The Path to Possibility

Monday might be a very big day.

The California State Senate is set to vote on AJR-1, a resolution introduced to the California State Assembly in 2012 by Representative Mike Gatto. It calls for a constitutional convention for the purpose of revoking corporate personhood in regards to free speech and limiting campaign finance.

It has already passed the California State Assembly.  And the Senate judiciary Committee.  It was set for a vote last Thursday, but was tabled for unspecified reasons (rumors are some of the yes votes were absent at the time).  It has been rescheduled for a vote on Monday, June 23, 2014.

A very similar resolution has already passed in Vermont.  The movement, led by Larry Lessig and other citizen-funded groups was the very definition of grass roots. (Registering nary a ripple in the national media, of course.)

Similar resolutions are in various stages of percolation in 10 different states, introduced and supported by both Democratic and Republican legislators who’ve had enough.

Article V of our ceaselessly amazing U.S. Constitution allows for conventions to be called by the states, circumventing the federal government. It requires 2/3 of the states to call for the convention and 3/4 of the states to ratify the amendment once the convention puts forth a resolution. In short, we need 34 states to call for a convention and 38 states to ratify an amendment proposal.

It is also critical to note that constitutional conventions are required be very specific.  They can only be held regarding the issue for which they were called. No switcheroos or add-ons after one has been convened.

Of the people. By the people.  Like music to the ears, innit?

Needless to say, if AJR-1 does pass in California, it would be historic.  The largest state in the union would have called to amend the U.S. Constitution for the express purpose of returning the democracy back to the American people.

It would be a chance to undo the damage done by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) which proclaimed corporations as people and preventied bipartisan campaign finance reform on the grounds that money is speech protected by the U.S. Constitution, as well as McCutcheon v. FEC decided in April of 2014, in which SCOTUS struck down many of the remaining limits on campaign contributions. These decisions  effectively allowed for the purchase of entire elections by private interests.  It’s what led to the explosion of Super PACs and their shady regulations.

But let’s call this for what it is: legalized corruption.  A recent Princeton study found that voter opinion has no discernible influence federal lawmakers.  The only opinions that moved the needle were rich donors and the lobbyists that work for them.  In other words, lawmakers are only listening to the people who fund their campaigns. Money for influence. All that comes out of it is voter apathy and stymied political discourse (and cash windfalls for a select few). It’s the reason we can’t do anything about climate change, or for-profit prisons, or gun control, or our schools, or any of the monumental and mounting issues we face.

Legalized corruption.  

So long as SCOTUS holds that money equals protected speech, they can shoot down any campaign finance reform law anyone tries to pass.  And so far,  they pretty much have.

AJR-1 is a means to put an end to this broken corrupt system.

Of course, that’s if it passes.  And make no mistake, it would only be the first salvo in what could very well be a long and hard fought political war.

But however the vote goes in the California State Senate, the fight is only beginning.  Often times, the powers that be try to slow cook hot-button issues. They wait for the furor to die down, occasionally placating the disquieted masses with some meager, symbolic concessions, then get back to business when the noise dies down and interests shift (the 4 biggest banks are bigger now than they were before the 2008 crash…por ejemplo).

We can’t continue to let this happen.  It’s not about going after the super rich donors or even the politicians.  Its about tearing down the system that has squeezed the people out and made us inaudible.

We’re late in the game in California, but if you support the idea of exercising the power of the people and getting money out of politics, I urge you to call your California state senator Monday morning (you can find your state reps here) to let them know you support AJR-1 and you want them to vote yes.

Even if you don’t live in California, call your state legislators.  Let them know  you support a constitutional convention to get money out of politics.  Demand it. Tell them you want your democracy back.  (Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a catch-all database.  The best way to find your representatives is to type in “who are my representatives” and then your state in your favorite search engine.  Usually in the first 2 or 3 choices you’ll find one that only requires your address or zip code and then finds your reps along with contact info for you. Teh interwebs are awesome.)

96% of Americans say that the influence of money in politics needs to be reduced. 91% believe nothing can be done about it.

They’re wrong.

It’s well worth it to show them.

Finger crossed.

 

What I Hate About Republicans–Anti-intellectualism

“Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”  -Stephen Colbert

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over the constitutionality of the Individual Mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  Several Republican leaders, including Republican 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum, appeared on the steps of the Supreme Court building to dispute the constitutionality of the mandate and express their hopes of seeing it repealed.  Of course, the individual mandate they find so unconstitutional is actually a Republican conception.

It was proposed in 1993 as a “free market” counter to then-president Bill Clinton’s employer mandate for providing healthcare and was supported by Republicans as late as the 2008 election by, among others, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.  It was signed into law in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. Both of these men are running for office in 2012.

Understand, Republicans didn’t oppose the mandate until Barack Obama began supporting it–in yet another unjustifiable concession b y the president–during the healthcare debates in 2009-2010.

So, to be clear: the Republican party leadership is gathered on the steps outside the Supreme Court to argue against the constitutionality of their own proposal.

Of course, short-sighted, narrow-minded, wildly hypocritical governance is now the Republican modus operandi.  They write confounding legislation like Stand Your Ground, then double down on their support for the law after tragedy strikes.  They unnecessarily ban Sharia Law-based legislation–which is already unconstitutional per the Establishment Clause (separating church and state) they so often lament.  They roll out religious leaders to support their anti-contraception agenda then–a few weeks later–ignore religious leaders when they denounce the Republican budget plan.

I know, it makes no sense.  (And for all those who would argue that Democrats also do a bunch of boneheaded things, that is not a defense.  It’s like a murderer saying he shouldn’t go to jail for killing his wife because other people commit murder, too.)

This kind of dim-witted lawmaking has overrun the Republican politics because Republican culture is not very big on thinking…or thinkers for that matter.  It’s like they’re allergic to facts.  Actually, it’s anti-intellectualism, relegating thought to simple reasoning and selective memory, prioritizing opinion over fact and propaganda over truth.

This may seem like an unfair charge.  So, in the interest of not over-generalizing, only those who subscribe to the following beliefs can be considered fact allergic conservatives:

  • Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats.
  • Unregulated industries police themselves.
  • Markets are driven by low employee wages and tax rates.
  • The effective U.S. corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world.
  • Taxes are unconstitutional.
  • Not raising the debt ceiling IS constitutional
  • Gay marriage threatens traditional marriage.
  • Barack Obama is a socialist.
  • Barack Obama is a Muslim
  • Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen.
  • Creationism is an equivalent alternative theory to Evolution.
  • Global warming is a hoax.

I could go on, but I believe this cuts a wide enough swath.  I’m not going to demonstrate how each of these beliefs is false.  There is a plethora of easily-accessed, unbiased information for disproval, from Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the U.S. Constitution. The problem is not with the facts.  It’s with Republicans’ unwillingness–perhaps inability–to trust those facts or process them objectively.

The reason for this lies partly with conservatism itself which is based on maintaining–or returning to–traditional institutions, values, and systems.   Yet progress–the advancement of social inclusion, knowledge, and technological capability–often disproves or revaluates our previous understanding.  So to protect beliefs that are constantly being  invalidated, conservatives,and especially Republicans, distrust contradictory facts and the people that provide them.

Before we go forward we have to separate Republican leadership which uses anti-intellectualism to control and manipulate uninformed and uneducated voting blocks.  They’re as bought out by the corporations as the Democrats and the media.  They’re part of that machine and therefore not really included in this discussion.

So why do Republicans subscribe to anti-intellectualism?  It seems that has to do with the make up of the conservative mind.

As more and more studies show, conservatives tend to see the world in a much more negative light than liberals.  A 2008 study conducted at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln demonstrated that conservatives had a much greater physiological response to negative stimuli than their liberal counterparts.  Notice the study didn’t just conduct surveys or fill out questionnaires.  They measured physiological responses, i.e., the body’s integrated fight or flight defense mechanisms (changes in heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, respiration rate and depth, sweating, etc.).  The study also found that subjects who favored capital punishment, patriotism, and defense spending were highly responsive to threatening images.

A preliminary study by the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience demonstrated that conservative brains tend to have larger amygdalas–responsible for fear conditioning–while also having smaller anterior cingulates–the part of the brain responsible for rational cognitive functions, such as optimism, decision-making, empathy, and emotion–than liberal brains.

Likewise, a study at Brock University in Ontario suggests “that low-intelligence  adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies.”  According to Gordon Hodson, the lead researcher of the study, “Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice”.

These studies alone are hardly definitive, but as more studies on the subject come out, the more they support these conclusions.  In fact, I have yet to see a reputable study that contradicts these findings. More importantly, these study concord with what we see in societies across the globe.

The universality  of fear, ignorance, and a dearth of critical thinking leads many conservatives to de-emphasize facts.  These are the conditions that allowed propaganda threatening a mushroom cloud over a major U.S. city to overwhelm the fact that Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were political and religious enemies and therefore unlikely to cooperate. Thus leading us into an unnecessary war that cost the loves of thousands of Americans.

It should go without saying that stupidity is not exclusive to conservatives or Republicans.  There is more than enough idiocy and ignorance to go around.  Still, there are a lot of conservatives ruled by fear, anger, and factionalism.  Republicans cater to this element and perpetuate it.

As always, the problem is exacerbated by the compliance–or silence–coming from free-thinking conservatives.  Those who know better have a responsibility to lay aside their “liberals do it, too” cop-out apologism and take control of their faction or distance themselves from it (which, of course, liberals need to do as well).  There can be no legitimate discourse when facts are being ignored and dismissed purely on whim.

The only way we will get past this political dystopia is if the better minds and purer hearts among us put partisanship aside–albeit momentarily–step away from the fray, acknowledge the system is broken, and commit to rebuild it.

Otherwise people like this are going to get more power and more influence and bring this beautiful dream crashing down.

By comparison, this is what a real free-thinking conservative sounds like: