Constitutional Conventions

There are two methods for proposing Constitutional Amendments. The first is for Congress to propose Amendments, which then go to the States for Ratification. The second is outlined in Article V of the Constitution, which says that Congress “on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing Amendments“.

The second method is known as an Article V Convention. If 34 states of the U.S. (currently) have their State Legislatures propose the calling of an Article V Convention, then Congress must call the Convention… and effectively loses any say in the process from that point forward. A very foresightful clause in the Constitution which would at any time over any issue allow a 2/3 majority of We The People to force Congress to either act in accordance with our wishes, or else effectively stage a Coup by ignoring the Constitution which empowers them to act lawfully.

Lawrence Lessig’s Article V Convention Call

Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law Professor, author, internet activist, co-creator of the Creative Commons licensing structure, and recent bipartisan political activist bent on restoring Congress to the hands of We The People, not Them The Special-Interest Fundraisers, is now calling for an Article V Convention to propose a Constitutional Amendment.

According to Lessig & co.’s activist group Call A Convention‘s website, they propose the following Amendment as a topic to be included in the Article V Convention, and they have announced intentions to try and get the requisite motions passed in 34 State Legislatures.  This is their own particular rallying point, but according to Lessig’s personal wiki explanation page for Article V Conventions he acknowledges that there are no statutes of limitations on any applications for Article V Conventions which have been made throughout history, so at least in theory Lessig is proposing a full-review Article V Convention where any and all points and applications might be brought up.

Here is the current draft of the Amendment text as put together by Lessig’s group and their legal expertise. (For updates and their explanatory notes, check the organization’s web page in case they change the language.)

DRAFT

  1. Congress shall have the power and obligation to protect its own independence, and the independence of the Executive, by assuring, through citizen vouchers or public funding, that the financing of federal elections does not produce any actual or reasonably perceived appearance of dependence, except upon the People.
  2. The Freedom of Speech and of the Press shall not be abridged by this Amendment, save that the First Amendment to this Constitution shall not be construed to limit the power of the People to restrict any significant and disproportionate non-party financial influence during the last 60 days before an election, where such influence would reasonably draw into doubt the integrity or independence of any elected official.
  3. Courts shall defer to factual judgments about an actual or reasonably perceived appearance of dependence, or the conditions under which a significant and disproportionate non-party financial influence would reasonably draw the integrity or independence of an official into doubt, when such judgments are made by independent, non-partisan commissions whose Members pledge not to enter elected office for a period of at least 10 years after service on the commission.

Please note… according to the current language, the Amendment does not try to install any one particular solution to the special interest funding problem. Instead it merely represents the mandate that Congress has an obligation to make sure that there is no dependence, real or ‘reasonably’ perceived, of Federal Elections on special interest funding, foreign funding, corporate funding, etc. They’re smart to include language in the Proposed Amendment which exempts that kind of restriction from being considered an abridgement of Free Speech. In fact, that single exemption is what provides the legal meat of this Amendment and removes in legal fashion the main barrier to current attempts to regulate election dependence on special interest funding and corporate speech. (See Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee).

The Significance of This Attempt

Politics and partisanship aside, what I find fascinating about this entire process is that several of the communication vehicles of the Internet are converging here. Just like in the 1760’s and on when portable printing presses made political pamphlets the communication vehicle through which Independence was born, the Internet is now acting in a like manner on our political process. Already we have our first President elected because of his mastery of the new medium in fundraising and grassroots efforts – President Obama wasn’t taken seriously until he tapped the internet to amass an unprecedented amount of grassroots campaign funding. If not for the Internet, Obama would not have cleared the early race’s fundraising needs to identify him as a serious candidate.

Let’s think about that for a second. Obama was elected because the Internet gave him the tools that he needed to actually throw his hat into the ring in the first place. Even if you hate President Obama, make damned sure you pay attention to that fact. Nothing that followed would have happened had it not been for the network of communication called the Internet.

And now that the Internet generation has made sweeping, global changes to the Executive Branch, activists on the Net are using it to try and make sweeping, global changes to the Legislative Branch. In history books in the year 3000, school podlings will hopefully study history and stifle yawns at the notion that a network of interlinked computers for the sake of communication did anything worthwhile. The same way that we ourselves kind of yawned through the less-than-stunning notion that affordable printing presses led to the United States of America.

Where I Stand … So Far

I must say as a matter of full disclosure, that after initial consideration of this issue I am joining with Lessig and have joined his group, and will most likely actively work to help this pass in Connecticut. I believe that this transcends partisan politics, because as Lessig himself has pointed out, 20 years of Republican rule in the U.S. hasn’t led them any closer to their own political goals (did Reagan give us  smaller government? Nope, and if Super Republican couldn’t do it, Palin sure as hell won’t), so it’s not the parties, it’s the political system itself right now. In that light, I’m proud to call myself a Conventionist, in that I think it’s high time to revise this great document of ours to help carry forth the spirit of freedom and the republic into the modern era technologically and socially.

I said in a previous post that one of the dangers of convoking an Article V Convention was that there was a real chance in ending up with… let’s just call it a “Red” agenda. But in the grand scheme of things, I’d much rather clear the air and deal with an actual reality instead of a phantom possibility. I believe that the very spectre of radicalism will keep any Constitutional Convention rather more toward the middle of the road, since I do believe that it’s not the People who are extremists in general, it’s the media focusing only on the extreme fringes and trying to sell them as though they’re the only thing out there. It’s not malignant, it’s commercial. “Normal” doesn’t sell. And that’s the fundamental issue in Congress. Normal doesn’t sell, nor does Normal fundraise for elections. Why work to win the hearts of people when you can just focus on winning the debit cards of Corporations?

What I Think Lessig & Co Are Really Doing

I don’t think that the Article V Convention will actually get called.  What I think that Lessig’s friends are doing is using the threat of an Article V Convention as a political motivator to get Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which is already on the books. The 20th century saw several applications for an Article V Convention, and in many of those cases when it became clear that there was a large amount of populist support, Congress moved quickly to pass other legislation which addressed the issue at hand causing the Article V Convention support.

Why would Congress do such a thing as suddenly move to placate the Popular Agenda instead of allowing an Article V Con to be convoked? Because Article V is designed specifically to completely and totally take ANY matter completely out of the hands of Congress. Once the 34th State Legislature passes the call for an Article V Convention, Congress is effectively no longer able to affect the outcome. Period. It’s in the hands of the People. We could amend the Constitution to require all government officials to submit to 100% transparency in all matters of finance, personal, private, or corporate. We could install a 2-term limit. We could remove their ability to redraw congressional districts to keep certain parties in power. We could require that effective upon Ratification, special Congressional elections would be called where no former member of the Federal Government was eligible for election to the new Congress for a period of 20 years.

Many of those ideas are lunacy and idiocy, but the fact remains that when an Article V Convention is called, EVERYTHING is up for redefinition and reinterpretation. And let me tell you, the very notion of We The People taking DIRECT control over our legal system once again is perhaps the scariest thing that we could ever propose to our current Government Caste. It would likely destroy the very fabric of their lives as it redefined the rules.

That’s what makes it a genius move. Congress on its own would never pass the kind of sweeping fundraising and election reforms which would take their Sugar Daddy Special Interest Funding out of the picture. Corporations would never allow them to do so. But when faced with the choice between voluntarily giving up Fundraising Crack or allowing the PEOPLE to take a direct hand in completely redefining the entire game… I think that Lessig & co. have finally found the stick that makes the bitter pill of real and lasting campaign finance reform actually look like a sweet carrot.

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‘Dangerous’?

I contributed to the Obama campaign, and now I’m on the Mitch Stewart/Obama mailing list which every so often reaches out to me for a small donation which is aimed to fight the Republicans at one thing or another. Usually I delete them. My “contributions” to an elected official are made annually in the form of something called “taxes”, so I don’t feel guilty at all about hitting that ‘delete’ key.

Today, I skimmed the request. Just because it was subject-lined “Sarah Palin”, and really, I just wanted to see what the hell Mitch and Barack were up to with regard to the no-nothing failed-administrator Sarah Palin who couldn’t even handle serving out the last bits of her Alaska Governorship because she would be a ‘lame duck’. Like, hello? That’s how it ends. Death in office, scandalous resignation, or a lame duck term. Ask any politician how they expect to leave office and chances are the answer will be one of those. So Sarah’s running around getting all of the people who are really blind to their own bigotry, or else too removed from the reality of present day America to understand why Palin is really a horrendous flake and an empty bag of talking points. All by taking the attention of the media and demonstrating that the Spin machine of the Republicans does a much better job at Branding than the Democrats do.

But we’re not Palin-bashing here. No, instead, I’m concerned about the state of the country in general. Because this is what Mitch’s email to me said:

Right now, Sarah Palin is on a highly publicized, nationwide book tour, attacking President Obama and his plan for health reform at every turn.

It’s dangerous. Remember, this is the person who coined the term “Death Panels” — and opened the flood gates for months of false attacks by special interests and partisan extremists.

‘Dangerous’?

Excuse me, Mitch Stewart and the copywriters over at the DNC who approved this tripe. Dangerous? As far as I can tell, all Sarah Palin is doing is exercising her Constitutional right to Freedom of Expression. And she’s got an audience who loves her, so there’s the choice of -those- People.  The only thing that makes me worried at all about a Palin candidacy for the Presidency next time around is the general overall ineptitude of the Democratic Party.

Let’s face it, guys. Palin shouldn’t *be* dangerous. The only incompetence that the Democrats need to worry about is their own. They control both Houses of Congress, AND they control the White House. There may be some committee shenanigans and fillibusters and all of that to contend with, but the Democrats have done NOTHING since they took office. Nothing promised on the campaign trail has happened. And there’s really no excuse. The economy is still in the shitter, unless you happen to be a banker or a Corporate CEO.

Part of the problem is that the Democrats have tried so long to be Republicans, that there’s no difference now between them. Neither party has a strong central message or identity except to NOT be the Other guys. Blue or red, same damned difference. Same screw over of the little guy, the ‘We the People’ that the government is supposed to serve. Same propaganda machines, and hot-button issues. Same assholes in the Halls of the Capitol worried too much about how much money they’ll raise for next term’s elections and too little about how to do the job that their constituency sent them there to do in the first place.

Give me back a Congress full of contention and strife, of loud voices and red faces, banging gavels and impassioned speeches. Give me a Congress where the representatives felt very keenly just how invested they themselves are with what actions they are pursuing. Where they actually know what they’re voting on, and spend more time on the Hill than away from it telecommuting in.

Stop blaming the Republicans, Mitch. Mitch and Barack both. Just stop. Stop blaming other people and put your own houses in order while you still have the time. Because if you don’t, then the pendulum will shift the other way and the Republicans will grind you under like the losers you will be.

Make no mistake. If Palin beats you, then it’s YOUR fault. Your loss. Not her victory. It will mean that Palin’s got the attention of the American people because she can communicate with them better. And we both know that Palin’s not the winning communicator… Obama is.

It also would mean that it was time to seek emmigration from the United States to Canada or Ireland or Norway or one of the other Enlightened nations with socialized health care. I’m not pro-Republican nor pro-Palin (nor anti-America) by any means. But I am anti-incompetence, anti-corruption, and anti-political parties in general. We Americans are no longer number one in the world at very much that matters. We are no longer a culture where intelligence, industry, creativity, and vision are valued, supported, and rewarded. Our formal cultural institutions are dying, and our schools are already comatose. We need more than just a revitalization… we need a Renaissance. A global Renaissance, to shore up the lost ground that institutionalized religion has taken from the Enlightenment over the last few decades. We need a robust and thriving middle class, a people better able to share in the fruits of their own labors than the Boards of Directors have been setting lately.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been let down by so many so often, that it’s just impossible for us to care any more about the old system of politics and old social conventions. Break this cycle, Barack. Stop people from begging for money when you’re not on a campaign trail. Use the tools that the system gives to you to reform the system. Be Barack Obama the leader of the Democratic National Party. It’s time to set the policy of your party, as well as for the nation. And use the influence we gave you to fix things. Stop seeking consensus, and start waging victory. You aren’t the campaign front-runner any more, Barack. You’re our President. Stop campaigning and start ruling, to the fullest extent of the laws which empower the ethical exercise of your Office.

Or start seeking another job, because with more of this for the next three years, you won’t hold on to the one you’re in. Not by my vote. I’ll seek a third candidate if it comes to that, and use my voice to try and convince others to do the same.

Iranian Protests, Net Neutrality, and the Politics of the Future

Over the past week the results of the elections in Iran have sparked wave after wave of protests and violence within Iran. Twitter has emerged as means by which the state-controlled suppression of information has been circumvented.

Suddenly, the microblogging service finds itself as an auxiliary to a revolution. When I had to try Twitter for a while for one of my classes, friends of my age and generation were skeptical to the point of being dismissive of the service. Even I had to admit I agreed with them. I didn’t see what good microblogging would be. After all, if something is worth writing about… -write- about it. Again I’m forcibly reminded that it’s all about the communication patterns of groups, not individuals. (I’m also reminded that Twitter makes more sense with a true mobile media device vs. the old fashioned non-net flip cell phone I carry).

You can bet that China is watching the shakedown in Iran very closely. The information which is slipping out through non-state controlled means over the internet just serves to highlight once again how the internet remains a democratizing force which seeps in to to the hands of the people.

When will we begin to pay just as much attention to the security and safety of the pipeline of information and communication as we do to the pipelines of oil? We’re not immune to this debate in the United States, either. Who owns the internet? Or more properly, access and usage rights to the internet?

Net neutrality is going to become a more and more increasingly important issue globally. We already have the Great Firewall of China happening, but with the results from Iranian elections spilling over into the web… this is going to be extremely important to keep an eye on the government about. Our own first, and the governments of other nations second.

And the internet is continuing with its insistent force for social change. Pay attention, now… things are going to get interesting.