Rule by Experts is More Dangerous than Measles

RGBStock.com Vaccine PhotoI’d like to throw two numbers at you, but I can’t. I only have one to throw. That number is zero. It represents the number of deaths attributed to measles in the United States since 2003.

The second number is the number of deaths attributed to measles vaccines in the US since 2003. I don’t have that number because, while the Centers for Disease Control tracks “adverse event reports” for vaccines, it doesn’t make those statistics easy to find or compare.

But here’s a sample: In the first five months of 2011, 118 cases of measles were reported in the US. No one died of measles during that period. During the same period, CDC recorded 698 “adverse event reports” on measles vaccines, including combination vaccines like the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine. Those reports include four deaths, but we can’t know if the vaccines actually caused the deaths because these reports are not usually thoroughly investigated.

No, I’m not here to regale you with unproven (and probably unprovable) tales of vaccine-related autism, religious arguments against vaccination, and so forth. But the simple fact of the matter is that both vaccination and non-vaccination entails risks.  In each and every case, someone has to weigh those risks and make the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate. Who should that someone be?

My answer is “the patient or the patient’s guardian.” Not because I reject the efficacy or morality of vaccines or the concept of “herd immunity” (I don’t), nor because I think them generally unsafe (adverse reactions are very much the exception, not the rule), but because I reject one-size-fits-all rule by designated experts on specious “public health” grounds.

Let me offer an analogy:

Some experts say that moderate consumption of alcohol — two to six drinks per week — reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death among men over 50.

I’m approaching 50, and although I’ve not been a big drinker for many years, I’ve begun trying to conform to the suggested booze regime. That’s a decision I am, and should be, free to make.

But suppose I consider drinking more dangerous than not drinking. Or that I just don’t like the taste of alcohol. Suppose I decide not to consume my minimum two drinks per week.

Is it OK for you to come to my house, hold me down on the floor, and pour Old Crow down my throat because I might otherwise someday have a heart attack at the wheel of my car and run down a family of four as they cross the street?

That’s the logic of “rule by public health experts.” It sounds silly  —  it IS silly — when applied to straight Kentucky bourbon. It’s equally silly, and equally dangerous, when applied to vaccinations. Nothing against experts, but their advice should be advisory, not mandatory.

Reality doesn’t offer us the option of eliminating risk. But to the extent that public policy offers us the option of preserving freedom of choice, we should vigorously guard and exercise that option.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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One Cheer for Obama on the Keystone XL Boondoggle

RGBStock.com Oil Refinery PhotoAs I write this, Congress has passed a bill bypassing the US State Department’s endless review process and approving construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. President Barack Obama’s vow to veto that bill is the right thing to do, but for the wrong reasons. He’s blowing an opportunity to steal congressional Republicans’ thunder on one of their own banner issues.

Obama’s public justification for the veto is that the State Department should be allowed to complete its review in its own good time. That’s bureaucratic window-dressing. The real constituents for Obama’s regulatory foot-dragging  are environmentalists concerned about the pipeline’s potential for disastrous leaks and spills, aquifer damage, etc.

But any excuse for the Keystone veto will satisfy the environmentalists. They don’t care how Obama justifies it; they’ll happily chalk it up as a victory for Mother Earth, move on, and continue to vote Democrat. So why not address the elephant in the room (pun very much intended) and openly side with libertarians against this GOP boondoggle on property rights grounds?

The Keystone XL pipeline is big-government corporate welfare of the type that can only be carried off through abuse of “eminent domain” — imposition of government force to buy property from owners who don’t want to sell (or who won’t accept the offered price).

Libertarians oppose that kind of thing, and Republicans have spent the last decade — since the US Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London — denouncing and pledging to put a stop to “eminent domain abuse.”

In Kelo, homeowners were forced to sell their homes so that their city’s government could “spur economic development” by handing the land over to developers for a convention center. They sued under the implicit 5th Amendment stricture that eminent domain power is reserved for “public use.”

The homeowners lost their case but won the public debate. It turns out that no, Americans don’t approve of governments stealing homes in the name of “economic development” and handing them over to “private sector” owners as sites for sports stadiums, big-box stores, hotels and convention centers . Or pipelines. And Republican politicians have made joyous hay of that disapproval.

But a funny thing happened on Keystone XL Phase IV’s way from Hardesty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. Republicans rediscovered their abiding love for stealing land and handing it over to the “private sector” for “economic development.”

As Obama and the Republicans savaged each other over whether or not Keystone will create jobs and boost the US economy without harming the environment, nearly 90 landowners in Nebraska went to court versus eminent domain actions undertaken by their own state government in league with TransCanada. Ditto Montana and the Dakotas — and previous phases of Keystone have already been built on stolen land in Oklahoma and Texas. Not to mention land on American Indian reservations which at least theoretically enjoy some measure of sovereignty but now find themselves fighting the same government/industry collusion.

As a practical matter, Obama’s veto accomplishes the goal of stopping Keystone, at least temporarily. But citing the malignant nature of government “takings” for private purposes as an additional reason for whipping out that pen would put him on much higher moral ground. Not to mention pulling a rhetorical rug from beneath the posteriors of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Capital Punishment Means Unlimited Government

RGBStock.com Prison Photo

As January drew to a close, the perennial issue of capital punishment once again elbowed its way onto America’s front pages. We’ve already seen executions in Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas this year, but recent developments cast doubt on the future of the death penalty in the United States. That’s good news.

On January 28, the US Supreme Court stayed three executions pending legal challenges over the drug cocktail Oklahoma uses to kill its prisoners. Two days later, Ohio postponed all seven executions it had previously scheduled for 2015; its anonymous hired killers need time to find anonymous suppliers of the drugs used in the state’s  new, “improved” death protocol.

But delays and deliberations aren’t enough. It’s time for libertarians and “limited government” conservatives to join hands with more traditional capital punishment opponents and bring an end to the practice of slaughtering caged prisoners in cold blood.

And that’s exactly what the practice amounts to. State executions are not performed in defense of self or of others. They are calculated vengeance killings carried out on disarmed and defenseless victims, distinguishable from murder only by virtue of representing government policy.

Capital punishment is incompatible with “limited government” in any meaningful sense of the word. If the state may kill its subjects — not in the heat of the moment when life and death decisions must be made instantly, nor in actual defense of life, liberty or property, but merely in leisurely pursuit of revenge and “deterrence” — what may the state NOT do to those subjects?

How can we plausibly dispute lesser state impositions like gun control schemes or the “individual mandate” requiring us to buy health insurance, having already cheerfully ceded power over life and death to the same authorities?

Too often we let death penalty supporters use sleight of rhetoric to focus our attention resolutely on the prisoner’s proven guilt, on the evil of a prisoner’s crimes, or on the suffering of his or her victims. Yes, those things are important and deserving of our full consideration, but we shouldn’t allow them to distract us from, or absolve us of, our own responsibility for the things we allow the state to do in our names and on our behalves.

It’s too late to make 2015 an execution-free year. But we have 11 months left in which to bring down the final curtain on a shameful and barbaric American tradition.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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