Saturday, July 2, 2005


So some of the more strident voices on the left have been calling for Bush's impeachment for a while now. After only a little thought, I initially dismissed these ideas as pointless pipe dreams. It doesn't matter in the least what this President might deserve; politically, Congress is Republican, and they'll remain so until 2008. Coverage like Salon's left me yawning; I already knew this, I thought, I wish people would stop wasting their voices on it.

However, Robert Parry's latest article (not to mention Zogby's poll) led me to rethink this. Okay, I thought. If an impeachment campaign would successfully support and mesh with recognizably worthwhile projects, and we decide to wax optimistic--what would it take to make it real?

In my opinion, an impeachment could only succeed if two unlikely conditions are met: the Democrats regain control of the House in 2006 and they gain bipartisan support for impeachment. This of course would be most crucial in the Senate, since if we remain the slightest bit realistic, we write off the Democrats regaining the Senate in 2006, let alone winning a pie-in-the-sky unified two-thirds majority.

I didn't find anybody doing a systematic page on the 2006 House contests yet, so I did some research of my own, in which I found the Swing State Project the most helpful. Assuming the Democrats lose no seats, I think I've found a minimum of 15 Republican seats they should try to take. Many of these at the moment appear hopeless, but at least a few are already competitive.

A few I have some hope for:

California, Duke Cunningham v. Democrat
Colorado, Rick O'Donnell v. Ed Perlmutter or Peggy Lamm for an open seat, and Marilyn Musgrave v. Democrat
Illinois, Henry Hyde v. Christine Cegelis
Pennsylvania, Don Sherwood v. Greg Skrepenak or Chris Carney
Texas, Tom DeLay v. Nick Lampson

A few I think should be contested:

California, Richard Pombo v. Democrat, and open seat of Chris Cox
Connecticut, 3 moderate Republicans, including Nancy Johnson v. Christopher Murphy or J. Paul Vance, Jr.
Florida, Republican v. Les Miller for open seat
New York, Vito Fossella v. Democrat
Ohio, Jean Schmidt v. Paul Hackett for an open seat (Aug. 2 special election)
Washington, Doc Hastings v. Democrat

The Democratic leadership has already announced a nationally themed campaign, running on broad ethical violations by the governing GOP and trying to tie local candidates to national leaders, especially Majority Leader Tom DeLay. I think this could be potentially profitable--almost all of the Republicans mentioned above, and a number more beside, have specific allegations of corruption against them, many tying directly back to people like DeLay--as long, of course, that local conditions are given their proper, primary place. However, I think it ought to be accompanied by positive Democratic steps in the direction of ethical reform: things like exhaustive self-audits to ensure complete compliance, proposing and implementing where possible more reforms to House ethics procedures and regulations, etc. Rhetorically, Democrats should draw the link between ethics and values; remember, seize ground for yourself as the "party of values"?

I guess a few other things happened lately too; did I hear that Justice O'Connor touched off the expected Court confirmation war? ;-) (Cagey of her, wasn't it. Everybody was watching Rehnquist, and when no news had come by Wednesday, we all started to think there wouldn't be any. Now, it's already on: the ad campaigns, the supporter turn-out emails, a march!...) Oh, and that thing about some reliable reporters and lawyers blabbing prematurely that the notes of Time magazine journalist Cooper name Karl Rove as the Valerie Plame leaker. It's going to be a long, hot summer.

In the under the radar department, the day the Supreme Court found in New London's favor for expanded eminent domain, an activist developer filed to take possession of Justice Souter's home; and in an encouraging development, Bush's latest primetime address appears to have been quietly postponed from Friday June 24 to Tuesday June 28 because of networks' noncompliance, with most of them further leaving the White House hanging on their decisions whether to broadcast Tuesday. A saucy move and a promising sign!

Why the United States need a constitutional convention

Here's another article (originally published at Freethought Forum) that provides some more of the background thinking in my perspective.


Based on what I know of how the U.S. government has behaved so far, I think we need a revolution to replace its government, as soon as possible, for its own sake and for that of the rest of the world. I don't think the rest of the world could (or should) impose a reorganization; I don't think a successful military rebellion from within is a real scenario, either. That leaves, however unlikely, a political or legal revolution.

I think there are too many powerful, interconnected ruling groups of people--political incumbents, the party machineries, lawyers, lobbyists, revolving-door CEOs/senior bureaucrats, top managers of capital--for anything but a knockout blow to succeed. Maybe a very strong, cunning and intelligent president could Executive Order and legislate us partway there, but I doubt it. He (who knows, maybe she) would probably be blocked by Congress, if not then by the courts. Such a person might also be very unlikely to accomplish the necessary curb of the power of the presidency itself.

Consequently, I think that however improbable-seeming, the only viable solution is to organize from the grassroots to bring about a constitutional convention to reorganize the federal government. Article V says that one must be held if called for by two-thirds of the states. (Quite a few already have active resolutions calling for a convention floating around.) The convention would then have a chance to redraft the government completely; they might not think up a completely new brilliant system, but at least they could place limits on the executive, stiffen the powers of the representative assembly, break the duopoly of the major parties, establish a truly independent judiciary, guarantee universal health care, etc. etc. etc....

If that new constitution survived its transition to embodying its first government without being largely co-opted by the reactive ruling elites, then we'd have managed to take another huge step forward in our political evolution, with long-lasting widespread beneficial consequences.

I recognize that a convention might not necessarily produce something better than what we have now, but I think the chances are high of improvement. I don't think the convention would be destroyed by thousands of special interests pursuing their individual supremacy. The two-step process of agreeing on proposed fundamental law and then having to approve it by a supermajority of three-quarters of the states by their legislatures or in convention makes a very strong force towards ignoring particularist concerns in favor of broad, basic unanimity. The 1787 convention settled their particularist concerns by means of general compromises, not insertion of innumerable small agendas. Congress has seen an incredibly heavy stream of proposed amendments ever since it first met; of those many thousands, only twenty-seven have eventually passed.

I also think any convention would treat the standing constitution with something approaching ginger reverence; I can easily imagine one of the first things they might do is resolve to re-include the Bill of Rights unchanged. I think their conservatism would run much deeper than that; the Preamble might stay just the same, too, as well as Article V, the means of amendment, and other portions of the text.

As I see it, the government is gradually but effectively disposing of the Bill of Rights, occasionally slowed down by the Supreme Court but not often. In order to make things work the way the current constitution intends them, I think you need to have the power to restate what it said more forcefully and clearly. In addition to strengthening the intention of the original document, I think it could use some additions. We haven't been keeping up with all the advances over the last two hundred years in fundamental rights and law.

The constitution has been shredding almost as long as we've had it. Some of the abuses cited on this page are conspiracy theories, but they're labeled as "suspected"; just consider the documented ones above them. Along with constant minor and major cuts, the constitution has suffered two catastrophes: amendment by bayonet after the Civil War, the effects of which the country has only recently recovered from, and the political assassination of the principle of strict construction after Roosevelt's court-packing assault in the 1930s, from which we have not recovered. Moreover, reading the plain text of the constitution only tells you a fraction of its effect: it has been thoroughly encrusted by Supreme Court decisions that have the force of amendment as long as they are not reviewed and superceded by actual amendments.

The only way to reverse the holding that a corporation is a person entitled to the inclusive protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, or to re-establish the plain meaning of publishing a "regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money" and do away with secret military and intelligence budgets, is to pass an amendment. There are so many similarly significant examples that it just doesn't make sense to try to pass them one at a time. (Please, for the love of humanity, could D.C. finally get representation, instead of a token three-fifths of the presidential electoral power they're entitled to?)

There are also three compelling cultural reasons for a convention. The first is that our constitution has been fetishized, turned into a relic and worshiped as an object rather than studied and reasoned about by the broad population. It needs renewal to be the "living document" it is so often called. The second is that it would force a huge elevation in the political discourse and public involvement in it. No one could any longer suppose that politics and the composition of laws was too remote from them; every part of the conversation would bear upon the life of every citizen and national. The delegates to the convention, on the other hand, would be in the uncomfortable position of being daily evaluated in comparison to Washington, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton. The third is that there is a real culture war tearing us apart on the inside, and it needs to be settled, or at least pacified by means of some compromise less dishonorable than the one that silently acquiesced to slavery in 1787.

There are many specific but large-scale problems besides our dysfunctional government, such as media concentration. However, many of them, including this one, can be directly connected to government power and regulation, which would still require very high-level coordinated government action to fix. Here too, I think the chances of a convention are better than a president taking the right lead, being supported by Congress, and not being undermined by the judiciary. In this case, the disposition of all communication frequencies as a fundamental public asset could be affected by constitutional language.

In the end, when one is talking about reining in corporations or how to best avoid prolonging the U.S. government's terrible policies, one's talking about taking a huge chunk of power out of the hands of the ruling class. That's going to need something on the scale of a long-term, nonviolent mass revolution. A new constitution could be both part of the means to the goal and the means for consolidation of the new situation against the inevitable enormous backlash that would follow.

Friday, July 1, 2005

The noosphere and futurism

I'm looking back over the Journal I kept for a while at Freethought Forum, and this looks good enough to republish! I posted it originally in mid-August 2004.


The name I gave to my particular field of interest is the "noosphere": the sphere of ideas, what according to my definition is the "spiritual" world, everything that exists that is immaterial. (I’ve discovered since that others coined it first; I’m not using it in Teilhard de Chardin’s specialized sense, although his ideas are intriguing.) Regardless of whether a notion is true or not, if someone believes in its truth and acts on that basis, it exists--thus I need to be interested in it. This represents an evolution from my similar childhood magical thinking that even a single person believing in a religion called it into material existence. (I try hard to think about everything coherently, but this stubborn difference between things and ideas remains a challenge to me. It’s one of the few areas of philosophy in which I’m still interested.)

A little reflection on the noosphere will reveal two significant things: one, it has exponentially expanded in size and density, viewed over the last 500 and particularly over the last 100 years; two, that along with this expansion has come unbelievable pollution (thank you so much, Edward Bernays). In fact, in the United States in particular, the ratio of immaterial substance to material substance has grown so astonishingly that to some extent the expansion is itself a sort of pollution; I think that it is partly thanks to the growing labyrinths of the media world’s funhouse mirrors that the United States is able to fool itself into thinking of itself as a world unto itself, with much less justification than an actual subcontinent such as India, or the largest nation built on the ruins of the largest, longest-running civilization, China.

Religion is certainly a significant and long-standing element of the noosphere, but more interesting to me right now is essays in futurism. Even if such documents are utterly bogus, they matter because they represent part of the mindset of key ruling decisionmakers; they’re going to act partly on the basis of conclusions they draw because they think this stuff is true, so it’s good to be aware of it. The point, too, is that there are lots of key people actively working on what’s going to happen next; by their creations, the future doesn’t have to be quite as much of a mystery, since you at least know something about how some leaders are going to react to it, depending on how it actually turns out. (Sometimes, of course, they just tell you what they’re going to do, regardless of what they think the future holds; so if they come to power, you can count on them to do certain things no matter what.)

Anyway, one such document discusses the possible effects long-term demographic trends will have on geopolitics. It’s a (mostly) declassified document, so it doesn’t pack the same juice as stuff like National Security Council Memorandum 68 or Policy Planning Study 23 (yes, I learned about these by reading a Noam Chomsky compilation. What? Stop looking at me like that). However, it is fairly frank, even envisioning a worst-case scenario for the near future in which the “natives will get restless” (yes, the report self-consciously reuses that phrase; p. 96). Among other details, the report sees demographic trends continuing to bolster the United States’ lone superpower status (both through a far more liberal immigration policy than that of almost all other industrialized nations and its seniors’ willingness to continue to work long past the typical retirement age) and a youth population bulge throughout the Middle East that will pose both large terrorist and potential state security threats to U.S. interests. (Duh; still, this was July 2001, so I guess that’s half reassuring that not everybody in government is completely moronic.) Also, the report projects that as of about 2015, for the first time in history the majority of the world’s population will be urban.

Overall, there seems to be a pessimistic outlook for the world’s future overall, but it seems to me that it’s overlaid and obscured by a pretty cheerful outlook for the maintaining of complete U.S. global dominance for the foreseeable future. Hence I was surprised to run across this National Intelligence Council document, which projects four possible future scenarios and sees U.S. global influence waning in all of them. I haven’t fully read that one yet, so maybe the contradiction is only apparent.

First post

Hello, world. This is my first blog. However, I wrote something like this last year over at in one of their journals, but those are down at the moment. [July 2: they're back up now! viewable to registered members] I'll retrieve the data, bring it over, and then there'll be a little background about me. For now, I just want to catch up in medias res ....

The fact is, naked geopolitical maneuvering seems to be taking place everywhere one looks these days; I just can't ignore it. China is the bigger story, of course, but Iran is frying hot right now, and about to go radioactive. Behind them both sits a very friendly Russia, which I suppose is supporting them both with an eye toward rapid evolution to a truly multipolar global regime. If you can't compete all alone anymore, why not try to help some of the others in second place, right?

So a fellow lefty posted a link over at FF to Scott Ritter's latest major piece about Iran, saying that following the usual U.S. model, war has already begun, before official declaration of hostilities. I've noticed a few commentators (for instance, in Salon's War Room) supposing that war with Iran is impossible, since we're so tied down in Iraq. At this point we ought to remember Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article from January; the war is going to be possible because it won't be an invasion and occupation, but short-lived, simultaneous strikes against multiple nuclear-relevant targets. I suspect the coalition this time would be the U.S., Israel, and whatever miscellaneous countries would sign up on paper only--Poland, Vanuatu, etc. I would dearly love to know the source(s) of Ritter's information.

In any case, it has taken no time at all for Norman Solomon's warning to incarnate: a widely-disseminated Thursday morning AP story on a few 1979 Tehran embassy hostages claiming Iranian President-elect Ahmedinejad was a ringleader/torturer among their captors by the evening had become a serious question for the White House. This is the answer to shills like Scott McClellan who dismiss things like the Downing Street Memos as purely past business, while the Administration is focused on the future: Their relevance is to the present with Iran. The White House would in this case be right, of course, that Iran is pursuing nuclear capability; however, where they would be provably wrong is in their contention that striking Iran would lead to positive regime change. Iran's electorate has already confirmed by a narrow margin a candidate aligned with the retrograde supreme Guardian Council; any military attack will only strengthen the people's support for the conservatives, and give the clerics the excuse to cripple or wipe out nascent Iranian progressive movements.

Russia's support for Iran was thrown into sharp relief for me by this article: Russia wants to build a half-dozen more nuclear reactors for Iran. I think the U.S. can only delay this action, not prevent it; once they're built, Iran will rapidly obtain nuclear capability, and a small but effective pole in opposition to the U.S. empire will be born.

With consequences for world oil! Oh boy, isn't oil a fun story? Even bigger than China. Something else to write about soon.

By the way--Happy Dominion Day. :-) 138 years ago, Canada became half a country.