Dianne Feinstein

Could Mandating Vaccines for Air Travelers Cost More Lives Than It Saves?

TSA security screenings led to more driving and thus more auto deaths. Mandating vaccines on airplanes could have a similar effect.


Most major airlines already require that their employees be vaccinated. Support is now mounting for a government vaccine mandate for airline passengers as well. But could this public health intervention end up costing more lives than it saves?

Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) introduced the U.S. Air Public Safety Act. The bill would require all passengers on flights leaving from or landing at a U.S. airport to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or proof of a previous infection before boarding.

"We know that air travel during the 2020 holiday season contributed to last winter's devastating COVID-19 surge. We simply cannot allow that to happen again," said Feinstein in a press release. "Ensuring that air travelers protect themselves and their destination communities from this disease is critical to prevent the next surge."

Members of the Biden administration have also endorsed the idea.

"I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated," said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor, last month. White House COVID response team coordinator Jeff Zients said the administration hasn't ruled out a vaccine mandate for air travelers, reports USA Today.

The carve-outs that Feinstein's bill makes for those with negative COVID tests and prior infections makes it more flexible than the vaccinate mandates that governments are imposing for bars, restaurants, and concert venues. Yet the proposed law would leave in place the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) requirement that all passengers be masked throughout their flights.

The legislation would also effectively create a federal vaccine passport by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, to develop a single nationwide system for verifying passengers' vaccination status. That poses some grave civil liberties concerns. It would automatically exclude the 35 percent of the eligible population that isn't vaccinated from all air travel. A centralized system could also easily be expanded to exclude the unvaccinated from other modes of transportation.

It's also not clear that such a mandate would do much for public safety given the low risk of COVID transmission aboard flights. That low risk was detailed in an October 2020 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cabin air, the article's authors note, is recycled through HEPA filters which filter out virus particles. The way air flows within the cabin—from ceiling to floor, with little flow between rows—also reduces the odds of in-flight COVID transmission, they said.

"An airplane cabin is probably one of the most secure conditions you can be in," Sebastian Hoehl, a researcher at the Institute for Medical Virology at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, told Scientific American in November 2020.

A Wall Street Journal review of the medical literature published last week found that the risk of transmission is still generally considered to be low, although it is heightened during meal service on long flights (when everyone removes their mask at once) and during planing and deplaning.

Feinstein's press release cited a number of studies and polls to support her mandate proposal. Among them was a study published last year in PNAS, the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, which showed that increased travel between states and counties increased COVID transmission in destination communities, and a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finding that a third of people resistant to getting the vaccine would do so if it were required for air travel. The senator also cited a study from the Mayo Clinic finding that testing airline passengers would be an effective means of detecting active infections.

That first study, it's important to note, looked at the effect of travel generally on COVID transmission rates, and not at air travel specifically. The Kaiser poll, meanwhile, showed that the same number of vaccine-hesitant people could be induced to get the jab if it meant they didn't have to wear masks while traveling.

A proponent of vaccine mandates might well argue that even though airplanes are not high-transmission environments, they could still be made safer still by requiring passengers to be vaccinated or show a negative test.

That's true. Nevertheless, requiring testing or vaccination on airplanes will entirely deter some people from boarding flights, leading them to instead choose the more dangerous option of driving. That will mean more auto accidents and more resulting deaths, which could outweigh whatever safety benefits we'd get from lowering the already low risk of in-air COVID transmission.

TSA security serves as a good parallel. The added hassle the agency's pre-flight security screenings added to air travel encouraged people to substitute driving for flying, resulting in an estimated additional 500 auto deaths per year after 9/11. That almost certainly outweighed whatever terrorism-caused deaths the TSA's security screenings prevented.

Airplanes remain one of the least risky indoor spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The safety added by mandating vaccination and/or testing of airline passengers is likely minimal and even conceivably outweighed by the second-order effect of encouraging more driving instead of flying.

The benefits of Feinstein's vaccine mandate bill would also have to be weighed against the costs to civil liberties of creating a federal vaccine passport system that could, in time, be applied to more than just air travel.

The airlines should be free to require that their passengers are vaccinated. The Kaiser poll cited by the senator suggests that other, voluntary means of encouraging vaccination would be just as effective. That seems a superior alternative to yet another politically corrosive, possibly counter-productive government mandate.

NEXT: Seattle Just Became the Largest U.S. City To Approve Quasi-Decriminalization of Natural Psychedelics

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  1. Did the study include those of us who haven’t been in an airport since they were declared constitution-free zones in 2001?

    1. Ha, I haven’t been since 1998. I’ve always hated air travel and I’ll be fine if I never set foot in an airport again.

      1. A permanent flight from air travel.

        1. What are you going to do if you can’t fly? Just wing it?

          1. Isn’t that plane to see?

    2. So I’m not the only one.

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  2. I expect certain politicians and celebrities will be exempt from masks and proof of vaccines on planes.

    1. All of them

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    2. Look- EVERYONE can easily avoid Vaccine mandates. All they need to do is get a private jet, and they have all the freedom in the world. If you are unwilling to fork out that money, well that is the choice you have to make.

      In other news, the federal government will soon be considering subsidies for the private jet industry to encourage…uhh…healthy environmental something something!

    3. Private planes departing from private and/or small regional airports will be exempt de rigueur.

  3. Do I have to read beyond the headline to get annoyed that we’re making a utilitarian argument against vaccine mandates, and not a moral one?

    1. TSA security screenings led to more driving and thus more auto deaths. Mandating vaccines on airplanes could have a similar effect.

      Read down to here… not getting better.

      1. But fewer body cavity searches when driving. Point.

    2. Diane, there is no moral argument against Covid vaccine mandates.

      1. Yes, there is.

        If a particular type of venue never had polio vaccine mandates nor MMR vaccine mandates nor hepatitis vaccine mandates, they are ethically estopped from having COVID vaccine mandates.

      2. Yes there are, if you’re not a bootlicker.

  4. The article proposes a risk, without an estimate of deaths or illness for either option. Any deaths from resulting auto accident may be more than offset by fewer Covid transmissions – or not. An interesting question, but no means to weigh it, nor any sense of personal responsibility as a factor.

    1. Any deaths from resulting auto accident may be more than offset by fewer Covid transmissions


      An automobile death != Covid transmission.

      Automobile death == 100% death rate.

      Covid transmission > 99% survivable. 1-5% chance of hospitalization (estimate considered very high).

      1. Gee Diane, not all auto accidents result in death either, so i guess we’d have to weigh loss of a leg and chronic pain with a month on a ventilator followed by chronic heart and lung problems.

        1. Drove to work today. Died five times. Two from COVID and three with COVID.

          1. Don’t forget about all the gunshot wounds.

      2. Sounds like Diane is getting her shot and boarding pass. That’s what I’d do.

        1. Good addition to the conversation you’re a real gem Mike.

        2. I notice she doesn’t need a mask either.
          Power has privileges.

        3. It’s beginning to sound like the ones, who got the jab, are more of a danger to transmit the Chinaflu than those who haven’t.
          Definitely more of a danger than those who have natural immunity after recovering from the grippe.

      3. The legislative portion of the argument as well.

        If, through passive inaction, someone dies of COVID, someone else *has* to be guilty. If, through positive legal action, someone dies of a car accident, nobody’s guilty just because they passed some laws.

        How are we to know whether private people acting of their own volition is morally superior to legislators making their decisions and prescribing their actions for them if we don’t have the number to know?

    2. Not a bad point, but a comparative estimate of deaths would not be much help anyway. To realistically weigh the risk you have to look at the details of the trip: where you’re going, what options are available, what your capabilities are, etc.

      1. How many drinks your having on the way.

        1. In Wisconsin, trips are measured in beers, not miles.

          1. Drink Wisconsinably.

      2. where you’re going, what options are available, what your capabilities are, etc.

        Is the hyperloop to Hawaii in the infrastructure bill?

    3. Wait a minute. Stop. Hold on a second. Just one moment.

      Are you implying that more people dying in auto accidents is a good thing because those dead people can’t transmit COVID-19?

      I’m not even going to touch the preposterous premise that the average person dying in a car accident would otherwise be a disease vector to infect an average of more than one grandmas with the coof. No, I’m just going to address that implication on strictly moral grounds and say that is among the sickest things I’ve ever read and that you should take a break from the internet and seriously reevaluate your life choices and priorities because. If that’s truly what you believe, and I hope to god that I’m wrong and am totally misreading that, that’s super gross. Killing people is not a way to save them.

      1. I think you are misreading it. Loath as I am to defend Joe Friday.

    4. >>Any deaths from resulting auto accident may be more than offset by fewer Covid transmissions

      lolwut? Eva Braun on line 2 asking about your dinner plans

      1. I think he means there would be fewer because the unvaccinated won’t be on planes. But it’s still pretty stupid. It’s not like people driving cars don’t interact with other people when they stop for food or gas or whatever.

        1. I know I lick everyone I come across.

    5. LOL! If you had any doubts that Joe Friday’s Whiteness, this ‘where’s your citation’ post should really put them to bed.

      Whatever you do, never play poker with this master of disguise.

  5. requiring testing or vaccination on airplanes will entirely deter some people from boarding flights, leading them to instead choose the more dangerous option of driving. That will mean more auto accidents and more resulting deaths, which could outweigh whatever safety benefits we’d get from lowering the already low risk of in-air COVID transmission

    But EVERYBODY knows that the ONLY deaths that matter are Covid deaths! Who cares about people in die in car crashes?

    1. Well Enjoy, this would still present citizens with their choice of poisons.

      1. It is not the proper role of government to present people with choices.

    2. Hmm, if a person drives instead of flying to avoid a COVID vaccine, and dies in a car crash, is that a COVID death?

      1. Did a sneeze cause the accident?

      2. If they are buried in a coughin, yes.

    3. For damn sure no democrat cares about dead babies.
      (of any gender; woman killing is just as fine as man killing)

    4. Who cares about people in die in car crashes?

      You’ll care when they’re declared covid deaths, too.

      1. Many have been

    5. Many of those “Covid” deaths occurred from car accidents.
      CDC breakdown of the ≈ 600,000 “Covid” deaths included ≈ 6,000 who died from injury or accident.

  6. “We know that air travel during the 2020 holiday season contributed to last winter’s devastating COVID-19 surge. We simply cannot allow that to happen again,”

    What a load of shit. How the fuck are people still talking about this as if we can control it? That was clearly impossible a year and a half ago. People can now get the vaccine if they want. That’s all that can be done at this point (well, exercising and eating well is a good idea too). The virus is and will be everywhere. This is as good as it’s going to get and everyone needs to accept that and get on with their lives.

    1. The key words in that senile cunt’s diatribe are “We cannot allow”. With that phrase as a foundation for governing philosophy, all concerns about freedom and civil liberties are moot.

      1. Yeah, and when their premise is that they can and should control everything, we’re fucked.

    2. How the fuck are people still talking about this as if we can control it?

      We’re talking about controlling people. Nobody said anything about a virus.

      1. How the fuck do people still think they can control people? I guess a lot of people gave them more reason to think so recently, but still, there’s all the rest of human history to consider.

        1. Seems to be working so far.

        2. The vast majority of human history is either people controlling people and people butchering the people they can’t control.

          1. I’d say it’s mostly people failing to control people. But I’m sure it was just the wrong people in charge going about it the wrong way. It will totally work this time.

  7. It seems paying for longer check ins more hassles just isn’t worth it. With the drop in flyers from this and then the increased costs associated with this it’s probably only a matter of time until the next airline bailout or subsidy happens.

    Does this rule have a sunset date or it forever more that we no remove shoes remove electronics bring up papers pay 1000 dollars to get there slightly ahead of my vehicle.

    1. But with your vehicle, you end up where you wanted to be; with an airplane, you end up at an airport, and still have to take a car to get where you want to be.

      1. I’ve been debating with myself on the break even drive time vs flight frustration. The point where I just take the car. I can’t decide within the range of 4-8 hours driving.

        1. I’d put it at about a day’s worth of driving. That’s about the time you would have to spend flying, anyway, between getting to the airport, waiting in baggage lines, waiting in “security” lines, waiting in the boarding lines, waiting in baggage lines (again), and transiting to your hotel.

          1. Prior to Pandemic: The Downlockening, I could get to the airport, through security, up to San Jose and into the HQ in about 1 hr and 45 minutes. That is about 45 minutes longer than it takes me to drive to my actual home office, and I get to nap on the way.

            Flying local regional airports can be relatively painless for a day trip- though if it is an international airport, that pain increases substantially.

            1. Some of them are cheap. Depends on how far and for how long. And no TSA or lines. One time arrived at the airfield and was in the plane ten minutes after.

                1. Took a hop on a scheduled charter making a return that cost $65.
                  Took a longer flight for work that was break even due to the time saved and no need for a hotel. Was about ten total hours; three in the air and seven paying the pilot not to drink at the airport bar. Came out to about $1000.

  8. Also should someone who has cognitive decline admitted by her staff really be introducing new Acts?

    1. That’s what the staff is for.

    2. Lobbyists write all the bills.

      1. This.

        I was extra suspicious when I saw the draft was on Pfizer letterhead.

  9. “That’s true. Nevertheless, requiring testing or vaccination on airplanes will entirely deter some people from boarding flights, leading them to instead choose the more dangerous option of driving. That will mean more auto accidents and more resulting deaths, which could outweigh whatever safety benefits we’d get from lowering the already low risk of in-air COVID transmission.”

    Not if we confiscate private cars.

    1. Only the internal combustion ones; the electric cars are fine, because we don’t see the massive carbon footprint of the battery manufacturing, or the power grid behind the charging station.

  10. Depends on your definition of person.

  11. https://twitter.com/realchrisrufo/status/1445427755194073094?s=19

    They went from “critical race theory doesn’t exist” to “unleash the FBI against its enemies” in less than 90 days.

    1. Gotta put those peasants in their place.

    2. My favorite response:

      Things that triggered an FBI investigation:

      – Parents yelling at school boards

      Things that didn’t trigger an FBI investigation:

      – Rampant sexual abuse in the national governing body of gymnastics

    3. Chemjeff and Shrike must be beside themselves with joy. The KGB FBI will be persecuting hick parents who have the temerity to think CRT is evil, psychotic clap-trap.

      Meanwhile ENB reports on terrible, ultra-conservative parents who are butthurt that the libraries are providing highly educational cartoon porn for kids.

  12. The fact that covid didn’t kill Feinstein proves it isn’t dangerous. I was promised lots of elderly fatalities.

    1. Move to New York.

      1. Mostly I’m just a sarcastic asshole.

  13. Traveling home from Puerto Vallarta last June, my wife and I flew home through Dallas. After getting on the plane at 9:00 Pm we were ready to leave when the pilot announces “We have a passenger who refuses to wear a mask. Everybody must get off the plane now.” The guy across from me says “Don’t get off the plane, we shouldn’t have to put up with this.” I respond, “The pilot said get off the plane, we are getting off the plane.” I fly for work at times and I don’t want to be on any no fly list. Everyone gets off the plane and as we walk out of the ramp 6 of Dallases Finest come walking onto the plane. “Have fun” I tell them. We all wait about an hour in the terminal until they drug her out and told her to leave the airport. I guess the airline, AA, didn’t want any witnesses. We all got back on and left a couple of hours late. So wear your mask, even if it is stupid. Because.

    1. “I guess the airline, AA, didn’t want any witnesses.”

      Or they didn’t want a lot of bystanders in a confined space if things went sideways.

    2. I’d rather that everyone refuse, but that’s clearly not what’s happening now, so for all practical purposes, you are right.

      1. It’s too bad since there was a moment to be had there. Unfortunately and I’m the same way at times, being comfortable wins out over some annoyance to do something bigger. I wish we were better at that.

    3. Something similar happened on a flight I was on. Wasn’t mask related, some other issue with a passenger not behaving. When we got back on one of the other passengers never bothered coming back, so they made us wait another hour while they tried to find them.

      1. If the passenger got off, the hour wait was to find and eject that passenger’s luggage.
        Luggage that was supposed to travel with someone must be removed, lest it become a bombing attempt that didn’t involve a suicide bomber.

        1. I think they did both in the end.

  14. Jeff hasn’t weighed in but here’s his argument.

    People should voluntarily avoid the airports and life in general if they aren’t vaccinated, even if they already had covid or are asymptomatic. But if they don’t government should look into it. But I’m not asking for a mandate *wink,wink*

    1. -1

      You forgot to mention that the unvaxxed should be considered tresspassers and shot in the face.

      1. As long as they avoid all public areas including streets, they can avoid getting shot.

        1. Wait…

          “get the shot or get shot”

          Don’t give Biden ideas.

          1. He already said your AK-47 isn’t going to protect you from an air strike. What ideas would you be giving him?

  15. It’s amazing they pay you to write this garbage.

    If a dumbass doesn’t want a vax, then fine- go drive. And if you get covid badly, do us all a favor and stay the fuck home instead of clogging up the hospitals.

    1. Ahh liberty. The belief that you are free as long as you either stay home or submit to government.

    2. So, do you advocate the same for anyone with health conditions that are preventable by lifestyle choices?

      1. If the told raspberrydinners Tony that they were going to treat HIV and the communities most susceptible to HIV, to the same treatment, he’d be shitting himself with rage.

    3. Kill yourself, stop clogging up my streets

    4. Do everyone a favor and stay home too, since you may not know if you’re a walking Petri dish thanks to the symptom suppression of the vaccine.

      1. While the rare unvaccinated carrier will know they are infected and, hopefully stay home.

    5. Just because someone isn’t vaccinated doesn’t automatically mean they have the Chinaflu.

  16. The airlines should be free to require that their passengers are vaccinated.

    In direct contravention of the actual science you alluded to elsewhere in the article?

    It’s also not clear that such a mandate would do much for public safety given the low risk of COVID transmission aboard flights.

    Should airlines also be free to require their passengers to eat bacon to screen out Muslim suicide bombers?

    And not a word from Reason about health privacy or the unconstitutional interference with private contracts? I guess that only applies to abortions these days?

    Go suck some more authoritarian cock, Britschgi, it clearly doesn’t make you gag.

    1. He refuses to swallow loads from the unvaccinated.

  17. >>But could this public health intervention end up costing more lives than it saves?

    tell us you know the people who make the rules don’t give a fuck who dies as long as it’s not them.

  18. Seems about right for some government programs.

    Now, if they were just honest and said it up front, “We are going to kill more of you than terrorism or a virus will over time in order to keep you safe.”

  19. Right on time, Reason starts ‘wondering’ if travel mandates should be implemented, even as we see the vax failing in real-time.

    1. Government “solutions “ usually arrive after the problem has resolved itself.

    2. No shit; it went from “get your life back” to “prevents severe illness leading to hospitalization and death” in about 3 months.

      By next year it will be “you will only have a 1% chance of dying”…just like the average COVID patient.

    3. Assume 30% remain unvaccinated. Can airlines survive if 30% of their potential customers decline to fly?

      1. It would be unfair and absurd to think they would raise prices to make up for it.

        1. Or lobby for bailouts by taxpayers. Or cut some offerings.

        2. The airlines would cancel flights until they’re still flying with every seat full…

      2. I would hope that at least some of the vaxxed make a principled stand, but I’m not too optimistic about the number of them.

        And there’s no way they can survive that…….without a juicy bailout.

  20. This is a lot of words to say “No, it won’t.”

    We’ve been doing this for years with hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, anthrax, meningitis, MMR, Tdap, influenza, chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia, and polio, and guess what? No one died!

    1. I have not been asked for proof of any of those vaccines in order to fly. Even internationally.

      1. Then you have not traveled very much. At various times, I’ve had to show vaccine proof of typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, measles, diphtheria, smallpox, and polio. I still have the little yellow WHO booklet that I stored with old passports.

        It’s ludicrous for vaccines to be mandated for domestic travel in a liberal democracy. It’s derelict for vaccine mandates not to be considered as part of the precautions in international travel.

        1. J I can see your case there, but did want to say trips to europe I have never had to show that proof.

          1. Agree. Europe and US have been very free of epidemics for a long time. So travel between the two has been quite free of measures that get implemented in epidemics or dangerous endemic diseases. But – anyone moving to UK has always had to keep their pet dog in quarantine for eight weeks I think to prevent rabies. And we had quarantine hospitals on different man-made islands around the Ellis Island processing center for the 20% of arrivals who were inspected for one disease or another.

    2. Plus, those vaccines actually work.

  21. Good thing we voted the fascist out of office.

    1. Are you really pushing the same bullshit thread after thread thinking it is indicative of all of america? Is this another fire extinguisher claim from you?

      1. From white mikes link.

        St. Luke’s is the only Treasure Valley health system known to have implemented crisis standards.

      2. 44% of the 632 patients admitted at St. Luke’s hospitals have tested positive for COVID-19.

        In the Saint Al’s system, 33% of the 484 hospitalized patients have COVID-19.

        Note: neither claim says for covid.

        Good work white Mike.

    2. Except that article sounds like it’s talking about an emergency while admitting there actually isn’t one. It’s saying that there might be a problem if X,Y and Z happen and the stars align just right.

      Heavens! they might even have to call their supplier: “While there is not an immediate shortage of oxygen, there is a tremendous amount of growing stress to the supply chain network,”
      So no actual shortage, but supply chains might be ‘stressed’ soon.

      This is just like the last bullshit article about Idaho you posted, the article is about anticipating horrible possibilities rather than actual issues.

      1. I don’t think he reads past the headlines.

        1. Bumfuck, Idaho is the metaphor for a place that is so remote that nobody gives a shit about it. The Seattle Times and White Mike Friday use it as their exemplar.

          They deserve nothing but derision and scorn.

  22. TSA is in a real bind now. Do they require people to go through the nude xray while masking or demasking? What if a suicide bomber carries an exploding mask? If shoes AND masks have to go through the xray machine on the same tray will they have to shut the airport down for a half hour while they desanitize everything?

    1. Unless I have to go somewhere more than a 3 hour drive away and be back the same day, or cross an ocean, I will drive. So, I only fly if I absolutely have to and haven’t since before Covid. With airlines trying to squeeze in as many passengers as they can while nickel and diming me for everything, I can’t say I miss flying

    2. Yeah, the TSA. The ones that let like 95% of test weapons through their screening. The ones that have always reacted after the fact. The ones that caused check-ins to go to 2-3 hours for security theatrics. The ones that pay minimum wages to minimally trained cop-wanna-be personnel to harass and bully the public. The ones that aid LEOs in confiscating any serious amount of cash being carried for any reason. Those people.

  23. I support free helicopter rides for Democrats.

  24. This is even a question??? The answer is NO. You do NOT restrict people’s movements in the USA. It is insane. It is insane to entertain it. It is not based in science. It is called social credit system.

  25. It’s an interesting point, but it would be more accurate if the vaccination wore off at the end of the flight. Since the benefits of having people vaccinated will lead to less deaths after the flight is over, a better article title might have been “Could Mandating Vaccines for Air Travelers Cost More Lives Than It Saves during the length of the trip?”

    If this causes an extra million people to get vaccinated because they have to fly, the overall number of deaths would probably go down.

  26. Not to mention the unintended consequences of mandatory testing. Now, testing before travel is a good idea; better to find out before embarking on a trip (especially to another country) than after. But mandate testing, with strict requirements on the type of test and the timing of the specimen collection, and guess what happens? People get 2, or 3 tests just to ensure one comes back on time. Waste of resources. Then they hand out tests willy-nilly at libraries and the like. People hoard them “in case they need them” and of course they run out in 5 minutes.

  27. There should be a mandate that all Government Officials (elected or appointed) and employees take and pass a basic math, economics and limitations to government power test prior to each law, regulation or executive order takes effect.

    The test results should be part of the public record and they should be required to take the test prior to each and every instance. Considering that most elected officials have relatively small salaries compared to the millions the tend to accumulate while in office, we should throw in a ethics and corruption course.

    Perhaps we should also add that they are fired and their position is eliminated if they fail more than three times. This would have the benefit of removing incompetent people and reduce the size of government.

    Of course this would stall the creation of new laws and regulations because it is very apparent that the vase majority would fail miserably. I see this a win-win situation. We win because they can’t pass bad laws and regulations and government self-destroys itself restoring the power to the individual.

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