Illinois is 3rd state seeking amendments convention for free, fair elections


As first reported tonight on the The Young Turks here, Illinois recently joined Vermont and California in calling for an amendments convention to restore free and fair elections by reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

On Wednesday, the Illinois State House of Representatives passed Senate Joint Resolution 42 (“SJR42”) in a vote of 72-40 with the required 3/5ths super-majority needed.

“The purpose of this resolution, and similar resolutions around other states, is to convene a constitutional amendments convention,” stated bill co-sponsor Sen. Willie Delgado. “We need to amend this constitution to reverse the ruling on Citizens United. That ruling gave corporations “personhood” and led to the creation of Super-PACs, not only in Illinois, but throughout the nation. With SJR42, Illinois can lead the movement to save democracy in America.”

Wolf-PAC is a political action group started in 2011 by Cenk Uygur during the Occupy Wall Street protests with the express goal of recapturing our democracy from select moneyed interests. SJR42 passed on the last day of the legislative session with Wolf-PAC team leaders fulfilling the chief organizing role but their efforts were augmented by many other concerned Illinois citizens.

“I don’t think there are very many people in our country or even in this body today who believe the ramifications of the Citizens United decision has been healthy to our process,” commented Rep. Robert Martwick. “It has taken a government that is founded on the principle of by the people and for the people, and it has put it in the hands of secret money… That’s just wrong, we all know it. We should all support this; this should be a unanimous vote.”

According the Center for Responsive Politics, candidates, parties, donors, and outside groups spent a record $3.67 billion on the 2014 midterm elections, with fewer individual donors, and not including funds spent early in the cycle. This has led to a lack of public confidence in the ability or even willingness of elected officials to serve, rather than sell. For most Americans, Washington has become “the best democracy money can buy.” The recent Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has only accelerated decades old trends toward silencing everyday Americans’ ability to influence their government.

Many groups have organized around what I like to call the “separation of ‘buck’ and state,” or otherwise measures intended to contend with the polluting influence of Big Money in our corridors of power. As John Nichols reported inThe Nation, “Sixteen American states and roughly 600 communities have formally told Congress that the Constitution must be amended to make it clear that corporations are not people, money is not speech and citizens and their elected representatives have a right to organize elections that are defined by votes rather than dollars.”

The groundswell is even being felt in Washington. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in July and voted 10-8 to endorse an amendment to rectify damage done to our democratic system by a series of high-court rulings such as Citizens United.

“Any effort to overturn Citizens United is one that I feel I must support,” remarked Illinois House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie. “I would prefer the Federal Congress to decide to offer an Amendment through the states that would overturn Citizens United — they don’t seem likely to do it at this point. But it is fair to say, many times in the past, when a proposal like this reaches a critical number of states supporting it, Congress wakes up, smells the coffee, and does the right thing… If we act, maybe Congress will finally wake up and get the job done.”

Article V of U.S Constitution provides two methods for proposing amendments. Either two-thirds of Congress can vote to propose an amendment, or two-thirds of the states can demand a convention to propose an amendment. Either way it’s proposed, an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states before being added to United States Constitution. Historically, the constitution has been amended 27 times, and on average, once by every generation of Americans.

“There exist over 700 state applications [for an amendments convention] on a variety of issues including those from 49 states,” commented State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia during floor debate. “There have been over 233 state conventions to amend and adopt state constitutions with zero—once again—zero runaway conventions.” This fact alone should dispel any of the fantastic scenarios or conspiracy theories offered by convention opponents.

When examining the evidence—which is mountainous—it’s clear that the Federal government in Washington has already runaway. The voice of everyday citizens is being drowned-out by a tsunami of corporate and private dollars bending the priorities of our representatives. In a heralded Princeton study on American democracy, it concludes that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Vicky Deppe, of the Illinois chapter of Convention of States (CoS), a conservative group calling for a convention, voiced her support for the process although provided a caveat: “We are not able to endorse the Wolf-PAC resolution specifically, but we are heartened by so many Illinois legislators that take their oath to uphold the constitution seriously and use their authority as granted by Article V.” CoS has passed convention resolutions in three states calling for limits on Federal power.

Illinois is only the third state to address the Citizens United ruling in addition to California and Vermont; it would still require 34 states to call a convention and another 38 to ratify any amendment proposal. There is growing movement of citizens throughout the country concerned about this issue, and there’s an obvious disgust with politics as usual, but only time will tell if these modern freedom fighters will be successful in their efforts.

“96% of Americans support reducing the influence of corruption in our political elections,” explained Wolf-PAC Illinois State Leader Richard Lake. “We are the government of, for, and by the people—not bought and sold by international corporations and billionaire business men.”

Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks and founder of Wolf-PAC, summed it up by saying, “We call these state legislators the new 21st Century founding mothers and fathers because they are rescuing democracy by getting money out of politics.”

Originally posted on Examiner.

(Full disclosure: author is a co-founder of Friends of the Article V Convention and supports this “time-capsule gift from our Founders” to fix the many challenges, particularly of a structural nature, that ail our republic)

Gore Vidal. My afternoon with an American political icon

Credit: Linda Sutton

Gore Vidal passed on yesterday in his Hollywood home around 6:45pm due to complications from pneumonia. He was an internationally acclaimed social analyst and as Elaine Woo reported for the LA Times, “a literary juggernaut who wrote novels including ‘Lincoln’ and satirical ‘Myra Breckinridge,’—essays critics consider among the most elegant in the English language.”

Vidal won the National Book Award in 1993 for his compilation of essays, “United States Essays, 1952-1992”, which covered all the juiciest topics in the land: scathing political rhetoric, emancipated sexual commentary, uninhibited criticism of religion and literature—published in periodicals such as The Nation, Esquire and the New York Times.

Gore Vidal had an inheritance in American aristocracy and for his entire life co-mingled with the upper echelons of America’s political and Hollywood elite.

“In print and in person, he was a shameless name dropper, but what names! John and Jacqueline Kennedy. Hillary Clinton. Tennessee Williams. Mick Jagger. Orson Welles. Frank Sinatra. Marlon Brando. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. Vidal dined with Welles in Los Angeles, lunched with the Kennedys in Florida, clowned with the Newmans in Connecticut, drove wildly around Rome with a nearsighted Williams and escorted Jagger on a sightseeing tour along the Italian coast. He campaigned with Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He butted heads, literally, with Mailer. He helped director William Wyler with the script for “Ben-Hur.” He made guest appearances on everything from “The Simpsons” to “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” ~ Hillel Italie and Andrew Dalton reporting for AP News

I had the fortunate opportunity of getting to know Gore during my congressional race in 2008, where we held a fundraiser in Southern California together. The first time we met was at his home in the Hollywood Hills in the late spring of 2008. At the behest of PR maven Ilene Proctor, I showed up with samples of my writing for Vidal’s review. The thought of uber-critic Gore Vidal critiquing my writing summoned a vision from an old Hollywood cliffhanger: helplessly rolling down a conveyor belt, paralyzed, toward a large spinning blade. Nevertheless, I walked the plank.

The walls and ceiling in his salon were adorned with rich artwork, numerous family photos and mementos from his life were laid out on every horizontal surface. It was a museum of sorts. He showed me a framed picture of his father, Eugene Luther Vidal, with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then Secretary of Agriculture and future Vice-President, Henry Wallace.

“They called Roosevelt a communist,” proclaimed Vidal. “But in reality he saved Capitalism from destroying itself. He saved the old system.”

We talked in glowing tones about the promise of progressivism and how Roosevelt was the inamorata of progressives—an unequaled Presidential paragon.

Gore spoke fondly about his grandfather, Thomas Gore, who served as Oklahoma’s U.S. Senator from 1907-1921, and 1931-1937.

“He started a little thing called Oklahoma,” explained Vidal, referring to his grandfather being the first U.S. Senator for Oklahoma after being admitted to the union in 1907.

Senator Thomas Gore was blind and young Gore Vidal was charged with assisting and essentially leading him around the social, political and material labyrinth that made up Washington D.C.

“I was his seeing eye dog,” chuckled Vidal. “My grandfather introduced Social Security into the U.S. Senate for Roosevelt.” He explained that in his formative years assisting his grandfather, he had learned the inner-workings of a very unique political machine: the United States Federal Government. In turn, these experiences led to Vidal’s penetrating insights into the failings and pitfalls of government and public service that he is so famous for expressing with unparalleled irreverence—as Matthew said, “…he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

Vidal’s father, Eugene Luther Vidal was the Air Commerce Secretary for President Roosevelt, and according to Gore, the true love of Amelia Earhart. He showed me a picture of the famed woman aviator sitting next to a picture of his father.

His critics have mostly played into what I consider to be Vidal’s recipe for iconoclastic gourmet—he was a master of shocking the senses, stimulating debate, and stoking rancor.

One of his most famous onscreen enfilades was when he called the supercilious and Brahmin William F. Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” during live network coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention. Buckley lost his gourd, called Vidal a queer and physically threatened him.

I am sad to hear of Gore’s passing. He was unmatched in his candid demeanor on the world’s political stage. He was a lonely, brave soul and concertedly cantankerous—it was the character he chose to play.

Like good humor, political wit, to have the most poignant effect, must delicately push the boundaries of what is easily metabolized. Gore’s opinion and copy never did fit into the boringly binary Blue Team / Red Team mainstream rhetoric that today makes up a great vat of pabulum, either confirming or inflaming the average viewer’s sensibilities, hence giving rise to blood pressure, ratings and oodles of confirmation bias.

Vidal was a political arsonist. It was this ability to seep through the cracks of convention and reinvent any particular topic’s frame with the stroke of a quip—or just by throwing a little gasoline on it—that made him the inimitable and irreplaceable content generator (author) that he was. His compositional courage and bravery was born from a willingness to be unliked—in the land of approval junkies—an exceedingly rare trait.

After our meeting in his home that lasted several hours, I commented,

“Gore, I have to say this has been a great honor for me to meet with you and share our ideas about politics and history, I’ve learned so much about your father and grandfather and about the intricacies surrounding the foundation of our country—”

In Vidal’s salon, I gestured upward at what appeared to be an Italian fresco covering his ceiling—“I feel like I’m in the Sistine Chapel.”

To which Gore responded pointing to the ceiling sky, “Really, my son, I hardly think Michelangelo’s work rises to this level.”

Classic Gore Vidal. He will be sorely missed, and there will never be another like him.

Promoting critical thinking and academic symbiosis in education

One of the characteristics of our educational system has different subjects put into neat separate boxes. Math, reading, art, science. Today, we see much more blurriness and convergence between subjects like science, religion, philosophy.

This “Gnostic syncretism”—the combining of knowledge—is especially apparent when teasing out the details surrounding revolutionary innovations. The inspiration that leads to breakthroughs in technology, science—even cultural breakthroughs—many times involve a bringing together and merging of ideas formally not associated.

Many pivotal inventions, ideas, concepts have been birthed through a sort of revelatory experience breaking down barriers and opening up the mind to new ways of doing things. For example, Nobel Prize winner Charles Hard Townes describes the unconstrained interplay of “how” and “why”—questions that both religion and science seek answers for—as he developed the principles for masers sitting on a park bench in Washington, D.C. in 1951. Masers led to lasers and an amazing plethora of inventions and discoveries in medicine, telecommunications, electronics, and computers in common use throughout the world today. Townes describes the genesis of his idea as an “epiphany”, and “revelation as real as any revelation described in the scriptures.

Are there ways to prepare student’s minds to have revelations such as Townes had?

Read the whole article.

Our world beyond 9/11

A teardrop of water fell from the ceiling sky landing in the ceremonial pool below slowly sending ripples and rings outward to the installation’s coping. Eleven Tears is a memorial work of art to 9/11 victims at the World Financial Center building overlooking the ongoing One World Trade Center construction site. On Sunday, May Day, I visited Ground Zero for the first time. It was a somber pilgrimage—and little did I realize—while there, the attack on Osama Bin Laden’s compound was taking place.

Like for so many others, 9/11 had been a life shattering, and ultimately, life transforming event for me—hearing of Bin Laden’s death brought up conflicting emotions of elation and sadness. All the trauma and travail of the last ten years came rushing forward. A sudden attack on home soil, 3000 dead, the absolute determined brutality of the hijackers—being rid of the individual who inspired multiple acts of mass murder was a relief—but how could the healing begin?

9/11 fundamentally changed our way of life, the way we travel, it instigated wars leading to hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded, displaced; we’ve wiretapped without warrant, tortured, and sent the drones in. Protected civil liberties have been sacrificed for security.

The war on terror has brought our nation to an existential precipice upon which we stare down into an abyss of overreaching militarism and secrecy—both enemies of republican democracy—which would forever be left behind should we now succumb to the gravity of fear.

With the leader of Al Qaeda now dead, we have come to a crossroads in which our nation’s larger priorities can, and should be, examined.

Deep Security embodies a philosophical and political shape-shift from a classic Newtonian and mechanistic view of the world, to the deeper universe of the Quanta, where the impossible not only becomes possible, but probable; it morphs the politic of leading from the center, left, or right, toward leading from below. It pops a third dimension into what currently is a very two-dimensional political world.

Read the whole article.