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?


Free Speech Wall

Madison Liberty invites YOU to write on our Free Speech Wall any day this week to celebrate your Constitutional rights!  The wall is located on the Commons next to D-Hall, and it will be there all week.  Come make your voice heard!


Climate Change Deniers Need Treatment, Claims Professor

Helen Shibut

Apparently, climate change is such an enormous problem that the only rational solution is to “treat” scientific dissidents as if they suffer from some bizarre and serious mental illness.  At least that’s what Professor Kari Norgaard of the University of Oregon argued at the Planet Under Pressure Conference this week.  Norgaard argues that people are too comfortable with their own beliefs about climate change, and that “this habituation must be recognized and simultaneously addressed at the individual, cultural and societal level.”  No doubt it is the state that must lead the charge against individuals who disagree with Norgaard, and in fact, her paper, co-authored by Robert Brulle and Randolph Haluza-Delay, complains about the lack of Congressional focus on climate change. 
            Norgaard’s reasoning is dangerous as well as flawed in the practical sense.  From a civil liberties standpoint, the state obviously should not be in the business of forcing people to believe in climate change or to spend their money, in the form of taxes, on anything else they oppose.  Whether climate change is real or not has nothing to do with the fact that people have the right to their own beliefs.  The government does not have the authority to punish people for being atheists or Christians, though obviously both positions cannot be equally true.  As far as I know, neither of those groups has demanded a state-sponsored conversion effort to rid the nation of dangerous misconceptions.
            Furthermore, if Norgaard really wants to see something done about global climate change, she should not look to the federal government, whose Department of Defense is the world’s largest polluter.   The federal government is known for its tendency to consider itself above its own rules, and carbon emissions standards are no exception.  If she wants to see any real movement in the direction she wants, Norgaard should convince (not coerce!) those in the private sector of the merits of her ideas.  She might make better headway if she stopped equating those who disagree with her radical ideas with racists.