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, July 25, 2012

Gun Regulations Modeled off of Abortion Restrictions

© Josh Sager – 7/22/12

The United States constitution guarantees residents of the United States certain rights and restricts the government from infringing upon many of the free choices of individuals. Among these rights, the right to bear arms and the right for women to choose to get an abortion are two which have been subject to extreme controversies.  By saying that abortion rights and gun rights are both controversial constitutionally protected rights, I do not support a false-equivalency between abortion and gun ownership past the facts that they are both constitutionally protected rights which have been controversial and polarizing issues in US politics.

Abortion rights are a matter of personal control over ones’ body and are protected under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (as established by Roe v. Wade); under current interpretation of the constitution, abortion rights are protected until the fetus is viable and any attempt to limit the right to an abortion before viability is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, many religious individuals, particularly right wing Christians are extremely active in their fight against abortion rights and have promoted unconstitutional restrictions on abortion rights; these restrictions seek to narrow the scope of abortion rights, make it harder for women to get abortions/shame women, attack abortion providers, and make it more expensive to access abortion services.  

Modern gun rights are established by the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment of the constitution and are justified through an argument that people have the right to defend their person; unlike with abortion rights, gun rights are potentially dangerous to others and the current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment allows for regulations which restrict gun ownership (ex. barring convicted felons from owning weapons). In the last decade, gun control regulations have decayed to the point where assault weapons (assault rifles) and expanded magazines are legal in some states, and gun shows can sell virtually any weapon to virtually any individual (without a background check). 

While both abortion rights and gun rights are constitutionally protected, gun rights have been expanded and protected beyond their constitutional intent, while abortion rights have suffered from innumerable, unconstitutional, restrictions. This disparity is due to several reasons, but the primary reason is that there have been concerted and well-funded campaigns to attack abortion rights and protect gun rights enacted by right wing groups; in the absence of an organized left wing pushback against these right wing campaigns, abortion rights have shrunk and gun rights have expanded during the past decade.

In the face of the dichotomy between the protection of gun rights and restrictions on abortion rights, I propose a campaign where left wing politicians translate a parody of right wing abortion restriction onto gun rights; this campaign consists of getting left wing politicians to transpose the draconian anti-choice regulations and legislations into analogous restrictions upon gun buyers/sellers. By reversing the anti-choice regulations onto guns, left wing politicians will be able to highlight the absurdity of the right wing attacks on abortion, while either forcing the right wing to contradict the justifications behind their ant-abortion regulatory regimes or significantly reducing the number of gun sales in their states. If right wing states wish to impose unreasonable and intentionally burdensome rights upon abortion, a constitutionally protected procedure, then they should have no problem with left wing states imposing similar regulations upon gun sales.

Restrictions on Gun Sellers:

Anti-choice activists and politicians have recently begun attempting to restrict the providers of abortion services to the point where they are unable to perform their function. By attacking abortion providers, these activists are able to de-facto ban abortion without overtly banning the procedure (and running up against the wall of Roe v. Wade). Strategically, this indirect method of attacking abortion is far more effective and pervasive than overt attacks on abortion rights.

The justifications that anti-choice activists use to argue for increased regulations on abortions include the protection of the women who seek abortions and the promotion of good medical safety but these justifications don’t hold up to scrutiny. While promoting medical ethics and safety are admirable, the regulations pushed by these individuals are intentionally over-restrictive. If the creators of these regulations truly desired women to have access to safe abortion services, they would not be attempting to ban abortion and bring back the days where back alley abortions and coat-hangers were the only ways by which women could access abortion services.

Two good examples of intentionally draconian restrictions, also referred to as “TRAP” laws, would be those passed in Virginia during the latter half of 2011 and those passed in Mississippi during 2012:

In Virginia, abortion clinics were mandated to follow the architectural codes of normal hospitals, despite the fact that they don’t specialize in surgical services; these regulations demanded that the hallways and waiting rooms of abortion clinics be certain dimensions (necessary in hospitals to allow many wheelchairs and stretchers to pass each-other) and that the electrical wiring/air filtration of clinics be far above what is necessary. Abortion clinics are often small and have a very difficult time complying with such restrictive regulations, thus these regulations are often a death sentence for the clinic.

In Mississippi, the state has passed a set of restrictions on abortion providers and doctors so strict that the only thing preventing MS from being the first state to ban abortion is a judicial order. These restrictions not only put new regulations on the facilities of abortion providers, but forces all doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The requirements for admitting privileges at local hospitals are fairly detailed and are virtually impossible for abortion doctors to obtain—they simply do not admit enough people, often live in another state (only MS residents can get admitting privileges), and face incredible pushback from local activists.

States with conservative Republican or fundamentalist religious legislatures have been passing dozens of intentionally over-restrictive abortion regulations in service to their anti-choice ideology. Progressives and Democrats need to take the very restrictions which right wing anti-choice activists use and translate versions of them onto gun sellers. Through restricting the location where gun sellers can set up shop and mandating that they have specific/costly building requirements, progressives can parody anti-choice regulations and force right wing activists into a corner. In reacting to such gun regulations, conservatives must either debunk their own tactics against abortion in service to their pro-gun agenda, or abandon their pro-gun agendas in liberal states.

Restrictions on abortion providers are justified through medical safety arguments and restrictions upon gun sellers can be justified through the similar argument of public safety; new regulations on gun sellers should mimic TRAP abortion regulations by forcing gun sellers to comply with extremely stringent and expensive measures to ensure the safety of their establishments. Here are a few examples of such draconian regulations:    
  • Ø  Limit the locations of gun shops to ensure that they are a certain distance away from schools, public parks, and areas where children gather.
  • Ø  Mandate that all gun shops have bullet resistant walls and windows—just in case there is an accidental discharge of ammunition.
  • Ø  Mandate that all gun shops have two very high grade safes—one for guns and the other for ammunition.
  • Ø  Mandate that all gun shops have top of the line security systems and be staffed with a live guard at all times.

These new regulations on gun sellers would be extremely expensive and difficult to comply with—just as TRAP abortion regulations are to abortion clinics—and would be very costly to the states’ gun sellers. The overlap between the anti-choice and pro-gun ideologies (essentially the entire right wing) means that this course of action would give anti-abortion activists a taste of their own medicine—a medicine which they cannot fight without attacking their own attempts to impose restrictions on abortion clinics.

In addition to regulations on facilities, several states have attempted to make abortion doctors legally liable if they unintentionally perform an illegal abortion. An analogous regulation for gun sellers would be to hold gun shop owners partially liable for all harm done by a weapon which they sell to an individual who has a criminal record or who lacks a current gun permit; I do not see this as an unreasonable statute; however, it is modeled upon an anti-abortion law and can be enacted in parallel to the other, more extreme, restrictions.

Restrictions on Gun Buyers

Draconian abortion regulations have not only targeted abortion providers, but the women who are seeking abortions. During the past few years, waiting periods, mandated evaluations, financial penalties, and even invasive procedures have been used by state governments to attack abortion rights. These restrictions attempt to make abortion as painful, embarrassing, expensive and difficult get as possible, in an attempt to shame women from exercising their rights.

While over a dozen states have passed a these legislative shamings of women, the most extreme and egregious example of this type of regulation was seen in Virginia. In the early months of 2012, the Virginia legislature attempted to pass a bill which mandated trans-vaginal ultrasounds for all women who are seeking an abortion—regardless of whether these women were raped, incest victims, or underage. A trans-vaginal ultrasound is an ultrasound delivered via vaginal probe, thus it is extremely invasive and entirely unnecessary. This law is so extreme that many have described it as the legislation which legally mandates the rape of women who are seeking abortions.

Here are a few examples of draconian gun laws based off of existing abortion restrictions:
  • Ø  Mandate that all individuals attempting to buy a weapon receive a full physical examination, CAT Scan, and colonoscopy before buying their weapon—simply to ensure that they are healthy enough to properly handle a gun. In order to keep governmental costs down, the individual will be forced to pay for the procedures out of pocket.

This mandate is based around the various laws which anti-choice legislators have passed to mandate unnecessary medical procedures on women who are seeking a constitutionally protected service. To add insult to injury, women are often forced to pay for these medical procedures. In recent years, such laws have been passed in numerous states, including Virginia, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas. If it is okay to mandate unnecessary and invasive procedures on women who are seeking an abortion, it is okay to mandate such procedures on men who want guns.

  • Ø  Mandate that all individuals who wish to purchase a weapon have a psychological evaluation before their purchase; this evaluation should occur in a state facility, of which there is only one in the state. These evaluations must happen before each gun sale, regardless of whether the buyer has received previous evaluations.

This mandate is based off of the abortion restrictions which have reduced the numbers of abortion clinics in a state, thus forcing women to travel significant distances to receive their procedure. By making the process of buying a gun inconvenient and mandating that prospective buyers travel to inconveniently located evaluation centers in order to get their evaluation, gun buyers can get a taste of what it feels like to have the practice of their rights obstructed.

  • Ø  A three day waiting period must be enforced from the time of application for a gun license and a gun purchase; during this waiting period, the gun purchaser must visit a crime victim support center and listen to the stories of several parents who have lost children to gun violence and view graphic photos of gunshot wounds—so as not to be overly cruel, the purchaser may choose to look away from the screen during the viewing of these pictures.   

Numerous states have passed mandatory waiting periods for women who are attempting to get abortions, and many have mandated that these women visit “pregnancy help centers” during the wait. The waiting period is intended to draw out the decision (giving the women time to regret her choices and feel guilt) and be as obstructive as possible. Pregnancy help centers are most often run by anti-choice activists and religious groups and are nothing more than places where women are told that they are evil for considering abortion, lied to about the side effects of abortion, and told that they are going to hell; in short, they exist to shame/scare women from away from exercising their constitutional rights.

If anti-choice legislatures are able to pass laws which mandate women to have waiting periods and visits to anti-choice groups, then it is possible for anti-gun legislatures to pass laws which mandate similar things for gun buyers. Instead of going to religious faux-clinics, prospective gun buyers should be forced to go to victim’s advocacy centers and witness the effects of gun violence. As several states have passed legislation forcing women to look at their ultrasounds and have the fetus described to them, it is certainly okay for these centers to force prospective gun buyers to listen to parents who have lost children to gun violence and view graphic photographs of people killed by guns (similar to the old shock videos around car accidents shown in traffic schools).  

Ultimately, what we, as a society, need is a balanced system of laws and regulations for both gun rights and abortion rights. Regardless of ones’ personal opinions on these rights, they are part of our constitution (or at least it interpretation), and cannot be abolished without a constitutional amendment.

If the right wing wishes to enact absurd, repressive and ridiculously harsh regulations on abortion providers in order to shut them down, they cannot protest if the left wing does the same to gun sellers. The right to bear arms is far less absolute than the right for a woman to have access to an abortion (gun rights can constitutionally be taken away in some circumstances, yet abortion rights cannot), and there must be a re-balancing of the regulatory scales to reflect this truth.

Most, if not all, of these draconian regulations on guns are far too extreme to be rational gun laws; this is okay, because they were designed as a protest rather than rational policy (similar to how some pro-choice legislators have attempted to attach mandated prostate exams for men who want Viagra to TRAP abortion restrictions). By enforcing extreme gun-control laws which parallel extreme anti-abortion laws, pro-choice activists can create a parody of anti-choice policy and ensure that gun enthusiasts (who are often right wing “pro-life” activists) feel the very pain which they would impose upon women who are seeking abortions.

Rational Gun Laws
After discussing intentionally draconian gun laws, it is important to conclude with a platform of rational gun laws. Unlike anti-abortion activists, who simply live within the binary choice of banning abortion, supporters of gun-control must suggest rational laws to regulate firearms. Here is a short summery of my ideal gun-control regulatory regime:

1.      Nobody with a felony record, mental illness, pending criminal charges, or place on the terrorist watch list is allowed to buy or carry guns within the United States. In addition to these restrictions, nobody under the age of 18 should be allowed to own a gun and nobody under the age of 15 should be allowed to operate a gun (even with parental consent/supervision).

2.      No guns are to be allowed in the following locations: Religious institutions, schools, government buildings, national parks, places where alcohol is sold/consumed, sports stadiums, large public gatherings, political rallies/voting location, or any areas which have large numbers of children (zoos, amusement parks, playgrounds, etc.).

3.      Before buying a gun, an individual must pass a psychiatric evaluation (with federal standards), and be certified competent in the safe handling of a firearm (identical to a driving test for the right to drive a car). The results of these tests will be confidential and not used in any capacity other than determining whether an individual has the ability to safely handle a firearm.

4.      The only guns which are legal for civilians within the United States are bolt-action rifles, scatter-guns (shotguns/bird-rifles), and non-automatic pistols (revolver or semi-automatic). Any individual seeking another type of gun may attempt to buy one, but only after submitting a written statement to the federal government, describing the exact purpose and need for such a firearm (ex. private security personnel may require assault weapons for overseas government contracts).

5.      All legally sold guns must have their barrel striations and firing pin imprints logged and registered to the government; any intentional alterations to these components should be a felony and result in an immediate loss of the right to carry a firearm.

6.      Straw-purchasing and the personal sale of firearms without disclosure to the government should be a felony. If a gun is stolen, the legal owner has 72 hours from the discovery of the theft to report it to the police, or they will lose their right to own a firearm for a minimum of a year and will be subject to a fine.

7.      All ammunition sales should require identification and should be immediately reported to the government. In addition to this reporting, there should be caps on ammunition sales, both on the number of bullets which can be bought in a single instance and on the number of bullets which can be bought per year; gun ranges and professional shooters are exempt to these limits, but only after receiving a federal waiver.

8.      No extended magazines or specialty ammunition are to be allowed for civilian use (tracer, explosive, sabot, etc.); a waiver can be obtained for this restriction, but only after a written application is submitted to the government, and the individual has been certified in the safe handling of the ammunition (ex. if a movie crew wants to use tracer rounds for a scene).

9.      Without receiving a federal waiver, no individual may own more than three of a single category of firearm (sidearm, rifle, or scatter-gun), putting a cap of nine guns for each individual. If an individual wishes to obtain more than three of a single category of gun (hunters, collectors, etc.), they must be evaluated and approved by the federal government.

10.  When storing a firearm, it must have a trigger-lock (fingerprint based, if possible) or be stored in a secure location (locking drawer, lockbox, safe, etc.). Any violation of this regulation which is discovered by authorities will result in a fine or loss of the right to own a gun for a period of time.

In order to ensure that there is no race to the bottom for gun control, these regulations should be based in the federal government. Any state which wished to further restrict gun rights should have the right to do so, but the above regulations should create the federal baseline for American gun laws.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Threat of Religious Extremism to the United States

(c) Josh Sager - 7/17/12

The United States is currently facing a very serious threat: a group of highly motivated and deeply committed religious extremists is currently attempting to take over the government and institute religious laws. These extremists are highly organized, willing to commit violence against those who oppose them, and are infiltrating every segment of our government in an attempt to remake the country’s policy in their own image. The policies which these extremists support include: controlling the lives and bodies of women, inserting religious dogma into public education, suppressing other faiths’ religious practices, writing laws which enforce religious morality over the secular public, and the re-writing of history in order to indoctrinate future generations into believing that these policies are the true values of the country. Based solely upon my description of these religious fanatics, many who read this would likely believe that the religion which these zealots follow is Islam, but they would be incorrect. 

The religious extremists whom I speak of are not Muslims, but rather the extremist Christian fundamentalists who have attached themselves to the right wing. Recently, numerous politicians have not only rejected the idea of the “separation of church and state”, but have pushed policies based entirely upon conservative Christian teachings (ex. banning gay marriage based upon biblical passages); such policies are not based in factual evidence and have no place in the United States.

Ironically, it is often the very same politicians who fear-monger around the idea of Muslim religious law (Sharia Law), who support Christian religious laws that are the Christian equivalent to Sharia Law.  With the blatant and pervasive propagation of imagined Sharia fear-mongering, it is tremendously hypocritical that our elected officials and media have not taken up arms over the very real threat of Christian religious law.

The United States is a purely secular country and any attempt to institute religious laws, regardless of the religion, should be fought be every American. Religious laws are contrary to American values and it makes no difference if the basis for such religious laws is the Bible, Koran, Torah, Manusmrti (Hindi caste text) or any other religious text. All too often, the media fails to frame religious laws as such, and simply lumps these unconstitutional laws into the conservative narrative—this is a terrible mistake and serves to conceal the religious justifications of proposed laws behind a veneer of political ideology.

Christian extremists in the United States have a long history of attempting to legislate sexual morality as well as control women. These extremists believe that their religious text–the Christian Bible—should be the base for determining what Americans are allowed to do in their bedrooms, who they should be allowed to love, and what level of control women should have over their bodies. Often, these religious fundamentalists conceal their religious laws by using moral arguments, but, given a little digging, it is usually easy to see the religious justifications behind these laws.

The infiltration of the government by religious fundamentalist is by no means a new phenomenon, but it has become worse in the past decade. The rise in power of the conservative movement has allowed the Christian conservative movement to gain a great deal of influence within modern American politics. Fringe Christian extremists—such as Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann—are seen as legitimate political candidates today, when they would have been laughed off of the stage even during the 2000 presidential election.  

Abortion rights and affordable birth control are issues which are vital to the health and personal power of women in the United States. When women have control over their bodies and reproductive choices, they are able to participate in society on equal footing with men. Unfortunately, Christian extremists believe that their religion mandates the subjugation of women, thus are vitriolically anti-reproductive freedom; while they are not as blatantly restrictive of women as Muslim extremists in the Middle East, American Christian fundamentalist have demonstrated a persistent desire to control the choices of women. There is no rational explanation for the banning of birth control and any attempt to do so should be seen as what it is—the enforcing of religious dogma over society and an attack on women’s rights.

Many Christian extremists claim that their anti-abortion fervor comes from a desire to protect life, but this position is debunked by several inconsistencies. Christian fundamentalists are against birth control, sexual education, and spending on early-life care, thus it is obvious that they care little about reducing the number of abortions or protecting children; in essence, they only care about preventing women from controlling their bodies and are using the goal of “protecting children” as an excuse. In addition to their hypocrisy surrounding children’s welfare and abortion rights, many Christian fundamentalists support violence to end abortion rights. No rational human being can simultaneously claim to be pro-life, yet shoot or blow up abortion doctors for performing abortions for the women who want them.

It is possible for an individual to be anti-abortion on moral grounds, but not if their only arguments against abortion are the fact that their religious texts have been interpreted to say that abortion is a “sin”. Abortion may be a sin (sins are human constructs created to label religious taboos) but, as we aren’t a theocracy, there is no reason why the government should criminalize religious “sins”.

Preventing gay marriage from being legalized and blocking the granting of equal rights to same sex couples are two of the most common policies which modern Christian fundamentalists attempt to push on society as a whole. The justifications for attacking the rights of same-sex couples are nothing more than religious arguments and Christian extremists rarely attempt to conceal it. This blatant overreach of one religion into secular policy is rarely pointed out by the media, and only highlights how complacent the public has become about protecting the separation of church and state. The next time you hear a Christian fundamentalist politician promote an anti-gay agenda using religious justifications (I.E. Watch TV for 5 minutes), imagine that the politician is a Muslim, rather than a Christian, and is citing the Koran, rather than the bible; even though the situations are identical, in that they involve one religion attempting to legislate their religion, the outcry against Christian fundamentalist law is non-existent when compared to if they were Muslims. Religious laws are religious laws, regardless of the religion, and we must never allow any religious faith to control public policy.

Ultimately, it is up to the American people and the media to fight back against religious law and ensure that the only laws which are govern us are based entirely upon secular logic. The media must research the justifications behind laws and ensure that they are based in fact and the public good, rather than the writings of long dead religious figures. Once the media or, in the case of media failures, informed individuals, identify laws based upon religious arguments, the public must ensure that politicians are held accountable. Voters must vote out any politician who supports religious laws, regardless of party affiliation or whether their personal faith is being supported.  The United States is not a theocracy and any attempt to insert religion into public policy is inherently un-American; we have seen the result of mixing church and state in countries like Saudi Arabia, and most of us don’t like what we see.     

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Debunking the Term: “Economic Uncertainty” --- Part 1: Attacking the conservative narrative

By Josh Sager

The term “economic uncertainty” refers to a situation where the economic climate in a country is so unstable as to hinder investment. There are numerous situations which create economic uncertainty, including, but not limited to, social upheaval, currency crises, rapidly changing regulations/taxes, and the formation of market bubbles. Individuals who are considering investing capital must weigh potential risks with potential rewards in relation to their prospective investments, and uncertainty is a major factor in determining risk. If an investor is unable to predict the conditions which they will have to operate with, there is a decreased likelihood that the smart investor will invest significant capital.

While market uncertainty is a very real and relevant phenomenon, conservative groups and politicians have intentionally misused the concept of economic uncertainty to gain political advantages. Conservatives raise the specter of “Economic uncertainty” whenever there are discussions of tax or regulatory increases, as well as during debates over the removal of subsidies. They claim that virtually any increase in regulation or tax rates causes crippling uncertainty, thus reducing the growth of the economy and increasing unemployment. Put plainly, these claims are both false, and intentionally deceptive.

A good, recent example of such a use of the term “uncertainty” by a conservative politician is this:

"The number one reason out there why jobs are not being created: Uncertainty. They don't know what's going to happen with the taxes; they don't know what's going to happen from regulation.”; "the Democrats have failed to lead on tax cuts. They're going to want to leave the House without dealing with it. That uncertainty itself is keeping capital on the sidelines and stopping jobs from being created in America."Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-22), 9/26/10
McCarthy’s statement, demonstrates either a profound ignorance of the term uncertainty or a willful misinterpretation of its application. At the time of his statement, virtually every reputable economist considered the crippling lack of demand for consumer products, housing crisis, and damage from the 2008 economic crash as the causes of the lack of investment, not uncertainty. Uncertainty over tax rates (where were at a record low) and regulatory rules were not significant factors, yet his desire to promote the conservative ideology surrounding these issues led him to intentionally misdiagnose the problems (I assume that he is not simply ignorant and without competent staff to brief him). 

While they almost always use it speciously, the uncertainty argument is a major tool of the conservative movement; progressives must take steps to debunk the false narrative of “economic uncertainty” by conservatives and turn it back on them to fight against their extreme tactics. By debunking the idea that regulatory and tax reform cause uncertainty, progressives will erode much of the rationale behind the conservative argument against such reforms – this will not end their resistance to tax and regulatory reform, merely force them to find a new rationale to justify it in within their ideology. Progressives and Democrats should utilize a two-stage attack on the conservative “economic uncertainty” argument in order to debunk its premise and reverse it upon the Republicans.

Step 1: Attack the Conservative Uncertainty Argument

The first step in reversing the conservative “uncertainty” argument is for progressives and Democrats to refute the conservative narrative on which policies cause economic uncertainty. Through a concerted effort, the conservative movement has successfully branded any potential increases in taxes and regulations as inherently increasing uncertainty, and has used this label as a rhetorical bludgeon against those who wish for sane taxes/regulation.

Uncertainty is an ever present factor in an economy and is only dangerous when it reaches a level which stifles investment; investments carry an inherent risk, and there is no real way to completely remove the uncertainty which this risk creates. Dangerous levels of uncertainty are caused by factors which drastically increase the risk of investing and are difficult to predict accurately. When looking at uncertainty, the actual economic or social factors matter less than the predictability and fluctuations for each condition. In essence, it matters less what the conditions of the business climate are, just as long as they are stable and predictable to business interests they will not cause uncertainty. Even if taxes or regulations are high, just as long as they are static and investors are able to work them into their business calculations, very little uncertainty is created.
The conservative “uncertainty” argument is most commonly used in arguments over tax rate increases and tightening regulatory regimes:

Taxes: Conservatives argue that any discussion of increasing tax rates, even simply the removal of temporary tax breaks, will increase uncertainty and stifle investment. This argument assumes that increasing tax rates on the wealthy will cause these people to stop investing due to a decreased return on investment—this assumption is entirely incorrect. 
Wealthy investors will invest as long as it makes them a profit, even if a significant amount is taken out in taxes. It is true that wildly fluctuating and unpredictable tax rates (ex. a rapid swing of capital gains tax rates from 15% to 75%) CAN make the market uncertain, but current discussions of tax rates are nowhere near the level which would create significant uncertainty.
Contrary the conservative narrative, removing temporary tax cuts (ex. Bush tax cuts) and instituting higher, permanent tax rates actually reduces uncertainty. Temporary tax cuts are, by definition, uncertain, can rapidly disappear, and are dependent upon the political climate. Permanent tax rates, even if they are high, are far less flexible than temporary rates and promote a higher level of tax certainty than persistent, yet “temporary”, tax cuts. 

Regulation: Regulations have the potential to stall businesses or even destroy them entirely (ex. a pesticide producer which is put out of business by a pesticide ban), thus they have the ability to greatly increase uncertainty; if there is no way for a business to predict future regulatory regimes, there is no way for said businesses to rationally expand. 

Conservatives use their uncertainty argument to attack regulations by claiming that potential increases in regulations spook businesses and stop them from hiring; this argument is less groundless than the conservative argument surrounding tax increases, but it too fails to pass muster. Current regulatory regimes have been intentionally suppressed by lobbying and are nowhere near adequate. Improvements to inadequate regulation, while damaging to polluters, are necessary for the health of society. The amount of uncertainty which is created by regulatory increases is far outweighed by the benefit to society garnered from the increased regulations. 

Theoretically, the government could promote the ultimate regulatory certainty in investment by removing all regulations of industry. As is evident by past polluting/corporate abuse incidents, the abolishing of regulations would be disastrous to society. The conservative narrative ignores the need for regulations and focuses on the uncertainty which is created when new regulations are being discussed—this is akin to somebody decrying firefighters for causing water damage, yet ignoring the fact that they are trying to put out fires.

In addition to the fact that certainty must be weighed against the public interest, the conservative argument is also flawed due to the fact that regulatory increases only cause uncertainty when they increase. Once regulations are reformed and stabilize at their new level, they produce no uncertainty. 

The arguments which progressives and Democrats must utilize in order to attack the conservative uncertainty argument must be based in economic theory, yet simple and memorable enough for the lay-person to easily digest. Here are two examples of such arguments:

  • Removing the Bush tax cuts will not increase uncertainty. We in the Democratic Party will not reauthorize them again, and individuals making over a million dollars will be paying the same rates which they paid during the Clinton years – of this, everybody can be certain.
  • Enacting sane regulations on the financial industry doesn’t cause uncertainty, it reduces it. If the 2008 financial crash taught us anything, it is that an under-regulated financial industry, combined with human greed, can destroy our economy and create more uncertainty than any possible regulation.

Any argument used to debunk the conservative narrative should be tailored for maximum simplicity and listener recall. Uncertainty, as a concept, is widely misunderstood by the lay-person (partially because of conservatives misusing it in political arguments), and any complex argument will likely go over the heads of the general public.

Once the language which will be used to debunk the conservative narrative is decided upon, progressive and Democratic politicians should repeat it on a national scale. Having numerous politicians repeat the same sentiment across various media networks will get people discussing the uncertainty argument. It is unlikely that every listener will be swayed from the conservative “uncertainty” narrative, but it is possible that a significant portion of the American people will begin to reject it on its face. Ideally, this campaign will weaken the conservative argument, while setting the stage to discuss the factors which truly cause uncertainty.

Petition: Don’t Prosecute Whistleblower Who Revealed Torture Program

BY  ON JULY 7, 2012 
Target: The Department of Justice
Goal: To stop the prosecution of John Kiriakou — an ex-CIA agent who is being prosecuted for revealing the United States torture program.
During much of the Bush administration, the United States military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) captured, imprisoned and tortured numerous suspected “enemy combatants”. These combatants were held in secret prisons or on foreign US military bases and were not given access to any legal or humanitarian assistance. For years, the United States public was unaware of the terrible actions of its government, but eventually the US torture program was leaked.
Once allegations of torture surfaced, the US government attempted to cover itself from liability through the relabeling of torture techniques as “enhanced interrogation” techniques; these techniques included waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and mock executions — all of which are recognized torture techniques under international and domestic law.
John Kiriakou was the first primary source to publicly call the actions of the United States torture, rather than the official falsehood “enhanced interrogation”. Unfortunately, the United States government retaliated by charging Kiriakou under the 1917 Espionage Act for his exposure of “confidential information”. Kiriakou’s only “crime” was to expose the war crimes of the United States government to its people, and he should be protected as a whistleblower.
Sign this petition to demand that the Department of Justice stop its prosecution of John Kiriakou for his exposure of torture. It is absurd to charge a man who exposed torture to the public for espionage, particularly given the fact that the torturers (even those who admit their crimes publicly) have yet to feel any consequences for their crimes.


Dear United States Department of Justice,
You are currently prosecuting John Kiriakou, an ex-CIA agent, for the offense of revealing the United States torture program. In 2007, Kiriakou gave several interviews to media outlets, during which he revealed information about the CIA interrogation program and refuted the legal fig-leaf of the term “enhanced interrogation”. Kiriakou’s actions, while they did reveal confidential information, are clearly those of a whistleblower and should be protected rather than punished.
The exposure of illegal actions by the government, particularly where there has been a cover-up by officials, is not treason. The prosecution of whistleblowing who release such information appears to be politically motivated retaliation, if not an intentional attempt to intimidate future leakers.
I, as well as everybody else to sign this petition, implore you at the DOJ to drop the prosecution of John Kiriakou for his whistleblowing activities. Whistleblowers are necessary and prevent our government from escaping accountability by simply classifying all things which make it look bad. Your agency is threatening a man who exposed war crimes, yet you have declined to prosecute the perpetrators of the war crimes which were exposed; this is not justice.
[Your Name Here]

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jack Kingston: Not Your Friend in Washington

Representative Jack Kingston is the Republican representative of the 1st congressional district of Georgia. Jack Kingston is a great friend to the industrial/processed food industries, as well as the producers of genetically modified organisms; corporations within these industries are among the largest contributors to his political campaigns, and in 2011, Kingston was named the “legislator of the year” by the Biotechnical Industry Association. In 2011 and 2012 alone, Representative Kingston’s friendship towards the agri-business and food industries has netted him (and his PAC) over $200,000 in campaign donations – this makes him 

Throughout his career, Rep. Kingston has protected the interests of industrial farming by fighting regulations and preserving subsidies for agri-business firms and more recently, Jack Kingston inserted a provision into the 2012 Farm Bill which will massively benefit the GMO producers. This provision is fairly straightforward, and will allow the circumventing of the courts and regulatory agencies by producers and consumers of genetically modified goods. If it passes, this provision will prevent lawsuits from getting judges to stop the planting of GMO crops, while a legal challenge is pending (If I challenge the approval of a crop now and a judge agrees, it is possible for the judge to stop the planting of the questionable crop until the legal challenge is finished; if this provision goes through, the crop will still be planted until the legal challenge is resolved – something that could take years). It makes no sense for a representative of the people to support a legal provision which allows corporations to sell goods which some believe to be dangerous and are suing to stop the sale of; this is a recipe for disaster, and will only be compounded by the fact that the same Farm Bill that includes this provision will not force GMO producers to mention the fact that their goods are GMOs.

The fact that Rep. Kingston has taken significant amounts of money from the agribusiness industry isn’t uncommon when compared with other Washington politicians – they regularly take money from special interests. However, what is not acceptable is a representative of the people endangering the very people who he represents (and many people living elsewhere) in service to the companies which pay many of his political bills. We, the people, should stand up and protest this blatant cronyism and demand that our representatives put our interests before the interests of their donors: Demand that Rep. Jack Kingston retract his provision, which could prevent judges from pulling toxic products off of the shelves for years (and until it is too late to control the damage which they cause).

It is also of note that Representative Kingston has a history of using his public power to support a private agenda. In 2008, Rep. Kingston earmarked $6.3 million in federal funding to refurbish the beach outside of his house on Tybee Island. While the erosion of coastlines is a serious problem, Kingston's earmark, refurbishing the shore near his vacation home, dramatically increases the worth of the home and is an obviously self-serving act. Given his history of utilizing public funds to increase his own wealth, it is not unlikely that Rep. Kingston will utilize that same power to assist those who promise to help him remain in power (ex. GMO producers).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 2012 Farm Bill and its Consequences

© 7/1/12 Josh Sager – www.SarcasticLiberal.blogspot.com

The United States government periodically passes or re-authorizes federal farm bills in order to govern issues involving agriculture - issues including regulations, subsidies, environmental protections and trade. The 2012 Farm Bill, formally referred to as the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012”, is a gigantic, omnibus bill, stretching over 1000 pages and costing approximately
$1 trillion dollars during the next decade
Due to its size and expansive nature, this bill will have wide reaching effects on issues of farming, conservation and food for individuals across the country. To put the sheer size of the 2012 farm bill into perspective: According to estimates by the Obama administration, the Iraq war cost the USA just over $1 trillion in direct costs over the last decade – nearly identical to the projected costs of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, while the 2012 farm bill is still being debated in the legislature, thus many details are yet to be determined, there are several disheartening initiatives which are virtually certain to pass, regardless of the final wording of the bill: The SNAP program (food stamps) will likely receive significant cuts and genetically modified crops will be shielded from disclosing their unnatural natures on packaging.

SNAP Program Cuts
Both the House and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill include budget cuts to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) Program, thus the only question surrounding the cuts is one of scale. The Senate version of the Farm Bill cuts $4.5 billion of federal funding out of the SNAP program ($450 million per year) and would impose new restrictions on eligibility in order to cut costs. The House Republicans are pushing for $134 billion in cuts ($13.3 billion per year) to the SNAP Program and will likely attempt to attach these cuts to the Farm Bill before they take a vote on it. It is likely that neither side will get the cuts that they desire, but rather that the final result will be somewhere between 4.5 and 134 billion dollars in cuts.

The Senate version of the Farm bill trims the edges off of the SNAP program, cutting 5.7% out of the $78 billion dollar a year SNAP program, while the House Republican plan would likely cripple the program by cutting 17% of its funding. Regardless of what the final cuts to SNAP are, the results will be painful for those dependent upon food stamps and will likely harm the economy. 

The SNAP program is a vital program and has been effective in both assisting poor families to feed themselves and stimulating the economy. Cuts to the SNAP program will likely lead to serious hardship for the poor, and a slowdown of economic growth caused by a decrease in demand for food. Millions of Americans, many of whom are children, are kept fed through funds provided by the SNAP program, and cuts to this program will cause these people to suffer. In addition to the humanitarian aspect of the SNAP Program, it has a very beneficial economic effect: SNAP food assistance has an economic multiplier effect of approximately 1.7 (for every $1 spent, it stimulates demand by $1.70), and is much more effective at stimulating the economy than any known tax cut; decreases in this program’s funding will lead to decreased demand and a slowdown of economic growth across the entire economy.

Shielding GMO Products from Disclosure
The 2012 Farm Bill will help shield producers of genetically modified crops from being forced to disclose the fact that their products have been modified. Few people realize just how many goods that they encounter on a regular basis are genetically modified, thus they are unable to make rational choices as to their consumption of genetically modified goods. Unfortunately, an amendment, proposed by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), that would force food companies to post whether or not their product contains genetically modified organisms was struck down in a bipartisan vote; the 2012 Farm Bill will inevitably perpetuate the concealment of which goods contain genetically modified organisms in order to protect food companies.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms, many times crops or food animals, which have been modified by human genetic manipulation technologies to be superior (theoretically) to the original organisms. These modifications take many forms, ranging from pesticide resistant crops (ex. Monsanto’s “roundup ready” GE corn) to foods with enhanced nutritional aspects (ex. “golden rice”), and are often marketed as the next evolution of crop sciences. 

The genetic modification of crops is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, utilized by numerous multi-national corporations. There are innumerable goods, including most processed foods, which contain some level of genetically engineered crop – follow this link to a list of common goods containing GMOs. Of particular importance when looking at the spread of GE crops are the corn and sugar beet goods created by the Monsanto Corporation; these crops are the primary sources of corn and beet sugar that eventually become glucose, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup which are added to virtually all processed foods. 

While they are marketed as safe, some genetically modified goods have been shown to have serious adverse side effects. Sometimes the splicing of one crop’s genetic code into another’s can lead to allergic reactions; this is particularly dangerous as the consumer may not even know that they are eating a food which contains a food they are deathly allergic to. In 1996, soybeans that had been spliced with brazil-nuts caused some people to unknowingly consume brazil-nut genetic material and suffer severe allergic reactions.

In addition to allergic reactions, there is the potential that genetically modified foods which are resistant to pesticides or produce their own pesticides may be toxic for human consumption. A recent study indicates that “roundup ready” corn, a GMO produced by Monsanto Co., may cause organ damage to mammals; while there haven’t been confirmed cases of human organ damage from this good, it is a very real possibility that such damage could occur given long-term consumption of GM corn. At particular risk for harm due to GMO crop pesticides are developing fetuses, as their tissues are far more susceptible to chemical poisoning (similar to why pregnant women should not drink alcohol or intake nicotine).

Given the potential consequences of unknowingly consuming genetically engineered products, it is simple common sense that people should be warned as to what they are eating; this is not to ban GMOs, but rather to ensure that consumers know just what they are buying and allowing them to make rational choices. The public opinion polling on the mandated disclosure of GMOs in food is heavily in favor of disclosure: A recent poll by Reuters concluded that 93% of Americans believe that genetically modified goods should be labeled for consumers. Individuals should be told what is in the food which they are buying and then be allowed to make a rational choice; the only way that this can occur is if all GMO-containing products are clearly labeled as such.

If an individual chooses to avoid genetically modified crops – whether it be health concerns, religious reasons, or simply a personal preference – it is an individual’s right to do so. Unfortunately, as there are no current regulations that force food suppliers to label goods which contain GMOs, it is virtually impossible for the casual consumer to determine just what they are eating. 

In the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill, Rep Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment which would require companies to disclose whether their products contain GMOs on its packaging; this amendment failed by a bipartisan vote of 73 to 26 in the Senate. As this amendment failed in the Senate by such a significant margin, it is essentially impossible that it will be included in the final bill (particularly because the House is even more hostile to such disclosure than the Senate). With the failed attempt by Rep Sanders to amend the 2012 Farm bill to include new disclosure regulations, it seems likely that such disclosure will not happen in the near future.

Without a federal law mandating disclosure of genetically modified materials in food, there is virtually no way for such laws to be enacted. On the state level, any attempt to pass legislation mandating disclosure would either fail to pass, or meet lawsuits by every major genetic engineering corporation. The threat of such lawsuits by powerful corporations presents a virtually insurmountable obstacle for any state level attempts to force disclosure, even on a smaller level. This is one issue that simply must be fought on the federal level and, unfortunately, this battle seems lost for now.