DISCLAIMER: I do not attempt to be polite or partisan in my articles, merely truthful. If you are a partisan and believe that the letter after the name of a politician is more important then their policies, I suggest that you stop reading and leave this site immediately--there is nothing here for you.

Modern American politics are corrupt, hyper-partisan, and gridlocked, yet the mainstream media has failed to cover this as anything but politics as usual. This blog allows me to post my views, analysis and criticisms which are too confrontational for posting in mainstream outlets.

I am your host, Josh Sager--a progressive activist, political writer and occupier--and I welcome you to SarcasticLiberal.blogspot.com

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What the Persecution of Assange and Manning Reveals About the United States

© Josh Sager – August 2012

The maintenance of a free press is necessary for the preservation of a democratic society. Unless the public is made aware of the actions of its government, there is no way for citizens to hold their government accountable. If those in power are simply able to prevent the media from reporting on their bad acts, the public will never know about these abuses, and those in power will never be held accountable. In order to prevent the suppression of the press, the United States has many protections in place for whistleblowers and reporters who reveal misconduct by those who have been elected to serve the best interest of society.

The United States has regularly criticized governments which attempt to silence dissent through controlling the press. These countries, usually dictatorships, will often kidnap, falsely imprison, and torture reporters who attempt to challenge the propaganda by those in power. In such countries, the reporters’ fear of being persecuted by those in power prevents most reporters from doing anything but repeat the lies of the government. While the United States still condemns such repression of the press in foreign governments, our government has unfortunately begun to persecute those in press who reveal damaging information about it.

In the past several years, the United States government has waged a war against whistleblowers and reporters who have released damaging information about the government. The whistleblower Private Bradley Manning and the journalist Julian Assange have borne the brunt of this persecution and are still being attacked to this day.

Bradley Manning and Julian Assange

Bradley Manning was a US Army Private who released a tremendous number of documents to the press and to the site “Wikileaks”. While many of these documents were benign, some of them included evidence of terrible misconduct by the United States government. The more egregious things exposed by these leaked documents included videos of attack choppers killing unarmed civilians in Iraq (the “collateral murder” videos”) and communications discussing the torture program of United States detainees. These files had been covered up by the government, because of their damaging nature, and nobody knew about the true extent of this misconduct. Upon releasing these documents, Private Manning was detained and is currently being charged in front of a military tribunal.

At the time of his arrest in 2010, Private Manning was detained in the brig at Quantico. For most of his pre-trial imprisonment, Manning was held in solitary confinement, stripped of his clothing, and denied any contact with the outside world; these conditions are classified by our government, as well as civil rights groups, to be forms of “non-touch torture” that are banned by international agreements. While nobody deserves to be treated in this manner, the actions of the government are particularly egregious considering the fact that Manning should easily be considered a whistleblower—his exposure of government crimes classify him as a whistleblower—and the fact that Manning was held in these conditions for months before even being tried. Currently, Private Manning is charged with numerous serious charges, including “aiding the enemy”; if convicted, he will be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Julian Assange is an Australian born journalist who was one of the founders of the site “Wikileaks”. Assange created Wikileaks in order to facilitate the exposure of government misconduct and to act as a forum for people to post documents which are leaked from governments across the world. While many argue that Assange is not a journalist because he uses leaks rather than official sources, these people are wrong. The leaks posted by Wikileaks show things that official sources were not saying, and have been extremely revealing as to the true workings of governments. Assange never broke the law because he simply posted information which was given to him by his sources. Due to the nature of his site, Assange has been the target of numerous attack campaigns.

The attack campaigns on Assange and Wikileaks have been aggressive and have caused significant disruption to the sit and its founder.

The government utilized its contacts with several major banks and online payment companies to put up a financial blockade of Wikileaks; due to this blockade, many people were simply no longer allowed to donate their own money to the site. This tactic has starved Wikileaks and has caused them to operate primarily on reserve funds (gathered before the blockade).

Several individuals connected to Wikileaks have been harassed, searched, and had property taken simply due to their connection with Assange. Jacob Appelbaum, a spokesperson for Wikileaks, had his cell phone and laptop seized while going through customs; these devices were never returned to Mr. Appelbaum, and no search warrant was ever produced to justify the government’s action. An association with a journalistic organization which exposes government lies does not justify the government to violate an individual’s constitutional rights.

The most recent, and most dangerous, example of United States government harassment of Wikileaks and Assange is the case against Julian Assange. Assange has been accused of sexual misconduct by a woman in Sweden and the Swedish authorities have asked for Assange to be extradited (he is currently living in England) for questioning. While the case of sexual misconduct has yet to be adjudicated, many people believe that it is simply being used as a pretext to send Assange to the USA for detainment and torture. Assange agreed to talk to Swedish authorities in England or to go back to Sweden to face charges, but only if the government of Sweden guaranteed that they would not extradite him to the USA. As Sweden refused to agree to this, and has a history of extraditing people to the USA, it is a logical conclusion that they planned to extradite Assange to the USA. If extradited to the USA, Assange would likely find himself subject to long-term detainment and solitary confinement, if not worse treatment. Fortunately, Assange has been granted asylum by Ecuador, and it appears unlikely that he will be sent to the United States any time soon.


The persecution of whistleblowers and journalists who report on government crimes tells us one very simple, but very troubling thing: the United States may claim to support a free press but, in practice, has become willing to turn a blind eye as our government attacks those who practice true journalism.

Revealing the misconduct of our government is not an act of treachery, nor is it an attack on the United States—it is a public service and a vital component of our democracy. If the government can simply classify all of its illegal acts and criminalize those who reveal these acts, then there can be no accountability. Those who reveal the wrongdoings of our government, even at great personal risk, should be hailed as heroes and protected from consequences; without these people, our government would continue to commit crimes in our names, and we would never know about it.

Many will claim that leaks are dangerous and should be prosecuted, but these people are only half right. A whistleblower is a person who releases information on the wrongdoings or illegal conduct of the government (or a corporation) and releases it in order promote accountability; in order for somebody to be a whistleblower, the information released must reveal wrongdoing, and the leaker may not sell this information for personal profit.  If a person leaks top secret information that poses a danger to the public and has no accountability or transparency value (ex. leaking nuclear missile codes), they are not a whistleblower. Similarly, if a leaker sells their information to a corporation or a foreign country, they are a spy, not a whistleblower.

Bradley Manning and Julian Assange released information revealing wrongdoings which were covered-up by the United States government. Rather than sell this information (which would have been extremely profitable), Assange, Manning and the rest of the people working with Wikileaks, put the information out for the public to access. These people are the textbook definitions of whistleblowers (under the Whistleblower Protection Act) and any attack on them is a violation of the law.  

With the United States’ extra-legal attacks upon journalists and whistleblowers, what high ground can we stand upon while criticizing Iran or China when they repress their media? The United States government has detained without trial, tortured, and taken the property of those who have revealed its wrongdoings. In addition to what we have already done, some politicians have claimed that Assange should be classified as an “enemy combatant” and should simply rendition or assassinate him without any legal proceedings. What could other countries, even repressive regimes, do to top what the United States has done (or plans to do) to our own journalists.

To conclude, let me leave you with these two questions?
  1. What does it say about us, as a country, when the perpetrators of torture and the killers of civilians have yet to see the inside of a jail cell, while those who revealed these crimes are facing life in prison (and probably solitary confinement)?
  2. If the government is committing crimes in our names, would you rather live in ignorance or try to change things? When revealing information about government crimes is tantamount to suicide, few people will be brave enough to speak up and let you know about the misdeeds of your government.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Progressive Tactics: Perseverance Under Criticism

By Josh Sager

Modern conservatives have a remarkable, if immoral (and occasionally delusional), ability to attack their political opponents regardless of their opponents’ actual actions. In order to attack political opponents who have not committed scandal-worthy offenses, conservative hit-groups and activists (ex. Karl Rove) simply manufacture a scandal and have their conservative allies repeat it until it becomes real to the public. It matters little whether or not the attacks are factual, just as long as enough people believe in it for it to become politically dangerous.

Examples of such attack campaigns:
  • The Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth, which speciously attacked Kerry’s war record during his race against George W. Bush for the presidency.
  • The destruction of ACORN based upon altered video and false allegations that ACORN was helping pimps get their employees abortions.
  • The labeling of Barack Obama as a radical leftist, despite the fact that he has enacted a centrist agenda, much of which was copied from the Republican platform of the late twentieth century.
  • The “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal; Rep. Daryl Issa (R-CA), a conservative politician, turned a small, if regrettable, scandal into a large-scale witch-hunt that ended when reports were leaked that indicated that nothing unethical had taken place, but not before the conservative Congress voted to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt.

Progressives must keep in mind that whatever their actual policies are, the right wing will attempt to brand them as “extreme leftists” and “socialists”; given the dismally low level of public information knowledge held by the public, these labels may even stick. If such labels are unavoidable, then there is no reason for progressives to tip-toe around the issues and moderate their speech so as to avoid being labeled. Moderating progressive beliefs in order to avoid being labeled as extremely liberal will only result in the situation where progressives suggest moderate policies, yet they are inaccurately labeled as extremely liberal

Progressives should disregard all conservative criticisms and attempt to express exactly what policies they support without moderation. Given that conservatives will always label progressives as extreme, progressives lose nothing if they actually propose extreme policy changes. Even if progressives suggests extremely liberal policies, the right wing has already used extreme enough labels for moderately liberal policies that there are no descriptors left to attack truly progressive policies. After calling every Democratic policy a socialist attack on freedom, conservatives have essentially used up their vocabulary to negatively describe left-wing policies.
Put plainly: What are conservatives going to say if progressives unapologetically suggest progressive policies? Call them socialists and communists even more?

Progressives should promote the policies which they believe to be beneficial to society and should push endlessly to convince the public that they should support such policies. Moderating progressive policy based upon fear of conservative criticism is ineffective and will never lead to the end-result of truly progressive policies being enacted. It is better to truly be a progressive and to be labeled as one, than to become a moderate out of fear, only to be falsely labeled a progressive.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Progressive Tactics: Fracture the Opposition

In both war and politics, a basic, yet highly effective, tactic is to divide your enemy before a conflict. In war, this tactic involves splitting off and isolating portions of opposing forces in order to make the smaller group easier to deal with. In politics, the concept of dividing and conquering involves fracturing the opposing ideology’s factions into separate groups and utilizing their divisions to reduce the opposing party’s ability to react as a whole.

The conservative movement has virtually taken over the Republican Party, but there are real fissures within the party that can be used to split the party. The modern Republican Party is divided into several major factions: Christian conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarian conservatives, and corporate conservatives. While all of these conservative groups coexist within the conservative movement, their ideologies are often in conflict.

Here are a few examples of such conflicts between conservative factions:
  •  Libertarian conservatives often disagree with other types of conservatives and are marginalized for it; we see this division manifest in the exclusion of libertarians (ex. Ron Paul) on the national stage of the Republican Party by party elites. Libertarians don’t support the religious policies of the Christian conservatives, the cronyism of the corporate conservatives or the wars of the neoconservatives.
  • Christian conservatives are often focused upon promoting “Christian values” (attacking gays, stopping abortion, etc.) and are willing to sacrifice virtually all other policy to achieve these social goals—if economic conservatism or foreign policy conservatism conflicts with their social conservatism, Christian conservatives usually disregard foreign policy and economic policy to pursue their social policy.
By disrupting the internal unity of the opposing parties, progressives and Democrats can fracture the internal unity of the conservative movement and make it easier to win elections. In races where the eventual candidate is disliked by a major component of the conservative movement, the candidate can have a much harder time winning. Rather than vote for the lesser of evils, some conservatives may become demobilized and simply stay home. For example: if a pro-choice libertarian or corporate conservative were to gain the nomination in a locale with a significant, but not majority, presence of Christian conservatives, they would likely suffer at the polls. Regardless of the candidate’s other views, many Christian conservatives would be unable to support any candidate who supports abortion rights—they would rather not vote and lose the election to a progressive than to vote for a person who supports abortion rights.  

Once the conservative movement—a political movement with a very high level of party discipline—is  unable to retain its unity, it will be possible for progressives to convince dissatisfied (or simply more reasonable) portions of the conservative movement to break ranks and deal. As long as the conservative movement remains unified and punishes any deviation from accepted policy choices (ex. purging pro-choice conservatives), there is little hope for progressives to achieve a favorable result from political negotiations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Progressive Electoral Strategy: Promote Conservative Political Cannibalism

(c) Josh Sager - 2012

Modern conservatives have developed a highly effective and extremely well-funded strategy of using relentless attack ads to destroy their political opponents. Unfortunately, most modern progressives and Democrat have not developed their ability to attack politically as much as many conservatives. By promoting conservative infighting and fueling conservative political cannibalism, Democrats and progressives can both promote strife within the conservative movement and weaken the surviving candidate to the point where they lose the general election.  

The rise of unaccountable money in politics has led to a situation where candidates are able to shield their attack ads behind a veneer of deniability. Not only has this deniability allowed corporate interests to flood the airwaves with ads supporting “corporate friendly” candidates, but it has also allowed candidates to run negative and vicious attack ads without worrying about the blowback onto them. The climate of unaccountable attacks allows the most extreme, vicious, and well-funded politicians to simply carpet-bomb their opponents into submission.

A perfect example of how the current climate of unaccountable attack ads allows politicians to decimate each other is that of the Romney attack strategy during the 2012 Republican Primary. Romney’s super-PAC, “Restore Our Future” spent millions of dollars on negative, and often misleading, attack ads on his primary opponents. By spending many times more than any of his opponents, the Romney super-PAC systematically destroyed all opposing candidates who would threaten Romney’s candidacy.

Modern Republicans and conservatives have refined their political attack machines to the point where they are able to attack virtually anybody for virtually any perceived offense. Even politicians who have committed no real political or ethical wrongdoing are not immune to the attack machine of the right wing (ex. Jerry being “swift-boated”). Progressives and Democrats should capitalize upon the conservative attack machine’s strength by turning it upon conservative politicians.

During Republican primaries, progressive politicians and activist groups should attempt to shift the public conversation onto topics which are divisive within the conservative movement. Even with the highly homogeneous nature of the mainstream conservative movement (ex. virtually the entire movement is anti-choice), there are still ideological schisms which divide the conservatives from the extreme conservatives--one current example of such a schism is found between the neoconservative hawks and the libertarian conservatives. Despite the fact that they are part of the same party, neoconservatives support expansions in military spending, while libertarian conservatives support heavy cuts in military spending. Bringing up divisive topics (ex. military spending) during the critical time of primary season would incite conflict inside of the conservative movement and cause the different sides to expend resources to attack one another. As most conservative ads are highly negative, this tactic would allow progressives to shift conservative resources towards attacking other conservatives and surviving incoming conservative attacks.

In addition to attempting to shift the topics of public conversation during primary times, progressives should feed some damaging information on conservative politicians to their conservative opponents; this tactic is akin to supplying both sides of a conflict weapons and simply waiting on the sidelines to see both sides destroy each other. By utilizing the highly effective conservative attack machines to attack each other, progressives can conserve resources and ensure than the survivors of Republican infighting are drastically weakened during the general election.

The most common way a conservative will defend themselves from other conservatives criticizing them is to strictly adhere to all of the conservative ideology’s acceptable policy position (anti-choice, deregulation, tax cuts, etc.). Unfortunately for conservatives, many of these policies have become unpalatable to the average American voter, thus the defense against conservative criticisms is likely to be damaging in general election. Through being forced so far out on the fringe in order to survive the primary, conservative politicians can be forced into the position of winning the primary only to lose the election.  

Progressive politicians should keep extremely damaging political attacks in their pocket—so as not to reduce their effectiveness in attacking the surviving conservative during the primary season—but should leak more minor damaging information to opposing conservatives during primary campaigns. Through inciting conservatives to batter one-another with minor scandals during the primary campaigns, then releasing the truly damaging attacks upon the conservative survivor during the general election, progressives and Democrats can inflict maximum political damage on their opponents with minimal exposure and resource consumption.

Through promoting conservative political cannibalism, progressives and Democrats can ensure that conservative candidates reach the general election greatly weakened and vulnerable to a coup de grace. By causing conservative infighting, rather than attacking conservatives directly, progressives can deflect criticisms over negative campaigning while ensuring that the attacks are not seen as partisan.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Many Americans Misunderstand the Separation of Church and State

© Josh Sager – August 2012

The United States is a purely secular country and was founded on the ideal that government should be completely separated from any religious sect. The term “separation of church and state”—a quote from Thomas Jefferson—is the most common label for the freedom of religion guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the constitution. Unfortunately, many modern citizens and elected officials have begun to twist the ideal of the 1st Amendment to facilitate religious discrimination and the imposition of religious laws over non-believers.

The first sentence of the 1st Amendment reads as such:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
-- 1st Amendment of the Constitution—

The 1st Amendment establishes a double-edged separation of church and state; one side of this separation prevents religion from taking control over the government, while the other side prevents government from interfering with religious expression.

The first edge of the separation of church and state prevents the state from establishing a religion. No legislation, either on the federal or state level, is constitutionally allowed to sanction or officially enforce a religious ideology; any law based upon a religious doctrine (ex. Muslim Sharia laws) is considered a violation of this amendment. In addition to preventing religious laws from being enacted, this separation prevents and official endorsement of a religion by the state (ex. mandating public prayer), and prevents the establishment of a state religion/church.

The Second edge of the separation of church and state ensures that the government cannot interfere with personal religious practices. Except in extreme cases (ex. human sacrifice), the government is barred from stopping of obstructing religious expression by individuals.

In modern politics, several right wing factions have begun to attack the very idea of the separation of church and state. Numerous political groups and politicians (ex. Rick Santorum) have begun to actively deny that this separation exists, and openly seek to establish religious laws. Unfortunately, three fundamental misunderstandings surrounding the separation of church and state have aided these individuals in their quest to erode the 1st Amendment and impose their religious doctrines over secular society:

The separation of church and state does not prevent the government from stopping people from imposing their religion on others

The right to free exercise of religion is a personal right, and you have no constitutional right to impose your religion over anybody else. The government is not only allowed, but obligated, to step in and prevent an individual or organization from violating the religious practices of another. Just as everybody has the right to practice their religion, they also have the right not to be interfered with by other religions.

Many religious Americans are upset when their attempts to impose their religious practices over others are thwarted-they claim that their religious overreach is actually a religious practice and see any attempt to protect society from their religion to be an attack on religious liberty.

In the last several years, there have been large debates over the rights of homosexuals to marry, and the right of employers to refuse to cover contraception; both of these issues are examples of religious individuals attempting to impose their religion on society. If an employer’s religious beliefs dictate that they should not take contraception, they may choose not to take contraception, but they may not refuse to offer contraception in their employees’ insurance plans. If an individual believes that homosexuality is a sin and that gay marriage immoral, they are perfectly within their rights not to be gay and not to marry somebody of the same sex; however, they have no right to refuse others of the right to be gay or get married.

Religious beliefs do not exempt the religious from having to comply with civil laws

Even with the 1st Amendment separation of church and state, an individual’s religious beliefs do not supersede the obligation to follow civil laws. Any exercise of religious beliefs that violates secular laws or endangers other citizens is not protected under the aegis of religious freedom.

Functionally speaking, this limitation on religious expression prevents people from shielding anti-social behavior by claiming that it is protected by religious freedom. For example: despite the fact that the bible actively promotes the execution of gays, rape, slavery, human sacrifice and genocide, these anti-social behaviors are not protected religious practices.

In modern politics, many politicians have begun attempting to carve religious exemptions into the civil law and allow religious individuals to have their own set of laws. The most pervasive examples of these exemptions are the attempts to insert conscience clauses into state medical laws. Numerous states have passed, or tried to pass, laws which would allow Christian doctors to refuse contraception or abortion services, even if this would risk the life of the mother.

Put plainly, the recent attempts to allow religious Americans to live under a different set of rules than secular Americans are wrong. You must follow the civil laws, regardless of whether or not they conflict with personal religious convictions. If you are a doctor who does not want to perform abortions, you have no right to take a job which would put you into the situation where you must perform an abortion to protect the mother, but then refuse to do your job—you can still be a doctor, but not one that may be required to perform an abortion (ex. and anesthesiologist). Amish individuals have the right to their beliefs, but they have no right to sue for discrimination when they are hired as a bus driver yet refuse to drive a bus because of their religion

Freedom of religion is also the freedom from religion

Just as the separation of church and state protects the right of individuals to practice their religion, it also protects the right of an individual to practice no religion. Atheism is not a religion, but it is accorded the same legal rights of any religious group. The right to not believe in god is protected and any attempt to infringe upon this right should be fought with the same level of intensity as any other type of religious bigotry.

Any attempt to impose institutional prayer or inscribe the idea of a god upon the public, regardless of the religion, is a violation of the separation of church and state. Those who argue that they can mandate prayer because they don’t specify a religion which must be practiced (ex. official school prayer), are simply wrong and must be fought.  

The most extreme examples of bigotry against atheists can be found in cases of custody battles where the atheist parent loses custody of their children. In several instances (ex. Craig Scarbury of Illinois), judges have used atheism as a justification of removing custody of children from parents during divorce preceding—the religious parent is given custody over the child, regardless of the other factors, based entirely upon their religion. This situation is analogous to a Jewish parent losing custody because the judge of the case supports the Christian parent, yet there is comparably little outcry when the victim of this discrimination is an atheist.


A great many Americans misunderstand the idea of the separation of church and state. The misunderstandings surrounding this separation have opened the door to religious zealots imposing their religion over civil society. Religion is not a shield which allows individuals to ignore the law, nor is it a protected religious practice for an individual to impose their religion over others. Put plainly, until a vast majority of Americans understand the separation of church and state better, we will continue to see politicians attempt to perform end-runs around the 1st Amendment.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The New Kleptocracy

© Josh Sager – August 2012

Throughout history, humans have arranged themselves into societies based around hierarchy and a system of selecting who is allowed to wield power—these social constructs are called governments. At its best, a government exists to provide the common defense, preserve the rule of law, promote the social welfare, and do the things which private industry cannot do equitably or efficiently (ex. maintaining the roads). At its worst, a government can kill millions, promote exploitation, repress its population, and syphon resources from the citizens to the elite.

The United States was originally designed to be a form of representative democracy called a constitutional republic. In this form of government, citizens elect politicians to represent their interests, both on the state and federal levels—these politicians are directly accountable to their constituents. Unfortunately, as money has crept into politics and promoted an ever increasing centralization of power into the hands of a small group of elites, the United States has started to look less like a constitutional republic and more like a kleptocracy.

A Kleptocracy is a type of government where those in power have turned their authority towards the goal of syphoning wealth from the general public and giving it to the elite; the elite who benefit in a kleptocracy include those in government as well as those with significant power in the private sector. Through utilizing public funds, tax revenue, and government force for personal gain, the elite in a kleptocracy are able to accrue huge amounts of wealth and perpetuate their own political power.

I argue that the government of the United States is beginning to resemble a kleptocracy because it has begun to exhibit several of the classic characteristics which define a kleptocratic government. While no one of these characteristics alone classifies a government as a kleptocracy, the combination of characteristics paints a truly stark picture about how this country may be transforming from a democracy into a kleptocracy:

Characteristic #1: The elite in society utilize political power to enrich themselves on the backs of everybody else

In a kleptocracy, the elite in society create a vicious cycle of wealth accrual and political power. During the creation of a kleptocracy, the elite use their wealth and influence to capture the government and gain the ability to manipulate policy. Once the elite capture the government, they change policy to benefit themselves and begin to utilize public money to increase their personal profits. As their personal fortunes grow, the elite kleptocrats complete the cycle by using a portion of the money gained from controlling the government to perpetuate their political power. Once this cycle is initiated, it is very difficult to stop and usually results in widespread income inequality within a country.

During the last decade, elites in the United States have been extremely successful in manipulating public policy to favor their interests. By changing public policy into a method of increasing their wealth (even at the expense of the country), American elites have begun to make the United States look very much like a kleptocracy:    
  • Tax rates on wealthy Americans and corporations are at a record low and it appears virtually impossible that this will change significantly in the near future. This decrease in tax income taken from the rich is economically unjustifiable, yet has been pushed by many wealthy individuals, as well as the politicians who are bought by them.
  • Corporate accountability has been drastically reduced in the United States; this reduction benefits American elites because it allows their corporate interests to produce more profit for them, without having to worry about ethics or the danger of being sued. The perfect example of this destruction of corporate accountability is the lack of charges and consequences on the banks after the 2008 economic crash. Despite the presence of a great deal of evidence proving the fraud perpetrated by the banks in the lead-up to the 2008 crash, no bankers have been prosecuted and no banks have been broken up.
  • Government contract are given to corporations which have economic connections to political elites. In the last decade, American elites have directed ever more government contracts to corporations which they control, or which give them money. There are innumerable examples of this cronyism, but the largest example is that of Cheney and Halliburton. While Cheney—the ex-CEO and current stockholder of Halliburton—was vice president, Halliburton received billions in government contracts and preferential treatment in environmental regulations.
Public policy in the United States has been co-opted and redirected to increase the wealth of a small minority of elites. The good of society has taken a backseat to interests of the elite and the United States is suffering for it. When the political and economic elite of a society corrupt policy to the degree which we have seen in recent years, the corrupted government ceases to be a populist government and becomes a kleptocracy.

Characteristic #2: Political power is condensed so that a small group of elites hold a majority of the control over government

In order for the elite in a kleptocracy to sustain their policy agendas and control over the government, they must keep political and economic power centralized within a small group of people. In most cases, kleptocrats will gain control over a government by either becoming the political power structure (ex. become a dictator) or utilizing their resources to gain control over a political party (ex. buying numerous politicians). The control over government held by elites in a kleptocracy allows them to manipulate public policy and sustain their political power.

In the United States, the rise of the super-PAC and demise of campaign finance laws are the two situations which have driven our democracy towards kleptocracy; we still have the illusion of democracy, but any choice which we are given is likely to either be bought by the elites, or unlikely to be elected because of massive opposition by moneyed interests. Elites and corporate organizations exert political power through giving money (Read: bribes) to politicians as well as through running political ads to influence voters.

During election seasons, moneyed interests pour huge amounts of money into running deceptive ads. Deceptive advertisements trick people into voting against their own interest and into voting for the interests of those in power. Given the abysmally low level of knowledge that the general public has surrounding public policy and civics, it is very easy for deceptive ads to sway marginal (independent) voters away from non-bought politicians.

Once in office, American politicians are faced with the choice to vote their conscience, doing what is best for their constituents, and the choice to enrich themselves by doing the bidding of the elite. Unfortunately, this lure of money is most often too strong for people to resist, and most politicians are bought by somebody. Once bought, these politicians no longer work for the people, but rather become the employees of moneyed elites.

With the elimination of campaign finance regulations allowing a tsunami of secret money to flood the political scene, American politics have become terrible corrupt. Money may not buy everything, but, if you have enough, it can buy a government. If the kleptocrats behind the politicians are the true power, election result don’t matter—any corrupt politician voted out of office will simply be replaced by the next puppet of the kleptocratic elite.  

Characteristic #3: Programs which benefit those who are not elite are cut in order to increase the amount of money available to be shifted to the elite

In a kleptocracy, the goal of government is not to help the population or sustain a functioning society, but rather to keep feeding the elites in control of society. To a kleptocrat, any program which does not benefit them is waste and must be cut, regardless of its benefit to society. Any money “wasted” on the non-elites of society is money which the kleptocrats could be putting into their pockets.

Over the past several years, mainstream American politics has been focused upon cutting the deficit and dealing with the national debt. Political elites (and corporate interests) have convinced large portions of the population that cutting from social programs and entitlements is necessary in order to protect the country from a debt crisis. At the same time that these elites are proposing draconian cuts to programs which benefit the average American, they protect programs which give money to corporations and refuse to consider any possible tax increases on the wealthy; corporate subsidies, military contracts, and tax cuts on the wealthy bear the lion’s share of the blame for the current budget problems of the United States, yet political elites are focused upon cutting the small and effective social programs which support average Americans. Put plainly, these political elites are not looking out for the best interest of the country and are simply helping (or part of) the kleptocratic class which has captured the American government.

If American political elites truly wished to deal with the deficit, they wouldn’t be protecting the multi-trillion dollar Bush tax cuts—tax cuts with no actual value to society—while proposing cutting millions of dollars from the school lunch program. The only possible justifications for such budget choices are either absolute ignorance of economics or a desire to protect the elites at the detriment of everybody else. Any programs not benefiting the American elite are being cut, just so that the elites are not forced to support anybody else in society and to free up even more money to give to them through tax cuts (ex. the Ryan Budget).

Characteristic #4: Dissent from the status-quo is squashed by institutions of the state.

Since a kleptocracy’s goal is to pander to the interests of an elite few, any dissent by the public is automatically portrayed as extreme, delegitimized and suppressed. Kleptocrats don’t care about the opinions of their citizens, nor do they wish for people to get organized in order to protect their interests. Any such dissent has the potential to disrupt the status quo, thus reducing personal profits by the kleptocrat or even resulting in an overthrow of the kleptocracy. In order to suppress uprising, kleptocrats will often utilize a combination of media control and police force in order to disrupt protesters and prevent the average citizens from becoming mobilized.

The reaction to the “Occupy” movement by American police forces and federal agencies has illustrated just how a kleptocracy will deal with protests against the status quo. Regardless of ones’ opinions on protest movements—like the Occupy Movement—it is absolutely inarguable that they have the right to assemble and protest in the United States. Regardless of the constitutional protections on their ability to protest, the Occupy movement spreads a message which is very inconvenient to kleptocratic elites, thus elites dedicated a significant amount of effort into attacking the Occupiers.

At the outset of the Occupy Movement, the mainstream media either refused to cover the protests or covered them in a dismissive manner. Common memes that were used to attack the Occupiers included calling them “dirty hippies”, “bums”, “unfocused”, or disorganized and not having a coherent message. Media corporations are often controlled by the very elites who control politics, so it is well within these elites’ power to affect media coverage.

In concert with the media blackout on the Occupy Movement, police and federal law enforcement agencies were tasked with suppressing the occupations. The Occupiers faced numerous mass-arrests and police harassment in cities across the country; these arrests were coordinated across cities by federal agencies, despite the fact that there was no justification for such federal involvement.

In modern America, protests which challenge the status quo are constantly harried by federal and state interference. In essence, protest is allowed only if it supports or does not threaten the interests of those in power (ex. abortion protests are okay because they don’t attack the moneyed elite).  


In the new American kleptocracy, elites are given every economic advantage and have near-absolute control over policy. Public policy is becoming increasingly tailored to the benefit of the elite kleptocrats, and the rest of society is left to suffer the consequences of neglect. Unless we do something to change the current path of our country, we are facing a situation where our country will become little more than a field for the wealthy to harvest and our citizens little more than serfs, indentured to those with all of the power in society.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Attack of the Franken-Mosquitoes?

© Josh Sager – July 2012

Mosquitoes are a common pest in many areas around the worlds and have been known to carry numerous diseases which can be transmitted to humans. Efforts to reduce mosquito populations and combat the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses have taken many forms, including the draining of swamps and the uses of chemical pesticides, treated mosquito nets, and scent-based repellants. In recent years, the research surrounding mosquito control has begun to include the use of genetic modification on mosquitoes.

Many species of mosquitoes carry diseases which can cripple or kill humans. Among the diseases which can be transmitted by mosquitoes, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever and Malaria have been the most devastating on human life; millions of people have died due to these diseases. In the face of such serious diseases, governments have taken extreme measures to combat the top vector (mode of transmission) of transmission—the bite of a common mosquito.

In the past, mosquito outbreaks have been combatted through conventional means of killing mosquitoes and interrupting the mosquito life-cycle. These methods often are time consuming (draining swamps), expensive, of limited effectiveness (mosquito netting), or involve the use of toxic chemicals (pesticide spraying). With the rise of genetically engineered organisms, scientists have begun developing a pest control method that they claim is cheap, effective, and completely devoid of toxic chemicals: the creation of mosquitoes with a killer gene that prevents them from successfully breeding in the wild.

The genetically modified mosquitoes which are closest to widespread use are created by the UK based Oxitec. These mosquitoes are designed to fight Dengue fever by diminishing the local population of mosquitoes through a suicide gene. Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes are designed to die if they do not have access to the antibiotic tetracycline and to be unsuccessful in producing viable offspring. While they are growing in a lab, these mosquitoes are constantly exposed to tetracycline but, once released, they begin to die off. These mosquitoes are intended to breed with normal mosquitoes and produce dead offspring, thus gradually killing off the species of mosquito and halting the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses.

The Oxitec mosquitoes have been released in several locations, including the Grand Cayman Islands, Brazil, and Key West (Florida). The initial results of these tests suggest that the mosquitoes are successful in decreasing the populations of mosquitoes and that the GE mosquitoes have no effect on humans (all of the GE mosquitoes are male, thus will not bite humans). Unfortunately, these tests only show a very limited picture of the results of GE mosquito usage and give no information about the long-term effects of such genetic modifications.

While a good idea in theory, there are many problems which can be created when humans release a genetically modified or alien (non-indigenous) species into an environment. Among the most severe potential problems, the is the possibility of unanticipated genetic expressions in the modified mosquitoes, the potential for new allergic reactions, and the ripple effect of altering a link in the ecosystem are the three largest issues.   

When humans modify an organism on the genetic level, there is always the potential for unforeseen genetic expressions. Simply put, this means that a genetic alteration to an organism may have effects other than the one intended by the scientist. For example: altering a gene which controls the reproductive viability of an organism may also change the metabolism or immune system of the organism in a way which was never intended. As current level of human knowledge about the genetic codes of organisms is not perfect, there is always the potential for accidents when we attempt to alter the genetics of an organism.

It is possible that the genetic alterations of mosquitoes only do what is intended, but there is also the possibility that we will discover side effects—side effects which are impossible to fix once the GE mosquitoes have been released into the wild. There are literally innumerable ways in which genetic modifications can express in unforeseen ways—some of these expressions are harmless, but many are dangerous—but here are a few of the worst-case scenarios:
  •  It is possible that human alterations to these mosquitoes could make them capable of carrying diseases which are not currently spread by mosquitoes (ex. HIV); we may eradicate the spread of some diseases, only to facilitate the transmission of worse ones in the mutated mosquitoes.
  • As not all mutated larvae die, it is possible that these mosquitoes will simply become a new species and replace the current mosquitoes. It is possible that these mosquitoes would be hardier (due to their exposures to antibiotics) than the non-mutated mosquitoes, or otherwise more dangerous than the current species.
  • We do not know whether or not GE mosquitoes have similar environmental tolerances to non-mutated ones, thus there is the possibility that the alterations to mosquitoes will allow them to live in normally inhospitable climate—thus spreading the vector of disease to a larger geographic area (ex. increasing mosquito populations in colder areas).

Ironically, the largest danger of genetically modified mosquitoes was near-perfectly expressed in the 1997 movie “Mimic”. In this movie, cockroaches begin to carry a deadly disease and need to be exterminated—the method of extermination chosen is the use of a genetically modified cockroach which is toxic to other cockroaches and sterile. While this plan works to kill off the carrier cockroaches, the modifications to the “Judas” cockroaches have the unanticipated side effect of causing them to grow to immense sizes, breed quickly, and loosely mimic human behavior; needless to say, the new breed of roaches proves to be very dangerous, and arguably a worse threat to humans than the original disease. While this movie’s content is dramatically over-inflated, it demonstrates the very real problem that nobody can predict the final result of genetic modification.

In addition to the potential for unforeseen genetic expressions, there is the potential that the new mosquitoes may provoke allergic reactions to some people. Insect bites and stings are common sources of allergic reactions in humans and it is entirely possible for the modified mosquitoes to provoke a reaction in humans. As all of the mosquitoes released are male (which don’t bite humans), there was never any testing to see whether or not the modified mosquitoes pose a significant risk for allergic reactions in humans. Some offspring of these mosquitoes survive, and many of these will inevitably be females that will bite humans; if there is a potential for serious allergic reactions, or even anaphylactic shock, due to bites from the female offspring, it could pose a serious health risk. It would be terribly ironic if, in an attempt to stop the transmission of mosquito-borne illnesses, we were to develop a type of mosquito which causes severe reactions in humans even without a disease.

The unforeseen danger of anaphylactic shock due to genetically modified organisms is a real risk and has already cost lives. In the 1990s, scientists developed a soybean with increased nutrients derived from the genetic material of a Brazil nut. Unfortunately, since some people are allergic to nuts, this led to deaths from people unknowingly ingesting Brazil nut genetic material through their soybeans. If such an unforeseen allergic reaction were to happen with mosquitoes, the results would be extremely hazardous and could cause many deaths before it was gotten under control.

Even if the genetically modified mosquitoes are completely successful and there are no unforeseen genetic expressions or allergic reactions, there is a danger inherent to removing a link in the ecosystem. While they are a danger to us, mosquitoes are a vital component of an ecosystem and serve as a food supply for many other organisms. If the mosquito populations were to be decimated insectivores (ex. bats) would suffer. In the vacuum created by the loss of mosquitoes, organisms which feed on mosquitoes would lose a significant source of food and would likely decline in population; this decrease in population would further distort the natural ecosystem and could unbalance it.

The demise of a species of mosquitoes could not only affect insectivores, but also other pests. It is possible that the depopulation of a species of mosquito would increase the population of other pests—such as biting flies or other species of mosquitos. In the event of another species being given an advantage due to the demise of mosquitoes, it is very likely that an entirely different set of problems will be created; the new dominant species may carry other diseases or be more pervasive than the now-decimated mosquitoes, thus we may create more problems than we solve.

Ultimately, it is important that any genetically modified organism go through vigorous, independent, and long-term testing before it is released into the wild. Genetic engineering is a new and dangerous technology, thus it must be handled with care. Unfortunately, the Oxitec genetically engineered mosquitoes have not been tested rigorously, yet have been released within the United States. Only time will tell as to the effects of this release, and we must only hope that this experiment does not result in worse problems than we currently are facing due to mosquito-borne illnesses.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Criminalization of Students - Occupier Version

© Josh Sager – January 2012

Students in the United States are currently facing numerous problems with their educational system; these problems are widely varied and include issues ranging from the shrinking school budgets and resources to the decrease in extra-curricular activities. Out of all of the problems facing students in primary schools, the criminalization of students is arguably the most dangerous and costly. Unfortunately, there has been little to no public scrutiny on the criminalization of students, nor the motives behind this criminalization.

In recent years, behavioral problems in primary school students have transitioned from civil school offenses, punished by detentions, to criminal offenses, punished through fines and even jail time. Students who get in trouble, even for non-violent offenses, are increasingly likely to face jail time or significant fines rather than detentions or suspensions; this criminalization of student behaviors has been labeled the “school to prison pipeline” by activist groups, and has become a significant issue in some areas of the United States.

Here are just a few examples of the school to prison pipeline:
  • A 13 year old student in Florida was arrested for farting in class, and charged with “disrupting school functions”.
  • A 12 year old student in New York was handcuffed and arrested for writing “I love my friends Abby and Faith” on her desk in erasable pencil.
  • A 10 year old student in Florida was arrested and charged with “possession of a weapon on school property” (a felony), for bringing a steak knife to school in order to cut a part of her lunch—a piece of steak.
  • Two 8 year olds in New Jersey were arrested and charged for making “terroristic threats” when they used paper guns during a game of “cops and robbers”

The school to prison pipeline only serves to victimize students for normal childhood behavior and enforce draconian punishments on even minor discipline problems. While farting, doodling, fidgeting, or acting out in class may be irritating to teachers, there is no way that these things should become criminal offenses. Student discipline problems must be punished, but this punishment should be limited to detentions, suspensions or, in serious cases, expulsions.

When minor disciplinary offenses are criminalized, the students and families suffer immense consequences. Criminal records, even for trivial offenses, will follow a student around forever and can have terrible disruptive effects on later life. Fines and court fees are often heavily burdensome on families, particularly when the families are poor, and act as a backdoor tax on children’s education.

If a student is criminally charged, rather than simply given a detention, it goes on their record and can haunt them forever. Any student who has a criminal record often has a very difficult time obtaining financial assistance for college, and can often have a difficult time getting a job. Criminal records limit the options available to students and can often result in a huge decrease in lifetime achievement. Due to the severity of the consequences for criminalizing student behavior, it makes no sense to punish minor offenses criminally; some student offenses, such as assault, drug dealing, and theft, should be dealt with by the police, but farting in class is obviously not worthy of such criminal scrutiny.

Criminalizing student behavior often involves massive fines and court costs levied against the child’s families. Fines for “disruptive” conduct—such as farting, fidgeting, being late, or having untied shoes—and court costs have become commonplace in many schools which embrace the criminalization of student offenses; such fines and court costs quickly add up and can easily cost families hundreds of dollars a year. Families which are struggling in the modern economic woes of the United States cannot afford such costs and may face the choice between putting food on the table and paying the fines accrued when their child farted in class. If the fines and costs are not paid, the students will often face increased consequences and can sometimes be arrested and jailed for a failure to pay.

Fines and court costs are a type of backdoor tax which acts as a highly regressive source of income for schools. By increasing fines, schools are able to raise money from students’ families and politicians are able to claim that they aren’t raising taxes; as raising taxes is toxic in many conservative areas of the country (ex. Texas), fines and court costs are an effective way to fund schools on the backs of the least fortunate. By fining the poor and middle class students, schools are able to redistribute costs away from the general public and allow politicians to justify cutting taxes on the wealthy. Schools are given a financial motive to criminalize their disciplinary systems, and students are simply the innocent bystanders who are bled dry.

Not only is the criminalization of student offenses costly to students and their families, but it fosters discrimination. Recent studies by the Department of Education have shown that minority students are over 3 times more likely to receive punishments for discipline problems in schools; this problem is exacerbated further in many areas of the south, where racism and latent bigotry often increase this disparity between punishments. When combined with the disparities in punishment based upon race, the criminalization of students leads to a massive problem for minority students. Minority students are far more likely to face criminal punishments than white students and thus are far more likely to suffer the severe consequences associated with criminalized school offenses. 

The situation which is created during the criminalization of students is one of a two tiered educational system: on top, there are the wealthy and white students who avoid punishment and are not likely to suffer severe criminal offenses; on the bottom, there are the poor and minority students who are arrested, fined, jailed, and labeled as criminals simply for acting like the children that they are.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Debunking the Term: “Economic Uncertainty” --- Part 2: Reversing the "Uncertainty" Narrative

Step 2: Reversing the “Uncertainty” Narrative
After debunking the conservative arguments surrounding uncertainty, people will naturally ask about the true causes of uncertainty. In order to fill the rhetorical void which was created when the conservative uncertainty argument was debunked, Progressives and Democrats must point out the true causes of crippling economic uncertainty: Warmongering, economic collapses, hostage-taking politics, a lack of banking/financial regulations, and several other destabilizing situations which are often caused by conservative policies.

War is a leading cause of economic uncertainty, particularly when the conflict happens in a country with significant energy resources. Countries which are engage in violent civil unrest or inter-national conflict often suffer uncertainty due to potential damage to factories, shops, or the transportation infrastructure, as well as a general decrease in the economic welfare of the local population. If producers are unable to ensure that their factories are secure and that their goods will safely reach their customers, a large amount of uncertainty is created (ex. Somalia doesn’t have a good atmosphere for economic investment). While conflicts are usually localized to a country, thus the uncertainty created by war is usually limited, violent conflicts within energy producing countries can have wide-reaching economic consequences.

When conflict creates uncertainty in an energy producing country, the production of coal or oil is disrupted and the disruption ripples into the global economy. Every country requires energy to function, much of which is currently derived from fossil fuels, and a disruption of the supply of such fuels makes all production more expensive.

Conservatives, particularly neo-conservatives, have a record of promoting increased aggression abroad—the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are two examples of such conflicts. The promotion of war, particularly in the Middle East (a common target for modern conservative aggression), increases the global uncertainty over oil process and has increased the price of gas in the world market.

A lack of proper economic/banking regulations has been shown to increase uncertainty when the lack of regulations causes excessive gambling, financial fraud, or even economic collapses. Without proper regulations, investors cannot be certain that they are buying a quality good, thus they are less likely to invest (uncertainty). Even if investment is sustained, fraud and financial gambling destabilize the economic system and can even cause an economic crash. An economic crash creates huge amounts of uncertainty because it makes people fear for their jobs, stifles investment, depresses market demand, and makes it more difficult to predict the future health of the economy. The ultimate modern example of how a lack of regulations can dramatically increase uncertainty is the 2008 economic crisis: Inadequate regulations on banks, a fusion of commercial and investment banks (caused by the repeal of Glass-Steagall) and culture of banking fraud, combined to cause the 2008 economic crisis which nearly destroyed the world economy—destruction which devastated the American economy and has placed Europe on the brink of economic catastrophe.

American conservatives support the widespread diminishing of regulations, if not the complete abolition of regulatory powers held by the government. As we saw in 2008, this stance creates the circumstances which lead to widespread economic uncertainty and damage to the economy. Progressives need to draw the direct link between conservative deregulation and the economic crises which so dramatically increase economic uncertainty.

Modern American conservatives have utilized the tactic of political hostage-taking in order to push their agenda while in the minority. On numerous occasions—such as the debt ceiling fights, Bush Tax cuts re-authorization fight, and the 2011/12 budget fights—the conservative Republicans have refused to deal in good faith and have virtually held the good of the country hostage. By refusing to deal and steering the country towards a figurative cliff, the Republicans have forced Democrats to capitulate to conservative demands. While effective as a negotiating tactic, the use of political hostage-taking dramatically increases economic uncertainty and damages the country’s wellbeing.

When the public cannot be certain that the United States has a functioning government and will honor its debts, economic uncertainty is dramatically increased. The United States government is a tremendous force in the American and world economies, thus any dysfunction in American governance has the potential to translate into the economic market. During times of government conflict, government contracts to corporations, payments to government workers and the continuation of government services (ex. the TSA or postal services) are threatened; if government workers cannot be certain that they will be paid and government contractors face the potential that their services will be abruptly cancelled, uncertainty is dramatically increased.

Progressives must reverse the conservative “uncertainty” narrative and attach the stigma of uncertainty to the results of conservative policy. It is undeniable that conservative deregulation, warmongering and hostage-taking tactics increase economic uncertainty, but the general public has yet to understand this. Through the use of simple and understandable arguments, progressives must explain how it is not progressive policies which increase uncertainty but rather conservative ones.