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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marching in Solidarity with Occupy Oakland

Marching in Solidarity with Occupy Oakland
By Josh Sager on 1/31/12 • Categorized as Featured Articles,Local News,National News

Protestors from Occupy Boston marching down Boylston Street in solidarity with Occupy Oakland (Photo: Doug Greene)
To see more photos of this march, click here.
On the night of January 28th, a small group of Occupy Oakland protesters entered an abandoned building, the out-of-use Kaiser Convention Center.  Their intent was to set up a space to be used by the 99%; according to the organizers of this action, they intended to provide medical, educational and housing services to anyone who asked.
In response to the occupation of the abandoned building, Oakland police kettled (sectioned off) the entire area and began arresting participants in the action en masse. Over 400 people were arrested – including at least six members of the press – and there have been reports of violence on both sides. A small number of occupiers have been reported to have thrown bottles and burnt an American flag while the police used flash bang/concussion grenades as well as tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag guns.
In support of the Occupy protesters in Oakland, the occupiers of Boston took to the streets the following night, January 29th, for a solidarity march. Between 100 and 150 protesters attended this solidarity march, which was led through the streets by a large police presence.
The march began at around 7:00 pm at Copley Sq. after a General Assembly in the nearby Community Church of Boston, and ended in Dewey Square – the site of Occupy Boston’s former encampment – at around 10:00 pm. The group moved in a large circle, from Copley all the way down Newbury St., and eventually back along Boylston St. to the now de-camped Dewey Sq.
Unlike many marches conducted by the Occupy Boston protesters, this march was primarily focused upon police brutality rather than broader economic issues. Numerous chants of “From Oakland to Greece, disarm the police” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, police brutality has got to go” were used by the protesters to express their displeasure at the treatment of their allies in Oakland.
Overall, tensions were high among the protesters, due to the perceived injustice of the massive police action on primarily peaceful protesters. Boston police were also on guard, due to the perceived danger of an aggressive march in Boston.
Despite the conflict in Oakland increasing pressure on police and occupiers, there were no instances of violence or harassment on either side of the march. The police led the march along its route and diverted traffic so as to prevent traffic build-up, and the protesters stayed on the appointed route. The only point where the protesters broke from the route was when they detoured through the Boston Common to Dewey Square, but this was taken in stride by both sides. Once the march arrived at Dewey Sq., the protesters stayed a while, played some music, and eventually dispersed.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Updated Private Prisons Analysis

Private Prisons in the USA
By Josh Sager

All credit to Chris Slane for the above cartoon

Starting in the mid- nineteen eighties, private corporations began owning and operating fully privatized prison facilities; these privatized prisons operate similar to hotels, in that they are contracted by the state to house/care for prisoners and are paid by the prisoner. Unlike public prisons, which may contract out food, maintenance or medical services to private companies, private prisons are wholly run by large corporations under the profit motive. A vast majority of private prisons in the USA are under the ownership of two major companies: CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group. As of this year, these two corporations are operating over 250 prisons, which house over 100,000 prisoners, for revenue of nearly $3 billion.

When analyzing private prisons in the USA, there are several main concerns: The cost to the taxpayers, the perverse incentive problem, and the civil rights of those imprisoned.

 The primary argument that is used by supporters of private prisons is that private prisons are less expensive to taxpayers than those which are government run; this claim is not only false, but is actually contrary to the truth. Numerous studies in states where private prisons have taken substantial numbers of inmates have shown that private prisons cost the taxpayers more than government run ones. A recent study by the Arizona Dept. of Corrections shows that not only do private prisons cost more to operate, by they also push disabled and mentally ill prisoners back to publically run prisons to cut costs (http://www.azcorrections.gov/adc/reports/ADC_FY2010_PerCapitaRep.pdf). Unlike normal prisons, private prisons are run for a profit, thus the money taken as profit by the corporation is by it definition, administrative waste. The recent spreading of private prisons throughout the southern USA has little to do with their efficiency, but it might have something to do with the fact (Reported by the Justice Policy Institute: http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/gaming_the_system.pdf) that they spend several million dollars per year in lobbying and campaign contribution to politicians.

The perverse incentive problem that plagues the private prison industry is simple: Private prisons make money by imprisoning people and cutting costs, thus they make more money by ensuring that more people are imprisoned and by reducing the quality of living conditions inside of the prison. As corporations will always increase profit when given a chance, there is a perverse incentive that pushes these companies to lobby for measures that are designed to imprison more people, regardless of the ideals of the justice system.

The private prison lobby, as well as associated groups such as ALEC, have advocated for increased immigration laws, harsher sentencing requirements, three-strikes laws, and the continuation of the war on drugs. Harsher immigration and drug laws benefit private prisons because they drastically increase the number of non-violent offenders sent to jail. The Arizona SB1070 “Papers Please” law is the most visible example of how these criminalization laws work; by criminalizing illegal immigration, all detained under this law are sent to private prisons rather than released, thus these prisons have more prisoners. Non-violent offenders are easier to imprison than violent offenders because they are lower risk, thus private prisons can make a high profit off of these people. By lobbying states to increase the spread of three-strike laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the harshness of sentencing, prisoners are sent to jail for longer periods of time. As private prisons rely upon occupancy to make a profit, longer prison stays equal more sustainable profits for the private prisons.

In addition to the legal methods by which private prisons increase profits, there have been cases where they have resorted to highly unethical and illegal methods. The recent scandal in Pennsylvania, where juvenile court judges were bribed by private prisons in order to sentence children to private prison facilities, is the perfect example of how the perverse incentive distorts the justice system. Several judges were paid by the local private prison to sentence innocent or first time offending minors to substantial prison sentences; the fact that these judges were paid by the head has led to the case being called the “kids for cash” scandal. While the judges in this case were found out, disbarred, and charged, the private prison is still operating to this day. When profit overshadows law in the justice system, our entire system of law is called into question.

Like any business, private prisons seek to cut costs and maximize revenue in order to increase profit to the shareholders. For private prisons, cost cutting measures include employing non-union guards, reducing the quality of services available to prisoners, and decreasing the quality of goods used in the operation of the prison. Non-union guards are paid less than unionized guards, thus private prisons can reduce the cost of staffing their prisons at the expense of the quality of their workforce. Private prisons often buy the least expensive goods and services available in the keeping of their prisoners in order to turn the maximum profit. As prisoners are literally a captive marketplace, they cannot go out and get superior goods if those given to them are inferior; due to this, private prisons supply only the bare minimum under the law so as to reduce their expenses. Educational and treatment programs in private prisons are virtually nonexistent due to their higher costs. As private prisons are run for a profit, they don’t care about the guilt, rehabilitation or comfort of their population, thus they do only the minimum required to fulfill their contract with the state.

In addition to cutting costs, private prisons often charge inmates for additional services and run prison labor programs in order to increase their profits. Phone calls are an example of a service that private prisons have been known to sell to their population at exorbitant rates for a profit; an example of this situation is present in a Georgia CCA prison, where they currently charge inmates $5 a minute for phone calls (including those to the inmates’ legal counsel). By massively overcharging for goods such as phone calls, private prisons are able to increase profits far beyond that of their basic contract with the state, thus even further increasing the total cost of such prisons to society as a whole.

Most private prisons use inmate labor in order to make additional profits. Private prisons contract with other corporations, or even the state, to supply extremely cheap (less than $10 a week in some cases) physical labor; farming/landscaping, customer service, and unskilled construction of goods are three areas of industry where private prisons have supplied significant prison labor to. By paying prisoners a fraction of the minimum wage, private prisons are able to undercut all other labor contractors and ensure increased profits.

The civil rights of prisoners in private prisons are not as strongly protected as those of prisoners in publically run prisons. In the recent case of Minneci v Pollard, the Supreme Court decided that prisoners of private prisons are not able to sue the corporation which owns a prison if that prison infringes upon their rights; these prisoners can sue the individual guards of the prison, but neither the state nor the prison corporation are not liable for damages. When combined with the perverse incentive to imprison more people and to cut costs, the decrease in liability to the private prisons creates a situation where huge profits are garnered through imprisoning a significant portion of the US population. These corporations lobby politicians through donations in order to change the laws to imprison more people, regardless of the social impact. Illegal immigrants, the poor and minorities are often the most affected by the policies enacted to increase private prison profits. Once people are imprisoned, they have little recourse when their rights are infringed upon. The vicious cycle of imprisonment and profit targets those who have the smallest voices in society, for the benefit of those who own the correction corporations and people stand silent because these people are “only criminals” and “deserve it”; most don’t realize that for as long as people profit from imprisoning others and politicians are willing to sell their vote, this cycle will continue and may one day entrap even those who try their hardest to obey the law.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Political Models: Football and Baseball

Redistribution and Equality: Football versus baseball example

By Josh Sager

Those who study politics often look for models in order to test the effects of policy in society as a whole in the micro scale. Two important concepts, both politically and for the health of our nation as a whole, are equality of opportunity and economic redistribution in order to promote social welfare. The concept of equality of opportunity is simply “does everybody in society have access to a chance for success given work”. The world of sports in the USA gives us two great models of the effects of economic redistribution and equality of opportunity.

Baseball and football are two of America’s most beloved pastimes, having tens of millions of fans each, spread across all fifty states. As I grew up in Boston, I have seen firsthand the borderline religious fervor given to the sports of baseball and football; one only need attend a single Patriots or Red Sox game in order to see the level of dedication some feel towards their local sports team. Despite their mutual popularity, baseball and football, are run in completely different manners and have the potential to illustrate the effects of equality and redistribution on a society as a whole.

Major League Baseball is organized around multiple competing franchises, funded primarily through ticket sales, private funds, and advertising; as such, there are virtually non-existent levels of revenue sharing (economic redistribution) and equality of opportunity between teams. Each team is individually funded, thus the teams with larger venues (New York, Boston, etc.) are able to raise far more money than those with small venues. The teams that have access to more money are able to buy the contracts of the best players by overbidding the smaller teams, thus these teams tend to get the better players. Having a better pick of players in no way guarantees victory, but it does give certain franchises a steep advantage over others by allowing them to steal talent from the opposition (Not to hate on the Yankees, but they are legendary for doing this, right back to the days of Babe Ruth.).

Baseball illustrates a society where those with money and increased access are able to get advantages that those who don’t have resources cannot. There is no redistribution of wealth from the richest teams to the poorest teams, thus there is no guarantee of equality of opportunity. The result of this social situation is that statistically the richer teams have a far larger chance of winning the World Series than those who are poorer. If we consider baseball as a microcosm of society as a whole, we see an individualistic society where the free market controls all resources. While everybody plays by the same rules of the game (analogous to our laws), some are able to gain an advantage before the game even begins. The rich do not pay to advance the interests of the poor, thus the poor are often unable to compete on a level playing field with the rich in the competitive market. Baseball illustrates the right wing concepts of a free market driven society, where the government (MLB) does not interfere to make certain that everybody has equal opportunity.

Major League Football is based around a centrally organized organization (The NFL) which operates using profit sharing and salary caps in order to preserve fairness. While the revenue streams of football are virtually identical to those of baseball, coming primarily from television contracts, advertisements, tickets, and other merchandising, the distribution of money is much more equitable. The money that comes from the NFL media contracts is distributed equally among all teams, regardless of the size of the venue; smaller teams receive the same amount of money from the NFL that larger teams get despite their smaller profitability. When combined with the salary cap on players, this redistribution policy prevents any one team from buying all of the superior players’ contracts. Some teams do have superior talent, but this is unlikely to be due to them spending several times more than any other team to retain such talent. By promoting a level playing field, the NFL attempts to give every team a fighting chance at the Super Bowl and thus advance the sport as a whole.

When translated into a societal model, football is a much more socialized society than that of baseball. In football, having access to large venues and high profits is minimized by the redistribution of wealth between teams, creating a situation where every team has a similar opportunity for success. The most profitable teams subsidize the less profitable ones, thus access to money is less important than teamwork, training, skill and coaching. The NFL revenue sharing situation illustrates how taxes in society redistribute wealth downward, as well as horizontally, so that those without money have increased chances of success. Without the redistribution from top to bottom, the teams/corporations with larger amounts of money reduce the competition in the game/market in order to gain an advantage over others. A society with strong redistributive programs which fund field-leveling programs such as infrastructure, education and a social safety net, will, like the NFL, promote increased equality and advancement based upon skill. The policies of the NFL illustrate the left wing concept that income redistribution in order to boost those with fewer resources can promote fair competition and increase the welfare of society as a whole.

There is no objectively correct answer as to which funding model is superior when we compare football and baseball, nor is there one when we translate the sport models into politics. The argument comes down to the debate between the political right, who want to operate under the baseball model of condensing wealth under a few powerful entities, and the political left, who want to spread resources out in order to promote equity and fair competition. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Not Run Government Like a Business

Why not to Run Government Like a Business?
By Josh Sager

In the past few decades, many politicians have propagated the idea of “running government like a business” in order to cut spending and reduce the debt; this concept is fundamentally false due to the fact that governments and corporations have diametrically opposed goals and operate in entirely different manners.

The purpose of government is to provide for the common defense, ensure the rule of law, and to advance the common good. Some services are necessary for society to function and are incompatible with the private sector due to fairness issues as well as the free rider problem; these services are seen as fundamentals that should be provided to everybody regardless of the ability to pay. The military serves to ensure the populace’s safety from external threats such as invasion or terrorism; domestic law enforcement organizations, fire protection and emergency services are all vital services that the government provides in order to ensure the rule of law and general safety inside of a country. Industrial/banking regulations, public education, government grants for research, and the national infrastructure are government run programs intended to provide for the common good of society as a whole. The government exists to serve society through preserving order and providing services that cannot be effectively an equitably provided by the private sector. Governments are akin to beehives, where there are numerous smaller parts that exist in order to assist the society as a whole, regardless of whether there is a benefit to the part.

The purpose of a vast majority of corporations is to make a profit for its investors; those that do not have a profit motive are considered non-profits and often exist to advocate social causes or perform charity work. Regardless of how a business makes money, whether it sells retail goods, develops new products, or provides services to consumers, it exists purely for the profit of those who own it. There is no requirement that a corporation provide services to those who cannot afford them, nor is there a requirement for a business to increase the public good. By cutting costs, and more efficiently producing goods or performing services, a business competes with others and eventually grows larger. Corporations resemble amoebas in that they are shapeless, amoral masses that exist only to feed, grow, and consume other, smaller, entities in competition for scarce resources.

The fundamental flaws in the ideal that government can be run like a business are the amoral nature of corporations and the massive free-rider problems inherent to society.

The most basic flaw in ideal of a government run like a business is the absolute disconnect in goals between governments and businesses. Corporations need to pay their workers enough to entice them to work, but they are not obligated to work to improve their worker’ wellbeing. Governments exist for the sole purpose to serve their citizens’ interests. This fundamental disconnect means that while government can be run in a business model to minimize costs, services to those who are disadvantaged will inevitably be cut. By cutting services to increase efficiency, equality inevitably suffers and the core ideal of government as a protector of 
all citizens is lost.

The educational system illustrates an example of the goals disconnect problem inherent to government run like a business: A corporate outlook into public services leads to decreased costs, but also massive decreases in quality. Cost cutting measures in public schools, such as reducing teacher compensation or decreasing supplies available to students, may reduce the overall price of education but they also damage the quality of the service. Unfortunately, many citizens cannot afford private schools, thus they cannot find alternative education in a market and are stuck with a subpar education. Our country’s education system, like many other public services, will suffer greatly when the profit motive eclipses the service itself as the goal of the program. The goal of education should be education, not turning a profit by supplying defective services to those who are unable to attain alternative educations in the name of saving money.

The organizations intended to work to preserve social order, such as police and prisons are areas where the profit motive becomes very dangerous to society. When police forces and our legal system become profit oriented, justice takes a backseat to money. A profit driven police force will hand out excessive fines and unnecessary charges in order to increase its own bottom line. We already see this problem in local police departments that are funded by fines; when the police run low on funds, the number of fines as well as the harshness of the fines increases as the police attempt to make up for lost funding. While this is only a minor example, it demonstrates just how dangerous adding the profit motive to the justice systems can become.

The private prisons in the USA are an example of where the profit motive has already taken over a public service. Private prisons are paid by the government to house prisoners just as publicly run prisons do; the major differences are that the private prisons are not legally as culpable for abuses of inmates, and they have an incentive to get more people locked up. As decided by the Supreme Court in the recent Minneci v. Pollard case, inmates in private prisons cannot sue the state or the private prison corporation for abuses suffered in the prison. As all corporations seek to maximize profit and private prisons make money based upon the number of people imprisoned, private prisons corporations have lobbied politicians to increase the number of people in prison. The increased penalties for drug use, harsher illegal immigration consequences and three strikes laws are all example of how corporate lobbying has led to increased numbers of people imprisoned for a profit. Should anybody feel comfortable that corporations can infiltrate the justice system with their profit motive, and make money by imprisoning you, guilty or innocent? Where government is run like a business, money is made at the expense of the people who are least able to defend themselves from abuse.

In addition to the differences in goals between government and corporations, governments must deal with massive free rider problems. Corporations operate on the simply principle that in order to get something, you must pay for it. Governments exist to support and protect all citizens, regardless of whether they can afford to pay taxes. When a government is run like a corporation, the poor and disabled are deemed freeloaders (Ex. reductions to welfare and disability) and cast aside by those in power in order to save money.

Poor and middle class citizens benefit from government programs such as education and law enforcement while in a profit driven entity, they would be unable to afford such services. Private education and security services are available to those who can pay, but not at the price that we all pay through taxes. It is seen as a moral imperative to provide justice, defense and some basic services for the least of society. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to integrate a moral imperative into a purely amoral profit system, as these systems are based around making money rather than helping society. If profit overshadows equality and fairness as the goal of the government, the poor see their services cut, as they cannot pay for them. The reduction of education and the decrease in support leads to less upward economic mobility and creates a downward spiral.

In public services such as law enforcement or the military, it is virtually impossible to integrate a profit motive without completely perverting the ideal of the institution. The military protects the country as a whole and should operate on these principles rather than a profit motive. We need only look at Blackwater (or whatever they are calling themselves this week) to see the end result of a for-profit military. For law enforcement, the major ideal is to promote social order, not make a profit. In addition to the issues already discussed, profitized police forces cannot enforce the law equally where the profit motive overshadows justice. If somebody does not pay taxes due to poverty the police must still protect them, a situation which demonstrates the textbook definition of the free-rider problem; a problem which is incompatible with the profit motive of businesses.

The next time you hear the term “running government like a business” you should understand what it entails. Reducing costs and services so that the rich no longer need to support the poor and perverting the goals of public institutions to save money rather than providing for society. There is an important reason that government and businesses are separate: Governments provide services for society and care little for making money, while businesses exist to make a profit, regardless of whether they fail to take care of those who cannot afford their services. These operating methods and ideologies are fundamentally different and thus should not cross over between the two types if entity.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Boston Occupier - Issue #4

1.18.12 - The Boston Occupier - Issue 4

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What is ALEC? (and why it should scare you)

What Is ALEC?
By Josh Sager

The American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC, is a politically involved non-profit group funded by some of the largest corporations in our country. ALEC's diverse corporate donor list includes large petrochemical companies, such as Koch Industries, and pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer. The purpose of ALEC is to give the donor corporations direct input into the lawmaking process, through drafting and suggesting laws to be passed by lawmakers. Recent legislative efforts to repeal labor and environmental regulations as well as privatization of public goods have been traced back to ALEC for their origin.

In their mission statement, ALEC states their core values as “Limited Government”, “Free Markets” and “Federalism”. In order to advocate for its values, ALEC has nine task forces that cover virtually every segment of policy in government. The ALEC task forces consist of industry experts, policy analysts and corporate interests and their goal is to write “model legislation” to present to sitting politicians in the legislature.

The main vehicle for ALEC to advocate for its causes is to create laws that are then presented to politicians for them to sponsor in the legislature. These “model legislations” have been presented in both state and federal legislatures, primarily by Republicans, but in some cases by Democrats. While the exact number of laws written by ALEC is unknown, as some politicians will not disclose the source of the bill that they are proposing, ALEC itself claims that over 1000 of its bills were presented in state and federal legislatures last year alone.

ALEC is funded, virtually in its entirety, through donations from large corporations. The donations that are not from corporations are those of the politicians who are a part of ALEC but as they only pay a $100 fee for a two year membership, these donations are negligible. The largest corporate donors, including AT&T, Pfizer, Wal-Wart, UPS, Koch, Exxon Mobil, the Atria Group, and State Farm Insurance among others, are organized into the “corporate board” of ALEC.

While the full list of corporate donors to ALEC is too large to list in this article, you can find a complete list at the following link: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Alec_corporations

Each of the component corporations has donated thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands, a year in order to support ALEC. In compensation for their donations, these corporations get access to ALEC supported politicians and a say in what the “model legislation” presented by ALEC constitutes.

ALEC acts like a union for large corporations in that it allows its members to get together and negotiate with representatives of the more powerful government.

ALEC is represented by some as a non-partisan policy group with society's best interests at heart. This characterization is simply false as they are not a non-partisan policy group any more than a defense lawyer is a crusader for social justice; both serve to advocate for their clients no matter the evil they have committed in the past. ALEC exists to serve the corporate interest that created and fund it and representing it as anything else confuses the goals of their legislation.

The purpose of a corporation is to make the maximum profit for its shareholders and the central ideal of ALEC is to allow corporations to write legislation that has the potential to be passed into law. As corporations are amoral and entirely driven by the profit motive, the “model legislation” will invariably have policies beneficial to the corporations who fund it; anything else would mean that the corporations are being remiss in their duties to make a profit.

Recent pro-corporate legislation, particularly on the state level, has often been born in the meetings of ALEC task forces. Anti-labor bills such as the “Paycheck Protection Act” and the "Employee Rights Act" make it more difficult for unions to organize and fund themselves. The "Prison Industries Act", allows for private prisons to produce goods using prison labor at far below the minimum wage. The "Animal and Ecologic Terrorism Act” expands the definition of the term "ecological terrorist" and increases the penalties under the law for engaging in environmental activism. In the recent hydrofracking fights around the country, ALEC has drafted resolutions intended to keep fracking authorization on the state level where regulatory authority is far weaker. The shear diversity of the ALEC written legislation is massive and covers virtually every aspect of policy that affects corporations.

As many ALEC corporations benefit hugely from decreased environmental, worker, or social protections, we can see that the corporations donating to ALEC are in fact getting a return on their investment into this non-profit.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the legislation passed by ALEC politicians or not, the fact remains that corporations are being given the ability to literally write the laws that are being used to govern their actions and ours. There is a massive conflict of interests inherent to the very ideal of ALEC, and while their actions are not illegal or immoral, they are corporatist. The government in a democratic country is intended to take care of the common good, not cater to the profit margins of large corporations. As such, laws should be made “for the people, by the people”, not “by the corporations, for the corporations”.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Modern Voter Suppression Update

Modern Voter Suppression
By Joshua Sager

One of the guiding principles of the United States of America is that the government is elected for the people, by the people. According to our stated ideals, every American citizen, regardless of social station, education, or means, gets one vote with which to weigh into the political process. Politicians are elected to serve the good of the people that they represent and they are held accountable through elections. Because voting is such a vital component of our democracy, no group would ever attempt to intentionally corrupt the process for their own gain, right? Wrong, throughout US history there have been those who want to limit the voting franchise in order to push an agenda or discriminate against a less powerful group.

Historically, the United States has not always practiced a system of equality in voting. Women, Native Americans and African Americans were unable to vote under the law for most of the early years of our country. Not until the 1920 were women allowed to vote in federal elections (state election laws were decided on an individual basis). Even after the civil war and the passing of the 15th Amendment, states would discriminate against African Americans through “poll taxes” or “literacy tests” as a method of keeping them from affecting society. What most of us would like to think is that today, we have evolved past such discriminatory and immoral means of operating our elections, but recent events have shed doubt on this hope.

Unfortunately, recent years have seen a massive resurgence in the effort to limit voting privileges on both the state and federal levels. There are several major types of voter disenfranchisement laws that have gained prevalence in this new round of voter suppression: “Voter I.D.” laws target the poor and students because they are less likely to have the proper types of I.D.; banning convicted felons from voting harms minorities, who are imprisoned at a disproportionately higher rate than Caucasians; shutting down voting locations in demographically poor or minority locations limits the numbers of people who can vote in those places; the reduction of early voting and absentee voting opportunities targets the elderly and disabled, who are often unable to wait in line at the voting booths. There are dozens of ways that interested parties have been attempting to limit certain demographic groups from voting in coming elections. The real question here is “Who benefits from reducing the number of minority, student, disabled and poor voters come election time?”

Even if somebody today were immoral enough to try to corrupt the vote, it would never be the right wing GOP who so love the constitution (or so their constant espousing of their patriotic and constitutional superiority leads some to believe). I mean come on, they run geniuses such as Bachmann, Palin, Santorum, and Trump, and their messages are so uncontroversial as to be universally loved. Their messages of inclusion, progress and tolerance only reject small portions of the population such as the poor, Hispanics, Blacks, young people, gays, Muslims, the unemployed, the sick, and those without lobbying groups in Washington. With such small holes in their support base, what reason could the GOP have to suppress these people’ right to vote?

Voter disenfranchisement today is simply the Republican Party’s attempts to suppress the voter turnout and eligibility of certain types of people who tend not to vote for them or their allies. In modern times, the Democratic Party has virtually no history of voter suppression, in fact the higher the total numbers of voters, the better chance Democrats have to be elected. Groups which vote disproportionately democratic are: Students/the young, first time voters, the poor, union workers, and minorities. All of these groups are in some way harmed by the recent voter suppression bills that have been enacted in the states recently. The two most common voter suppression tactics are decreasing the number of voting places to increase waiting times and increasing the ID requirements to vote.

By increasing the time required to vote, the poor are less able to vote because they cannot spare as much time as the wealthy. Those who are unable to take a day off of work in order to vote are either docked pay for the day or risk more severe consequences. This economic type of voter disenfranchisement is simply the new incarnation of the old poll taxes; those with money or access are able to vote more easily and cheaply than those who do not.

Increasing I.D. requirements by requiring a picture I.D. in order to vote, disproportionately harms students, minorities and the poor because they are less likely to have such I.D. types. Minorities and the poor, particularly those who live in large cities, are far less likely to have driver’s licenses or other picture identification than other demographic groups. Even if a student has a university granted picture I.D. some states will refuse to take them, thus students are also harmed by the I.D. requirements to vote. 

In concert with the new government regulations, partisan groups have been working to suppress voter turnout without changing the laws; they do so by using a multitude of dirty tricks. These groups are essentially always right wing corporate groups that pretend to by grassroots populist organizations. Dirty tricks are varied but often involve giving misinformation to voters to make them be unable to vote on time.

1) Sending out disinformation to targeted groups that give the wrong time and place to vote. (Wisconsin/ Michigan)
2) Spreading lies that imply legal consequences to voters who are suspected of fraud, particularly those with family member who are not legal citizens. (Florida)
3) Challenging voters at the polls as to their residency or ability to vote. Gee, I wonder how these people recognize those that they should challenge; it can't be something about skin color, can it?
5) Forming groups that overtly ask people of a single race not to vote ("Hispanic" group in Arizona) 

The right wing knows that they cannot win national elections anymore without resorting to voter suppression. Their ideology supports unpopular actions such as endless wars, attacking unions, defunding social programs, and cutting education, thus they have found reducing the number of opposition voters to be the most effective way to win elections. By limiting the ability of those who statistically disagree with you to vote, it is possible to win election, but is it really American?

I want to live in a society where we govern democratically, not through tricks and voter disenfranchisement. I don’t care which party attempts it, voter suppression is immoral and directly at odds with our values as a modern America. Any step backwards, towards the days of the poll taxes, is unacceptable no matter the origin.

The Case for Elizabeth Warren

By Joshua Sager

Disclosure: I support Elizabeth Warren and volunteer on her 2012 senatorial campaign. This article is not sanctioned by the Warren Campaign, but rather a personal opinion of a supporter.

The 2012 election cycle has begun, and with it, the search for competent representation to send to Washington. Across the country, politicians have begun to make the case that they would most effectively represent their constituents.  In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren is challenging Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

Everybody has different criteria that they use to assess political candidates. Some voters care only about a single issue, some vote for the person, and others vote along party lines; there are innumerable criteria that have been used by citizens to assess politicians but, personally, I consider three factors to be the most important: Ideology, Competence, and Character.  

Ideology:   The most important characteristic of a politician is what they will push for once elected.  Rational voters look at candidates’ policy stances and make informed choices based upon how closely a candidate’ policy stances match their own. Elizabeth Warren has been consistent in her views and she can be counted on to advance them in the U.S. Senate.  She won’t renege on her promises. 

Elizabeth Warren is a progressive with a strong history of advocating for the interests of the middle class.  She has demanded that the banks be accountable.  She has shown the place of high health costs in causing families to declare bankruptcy.  Her platform is rests on fair taxation, community reinvestment, and crafting sensible government action to protect the average person from the abuses of corporations that owe their first duty to stockholders, not citizens.

Elizabeth Warren holds progressive views on taxation.  The rich pay their share to support society.  The poor have the chance to elevate themselves through hard work. During one of her speeches, Warren articulated the best argument for progressive taxation and the value of fair taxes to society that I have ever heard.  (For the full video, go to the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=htX2usfqMEs).

The idea that “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.” is entirely true, but it’s a novel concept in today’s political world.  Many in Washington have forgotten that taxes on the rich and corporations are often used to support health care, education, and infrastructure. By cutting services in order to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy, we endanger our nation’s well-being.  Elizabeth Warren hasn’t forgotten the value of investing in our country’s future.  She will strongly support progressive taxation to finance investments to rebuild our country. 

Elizabeth Warren has shown her commitment to protecting the rights of the average person against abusive practices of banks and other financial entities. Today’s economic crash and crisis have taught us that our government must be more vigilant in protecting citizens from the banks’ reckless and fraudulent behavior.  Warren was one of the main architects of the federal CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) that was formed in order to protect the consumer from abusive practices by banks. As, almost literally, the person who wrote the book on protecting the consumer from financial fraud, her record in this area speaks for itself.

Competence: It matters little what a candidate supports if they are unwilling or unable to advocate for their position. Competence is a combination of intelligence, organization, strategic thinking, and skillful advocacy.

Elizabeth Warren is knowledgeable, smart, and articulate.  She has proven, through her academic achievements and writing, that she more than qualifies for the job of senator. Warren has demonstrated an exceptional grasp over the issues facing our country and has drawn up comprehensive and rational plans to fix several of the problems facing us as a society. As a Harvard University professor, Warren has a great deal of experience making cogent arguments to support her causes and would be a great asset to progressive causes if she is elected to office.

Character:   A politician’s competence is an empty shell unless it is driven by the honest commitment to work for the citizens who elected them.  As politicians are humans, not machines, personality often affects a politician’s ability to perform their jobs. This characteristic is difficult to define as it is a catch-all of numerous personal qualities such as dedication to beliefs, drive, and personal morality.

Elizabeth Warren has shown ethical behavior and a desire to help other throughout her career.  Growing up in a blue collar family, Warren attended college on a scholarship in order to become a teacher. Even after studying law, she did not pursue a career in corporate law and the fat paycheck that came with it, but instead stayed in teaching and writing in the public interest.

Unlike many current political candidates (including her opponent, Scott Brown), Elizabeth Warren has not shown a desire to enrich herself.  Teachers don’t teach to become rich but rather to help society through advancing the next generation.  This suggests that Warren won’t be swayed by lobbyists or by the lure of “contributions” (Read: legalized bribery).

Elizabeth Warren has dedicated her life to teaching others and advancing the public interest.  She hasn’t been corrupted by the temptation to make big money, so she isn’t likely to be corrupted by power.  She aspires to the Senate to promote the general good, not to buy an easy ride to higher net worth through future lobbying jobs or speaking fees.  This strength of character and conviction separates Elizabeth Warren from most other politicians.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our "Supreme" Court

By Joshua Sager

 All Credit for Cartoon to David Fitzsimmons

The Supreme Court is the top court of the land, wise beyond all other jurists, without bias, above the fray because they are appointed for life, beholden to nobody, and working tirelessly for the good of the people. One need only look at the history of the court to see that this view is naive to the point of believing in the tooth fairy. The Supreme Court has historically been filled with flawed HUMANS who have biases and personal issues which color their decisions (Ex. Dred Scott V. Sanford, Korematsu v. United States, etc.). While the past generation's courts have been filled with flawed individuals, the current Roberts court has completely given up the pretense of impartiality and neutrality to become the personal lapdogs of big industry. Virtually every recent decision where the rights of corporations have been weighed against the rights of the people has turned out in favor of the corporations due to the overwhelming support of the conservative Supreme Court Justices. The current Supreme Court has decided that corporations are given the rights of people, but with none of the responsibilities; these infinitely wise Justices also decided that Wal-Mart’s discrimination against women doesn’t prove a pattern of discrimination because the problem was TOO widespread to be considered a pattern. While I am not a neutral observer as I am biased against corporate interests, nobody with half a hemisphere firing in their brain can look at the court and say that the republican majority is impartial.

I don't even know where to begin with the Republican side of the court! While all of the Republican Justices are ideologically extremely conservative, there is a vital difference between Justices Alito and Roberts and Justices Thomas and Scalia; Justices Alito and Roberts have not accepted significant gifts from interest groups, while Justices Thomas and Scalia have repeatedly accepted gifts from interest groups and have decided on cases where they have conflicts of interests. Regardless of partisan affiliation, Justices Thomas and Scalia are completely beyond the normal spectrum of judicial appointees in terms of their ethical violations.

My view of the court is that there are two types of Justices: those who follow their beliefs and those who are prostitutes to the moneyed interests. Large aggregations of money and power, whether they are partisan political groups, lobbying firms, large corporations or unions, can potentially exploit the moral weakness of judges by enticing them to change their political opinions. As the Supreme Court is not bound by the federal judicial ethics laws, the only barrier to corruption of Supreme Court Justices by bribery from moneyed interests is the individual moral character of the Justice; a moral character that, in my opinion, has been found lacking in several of the current Justices. 

While I disagree with the conservative views of Roberts, Alito, and much of the time Kennedy, I respect these differences of opinion and believe them to be honest actors. I have no right to say that the liberal view is the correct one and anybody who disagrees with it is immediately evil and must be corrupt (that would be the Tea Party's and religious fundamentalists' viewpoints). On the other hand, the blatantly corrupt actions of Thomas and Scalia are completely inexcusable.

Justices Thomas and Scalia have sold their vote without shame and should be stripped of any power, then prosecuted for corruption. Justice Thomas openly accepted numerous gifts, such as historical objects (Bible owned by Frederick Douglas, bust of Lincoln, etc.) from rich donors and then proceeded to hear cases related to the interests of the donors. One of these donors, Harlan Crow, a conservative businessman, has given numerous gifts to Thomas, including a $500,000 donation to Thomas' wife, Ginny Thomas', for her Tea Party group. Crow's organization, CCI, has filed numerous briefs in cases that are heard by the Supreme Court and not only has Thomas not recused himself in these cases, but in every one of these cases he has supported whichever side Crow files the brief for. (A list of cases can be found at: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/0 ... arts-crow/

In addition to Thomas' gifts, Ginny Thomas runs a lobbying firm for extreme right wing causes and benefits directly from the decisions of her husband (See: Citizens United case). The actions of Justice Thomas and his wife are the very definition of bribery and would get any other federal judge tossed out on their ass, at the very least. The only thing saving Thomas from being kicked out is the loophole that essentially exempts the Supreme Court from all oversight.

Scalia has repeatedly accepted “speaking engagements” that have amounted to all-expenses paid vacations to high price hotels from conservative groups. While there is nothing inherently corrupt when a Supreme Court Justice gives a lecture, these lectures are often held by corporate groups that have benefitted directly from the increased influence over politics that several Supreme Court decisions have created in their decisions; at the very least; this conflict alone is grounds for recusal in any other federal court. To put this ethical situation in perspective, during one recent social event, Scalia found himself at a high priced hotel, attending a party partially funded by the lawyer who will be presenting the case that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. At best, Scalia is merely incompetent enough that he fails to realize that attending parties thrown by lawyers who will be presenting cases in your court is unethical, but the more likely situation is that he simply does not care. Scalia has been accepting in-kind, donations from groups that he will rule in favor of or has ruled in favor of for years but has not been called on it because he is a “Supreme Justice”.

The creators of the Supreme Court failed to see a fatal flaw in their design; in creating a court which operates above all others, they attempted to create a body which cannot be interfered with by outside influences. In theory, the court would be post-partisan and be able to rule based upon the law and conscience only. The Supreme Court exists in a neutral bubble, where no outside force can reach in and attack the Justices for their decisions, thus the court can affect issues such as civil rights without worry of electoral backlash. The one failure in this design is that the Justices are human, meaning they are susceptible to bias and corruption. By having nobody above them, the Supreme Court falls into the trap of "Who watches the Watcher?" and they have become increasingly corrupt.

Starting in the middle of the 20th century, there began a right wing push to stack the court with conservatives who would act in the interests of the right wing. While stacking the court is completely against the ideals of its formation, this is neither illegal nor unethical, but rather an effective way to affect public policy. While I abhor several of the decisions of the conservative court, such as Citizen's United which gives corporations unlimited power to affect elections and Thomson V. Louisiana where the court simply stripped a man of settlement money for being sent to death row for 14 years in a staged case, the most damaging decision by far was the Bush V. Gore case of 2001. As I have previously stated, the conservatives on the court don't hold positions that progressives (such as myself) agree with but that doesn't make one perspective immoral or wrong. There will always be different perspectives on the same issues; however, I have serious problems with the Bush V. Gore case because the case itself is simply wrong and immoral.

The Bush V. Gore case in 2001 decided the election in favor of Bush. Being a liberal, I dislike the policies of Bush, but even if the court had decided on the side of Gore, this case would have been a massive breach of the constitution. The president of the United States is decided by the votes of the people, expressed by the Electoral College, and the very fact that the court decided the winner of the election by a partisan vote is simply wrong. The nine justices of the Supreme Court decided the election for Bush when they should have simply ordered a full recount of Florida, preserving the integrity of the election process. The fact that Gore actually won the election after the recount was over means that Bush was the first ever president of the USA who was not elected by either popular or representative vote. When his non-election is taken into account with the great economic, social, civil, and international harm he caused, the entire issue becomes even more grotesque. All of the harm of the Bush administration could be laid at the feet of the five men who elected him president, but they will never feel blame for this because as always, they are SUPREME.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Free Speech and the Occupations

The Attacks on Occupied Speech
Joshua Sager

The first amendment of the US constitution establishes several rights vital to American society as we know it. Being part of what made us a haven for oppressed minorities in other countries; our freedoms of speech and religion are without a doubt two of the central ideals that have shaped the American identity.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
--The First Amendment to the USA Constitution--

The first amendment prevents the government from becoming tyrannical through the suppression of speech and expression. The freedom of speech is simple; the government cannot forbid or punitively consequence the free expressions of personal opinion by individuals living in the USA, whether in public or private.

The Supreme Court has decided that there are several limits to the right to speech, but only in cases of compelling interest by the state. If somebody is presenting an imminent danger to others through their speech (The classic example is yelling fire in a crowded theater.), they can be stopped and punished. Additionally, if somebody is endangering the country itself by revealing state secrets or privileged information, they can be silenced and punished.

The freedom of the press is intended to provide accountability to our elected officials through limiting their control over our press. The press is shielded from government abuses and control so that they can report the facts without worrying about repercussions from those in power. Without a free press, citizens will not be informed as to the wrongdoing of their government and thus cannot even know whether they are being wronged and should seek redress.

The freedom of peaceful assembly allows groups of citizens to gather and protest without fear of being rounded up and jailed (or sometimes worse consequences). The first amendment guarantees the right of the people to assemble on public grounds in order to protest the actions of the government peacefully. The key aspects of this are that the protest must be peaceful and that it cannot be on private property. If the protest is violent, it is not protected because it is a danger to society. As with any private property in the USA, the control over it is of the owner and thus a protest is not protected inside of private spaces due to property rights. A protest such as the Occupation movement is peaceful and located on public land, thus is protected by the freedom of assembly.

The Occupy movement is a series of sit-ins and protests at public spaces across the entire USA that started in reaction to the terrible economic and political situations facing our country. As a peaceful protest of the government and corrupt economic institutions, the Occupations fall directly under the protection of the first amendment. Despite the constitutionally protected nature of the occupations, the government has attempted to shut them down in many ways over the past month. The assaults on the occupiers’ rights have illustrated several ways that the government has attempted to subvert the rights to speech and assembly.

In several places, such as New York and Oakland, the police have taken a direct and violent approach to shutting down the occupations. Riot police and special response units have met the protesters with swinging batons, pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag cannons and even flash bang grenades. The attacks on peaceful protest by the government are justified by citing “public safety” and “hygiene” concerns over the camping by the occupiers in public parks.

I don’t assert that the occupations are entirely hygienic, they are mass campgrounds with limited access to shower facilities after all, but I fail to see how that justifies violence. Unless I completely misread the first amendment, I fail to see the requirement that the protesters to be perfectly groomed for them to assert their right to assemble and protest their government. For those who still assert that hygiene is necessary for the exercise of free speech, I would also point out that our founding fathers had far inferior hygiene practices than any of the modern protesters.

In relation to violence inside of the campsites, due to the protestor’ acceptance of all homeless peoples, there are occasionally violent incidents. Any violence is not tolerated by the protesters and the violent persons are either evicted or pointed out to the police for arrest. As to the police reactions to the isolated incidents of violence inside of the camps: I fail to see how a bunch of officers shooting various “non-lethal” projectiles, caustic chemical and grenades into the campsite make them any safer. In addition to the various assaults on the protest sites, police actions during marches have sometimes become, at best, excessive and at worst, felony assault.

Officials have put the protesters at risk through indirect means in addition to direct ones. There are numerous reports of police directing disturbed and intoxicated individuals to the protests. Rudimentary logic would tell the police that sending disturbed people into a crowd might end violently for someone. If the police were truly motivated by increasing the safety of the public and the protesters, they would not attempt to send disturbed people into a camp of political protesters. These actions are not unconstitutional on their own, as they don’t directly stifle speech or assembly, but they are disgusting and a complete perversion of the ideals of “protecting and serving”.

Occupations not only face violence but also far more subtle forms of suppression: Permits, curfews, property destruction, and causeless jailing. In occupations all around the country cities have enforced time and location limits on the protests. In many cases, officials impose curfews and arrest those who stay in order to protest. Occupy Boston itself was victim to this manner of eviction on October 11th, when police evicted the protesters from a second Greenway parcel.

Once a legal justification (tenuous as it may be) for eviction of the protesters is created by the officials, there are arrests and private property is destroyed. Protesters are most often given minor consequences after being arrested in these protests, but the arrest itself is a violation of rights. In addition to the arrests, there are sometimes police actions which damage the property of the protesters simply for being at the protests. In most occupations that have faced police action, protestor’s property has been destroyed or removed simply to make occupation less comfortable.

A perfect illustration of a government limiting free speech through indirect means was given by Mayor Jean Quan after she sent the police to break up Occupy Oakland:

“Frank Ogawa Plaza will continue to be open as a free speech area from 6 am to 10 pm.”

There are two huge issues inside of this one statement.

First: The idea of a “free speech area” is the antithesis of the ideals named in the first amendment. The constitution names that freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly are nearly absolute, not that protest must be relegated to certain areas of the country.

Second: The idea that people only have the right to speech during 16 out of the 24 hours of the day (only in the previously mentioned spots), is an abrogation of the rights to assemble and speak. If protest is restricted to certain times and places by the arbitrary rules of an executive, then it ceases to have any meaning.

Beginning with an act of civil disobedience, where several dozen protesters dumped tea into the Boston harbor, our country has been host to numerous protests. When protest must be scheduled at the discretion of those in power, what hope does it have of changing the status quo? 

ALEC Repost

While I usually don't re-post articles that I write, this one is not only relevant, but something that anybody who missed it the first time should read due to it's importance in politics today.

By Joshua Sager

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a completely nonpartisan group of corporate and banking interests that writes legislation and regulations that they believe will improve the economy as a whole. After ALEC members write the laws that they believe will be fair and effective, they meet with politicians and try to convince them to support these model laws. Overall, ALEC is composed of economic specialists who just want to help craft good policy out a sense of altruism and community mindedness. Right, and there is a really nice bridge I want to sell you, sorry no refunds.

ALEC is a right wing think tank supported entirely by big money interests who simply want to wring just a little more money out of the impoverished and jobless. The sample "regulations" are a cynical joke created by the industry in order to profiteer, pollute and harm anybody they want with no consequences. ALEC presents itself as non-partisan, but 95% of its members are Republicans and all of its legislation is in line with the right wing's ideology. ALEC's meetings with legislators are little more than legitimized bribery of our politicians to betray their oaths of office.

ALEC has been working behind the scenes to deregulate every industry represented in its leadership council as well as to increase the profits of every member company. I honestly don't have a problem with ALEC representing the interests of its member companies, but I see two major problems that have arisen due to their actions.

ALEC is represented by some as a non-partisan policy group with society's best interests at heart. This characterization is simply false as they are not a non-partisan policy group any more than a defense lawyer is a crusader for social justice; both serve to advocate for their clients no matter the evil that they have committed in the past. ALEC exists to serve the corporate interest that created and fund it and representing it as anything else gives them the ability to confuse the goals of their legislation. It is supported exclusively by right wingers, demonstrated by the fact that nearly every one of ALEC’s “sample legislation” pushed into law was rubber stamped by a Republican.

The politicians (primarily Republicans/Tea Partiers) who go to ALEC meetings are not revealed as the corrupt, traitors that they are. The politicians know that the legislation they receive from ALEC is not in the interests of the public that elected them, but they push it anyways. In my opinion, any politician to simply sell their office does not deserve to hold it in the first place and should be either recalled (where allowed), voted out of office, or charged if their conduct is criminal.

The USA is edging past the point where it transitions from a democratic country to a corporatist/fascist country. We are at the point where the government is simply a tool of business and no longer representing the interests of the people who live in this country. THE CORPORATE INTERESTS ARE NOW WRITING THE LAWS and we are so inured to the corruption that there are only a few people talking about this.

Every American citizen should be outraged, partisanship be damned, because this type of corruption affects everybody. Pollution and economic collapses don't see partisan affiliation, and we need politicians who do what they were "hired" to do: represent the best interests of society based upon their beliefs. I have no problem with right wingers like Ron Paul because they do what they believe is best for their constituents, and that is what a politician is supposed to do. While I don't subscribe to right wing philosophy, it is perfectly valid and there should always be a debate over what the best policy is. I define a good politician as somebody who always pushes for what they believe is best for their constituents. Left or right wing, every politician who fails to advocate for their voters and the country is in my opinion a failure even if their results agree with my ideological beliefs. A politician who takes money for votes from the green energy lobby is as guilty as a politician who does the same for the Koch brothers.



The Sarcastic Liberal