusing on a statewide lockdown, the governor would have saved more lives had he been more attentive to the situation in adult living facilities, where many of the vulnerable citizens lived.  Instead, the governor appeared to be totally ignorant of the situation.

To add insult to injury, when nursing home operators appealed to Cuomo to help them obtain needed personal protective equipment (PPE), Cuomo callously responded, “it’s not our job!”

A reasonable person would think, if government was to get involved in a crisis of this magnitude, it would do all it could to help out facilities caring for the most vulnerable people.  You would think the state government would NOT issue regulations that put more people at risk.  Considering that well over 3600 New Yorkers who perished from coronavirus lived in nursing homes and adult care facilities (and this number is probably dramatically understated), a reasonable person would expect government to pay particular attention to these institutions when crafting a coronavirus mitigation strategy.

It appears that Governor Cuomo is not such a reasonable person.  He had been happy to preen in front of the television cameras.  He has been an enthusiastic spokesman for stay at home orders that are ineffective for most of the population, and economically devastating for all.  But when it comes to protecting those known to be most vulnerable to coronavirus, Cuomo has feigned ignorance and displayed dismissive callousness.

Much has been said about Trump’s half-baked ideas and comments that appear to endorse unproven treatments of coronavirus.  Whereas Trump’s ill-advised comments may have resulted in a handful of deaths by truly stupid people, Cuomo’s callousness and inattention has contributed to the deaths of thousands.

It should be apparent that government is usually ill-equipped to provide effective leadership during most crises.  During the coronavirus outbreak, most politicians have been far more interested in avoiding blame and preening for the cameras, rather than truly addressing the needs of those most likely to be adversely impacted by COVID-19. 

The Sheep and the Border Collie

Contrary to the media and the “the end is near” alarmists, the coronavirus is not going to be “disastrous.” It’s another in a long line of viral infection outbreaks. It is already in the wild, and it will continue expanding until it runs its course – which will occur when there is enough herd immunity to stem its growth.

It is very likely there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who have already contracted COVID-19 in the United States. Because the symptoms for most healthy adults tend to be very mild, most are probably not even aware they have contracted the virus. The “official” numbers likely reflect those who have exhibited serious symptoms related to the disease, and those in close contact who exhibited any symptoms, resulting in positive tests. The real number of cases is almost certainly greatly higher than the published data.

As with any outbreak of disease, the outbreak should be taken seriously. But the reaction should be proportionate to the reality of the disease, and not the fear of the public (particularly fear being driven by a sensationalistic media). The original reactions of most government officials and medical professionals were correct. Individuals should take the same precautions they take during any other viral outbreak – practice good hygiene, wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when feeling ill. Very vulnerable members of society should be protected as much as possible. Recommendations like closing nursing homes and assisted living centers to non-essential visitors make perfect sense.

Efforts should be taken to ensure that healthcare centers and providers have the materials and machines needed to address the outbreak, with government removing any unnecessary roadblocks that may be preventing this from happening. Note that I suggested government merely remove the roadblocks and not attempt to take over the healthcare system. In spite of the agendas of Marxists like New York mayor Bill de Blasio, government does not need to nationalize healthcare industries. The last thing we need is to have a hidebound, governmental bureaucracy tie up the process. Let private industry do what it does best, which is quickly, flexibly, and nimbly responding to market demand.

Much of the population has not experienced any real adversity in their lives, and they are desperate for someone else to take control and reassure them everything will be OK. These folks expect government to shield and protect them from any adversity.  These individuals believe that every disease or malady must have a cure, and the lack of any cure must be the result of governmental inaction or greedy corporations unwilling to invest in a cure. They can’t accept the fact that certain diseases just don’t have a cure, and must just run their courses.

Short of vaccines, most viral diseases don’t have cures. People who contract the diseases must let the disease run its course until the body’s natural immune system produces enough antibodies to destroy the virus. The only thing medical science can do is engage in palliative care by treating some of the symptoms as they appear. Some symptoms will be so severe they will kill the host, usually people with existing medical vulnerabilities. This holds true for coronavirus, influenza, and even the common cold. Coronavirus tends to be more contagious and has a higher mortality rate than common strains of influenza, but also has milder symptoms in healthy adults (and children appear to be largely immune to experiencing any substantial symptoms of COVID-19).

Because of the media-driven sensationalism, the public, led by the usual “activist” suspects, has decried the “lack of action” on the part of government.  Pressure has been placed upon government to “do something,” “ANYTHING!” to deal with this “crisis.” There are even people demanding that the government put everyone on lockdown, essentially house arrest, for the next few weeks.

The federal government and the states have reacted in various ways to these demands. Most recently, the politicians have put many states on partial lockdown, restricting the types of businesses that may operate, their hours of operation, and the maximum size of public gatherings.

When governments attempt to engage in such far-ranging and severe restrictions of commerce and civil liberties, it is the prerogative, if not the duty, of the population to ask what these governments hope to accomplish by these measures, and if these measures will actually be effective. Nobody should blindly and unquestionably accept the dictates of governmental “authorities,” particularly when their actions appear to be driven by political, and not practical, considerations.  The definition of specific, quantifiable goals must be established, and metrics and empirical data used to validate effectiveness of any restrictions.

We have to face the reality of this infection, whether we like it or not. The virus exists in the population, and will continue to spread until herd immunity slows, and eventually halts its progress. The current business restrictions are mostly window-dressing, with so many loopholes that they probably won’t impact the rate or timing of the spread of coronavirus, and some of them may actually accelerate it. While closing restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues may limit the spread of the virus in those venues, there are enough supermarkets, drug stores, and other businesses open that the spread of the virus will likely not be contained. In fact, people standing cheek to jowl in a supermarket checkout lane or waiting to pick up their take-out order in a restaurant are more likely to spread the virus than if people were casually enjoying a restaurant meal at private tables in which each are separated by several feet.

Even if we were to lock down every individual in the United States and eradicate coronavirus from our country, we would merely be put in the position we were in a few months ago. Just one infected person coming to our shores would start the infection process over again, since society would not have yet developed the immunity needed to fight the virus. We’d just be kicking the can further down the road.

Any attempts to halt the spread of coronavirus at this point will be futile. As long as there is no immunity in the population, the virus will continue to spread. We might (and the key word here is, “might”) be able to limit the pace of the spread to ensure that our medical institutions are not overwhelmed with an influx of seriously-ill patients. However, considering the fact that the vast majority of infected individuals exhibit rather mild symptoms, it is unlikely our medical care facilities will be that overwhelmed. There are always doom and gloom prognosticators, but their dire predictions almost never pan out.

Regardless of what government does, and in spite of alarmist and sensationalized media coverage, this outbreak will not abate until enough people develop the natural antibodies to coronavirus required to develop enough herd immunity to halt the progress of the disease. Eventually, the virus won’t be able to find hosts without immunity, and will die out of its own accord. This is the natural progression of virtually all viral diseases, and will be the natural progression of COVID-19, whether we like it or not.

It is fair to also ask how these governmental restrictions on lifestyles and businesses will impact the lives of Americans, and whether these restrictions cause consequences more serious than the coronavirus itself.

Closing bars, restaurants, theaters, and any other venues considered “unessential” also impacts the jobs and wages of those dependent upon these venues.  Often, these are the people in the lower-paid segments of society, who are now being deprived of their livelihoods.  Many of these businesses are small, individual or family-run businesses, and may not be able to survive any extended closing.

Downstream businesses will also be affected.  If restaurants, theaters, bars, and other businesses are required to close, this will also adversely affect their suppliers.  We can keep going downstream to the landlords, distributors, transporters, and producers who will also have their livelihoods impacted by these business closures. 

The federal and state governments claim that anyone economically affected by these business restrictions will be made whole.  But by whom?  Someone has to pay for the missed wages the government will pay displaced workers, the grants and tax credits offered to closed businesses, and the unemployment benefits paid out to workers who permanently lose their jobs at businesses that couldn’t weather an extended closing.

The funds needed to make those affected “whole” don’t’ appear by magic.  They have to come from somewhere. This money will come from our tax dollars or increased financial deficits in the federal budget.  In essence, we will be paying ourselves, through our tax dollars, to make ourselves “whole” (minus the government’s administrative cut, of course). 

The claims by government that lost wages, lost jobs, and lost businesses will be paid for is a ruse.  These costs may be paid.  But they’ll be paid by ourselves, to ourselves.  No magic money fairy will swoop down to reimburse us for the costs of these governmental actions.

The stock market dropped precipitously since the coronavirus outbreak began.  This was due far more to the uncertainty of how governments will respond, rather than the impact of the disease itself.  This will probably throw us into a recession or depression, and will adversely impact the retirement savings of almost everyone who holds a 401(k) account, not to mention the ability of businesses to acquire the capital needed to grow.

Unfortunately, there will be no mechanism available to determine which, if any, of the government’s actions were effective in arresting or delaying the spread of this virus, and which were merely superfluous window-dressing.  If the spread of the virus abates quickly, or if the effects of the virus are less severe than predicted, many people will make the assumption the eradication of the disease correlates with the government actions, when in fact any such relationship may merely be coincidental.

If the virus doesn’t abate quickly (and in all likelihood, it will continue to spread at an increasing rate for a while), the hysteria will continue to grow to demand the government puts even more draconian restrictions on public movement and commerce.  Some won’t be satisfied until there is a complete lockdown and everyone is subject to marital law. 

Eventually, the virus will abate, like every virus before it.  And these desperately scared people will ascribe the disappearance of the virus to restrictive governmental actions, when the virus’ natural progression would just as likely be the cause.  With a lack of empirical data to gauge effectiveness, the public may reflexively accept greater governmental intrusions into their lives in the future.

Ironically, even though a frightened public may be currently begging the government to micromanage their lives, they will soon tire of the restrictions and begin to resist and openly defy them.  This will begin to occur in mere weeks, and not months or years.  As people exhaust their savings, they will demand to be permitted to go back to their jobs.  Cabin fever and social isolation will compel people to ignore restrictions and venture out in public again.  Small-business owners will rebel against restrictions that slowly (or quickly) strangle their businesses.  If stores can no longer source and stock goods demanded by the public, there may even be civil unrest.  Just as social pressure has forced the government to enact restrictions on commerce, movement, and assembly, the same public pressure will force the government to abandon these restrictions, even if the viral threat has not abated.

In essence, the government has less than a month before people start to rebel against the current restrictions.  The powers that be may attempt to engage in more incendiary propaganda to engender fear and compliance, but the impact of these measures will diminish rather quickly.

There is no doubt that coronavirus has the potential to be a serious malady, but it is unlikely the most dire predictions will come to pass.  Admittedly, any death from the virus is a tragedy, but unfortunately this is a natural process that regularly occurs with any viral outbreak, including regular seasonal influenza. 

Will coronavirus impact more people than influenza?  It may, and it may not. 

However, the fear of our nation’s medical system becoming overwhelmed by serious cases is largely the result of the Italian experience.  We cannot, and should not, compare our health care system to Italy’s antiquated and bureaucratic system.  Nor does our population mimic the health demographics of Italy.  The likelihood of coronavirus cases overwhelming our nation’s health infrastructure is remote, and even if certain areas experience problems, providers will quickly emerge to address the need. 

There will likely be a substantial number of coronavirus cases and deaths, with numbers that may exceed those of this year’s seasonal flu.  But even that is questionable, considering that many of those exposed will exhibit minimal symptoms, yet develop the personal immunity that will contribute to the herd immunity.  It is very likely that a much larger proportion of the population has already contracted the virus than documented, and that the viral curve is farther along on the horizontal access than expected.

From a long-term perspective, the social lessons coming out of this outbreak are troubling.  There are certainly evil individuals paying attention to the way the public is influenced by sensationalistic fear-mongering, falling prey to the herd mentality, paralyzing themselves with fear, demanding others reassure them, and blindly following the dictates of those presented as “authorities.”  The public so desperately craves the illusion of security that they are willing to ask the government to imprison them so they may avoid a perceived threat.  These are valuable characteristics that may easily be exploited by a nefarious individual.

The single-minded fealty given to the loudest alarmists is troubling.  There is no doubt that coronavirus is an infection that should concern each of us.  Obviously, we should all engage in the basic actions required to minimize or mitigate exposure to COVID-19, just as we should be every other viral infection.  We should also carefully assess the political responses to the outbreak, supporting those likely to be effective and exposing those that are merely examples of political opportunism or window-dressing.

A rational, balanced approach to the outbreak is necessary.  Succumbing to unwarranted hysteria by panic buying, hoarding goods, or blindly accepting the dictates of self-styled “experts” is dangerous and unproductive.  We must examine and adjust our personal actions to address the outbreak, while also critically and fully assessing recommendations and dictates emanating from our elected officials or medical experts.

There is no unanimity among medical professionals of the likely progression, impact, and effects of the coronavirus.  The politicians and bureaucrats crafting public policies to address the outbreak are far from infallible, and often driven more by political calculus and public pressure than actual need.  The press engages in sensationalistic coverage that emphasizes worst cases and anecdotal stories over actual facts.  And the public has been conditioned to be fearful, and is confused by conflicting information.

Nonetheless, it is the duty of every citizen to carefully assess that which is being requested and dictated.  Blindly accepting the dictates of every “expert,” “authority,” or politician out of fear or insecurity benefits no one.

Was Julian Castro correct that We Should be “Pissed?”

During the June 27, 2019 Democratic presidential debate, candidate Julian Castro stated, “We saw that image today that broke our hearts,” referring to photos of  Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter drowned after crossing the Rio Grande River to illegally enter the United States.

Both Castro and the debate moderator, José Diaz-Balart, stated that Martinez Ramirez and his family were seeking asylum in the United States because of the economic hardships the endured in El Salvador.  Expanding on his reaction to the drowning, Castro stated, “It should also piss us all off.”

Castro was right, it should piss us off!  But not for the reason he alleges.  In fact, Castro, Diaz-Balart and their ideological allies have propagated this myth that anyone wanting to enter the United States is eligible for asylum.  This myth has provided false hope to many individuals seeking to bypass the legal immigration process.  They have been led to believe that asylum is possible if they are economically destitute in their home countries, or if they live in dangerous areas. 

In fact, none of this is true.

Asylum is not offered by the United States for people suffering economic deprivation, nor is it available for people who reside in violent or dangerous places.  Asylum is only legally available to people “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 

If a person is unable to prove that he or she is actively being persecuted by a governmental or de-facto governmental policy directed specifically at specific races, religions, nationalities, social groups, or political opinions, that person is not eligible for asylum in the United States.  Even if a person is a victim of persecution due to their membership in the listed groups, people are not eligible for United States asylum if there are areas in their own nations where that persecution does not exist or if they pass through another country in which that persecution does not occur.  In fact, if a person makes a frivolous claim for asylum, that person may be permanently prohibited from any kind of immigration to the United States in the future.

It is true that the “catch and release” policy of asylum seekers used under previous presidential administrations facilitated illegal immigration.  Those seeking to bypass United States immigration law knew that the asylum claims system was overwhelmed.  If people claimed asylum after arriving on United States soil, they were usually given a future court date and were permitted to remain in the United States.  It is no surprise that an overwhelming majority of those who claimed asylum never appeared for their court dates.  Instead, they remained in the United States as illegal immigrants.

Recognizing that well over 90% of requests for asylum are denied by our courts and that the vast majority of those claiming asylum never returned for their court dates, the Trump administration ended the “catch and release” policy.  Instead, applicants for asylum were either incarcerated while waiting for their court dates or were refused entry until the courts would be able to hear their cases.  Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez chose not to wait in accordance with United States policy, and instead took the dangerous path of fording the Rio Grande River with his family to enter the United States illegally.  From all appearances, Martinez Ramirez was not legally eligible for asylum anyway.  He was attempting to enter the United States solely for economic reasons.

It is obvious that there are many politicians, particularly in the Democratic party, who are encouraging people to immigrate illegally and to improperly claim asylum.  Julian Castro and José Diaz-Balart exemplified this during the June 27, 2019 debate.  This tactic undermines United States immigration law, overwhelms our immigration enforcement resources, and puts potential immigrants at risk.  One can not know if these politicians are signaling false hopes for asylum in order to pander to certain electoral constituencies, intentionally undermine immigration law, or out of sheer ignorance.  But their actions in holding out false hope puts more potential immigrants at risk than any of Trump’s policies.

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates served in Congress.  They know (or should know) that President Trump did not create immigration law.  Immigration law emanated from Congress – the president just enforces the laws passed by Congress.  Each of these candidates had the opportunity to propose new immigration laws.  None of them did.  Instead, they advertise false hope to potential immigrants in order to sabotage Trump’s presidency.  This is an abdication of their own responsibilities and a reckless policy that puts lives at risk.  I fear the Democrats don’t recognize the consequences of their actions and are only concerned with the political advantages they may provide.

Should we have completely open borders?  Some make strong cases that we should.  But the United States (or any other nation) can’t have unconstrained immigration and generous and universal social welfare programs.  If we wish to retain the current level of welfare programs, we must carefully vet potential immigrants to ensure they won’t become burdens on the public welfare system.  If we instead decide to open our borders completely, we must recognize that our current social welfare programs will be quickly overwhelmed by freeloading immigrants who will put significant pressure on the public treasury.

Regardless of the type of immigration laws we desire, it is not within the authority of the president to create such laws.  Immigration laws may only be created and passed by Congress.  If any presidential candidates who once served in Congress claim they will change immigration law as president, they are lying!  They had their opportunity to do so while in Congress.  If they failed to reform immigration law when serving in the body responsible for creating such laws, what makes one think they will successfully change the law while serving in a position that does not have the authority to create laws?

Julian Castro is right when he says we should be pissed about immigrants dying as they try to reach our shores.  We should be pissed that there are pandering politicians who make people believe they can receive asylum even though they are not legally eligible to do so.  We should be pissed at politicians who seek to undermine the laws they are responsible for creating just because they with to pander to certain groups in order to secure a political advantage.  We should be pissed at politicians who use desperate and uninformed people as pawns in their attempts to secure political points.  Yes, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez was ultimately responsible for the poor decision that cost him and his daughter their lives.  But they were encouraged to make that decision by politicians who falsely and cynically held out hope for asylum to Martinez Ramirez.

It is those politicians who should be targets of our ire!

The Polarization of the Parties and Why they are Unlikely to Change

Despite their differences over the years, until recently, every major political party was in agreement about one thing – the definition and nature of rights.  The Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans, the Democrats, the Whigs, and the Republicans all subscribed to the philosophy of natural rights, as introduced in the Declaration of Independence and enumerated in the Constitution.  Respect and acknowledgement of natural rights is a prerequisite for individual liberty – the cornerstone value upon which our nation was founded.

In recent years, however, many in the Democratic party have moved away from the concept of natural rights in favor of a statist view of rights.  As a result, the concept of individual liberty has been deemphasized, if not abandoned, in favor of the domination of the collective.  Although these Democrats do, on rare occasions, provide lip-service to the concept of individual rights, this belief in individual rights is very limited and exclusive to narrow and specific partisan preferences.  As a general rule, Democrats are increasingly viewing rights as an artificial construct created by the state, rather than a natural condition of mankind.

The dichotomy in the definition of rights is causing political polarization that will not be remedied until and unless there is a common consensus on the nature of rights between the major political parties.

The United States of America was founded upon the concept that every individual possesses natural, equal, and inalienable rights, which are bestowed upon each person by our Creator.  These rights precede and take preference over any government or governmental structure.  Governments have no ability or authority to create rights; rights already exist solely on the basis of our humanity.  Governments may help protect and preserve rights, or governments may infringe upon rights.  But governments cannot, by definition, create or modify rights.

Natural rights, which, on a general level, recognize humanity’s rights to life, liberty, property, and self-determination, are universal.  Every human possesses them as part of the inherent nature of humanity.  No government may legitimately limit them to specific groups of people or create new rights for other groups of individuals. 

In addition, rights, by definition, cannot impose any obligation upon anyone else, with the exception of the obligation to respect and not infringe upon others’ rights.  Rights are the exclusive province of each individual, and it is up to each individual to assume responsibility for his or her exercise of such rights.  For example, one of the enumerated rights in the Constitution is the right to a free press.  Although this right recognizes that every individual may express and publish his or her opinions, it does not automatically imply that everyone be given a printing press. Each individual is independently responsible for acquiring the means to exercise his or her rights.

Political leftists, who have increasingly seized control of the Democratic party, do not recognize the concept of natural rights.  Instead, they view rights as artificial constructs that may only be granted by benevolent governments, and that those rights may be amended or repealed based upon the preferences of that government.  Individuals are not independent beings, each with their own liberties acquired at birth.  Instead, all individuals are subjects of a collective government, whose whims and preferences supersede the rights or desires of any specific individual.

The concept of rights as an artificial construct that may be granted or repealed by the will of governmental leaders is a European concept, shaped by its monarchical and feudal history.  Most Europeans, regardless of the term actually used, are subjects of their governments, rather than citizens.  This is an important distinction because it reflects the hierarchical perspective of a society.  In the European model, the state takes supreme precedence, and all individuals in that state are fundamentally vassals laboring for the collective. 

The United States of America broke away from British rule primarily because it did not agree with this hierarchy.  As a product of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, the United States rejected the European concept of government and rights.  The Declaration of Independence illustrates that Americans consider individuals to be supreme, and that governments only exist through the consent of the governed.  Rather than being vassals to the state, individuals even have the right to “alter or abolish” governments as they see fit.  An essential part of the American experience is the belief that rights precede and transcend governments, instead of being the products of the state.

The question that must now be explored is how the differences in the perception of rights really affects society, and how these differences contribute to the increased polarization of politics in today’s America.

In general terms, Republicans, particularly those who identify themselves as true Conservatives, endorse the vision of our nation’s founders and the concept of natural rights.  This means that Republicans generally believe in individual rights, the liberty of individual to do as they please (provided they don’t infringe upon the rights of others), the sanctity of private property, individual initiative and responsibility, and limited government (particularly the Federal government).

The Democrats, on the other hand, are increasingly adopting the Progressive/Socialist perception that the collective, as manifested by the state, is superior to any individual.  Any rights that individuals possess are granted by the state, and may be limited, expanded, or revoked depending upon the perceived needs of the state.  In essence, rather than following the United States’ Constitution and its insistence that rights “may not be infringed,” Democrats are more apt to recognize the conditions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in its first section, explicitly states, “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Note that the Canadian approach, representing its historical and present ties to Europe, denies the inalienable nature of rights and instead declares that rights are subject to law and must be “justified” by that law.  This is the characteristic of the current dogma of the Democratic party in the United States.  Rather than viewing rights as natural, universal, and absolute, the Progressives/Socialists believe that rights are conditional – based upon the goals and desires of the state.  If public policy, or the ostensible “public good,” is to be served, rights must be subject to restriction or abolition in order to accomplish social goals. 

As such, rights that were once universally acknowledged by all Americans are openly rejected by many Progressives/Socialists.  The rights of free expression and conscience enumerated in the First Amendment of the Constitution should be restricted, according to many on the left, in order to ensure that such expression is not offensive to anybody and supports the implementation and expansion of their social goals.  Rather than recognizing that the First Amendment protects and recognizes the right of any and all expression, the left hopes to limit it to advance their social agenda and restrict criticism of their goals.  Ideas in opposition to Democratic dogma are increasingly coming under attack if such ideas may be considered “triggering”, a “microaggression”, “offensive,” or “hateful.”  Naturally, there is no universal consensus of the meaning of these terms.  Instead, any thought in opposition to the social desires of the left are subject to censure or prohibition.

The left endorses significant restrictions, if not prohibitions, of other natural rights in the Constitution.  The right of individual defense, enumerated under the Second Amendment’s right “to keep and bear Arms” should be solely a state, rather than individual right, according to many on the left.  Others even advocate to have this amendment repealed from the Constitution, thereby denying individuals the natural right to protect their persons and their property.  Likewise, large groups of Progressives/Socialists have attacked the concept of due process and the right to confront one’s accuser in cases in which the accuser may feel “uncomfortable.”  They deny the existence of rights not enumerated by the Constitution, unless such rights actually reflect their political preferences.  The left also attacks the general principals of Federalism, in which the bulk of political sovereignty is held by the states, which only ceded limited powers to the federal government.  The Progressives/Socialists prefer a large, monolithic, all-intrusive federal government that severely constrains the powers and sovereignty of individual states.

In line with their belief that government, rather than our Creator, grants rights, the Progressives/Socialists conjure rights out of thin air when it suits their purpose.  In just about every instance, the left misuses the term, “rights.”  Anything the public may want or desire, or anything the government determines that people need (particularly if it’s offered for free) is labeled a “right.”  If one looks at the most recent Democratic platform, they claim that Americans should have the following “rights:”

  • Right to Education
  • Right to Retire with Dignity
  • Right to Paid Sick Leave
  • Right to Healthcare
  • Right to Special Accommodations for the Disabled
  • Right of all “life forms…to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles”
  • Right to abortion
  • Right to clean air and clean water

None of the above a true “rights.”  In order to be rights, they must exist naturally, be independent of governmental fiat, and not create an obligation or rights infringement on any other party.  For example, if healthcare is to be considered a “right,” who is responsible for providing that right?  Who is responsible for financing that right?  Unless we are speaking of someone providing a healthcare procedure on him or herself, healthcare is a service, not a right.  The same holds true for education, paid sick leave, special accommodations, abortion, and even air and water.  These may be desirable goods and services, but they have to be financed and provided by someone. 

If a good or service must be provided by someone else, it can not be defined as a “right,” because it inherently infringes upon the rights of others.  If healthcare is to be called a “right”, it would violate the right of a physician to practice as he or she sees fit, and of a taxpayer financing this “right” of the right to keep his or her own property.  Some may argue that healthcare should be made available to all.  While some may see some merit in this idea, it does not make healthcare a “right.”  At best, it makes healthcare a government-controlled, taxpayer funded service. As a rule, Democrats believe that individual rights should take a backseat to implementing their concepts of “social justice.”  Naturally, programs supporting these concepts must be funded, requiring that the government seize the fruits of people’s labor in the form of coercive taxation.  In essence, the Democratic party believes that wage earners in America should be forced to work about 40% of their hours (or whatever they momentary consider an individual’s “fair share”) as slaves to the desires of social justice warriors of the left. 

The left increasingly argues that individual expression should be limited, as is seen most prominently on American college campuses.  Students are not permitted to express themselves freely; instead they are subjected to speech codes to ensure that no person or group can possibly be offended by an idea.  Democrats also tend to favor the expansion of “hate” crimes, in which an action is not punished, but instead the thought and motivation behind the action.  For example, Democrats seem to think that murder is somehow more heinous just because a perpetrator utters a racial slur while committing the crime, as opposed to remaining silent.  I’m guessing that the thoughts going through the murderer’s head are actually far less important to the victim than the act itself.

The natural right of property is one of the primary rights ignored and infringed upon by Democrats.  Essentially, Democrats don’t believe that property should belong to any specific individual.  Instead, they view property as a community resource, and that it may be expropriated by the state for any reason or any purpose.  It is only through the benevolence of the state that wage earners are permitted to retain even a portion of their property.  In fact, the direct redistribution of wealth is often instituted as a policy in and of itself, for the ostensible purpose of reducing wealth “inequality.” 

The left also tends to confuse social justice with charity.  In the view of the left, social justice defines any goal they may have, to be provided by compulsory “charity.”  Charity is not designed to be compulsory; it is intended to be voluntary, for both the donor and the recipient.  The left, however, believe that their personal social goals are charity, and that donors must be compelled to fund that “charity” and recipients forced to accept it.  The right to self-determination, also known as the right to choose, is ignored and infringed upon by the self-righteous Progressives/Socialists.  In fact, many Progressives/Socialists believe that private charity should be outlawed, because it limits their power to determine who is worthy of assistance, who should fund that assistance, and the form which that assistance should take.

In essence, the modern Democratic party no longer recognizes universal, inalienable rights, as instituted by our nation’s Founders.  Instead, they believe the end justifies the means, and as long as their preferred programs are instituted, the fact that it may or may not have infringed upon individual rights are of little to no consequence.  The left believes that rights are fungible and transitory creations of the state.  Republicans, on the other hand, tend to view most individual rights as inalienable and sacrosanct.  Individual rights, and the protection of those rights, generally takes precedence over the implementation of specific programs.

It should be noted that the perception of Republicans and Democrats on the issue of rights is not always consistent.  There is ample hypocrisy and willingness to deviate from a consistent philosophy in both major parties.  There are areas in which Republicans are perfectly willing to dispense with rights in order to pass certain favored legislation, and there are instances in which Democrats suddenly discover a fidelity to natural rights when it suits their purposes.  In broad terms, however, Republicans tend to follow in the footsteps of our nation’s Founders by defending and preserving natural rights.  Democrats, on the other hand, tend to ignore the values that contributed to the American Revolution, and favor a more European approach to government and rights. 

With such a wide gulf between their respective values, and a complete dichotomy between representing individuals and representing a collective, it will be very difficult to minimize the political polarization that now exists between the major parties.  In order to have a productive working relationship and compromise, all parties must share certain basic values.  In today’s political reality, there are very few shared values between the major parties, and their essential premises and philosophies are in violent opposition to one another.

Elizabeth Warren’s Attack on Success

If anything is a glaring example of pandering, misguided, authoritarian, collectivist tendencies, it is Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to institute a “wealth tax” against individuals with large assets.  Not only is her proposal likely an unconstitutional violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against direct taxation, it is a policy designed to penalize success in order to grant Washington the power to redistribute earned wealth to those who haven’t earned it.  In essence, Warren is proposing the seizing of assets from some in order to pay off the political constituencies she prefers.

For generations, economists have suggested that the economy functions best when people save their money, and invest it in areas that help the economy grow.  As an economy grows, overall wealth increases, benefiting all.  This does not mean that equal outcomes ensue, or even that equal outcomes are desirable.  Instead, it means that the producers and investors help grow the economy, producing goods and services valued and used by people of all economic circumstances.  One needs only look at some of the products created, many of which did not even exist twenty or thirty years ago, to see the value of allowing producers to earn, keep, and invest their funds.  Cell phones, pharmaceuticals that cure disease, and personal computers are among the products that were unobtainable a generation ago, but now owned by rich and poor alike.  Although there is obviously inequality in incomes, the fruits of a vibrant economy are made available to all.  The wealth tax, instead of encouraging savings and investments, instead instigates the squandering of money.

Warren, and others of her ilk, believe that the economy is “rigged,” and that only intervention by a select group of bureaucrats and technocrats, using money seized by producers, will allow the attainment of her goal of income equality and equal outcomes for all.  Instead of recognizing the value producers and investors have on the economy, Warren advocates a lowest-common denominator form of economic “equality” in which one’s skills, abilities, and contribution to the economy are ignored and unrewarded, while those who do not offer goods and services needed by the economy are unjustly compensated.  She is under the mistaken assumption that wealth is a fixed-size pie, in which one’s success denies others the opportunity to achieve success.  Warren ignores, or is ignorant of, the fact that wealth can, and is, created and can grow.

As with other politicians with socialist tendencies, Warren ignores the failures of other nations that have imposed wealth taxes.  In the last 27 years, the number of nations instituting wealth taxes has decreased from twelve to four.  It is also worth noting that although Warren claims the wealth tax will only affect the “richest of the rich,” nations with a wealth tax have always quickly lowered the wealth standard to include those with middle-class incomes.  Like the income tax, which was originally levied only on the super-wealthy, any wealth tax will eventually (and quickly) be expanded to affect almost all wage earners.  Once government gets a taste of additional tax revenues, its hunger for more taxes to fund politicians’ pet proposals inevitably increases.

Even if one ignores the inherent immorality of seizing one’s earned assets (which were already taxed when they were initially earned), one can not ignore the huge and intrusive bureaucracy that must be established to ensure compliance with the wealth tax.  The wealth tax is not limited to assets in financial institutions which can easily be traced; it also is levied against any fixed assets or property owned by the citizenry.  Will tax authorities be given the power to break into people’s homes to ensure that they are properly declaring the value of their furniture, artworks, clothing, vehicles, etc.?  Will people who invest in tangible goods be penalized, while people who squander their money on consumable products and experiences (such as opulent food, entertainment, and travel) be spared the burden of the wealth tax?  How is it fair that those who prefer tangible property over experiences should be burdened by additional taxes?

In practice, any imposition of a wealth tax will likely lead to the conversion of assets to easily hidden and transferable assets like precious metals and jewels.  In fact, the institution of a wealth tax will likely cause the creation of a parallel, underground economy, in which gold and silver are used for untraceable transactions.  This will place a burden on the national currency system, causing an outflow of assets that must be replaced by the printing of additional currency.  This, in itself, will create inflationary pressures that could be as significant as the hyper-inflation experienced by Weimar Germany in the 1920’s and ‘30’s or more recently, Venezuela.  Capital used for investments will diminish, resulting in a stagnant or collapsing economy.

Finally, Warren’s proposal includes a caveat that attacks even the appearance of individual liberty and self-determination.  If a person subject to the wealth tax decides that he or she wishes to relocate to a nation that actually values productivity and success, that individual will be subject to a confiscatory tax that seizes 40% of their total assets before they can move.  Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have we seen any nation erect such substantial barriers to prevent its citizenry from seeking out greener pastures or freely moving wherever they wish.  Warren is proposing the imposition of an economic prison that will extort wealth from producers and limit the ability of producers to engage in self-determination.  In essence, Warren is advancing the creation of an economic despotism that replaces free-enterprise and rewards for success with a centralized, socialized, command economy dictated by a small group of selected “elites.”  Not only is her proposal immoral and unconstitutional, it repudiates the values of individual liberty upon which our nation was founded.

The Police War on Innocent Citizens

Another week has gone by, and with it, another very questionable shooting of an innocent person by a police officer has occurred.

In Dallas, an off-duty police officer, Amber Guyger, after allegedly working a 15-hour shift, returned to the apartment complex in which she lived.  Instead of returning to her apartment on the third floor, she walked into an apartment on the fourth floor, directly above her own apartment.  She claims the door was ajar when she put the key into the lock, and when she entered the apartment, it was dark and she “saw a large silhouette” across the apartment who she thought was a burglar.  She fired two shots, killing the man, who was later identified as Botham Jean.

The only problem was that this was Botham Jean’s apartment.  He was in his own apartment, minding his own business, when this reckless police officer burst in and killed him.  She had no business being in his apartment.  In fact, there was a very unique and distinctive red floor mat outside of Mr. Jean’s apartment that other units lacked.

Yet, somehow, the other responding police officers let the killer go home immediately after the killing.  It was not until the public outcry grew that Amber Guyger was finally arrested and charged with manslaughter three days later.  Even after these charges, there are doubts as to whether she will be convicted because of two legal doctrines available only to police – qualified immunity and reasonable fear.

Unlike regular citizens in similar situations, police who use deadly force on other people are immune from prosecution or culpability if they demonstrate that they had a “reasonable fear” that they, or someone else, might be in imminent danger.  It doesn’t matter if that danger is real or not – the police officer just needs to believe it is.  The standard for this “reasonable fear” is set ridiculously low; it is must be seen in the context of what reasonable officers would do in the same situation, given the danger and stress of police work.

One must keep that definition in mind, particularly the phrase, “given the danger and stress of police work.”  This means that a skittish police officer has carte blanche to use deadly force just because he or she might be fearful in a given situation because the job of a police officer is “stressful.”  No other citizens can claim this defense in similar situations, regardless of the stress of their own jobs or personal lives.

If Amber Guyger can convince a jury that she was operating in the role of a police officer, and felt genuinely in fear of her life, she might very well be acquitted of the charges against her.  This is in spite of the fact that she was essentially trespassing in Mr. Jean’s apartment, if not outright breaking and entering.  If, on the other hand, the jury recognizes that she was off-duty and treats her as a regular citizen, it is difficult to see her being convicted of anything less than manslaughter.

The vast majority of police officers go through their entire careers without ever removing their firearms from their holsters.  Yet, this has been the second time that Amber Guyger has shot somebody, even though she is only 30 years of age and has only been with the Dallas Police Department for four years.  It is quite obvious that she is a skittish, fearful, trigger-happy officer who has no business holding a position of public trust.

An investigation of the 50 largest police departments by Vice found that 20% of all police shootings are against unarmed persons.  And in proportion to their total population, black citizens are more likely to be shot by police than any other group.  It is hard to believe that there is not an overt or subconscious racial bias among many police officers.  But even so, innocent victims of police shootings span different ages, genders, races, and walks of life.  These shootings aren’t confined to inner cities or “dangerous areas;” they have claimed the lives of pastors, people in their own homes in good neighborhoods, and people innocently walking down the street.

Even when the victims of these police shootings are innocent of any crimes, the police officers responsible are very rarely held accountable for their actions.  Even when the shooters are prosecuted, conviction is difficult because of the qualified immunity and reasonable fear doctrines.  Rather than being held to a higher standard than the rest of the population, those entrusted with keeping the peace and enforcing the law are actually held to a lower standard!  The qualified immunity and reasonable fear doctrines grant police officers the carte blanche power to use deadly force in all but the most egregious situations.

Apologists for police officers argue that their jobs are stressful and difficult, and that police are often targets of criminals.  That is true, but police officers take their jobs voluntarily, with full knowledge of the risks involved.  Normal citizens, on the other hand, have no reason to suspect or believe that they may arbitrarily become victims of an overly skittish or fearful police officer, or that a rogue officer will escape charges just because he or she believed, in his or her own mind, that there might be some kind of imminent danger.

In fact, very few police officers are killed each year, particularly when compared to the number of people killed by police.  In 2017, for example, 46 police officers were killed.  Yet, in that same year, police officers killed 987 people.

As difficult as police work may be, there is no excuse for police officers harming or killing innocent individuals.  And there is certainly no reason to exempt police officers from accountability for their actions just because their jobs are “stressful.”  If a police officer can’t handle the stress of the job, that individual should seek out another career.  And if a police officer harms an innocent person, that officer should be held fully accountable for his or her actions.

There have been arguments that these unjustified police shootings could be reduced by requiring police officers to undergo racial sensitivity training, more training on police procedures, or by having police departmental policies updated.  But the fact remains, none of these proposed remedies will make a bit of difference until police officers are held fully accountable for their actions.

Police officers must be held to the same legal standards as regular citizens.  They should not be granted any special immunities.  The laws must be revised to abolish the qualified immunity and reasonable fear doctrines granted exclusively to police officers.  Why shouldn’t those responsible for enforcing our laws be held to same legal standards as the citizens they are charged to protect?

Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Tony Robinson, Rumain Brisbon, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown Jr., Eric Garner, Daniel Shaver, James Scott, Andrew Thomas, Dylan Noble, Andrew Finch, Rev. Jonathan Ayers, Justine Damond, Botham Jean – the list of innocent victims of police shootings goes on and on.  If we fail to abolish the qualified immunity and reasonable fear doctrines, we will continue to mourn the deaths of innocents at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve us.