Rand Paul: Privacy for Me, But Not for Thee

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If a private citizen wants to open a bank account, board an airplane, buy tobacco or alcohol, or engage in many other perfectly ordinary activities, government requires that citizen to present photo identification which includes personal information, including his or her home address and date of birth.

But according to many government employees, their own personal information should be protected by law from the prying eyes of that ordinary citizen.

Congress is currently considering legislation that would empower federal judges to censor social media posts containing such information about themselves. US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) opposes the bill — not because it clearly violates the First Amendment, but because he wants it expanded to provide for concealment of his own personal information and that of his fellow members of Congress too.

“I really think that this is important that we protect addresses for our judges, but it’s also important that we do this for our elected officials,” says Paul. “The Capitol Hill police are not stationed at our homes where our families live while we serve in Washington.”

You know where else the Capitol Hill Police aren’t stationed, Senator Paul? My house. If the TSA agent or financial regulator or store clerk your laws require me to show my ID to turns out to be some kind of psycho stalker,  I’m on my own.

There’s one big difference between me and Senator Paul,  and between me and US District Judge Esther Salas, whose son was killed and husband wounded by such a stalker in an attack on their family home, fueling the latest round of calls for “protection” of government employees’ personal information.

That difference is that I don’t  claim to represent or serve (or expect a paycheck from) the people I’m required by law (that is, by Senator Paul and friends) to share my personal information with.

Article I of the US Constitution requires Senator Paul to be an “inhabitant” of Kentucky as of each election in which he seeks to retain his seat. If Kentucky’s voters aren’t allowed to know where he lives, how can they know whether he’s eligible to continue serving as their Senator?

Nobody forced Rand Paul to seek political office. Nobody’s forcing him to continue living on the taxpayer dime. So long as he does, those taxpayers are entitled to know as much about him as he demands to know about them.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) 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.


Hey, Hey, FDA! How Many Americans Have You Killed Since May?

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As I write this on December 17, the US Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting to review a COVID-19 vaccine developed by biotech company Moderna. Likely outcome: The panel will recommend approval of the vaccine to FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn.

My question: What took so long, and why?

As David Wallace-Wells reports at New York magazine, Moderna completed design of its vaccine on January 13 — only two days after the virus’s genetic sequence was released to the public by Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang of Shanghai’s Fudan University and before any US cases of the virus had been confirmed.

By May, Phase I clinical trials had established the vaccine’s apparent safety.

Seven months later, we’re finally about to get the vaccine (as well as one by Pfizer, approved earlier in December and based on the same “messenger RNA” approach).

Yes, the FDA’s brief is to approve drugs based on two standards: Safety and efficacy.

And yes, more time spent testing for both safety and efficacy produces more trustworthy results.

But federal, state, and local government officials have been telling us, since at least as far back as March, that the COVID-19 pandemic is an emergency, and most people seem to agree with the claim.

In an emergency, we do things we normally wouldn’t do, the immediate circumstance being so dire that we’re willing to accept risks we usually wouldn’t accept. Getting through, and out of, the emergency is the most important thing. Business as usual goes out the window.

That’s what government always tells us when it wants to do something on an “emergency” basis. In the case of COVID-19, governments seized broad powers to shut down whole sectors of the economy and place untold millions of Americans under de facto house arrest though those Americans were accused of no crime.

Business closures. Capacity limits. Mask mandates. Travel bans. You name it, there was nothing governments weren’t willing to do to address the emergency.

Except give up any of their own power.

At every step, the US medical response to COVID-19 has been constrained by “you must first ask if it please the Crown” considerations. Not just with respect to vaccine development, but even to the long-accepted practice of “off-label” prescribing of existing drugs —  for example,  hydroxychloroquine, FDA-approved  since 1955.

COVID-19 has killed more than 300,000 Americans , more than 2/3 of them since the end of May, by which time the Moderna vaccine was deemed safe.

How many of those deaths might have been avoided if FDA had allowed Moderna to begin selling, and health providers to begin administering, the vaccine six months ago?

And when, if ever, will foot-dragging regulators be held responsible for those avoidable deaths?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) 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.


Welfare for the Wealthier? What Else is New?

In Joe Biden’s “Emergency Action Plan to Save the Economy,” the president-elect proposes to “[f]orgive a minimum of $10,000 per person of federal student loans.”

Wait, some protest. That would be a subsidy for the more well-off, at the expense of the less well-off. They have a point.  “[D]ebt relief overall, the New York Times notices, “would disproportionately benefit middle- to upper-class college graduates … especially those who attended elite and expensive institutions, and people with lucrative professional credentials like law and medical degrees.”

In truth, I don’t have a big problem with student loan forgiveness.

Student loan debtors have a better case than most for relief. They spent their entire young lives being told they absolutely must go to college, and then got lured into borrowing money to do so precisely because the loans were “guaranteed” by the government, please don’t read the fine print. They got caught in a long con, put over on them by Big Government, Big Finance, and Big Education.

I’d rather see “forgiveness” done by treating student debt just like other debt in bankruptcy proceedings than just automatically writing it off and billing the taxpayers. If Donald Trump can escape the consequences of his poor business judgment no fewer than six times through bankruptcy, surely student borrowers deserve one bite at that legal apple.

But let’s talk about the “poorer people subsidizing wealthier people” complaint. “The majority of student debt,” Kevin D. Williamson notes at National Review, “is held by relatively high-income people, poor people mostly are not college graduates, and those who attended college but did not graduate hold relatively little college-loan debt, etc. ”

Student loan debt is hardly unique in that respect. Due to life expectancy differentials, low-income black males subsidize the retirements of “middle class” white women through the Social Security system. The primary beneficiaries of food stamp and school lunch programs are large farms and agriculture enterprises, not poor families and students. “Defense” spending is partly corporate welfare for contractors and partly a “workfare” jobs program for, mostly, “middle class” youth.

The main function of the state is to redistribute wealth from the productive class to the political class. That’s inherently an upward redistribution, and the “middle class” is half-fish, half-fowl: Partly productive class, partly a hodgepodge of political constituencies well-positioned to grab a share of the grift as bribes for their continuing support.

The difference between most of those “middle class” constituencies and student loan debtors is that, whatever their economic class, most of those debtors were young and naive when they were drawn into a scam that was really about funneling big money to banks and schools, not about equipping them for success.

We, their elders, enjoy no such excuse.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) 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.