Freedom… from what?

During this COVID-19 madness many governments in many countries are imposing unprecedented limitations on the civil liberties. In Ukraine, for example, citizens are not allowed to be in public spaces without a face mask, and without ID. One cannot take a walk in the park except with a dog or with a child. Freedom of assembly is out of discussion. Groups of more than two people will likely be approached by the police. Subways are closed. Public buses cannot take more than 10 passengers. Those passengers must have an ausweis that they work for an “essential business”. A mother has been fined for letting her child to play on a playground. People are effectively confined to their residences. Children are not allowed to attend schools. Religious assemblies are banned.

Unprecedented, unimaginable government oppression. The people should revolt. Right? Not quite. The public reaction to this oppression is also unprecedented. Most people comply. Many ask for more restrictions. Many criticize the government for not imposing them sooner and not enforcing them stricter.

What happened? Why did the Western societies so easily gave up their political and civil liberties and allowed the government to intervene into everyone’s personal life in such a huge way? The answer is simple. The definition of freedom has changed. A few weeks ago most people would want freedom from the government intervention into personal life. Now most people are more concerned with freedom from disease. And this redefinition happened because of mass fear instigated by a massive media campaign.

I am not promoting any conspiracy theories. I am not saying that COVID-19 is not deadly or that the news of overcrowded hospitals and dying people are fake or that we should not stay home. I’m simply describing what is happening and trying to answer the questions that many people ask: “Are we over-reacting as a society?” “Are these huge sacrifices justified by the fear of the disease?” “Will the remedy be worse than the problem?”

A few years ago, I have read an essay by Maurice Cranston, an English philosopher and a professor of political science. The web site where I found the essay has since disappeared, but it can still be found on

Cranston does a great job explaining why the meaning of freedom is so elusive. It is because the word is meaningless unless we clearly specify, freedom from what. Here are just a few meanings I got from an image search by “freedom from“: freedom from fear, freedom from religion, freedom from want, from addiction, from choice, from shame, from the government, from sin, from discrimination, even freedom from expression.

One cannot be free without knowing from what just as one cannot be prepared without understanding to what.

I encourage you to read the essay yourself. The text was written in 1953, but it is especially relevant today. I find especially relevant the distinction between Romantic and Progressive freedom. Romantic freedom means freedom from the restrains of civilized society — government and social institutions, laws and rules. The way to achieve Romantic freedom often means living “close to nature” which comes at the expense of dependence on its whims. Progressive freedom means freedom from restrains of nature — from hunger, from disease, from the effects of the elements. The way to achieve Progressive freedom, to the contrary, is to embrace the restrains of society — laws, rules, and regulations, government and social institutions. This distinction is at the core of most political struggles of today.

I think it is important to understand what we want to be free from and find a compromise for ourselves and with others.

Sharp Right Turn

I always supported the liberal causes: gay rights, women’s right to decide what to do with their bodies, women’s equality with men, I despise racism, sexism, and xenophobia and believe that immigrants must have an opportunity in the U. S. just like I had. I didn’t like Bush’s lies about WMD in Iraq and the war he started for oil. I liked Obama for his charisma and decency. In 2016, I voted for Hillary. Not as much “for Hillary” as “against Trump” because I thought he would ruin the country.

Then there was the measles outbreak in 2019. It showed me who the Democrats are and what they really stand for. I have a son who had a very bad reaction to his first vaccine and now has multiple allergies and severe autism. Disclaimer: I don’t think vaccines cause autism. It’s just a sequence of events. Since then, however, we don’t vaccinate children anymore using a non-medical exemption at schools.

So, last year, using the hysteria around measles, the Democrats in my state decided to remove non-medical exemptions. Practically, it meant that my children would have been kicked out of schools along with 31,000 other children in my state who use these exemptions. Along with children injured by vaccines, these exemptions are also used by small religious communities. It’s important for them not to inject certain ingredients into their children. The parents of these children would have faced a choice: risk to further injure their children, violate their religious beliefs, or quit their jobs and home school. All, of course, “for the common good”. The impact on these children many of whom have disabilities and the economic situation of these families would have been devastating. Ultimately, the bill failed due to heroic efforts of the Republican senators, but I have learned a few things in the 5 months of fighting this bill and meeting with state legislators.

This is what I learned:

  • The democrats don’t give a hoot about women’s rights. It doesn’t make sense to scream “my body – my choice!” and deny parents the right to make medical decisions for their children.
  • The democrats don’t give a hoot about women’s right to work. If they did, they wouldn’t push a law that would force thousands of women to quit their jobs.
  • The democrats don’t give a hoot about people with disabilities or education in general if they wanted to kick children with disabilities out of schools in violation of federal laws. Incidentally, they have passed a law last year called “Student Success Act”. Guess what the law was about: a massive tax.
  • They don’t care about public health either. They only care to mandate pharmaceutical products to please their corporate masters. Most diseases preventable by the mandated vaccines don’t spread easily and have nothing to do with measles.
  • The democrats don’t give a hoot about religious rights if they think that people can’t refuse injections for religious reasons. Antisemitism caused by discriminating against the Orthodox Jews on vaccine issue still reverberates in New York state.

Then I thought about other causes that Democrats are so vocal about and found a pattern: increase taxes, keep the people poor so that they vote for them, exploit human suffering, divide people into “victims” and “oppressors”, create “injustice” out of thin air and maintain this perception through the media.

  • The democrats don’t care about humanitarian conditions on the borders. If they did, they wouldn’t deny Trump money to address them. But they were happy to go to the border and feast on human suffering, pointing out how “cruel” Trump is implementing their laws.
  • They don’t care about the illegal immigrants either. If they did, they would have addressed the issue long ago. But they benefit politically from their suffering and exploitation while doing nothing. Why should I have compassion for thugs violently storming our border and being sprayed by the border patrol if I waited 2 years to see my son born in Ukraine while my wife patiently waited for a visa?
  • They don’t care about the global warming either. In my state, they found a “way to address global warming” – tax those who emit too much GHG (loggers, farmers, and truckers) with no proposal to oversee how the money is spent. At the same time, our governor proposes to destroy 3 dams on a river that provide clean cheap energy “to save the salmon”.
  • They don’t care about the homeless. They only want to tax everyone to “address the homelessness crisis” driving up property prices and rents, pushing people out of work and out of homes.
  • They suppress the voters, adding the fake “emergency” clause to every law specifically to prevent the law to be referred to the ballot. Voters in my state have rejected these measures many times in the past, and they still push them down our throats.

I changed my voting registration from “non-affiliated” to “Republican”. I will not vote for another liberal. That’s it.

Compassion and Faith

Leo Babauta wrote an amazing reflection on the past election.  The author’s advice is to feel compassion for other people who may have voted differently from me.  I would also emphasize the importance of faith.  Not the dismissive “it’s going to be OK” or the religious “God uses unlikely people to do His will” type of faith.  But the faith in the principles on which this country is founded.  These principles are at work right now.  Watch in awe.

Thoughts on Trump Policies

The election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States on November 8, 2016, was a great surprise for me.  I have to admit that I mostly followed Trump in the mainstream media – New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Wall Street Journal, NPR; some European sources –  BBC, Deutsche Welle, most of which are liberal.  I did not pay close attention to his words, but what I heard occasionally appeared to be so outrageous that it seemed unbelievable that anyone in his right mind could possibly vote for such a narcissistic psychopath.

He started his campaign in June 2015 by declaring Mexican immigrants to be criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.  In November 2015 Trump claimed that on 9/11/2001 he watched “thousands and thousands of people” cheering while watching the WTC towers collapse and said that he will request surveillance of certain mosques.   He drew criticism after mocking a disabled reporter who questioned him on the claim. Since 2011, Trump has questioned that President Obama was born in the United States, even after Obama has released his birth certificate.  On December 7, 2015, Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, suggested killing the families of the terrorists, in March 2016 he appeared to advocate torture towards the terrorism suspects.  In July 2016, Trump used the star of David as a backdrop for the words “Most corrupt candidate ever” in an anti-Hillary tweet which was viewed by many as antisemitic. In July 2016, Trump criticizes the Muslim family of a fallen U.S. soldier drawing sharp criticism even from the Republican party.  And, if that was not enough, in October 2016, the infamous “grab her by the pussy” 2005 video emerged.  All of that created in my mind an image of Trump as a racist, sexist, xenophobic populist.  So, Trump’s victory on November 8th came to me as a shock.

After the elections, I struggled with some cognitive dissonance for a while.  I tried to understand what attracted roughly a half of American voters in Trump’s character.  As I expected, Trump has significantly changed his tone after the elections.  In his speeches, he shifted emphasis on his economic policies and cut back on xenophobic diatribes.  Appointing a special prosecutor to put Hillary in jail is no longer a priority. A wall along the border could turn into a fence in some areas and he is not deporting all illegal immigrants just yet – only the felons, while the rest he calls “terrific people“.

Apparently, much of what Trump said during the campaign was “for the show”.  But where did he mean business?  On October 22, 2016, 17 days before the election, Donald Trump has made a speech in historic Gettysburg, PA, sarcastically dubbed “Trump’s Gettysburg address” by the liberal media.  Trump’s own site advertises this speech as “DONALD J. TRUMP CONTRACT WITH THE AMERICAN VOTER“.  Now, let’s try to “unlearn” what we know about Trump and take his Gettysburg speech at the face value, assuming he sincerely means to “make America great again”.  Just for myself, I’d like to annotate Trump’s promises in this “contract” to see if he follows through and how it goes.  So, here we go.

“Therefore, on the first day of my term of office, my administration will immediately pursue the following six measures to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC:

  • FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress;

This might be a good idea. They say, “the government is like diapers. It needs to be changed and for the same reason.” There are people in the Congress who have been there forever. It’s often a lifetime tenure. It may be useful to get some blood circulation in the Congress.

  • SECOND, a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health);

This is a prudent thing to do if you want to cut taxes. One of the concerns with reducing taxes is the budget deficit. A freeze on federal government hiring is a part of addressing it. I remember, there were a few days when the Congress could not pass a budget, and all the federal government offices were closed for a few days. My life did not stop. Nor anyone else’s.

  • THIRD, a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated;

Also seems like a good idea. Not all regulations are bad, however. Some are necessary.

  • FOURTH, a 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service;

Clearly a “yes”. Much of the legislation is not passed “by and for the people”. Lobbying is a shady business.

  • FIFTH, a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government;
  • SIXTH, a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.

I’m surprised that this legislation is even needed. But if such lobbying takes place, it’s worse than espionage and, clearly, must be banned. I’d even change “foreign government” to “foreign entity” because it’s easy to fund such lobbying by proxy, even through a domestic entity. There must be a law to disclose the sources of funding for all legislation.

All in all, this section is a very specific and actionable plan to “drain the swamp”.

On the same day, I will begin taking the following seven actions to protect American workers:

  • FIRST, I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205

Can’t say if it’s good or bad. Need to know the specifics.

  • SECOND, I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership

TPP is already dead, I’ve heard.

  • THIRD, I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator

What’s the legal definition of “currency manipulator” and what are the practical or legal implications of such label? This does not appear meaningful.

  • FOURTH, I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately

Sounds arbitrary. This needs specific definitions.

  • FIFTH, I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

This will drop the oil prices and kill Russia. Those in Russia who cheer Trump’s election may be up for a rude awakening. Putin’s honeymoon with Trump will likely be canceled for the lack of honey. I may need to sell my Nissan Leaf and opt for a good old combustion engine. There are, of course, environmental concerns about this policy. This measure is the easiest to implement and this alone will have a huge domestic and international effect.

  • SIXTH, lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward

Again, this causes environmental concerns. But it’s unlikely to impact me personally.

  • SEVENTH, cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure

It seems like a good idea to fix our own environment instead of funding global environmental projects. But the devil is in the details. Do we actually pay for these projects as much as Trump claims? Are the funds going to be used for domestic environmental projects (which ones?) or for the subsidies of the oil companies?

Additionally, on the first day, I will take the following five actions to restore security and the constitutional rule of law:

  • FIRST, cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama

Which ones and who determines the constitutionality? More rhetoric than meaning.

  • SECOND, begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States

Yes, please. Hopefully, not an anti-abortion homophobic religious activist. It’s a shame that the Republicans have blocked the appointment of the new judge for many months.

  • THIRD, cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities

Actually, I did not know that many cities in the United States (so called “sanctuary cities”) have a policy of “protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them solely for violating federal immigration laws”. Apparently, the city authorities do that to encourage undocumented immigrants to cooperate with the police in crime investigations which makes sense.

What does not make sense is not deporting illegal alien felons who do commit rape, murder, and sell drugs. I support the policy of giving honest hardworking people who go through a great risk to get here a chance for a better life in this country than they would ever have back home. And I am far from thinking that all illegal immigrants here are “drug dealers and rapists”. But I also believe that felons must be kept behind bars. And if a felon is an illegal immigrant, the government should not spend the tax money on keeping him in prison. This person must be simply kicked out across the border. This is much in line with the policy of “not prosecuting them solely for violating immigration laws”. This is prosecuting people for crimes, not for the color of their skin or their immigration status. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

And, of course, kicking people out of the country is not effective unless the border is secured because they will keep coming back. Hence, “the wall”. The literal “wall” still seems to be unrealistic. It’s too expensive to build and too expensive to maintain. But the border must be secured somehow, otherwise, any policy against illegal immigration will be ineffective.

I think it’s inhumane to leave the children born in the U.S. who are U.S. citizens by birth and deport their parents. I think that while cracking down on illegal immigration, legal immigration must be made easier, not tougher because tough rules to get into the U.S. legally motivate people to get into the U.S. illegally. I think, there is a difference between someone who has just crossed the border and someone who has been in the U.S. illegally for 50 years without breaking the law otherwise and have raised families here. Deporting such people does not make sense.

  • FOURTH, begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back

I can agree with that as I stated above as long as this is not turned into a “witch hunt” with taking people from the streets and children from the schools and sending them away from their families.

  • FIFTH, suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.

So, it’s not a “complete ban on Muslim immigration”, but something significantly more reasonable. Syria is among the “terror-prone regions”. The question is what to do with the refugees.

In 1939, the United States turned away almost 800 passengers of the trans-Atlantic liner St. Luis which sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba who hoped to get into the United States. Almost all passengers were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were sent back to Europe. 254 of them died during the Holocaust.

“Public opinion in the United States, although ostensibly sympathetic to the plight of refugees and critical of Hitler’s policies, continued to favor immigration restrictions. The Great Depression had left millions of people in the United States unemployed and fearful of competition for the scarce few jobs available. It also fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration.” Sounds familiar?

Next, I will work with Congress to introduce the following broader legislative measures and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my Administration:

1. Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act. An economic plan designed to grow the economy 4% per year and create at least 25 million new jobs through massive tax reduction and simplification, in combination with trade reform, regulatory relief, and lifting the restrictions on American energy. The largest tax reductions are for the middle class. A middle-class family with 2 children will get a 35% tax cut. The current number of brackets will be reduced from 7 to 3, and tax forms will likewise be greatly simplified. The business rate will be lowered from 35 to 15 percent, and the trillions of dollars of American corporate money overseas can now be brought back at a 10 percent rate.

The idea here is to make the United States more attractive for investments and stop capital and manufacturing from fleeing the country for the regions with more favorable tax rules. The fear is that this will create a huge budget deficit. The hope is that the budget deficit will be offset by the economy growth and reduction of the government.

While the tax cut is supposed to decrease the tax burden for all Americans, it is clear that the wealthiest will be its greatest beneficiaries. And some categories of low-income families will see a tax increase due to the change in the tax bracket structure. Analysts show that

  • A single parent with $75,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of around $2,440.
  • A single parent with $50,000 in earnings, three school-age children and no child care costs would also face a tax increase of around $1,188.
  • A married couple with $50,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of about $150.
  • Other married couples would get almost no benefit.

2. End The Offshoring Act Establishes tariffs to discourage companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship their products back to the U.S. tax-free.

This means that if, say, Ford, relocates its plant to Mexico to cut the production cost, it will have to pay an import tariff to bring these cars for sale into the U.S. Why not punishing other efforts to cut manufacturing cost? Automation, for example, also eliminates jobs. Following the same logic, automation must be taxed as well.

3. American Energy & Infrastructure Act. Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. It is revenue neutral.

Sounds good. Although it’s hard to say what this practically means.

4. School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to gives parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.

I support giving freedom to parents on how to spend the education tax money. It will encourage competition between schools and competition always improves service quality.

I have doubts about ending common core. It is necessary to have nationwide education standards. Although, education is managed mostly at the state level anyway. Federal regulations add little value.

5. Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, and lets states manage Medicaid funds. Reforms will also include cutting the red tape at the FDA: there are over 4,000 drugs awaiting approval, and we especially want to speed the approval of life-saving medications.

Trump himself now acknowledges that there are positive items in Obamacare. This may not be as radical as it seems. “Cutting the red tape at the FDA”, i.e. removing the bureaucratic obstacles from letting new drugs to the market, sounds like a good idea.

6. Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act. Allows Americans to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivizes employers to provide on-site childcare services, and creates tax-free Dependent Care Savings Accounts for both young and elderly dependents, with matching contributions for low-income families.

Sounds reasonable.

7. End Illegal Immigration Act Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall; establishes a 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or two or more prior deportations; also reforms visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying and to ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.

Many items here seem unrealistic. Toughening penalties for illegal immigration must be accompanied by significantly simplifying the procedures of legal immigration. Without a plan of legalizing the illegal immigrants already in the country, Trump risks overburdening the prison system and will ultimately fail to jail all the offenders. Besides, there is no practical benefit of jailing law-abiding hard-working people.

8. Restoring Community Safety Act. Reduces surging crime, drugs and violence by creating a Task Force On Violent Crime and increasing funding for programs that train and assist local police; increases resources for federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors to dismantle criminal gangs and put violent offenders behind bars.

Legalize marijuana, dude! Then tax it. Why would anyone buy drugs from criminals if it can be done legally?

9. Restoring National Security Act. Rebuilds our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment; provides Veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice; protects our vital infrastructure from cyber-attack; establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values

Strengthening the country’s military is not such a radical idea. Emphasis on protection from cyber-attack is timely. That’s a much larger risk for the U.S. than an invasion of an enemy army.

10. Clean up Corruption in Washington Act. Enacts new ethics reforms to Drain the Swamp and reduce the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.

Too general. Meanwhile, he is reluctant to separate his business interests and his presidency.

On November 8th, Americans will be voting for this 100-day plan to restore prosperity to our economy, security to our communities, and honesty to our government.

This is my pledge to you.

And if we follow these steps, we will once more have a government of, by and for the people.”

All in all, there are some good ideas. Some ideas are doubtful and impractical. But I see no reason for panic, leaving the U.S. or taking any radical steps. I expect very interesting 4 years.