Thursday, May 20, 2021

What does it mean to be a "Free" nation?

One of the things that I frequently see in online discussions is the concept of a "free" nation. But what exactly does that mean?

Let's start with the Declaration of Independence. The words "free", "Independent", or "liberty", with a reference to people, is included as follows:

  1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
  2. ... is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
  3. That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States

The primary theme of the declaration is to seek freedom from an opressive ruler, being King George III. It says that all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are free to make their choices in persuit of happiness, and should otherwise be equal.

Let's take a look at the Constitution. Of some note is in no location in the original portion of the constitution does it include the word free, except to distinguish a free person vs a slave. The first 10 amendments, known as the "Bill of Rights", contain a list of specific freedoms given to people namely that Congress shall not issue laws that:

  1. respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
  2. abridging the freedom of speech
  3. [abridging the freedom] of the press
  4. [abridging] the right of the people peaceably to assemble
  5. [abridging the right of the people peaceably] to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

There are more things included, including the right to bear arms, a speedy trial, be tried, excess bail, etc. Of some note is the 5th ammendment, which states "nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;"

So does this mean that anyone can do anything they want without consequence, because we are a free people? Absolutely not! I would not want to live in that world, it would be a scary place indeed, anyone could kill anyone, or take anything, with no consequences at all! There are many specific things that in fact Congress can do that seem to infringe on the rights of the people, such as taxation.

So what does it really mean to be a free nation then? In my mind, it comes back to the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and they all have the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, freedom means that everyone is equal, and they have the right to life, freedom to do with their lives what they please (So long as it doesn't conflict with other's rights), and the ability to pursue happiness.

Let's have some fun here. Which of these activities should the government be able to restrict, given that the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are guarentees from the Declaration of Independence?

  1. Murder
  2. OSHA regulations
  3. Travel between states
  4. Restaurant health and safety
  5. Restaurant choice of menus
  6. Restricting gatherings due to a pandemic
  7. Requiring mask wearing in public during a pandemic
  8. Requiring a person to wear clothing in public
  9. Theft
  10. Slavery
  11. Manditory vaccinations
  12. Public Education
  13. Having firearms in your home
  14. Carrying firearms in public

While each of these could be explained in much more detail, let me give my short scorecard. The government has no ability to regulate restaurant menu choices, what you do in your own home (So long as it doesn't affect other people or yourself), having firearms (So long as you don't use them against a person), or even travel between states. In the interest of protecting life of the innocent, I believe they do have the ability to make laws to prevent murder, OSHA regulations, restricting gatherings (So long as they apply generally, and do not specifically affect the press, religion, or addressing grevances against the government), slavery, manditory vaccinations, and restaurant health and safety. To protect the pursuit of happiness, they have the ability to make laws in regard to public education, slavery, theft, carrying firearms in public (To an extent), and others.

Of some note, by that test I would say the government has more power to make laws to make a person wear a mask in public during a pandemic than it does to make you wear clothing in normal times. Just something to think about. Note that I am NOT proposing that clothing should be optional in public, but...

The next time that you think of a law as restricting your freedom, ask yourself if it protects the life, liberty, or persuit of happiness of others. If a law meets that threshold, then it is worthy of consideration. If it does not, and restricts your freedom, then it should probably not be a law.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Who does it affect if a person doesn't get vaccinated?

Some out there have questioned why they should get vaccinated, using phrases like "My Body, My Choice". Here is a non-exhaustive list of why it matters to others, even if you are young and healthy enough to likely avoid serious consequences.

  1. If hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 cases, they can't as easily manage those with other issues. Same with surgeries, etc.
  2. There are those who legitimately cannot get vaccinated. Currently this includes those with very serious immune system disorders, who likely would have serious issues should they catch the disease and those under the age of 12. A person choosing to not get vaccinated puts the most vulnerable around them at risk of getting sick through no option of their own.
  3. Shortages happen when factories are shut down because of quarentined workers. This has happened many times in the pandemic, and has caused a number of issues. Not being vaccinated contributes to this problem
  4. Getting vaccinated will allow people to travel more, both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. In 2019 a US citizen could travel to 185 destinations without a visa. Today, that number is around 75, although with many more restrictions than in 2019. Other countries are afraid of the high levels of infection in the US, and not willing to take the high risk of catching this infection stronger.

In other words, one's decision to not get vaccinated can and does have an affect on those who choose to get vaccinated, those who cannot for medical reasons get vaccinated, and can result in shortages of goods or services. It is critical that we get COVID-19 under control, and it can be done simply. Getting an appointment to get vaccinated in the US is easy, look to your pharmacy, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc, they more than likely are taking appointments within a matter of a few days. There is no cost to this, it is safe, and the sooner we all get vaccinated, the sooner we can go back to normal life! And, in the words of Mathew 25:40, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

On another note, in 1905, this issue was brought before the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision, they declared that the government could, under the principal of self-defense, mandate vaccines, with the exception if it "be apparent or can be shown with reasonable certainty that he is not at the time a fit subject of vaccination or that vaccination, by reason of his then condition, would seriously impair his health or probably cause his death."

I do want to add that this principal should be very carefully managed. A person should have control over their body, so long as it doesn't affect other around them. Anything like forced sterilization, forced medical treatment if it is specifically resolved, or other such things. A vaccine to the vast majority of people causes nothing more than very short term side effects, and has an incredible ability to improve the life of those around them. Getting vaccinated simply put helps everyone, which is why the United States has invested so much, under both President Trump and President Biden, to getting a vaccine available as soon as possible.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Should you get a COVID-19 vaccine?

I came across a random person on the internet recently who stated the following, and I just had to respond more carefully. "I have been begging to get this virus that kills less than 98% of the people it infects. Short of licking public door knobs I have literally tried everything. I have an autoimmune disease, the vaccine will more than likely take me out, but if I allow my body to deal with it naturally I will have a better chance."

There is so much in that statement to comment on. First of all, let's talk about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. As of today, 157 million people in the United States have received at least one shot of a vaccine, with 123 million being fully vaccinated. Of all of those more than 100 million people, to my knowledge a single person has died as a result of the vaccine. While this is tragic, it has likely saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people during that time period.

According to the CDC, a few hundred (2 to 5 per million) have had anaphylaxis after the vaccine. This is why one is required to wait 15 minutes after Pfizer or Moderna. Each site that administers these vaccines is required to keep an eye out for the symptoms and administer medicine, and no one has died as a result of that.

The Johnson and Johnson (Jansen) vaccine, while not subject to anaphylaxis, is subject to an even rarer, but more serious problem. 28 women, of 9 million vaccinated, have reported Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a serious blood clot condition. This one, unlike the anaphylaxis previously discussed, can happen as long as 6 weeks after the vaccine is administered. These women all had low platlet count. If you are considering getting vaccinated, have had issues with low platlet counts in the past, and are female between the ages of 18 and 50, you might consider a different vaccine to remove that risk completely. At least one women reportedly died after receiving this vaccine. It is worth noting that this is a potential side effect of COVID-19, and likely the same individuals who had the TTS after receiving the Jansen vaccine would have had similar issues should they have caught the real COVID-19. Of some note, there has been at least one male diagnosed with the same issue, although it appears to be much rarer in men than women.

But wait, I heard there was 4000 deaths from the vaccinated? What's up with that? Well, anything that could remotely be considered a side effect of receiving any vaccine can be reported. To date, the CDC has stated that 4,434 individuals died who were vaccinated. Each one of these is independently reviewed, and with the exception of the TTS previously mentioned, none have been traced to the vaccine. For comparison, if one assumes a human lives about 80 years, than every day there is about a 1 in 29200 chance of dying. This means that of 100 million people, about 3424 would have died on the day they received the vaccine by random. Considering that deaths can be reported for days after being vaccinated, and it seems pretty clear that if there is a chance of dying, it is pretty slim.

What about the natural immunity? The current thinking is that natural immunity works for about 3 months. There are a number of repeat COVID-19 cases, and that seems to be as long as we can be confident it will work. Vaccine derived immunity is higher, to the point of working for at least a year. We can look at the antibodies to determine how well it is working, which is why we know this to be the case. My wife, who tested positive for COVID-19 in early January, got vaccinated recently just to make sure she doesn't get it again.

But wait, is this vaccine even approved? The COVID-19 vaccine is approved under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). What does that even mean? First of all, every single test that is normally done with a vaccine to demonstrate it is safe was done with the COVID-19 vaccines. This includes having 20,000 adults vaccinated to test for any possible complications, for at least 2 months prior to submitting the results. Any issue, even remote, causes the trials to be put on hold until the issue can be understood. This was done a number of times, as can be seen from this article. While the desire to get this vaccine out there was immense, the desire to make certain it was safe was even higher. Even the smallest rumor of an approved vaccine having issues has lead to the halting of the vaccine distribution, as has happened with the Jansen vaccine with respect to TTS. If it is determined to still be safe, then the vaccines can continue. Full approval is currently being worked on by Pfizer, and Moderna likely will follow suit this month. The single biggest question that a full authorization is likely to answer that we don't have now is how long will the immunity last? With people only having been vaccinated for 2 months before the EUA, we only knew the vaccine would work for 2 months. Now we have enough data to make predictions about for how long it will actually work, which is likely closer to a year or two. Is it worth it to wait for 6 months to know that the vaccine would only work for 6 months? I leave that up to you to determine.

But being vaccinated or not, it's my choice, shouldn't I be allowed to make it and not be forced to in any way whatsoever? There are some who legitimately cannot get vaccinated, including those severely affected by an immune disorder. Those people deserve to go in public just as much as anyone. Who are you to limit their choices because you opted to not get a free vaccine that is currently easily available? Another example, I would love to travel the world, but currently most countries will not accept a person from the United States, because the risk of COVID-19 exposure is too high here. Some allow fully vaccinated, but others do not even allow that. While no single individual not getting vaccinated will make a huge difference, even 1% of the population can.

Basically when it comes to any business opening up, there are 3 choices that can be made. They can keep the business closed, and lose out on income and providing that service. They can keep the business open to all, but risk spreading COVID-19. Or they can open the business taking reasonable percations, like limiting it to those with the vaccine, and be just as safe, and still opened up.

I do want to say that I'm not in favor of most places requiring vaccination. I am in favor of anywhere that has a high chance of spreading COVID-19, which means indoors densly populated, and not something "essential" being allowed to make that decision. This would include cruise ships, movie theaters, and similar locations, but not public transportation, government services, medical facilities, etc. Requiring those using those services to take percautions still makes sense. Stores are not in this group, the risk of transmission in a store has always been fairly low. Gyms, well, I'm a bit more mixed about this one, would need some thought.

The bottom line is this. If you are a healthy individual living in the United States ages 12+, you should get vaccinated ASAP. If you have a condition that was not fully tested, like an autoimmune disorder, pregnacy, or similar condition, I strongly advice you talk with your doctor and ask them what they advise, and follow it. Do not leave it up to me, or any other random person on the internet to make that decision, talk with a doctor you trust that knows your medical history! But get it if you can, and ask if you have any questions, because you getting vaccinated might be the difference between a friend or a friend of a friend who has a disease that can't get the vaccine catching COVID-19 and dying. It is a small price to pay to help others!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Getting rid of all Student Loan debt?

Recently much has been discussed on the subject of student loans. Let's look at this subject in more detail, to understand all sides of the issue.

First of all, let me state that I am one who had modest student loans, to the amount of about $8000. I studied engineering, and knew that I would be able to quickly return those loans, and in fact after just 5 years after finishing my undergraduate education, I had completely paid off those loans. I believe firmly that those loans should be paid back.

On the other hand, there are horror stories out there of people who had $50,000 or more in debt, couldn't pay the loans, had fees tacked on, and ended up with even more debt than they started with. These kinds of predatory measures are not right, and should be removed!

President Trump actually took action on student loans, in a way that wasn't very well known. As Forbes reported, President Trump effectively removed all fees and interest for student loans for the duration of the pandemic. This frees up money for those who are struggling and allows them to move forward. Those that are doing better can even pay down their debt to make it easier to finish it in the future.

So how can we properly use this valuable tool, but not abuse it? Student loan reform is something that absolutely needs to happen. I believe that student loan reform should include the following measures:

  1. Reduced interest and fees
  2. Accountability
  3. Some measures to encourage students to pay back their loans quickly

Let's expand on these details more. The interest rates right now are actually quite low on student loans, only 2.75%. However, many students are paying far more than that. I will be looking in to why that is the case, and figuring out ways to get those rates reduced!

Accountability is a more challenging thing. Some students don't realize that they are getting sucked in to higher and higher loans, and what that will require in their lives. The schools that they attend should have some responsibility as well, particularly if they are giving them so much with so little chance for return. However, it is critical that every student has a chance to succeed, regardless of the circumstances that they were born in to. For some, those who are going to med school, for instance, higher amounts of debt may be warrented. For others, there is less of a sense of this. What I believe should happen is those who are receiving student loans should be required to attend a short class, taught by their college, including life skills like repaying debt, refinancing loans, appropriately scoping out their debt, and similar types of skills. There should be a reasonable size of these classes, such that the students can have the chance to really learn and ask questions. Lastly, I believ ethat schools should bear at least some of the responsibility if the loans are not repaid. Maybe only a token amount, 10-20%, but enough where they will be more motivated to help their students succeed!

Lastly, I believe that students do need to be encouraged to pay back their loans quickly. A 0% loan isn't going to cut it unfortunately. Perhaps this could be a system similar to many store loans, if they pay back their student loans in 5 years they get them interest free. Maybe it could be a tiered system, similar to housing loans, where if one signs up for a longer time to repay loans, one has a higher interest rate. Whatever the system, it should encourage those loans to be paid off sooner.

Student loans are an extremely valuable part of helping everyone to succeed in life. Still, we must make sure these continue to be a valuable tool, and not a weight to the upcoming generation.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Plague of Fiery Serpents and COVID-19

Numbers 21 tells the story of the Israelites being affected by a plague of fiery serpents. Moses, by the direction of God, made a serpent of brass and asked the Israelites to look at it to be cured from the plague. While many of them did, many of them, thinking the thing was so simple, did not. Another example is in 2 Kings, chapter 5, where Pharpar is asked to bathe in the river Damascus seven times, a particularly dirty river, to cure leprosy. At first he was hesitent, but then, in verse 13, we read "Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed'!"

With this plague, we have been asked to do a few similar things, ones that even have the backing of science, but have been encouraged by religious leaders, including those of my faith, that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Of some note I can't find anything from any apostles, but it was certainly encouraged by example from the highest levels. We have been asked to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have been encouraged to socially distance ourselves to minimize the spread. And while I haven't seen it explicitly stated, we are encouraged to get vaccinated when we are able to to even further prevent the spread.

While the effects of not following these simple guidance aren't as dramatic as that of the fiery serpents, I can't help but wonder how many people have had a similar reaction of that of the Isrealites, of not doing the thing because of its simplicity. It sadens me deeply that it seems like the evangelicals are those on the leading edge of anti-mask and anti-vaccine behavior. To me, these are those who are not looking at the brass serpent.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Poverty, education, and the American Way.

I firmly believe that everyone in this country should have a chance to move on up in the world. But what exactly does that mean? I believe that everyone should have the opportunity, no matter where they started, to succeed. This helps in so many ways, it helps to find new talent, reduces poverty, and overall helps people to live better lives.

Let's start with an ancient Chinese proverb. "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." We should be teaching men, and women, to fish. Finding ways to help them improve their circumstances will always be of benifit. In Doctrine and Covanents, a book of scripture used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Section 42, we read the following:

30 And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.

42 Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.

By all of this, we should help the poor, especially those willing to work. We should give them skills so they can take care of themselves, and someday improve themselves, and thus be able to better take care of society.

I personally have benifited from policies inspired by these principals. When I was born, my father was working to improve his life situation by attending college. He received pell grants, student loans, and food stamps during that time. Since that time, nearly 30 years ago, he has gone on to be an engineer, further improving his life circumstances. As a result, I was able to also go to college, and while still on my own, I was able to do it with fewer student loans and pell grants, and have achieved a level of success.

Policies which can help students to rise above poverty should always be pushed forward. This benifits us all. By education, we have more engineers, scientists, teachers, and others who are able to help. We should also encourage those who are willing to take on trades, like plumbing, electricians, carpenters, welders, and other such skills. All of these are worthy skills, and have a measureable effect on all of us.

In general, I believe all should be able to work, all should have the ability to improve their life circumstance, no matter the circumstances they were born to, and we should be willing to help those around us to improve their life circumstances. These will pay dividends as well. It has been shown that President Biden's proposed free college tuition would pay for itself in 10 years. I know that I personally have paid far more in taxes as a result of my education than was invested of me. The same can be said of my siblings and parents. Some thought needs to be given to ensure that such money is not wasted, there are certainly some college degrees that aren't really worthwhile. Still, as a whole it benifits us all to have education. Most of those who receive pell grants go on to have quite successful careers. Remember, the proposal is only to allow for paying tuition. They still have to work to survive for the years they are getting that education, simply wasting their time is otherwise of no worth.

Considering running for public office in Alabama

This will be a bit different from my other posts. I have been thinking about running for public office of some kind for a while, and recently had a bit of a push in that direction. One of the senators from my state is not going to seek reelection, and I thought about what it would be like to try to run for that particular office.

I'm not at all commiting to this, and will have to think quite a bit about the particular office that I might someday run for, but I've decided to take at least the first step, formulate a complete policy. I plan on looking at all of the major issues and formulate my own reasoned thoughts about them.

To explain myself simply to those who might stuble on this later, I consider myself a moderate Republican. I was born in a small town in Idaho. My dad at the time was studying to get a degree in Engineering, my mother was working in a fabric store. When I was 6 my dad graduated and became an engineer for the Public Health Service, mostly working on the design of sewer and water systems for the Indian Health Service. During this time I frequently lived in small towns, including in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arizona. I continued in my education, and eventually graduated from High School, got a degree in Electrical Engineering, and eventually even a Master's Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Univesity of Arizona.

I believe we are all more similar than we are different. Both political parties seek to find solutions to help those around us have better lives, to make this country greater, to reduce abortions, increase education and prosperity, protect the enviroment. The priorities might be different for the parties, and the methods certainly are, but the goals are many times the same. I like to really get to the bottom of these issues, seek commonality, and find common ground.

One thing that I will certainly do is be willing to convinced that another position is right. There are very few subjects, and none of which are relevant to politics, that I can't be convinced are the right course. I will see what is best for all of those in my realm of responsibility, and seek experts to understand better. If the bill is one of energy policy, I will talk with various power plant and grid operators. Education, I will talk with educators to understand what the problems are, along with some students. I will try and talk with as wide of a variety of such people to better understand. As a result of this, I may be a "flip flopper", but that is an acknowledgement that I don't know everything that I would need to know now.

We will be exploring things a bit more in the future, including some of the ideas and thoughts on how we should deal with these issues. I believe in seeking common ground, and will always seek to improve those around us. I seek to look at the science, not just the popular science and thoughts but what the real science is behind issues, and some of those might surprise some people on both sides of the aisle. Come join me in this journey!

What does it mean to be a "Free" nation?

One of the things that I frequently see in online discussions is the concept of a "free" nation. But what exactly does that mean?...