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, June 26, 2012

Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics

Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics
© 6/24/2012 - Josh Sager

Money in Politics

The modern political era has been party to massive regressions in campaign finance law, as well as corresponding increases in political spending by wealthy groups and individuals. Over the past 40 years, a series of judicial decisions and precedent interpretations have opened the floodgates, allowing a tsunami of money to overtake the political process. This money, originating from corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and advocacy groups, has sculpted the political landscape into one of gridlock and legalized corruption.

Arguably, the first step in the journey which led to the current political climate was the 1886 Supreme Court decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This case’s decision was a vital prerequisite for the current political climate because it was the seed from which “corporate personhood grew. The resolution of a tax dispute between the local government of Santa Clara, CA, and the Southern Pacific railroad led to the including of corporations in the 14th amendment to the Constitution. Interpretations of this case led to a granting of some human rights, most importantly the 1st amendment right to free speech, to American corporations. This decision, while dormant and largely inconsequential in regard to politics for many years, has become the foundation of the argument which allows corporations to spend money in our elections. By giving corporations the human right to free speech, the Supreme Court created a situation where they could not be restricted from “speaking” about political matters. 

In 1976, the Supreme Court decision Buckley V. Valeo redefined monetary donations as just another form of free expression, virtually synonymous with normal speech; while this decision upheld the concept that monetary donations in politics can be limited, its redefinition of money as speech made future regulations of donations very difficult. Due to this decision, donating money became protected speech, and donations to political groups became synonymous with verbal support. The precedent set by Buckley V. Valeo rendered the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad interpretation a vital Supreme Court precedent, as their interaction created a situation where corporations had a protected right to spend money in elections.

The now-infamous Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision of 2010 was the decision which finally broke the dam holding back money in politics. Before the Citizens United decision, monetary expenditure, while considered speech, were held in check by limits to the monetary amount which can be donated during campaigns; these limits prevented wealthy individual, as well as non-human collections of wealth (ex. Corporations and unions), from donating unlimited sums of money in support of their political candidates. Citizens United v. FEC rendered limits on campaign spending to be unconstitutional, thus it led to the explosion of money in politics.

Despite the recent public focus on the judicial mistake know as Citizens United v. FEC, the flood of money into politics was not caused by a single Supreme Court decision; it was brought about through a combination of several decisions, interacting within the law and incrementally increasing the power of money in politics. The granting of human rights to corporations led to a level playing field between individuals and corporation, essentially granting corporations the rights of humans without the legal liabilities or inconvenience of a conscience. The redefining of monetary donations as speech led to corporations, which were then considered people, being given the right to “speak” with their money up to the very limits of the legal campaign donations. The proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back in the fight to keep money out of politics, was the removal of campaign donation limits; this decision led to a proportional level of power based upon money rather than votes – turning our political system from one where “one person equals one vote” to one where “one dollar equals one vote”.

Recently, several groups have been attacking corporate personhood, the synonymy of money with speech, and unlimited campaign donations in order to return integrity to our political process. As the primary causes of the recent political crisis are interpretations of the constitution by the Supreme Court, the only remedies to this crisis have become a constitutional amendment or another decision by the Supreme Court superseding their current stance.

Ultimately, as Supreme Court decisions can be changed, the only long-term solution to the problem of money in politics is a constitutional amendment banning money from political campaigns. Despite its ineffectiveness as a long term fix, a decision by the Supreme Court increasing the difficulty corporations have while donating money to politicians would help stem the flow of money into politics. I believe that such an opportunity to challenge the current political donation law was opened up by the decision of Knox v. SEIU.

Knox V. SEIU

During the 2012 term of the Supreme Court, the court heard and decided upon the case of Knox v. SEIU. This case, and the precedent it sets, involves the rights of public unions to compel donations from their members for the express purpose of political speech.

In 2005, the California Service Employees International Union (SEIU) attempted to increase its members’ dues for a temporary increase in political spending during the upcoming 2006 political cycle; this increase was minor for each person paying union dues, totaling a sum of $6.45 a month, yet some people objected. Several non-union members, who still paid union dues to their support collective bargaining (referred to as “chargeable expenses”), challenged the increase due to their disagreement with the recipient of the political expenditures of the union; these people sued the SEIU to stop their money from supporting political speech which they didn’t agree with, and, in January 2012, the court was heard by the United States Supreme Court.

The decision in Knox v. SEIU, derived from a 7-2 ruling and written by Samuel Alito, decided that the SEIU had violated the 1st Amendment rights of its members by compelling a political donation without prior consent. This decision rested heavily upon the compulsion of belonging to a union, thus supporting political speech by the union, created by current law. Since people were mandated by the government to pay SEIU dues, and these dues were considered “political speech” (due the Buckley v. Valeo defining money as speech and United States v. United Foods Inc. defining compulsory political speech as unconstitutional), the government was determined to be mandating speech. As the government cannot mandate political speech under the 1st amendment, the Supreme Court decided that the SEIU increasing political “speech” without consent was unconstitutional. 

Current California state and federal law allows for the creation of “union shops” - places of business that require workers to pay union dues, regardless of whether they are union members – and supports the compulsion that all workers must pay union dues. Knox v. SEIU separates the primary goal of the union, collective bargaining, from the secondary goal of political input, and names it unconstitutional for a public sector union to compel donations aimed at political speech.

From the Syllabus of the case, explaining current stare decisis on compulsory speech
When a State establishes an “agency shop” that exacts compulsory union fees as a condition of public employment, “[t]he dissenting employee is forced to support financially an organization with whose principles and demands he may disagree.”   Ellis  v.  Railway Clerks, 466 U. S. 435, 455.  This form of compelled speech and association imposes a “significant impingement on First Amendment rights.”  Ibid.  The justification for permitting a union to collect fees from nonmembers—to prevent them from free-riding on the union’s efforts—is an anomaly.  Similarly, requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying the nonchargeable portion of union dues―rather than exempting them unless they opt in―represents a remarkable boon for unions, creating a risk that the fees nonmembers pay will be used to further political and ideological  ends  with  which  they  do  not  agree. Thus, Hudson, far from calling for a balancing of rights or interests, made it clear that any procedure for exacting fees from unwilling contributors must be “carefully tailored to minimize the infringement” of free speech rights, 475 U. S. 302−303, and it cited cases holding that measures burdening the freedom of speech or association must serve a compelling interest and must not be significantly broader than necessary to serve that interest. – Knox v. SEIU Syllabus, Pg. 3

The central premise of Knox v. SEIU can be condensed down to a very simple question: Can an organization which the government mandates citizens to financially support compel those mandated to support it pay additional fees - without prior consent – aimed at supporting the organization’s political speech? The decision of Knox v. SEIU clearly states that such compelled donations without prior consent are unconstitutional infringements upon the 1st Amendment.

Excerpt from the opinions of the court - Pg. 2 - written by Samuel Alito in concurrence with Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Sotomayor, and Ginsberg.
“The First Amendment, we held, does not permit a public-sector union to adopt procedures that have the effect of requiring objecting nonmembers to lend the union money to be used for political, ideological, and other purposes not germane to collective bargaining.”

The ultimate result of Knox v. SEIU is that public sector unions will no longer be able to compel political donations from members who don’t give prior consent to their funds being used for political speech. While unions are acknowledged to provide a primary service to all workers in a workplace, thus these workers must pay union dues regardless of personal preference, the secondary goals of these unions cannot compel increased funding; in short, by defining the primary purpose of public sector unions as the facilitation of collective bargaining and separating this purpose from that of political spending, the court has reduced the ability of unions to compel funds for their political speech.


With the precedent set by the recent Supreme Court Decision Knox v. SEIU, I see the potential for a new line of attack on corporate interests donating money. Instead of simply attempting to attack large aggregations of wealth and power’ (ex. corporations and unions) right to spend money in elections, citizens can use Knox v. SEIU to attack such donations through the argument that such groups are unconstitutionally compelling donations from the public.

Public sector unions are not the only groups which utilize government laws and regulations to compel citizens to pay for their activities: Corporations which receives government contracts (ex. Lockheed Martin), corporations whose stock is purchased by public pension funds (ex. blue-chip stocks), military and privatized public good suppliers (ex. private prison corporations), are simply three examples of situation where the public is compelled to invest in a corporation. A corporation which receives government money is receiving funds obtained through the mandated payment of taxes on the public; as there is no way to opt out of taxes or directly control the flow of tax revenue to prohibit the giving of tax money to specific corporations (ex. saying that none of your taxes shall go to Exxon Mobil), the government is essentially forcing taxpayers to support specific corporations.

As with the government mandating workers in a union shop to pay the SEIU for their promotion of collective bargaining, it is entirely proper for the government to compel citizens to pay for the corporate contracts utilized by the government to provide for society; tax income has regularly been used to contract the provision of public services and goods to private corporations (ex. military weapons contracts). The problem emerges when the same corporations which receive public funding, raised through mandated taxes, are spending money as “political speech”.

If a corporation which has received public money for a service chooses to engage in political speech (and, given the widespread use of lobbying combined with the propagation of corporate subsidies, this is essentially every large corporation) then the government is, in effect, mandating that the average taxpayer support said corporation’s political speech. Just as the SEIU attempted to use its funds to support its political “speech”, corporations utilize their profits to facilitate their own “speech”. Just as the SEIU benefits from government’s “agency shop” rules forcing all workers to support them monetarily, many corporations benefit from the government giving them funding raised through taxes.  

Put plainly, if the SEIU cannot utilize money collected through government compulsion for its political “speech”, as this would violate the 1st Amendment, no corporation receiving money from the government – money collected through compulsory taxation - should be able to utilize its funds for political speech. If Knox v. SEIU is applied to corporate entities rather than just public unions, as is proper under current free-speech law, corporations could still spend money in politics, just as long as they are barred from receiving any and all public assistance.

The banning of private organizations from receiving public monies based upon taxpayers’ objections to such organizations being granted public funds is not unprecedented: The “Title X” ban on abortion providers being paid through public funds, even if their actions are constitutionally protected, was upheld during the 1991 case Rust v. Sullivan. If it is constitutional for abortion providing corporations to be banned from receiving public subsidies (in the form of compulsory tax dollars), assisting them in performing their constitutionally protected services (abortions), then it is constitutional for the government to ban other corporations from receiving such funds to perform other constitutionally protected activities (ex. political speech). This is not to say that such organizations cannot act with private money, but rather that they must perform their constitutionally protected activities – whether abortion or political speech - with private funds.

I propose a legal challenge to the United States government, aimed specifically at expanding Knox v. SEIU to cover all corporate and union entities which receive public funds where there is no opt-out. Based upon current jurisprudence, this case would conform to the current law and would drastically reduce the amount of money in politics. If a corporation is forced to choose between the revenue which comes from government contracts, public sector pension investments, subsidies, grants, and contracts, and their ability to freely exercise their first amendment rights to free speech, it is likely that they will choose to relinquish their right to speak. By forcing large corporations to pick between their pocketbooks and their ability to influence politics, concerned citizens can force corporations to voluntarily disarm much of their political apparatuses.

As a favorable decision in this case would simply expand the constitutional interpretations of existing laws, there is no need to pass the partisan and gridlocked legislature. Given its past decisions of Citizens United v. FEC and Knox v. SEIU, an intellectually consistent Supreme Court would be forced to side with the challengers’’ interpretations of the law - under current law, political speech restrictions do not distinguish between unions and corporations, thus what applies to unions receiving compulsory funding would necessarily apply to corporations receiving the same. As this legal case does not challenge a specific ideology within free speech, it does not violate the constitutional ban against the government favoring specific types of speech; in fact, a Supreme Court denial of this interpretation would represent a discrimination of speech favoring corporations over unions.


Anybody who is currently paying taxes or paying into a government pension program could potentially have standing to challenge the constitutionality of their money being used to fund corporations’ political speech. As corporate profits are not separated by source, a portion of every taxpayer’s taxes, while small, is being used by corporations to fund their political speech. Under the Knox v. SEIU precedent, the use of such money violates the 1st Amendment right to free speech for every individual to be forced to pay the corporation.


Even if the proposed case is successful, and a Supreme Court expands Knox v. SEIU to disarm corporations, this court case would not completely solve the problem of money in politics; a favorable decision would mitigate some of its effects, but not solve the problem at its source (similar to cutting a weed off at ground-level rather than pulling it up at its roots). The following list is of several limitations and complications which would accompany the legal fight and results (if successful) of the proposed legal case:
  1. 1.      The current Supreme Court is a highly partisan body and could potentially throw away its own precedent to support the sustainability of corporate power in politics. While this action would be so obviously hypocritical, given their Knox v. SEIU decision, that they would lose face in the public eye, however it is entirely possible that they would act so anyway.
  2. 2.      Once corporate groups became aware of the effort to cripple their funding streams, the response would likely be enormous. If these corporate groups believed their funding to be significantly threatened by this case, they would likely attempt to crush it with all available resources.
  3. 3.      501(c)(4) “Super-PACS” (ex. Crossroads GPS) are considered “social welfare organizations” rather than political groups, thus these groups will still be able to spend limitless amounts of money in politics.
  4. 4.      Wealthy individuals (ex. Sheldon Adelson) would be left completely untouched by this method of attacking money in politics. As individuals, not institutions, these rich people would be able to bypass the ban on publicly funded corporations and continue to spend limitless amounts of money as a form of political speech.
  5. 5.      The “revolving doors” of politics and regulatory agencies would still be operational, thus corrupt political agents would still be able to benefit from their corporate patronage; hopefully, by reducing the ability of corporations to support such politicians while seeking re-election, these politicians would be more vulnerable to unseating.
  6. 6.      As with all Supreme Court decisions, a future court can overrule this decision. Because of its lack of permanence, the use of the Supreme Court to challenge money in politics will always be inferior to the attempt grounded in pursuing a constitutional amendment.
  7. 7.      By intentionally expanding Knox v. SEIU to cover corporations, it is possible to reduce the money in politics from all groups, regardless of partisanship. Partisan actors are unlikely to get behind the effort to disarm their political apparatus’s funding stream, regardless of whether or not it also disarms their opponents.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why Not to Trust Monsanto

Why Not to Trust Monsanto
© 2012 Josh Sager – SarcasticLiberal.blogspot.com
Open to publishing with attribution, but not alteration

All Credit for Graphic to Rasa13
The Monsanto Corporation is one of the largest pesticide and biotechnical corporation in the entire world; their products are used in most sectors of agriculture and can likely be found in most markets across the United States.  Monsanto is a multi-billion dollar company with a diverse product base and is among the largest producers of genetically engineered crops. As a company, Monsanto promises to be the creator of new, safer, pesticides as well as stronger bio-engineered crops. Unfortunately, the reality of what Monsanto will deliver to the world is likely very different from what they promise, or what we, as a society, desire.

Monsanto has produced many products, from new types of pesticide to genetically engineered crops, and has been the center of several severe controversies. In numerous cases, the Monsanto Corporation produced and marketed products which they knew to be potentially toxic, yet gained a profit from selling. While not illegal, largely due to their massive lobbying efforts reducing safety standards (Follow this link for the OpenSecrets.org report on Monsanto lobbying), the sale of toxic chemicals for a corporate profit is both highly immoral and very relevant to those in society who wish to assess the use of Monsanto products. Put plainly: Monsanto’s history of selling poison, labeled as a useful product, casts doubt on whether any product that they sell should be trusted (even if they claim it to be entirely safe, they have lied before).

During its early years, Monsanto was a major producer of PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl) to be used in various industrial applications. Monsanto was the primary North American supplier of PCBs from the 1930 to the late 1970s, when these chemicals were banned for their highly toxic nature. PCBs, while very stable and good at acting as a liquid insulator, are extremely toxic to virtually all forms of life – they are carcinogenic, highly toxic, and corrosive upon contact with skin or mucus membranes. Even with the mounting evidence of the toxicity of PCBs, Monsanto continued to produce them up until they were forced to stop by the government banning their production.

The Monsanto Corporation has a long and sometimes unfortunate history of creating new and powerful pesticides. The infamous “Agent Orange”, used in Vietnam to destroy jungles, and the powerful pesticide DDT were two of the primary pesticides produced by Monsanto during its early years. While Agent Orange and DDT are now outlawed due to the massive damage they cause human life as well as the environment, Monsanto continued producing them for as long as the law allowed. The gigantic costs to human health and to the environment caused by the sale of Monsanto pesticides, even once they were deemed too dangerous for use, resulted in many ruined lives and destroyed ecosystems for society but huge profits for Monsanto.

A large portion of Monsanto’s business is currently in the field of “genetically modified organisms” (otherwise known as GMOs); this simply means that they alter the genetic structures of crops in order to (hopefully) make them more resistant to disease, easier to grow, higher yield, or less susceptible to predation by pests. Unfortunately, GMOs are often plagued by unintended consequences and side effects of genetic modification which make them risky for human consumption. Monsanto has been embroiled in several serious controversies surrounding the safety of their GMO products – namely GE corn and recombinant bovine growth hormone – yet they have consistently continued to sell their goods. 

Just recently, a study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences seems to indicate a link between the consumption of Monsanto genetically engineered corn and organ damage (primarily in the liver and kidneys). This damage is consistent with the genetically engineered pesticide utilized by the corn, and seems to refute Monsanto’s claim that the pesticide will degrade long before it is consumed. Despite evidence that Monsanto’s GM corn may cause organ damage in its consumers, they have refused to recall their products. The refusal to recall their potentially toxic corn, in combination with their history of damaging their consumers for a profit, shed considerable doubt upon their care for the health of those who consume their goods.

Monsanto’s corporate behavior, both historically and currently, demonstrates a prioritization of profits over the safety of their consumers. It is evident that Monsanto will sell products, regardless of whether they may be toxic, for as long as they are legally able to sell them. Not only does Monsanto have a pattern of selling toxic goods, but they lobby to prevent these goods from becoming illegal (even after determining their toxicity), thus compounding the harm that they cause society.

Monsanto may very well make some quality products but, given their pattern of negligence, there is no reason for the public to believe them when they promote their goods. The Monsanto Corporation has proven numerous times that it will sell poison for a personal profit, regardless of the harm which their products inflict upon society; in the absence of regulators sanctioning Monsanto for its negligence, it is up to the public to stand up to Monsanto and call them out for their bad acts.

The next time you hear the name Monsanto in relation to a good which you are thinking of buying, please reconsider your purchase. It is entirely possible that the food is safe, or even of higher quality than other food, but there is also the very real likelihood that this food will damage your body. Why gamble with your, or your family’s, health when there are so many other alternatives to the potentially toxic goods of Monsanto?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Debunking the Term: “Voter Fraud”

By Josh Sager

The Republican Party and conservative movement (if one is even able to separate the two), have consistently propagated the idea that voter fraud is rampant in the United States. This claim is false, and constructed purely out of a desire to limit the ability of people to vote. By claiming rampant voter fraud is perpetrated by supporters of their opponents, conservatives simultaneously delegitimize their opposition and justify their restriction of voting rights. Progressives need to fight back against the organized conservative effort to disenfranchise voters, under the aegis of systemic voter fraud, by labeling the conservative disenfranchisement as the true voter fraud.

Modern American conservatives often seek to limit the right to vote, particularly among specific demographics, because it is politically beneficial to them. Research shows that, in the United States, the smaller the voter turnout, the more likely that the conservative movement will elect their candidates. Through condensing the voting electorate into a group which disproportionately supports their interests, the conservative movement is able to capture far larger portions of the country than they would if voting were universal.  In order to condense the vote, conservatives in power enact voting restrictions that disproportionately target specific demographics.

The demographic groups that are under particular threat from right wing voting rights attacks are virtually always those that support democrats. Young, minority, and poor Americans are three of the largest demographic groups that disproportionately support Democrats and progressives. As such, these are the groups which suffer the most by conservative restrictions to voting rights.
There are four major tactics which the conservative movement utilizes to disenfranchise left-leaning demographic groups:

  1. Voter Identification Requirements:

By requiring a type of identification not usually held by certain demographics, politicians can disenfranchise specific groups of voters. Members of different demographic groups have different likelihoods of carrying different types of identification. For example: young voters living in an urban environment are far less likely to carry driver’s licenses than middle-aged voters living in the suburbs. By identifying the types of identification that are statistically more likely to be carried by friendly demographics and less likely to be carried by unfriendly demographics, politicians can game the voter-ID requirements to benefit their own party.  

Conservative-leaning demographics are statistically more likely to have state driver’s licenses, weapons permits, and state identification cards than progressive leaning demographics. As they benefit electorally when these identification forms are the only ones allowed, conservative legislators virtually always attempt to make these ID types the only ones allowed at the voting booth.

Progressive-leaning demographics are statistically far more likely to have college identification or no identification than conservative demographics. Conservatives often attempt to disenfranchise those who have no ID, as well as rendering any college identification invalid as proof of voting eligibility. The removal of college identification particularly harms out of state students, a reliably progressive voting demographic.

  1. Restricting the time and locations of voting:

Republican legislators utilize the tactic of selectively reducing the times and places where citizens can legally vote in order to shrink the voting population. If fewer people are able to vote, or voting becomes too inconvenient for many people, then the voting pool can be shrunk without any overt disenfranchisement.

Through the closing of voting locations, or the undersupplying of these locations with voting stations, conservative officials can significantly affect the vote. By reducing the effective number of voting stations in minority, poor, and liberal communities, Republicans can create huge jams on voting day and convince many to simply go home. As voting day is not a holiday in the United States, long wait times at the polls are particularly damaging to poor workers who are unable to get significant amounts of time off.

By reducing early voting and absentee voting, conservatives are able to reduce the minority and elderly populations which vote in elections. African American churches have adopted the effective and socially beneficial practice of organizing voting drives during the Sunday before elections; through their prominent connection to their community, they are able to 

  1. Attacking voter registration:

Conservative groups regularly attack the funding and increase the regulations limiting voting registration organizations. Common tactics used to attack these groups include: limiting the time for forms to be passed in, increasing fines levied against these organization, and attacking the funding of such organizations. As we saw with the organization Acorn, these tactics are often very effective and can result in the defunding and disassembling of entire voter registration organizations.

Through destroying voter registration organizations, particularly ones targeting minorities and young students, conservatives can reduce the number of registered voter who are likely to vote democratic. Functionally speaking, reducing the number of registered voters is identical to obstructing them at the polls or purging them from the rolls, thus attacking voter registration organizations is as effective as directly disenfranchising voters at the polls. 

  1. “Voter purges”:

Voter purges are sometimes used by conservatives to disenfranchise large numbers of democratic leaning voters. These purges are the most direct form of voter suppression that we have seen since the days of Jim Crow: voters are simply taken off of the voting rolls under that aegis that they are not legitimate voters; oftentimes these purges are justified through the assertion that those purged are felons (without voting rights), illegal residents, or simply people who have moved (determined through mailers that must be returned to remain on the rolls). 

The most egregious examples of modern partisan voter purges can be found in the state of Florida during the lead ups to the 2000 and 2012 elections. In both cases, the Republican legislature enacted stringent voter purges targeted at democratic leaning demographics – purging “suspected felons” in 2000 and “suspected illegal residents” in 2012.

What Progressives Need to Do

Progressives must fight back against any and every form of voter disenfranchisement, wherever it may be proposed. In order to fight back, progressives should flip the argument of voter fraud and label the conservative attempts to disenfranchise voters to be the actual voter fraud. By making a clear case that conservative voter disenfranchising, and repeating it constantly, Democrats and progressives can simultaneously mitigate the Republican “voter fraud” talking point while attacking voter suppression legislation. This effort will need to be organized nationally, require significant party discipline in order to retain a unified message decrying conservative voter suppression attempts.

First, progressives must assess the damage caused by conservative voter disenfranchisement and compare it to the damage of suspected voter fraud. 

The Department of Justice has a running list of confirmed voter fraud cases which progressives can use to disprove conservative claims of fraud. Between the years of 2002 and 2007, the DOJ reports 86# cases of voter fraud resulting in a conviction; these were the Bush years, and nobody can argue that the DOJ refused to look into voter fraud due to possible “liberal bias”. 

In contrast to the low number of confirmed voter fraud cases, we a far higher number of potential voter disenfranchisement cases. In response to the 2011 Florida voter purge, over 500# individuals have already confirmed their citizenship after being purged. Extrapolating from the example of Florida to the rest of the states, we can tell that tens of thousands of voters have been potentially prevented from voting. We cannot accurately estimate the number of voters to be disenfranchised by conservative voter laws, but the numbers is clearly hundred, if not thousands of times larger than the number of people who have potentially voted illegally.

Second, progressives must contrast the harm caused by conservative’s alleged voter fraud and that caused by conservative voter disenfranchisement. Ideally, the purpose of this is to portray the conservative efforts to suppress the vote as a cure which is far worse than the disease.

If we consider the total number of eligible voters as a zero-line (100% accuracy in voting), any deviation from this number is potential “voter fraud”; people who vote illegally cause a positive deviation from the ideal point, while people to be illegally disenfranchised cause a negative deviation from the ideal point.  Put plainly, every person to vote while ineligible has the very same distorting effect on the election as every person to be illegally disenfranchised. Every person to be turned away at the voting booths is a case of voting fraud by those who intentionally limited the vote. As described above, thousands of legal voters are currently facing voter disenfranchisement measures justified by the proven fraud of a few dozen people.

Progressives need to clearly make the case that voter fraud isn’t just perpetrated by those attempting to vote illegally; it is also present in cases where those who should legally be able to vote are not allowed to. Every voter to be illegally disenfranchised should be portrayed as a case of voter fraud by the legislators who attempt to rig the vote in their favor.

The conservative movement has already laid the groundwork for the claims of widespread voter fraud to be perpetrated; progressives simply need to reverse the narrative and turn it upon the conservative disenfranchising efforts. While describing the conservative voter fraud, progressives should stress that anybody can be a victim of these disenfranchisement laws, preferably while giving examples of such cases. There are numerous cases of elderly retirees and veterans being illegally disenfranchised that should be presented as examples of such fraud. By putting a human face upon the disenfranchising law’s victims (preferably a veteran or elderly long-time voter) the public will be far more likely to be mobilized against conservative efforts than if statistics are simply thrown at them.

By attacking conservative voter disenfranchisement, progressives will be able to simultaneously uphold the American democratic values and ensure increased power at the polls. In our system of close, highly partisan elections, any attempts to suppress the vote are dangerous towards democracy and cannot be tolerated. No political group should be allowed to steal the vote, regardless of whether they are voting when they aren’t allowed to or whether they are barring legal voters from exercising their right

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Petition: Tell Mitt Romney that Drilling for Oil in National Parks isn’t an Energy Solution

Tell Mitt Romney that Drilling for Oil in National Parks isn’t an Energy Solution

Tell Mitt Romney that Drilling for Oil in National Parks isn’t an Energy Solution

Target: Presidential candidate Mitt Romney
Goal: Convince Mitt Romney that opening the entire United States, including national parks, to oil drilling is not a valid plan to solve the nation’s energy problem.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate for president, currently supports a policy of drastically increased drilling as a solution to the looming energy crisis in the United States. The United States is on an unsustainable energy consumption trajectory and will need additional energy sources if we desire to preserve our current lifestyle; as the potential future leader of the United States, Romney’s plans surrounding energy policy are vital, as are any consequences caused by these plans.
The official Romney campaign position on oil drilling is as follows: “Governor Romney will permit drilling wherever it can be done safely, taking into account local concerns.” While Romney’s energy plan is arguably ineffective, due to the limitations surrounding non-renewable resources, the primary problem with it is that protected national park land would be opened to oil exploration.
Under candidate Romney’s current energy plan, national parks – such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon – would be opened to oil drilling and likely despoiled during the extraction process. Oil drilling is an environmentally dangerous process and will lead to the inevitable degradation of our national parks.
Putting aside the facts that the increased use of carbon-based fuels will exacerbate global climate change and that oil is not a renewable resource, drilling in national parks is not worth the damage that it causes. We need to preserve our country’s national parks, and cannot allow the short term need for energy to overshadow the permanent damage that can be done to our national treasures. Sign this petition to protest candidate Romney’s energy plan and stop the potential despoiling of our national parks.
Dear Candidate Mitt Romney,
Your current energy plan consists of opening the entire United States, including protected national land, to oil drilling. This plan, while it will increase short term energy supplies for the country, will lead to the inevitable degradation of our national parks.
Put plainly, the opening of national parks to oil drilling is not an effective policy and will harm the United States in the long term. The potential oil production gained from pillaging national park land will eventually disappear, yet the damage done to our national parks will remain forever.
Our national parks and historic landmarks should be protected from all encroachments, particularly encroachments which have the potential to render the protected land toxic for generations to come. I, as well as everybody else to sign this petition, implore you to abandon your plan to open national park land to oil exploration – there are safer, cleaner and less destructive methods of fixing our country’s energy problems.
[Your Name Here]

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wisconsin Lost: The Test Case for a Post-Citizens United Political Landscape

By Josh Sager

In the face of the results from the recent Wisconsin recall election, several congratulations are in order: Congratulations to Governor Scott Walker for retaining his position of power, even in the face of a massive populist rejection of his policies. Congratulations to Walker for proving that, with enough money, even the most disliked and obviously corrupt politicians can remain in power. Congratulations to Walker for becoming the living example of why money must be removed from politics. Governor Walker’s attack on public sector union collective bargaining during the creation of the 2011 Wisconsin budget caused a virtual firestorm in the Wisconsin political landscape. Huge protests, including a massive sit-in at the statehouse, demonstrated just how controversial the union-busting amendment was to the general population. The reaction to the union-busting measures pushed by Walker became so extreme that numerous Democratic legislators actually fled the state in an attempt to block cloture (preventing a vote) on the budget. Unfortunately, the removal of collective bargaining rights eventually passed through the legislature - through the use of a highly controversial procedural loophole - and was signed by Walker. Throughout much of 2011, a large number of union and Democratic groups gathered signatures and organized in order to bring about recall elections of the politicians who support the union-busting measures. After a lengthy process, far more signatures than required were turned in and the recall was set. Unfortunately, a loophole in the Wisconsin election law, allowing for unlimited donations during recall elections, combined with the Citizen’s United V. FEC Supreme Court decision led to a situation where a figurative tsunami of money entered Wisconsin politics. The Wisconsin recall election has become a crystal ball into the future of American politics – a future where unlimited amounts of money are donated by anonymous billionaires and used to carpet-bomb the public with deceptive ads.

The following graphic, created by the Center for Public Integrity, demonstrates just how ridiculous the idea of unlimited donations is:

As you can see in the graphic, Scott Walker raised nearly eight times the amount of money then Tom Barrett, the Democratic challenger. A resource disparity of a factor of eight is absolutely ridiculous, and creates a virtually insurmountable obstacle for the party with the smaller amount of resources. With his vastly inferior resources, there was simply no way for Barrett to put up a credible fight against Walker. Unless we work to get rid of money in politics, it is likely that many future fundraising charts will look similar to this one – where the corporatist politician has virtually unlimited funding and the populist politician is left with virtually no way to fight back.
It is an unpleasant fact that people are fairly easy to trick, given enough organization and money supporting the effort; unfortunately, corporate political groups have both the money and the organizational knowledge to trick people into supporting their politicians. The major operational effect of removing the limits on political donations is that those with money will inevitably attempt to propagandize others to support their interests (regardless of whether this interests support those people). As the general public is usually ignorant about the specifics of policy, political dis-information campaigns regularly convince people to vote against their own interests or support candidates who are obviously not the best people for the job. Not only has the removal of donation limits led to the public being constantly bombarded with partisan propaganda, but loopholes in disclosure rules have led to thes campaigns being virtually anonymous; we simply don’t know who is giving to many major political groups (Ex. Crossroads GPS). Money in electoral politics used primarily to buy advertising and promote messaging. In political races where resources are largely equal between the parties, there is no way for one group to simply saturation-bomb the opposition with negative ads; for every ad that one side takes out, the other can respond and mitigate it with an opposing ad. Unlike in races where resource levels of the sides are similar, in races where the resource differential is large (Ex. a factor of eight), one side can buy up huge amounts of ad-space and overwhelm the other. The side with more resources simply buys huge amounts of advertising and drowns out the opposing side through sheer volume of propaganda. We have seen this phenomenon in the Republican primary race, where Romney used his superior resources to bludgeon the opposition – weak as it was – into submission, as well as in the recent Wisconsin recall. In less than a year, the propaganda campaign of Scott Walker transformed the atmosphere of protest - which spawned marches and fueled a massive recall effort – into one where he was able to capture over a third of the union households of Wisconsin. Even while the video of Walker discussing his “divide and conquer” strategy of breaking unions with a rich donor and the now-infamous “fake-Koch brother” audio tape circulated the internet, Walker was able to convince nearly a third of union households to vote for him. Propaganda works, but it requires money to propagate; due to his selling out to the rich, who desired unions be suppressed, Walker had all the money he needed to keep his position. In addition to the sheer volume of cash spent during the Walker recall, the sources of such money are absolutely vital to the understanding of the recall results. A majority (66% or $20.13 million) of Walker’s money came from out of state groups and individuals - agents which don’t actually have any stake in the recall, as they are not residing within the area of effect for the governor’s policies. These interests are national corporate groups looking to set a precedent, where repercussions against politicians who support anti-labor agendas are minimal. If politicians are emboldened to attack unions, because they no longer need to fear populist reprisals, more state politicians will be willing to sell out to corporate interests. A minority (34% or $10.37 million) of Walker’s fundraising came from in-state corporate interests and wealthy donors. Many of these donors benefit greatly from the reduction of labor rights within their state, because decreased union power depresses the wages for everybody. Tom Barrett raised a majority (74% or $2.886 million) of his money from in-state interests; a majority of this money came from unions groups and smaller donations. These groups are most likely those that are affected most by the union stripping measures of Walker, thus they had a compelling interest in recalling him. A vast minority (26% or $1.014 million) of the money raised by Barrett came from out of state donors. These donors consisted primarily of concerned liberals and union groups looking to impose punishments against Walker for his anti-union agenda. Just as corporate interest from other states desire a precedent of no consequences for selling out to corporations, unions desire accountability from these politicians.
To put the Walker recall funding source situation into perspective:

Scott WalkerTom BarrettDifferential
In-State Fundraising$10.37 million$2.886 million+359.3% to Walker
Out of State Fundraising$20.13 million$1.014 million+1985% to Walker

Not only did Walker raise far more money from donors, but a huge percentage of his donations came from out of state groups. While in-state Walker fundraising overtook Barrett’s by a factor of 359.3% (an incredible number), Walker’s out of state fundraising absolutely eclipsed Barrett’s by a factor of 1985%. The fact that Walker’s fundraising is so heavily skewed towards out of state donation points to the fact that union busting by corporate interests is a national issue. Unions in Wisconsin wanted to retain the ability to collectively bargain, but corporations are looking at a multi-state strategy. In essence, the Wisconsin unions and Tom Barrett were looking to serve the interest of their supporters in Wisconsin, while corporations and Scott Walker were looking to advance the national corporate fight against unions. Realistically, unions and interest groups looking out for average citizens will never be able to compete monetarily against corporate groups and individual billionaire donors. Corporations simply have too much money and unions will never be able to compete on an even playing field. This fundamental disparity in resources, combined with a system of unlimited political donations, leads to an unbalancing of the political playing field: the rich and corporations gain an advantage and slowly take over the political system. 

As demonstrated by the Walker recall, money in politics has a clear and devastating effect on the race. On average, the side with drastically more money wins the race against the side with more limited resources. Corporate money flows to the politicians who sell out to the interests of these corporations – reducing corporate taxes/regulation and giving them contracts – thus the corporate politicians will eventually take over any area where money is unrestricted. The attempted recall of Scott Walker, precipitated by his attacks on labor rights in Wisconsin, was the first large test of corporate money versus people - Unfortunately, in this case, money won. While it wasn't surrounding a particularly important political position, in the gard scheme of things, the recall fight against the Wisconsin Governor gave us a window into the future of politics. Huge amounts of money, oftentimes donated from groups not affected directly by the results of the elections, swamp the population with messaging. This messaging convinces the population to vote against their own interests and creates a self-sustaining cycle of corporations buying election after election. 
We must remove money from politics, lest our entire system of government become little more than a public auction between different corporate interest groups. We, as Americans, must organize and prevent all future elections from being as unbalanced as the recent Wisconsin recall. It isn't too late to act against corporate power in elections but we must act now, before the corporate interests capture the government even more than they have already. The only feasible method of barring money from elections is through a constitutional amendment. Several groups are working towards this goal, but they need help. Please, regardless of partisanship, donate your time and resources towards one of these groups and join the effort to protect American democracy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Effects of Corporate Lobbying, Pt. 3: Take Action

The Effects of Corporate Lobbying, Pt. 3: Take Action

By Josh Sager

Should citizens work towards getting money out of politics?

In a word, yes. The American people must fight against money in politics if we wish to have any influence in our government and, by extension, public policy.
The US government was originally intended to be a constitutional republic, where voters decide upon representatives who represent their interests. Unfortunately, lobbying and the extreme increase of money in politics have perverted the integrity of our government to the point where policy is tailored to the rich. While it may be possible for some citizens to recapture control over their elected officials, lobbyist money will still control the government in aggregate. The only way that the USA will return to a country where the will of the population controls policy is a complete reform of lobbying and campaign finance reform. 
But how do we do this?
Unfortunately, the problem of money in politics is very difficult to solve using traditional politics; the system is so bought by interests that it is virtually impossible for citizens to push money out of power. With the Citizen’s United v. FEC decision classifying money as speech, there are only three realistic methods by which money will leave politics:
  1. Another decision by the Supreme Court – As the Supreme Court is not elected, there is no way for the population to push for this, nor is it likely that the currently corporate-friendly court will change its decision.
  2. A constitutional amendment – By pushing for a constitutional amendment banning money as speech, Americans can get around Citizens United and virtually ensure that money will lose control over policy. A constitutional amendment can be created by the federal legislature or a constitutional convention called by the states; as there is no chance of a super-majority banning money in politics being created in the federal legislature, the only possible path is to call a constitutional convention on the state level.
  3. The creation of a small money party – It is possible that a party will form, united in the ideal that money should leave politics. If enough Americans are disgusted by the control that special interests have over policy, it is possible that a small-money, populist party could raise enough money to compete on the level of mainstream politics. This option is somewhat unlikely, as gathering enough small donations to fight a single $10 million donation from a billionaire is difficult, if not impossible, and third party groups have little success in modern politics.
Getting money out of politics is an issue which concerns everyone in this country. As previously detailed, money in politics has concrete and severe consequences on the American public. We must take back our government from the wealthy interests who have attempted (and sometimes succeeded) to buy our politics for personal profit.

Take Action

To take action, you can do the following:
Join or organize protests - Protest publicly and join groups intended on fighting the influence of money in politics. Money may buy politicians but it cannot by votes. Large numbers of protesters can dissuade politicians from selling out (at least in obviously egregious ways); because of this, your involvement can actually decrease the effects of money in politics (this is not a permanent fix, as money will always be a factor for as long as it is allowed in politics).
Volunteer your time and skills for Wolf PAC – Wolf PAC is a political action committee focused exclusively upon removing money from the political process through a constitutional amendment. They are using a multi-state strategy and require volunteer assistance in virtually every state, as well as online. Right now, Wolf PAC needs donations, writers, artists to make videos and images, news junkies, and more. Send an email to volunteer!
Sign petitions demanding that money separate from politics:

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Debate Over Debt

This post consists of two articles from the Boston Occupier Newspaper, both detailing plans to deal with the debt crisis afflicting Americans. My article, "A Plan for Debt", focuses upon the use of debt reform and the assistance of debtors within the system. Jay's article, "We Could Own the Banks", focuses upon debt refusal and the destruction of the current debtor system in the United States. Both of these articles provide valid points, and I will leave it up to the reader to decide which plan is most effective.  

A Plan for Debt

This article is a part of our ‘Debate:’ series, a pair of op-eds published monthly in the Boston Occupier.  This month’s topic was ‘Debt Reform or Revolution?’.
Debt, whether originating from student loans, credit cards, mortgages, or healthcare, has become a serious problem in the United States. The mortgage crisis, and by extension the housing crisis, was a debt-driven catastrophe: it was the result of widespread inability of Americans to pay their debts in the face of predatory lending and job loss. In student loan debt alone, Americans owe over $1 trillion. When this sum is combined with debt from mortgages, credit cards, and medical expenses, we have a massive and rapidly growing debt problem in the USA, with no agreed-upon solution. The United States is rapidly becoming, if not already, a nation of debt. A large portion of the population is locked into a cycle of failed repayment and mounting interest, with no way out.
What should be done? I would argue that there are several initiatives that could widely ameliorate the negative effects of debt in the USA: adjustments of principle balances and interest rates for mortgage debt; punitive forfeiture of debt balance if a lender is shown to have engaged in fraud; federal assistance to students with loan debts upon graduation and the possible removal of student loan debt in bankruptcy; and finally, increased regulation of interest rates to reduce the prevalence of predatory lending. I will consider each of these in greater detail.
One effective way to mitigate mortgage debt, thus allowing people to remain in their homes, while allowing the banks to retrieve some of their money, would be to legislate a deal in which banks adjust the principle loan and interest rates so that they are in line with the actual value of the property. By reducing the principle loan and interest rates, more people would be able to afford to keep up with their mortgages, thus would be able to keep their homes. This would, in turn, increase the value of the surrounding houses and improve the general health of the housing market in the United States.  The federal government could compel such a deal between banks and the banks homeowners by threatening to return to banks their toxic mortgage assets, as allowed for in the current agreement between Fannie Mae and the banks, thus swamping them if they refuse to renegotiate mortgages.
In addition to this renegotiation with banks, there should be serious consequences for any lender who engages in fraudulent activity. I support total forfeiture of both the remaining principle loan and interest in any case where the bank engages in fraud. Banks should not be allowed to benefit from illegal practices, and people should not have to bear the costs of fraud. Practices that should cause forfeiture include, but are not limited to, the intentional misleading of prospective borrowers into high-risk mortgages, intentionally inflated interest rates, foreclosure despite up-to-date payments, and the use of robo-signing (systematic signing of loan papers by people who had no involvement in the process). By instituting severe monetary punishment on perpetrators of fraud, we can disincentivize fraud, as well as help its victims recover their rightful assets. Currently banks profit from fraud. We need to rewrite — and enforce — laws to ensure that fraud does not pay.
Student loan debt is a crippling weight on many graduates today. Unless a student comes from a wealthy family or receives a scholarship, it is likely that any private university (and many public universities) will cause thousands in loan debt. Because of a 1976 change to bankruptcy law, this debt is incapable of being removed through a declaration of bankruptcy, thus making it impossible to escape even in the event of financial ruin. In order to address this situation, I suggest several policies. First, student loan debt should able to be removed by bankruptcy, just like most other types of debt. Second, the federal government should create a national education fund in order to assist with the loans of all students who successfully graduate and qualify for assistance. This would be similar to Pell Grants, but on a much wider scale. Finally, student loan debt repayment should be capped at a percentage of annual income so as to increase the affordability of loans. Education increases the productivity of our entire society. When education becomes more affordable, everyone benefits — even those who do not directly receive debt assistance.
Banking institutions which give out loans must be heavily regulated in order to prevent abusive practices. Unfortunately, current laws are almost universally too lax and require a review. Banks should not be allowed to charge extortionate interest rates or hidden fees. Terms of use should not be misleading. A complete review of banking laws by experts, not lobbyists, would allow our government to identify future troubles and prevent the perpetuation and worsening of our country’s debt crisis.
While there are numerous ways to deal with a debt crisis, some argue that debt forgiveness (or “debt jubilee”) would be the most effective way to deal with the issue of debt facing Americans today. These people are correct, in that the solution is immediate and direct. However, the side effects of such an action would likely be devastating. Indiscriminate debt forgiveness, legislated by the government would destabilize the entire lending market. Lenders would have no reason to make new loans. If those who lend money have no certainty that they will get their money returned, with a modest profit, they simply would not lend money, especially not to the poor or middle class, who need loans the most.  This characteristic of the market disqualifies total debt forgiveness as a viable option for solving our country’s debt problems, at least as long as we intend to maintain a lending system similar to the one we have now.
Debt is an issue that must be dealt with, and quickly if we hope to mitigate long-term damage to our country. A comprehensive plan, which prioritizes the economic health of the average person over that of the banker, is the only course that will stabilize our debt situation in the short term and avoid long-term catastrophe.


We Could Own the Banks

This article is a part of our ‘Debate:’ series, a pair of op-eds published monthly in the Boston Occupier.  This month’s topic was ‘Debt Reform or Revolution?’.
The average US household debt burden has reached oppressive and unprecedented levels.  According to the Federal Reserve, in 2010, total US household debt stood at $13.5 Trillion. This calculates to over $44,000 per person, or about 122% of total disposable income.  Increasingly Americans owe more than the own in this world (even as the top 1% owns more than ever).  Why are people in so much debt in the first place?  This rising debt is the effect of an exploitative and unsustainable system.
Contrary to those who moralize about “irresponsible” consumer spending, the single largest cause of the rising average US debt-burden is a rise in workplace exploitation.  Despite working harder and more efficiently year after year, US workers—those of us who are “lucky” enough to find jobs—continue to see our wages stagnate, or even decline.  Corporations and employers (aka “the 1%”) are getting more out of us, while paying us less.  Profits have gone through the roof for capitalist firms, while workers have been compelled to borrow to maintain the markers of “middle class” life: a car, a house, a college education for their kids.
Rising college tuition and healthcare costs are important secondary causes of the debt-boom, as are government policies that have replaced federal educational grants with loans. (As recently as 1980 Pell Grants covered 69% of public college costs; now they cover less than 35%.) Federal “Student Aid” has ceased to be a subsidy for education, and become largely a subsidy for the Finance Industry.
Chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of NY, showing the breakdown of tool US Household debt. Click through twice to enlarge.
In this context of stagnating wages, the credit-debt complex came to the rescue as a double “solution,” at least for a time.  On the one hand, credit served as a means of buoying consumer demand across the system (allowing people to buy more from businesses than they could without the loans).  On the other hand, it gave finance capitalists one more easy way to profit (via interest) off of the very worker deprivation being created by heightened workplace exploitation.
But all this debt makes a volatile economic foundation.  As we saw in 2007 with the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, when poor and working-people become unable to repay their debts, the whole elaborate financial edifice can come crashing down.
What if we harnessed this power of debt refusal in a politically conscious way?
There is nothing like being deep in debt to make you feel completely alone and powerless.  Increasingly, however, this isolation is an illusion.   The numbers of people drowning in debt in this country is growing all the time, as is the amount of US debt per household.  (The average college graduate now enters the “real world” already $30,000 in debt, the average graduate student, with far more than that.) There is potential power in these numbers.
There is a saying that goes: “If you owe the bank $100,000, the bank owns you.  If you owe the bank $100 million dollars…You own the bank.”   It is long-past time that those of us whose lives are crippled by chains of debt took this idea to heart. Student loan debt alone is estimated at over $1 Trillion.  Together, we, the student debtors united, could own the banks.
The basic premise of collective bargaining, that workers can (only) gain equal power with employers by coming together and threatening to withhold the source of the employers’ profits (namely, our labor)applies to debtors as well.   Banks are dependent on our debt payments. Thus, the debt that individually makes us feel helpless, if pooled and wielded collectively, can become the source of great power.  Weakness, combined, can be flipped into strength.
Such a debt-refusal need not be an act of random sabotage, aimed simply at disrupting bank operations, or at “sticking it to the man.”  Rather, our debtors union could project demands that would unite broad sectors of the 99%.  We could force the Banks to reduce their interest rates, to cancel the principle they are “owed,” to renegotiate underwater mortgages, etc.  We might even use this debtor-power to leverage more aggressive political demands: like getting the banksters to cough up the funds necessary to fund free public education (estimated at approximately $50 Billion per year).  Compared to a traditional labor union, a debtors union could have the benefit of  bringing together people across traditional workplace lines, while rallying the public against some of the most unpopular institutions in our society.
A student debt revolt can be the spark.  Targeting those who are profiting from our financial slavery, we can help catalyze a broader debt resistance movement, one encompassing medical, housing, as well as education debts.  The bonfire of student debt statements can light the sky, hearkening rebellion in other parts of this debt-chained world.  Even fairly small groups of well-organized debt-resisters could have such a catalyzing effect, sparking broad conversation about the oppressive role debt plays in all our lives.  Such an act might resemble the burning of draft cards during the Vietnam War; it moves beyond protest and complaint, towards resistance, courageously marking a refusal to participate in an oppressive and irrational system.  And rallying others to do the same.
Fundamentally, the goal of such a debt refusal campaign should not simply be to “mess shit up” but to expose the inhumanity of the way the current system operates.  Education, Healthcare, Housing: these are things that should be considered rights, guaranteed to all.  Through our debt-refusal we will be dramatically asserting that people should not have to go into debt to have their basic human needs met.  People should not be forced to go into debt to receive medical treatment, to have shelter over their heads, or to attend college (especially when attending college is considered a prerequisite for landing a job in the first place).   A social system that provided these necessary goods to people as a matter of right would  be one in which the sorts of debt burdens that fill our lives with dread and anxiety could be abolished for good.
With high debt loads and high unemployment rates facing most college graduates, let’s face it: many of us are going to be defaulting on student loans anyway.  It is long past time that we shred the shame of default, that we recognize the systemic causes of this debt, and that we refuse to treat this dream-strangling system as legitimate.  If we Occupy Student Debt and as one, we can burst the chains of mental slavery.  Together, we can own the banks.