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All but unnoticed by the public and press, balanced budget activists and an assortment of big money interests are close to triggering a political and governmental crisis in the form of a new constitutional convention, Common Cause argues in a report released today.
"The Dangerous Path. Big Money's Plan to Shred the Constitution," examines a decades-old campaign on behalf of a convention under Article V of the Constitution. The unprecedented assembly could re-write the 238-year old Constitution, imperiling civil rights and the system of checks and balances at the heart of the nation's charter, the report warns.
Twenty-seven state legislatures have passed resolutions calling for a convention to draft an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, the report notes. Action in just seven more would force Congress to comply.
"We're sounding an alarm," said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. "The movement for a new constitutional convention is dangerously close to success. No one knows who would lead this unprecedented assembly or how it would work but the result would almost certainly be political chaos that would make past upheavals like the Watergate scandal and the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton seem tame by comparison.
"This is a national train wreck that must be stopped," Rapoport said.
The report details how conservatives determined to force massive cuts in federal spending and frustrated by Congress' refusal to do their bidding have seized on Article V of the Constitution as a vehicle to secure a Constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget. Central to their effort has been the deep-pocketed support of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a partnership of large corporations and state lawmakers that calls itself a charity but functions as a lobby for business-friendly state laws and operates in secret, away from public scrutiny.
The report is being released as ALEC-member legislators and the organization's corporate sponsors convene behind closed doors in Scottsdale, AZ, for an annual "policy summit," including a workshop on "What Ordinary Citizens Think about the Article V Solution and How You Can Become Their Champion."
Never invoked, Article V calls on Congress to convene a constitutional convention if petitioned to do so by legislatures in two-thirds (34) of the states. Since the 1970s, 27 states have submitted petitions calling for a convention to draft a balanced budget amendment; efforts to secure approval are underway in eight other states with Republican-controlled legislatures, the report says. While the Republican National Committee declared its opposition to an Article V convention in 2012, GOP lawmakers in the states have spearheaded the balanced budget amendment drive and the convention has the backing of several of the party's presidential hopefuls.
More recently, the report adds, four states with Democratic-controlled legislatures have petitioned for an Article V convention to propose an amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on campaign finance. The case is one of several that have raised or abolished limits on political spending by corporations, trade groups, unions and wealthy individuals.
"Common Cause favors an amendment to overturn Citizens United," Rapoport acknowledged. "But we're unwilling to put the entire Constitution at risk in an Article V convention. There is simply no way to ensure that a convention would be limited to a single issue or a small group of issues. Instead, there's every reason to fear it would turn into a free-for-all, endangering fundamental rights and triggering economic and political chaos."
Rapoport said Common Cause is making opposition to calls for a constitutional convention a priority for its state chapters in the upcoming 2016 legislative session. The organization remains concerned that too few people, including media, are paying attention to the planning for an aggressive push by ALEC early next year, and the possibility that convention backers may achieve their goal, he added.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.(202) 833-1200
"It is far past time to reenact an assault weapons ban and get these weapons of war out of our communities."
A gunman killed at least seven people in the small California city of Half Moon Bay on Monday, the second mass shooting in the state in three days and one of nearly 40 that have occurred since the start of the new year—a rolling epidemic of violence that Congress has repeatedly met with inaction or inadequate compromises with gun lobby-backed Republicans.
The Associated Pressreported that police "arrested a suspect in Monday's shootings, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, after they found him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff's substation." Officers found a semi-automatic handgun in the suspect's vehicle.
"Four people were found dead and a fifth injured from gunshot wounds at a farm, and officers found three other people killed at another location several miles away," AP noted. "Officials believe Zhao is a worker at one of the facilities and that the victims were workers as well."
The deadly shootings at two separate locations on Monday came after a gunman massacred 11 people in Monterey Park, California on Saturday. Investigators reportedly collected more than 40 bullet casings at the dance studio where the mass shooting took place. The gunman, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran—who took his own life—had previously been arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm.
Police said the gunman used a semi-automatic pistol with an "extended large-capacity magazine."
"It's not clear how the shooter obtained the gun, which was a Cobray M11 9mm semi-automatic weapon compatible with 30-round magazines," Vox's Nicole Narea wrote Monday. "It's also not clear whether the shooter legally obtained a second weapon recovered from inside his van—a handgun that he used to fatally shoot himself. The second weapon can be bought in California; the first has been banned in the state for more than three decades.
"That the semi-automatic weapon is currently illegal in the state makes California unusual; such weapons can be legally purchased in the majority of the U.S.," Narea observed. "And that's led California politicians to call not just for stronger laws in the state, but across the U.S."
The latest string of mass shootings sparked an all-too-familiar outpouring of grief and anger, the latter directed at lawmakers who refuse to support basic and popular gun-safety measures, prioritizing the interests of profit-seeking gun manufacturers and lobbying groups that help bankroll their political campaigns.
"Every time you vote for a lawmaker who opposes gun safety, you're voting for policies that make it more likely your loved one will be slaughtered," Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action, said late Monday, pointing to other recent shootings in Des Moines, Iowa and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"Every time you vote for a lawmaker who opposes gun safety, you’re voting for policies that make it more likely your loved one will be slaughtered."
According to the Gun Violence Archive, 39 mass shootings have taken place across the United States this month alone, leaving 70 dead and dozens more injured.
"What kind of country are we going to be?" Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, asked late Monday. "This is a national emergency and Congress must act this week."
But with Republicans in control of the House and the Senate closely divided, any substantial legislative action on gun violence is unlikely.
Last year, in the wake of a massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan measure that includes expanded background checks and incentives for states to enact red flag laws. Gun control advocates slammed the bill as "crumbs" and demanded much more—from universal background checks to a ban on assault weapons.
On Monday, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would "ban the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and other high-capacity ammunition feeding devices."
"It is far past time to reenact an assault weapons ban and get these weapons of war out of our communities," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said in a statement. "We passed the assault weapons ban in the House last year with bipartisan support, which was then blocked by Senate Republicans. We need to come together to enact this commonsense, effective, and proven policy to reduce gun violence and save lives."
"I do hope this triggers outrage. I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers," producer Amy Herdy said.
The surprise premiere of a documentary revealing "shocking new allegations" of sexual crimes committed decades ago by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sparked new calls on Monday for Senate and Justice Department investigations.
Doug Liman's Justice premiered Friday as a last-minute addition to the lineup of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. According to Free Speech for People, the film "includes important new details about specific allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh" and "also reveals disturbing new evidence of misconduct by Kavanaugh and his associates" surrounding the right-wing justice's 2018 Senate confirmation hearings.
This includes "evidence that Kavanaugh may have knowingly perjured himself" and that the justice's associates engaged in what his friend referred to as "a cover-up."
Kavanaugh—the second of three right-wing justices appointed to the nation's highest court by then-President Donald Trump—was accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, who is now a Stanford professor, when they were in high school. Kavanaugh also allegedly exposed himself without consent to Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate, during a college party. He has denied both allegations.
Justice producer Amy Herdy said during a post-premiere Q&A in Park City: "I do hope this triggers outrage. I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers."
To that end, Free Speech for People wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland as well as to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) seeking a probe of Kavanaugh based on details in the film.
"Some of these details were sent to the FBI during its brief, compressed investigation into similar allegations during Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation hearings, although the FBI did not follow up or interview the relevant witnesses," the group said Monday in a letter to the senators.
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BREAKING:\nWe're calling for immediate and thorough investigations into new details about specific allegations of sexual misconduct by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.\n\nLearn more below. #InvestigateKavanaugh\nhttps://t.co/wNYucNq0qU\u201d— FreeSpeechForPeople (@FreeSpeechForPeople) 1674511547
The letter states:
Most disturbing, however, is new evidence of conduct by Kavanaugh and his associates (perhaps even before his accusers came forward) concerning the 2018 Senate hearing itself. For example, the film shows a 2018 text message discussion amongst mutual acquaintances of Kavanaugh and Deborah Ramirez, regarding Ramirez's soon-to-be-public allegations that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her. According to the text messages shown in the documentary, Kavanaugh asked a mutual friend to go on the record to defend him. Another friend referred to it as "a cover-up." This indicates consciousness of guilt—and therefore evidence that he may have knowingly perjured himself in the confirmation hearings—and a potential conspiracy to obstruct and defraud the Senate by coordinating a false information campaign.
The Washington Postreports that "the FBI's national press office did not have a comment on the documentary but reiterated that their services in a nomination process are limited to fact-finding and background investigations."
\u201cWithin half an hour of the news getting out that Doug Liman\u2019s documentary "Justice" was added to Sundance, new tips came pouring in. \n\n\ud83d\udcfd\ufe0fFootage will be added. \n\nTakeaways from Sundance\u2019s secret Brett Kavanaugh documentary.\n\nNow do Clarence. #DemVoice1 \n\nhttps://t.co/yNTPT1chqe\u201d— Joan Hussey w/free blue check\ud83e\uded0 (@Joan Hussey w/free blue check\ud83e\uded0) 1674403368
"The scope of the background investigation is requested by the White House," an FBI spokesperson told the Post in a statement. "The FBI does not have the independent authority to expand the scope of a supplemental background investigation outside the requesting agency's parameters."
Speaking about the women who stepped forward to share their stories in the film, director Liman toldThe Guardian: "This was the kind of movie where people are terrified. The people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes."
"This new report not only shows that President Biden's climate goals for the power sector are achievable—but it is among the first to lay out how we can actually get there," said one advocate.
A pair of green groups on Monday released a report detailing how U.S. President Joe Biden can work toward his goal of 100% clean electricity nationwide by 2035.
The roadmap from Evergreen Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) comes after Biden last year signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) following a bitter battle in Congress. While elements of the legislation alarmed climate campaigners, they welcomed that it contained about $370 billion in climate and energy investments.
"This new report not only shows that President Biden's climate goals for the power sector are achievable—but it is among the first to lay out how we can actually get there," said NRDC president and CEO Manish Bapna in a statement.
"There is no time for half-measures or delay."
"We don't need magic bullets or new technologies," Bapna stressed. "We already have the tools—and now we have a roadmap. If the Biden administration, Congress, and state leaders follow it, we will build the better future we all deserve. There is no time for half-measures or delay."
While the Inflation Reduction Act is a positive step, new modeling in the report shows that "the U.S. must take further action to meet its clean energy goals this decade," the publication states. "The IRA's investments are projected to increase carbon-free electricity in the U.S. from approximately 40% in 2022 to 66% clean power by 2030. This falls short of the 80% target that's consistent with the path to 100% clean electricity by 2035."
The legislation "is also estimated to help cut economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030—an important step, but short of America's 50-52% commitment under the Paris agreement," the report adds.
To deliver on Biden's climate pledges, the report urges U.S. policymakers to:
"The IRA was a pivotal moment for climate action in the United States, but it is not mission accomplished for the Biden climate agenda," said Evergreen Action power sector policy lead Charles Harper. "President Biden committed to the most ambitious set of climate goals in American history—including getting us to 100% clean power by 2035 and slashing 2005 climate pollution levels in half by 2030."
"Important progress has been made, but President Biden must take bold action this year in order to deliver on those commitments," Harper continued. "By ramping up its work to transition the U.S. economy toward 100% clean energy, the Biden administration and state leaders can reduce toxic pollution, cut energy costs, create good jobs, and advance environmental justice. Let's get to work."
\u201cSounds like a plan!\nhttps://t.co/xntJf0KeDt\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1674504864
Although further progress could be hampered by Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, advocates are emphasizing the importance of the president and other supporters of climate action not wasting the remainder of his first term.
Evergreen co-founder and senior adviser Sam Ricketts, who co-authored the report, toldThe Washington Post that "it's really incumbent upon the administration to use these next two years to make important progress on cleaning up the power sector."
Ricketts plans to join Bapna, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the NRDC's Lissa Lynch, and University of California, Santa Barbara professor Leah Stokes for a Tuesday afternoon presentation of the new report.