Glenn Greenwald on (Lack of) Equality Under the Law

Helen Shibut

This past week I read Glenn Greenwald’s book “With Liberty and Justice for Some,” a scathing attack on the devolution of basic rule of law in the United States, which has accelerated enormously under the Bush 43 and Obama administrations. Greenwald pointed to former President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon as the watershed moment for elite immunity to prosecution in America. Things only got worse from there as elites in both government and the private sector were granted retroactive immunity for “violating the privacy rights of their customers and committing clear felonies during George W. Bush’s administration (64). Not only are most cases of complaints about warrantless wiretapping and other kinds of government spying on its own citizens totally ignored, those that go to court are almost always doomed. The plaintiffs in such cases are ordinary Americans without access to millions of dollars to pay for top lawyers. The defendants, the telecom companies that assist the government in its illegal acts, have access not only to expensive lawyers, but also to the law itself. Elites in the banking industry can expect the same preferential treatment, because many of them were once in government, and will probably continue to move back and forth between the private and public sectors. Though Greenwald sees deregulation of the financial sector as the ultimate evil created by this too-cozy relationship, I see a more clear connection between “the political class’s loyalty and subservience to Wall Street” and the bailouts of big banks we’ve seen in the past few years.
But even Wall Street and the big telecoms aren’t as removed from basic justice under the law as members of the past two administrations. The Bush 43 administration authorized torture for suspected terrorists despite the fact that the methods they used were clear violations of both federal and international law. President Obama has shamelessly shielded Bush and his advisors from any kind of prosecution by saying that the torture perpetrated by the Bush regime is a state secret, and therefore too sensitive for the courts to hear. And both Bush and Obama have blatantly ignored the Bill of Rights by demanding the ability to indefinitely detain American citizens and anyone else suspected of terrorism, without charging them with a crime.
Greenwald’s book presents a frightening picture of how those in our government and their well-connected friends manage to stay out of legal hot water by rewriting the law for themselves. This situation is dangerous for the average American, who has no such privilege. In fact, the United States now imprisons a higher percentage of its people than any other country (that includes Russia, China, Rwanda, Cuba…). When the average person in America risks jail time for possession of small quantities of marijuana while the rich and powerful enjoy total immunity for felonies like torture, it’s time to reexamine our national identity and remind ourselves of the importance of equality under the law. 


Why the Republicans Lost, and Why They Deserved It

Helen Shibut

            To state the obvious, the Republicans lost because they didn’t get enough votes (specifically, electoral votes based on states’ popular votes). For the most part, this wasn’t because people were particularly fond of President Obama’s positions on the economy, foreign policy and social issues. The Republican Party systematically worked to alienate many of its own natural supporters and focused on trying to make everyone believe it wasn’t the worst of the two major parties.
            Many young people were first attracted to the Republican Party because they believed the party offered fiscal common sense that the Democrats lacked. Growing up in a devout Republican household, I was told that “the Republicans are the party of responsibility, and the Democrats are the party of irresponsibility.” But increasingly, when Republicans say “responsibility,” they mean spending government dollars on wars and Medicare, and when they say “irresponsibility,” they mean welfare and the Affordable Care Act. “Responsibility” is the drug war and foreign aid, and “irresponsibility” is Planned Parenthood and green energy.
            As a candidate, Ron Paul defined these terms very differently. He said that responsibility means not spending money you don’t have. He pointed out that our entitlements and wars are financially unsustainable, and that the federal government has a terrible track record of keeping costs in check. He questioned US involvement in other countries, and whether it’s really in our best interest to have a military eight times larger than any other country’s. He called on the Republican Party to focus on real spending cuts instead of on how people conduct their personal lives.
            Many people thought these ideas made a lot of sense, but the GOP went beyond ignoring them, actively pushing Paul and his supporters out of their party. Some Paulites held out and voted for Romney, in the hope that his business savvy would translate into a marginally more balanced budget. Others, feeling frustrated and defeated, voted for Obama, because at least he told them the truth: he wanted to keep spending and borrowing. Many looked to the Libertarian Party as a way to send a message that the two major parties are so corrupt that another group needs to come in and clean up after them. But I think that many of Paul’s supporters ultimately chose not to vote at all, feeling like the system is rigged against them and in favor of people who promise not to cut anything, and instead project rosy budgets for the future, when growth is higher than ever and taxes produce more than enough revenue to pay for everyone’s everything.
            As America’s debt problem becomes progressively more impossible to ignore, it seems obvious that one of the current major parties will recognize the need to embrace common sense budget solutions. But since that seems unlikely, I hope that the Libertarian Party, which has often been plagued by infighting, will pull together to incorporate a broad range of ideas about how to allow free people and free markets to solve the country’s problems. 


Interview with Roger Baker

Helen Shibut

Last week I interviewed Roger Baker, a Harrisonburg City Council candidate. Baker does not have a campaign website, so it was difficult to find his positions outside of candidate forums. Fortunately, he was willing to sit down with me to inform the JMU community about his views.

I agreed with Baker's belief that raising the meals tax was not the right decision for how to deal with unfunded mandates coming from Richmond, but I thought he was incorrect when he said that the private sector could not provide a golf course better than the city government. In our interview, Baker said that a private golf course in the area is close to going out of business, while the Harrisonburg one is doing well. In fact, if a private golf course ran the same kind of deficit that the public one does, it would have gone out of business years ago.

Madison Liberty does not endorse political candidates at any level.


Are YOU A Terrorist Suspect?

Helen Shibut

            Does the government suspect that you might be a terrorist?
            When the United States passed the USA PATRIOT Act following the September 11th attacks, it empowered the states to create “fusion centers” to collect information on citizens who the states suspect might be involved in terrorist activity. The fusion centers coordinate with the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland security to keep an eye on suspicious individuals. So what exactly can get you a file at one of these centers?
            Adam Schwartz of the ACLU looked through some reports from different states’ fusion centers. In Maryland, people who oppose the death penalty are scrutinized. In Missouri, Ron Paul supporters and people who dare to have the popular “Don’t Tread on Me” flags outside their homes are considered possible domestic terrorist threats. Here in Virginia, all it takes is involvement in one of the state’s historically black colleges, because the fusion center considers them such institutions dens of dangerous radicalism.
            I looked at the Virginia Fusion Center website to see if I could find out about any specific files. I didn’t have much luck. When I opened the page, a video entitled “Cost of Freedom, Fighting Terrorism” started playing at the bottom of the screen, complete with ominous music and images of terrorist attacks. The video explained how the PATRIOT Act emerged in an attempt to alleviate citizens’ fear of terrorism. The website told me how to submit a Suspicious Incident Report if I noticed any of the “7 Signs of Terrorism.”
            Ironically, several of the “7 Signs” pointed to the fusion center itself as a domestic terrorist threat. Here are the signs that point to this threat (these are taken directly from the Virginia Fusion Center website! )

-“Surveillance: Recording or monitoring activities. May include drawing diagrams, note taking, use of cameras, binoculars or other vision-enhancing devices or possessing floor plans or blueprints of key facilities.” 
-“Elicitation: Attempts to obtain operation, security and personnel-related information regarding a key facility. May be made by mail, fax, e-mail, telephone or in person.”
-“Acquiring Supplies: Attempts to improperly acquire items that could be used in a terrorist act. May include the acquisition of explosives, weapons, harmful chemicals, flight manuals, law enforcement or military equipment, uniforms, identification badges or the equipment to manufacture false identification.”
-“Suspicious Persons: Someone who does not appear to belong in a workplace, neighborhood or business establishment due to their behavior, including unusual questions or statements they make.”

            Perhaps I should be worried—according to the website, it sounds like a potential terrorist organization could be compiling a secret file on me!
            In all seriousness, the fact that our government identifies organizations and people that conduct surveillance on innocent people and try to find out details about their personal lives as suspicious, but sees no problem with performing these activities itself, is a little creepy. If our government discovered that China or Russia had a similar program, it would attack them for gross violations of civil liberties. Regardless of your political affiliation or whether you engage in any peaceable activities that the government might frown upon, all freedom-loving Americans have a responsibility to stand up to their government when it gets out of hand. That means protesting irresponsible government spending, poorly thought out wars, and perhaps most of all, violations of civil liberties and privacy. A government that spies on its own people is a government not to be trusted.


The Real Way To Save

Helen Shibut

         In the second presidential debate last night, there was plenty of intellectual dishonesty coming from both sides. But the most striking instance of this was President Obama’s promise to reduce deficits and create jobs “using the savings from ending wars.”
         Wars cost money. A lot of money. In the past, America has had to go to war to defend itself against actual threats, and the money for those wars just had to be spent. For example, if our founding fathers had not fought the Revolutionary War because they did not want to spend the money, then we would not be independent from Great Britain right now. But the conflicts we are engaged in now, toppling dictators in the Middle East, some of whom only came to power because of our influence, are just simply not worth the money.
         Deciding not to go to war is not the same thing as saving money. By President Obama’s logic, the fact that we did not invade France this year means that we saved a few billion dollars, or whatever such a war would have cost us. Not spending money on wars and other programs that we do not need is not saving money—it just means we are not spending more.
         President Obama and Governor Romney need to get serious about what saving money really means. Saving means cutting unnecessary spending, not just refusing to pile on more spending. Serious saving requires being honest about the fact that our entitlement programs are unsustainable. You would not know it from the rhetoric, but we simply cannot keep benefits the same for all current retirees and people close to retirement. We have to make cuts now, not just promise cuts for future generations. 


Interview with Richard Baugh

Helen Shibut

This past week I interviewed Richard Baugh, the current mayor of Harrisonburg. Baugh is up for reelection in November. Most JMU students are fairly ignorant of the responsibilities and scope of our local government, and in this interview Baugh gives us a look at some of the projects he is involved with.

As a libertarian, I worry about the size of government at all levels, and local government is no exception. In this clip, Baugh discusses his reasoning for hiring a new food and beverage vendor for the city-owned golf course and voting to raise the meals tax.

The sound quality is rather poor, but the interview should be intelligible throughout. Thanks for understanding!

Madison Liberty does not endorse political candidates at any level.


Meet More Libertarians

Helen Shibut

As a libertarian, sometimes it can feel like meeting politically like-minded people is impossible. When I worked in Karen Kwiatkowski's congressional campaign in the spring, I went to dozens of Republican events, which were dominated by people who had a drastically different view of the Republican Party than I did. Some were already avid Romney supporters, and others were more liberty minded but felt that the Republican Party could turn itself around and get back to being the party of small government. I tend to think we need a different approach.

The Rocktown Libertarians are a group that meets once a month and is made up of people who believe that the two major parties are so far gone that America needs a third party to step up and be a responsible alternative.  Going to their meeting last night was a breath of fresh air for me. If you're interested in attending a meeting, contact Marc Montoni at

If you need Gary Johnson signs, posters, or bumper stickers, please feel free to email me at .  Madison Liberty does not endorse candidates at any level, but I know that a lot of our readers are actively campaigning this year, so feel free to let me know if you need help getting materials. 

Photo courtesy of Marc Montoni. 


Madison Liberty Hosts Judge Gray

 Helen Shibut

           Madison Liberty hosted Libertarian vice presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray Monday and he spoke to a mid-size gathering of students and locals about the campaign he and presidential candidate Gary Johnson are running.  Though most polls suggest Obama and Romney will take the large majority of votes, Gray said the two are “running to win” in a year when many Americans are feeling disillusioned with the two major parties.  An important part of the Libertarian Party's strategy is getting Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, in the presidential debates and Gray in the vice presidential one.  This would raise awareness of the real issues and prove to Americans that there is a strong third choice, according to Gray.  He also said that he and Johnson are “more qualified” than any of the other candidates, especially on foreign policy issues.

            Gray went on to argue that the Libertarian ticket is the only one with a serious plan to end the tremendous deficit spending of the last several years, and that a Johnson administration would “hold [Congress’] feet to the fire” when it comes to making real cuts and balancing the budget immediately, in 2013. 

            Audience members had a chance to pick up Gary Johnson palm cards, posters, and other promotional materials following the speech, and Judge Gray remained on the Commons for more than half an hour after speaking to answer questions and pose for photos with supporters.


Paul Ryan Comes to the Valley

Helen Shibut

On Friday, I had the opportunity to see Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.  While waiting for Ryan to arrive I spoke with Andy East, an ardent Ryan supporter who works at a packaging supply company in the area.  East said he’s voting Romney- Ryan because they “[support] agriculture and the family culture deeply rooted in the valley, and smaller government.” Most of the people in the crowd seemed to agree—many wore hats that said “Coal=Jobs” and nearly everyone was decked out in Romney gear. In his speech, Ryan, like pretty much every major politician in recent memory, spoke about his goal of energy independence.  He called the coal industry a “jobs machine,” to great cheers from the crowd. 

Ryan also discussed a need to cut federal spending for both the benefit of future generations and the economy today.  To my disappointment, he failed to mention any cuts, and instead reiterated his belief that the United States needs a still-stronger military.  Ryan’s statement that he and Romney “believe in peace through strength” made it sound like our enormous military presence worldwide is keeping us safer, when recent events seem to indicate otherwise.

The high point of Ryan’s speech was his criticism of the Federal Reserve’s pledge of more quantitative easing, which will inevitably lead to more inflation.  Ryan’s statement that “sugar high economics is no substitute for pro-growth economics” was on point and gave a libertarian like me something to agree with him about. 


Battle of the Conventions

Helen Shibut

            The conventions are over, and I’m sure you’re all very upset that you’ll have to wait an entire four more years for more.  But don’t worry—the 2012 fun isn’t over yet!  We still need to pick a winner, or shall I say,  a not-the-worst loser.  Take a look at my scoring.

+2  The Republicans get a couple points for Romney’s above-average-for-him speech in which he finally mentioned his Mormon faith and gave some background about his family.  He was obviously trying to combat those pesky rumors that he’s actually a robot, and I think he dispelled that fear for many Americans. I really wish Romney had used Clint Eastwood’s talk-to-the-chair routine.  That would’ve really showed off another side of him.

-1  The Republican Party blatantly brought out of every woman they could drag to Tampa in an attempt to get rid of the War on Women stigma.  Ann Romney’s speech was solid—in fact, most of the speeches were—but I couldn’t help agreeing with Nancy Pelosi (shiver) when a few days later she asked at the DNC “Where are the women?” speaking of the Republican Party.

-[a lot] Where was Ron Paul?  A tribute video isn’t enough for the man who made the gold standard and Audit the Fed cool to a bunch of college students, who usually have to see the Internet being attacked to care about politics. And what was with the bigwig Republicans not even counting (or for that matter, seating) all his delegates?  Clearly the party thinks smart people don’t vote.  I hope third parties and write-ins send them a big message this November. 

Total Score: somewhere in the negatives

+1 Obama’s speech wasn’t his best, but it was better than most of what we saw at the RNC.  He focused on the question of whether he or Romney could be trusted to do a better job (a legitimate question) instead of whether he’s actually been making progress. He mocked the Republicans over unpopular tax cut proposals.  The audience loved it, but I still think he got upstaged by Michelle.  Good for her.

+3 Bill Clinton made his most ringing endorsement of Obama yet.  Clinton apparently has gained significant popularity since his time out of office, and even though the economic policies he promoted while in office look nothing like Obama’s, he managed to tie them together into one big package of hope and responsibility.  Forward!

-5 Maybe this is unfair because of my more general opinion of Elizabeth Warren, but I thought her speech was tired and depressing.  However, she made the very true statement that Americans have been “fooled by student loans and cheated on mortgages.”  She neglected to mention who was responsible for the trickery (who dolled out those loans and mortgages?), but framed America’s problems as evil pranks pulled by big, fat capitalists. 

Total Score: -2, which is probably enough to beat the Republicans this round.  But really, is anyone a winner in these convention charades? Madison Liberty doesn't endorse candidates of any party, and neither of these conventions made me resentful of that rule.


Thoughts on the ACA Ruling

Luke Wachob

Emotions have been running high over health care for several years
now. The constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act
heightened those emotions even further, threatening to plunge the
country into an angry ocean of angst-ridden Tweets. Yesterday, the Supreme
Court affirmed the “Obamacare” Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act in a 5-4 ruling, only placing limits on its provisions dealing
with Medicaid funds. As of this morning, the world still spins.

I don’t think I have the expertise to bash the Court on a complicated
issue like ACA, nor could I give commentary on the entire case. Don’t
use me as your news source! Instead here are the three most compelling aspects of today’s ruling. I’ll also test if we can blame this on 9/11, because that’s what American politics is all about.

1)      The individual mandate violates the Constitution, but it doesn’t.

Anyone waiting for the decision to come out yesterday noticed that CNN and
Fox News both initially reported that the mandate had been struck
down. This error is surprising from major outlets, but not too
surprising when analyzing the decision: the Court found that the
Commerce Clause cannot be used to mandate that someone health insurance.
This is the decision libertarians were looking for. However, the Court
bought the government’s back-up-to-the-back-up-argument* that the
mandate is Constitutional because it’s actually just a tax. Of course,
President Obama made clear many times during the bill’s passage that
it was not a tax, and this shifting of the law’s designation to fit
the convenience of the administration (it’s not a tax when we need the
public to support it, it is a tax when we need the Court to uphold it)
can only upset anyone with faith in democracy.  It certainly seems
unfair, anyway, that the White House was able to call it a mandate to
get it through Congress, then call it a tax to get it through the
Court. But still, today’s ruling is not as bad as a ruling under the
Commerce Clause may have been.

2)      The Court’s only ‘partisan’ when it disagrees with you

Where the individual judges ended up is interesting. Chief Justice
John Roberts joined the liberal justices in upholding the mandate as a
tax, while swing-vote Anthony Kennedy** enthusiastically joined the
conservatives. Had the 5-4 split occurred with Roberts and Kennedy on
opposite sides, the Internet would’ve exploded with cries of
partisanship. But which side would have been acting in a partisan
manner and which one would’ve been objectively applying the
Constitution? We’d never settle that question. This ruling once again
shows that the Court, while clearly sensitive to both public opinion
and partisan politics, is the least political branch of the three***.
The fact that the ruling was predicted by so few, and that the
justices fell on sides of the issue that experts didn’t anticipate,
shows that public anger aimed at the Court is based in a lot of
ignorance. Let’s not lose the lesson here: You can disagree with the Court, but don’t hate and don’t assume you know what they’re thinking.

3)      Can Congress give a private entity the power to tax?

The liberal enthusiasm for this decision is disheartening to me. ACA
is more corporate welfare than health care. Does the bill secure
universal coverage? No. But it is a handy subsidy for health insurance
companies. The Court’s ruling that ACA is constitutional seems to
suggest that the government may tell citizens: “buy this product, or
pay this penalty.” I’ve been lectured on corporate greed and the
cronyism that influences national policy from liberals for years, and
yet they mostly cheer for a bill that makes it illegal to not buy into
that corporate system. This ruling marries big business and government in a much more profound, unprecedented, and impactful way than Citizen’s United*****. Occupy should be flipping out right now!!

4)      So, can we blame this on 9/11?

Conservatives and libertarians are no doubt most disappointed with
Chief Justice John Roberts. That a conservative would affirm ACA is
surprising – indeed, as surprising as a conservative supporting the
Patriot Act, or national education policy, or unfunded mandates to the
states. I list those examples for a reason: we may not have had
today’s decision if not for George W. Bush. When faced with open seats on the bench, President Bush needed a conservative who would affirm the Bush Administration’s War on Terror policies. Roberts was that candidate. Had Bush been a true conservative, or had we not undertaken the War on Terror, or had other conservatives not sold out on their principles to either be a teammate or score patriotism points post-9/11 with Constitutional travesties like the Patriot Act, John Roberts likely would not have been selected. A different conservative probably would have joined Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Kennedy in viewing the mandate as distinct from a tax. So, yes, we can blame this on 9/11.

* The first back-up argument was that the law was ‘necessary and
proper’ which the Court also struck down – presumably while chuckling
softly to themselves.

** Kennedy has been a libertarian's hero during this process. In oral
arguments, he said that the mandate fundamentally changes the
relationship between the individual and the government, and in today’s
dissent he accuses the majority of “a vast judicial overreaching”. My
heart sank when I heard the ruling, but Kennedy’s opening statement in the dissent,
“In our view, the act before us is invalid in its entirety”, cheered
me back up some. Somebody gets it.

*** Four, if you count the administrative bureaucracy, and five, if you count the military independently.

**** Interesting side note on Citizen’s United: According to a Reason article today, less than 1% of money donated to Super PACs has been from publically traded corporations. 86% has come from individuals, who have been making unlimited political contributions since 1976.


Healthcare Fiasco

Helen Shibut

            The Supreme Court demonstrated today that it is just as ignorant and arrogant about the federal government’s authority to require by law what it deems “good” behavior as the legislative and executive branches.  Chief Justice Roberts justified upholding the individual mandate portion of the law by saying the penalty exacted on people who do not want to follow the mandate is a tax, and therefore constitutionally authorized.
            Taxes are already levied on income, property, consumption, and pretty much every other area of American life.  What the government had not yet taxed was the act of not participating in some forms of commerce.  Today, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of taxation to include failure to consume the “right” goods and services. 
            In past years, Americans have paid consumption taxes on goods that our government does not think we should have, or thinks we should have less of, like cigarettes and gasoline.  In the future, we can expect to also be taxed for not spending “enough” on the “right” things—think vegetables, gym memberships, and charitable donations. 
            As a libertarian, I believe individuals should control how they spend their money and what risks they should take with their lives, so long as they do not threaten the freedom to others to do the same.  But even if I did not support freedom and self-governance on principle, the federal government’s abysmal track record on making decisions about how other people’s money should be spent would be enough to make me fearful of this kind of law. 
Our lawmakers are arrogant enough to believe that only they can make good decisions about what products we should buy—that is why they subsidize some products and place tariffs and taxes on others.  But the subsidized goods and services are often poor quality—think ethanol gasoline.   Subsidies hardly ever disappear, even when they become obviously harmful, because the small number of people who benefit from them fight vigorously to keep receiving taxpayer money. 
A healthcare system that is heavily controlled by the federal government is doomed to function—and fail-- like most other government-controlled enterprises.  Cronyism will abound as a few wealthy providers lobby the government to become approved national health providers and to place roadblocks in front of smaller companies.  The ensuing lack of competition will lead to more expensive and poorer quality goods and services. 
            The Republican and Libertarian parties will no doubt try to impress upon voters the massive implications of the healthcare law as we draw closer to the November elections.  Americans are already wary of big government healthcare, as indicated by declining public support for the law.  The Supreme Court ruling is certainly a victory for President Obama today, but it may inspire Americans to consider if the change we’ve gotten, as promised by the President, is the change we want for the next four years. 


Interview with Dr. James Lark

Helen Shibut

Dr. Lark served as the Libertarian Party National Chairman from 2000 to 2002.  He now coordinates college libertarian groups and serves as a systems engineering professor at the University of Virginia. This is an interview I did with him a couple weeks ago.


Why Incumbents Keep Winning

Helen Shibut

            It seems like almost no one approves of the job Congress is doing, but the same people keep getting elected over and over again.  Why is that?

            Incumbents in Congress get all sorts of privileges that help them win elections, even when they are unpopular.  Most congressional districts lean heavily towards one party, so general elections are often uncompetitive.  Incumbents get so much help from the government that they often don’t face challenges from within their own parties.  In Virginia, incumbents who are challenged by members of their own parties get to choose to compete in either a primary election or a convention.  Primaries are more expensive for taxpayers, but they allow incumbents to more effectively utilize another privilege, called franking.  The franking privilege allows incumbents to use tax dollars to mail out campaign literature.  According to the Congressional Research Service, members of Congress spend $18.1 million on mass mailings every year. 

            Madison Liberty is based in Harrisonburg, a relatively conservative district in which most voters say they support cutting spending and limiting government.  Our representative, Congressman Goodlatte, is currently engaged in a primary race with Karen Kwiatkowski and is fighting for his eleventh term.  Like most Congressional incumbents, his campaign is taking advantage of the franking privilege.

            Since March, I have attempted to contact Mr. Goodlatte’s office by phone and email, but so far I haven’t gotten a response.  I encourage readers to email Mr. Goodlatte about how he’s using the franking privilege.  Regardless of whom we support, I hope most of us can agree that elections should be fair, and that candidates should do their own fundraising, rather than taking from the taxpayers. 

Madison Liberty does not endorse any candidate.  Writers like myself may personally advocate for campaigns, but as a group we are nonpartisan and choose to focus on educating people about the benefits of free markets, individual liberty, and non-interventionism. 


Voting on Your Rights

Luke Wachob

North Carolina recently passed constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and civil unions for homosexual couples. The ban passed not as an act of some nefarious wayward legislator or backroom deals between powerful interests – it was voted on by citizens, with a 61%-39% margin approving the ban.
We like the concept of democracy – a government we have a say in, but doesn’t this show the superiority of a rights-based system? Defenders of gay marriage and rights for nontraditional couples are rightfully outraged at this abuse of their rights. “Gay rights are human rights” is a phrase I’ve seen liberally tossed around Facebook.
             What room is there for voting in a matter of rights? As libertarians, we understand that democracy was never the ideal of the American Revolution. We don’t vote on the laws – we vote on representatives. We don’t vote for President – we vote for the Electoral College. We don’t vote for the Supreme Court – they’re entirely undemocratic, appointed for life by the President.
             The point is that voting isn’t intrinsically good. People can, and do, use democratic systems to abuse minorities, something James Madison warned about extensively in The Federalist Papers. In North Carolina, there was enough ignorance and hatred to strip the rights of countless people, whose only crime was being honest with themselves. The law should apply to everyone fairly, regardless of what a majority of citizens say. We recognize the evils of cliques and peer pressure while growing up, so why do we embrace majority rule as adults?
             I don’t have to convince you that the NC vote was a tragedy. I have to convince you that it’s emblematic of the problems with democracy. It sounds good to have a government “of and by the people”, but wouldn’t you rather have rights you knew you could rely on? We shouldn’t vote on people’s rights. They’re only rights because they can’t be taken away. Otherwise they would be privileges – should loving the person of your choice be a privilege reserved for those society finds most appealing? Of course not.
             Democracy is a dangerous, dangerous tool. If we apply it too liberally, we’ll end up in a world devoid of freedom. Or, as Madison put it, a “tyranny of the majority”. Thanks, but no thanks – I’ll keep my rights.


First Comes Love...

Helen Shibut

            As we move closer to another election, President Obama must try to defend his opposition to marriage equality.  Vice President Biden’s supportive comments about gay marriage this week only highlight the president’s failure to support same-sex marriage, though he does support civil unions and rightly worked to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Very often, opposition to same-sex marriage comes from the religious right.  Obama’s hesitancy to support marriage equality even as it becomes more politically popular seems to indicate similarly grounded objections.  Given the trends in popular opinion and politicians’ tendency to shift with it, it’s surprising that Ron Paul is the only Republican or Democratic presidential candidate who says marriage should be legal for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. 
            Libertarians like Paul offer a fresh perspective by asking the same question they always do:  Wait, why is the government involved in this at all?  As religious objectors to gay marriage always remind us, our founders emphasized separation of Church and State.  Throughout most of history, people saw marriage as a religious institution, and because their religious leaders and texts opposed homosexuality, gay marriage usually wasn’t even up for debate.  And that’s exactly why Americans deserve marriage equality now.  Our country has grown, not just in size, but also in religious diversity.  Today we have plenty of religious groups that want to marry gays, and they should be allowed to.  The institution of marriage is not trademarked by one or two major religions, or even by Religion in general—after all, no one opposes atheists getting married. 
            Civil unions would remedy some of the prejudice in the system, like the tax benefit inequality, but they wouldn’t take care of underlying issue.  For many of us, “the pursuit of happiness” involves love and marriage.  Civil unions aren’t good enough, because the government shouldn’t get to decide when you’re happy enough. 


Stripping Away Your Rights

 Helen Shibut

           As a libertarian, I’m often frustrated with what I view as inefficient and immoral government intrusion in the economy and in people’s personal lives.  I don’t think the government should be involved in our health insurance, or for that matter, any other kind of insurance.  I don’t believe the government has any business telling people whom they can and cannot marry, or what they can and cannot put into their own bodies.  But I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, the United States is a lot more free than most countries throughout history, except in one area.
            Obviously, prisons aren’t designed to be places of freedom.  But the penal system in the United States no longer just serves the purpose of protecting free Americans from those that would use force and fraud against them.  One clear example: our government locks up people for possessing substances the government decides are bad.  Marijuana?  Bad.  Vodka?  Good.  Cigarettes?  Fine.  The line between substances that get the government’s OK and those that don’t seems pretty arbitrary—or does it?    Just looking at the demographics inside prisons, it seems that government projects like the War on Drugs are racially motivated policies, at least to some extent.  And of course, these policies are all funded with your tax dollars.  But even if all of these policies have moral and Constitutional motives and are carried out fairly, the government still owes citizens, even the accused, many rights. 
            Our founding fathers recognized the dangers that come with a government that can lock people up for violating its laws, so they included lots of protections for the accused in the Bill of Rights.  Many of these are overlooked as our police state grows. 
            Most recently, the Supreme Court case Florence v County of Burlington demonstrated our government’s willingness to step on rights it finds inconvenient.  In this case, the Court ruled that Americans who are arrested and brought to prison can be strip searched even for such minor crimes as not wearing a seatbelt.  Penal officers need no reasonable suspicion of danger to do so.  Apparently we are not as “innocent until proven guilty” as we thought.  As usual, the Court justified its ruling by saying its for our own safety (isn’t it always?). 
            The government can tell us that visually invasive strip searches are precautions rather than punishments, but I think many Americans believe that their government should not be able to humiliate and degrade them in this way without a trial, without a warrant, without any reason to expect danger, without anything. 


Hypocrisy in US Foreign Policy

Helen Shibut

            Do the young lives we sacrifice and billions of tax dollars we spend in Afghanistan make us safer?  If we traded freely with Iran, would we suddenly find ourselves under attack from atomic bombs?  Are we getting our money’s worth for all the foreign aid we give to other countries? 
            I don’t think so, certainly not, and no way. 
            The federal government’s tendency to attack other countries and topple their leaders (unconstitutionally, without a vote in Congress) doesn’t make us safer—it makes the people we attack hate us, and it pushes us further in debt.  Free trade doesn’t open us up to attacks—countries like trading because it makes them more prosperous.  Giving other countries money in the form of foreign aid is a pretty good deal for them, but I don’t think it’s helping us balance our budget.  And while our government is apparently very intent on spreading freedom in other places by killing off dictators and giving away our money, it seems to feel we need to dial down the amount of freedom in our own country. 
Our federal government tells us that laws like the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act exist to make us safer.  The Patriot Act allows the government to spy on us—the government has the power to send “national security letters” to internet providers, banks, and other institutions demanding that they provide the government with our private information (including login information for online accounts we have, bank records, and more) without our knowledge.  The NDAA allows for the “indefinite detention” of American citizens without trial.  That doesn’t make us safe.  That means we can be spied on without a warrant and imprisoned without a trial. 
It’s certainly possible that the Patriot Act helps the government catch potential criminals before they can finish their evil plans.  But by that logic, shouldn’t the federal government install cameras inside every American household?  That would cut down domestic abuse, I bet.  We don’t let the government post armed soldiers on every street corner, but wouldn’t that discourage all sorts of crime—harassment, pick-pocketing, etc.?  We don’t allow these measures because they would invade our privacy in such a visible way.  The Patriot Act lives on because we can’t keep an eye on it—it’s under the radar.  And that’s what makes it even more dangerous. 
When other countries pass similar laws that chip away at civil liberties, we condemn their leaders as tyrants.  Often, our government places sanctions on them that make it harder for them to trade.  Sometimes it sends in troops and money.  I want to see our government show that same zeal for freedom here in the United States. 


An Interesting Alternative

 Helen Shibut

           The federal government really loves money.  It borrows money.  It prints money.  And it taxes its people to get their money.  The government has a lot of experience taxing people, and it knows that people don’t generally like paying higher taxes.  The government makes taxation such a difficult process to understand that many people just don’t have the energy to look into it and do something about it.
            Government legislators haggle over taxes all the time.  They give tax breaks to some people and businesses but not to others, and oftentimes politicians will create tax loopholes for their supporters.  This isn’t fair to people who don’t have the money to contribute to politicians in high places who can influence tax legislation.  But I don’t believe wealthy Americans should not be “rewarded” with high taxes for creating strong businesses or advancing their careers.  Is there a good solution?
            No solution is perfect, but I think Americans should take a closer look at the FairTax plan (H.R.25/ S.13).  Instituting the FairTax would eliminate the need for the Internal Revenue Service and would make it more difficult for the government to increase taxes without opposition from regular Americans.  Under the FairTax, everyone would get to keep his or her entire salary—only consumption would be taxed. 
            The FairTax plan doesn’t take care of the main problem, which is that Americans are taxed too highly in order to support an inefficient and corrupt government.  But it would bring some much needed transparency to the system while eliminating the IRS, getting rid of thousands of pages of incomprehensible legislation, and making tax evasion much more difficult.  And that's a step in the right direction.  


Free Speech Wall Success

Luke Wachob

Madison Liberty built a Free Speech Wall on April 1st, 2012, and placed it on JMU’s Commons from April 2nd through April 9th. It took many long hours to build, but was well worth it for the ocean of student expression that flowed through (and beyond) its two-sided 4x8 panes over the weeklong period.

          The wall’s sprawling mess of politics, social commentary, school pride, and non sequiturs filled my heart with joy every time I walked by it. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not. This was a physical manifestation of the abstract concept of liberty: it was open to all but forced on none, it was vibrant and ever-changing, it was delightfully contradictory. And above all, it was peaceful.
          Both the wall’s content and its authors impressed me. Despite controversial views being expressed about religion and government, the wall didn’t descend into so-called “hate speech”. And no one scribbled out another’s message, instead responding to things they disagreed with by writing their own views, creating long dialogues tied together by arrows zigzagging across the Wall. More common than insults and curses were expressions of love and fraternity, aimed at individuals, the JMU community, and the entire world.
          The co-dependent relationship between freedom and peace comes as a surprise to many, but in practice we see it everywhere. JMU embraced free speech through its policies last fall, becoming a green light school for speech (according to thefire.org), and the dividends of mutual respect, harmony, and a higher class of student discourse are already being paid.
          When speech is policed and repressed, the opportunity to write or speak freely often leads to nastiness and vulgarity. Pent-up frustrations are let loose without restraint, and people can’t help but try to push limits. We all want to give The Man the middle finger, after all. JMU lets us express ourselves in our daily lives, so we don’t need to turn a Free Speech Wall into a symbol of our repressed anger and frustration. We can, and did, turn our Wall into a symbol for freedom, love, and plurality. Could college be any better?