Do Masks Really Help Reduce Transmission of COVID-19?

We are at War with Eurasia, We have always been at War with Eastasia

In his novel, 1984, George Orwell coined a new term, “doublethink.”  Doublethink was a word that described the ability and willingness of an individual to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, and fully believe both of them.  The federal government’s flip-flop on the ability of face masks to stem the transmission of coronavirus seems to be another example of doublethink.  Before April 4, 2020, the federal government suggested the general public not wear face masks, except in very specific circumstances.  Many communities followed the CDC’s lead and suggested the public avoid wearing face masks in public.

Yet, suddenly, the CDC changed its guidance in early April.  All of the sudden, they encouraged the general public to wear face masks in public.  Communities, who a day or two earlier were issuing recommendations against face masks, suddenly changed direction with little explanation, and recommended the public wear face masks.  Some jurisdictions even started issuing fines for people who failed to wear masks in public areas.

Why were the recommendations about masks changed so abruptly, and why were local communities so willing to unquestionably follow the new guidance when they were religiously following other guidance just a day or two earlier?

The Flip Flop

About April 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly changed their position on the public wearing masks to prevent coronavirus.  Before this date, the CDC agreed with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance that masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, and masks for the rest of the population should be limited to people caring for persons with COVID-19.

The recommendations against the general public wearing masks (which is still WHO’s position) were based upon a need for public manipulation as well as valid concerns about masks.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic, medical-grade respirator masks and surgical masks were in short supply, and the United States government wanted the production of these masks directed solely to healthcare workers.  Because of this desire, the government strongly suggested that masks were not needed by most of the general public.  The federal and state governments wanted the sale of all medical-grade masks limited to healthcare professionals.

That is not to say there weren’t valid, or at least plausible, explanations for discouraging the public from wearing masks.  The ability of masks to protect the wearer or others from the virus is greatly reduced if masks are not properly fitted.  Air gaps will let bioaerosols escape or enter.  The outside surface of masks tend to collect viral particles, so care must be taken to avoid touching the outer surfaces of masks and to practice good hand hygiene.  In fact, WHO points out, “masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”    

Considering most lay persons would not fit their masks properly, studies show the outer surface of a mask collects viral particles, and most people would not handle masks properly, the discouragement of masks appeared to make sense.  On top of this, the ability of homemade masks to filter out bioaerosols was not widely studied.

Despite the recommendations of the United States Surgeon General and the CDC, many people started ignoring the guidelines, and chose to wear masks out in public anyway.

It would not be implausible to believe the federal government changed direction on masks due to public pressure, rather than medical consensus.  Ostensibly, the government “discovered” the coronavirus can be transmitted by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers.  On the April 5, 2020 broadcast of Meet the Press, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “Here’s what’s changed.  We now know that about 25%, in some studies even more, of COVID-19 is transmitted when you are asymptomatic or presymptomatic.

However, this claim doesn’t fully explain the reason for the sudden shift in guidance.  It was suspected since January, and widely accepted by early March, that a significant quantity of coronavirus infections was asymptomatic.  If asymptomatic transmission was such a true concern, wouldn’t the CDC have changed its guidance at least a month earlier than April 4. 2020?  If wearing masks truly prevented asymptomatic carriers from transmitting COVID-19, didn’t this delay potentially contribute to increased infections?

We can only speculate on the reasoning for the CDC’s change in policy.  It is very possible they were confident that medical-grade masks were finally making their way to healthcare workers in early April, so there was no longer a concern of the public trying to hoard them.  It is also well within the realm of possibility the CDC still doesn’t see a true need for the general public to wear masks, but they changed direction due to political pressure.  It is rapidly becoming more and more obvious that governmental regulations are being driven by the public’s demand that the government “do something,” even if these policies have no actual impact on the progression of COVID-19.  The change in guidance regarding masks may have simply been the desire to create more political theater to placate a fearful and panicked population.

In light of the new guidance from the CDC, and in spite of WHO’s contention the general public generally does not need masks, many municipalities have mandated the wearing of masks for anyone out in public.  Some are even levying fines against those who defy the edict.

How Effective are Masks Really?

In light of the rapid about-face on the guidance about wearing masks, it is fair to ask whether they really make much of a difference in preventing the spread of coronavirus or in protecting the wearer from catching the infection.

There is fairly widespread consensus that N95, P95, and R95 respirators, when properly fitted, prevent 95% + of viral bioaerosols from entering the mask or leaving the mask.  However, x95-class respirators are not currently being sold to the general public.  Some people may have previously purchased respirators meeting this standard and still have them at their homes.  Provided an x95 mask is fitted without air gaps, not used beyond its recommended lifespan (usually four hours for disposable masks), and handled properly, these masks provide substantial, but not perfect, protection from catching or transmitting coronavirus.

Pleated surgical masks are still being directed to health-care facilities, although some may occasionally be available for purchase by the general public.  Studies don’t entirely agree on how effective surgical masks are at filtering the bioaerosols containing the COVID-19 virus.  A South Korean study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that surgical and cloth masks provide no protection against coronavirus bioaerosols. However, another study, published in Nature Medicine, found that surgical masks were an effective method of blocking viral bioaerosols.  A third study, in BMJ Open, suggested that surgical masks provide about 56% protection from bioaerosol infiltration or transmission.

There is not universal consensus on the effectiveness of non-woven surgical masks in providing protection from receiving or transmitting coronavirus bioaerosols.  Surgical masks are certainly less effective than x95 respirators.  But they do appear to provide some protection from COVID-19 penetration, provided they are worn over the nose and mouth with no air gaps.  As is the case with other masks, surgical masks should be carefully handled after use and touching the surfaces, especially the outer surface, should be avoided.  The user should always wash his or her hands immediately after removing any mask.

Since x95 respirators and nonwoven surgical masks are hard to come by, most of the public is relying upon home-made masks or bandanas.  What impact do these devices have?

Depending upon the build and demeanor of the wearer, a bandana can make him look sort of like a cowboy.  A cotton mask can make one appear to be a second-rate bank robber. Generally, these homemade contraptions offer very limited protection from dispersing or receiving coronavirus bioaerosols.  The BMJ Open study claims 97% or bioaerosols can penetrate cloth masks.  In fact, the study’s authors conclude, “Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection.”  In essence, cloth masks may increase, rather than decrease, the risk of coronavirus infection.

A study in the American Chemical Society’s journal, ACS Nano, provided more positive data for the effectiveness of homemade cloth masks.  This study examined different fabrics, with different thread counts, and the impact of single-layer masks versus multi-layer.  The study still did not provide good news about the filtration ability of typical single-ply cotton masks.  The study found 80 threads-per-inch single-ply cotton masks filtered about 9% of airborne particles of the size most typical of coronavirus.  Some other materials and thicknesses fared much better, with cotton/chiffon, cotton/silk, and cotton/flannel blends performing about as well as x95 respirators, provided the masks were fitted properly with no air gaps.  If these masks did have air gaps, which is rather typical in home-made masks, the filtering efficiency dropped to below 40%.

It’s probably fair to surmise that home-made masks with multiple layers of fabric (particularly non-woven fabric) and higher thread counts offer more protection from viral infiltration than typical, single-ply cotton masks.  However, when fabric weaves are tighter and multiple layers are used, it may be far more difficult actually breathing through one of these masks.  Wearers may be inclined to lift the mask occasionally to breathe, which negates any benefits of wearing a mask.

Are Masks Desirable?

There has been considerable debate as to whether face masks are necessary, or even desirable, for non-medical personnel.  First, we have to consider the real threat of one person infecting another through aerosol transmission of COVID-19.  The previously referenced study published in Nature Medicine suggests that people infected with viruses like coronavirus seldom shed detectable amounts of the virus in respiratory droplets or aerosols, and those who do shed the virus through bioaerosols tend to have very low viral loads.  The authors of the study believe this finding implies, in order to be infected by respiratory aerosols or droplets, a person must be in prolonged contact with an infected individual.  Fleeting contacts would not usually be sufficient to transmit COVID-19 through bioaerosols.

This is admittedly only a single study.  Not a lot is yet known about the transmission of the coronavirus, and whether it is primarily transmitted through the air or by surface contact. 

We must also address the limitations of the studies referenced above.  Most of the studies measured the transmission of potential viral loads from areas fairly close to the mask (usually one meter or less).  The studies did not measure the viral load of respiratory droplets or aerosols that travel longer distances, such as from a cough or sneeze.  No studies have evaluated how effectively different types of masks limit the distance droplets or aerosols can be projected.  If, in spite of the study published in Nature Medicine, casual encounters with aerosols or droplets can cause infection, a mask’s ability to suppress the travel distance of viral particles would be desirable.

In general, it is fair to say x95 respirators and surgical masks will likely provide some protection from catching or transmitting coronavirus, provided the masks are fitted properly, remain dry, are handled carefully when being removed, and are not worn longer than the manufacturer’s recommendation.

There is not as much certainty of the value of home-made masks.  The most common materials found in home-made masks and facial coverings only filter miniscule proportions of droplets and aerosols.  Common single-ply cotton masks, when properly worn, filter out 9% or less of bioaerosols.  These masks may or may not reduce the distance such bioaerosols travel from a cough or sneeze, but it appears unlikely that makes any difference in actual infection potential.

There is a psychological value in wearing home-made masks.  One may feel virtuous that he or she is protecting others from potential exposure to viral particles (although such a belief is likely incorrect).  A mask can also be perceived as equivalent to suit of armor – protecting the wearer in public.  Unfortunately, this belief can be dangerous if it gives the wearer a false sense of security that encourages one to drop his or her guard.  If a person believes a mask offers protection to oneself or others, the wearer may be less inclined to engage in social distancing or frequent hand-washing, both of which are considered more effective at limiting the transmission and catching of the virus than wearing a mask.

Home-made masks may actually be more dangerous than not wearing a mask at all.  It has already been established that most commonly used home-made masks have a very limited ability to filter viral particles.  If the concerns of the authors of the BMJ Open study are correct, improper handling of masks (remember, viral particles often collect on the outside surface of masks), moisture retention, and improper fitting (the presence of air gaps or a failure to cover the mouth and nose) can increase, rather than decrease the risk of infection or transmission of disease to another.

These conclusions appear to be counter-intuitive and contradict common sense.  One may argue that even a little bit of protection from viral infiltration is desirable.  It would be, provided a mask is always carefully handled, washed frequently or correctly disposed-of after use, fitted and worn properly, and if the wearer complied with all other social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines.  In the real world, however, people are not likely to perfectly follow all of the guidelines.  Researchers have recommended that health-care workers wear home-made masks only as a “last-resort.”  The use of the same masks by untrained individuals appear to provide very little benefit in filtering bioaerosols, and may actually increase, rather than decrease the rate of infection.

The abrupt about-face of the CDC in changing their policy on public use of face-masks looked suspiciously like it was caused by political pressure, rather than comprehensive medical research.  In spite of the most recent direction from the CDC, the position of WHO on the public use of face masks seems more in sync with current medical research.

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.

The Tantrum of the Snowflakes



It had to come to this.

Members of the “everybody gets a trophy” generation have taken to the streets to “protest” the election results, and in some cases, to riot.  It’s a shame that no one ever taught them that taking meaningless action to express dissatisfaction with a free election is not protest, it’s a temper tantrum.  If these people are really dissatisfied with the direction they feel the government is moving, they should craft a compelling argument for their positions.  Glorified loitering and inconveniencing others is hardly a compelling “statement.” 

But, before they attempt to craft an opposing argument, they should put some of their wounded feelings aside and try to employ reason.  The left has been spoiled for generations.  When the Democrats controlled government, they had the ability to use the coercive power of government to pander to any of their perceived needs.  It didn’t matter what those needs were, whether the programs to address those needs were effective or right, or even whether the consequences of the government programs they desired were counterproductive.  It just mattered that government did something, and that someone else paid for it or bore the consequences.

Typically, when Republicans took control of the apparatus of government, they employed restraint.  Traditional Republicans usually believed in limited governmental power and in allowing each person to exercise their own individual liberty.  In a worst case scenario for today’s fragile, precious snowflakes, the Republicans merely rolled back some of the more egregious abuses of governmental power and temporarily reduced the programs of the social-engineering elite.

Now, the left is confronted, for the first time in over a century, with a Republican president who supports a very activist, involved government, and not a limited government.  And this phenomenon was created and supported by the left, as they incrementally expanded the powers of the centralized federal government and decreased the power of the states and the liberty of individuals.  Finally, they are confronted with the prospect of seeing an intrusive, all-powerful government conceivably being used by the opposition to impose a different set of coercive policies on the population.  Forgive me if I have little sympathy for those who are comfortable allowing the government to impose its will on the population when one group is in power, but uncomfortable with having a different group impose its will when it secures power.  Did the left really think that governmental tyranny would only exist while they held the reigns of power?

These “protestors” come from a generation with a limited, insulated worldview.  They were raised by “helicopter parents” who shielded them from any personal responsibility and protected them from any of life’s unpleasantness.  For many, this is the first time they didn’t get what they thought they wanted; the first time somebody actually said, “NO!” to them.  Their sense of moral superiority has been honed to the point that they can’t even conceive of any different viewpoints, and the only way to handle opposition is to demonize and try to dehumanize those with contrary opinions.  When they seek out others, they surround themselves with like-minded sycophants and only follow media that reaffirms their previously held views.  Individual liberty is an afterthought, if it is considered at all.  Many of the young seek out the homogeny of self-affirmation, rather than the challenge of considering, and responding to, different life experiences and viewpoints.  They herald diversity as an ideal, but fail to actually practice it.

It never occurred to these precious snowflakes that a large, intrusive central government might actually be used against them and advance an agenda contrary to their preferences.  Their sense of moral infallibility blinds them from realizing that there is an inherent contradiction in supporting an all-encompassing, intrusive government in some areas, while opposing it in others.  They don’t recognize that restoring a small, constrained government is preferable to a large, dictatorial, activist government, because their moral worldview can’t process the fact that some people want to live their own lives, make their own decisions, and bear their own consequences free of the whims of elites.  They have failed to realize that when a person or entity is granted unlimited powers, they won’t hesitate to use those powers in any way they see fit.

Donald Trump may very well be a bad president.  Contrary to a century of Republican practice, he has advocated for a very proactive government.  If he follows through on his promises, he won’t wield power much differently than previous Democratic administrations.  The policies may differ a bit, but the methodology he proposes comes straight out of the “progressive” playbook.  Those who protest against the election of Trump, because they fear he might actually implement certain policies, must recognize that the entire system of government must change.  A large, monolithic government that micromanages people’s lives and property must give way to the government our Founders conceived – small, responsive, and dedicated to preserving, and not infringing upon, personal and economic choice and liberty. 

Just replacing one dictator with another won’t do.
  There will always come a time when a dictator will do something that certain people won’t like.  Right now, the young protesters are experiencing this reality.  If they want to be effective in changing things, the young protesters must look beyond their narrow worldview and address a structure that allows potential despots of any persuasion to wield power.

Or, we can just give them all trophies so they go back home.



Thoughts on the Police Shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights

A few thoughts on the recent police shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights:

Both the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights are very troubling. Video in both instances seems to indicate the police officers overreacted. Although there were signs that Sterling was resisting arrest, he appears to have been subdued and on the ground before the fatal shots were fired. The case of Castile seems more cut and dried. He was pulled over, clearly explained that he had a concealed carry permit, and informed the police officer as to what he was doing. The police officer clearly overreacted by shooting a compliant and respectful Castile.

After shootings like this, a certain segment of the population comes out in blind defense of the actions of the police, and they maintain that any criticism of police conduct is an attack on all police officers. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Police officers are granted wide (and I’d argue, far too wide) latitude to legally use violence as part of their job. With this authority comes great responsibility. I would expect police to use the upmost discretion before resorting to violence, particularly deadly violence against any citizen. Police are charged with the duty to apprehend potential law-breakers. They are not authorized to function as judges, juries, or executioners. Police are only authorized to use deadly force when their lives, or the lives of others, are in immediate danger by a suspect. In far too many instances, police have been granted much more latitude in this decision than would be accorded ordinary citizens. The mere “feeling” that a suspect is a potential threat, or the results of an adrenaline rush after a chase, are not, and should not, be adequate justification for using deadly force.

Although I’d like to think the vast majority of police officers are dedicated public servants, I also realize that there are far too many officers who lack the psychological characteristics to function in this role. Far too many police are on a power trip, taking the job for the sole purpose of expressing their authority and, sometimes, violent tendencies. These officers should be identified, and removed from police forces.

The “thin blue line” in which any police officer automatically backs the actions of another officer, even if those actions are clearly wrong, undermines the confidence of the public in their interactions with any police officer. Those officers who perform their jobs properly, but who turn a blind eye on misconduct by others, are contributors to the distrust many in the public hold towards all police. This distrust will continue until all police officers insist upon the highest standards of conduct by their colleagues.

Some argue that the public does not respond with the same level of outrage when a police officer is killed as when a police officer kills a citizen. There is a reason for this. When a police officer is killed, the perpetrator is automatically considered a criminal, hunted down, and aggressively prosecuted. One who shoots police officers is clearly considered a criminal and is subject to the harshest sanctions allowed by law.

When a police officer kills a citizen, the circumstances are usually far more ambiguous. The first presumption, particularly by other police officers, is that the shooting is justified. Police officers are held to far looser standards in their use of violence than ordinary citizens. They need only demonstrate that they felt, in some way, threatened. Investigations are often suspect, with the colleagues of police officers being the same ones investigating the actions of another officer – a clear conflict of interest. When police officers engage in violent actions, they are not immediately arrested. Instead, when identified, those officers are usually suspended, or placed on modified duty, with full pay. Police involved in shootings of civilians are accorded a presumption of innocence far greater than that accorded to non-police in similar situations.

Finally, I have to shake my head in disbelief at groups, like Black Lives Matter, who protest against what they perceive as racial profiling by government officials (the police), while at the same time, proposing and endorsing the granting of additional powers to the state. Part of the reason for the prevalence of racial profiling and the use of violence against civilians is that police are granted extraordinary authority to use violence by the state. Any time you grant any authoritative body additional powers, there are large numbers of people who will abuse those powers, particularly if that authoritative body possesses a legal monopoly on the use of violence.

Much of the violence perpetrated by police is the direct result of expansive and broadly defined laws that criminalize almost every daily activity. Police are charged with enforcing these laws, many of which are designed for the sole purpose of raising revenue or placating and pandering to select constituencies. As government increases the scope of laws, they also increase the chance of encounters between police and the citizenry. As these encounters increase, so does the potential that a certain number of these encounters will end in violence. Besides the obvious tragedy of a loss of life, law enforcement encounters designed to enforce poorly-conceived laws undermines the public’s trust in the rule of law, and by extension, those who are responsible for enforcing the law.

Those who decry police violence need to stop advocating for a more “activist” government in other areas. An “activist” government, by definition, replaces personal liberty with the whims of those elites in power. Those whims may not be shared by large segments of the population, which leads to inevitable conflict when police are called upon to enforce the law. Even dedicated and professional police officers are put in an untenable position when they are required to enforce bad laws. If certain constituencies truly want to reduce racial profiling and police violence, they need to step back and stop demanding that government intrude upon every facet of human existence. If there are fewer laws, there will be fewer interactions between the police and the citizenry. And if there are fewer interactions between the police and the citizens they are supposed to serve, there will be far fewer instances of questionable and tragic police shootings.

The Republican Choice for President

I’ve had more than a few people ask me my preference for the Republican primary. Up until this point, I’ve been hesitant to name a preference. I tend to have very strong libertarian leanings, believing that individual rights, as outlined in our Constitution, take precedence over a collectivist, socialist system. Accordingly, my preferred candidate for the GOP nomination was Rand Paul. I also deeply admire the presumptive Libertarian Party nominee, Gov. Gary Johnson, and, depending upon how the campaign plays out, might vote for him in November.

For anyone who has read my blog or any of my Facebook entries, it is obvious that I can’t, and won’t, support either of the two remaining Democratic candidates. We do not need a president dedicated to pandering to every left-wing interest group and who advocates forcing his or her pet social-engineering projects on the population through governmental coercion. Private property is one of the cornerstones of liberty. Both Democratic candidates believe that their personal perception of the “public good” grants them the right to seize private property as they see fit to fund and support any group to which they wish to pander.

That leaves the five remaining candidates seeking the Republican nomination. I urge all voters to carefully read the candidate’s websites and to take some time to review their positions on the issues and their histories.

It is no secret that I consider Donald Trump a danger to both the Republican Party and to the nation. Historically, Trump has backed Democratic candidates and has supported “activist” government programs, like socialized medicine and the use of eminent domain for private projects. He has been very vague on most issues of substance, substituting bravado and insults for nuanced policy positions. He is not afraid of throwing his weight around to bully those with whom his disagrees, and there is no reason to believe that this pattern would change if he became president. He displays an alarming naïveté on foreign affairs, doing all he can to insult and alienate our nation’s neighbors and allies. His whole campaign has been based upon nationalist appeal, the venting of anger without any substantive remedies, and tapping into vague, populist slogans. When cornered on specifics, he has let slip an inclination towards an increase in federal governmental scope and power. The world saw what happened when industrialized nations elected National Socialists in the 1920’s and 1930’s. We don’t need to repeat that history here in the United States.

Ben Carson has arguably developed one of the most comprehensive, detailed, and workable set of policies on today’s issues. His proposal for a national, flat income tax is fantastic for its simplicity, effectiveness, and fairness. I urge everyone to take some time to take a look at his policy positions on his website.

While Dr. Carson is an affable and likeable candidate, I harbor serious doubts about his experience and overall temperament, and believe those to be current impediments to his ability to both win the election and to serve as an effective president. He would be a beneficial addition to anyone’s administration, particularly as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, or Surgeon General. I hope that his current campaign is just the start, and not the end, of his commitment to national service.

Either of the remaining three candidates would make fine presidents, and would be vastly preferable to either of the Democratic candidates.

John Kasich has had a solid record, both as a Congressman and as Governor of Ohio. He has confronted many challenges in Ohio, and has handled all of them well. However, he still has a tendency to rely upon governmental programs, when the free-market would be far more effective. With the exception of Trump, Kasich has been most vague about his policy plans once in the White House. He has, rightfully, extolled his record as governor, but has not been very specific as to what he will accomplish as president. I am looking for a more detailed and specific set of plans than what Kasich has already advanced.

Ted Cruz has laid out a fairly detailed set of proposals, and most of them are pretty solid. He is arguably the strongest Constitutionalist of the remaining candidates. He is a fervent believer in the Constitution and in respecting the limitations of federal power. He is the candidate least-likely to pander to specific interest groups in order to solicit political support. His vocal opposition to ethanol subsidies while campaigning in Iowa is a testament to his integrity on the issues and fidelity to his beliefs.

While I would probably have few reservations about voting for Cruz over either Clinton or Sanders, I do find some aspects of his positions and temperament troubling. His corporate tax plan seems to be a value added tax in disguise. I am always reluctant about supporting new ways to tax individuals and businesses, since such taxes always seem to supplement, rather than replace, other forms of taxation.

I also find his positions on immigration and social issues to be a bit too hardline. The government has no more business interfering in people’s private lives than it does their economic affairs. In addition, we have over ten million illegal immigrants in our country. While the United States certainly has a right, and an obligation, to secure our borders, illegal immigration has been tacitly accepted by government, private industry, and individual citizens with a “wink and nod” for generations. A nativist element in the country uses the issue of illegal immigration as a cover to express their deeply held prejudices. The rest of the country has had, in one form or another, no problem in hiring illegals when it was convenient. While I believe the government has no obligation to provide welfare and other governmental benefits to illegal immigrants, I believe that we need a more realistic policy towards them than just “throwing them out of the country.”

Finally, Cruz’s temperament is a potential issue. It is no secret that he is a strident advocate for his views, and this stridency has won him few friends among his Senate colleagues. His campaign has also engaged in very questionable tactics, using dirty-tricks to a far greater extent than any of his rivals. A president needs to work effectively with both members of his own party and with the opposition. Reagan did this masterfully, while failed presidents like Carter and Obama were less adept. We need a president who will be able to work effectively with Congress, while maintaining fidelity to his beliefs. While I have no doubt about the sincerity of Cruz’s beliefs, I do have serious doubts about his ability to work well with other politicians of either party.

Marco Rubio has pretty solid positions on most of the issues. His tax plan, while not a flat tax that I would prefer, is well thought-out and comprehensive. He is a solid Constitutionalist, and would certainly appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. He does have the personality to work effectively with others in government, while maintaining his ideological integrity.

Rubio’s history on the immigration issue is mixed. I believe that the attempts of the so-called “Gang of Eight” were well-intentioned. Their proposals acknowledged the reality that exists, and did not solely pander to either the nativist or social-engineering liberal elements. However, he has supported expansions of the H1-B visa programs, which have had a detrimental impact on some U.S. workers. He has since backed off his previous support of H1-B visas.

Rubio is young, and is not as experienced as I would prefer. But he is far more experienced than our current president, and has demonstrated his leadership skills and ability to work with other politicians. I think he has laid out a solid foreign policy platform and has the ability to be a very successful leader.

While I would have no problem with selecting Kasich or Cruz over either Clinton or Sanders, I think that Marco Rubio would be the most effective president of the current candidates of the two major parties, and will be the most electable of the current Republican candidates.