All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Forced “Consent”: Just Say No to Court-Ordered Cosmetic Surgery

The Circumcision
The Circumcision (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Four-year-old Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus looks like a happy, healthy, normal kid in a playground photo published in the New York Daily News. One wonders how happy he is to find himself at the center of a court battle over whether or not doctors should cut off part of his penis. His parents,  Heather Hironimus and Dennis Nebus, disagree on the question of circumcision.

Hironimus’s argument is simple: There’s no medical or religious reason for the procedure. It’s cosmetic, it entails risks, and she’s not interested in putting Chase through it.

Nebus’s argument is, likewise, simple: It’s “just the normal thing to do,” he says.

Palm Beach County, Florida Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen agrees with Nebus. He’s threatened to jail Hironimus unless she signs a consent form for the procedure.

In Judaism, infant circumcision is a required religious practice.

In America among non-Jews, it’s become, as Nebus says, “just the normal thing to do” for several reasons. In the 19th century, quacks sold circumcision as a way to discourage masturbation, which was considered immoral and unhealthy. By the late 20th century, it had become just one more nearly automatic and usually unquestioned hospital procedure to charge new parents a few hundred bucks for.

And of course the patients can’t articulately object. They’re hours or days old. Sure, they scream as they’re physically restrained and have their foreskins torn away without benefit of anesthesia. Sure, some of them bleed to death from nicked arteries or sustain serious infections from the intentional creation of open wounds. But they didn’t — couldn’t — say “no.” So it’s all good, right?

The practice is common and accepted enough in America that even most libertarians don’t get too uptight about it. That apathy, in my opinion, bears re-thinking. But we don’t have to go there, here.

Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus is not an infant. He’s not an adult, but he’s probably old enough to have formed, and be able to express, an opinion on whether or not he’d like to be put under general anesthesia and have part of his penis cut off because it’s “just the  normal thing to do.” Has Judge Gillen asked for and considered his opinion?

There’s an additional and dangerous secondary issue here: Gillen’s threat to jail Heather Hironimus unless she “consents” on her son’s behalf.

That threat is a grotesque abuse of power and a bizarre re-definition of the concept of “consent.” It’s one thing to order the procedure over Hironimus’s objection. It’s another thing entirely to require her, on pain of imprisonment, to pretend she approves.

Jeffrey Dana Gillen isn’t up for re-election until 2020*, but Florida’s legislature or Supreme Court can, and should, remove him from the bench.

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

* The original version of this op-ed listed 2021 as the date of Judge Gillen’s next election. It has been corrected to 2020 (his term expires in 2021, but he will be re-elected or defeated for re-election in 2020).

Hillary Clinton: Shades of Watergate

English: Richard Nixon boarding Army One upon ...
English: Richard Nixon boarding Army One upon his departure from the White House after resigning the office of President of the United States following the Watergate Scandal in 1974. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s become far too fashionable, over the decades since disgraced president Richard Nixon’s resignation, to tack the suffix “-gate” onto political scandals. The usage no longer conveys much useful information. In most cases, it’s mere cliche.

Not so when it comes to the revelation that, as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton essentially privatized her work email. This is definitely Watergate-level stuff.

Clinton’s actions went far beyond those of Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin, who as governors got caught conducting some official business over personal web mail accounts. Clinton ran all of her office email through her own private server, registered under a fake name and physically located in her New York home.

It wasn’t the Watergate break-in per se that cost Nixon his presidency. It was his attempt to cover up his own role afterward, by erasing taped conversations, that got articles of impeachment moving through Congress.

Those articles were drawn up by the House Judiciary Committee, with advice from a legal team including among its members young Yale Law School graduate Hillary Rodham. Two years later, Ms. Rodham married Yale classmate Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton knew better.

She knew the Federal Records Act required preservation of her official emails on State Department Servers. Neither she nor her staff took steps to comply with that law during her time in office.

She knew that absent such preservation, her official emails would fly under the radar of Freedom of Information Act requests. That was probably one of two reasons why she did what she did.

The other likely reason was that she knew her conduct as Secretary of State could, at some point, come under legal scrutiny and wanted to maintain control of her emails to frustrate such scrutiny. Just like Richard Nixon with his tapes.

After she left office, the State Department requested copies of her official emails. It received only those her aides, as directed by her, decided to turn over.

On March 4, the US House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is investigating the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Libya, subpoenaed Clinton’s emails relating to that attack.

Will the investigators get those emails without a fight? Will they get all the relevant emails, or just those convenient to Hillary Clinton’s version of events? And most importantly, how will they know whether or not they got everything?

As a libertarian, I oppose letting political officials keep secrets at all. It’s just too dangerous. It threatens our freedom. Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are heroes of mine for exposing the illegal and immoral activities of politicians and bureaucrats.

But one need not share my radical opposition to government secrecy to understand that Clinton’s actions go beyond the pale. She didn’t just keep government secrets. She took drastic measures to keep those secrets under her personal control, immune to discovery even by the very government she served.

This kind of behavior cost Nixon his presidency. It should cost Clinton her shot at the White House.

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

Total Recall: Bad for the Working Poor Car Wreck

It seems like a common sense, life-saving proposal:  US Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) want state motor vehicle agencies to require completion of automakers’ safety recall repairs before issuing license plates (“Senators unveil bill to require recall fixes,” Detroit News, March 2).

Their justification, of course, is safety. But on a closer look,  the bill is just a sop to the auto industry. Its biggest effect will be to hurt working people.

Pop quiz: Of the top three causes of auto accidents, where does “failure to get recall items fixed” rank?

Answer: It doesn’t.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (no, auto accidents aren’t a disease; neither is “gun violence;” take it up with CDC), the top three causes of car wreck injuries are distracted driving, speeding, and drunk driving. The vast majority of accidents are caused by driver error (often due to driver stupidity). Mechanical failure of any kind, let alone due to unrepaired recall items, doesn’t make the list.

The auto industry’s lobbyists indicate cautious support for the Markey/Blumenthal proposal (they’re awaiting details). Why? Because it covers their bottom lines. If they’ve sent recall notices out, they can deny liability in accidents occurring after the covered cars next get licensed. Good for them, I guess.

But bad for those of us who drive “beaters” — older, cheaper cars like my wife’s 1989 Volvo.

Many drivers can’t afford to buy cars new off the lot or make mid-three-digit monthly payments on fairly recent models. They take their chances on older, cheaper vehicles because they live paycheck to paycheck.

Yes, the costs of recall repairs are theoretically covered. If you live with reasonable distance of a dealership. If you can afford to do without your car for awhile. If you can get off work for multiple trips to the DMV.

Those may not be problems for upper-middle-class drivers with late-model cars, bought from dealerships that make “loaner cars” available to valued customers.

For the working poor, the policy may mean missing work hours required to make rent. It might even mean losing a job. Not for lack of safe transportation, but for inability to satisfy politicians’ desire to “get something done” (and be seen doing so).

If Markey and Blumenthal really want to use federal power to enhance highway safety, here are two suggestions:

First, forbid the states to require license plates for driving on federally funded highways (they’d likely follow suit to state roads on their own). Let insurance companies handle safety requirements and inspections. They don’t like paying off accident claims. Their safety and inspection requirements might be even more stringent than government’s.

Secondly, stop forcing automakers to install features that aren’t ready for prime time (the most well-known recall at the moment concerns airbags, which should be optional but which federal law requires). Automakers, insurers, and drivers are more competent to decide than politicians and bureaucrats.

Absent those steps, let’s at least put the brakes on Markey’s and Blumenthal’s very bad idea.

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