COVID-19: “Second Wave” or Not, No More Lockdowns

Here we go again: Fear of a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections is on world tour. Naturally, the same “experts” who demanded a global lockdown/shutdown in response to the “first wave” are saddling up for an encore. Their logic, faulty the first time around, is even more so the second.

We shouldn’t, even for a moment, set aside the hideous and lethal  immorality of placing hundreds of millions of human beings under de facto house arrest without accusing, let alone convicting, them of any crime whatsoever, or of forcibly grinding much of the economic activity that keeps 8 billion humans alive to a halt. Those were evil and stupid ideas. But at least there was an excuse, however flimsy, to justify the evil and the stupidity.

That excuse was a supposed need to “flatten the curve” of infection —  to temporarily slow down the rate of new cases so that hospitals could get enough ICU beds and ventilators in place to handle the case load.

Mission presumably accomplished, and then some. In much of the world, the COVID-19 case load hasn’t come close to taxing bed or ventilator availability, and in places where it did, the virus began to slow down as those availabilities began to catch up.

COVID-19 isn’t gone and never will be, but our sacrifices of liberty theoretically bought us time, which in turn bought us the ability to treat more patients more successfully while we wait for herd immunity, mutations toward weaker strains, or even a vaccine to turn the disease into a rare and/or minor ailment instead of a plague.

Unfortunately the “experts” — or at least the newly empowered and increasingly authoritarian politicians they work for —  are moving the goal posts, threatening a return to “lockdown” any time they decide they’re seeing “too many” cases of COVID-19.

The answer to the first lockdown orders should have been a firm,  non-negotiable, universal “no.” We each knew (and still know) our own isolation and social distancing needs far better than any politician or “expert” can know everyone’s.

Instead, we gave the politicians the proverbial inch, they took the inevitable mile, and they only gave back a bit of it when they realized we were going to take it  back whether they liked it or not.

Now they’re looking for excuses to make us run a marathon with them. And again, the answer we should be giving them is “no.”

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Police Violence: “Reform” Is Not Enough

Every few years, some particular instance of a pervasive phenomenon — police violence in the form of unjustified or at least highly questionable killings — “goes viral” with the result that America’s cities explode in protest.

Every time that happens, some American politicians complain about a non-existent “war on police,” while others promise “reforms” such as closer supervision (like the increase in body camera use following the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri), civilian review boards to investigate complaints, better training, and of course more money.

After each round of “reforms,” the problem continues.

“We can’t settle for anything other than transformative structural change,” says US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). She’s right, but the bill she’s  promoting — the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 — isn’t any such thing.

The bill isn’t likely to become law. It may pass the Democratic House, but the Republican Senate and White House are already busking for support from police unions and their faux “law and order” base in November’s elections.

And even if it did pass, it’s a glass not even half full. Pelosi herself contradictorily describes it as both “full, comprehensive action” and “a first step” with “more to come.”

The bill would “reform,” rather than eliminate, “qualified immunity.” It would reduce some of the barriers that plaintiffs have to get over in holding police accountable for rights-violating misconduct, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Cops need to be held to EXACTLY the same standards as civilians when it comes to use of force.

The bill would also outlaw “no-knock raids,” but only for drug cases. “No-knock raids” are nothing less than violent home invasion burglaries. They’re precisely the kind of “unreasonable searches” forbidden by the Fourth Amendment and need to be outlawed entirely.

The Justice in Policing Act isn’t “transformative structural change.” It’s a band-aid on a gaping, traumatic wound that is, indeed, structural.

The root of the problem isn’t police violence.  It’s police themselves, and the system they serve. The purpose of police as we know them is to hold the productive class down so that the political class rule and rob us, full stop. Everything else — “serve and protect,” etc. — is incidental or illusory.

Progressives calling for “defunding” of the police are on the right track, or would be if they were serious. Most of them seem to use “defund” to mean “shift funding between state activities,” not to mean “eliminate a state activity.” They don’t want the pepper balls and rubber bullets, but they refuse to abandon the system the pepper balls and rubber bullets prop up.

“Transformative structural change” would require more than re-training and de-militarizing the police. It would require dis-empowering them and going back to voluntary community “peace officer” models of law enforcement.

Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, et al. know their control over the rest of us relies on the existing police state model. The only way for it to go is for them to go as well.

We need a real revolution, not fake “reform.”

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Time to Stop Messing Around and Strike at the Root of Police Violence

Protests quickly broke out nationwide following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which was caught on video and quickly went viral.

Yes, Chauvin has been arrested and charged with murder.

Yes, the usual “voices of reason” are issuing a new round of calls for “police reform,” just as they do after every police murder of an unarmed, non-violent civilian.

No, murder charges and “police reform” aren’t going to fix the problem. Long hot summer, here we come.

It’s tempting to believe that protest marches, violent confrontations, looting, burning, and riots can change police behavior, or perhaps that they COULD change that behavior if applied frequently and vigorously enough.

That kind of widespread delusion is, as Thoreau put it, “a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,” with predictable results.

If protest marches, violent confrontations, looting, burning, and riots followed every police murder of an unarmed, non-violent civilian, we wouldn’t see fewer police murders of unarmed, non-violent civilians. We’d just see bigger police overtime budgets.

The root of police violence isn’t racism, nor is it the presence of “a few bad apples” on police forces, nor is it the absence of sufficient safeguards such as body cameras and civilian review boards.

The root of police violence is the modern conception of policing itself: The creation of “police forces” as state institutions separate from the populace and dedicated to suppressing that populace on command.

“Police departments” as we know them were just coming into existence in England at the time the United States declared itself independent. They didn’t establish themselves in major American cities until the mid-19th century, or in smaller cities and towns until the 20th.

At one time, a handful of state and federal agencies, a sheriff in each county, and an ad hoc system of volunteer posses and local watchmen handled “law enforcement” in America.

Now more than 18,000 “law enforcement” organizations lord it over the American public, stealing their salaries from that public’s earnings, padding their budgets with literal highway robbery (“asset forfeiture” and so forth), and usually protected by “qualified immunity” when they kill.

If the goal is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” police as we know them are at best a failed experiment.

How do we wind that experiment down?

Step one would be ending qualified immunity and holding law enforcement personnel as responsible for their actions and as liable for the consequences of those actions as regular Americans are.

Steps two and three would be, respectively, standing down “police departments” entirely in favor of unpaid volunteers for most “law enforcement” duties, and ultimately abolishing the state itself.

Steps two and three, while inevitable in the long term, don’t seem very likely in the short term.

Step one, on the other hand, could be accomplished by Independence Day if the right incentives were applied.

Let’s give the politicians a choice: End qualified immunity or burn, baby, burn.

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Trump’s “Free Speech” Doctrine: Never, Ever, Ever Mention He’s a Liar

On May 28, US president Donald Trump signed an executive order on “Preventing Online Censorship.” From the title and the document respectively we can draw to two lessons.

First: Never, ever, ever believe the title of a government document. The internal texts of congressional bills and resolutions, as well as executive branch orders, “findings,” intelligence “estimates,” etc. seldom have much, if anything, to do with their titles.

“A Bill to Protect Cats, and for Other Purposes” may or may not even mention cats outside of its opening  justification paragraphs before it mutates into a swamp of of corporate welfare handouts, hidden tax increases, and Orwellian surveillance state provisions. An intelligence “estimate” or presidential “finding” that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction or that the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear weapon … well, you get how that stuff works, right?

Second: Never, ever, ever mention — at least in public — that Donald Trump is a liar. The purpose of the executive order is not to “prevent online censorship.” It’s to punish Twitter for “fact-checking” two of his tweets about voting by mail.

“Trump,” the “fact-check” title notes, “makes unsubstantiated claims that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.” That’s an incredibly polite way of saying that Trump tells new stories so wildly incompatible with his previous tales that “Trump’s lying again” is the only plausible way to interpret them.

Until a few weeks ago, Trump and his party defended mail contact with voters as the only way to PREVENT voter fraud. Now Trump says “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.

Stripped of its empty self-congratulation and whiny victim-playing, Trump’s executive order is about the opposite of protecting free speech. It’s about “clarifying” — that is, neutering — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for material created by others: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Section 230, to put it as simply as possible, allows online platforms to operate without fear of being sued into bankruptcy for the actions of their users. If I libel you on Twitter or Facebook, you can sue me, but if you try to sue them you’ll lose. They’re not responsible for what I write.

Section 230’s protections aren’t dependent on a platform “purport[ing] to provide users a forum for free and open speech,” or on that platform being truthful if it does make such a claim, as the executive order implies. Platforms are free to set their own content policies, to ban users who violate those policies, and to notice and publicly mention that a user is a pathological liar who’s lying yet again, even if that user just happens to be the president of the United States.

If it withstood court challenges (it wouldn’t), Trump’s order would use the rule-making and spending power of the federal bureaucracy to punish, not protect, free speech.

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The Banality of Evil, COVID-19 Edition

As the COVID-19 pandemic ran its deadly course in New York, governor Andrew Cuomo  affirmed a state policy forbidding nursing homes to reject suffering from the disease.

At least partially as a result (Cuomo himself acknowledged early on that the virus spreads through such facilities “like fire through dry grass”), nearly 6,000 long-term care residents have died so far.

Cuomo, of course, denies any personal responsibility in the matter. He blames the homes (“Do you believe a nursing home operator would accept a patient who they knew they couldn’t care for? Why would a nursing home operator do that?”). He blames the CDC. He blames US president Donald Trump.

Cuomo’s usual “large and in charge” act seems to be crumbling under the weight of the body count. Suddenly, he was “just doing his job,” maybe even “just following orders.” Sound familiar?

Hannah Arendt,  Stanley Milgram observes in his classic study of obedience to authority, “contended that the prosecution’s effort to depict [Adolf] Eichmann as a sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong, that he came closer to being an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job. … This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs,  and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”

The policies Eichmann executed and enforced — policies aimed at the extermination of the Jews — were intentionally murderous.

The policies Cuomo executed and enforced were deadly too, but in a grossly negligent rather than openly intentional, way.

That’s the DIFFERENCE between Cuomo and Eichmann.

The SIMILARITY between the two is in their shared defense: The idea that those who execute and enforce state policy aren’t responsible for their actions BECAUSE they are executing and enforcing state policy.

The Nuremberg trials — and Eichmann’s later trial in Israel — quashed such defenses when it came to German war crimes in general and the Holocaust in particular.

Unfortunately, US law lags the Nuremberg/Eichmann precedents by decades: “Sovereign immunity” and “qualified immunity” shield governments, and those who act on their behalves, from liability for their actions.

The worst punishment Andrew Cuomo likely faces for killing thousands of New Yorkers is maybe — just maybe — not getting re-elected governor of New York, or promoted to a cabinet position, or ever winning the presidency.

If there’s any justice in the world at all, he’ll suffer at least THOSE penalties.

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Morbidly Obtuse: Pelosi and the Media versus Hydroxychloroquine

When US president Donald Trump mentioned that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, he immediately got an extra dose of flak from both the mainstream media and noted medical experts such as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Trump has been using the drug prophylactically versus COVID-19 — which he’s likely been exposed to via a personal valet —  with the concurrence of his physician.

Pelosi chided Trump for taking “something that has not been approved by the scientists” (it has been) and worried that he’s at risk of side effects because he’s “morbidly obese” (he’s not).

A Bing search on the terms “hydroxychloroquine” and “unproven” returns nearly 28,000 results for the 24 hours following Trump’s statement. The media apparently want us to believe that there’s something sketchy and experimental about hydroxychloroquine.

Contra Pelosi, hydroxychloroquine was “approved by the scientists” at the US Food and Drug Administration in 1955.

Those scientists deemed it both “safe” in general and “effective” for certain disorders (obviously not including a virus which they couldn’t even know existed for anther 65 years), with doctors permitted to prescribe it “off-label” for other maladies.

As of 2017, hydroxychloroquine was the 128th most prescribed drug in the United States, at more than 5 million prescriptions. It appears on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. Nobody was calling it “unproven” in any way until Donald Trump mentioned it, and nobody would be calling it that now if he HADN’T mentioned it.

Is hydroxychloroquine effective either as a treatment for, or protector against, COVID-19? Various juries are likely to be out on that question for a long time.

Are there known side effects associated with the drug’s use? Sure. Find a drug with no side effects and you’ve probably found a drug with no effects at all.

Do any of the facts above really matter? No.

It’s none of the FDA’s business what drugs Donald Trump decides to take.

It’s none of Nancy Pelosi’s business, either, unless he feels like discussing it with her.

It’s only the media’s business because he decided to tell them about it.

And if you decide to take hydroxychloroquine, or any other drug, it’s nobody else’s business either.

It’s probably a good idea to consult your doctor before taking just about any medication, but that’s YOUR call, not anyone else’s, to make.

It’s YOUR body.

It’s YOUR life.

It’s YOUR decision.

Don’t let Nancy Pelosi, the media, or anyone else tell you otherwise.

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