Friday, November 18, 2005

Today's Action Alert

This is an opportunity to protest Samuel J. Alito's nomination. Go here to contact your elected representatives.

Cutting Spending, Cutting Taxes

The Republican controlled House has passed a spending bill:

House Republican leaders scored a narrow, hard-fought victory by passing a sweeping bill to reduce federal spending over the next five years early Friday morning without the support of one Democrat.

Remember that not a single Democrat was needed to support the bill. This is what a one-party government implies. Some of the spending cuts come from changes in food stamp rules, reimbursement of Medicaid expenses and student loan programs; all programs which affect the less wealthy among us.

Meanwhile, the Republican controlled Senate extended expiring tax cuts. The energy industry seems to be doing especially well out of this bill:

Senate Republicans beat back Democratic attempts to use the bill to pinch oil and energy companies that have been reporting record profits while consumers pay high gasoline prices, efforts that reflected sensitivity on Capitol Hill to high gasoline prices and fears of skyrocketing home heating costs this winter.

The largest oil companies, nevertheless, would be hit with about $4.3 billion in taxes through a change in accounting methods. That provision drew a veto threat from the White House and upset some Western Republicans, who deemed it an unfair and political attack on the energy industry.

"Is it a windfall tax by another name?" said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

The Senate defeated a Democratic effort to impose a temporary windfall profits tax, 50 percent on the sale of oil over $40 a barrel, on profits not reinvested in increasing domestic oil and gas supplies. The money would have been returned to energy consumers through an income tax rebate. A 64-35 procedural vote defeated the effort.

'Who has all the pain?'
"The major integrated oil companies have all of the gain. Who has all the pain?" asked Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who then answered his own question: "All the American people who are trying to pay for the price of a tankful of gas or trying to figure out how they are going to heat their home in the winter."

The Senate also defeated an amendment to impose a windfall profits tax on oil companies and use the money to fund a low-income heating assistance program.

The hurricane Katrina is weirdly involved in all this. Paying for the post-Katrina reconstruction presumably necessitates the cuts in the programs for the poor. At the same time, Katrina caused at least some of the price increases of oil and gasoline.


John Kerry now says that his vote authorizing Bush to use military force was a mistake. Had he known then what he knows now and so on... He also expressed interest in the job of the president of the United States:

Senator John Kerry says losing last year's election hasn't soured him on wanting to be president.
Asked if he wanted to run again in 2008, Kerry says it's too early to say. But he added: (quote) "Would I like to be president? Yes, obviously."

I'm not sure if it is a very good idea for the Democratic party, but I am willing to listen to other opinions.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Feminist Nitpicking

I'm in the mood today. Last night Atrios posted a piece on Amy Alexander's opinions about bloggers and blogging. Alexander doesn't think much of us because we don't have editors to keep us on the straight-and-narrow and because we write for free, or if we don't we are totally under the sway of our advertisers (hear that SSquirrel?). And because we tell the readers trivial stuff like the fact that right now I have a horrible hacking cough attack.

Today Steve Gilliard wrote about this post, too, quite a nice answer. He titled his post

Stupid, smug woman comments on blogs

I instantly did the reversal thing and asked myself if such a post would ever be titled

Stupid, smug man comments on blogs

The answer might be yes, if the focus in on the "man" part. If the point of the post is that it is a man who was stupid and smug. Something I might do here?

On the other hand, you could just argue that the title is simply factual. Amy Alexander is a woman. Yes. But if the commenter had been Andy Alexander I doubt that the title would have referred to a man. Maybe to "stupid, smug Andy", but not to a "stupid, smug man". So why wasn't the title

Stupid, smug Amy comments on blogs?

All this is nitpicking. But nitpicking is fun, because there is so much in that invisible layer of our culture to work on.

From My Mailbag

This is an e-mail I received today. I thought I'd share it with you, just in case some of you might think that feminism is no longer needed:

> If you're female and...
> can vote, thank a feminist.

And be sure to also thank her for the nanny-state laws that
increasingly enfold us every day, which are always voted for by women.

> get paid as much as men doing the same job, thank a feminist.

Particularly when, as a woman, you spend half your day talking to your
friends, and regularly oblige the company to pay you for several
months-long periods when you don't work at all ("maternity leave"),
and force your male coworkers to put up with monthly periods of
insanity ("PMS"), and furthermore they're not allowed to officially
consider that as a negative when comparing your performance with that
of a man.

> went to college instead of being expected to quit after
high school so your brothers could go because "You'll just get married
anyway", thank a feminist.

And did you get your MRS degree while there? Once you did get
married, did you keep working and put that higher education to good
use? If you did, where are you finding the time to give your kids the
proper attention?

> can apply for any job, not just "women's work", thank a

No objections here. Equality of opportunity is not a problem.
Equality of results is.

> can get or give birth control information without going to
jail, thank a feminist.

No objections on a personal level, but it is worth pointing out that
the demographic declne of the west must at least partly be due to
this. Birth control assists the suicide of a culture.

> ...your doctor, lawyer, pastor judge or legislator is a woman,
thank a feminist.

And what exactly makes a woman better at any of these things than a
man, and thus preferable to a man?

> play an organized sport, thank a feminist.

Yeah, that's SO important.

> can wear slacks without being excommunicated from your
church or run out of town, thank a feminist.

Men who wear dresses are odd and unmasculine. Yet it is so important
for a woman to wear men's clothing - because ... ?

> ...your boss isn't allowed to pressure you to sleep with him,
thank a feminist.

However, if you spend a lot of time wearing low-cut blouses and
leaning over his desk to talk to him, and he sleeps with you, it is
obviously all his fault and you have a right to a lot of money.

> get raped and the trial isn't about your hemline or your
previous boyfriends, thank a feminist.

It is, however, about the fact that the guy wasn't paranoid enough to
have a witness along to testify to the fact that she said 'yes', not
'no', so when she changes her mind after the fact and decides she
doesn't like him enough for casual sex, he's now (both literally and
figuratively) screwed.

> start a small business and can get a loan using only your
name and credit history, thank a feminist
> are on trial and are allowed to testify in your own
defense, thank a feminist.
> own property that is solely yours, thank a feminist.
> have the right to your own salary even if you are married
or have a male relative, thank a feminist.

These seem odd to me. I am not convinced based on my knowledge of
history that they did not exist before the feminist movement. If
there is proof of such, I would be interested in seeing it. In any
case I do agree that these are worthy items.

> get custody of your children following divorce or
separation, thank a feminist.

And the house. And the car. And most of the guy's current bank
account. And half his future income. Oh yeah, let's thank the
feminists. With a pump-action shotgun.

> get a voice in the raising and care of your children
instead of them being completely controlled by the husband/father,
thank a feminist.

Where "a voice" means "take them off to some other part of the country
to live with you and your current fuckbuddy and never let the father
see them again". Again, sure, let's thank the feminists.

> ...your husband beats you and it is illegal and the police stop
him instead of lecturing you on better wifely behavior, thank a feminist.

Whereas when the wife assaults the husband, the police just laugh.
And when he defends himself, they arrest him for beating his wife.

> are granted a degree after attending college instead of a
certificate of completion, thank a feminist.

The trick is to make sure that those who are granted degrees actually
deserve them. Instead we get grade inflation, because equality of
results has been mandated, and as whatsisname from Harvard started to
say, women are experimentally not as good at the very highest reaches
of math and science as men. Why that is and whether it is fair or not
has no bearing on the phenomenon's existence.

> can breastfeed your baby discreetly in a public place and
not be arrested, thank a feminist.
> marry and your civil human rights do not disappear into
your husband's rights, thank a feminist.
> have the right to refuse sex with a diseased husband [or
just "husband"], thank a feminist.
> have the right to keep your medical records confidential
from the men in your family, thank a feminist.
> have the right to read the books you want, thank a feminist.

I don't see these as explicitly feminism. They are more along the
lines of "being reasonable".

> can testify in court about crimes or wrongs your husband
has committed, thank a feminist.

And yet, "Law & Order" has told me often enough that husbands and
wives cannot testify in court against each other. I saw it on TeeVee,
so it must be true.

> can choose to be a mother or not a mother in you own time
not at the dictates of a husband or rapist, thank a feminist.

On an individual basis, this is clearly good. On a cultural and
society-wide basis, it leads inevitably to women being, effectively,
selfish and not having enough children to maintain a stable
population. Feminism thus contains the seeds of its own destruction;
any society that adopts it will write itself out of human experience
and be replaced by one that rejects feminism.

> can look forward to a lifespan of 80 years instead of
dying in your 20s from unlimited childbirth, thank a feminist.

More of what I just said. Choosing your own individuality is good, up
until the day you die. Then the consequences show up. Actually, in
practice they show up far earlier - around retirement age, as the
looming social security crises across the West are making clear.
Feminism, in the long term, is doomed. In the meantime it will help
annihilate the best civilization this planet has seen. Those of us
who do have lots of kids will remember, and teach our children - and
their mothers will, by definition, not be feminists. Non-feminists
inherit the earth. (Longman's "The Empty Cradle" has much more on
this - particularly on the birthrate disparity between blue and red

> can see yourself as a full, adult human being instead of a
minor who needs to be controlled by a man, thank a feminist.

A full, adult woman. Not a full, adult man. There are major
differences, and although we do not know for certain what all those
differences are, trying to treat one as if it were the other is simple
fallacy. In many ways the Victorians had a better grasp of the matter.

More on Pornography

Arthur Silber on the Power of Narrative blog has written a long post which partly started from a discussion we had. It is well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oh Sweet Irony

Raw Story reports that:

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was the senior administration official who told Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, attorneys close to the investigation and intelligence officials tell RAW STORY.

So delicious if true. Imagine a National Security Adviser going around revealing who the covert agents are in the CIA!

The Sexiest Man...

People magazine has named Matthew McConaughey as the sexiest man of the year, presumably only in the U.S.. Here is a picture so that you can judge for yourself:

A fixed image doesn't tell me very much. I'd like to see him move and talk before making any kind of judgement on his sexiness. Whatever that might be. Most of my friends find very different things sexy in men (and in women), and the explanation often lies somewhere in their personal histories.

Is this an exploitative post? I'm not sure...

Dan Savage on the Privacy Amendment to the Constitution

This is pie-in-the-sky stuff in the current faith-based America, but Savage has some interesting things to say about the right to privacy:

WILL Estelle Griswold ever be able to rest in peace? Although she died in 1981, the poor woman gets kicked up and down the block whenever someone is nominated to a seat on the United States Supreme Court. But few people remember who Griswold was or what she did.

In 1961, Griswold, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth-control clinic in New Haven. She was promptly arrested for dispensing contraceptives to a married couple and was eventually convicted and fined $100. She appealed, and when her case reached the Supreme Court in 1965, seven of nine justices voted to overturn the conviction, striking down Connecticut's law against selling birth control (effectively overturning similar laws in other states). Americans, the court ruled, had a fundamental right to privacy.

Much of American jurisprudence since then flows from Griswold - including Roe v. Wade, which found that women had a right to abortion, and Lawrence v. Texas of 2003, which found that the right to privacy prevents the government from banning sodomy, gay and straight.

Problematically, however, a right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. The majority in Griswold held that it was among the unenumerated rights implied by the Constitution's "penumbras" (which sound like something a sodomy law might keep you away from). The Griswold case didn't settle the matter, and the right to privacy quickly became the Tinkerbell of constitutional rights: clap your hands if you believe.

Savage makes an important point here: Roe was decided on the precedent of Griswold, and if Roe goes Griswold might go, too. Then we would be back in a world where contraceptives are smuggled in plain brown wrappers past the curious and angry faces of wingnuts.

Savage's solution is to go for a constitutional privacy amendment. Sort of like the wingnuts and their constitutional ban on same-sex marriage:

If the Republicans can propose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, why can't the Democrats propose a right to privacy amendment? Making this implicit right explicit would forever end the debate about whether there is a right to privacy. And the debate over the bill would force Republicans who opposed it to explain why they don't think Americans deserve a right to privacy - which would alienate not only moderates, but also those libertarian, small-government conservatives who survive only in isolated pockets on the Eastern Seaboard and the American West.

Of course, passing a right to privacy amendment wouldn't end the debate over abortion - that argument would shift to the question of whether abortion fell under the amendment. But given the precedent of Roe, abortion rights would be on firmer ground than they are now.

My personal opinion on the proper basis of abortion rights is that they should have been based on arguments about equality, not privacy. But what is done is done. It would be fun to start a move for the privacy amendment, though.

Smears, Lies and Videotapes

Think Progress has put together a videotape which gives a quick overview of the whole Plamegate. This is useful if you haven't eagerly read every single thing bloggers and the media have written on the topic.

The Carnival of Feminists

This is a collection of blogwritings in the feminist vein. Sour Duck brings out the third issue. It has several most interesting posts. And my piece on Maureen Dowd's book is there, too.

Bob Woodward and The Plame Investigation

This is very mysterious: Bob Woodward of the Washington Post has been very critical of the Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's case in the Plame investigations. Now it seems that Woodward himself was involved in the Plame debacle from the very beginning:

Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.

In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.

Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on Nov. 3 -- one week after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the investigation.

Citing a confidentiality agreement in which the source freed Woodward to testify but would not allow him to discuss their conversations publicly, Woodward and Post editors refused to disclose the official's name or provide crucial details about the testimony. Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month, and the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling in the summer of 2003 does not recall the conversation taking place.

Why did this unnamed official alert the prosecutor only after Libby's indictment? What is the subplot here? To cast doubt on Fitzgerald's competency? I don't see how any of this can help Libby directly as he wasn't indicted for revealing Plame's covert agent status but for lying to the court.

But in the light of all this it is most interesting that Woodward has belittled the importance of the whole investigation:

Woodward, who is preparing a third book on the Bush administration, has called Fitzgerald "a junkyard-dog prosecutor" who turns over every rock looking for evidence. The night before Fitzgerald announced Libby's indictment, Woodward said he did not see evidence of criminal intent or of a substantial crime behind the leak.

"When the story comes out, I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter," he told CNN's Larry King.

Woodward also said in interviews this summer and fall that the damage done by Plame's name being revealed in the media was "quite minimal."

"When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great," he told National Public Radio this summer.

Laughable? Hmmm.
Via Josh Marshall.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Deep Thought from the Land of Head Colds

Achoo! Sniff!

Plan C?

The morning-after pill, or Plan B, is not going to be available over-the-counter any time soon. The reasons are weird and wondrous and have a lot more to do with faith than with science:

Top federal drug officials decided to reject an application to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill months before a government scientific review of the application was completed, according to accounts given to Congressional investigators.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, concluded in a report released Monday that the Food and Drug Administration's May 2004 rejection of the morning-after pill, or emergency contraceptive, application was unusual in several respects.

Top agency officials were deeply involved in the decision, which was "very, very rare," a top F.D.A. review official told investigators. The officials' decision to ignore the recommendation of an independent advisory committee as well as the agency's own scientific review staff was unprecedented, the report found. And a top official's "novel" rationale for rejecting the application contradicted past agency practices, it concluded.

The pill, called Plan B, is a flashpoint in the debate over abortion, in part because some abortion opponents consider the pill tantamount to ending a pregnancy. In scientific reviews, the F.D.A. has concluded that it is a contraceptive.

The report suggested that it quickly became apparent that the agency was not going to follow its usual path when it came to the pill. "For example," it said, "F.D.A. review staff told us that they were told early in the review process that the decision would be made by high-level management."

More faith than science, because inexplicable things keep happening: e-mails get deleted so that they can't be examined, for example, and rules get changed in the middle of the process.

But there is a very clear explanation to all this: the religious right does not want something on the market which would allow women not to be punished for "poorly-chosen" sex, including rape, presumably, and the religious right is calling the shots. Scientists don't have enough votes to affect what is happening.

Bush's Nominees

They are an interesting bunch of people, always changing like chameleons, slippery like snakes (no offense to mine). They are neither wingnuts, except when they are, nor moonbats (what liberals are called in the right-wing circles), except that they might one day grow wings for the purpose of circling the moon. We just never know what we are getting, or so it seems to the mainstream media.

Now Samuel Alito has eaten his words about being anti-abortion. It was all such a long time ago, in 1985, and, besides, he was just applying for a job:

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Alito told him in a 20-minute meeting that he should not be judged on the basis of the job application he wrote in 1985 to become deputy assistant to then-Attorney General Ed Meese.

"He said that was 20 years ago and that was a job application and that since then he's written many cases, or several cases that involve the issue and that he thinks to the extent that people are judging him on his views on that issue, they ought to do it on the basis of those decisions he's written since he's been on the court," said Bingaman.

So let me get this clear: It's ok to change ones mind when it is about job applications? Hmmm. And what is it that Alito is doing right now? Applying for a job?

Nah, he is a wingnut, even if wrapped up in a pretty legal paper.

You might remember that I recently blogged on another Bush nominee, Ellen Sauerbrey. She is an anti-abortionist with no experience in running offices for refugees but that is what she will do if appointed:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes this week on the confirmation of Ellen Sauerbrey to head the state department program on population, refugees, and migration. She's another Republican hack/Bush crony in the mold of Michael Brown, and the office is essentially FEMA on an international scale. If Sauerbrey's nomination is confirmed, the consequences will be disastrous, particularly for the fight against AIDS in Africa. On the positive side, Sauerbrey is so obviously and grossly unqualified that there's real ammunition to block her confirmation...if we raise enough hell.

You can take action against the Sauerbrey appointment by clicking on this link.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Harmfulness of Porn

An article in the Salon discusses the current administration's attempts to attack the pornography industry. Senator Sam Brownback has now run a hearing on porn:

"I think most Americans agree and know that pornography is bad. They know that it involves exploitive images of men and women, and that it is morally repugnant and offensive," Brownback said, kicking off a hearing of the Senate's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, which he chairs. "What most Americans don't know is how harmful pornography is to its users and their families."

What is most curious about this article and the hearing it describes is that the harmfulness of pornography is given a novel interpretation: it is not the children, or the women in violent pornography that are the victims here, or those women who are, say, raped, because the rapist got the idea from violent porn. Nope. The victims are families and the men who use pornography:

She went on to explain that the experience of masturbation activates about 14 neurotransmitters and hormones, causing a quick chain reaction of brain activity. "There have been some experts who have even argued that, in and of itself, overrides informed consent when encountering this material," she said, apparently suggesting that an adult's own sexual self-stimulation can lead to a loss of judgment. Pornography, she continued, had been shown to increase the risk of divorce, decrease marital intimacy and cause misunderstandings about the prevalence of less common sex practices like group sex, bestiality and sadomasochistic activity. Men are not the only victims. Women, she said, make up about 30 percent of the audience for online pornography.

The problems caused by porn can strike at the heart of a marriage. Another panelist, Pamela Paul, who recently wrote a book about the role of explicit sexual material in American culture, spoke of a fateful decision faced by some married men every day after work: They must choose between masturbating at a computer and finding sexual satisfaction with their wives. "If they go to their wives, well, just practically speaking, they have to make sure they have done all of the chores around the house they were supposed to do. They need to have a half-an-hour conversation about what they did that day," said Paul. This courtship could take up to an hour and a half. By contrast, she said, it takes "five minutes to go online."

So men are the main victims of pornography. And especially married men who now realize that they have been working far too hard for some sex! Interesting that Pamela Paul knows so much about the negotiations supposedly ongoing between spouses before sex. Isn't there a single wife out there who tears her husband's clothes off when he gets out of the car after a long day at the office? And if there is, did she watch porn before this heinous act?

The whole thing is so warped. Which is quite sad because there are some real concerns about pornography and its effects that the hearing could have addressed.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Barring something truly odd Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be the new president of Liberia, the first elected female head of state on the African continent. She ran on a platform of education, jobs and no government corruption. Given Liberia's war-torn state, her tasks will be immense.

Johnson-Sirleaf was educated at Harvard University. She is a career politician and an economist. This is likely to give her some of the expertise needed to address Liberia's problems. On the other hand, she was once a supporter of Charles Taylor, and some have questioned whether her economic approach (which is close to that of the World Bank) is the best possible one in Liberia's current situation.

I am not sure if anyone can solve Liberia's problems within one presidential term, but I wish Johnson-Sirleaf the best of luck in trying this.

Scalito's Skeleton in the Cupboard

Via Atrios, we learn that Samuel Alito is indeed a wingnut. Well, this isn't new or even shocking, but the details now available should make Senator Biden and others like him to admit what they are approving if they approve Scalito. The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper unable to make a profit but somehow always surviving in the supposedly free marketplace, is reassuring its readers that Alito is the package they paid for about twenty years ago. The demise of Roe is finally being delivered:

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, wrote that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" in a 1985 document obtained by The Washington Times.
"I personally believe very strongly" in this legal position, Mr. Alito wrote on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III.
The document, which is likely to inflame liberals who oppose Judge Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, is among many that the White House will release today from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
In direct, unambiguous language, the young career lawyer who served as assistant to Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, demonstrated his conservative bona fides as he sought to become a political appointee in the Reagan administration.
"I am and always have been a conservative," he wrote in an attachment to the noncareer appointment form that he sent to the Presidential Personnel Office. "I am a lifelong registered Republican."
But his statements against abortion and affirmative action might cause him headaches from Democrats and liberals as he prepares for confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled for January.
"It has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan's administration and to help to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly," he wrote.
"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."

A proud man, our Samuel. I wonder what his opinions would be on religious quotas. For example, how many Opus Dei judges can we have on the Supreme Court of the United States?

The use of the word "quotas" in Alito's text deserves further commenting. The wingnuts tend to see any attempt at racial or ethnic balance as quota-mongering but rarely note that there were actual enforced maximum quotas on the numbers of women and minorities in lots of places in the past, including medical and law schools. Even today hiring one woman or person belonging to a minority group to some prominent position is seen as ample evidence of their acceptability, whereas I tend to smell a maximum quota of one in quite a few of those cases. But the wingnuts only worry about minimum quotas. The idea is that there should be no set floor on the numbers of minorities or women in positions of power. This naturally translates to the argument that there should be no set ceiling for the numbers of white men.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Your Pin-Up For The Day

This is Christopher Hitchens among his new friends: the happy wingnuts. He seems to have given a speech for the Family Research Council which researches ways to keep the family patriarchal and heterosexual.

The fall and rise of Hitchens is weird stuff. I have no opinion about what happened to him, but the picture shows him not quite comfortable, don't you think? Body language and all that.

The New Friedman Column

Is a good one. Friedman talks about the impotence of the American political system and suggests some of the reasons for it. Sadly, Viagra will not fix this performance problem:

Why is this happening? Clearly, the way voting districts have been gerrymandered in America, thanks to the Voting Rights Act and Tom DeLay-like political manipulations, is a big part of the problem. As a result of this gerrymandering, only a small fraction of the seats in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures are really contested anymore. Therefore, few candidates have to build cross-party coalitions around the middle.

Most seats are now reserved for one party or the other. And when that happens, it means that in each of these districts the real election is the primary, where Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans. And when that happens, it produces candidates who appeal only to their party's base - so we end up with a Congress paralyzed between the far left and far right.

Add to this the fragmentation of the media, with the rising power of bloggers and podcasters, and the decline in authority of traditional centrist institutions - including this newspaper - and you have what the Foreign Policy magazine editor Moisés Naím rightly calls "the age of diffusion."

"Show me a democratically elected government today anywhere in the world with a popular mandate rooted in a landslide victory - there aren't many," said Mr. Naím, whose smart new book, "Illicit," is an absolute must-read about how small illicit players, using the tools of globalization, are now able to act very big on the world stage, weakening nations and the power of executives across the globe. "Everywhere you look in this age of diffusion, you see these veto centers emerging, which can derail, contain or stop any initiative. That is why so few governments today are able to generate a strong unifying mandate."

I agree in principle, except that the far left has been totally shut out of any political decision-making in this country. The far right has simultaneously become the mainstream right. This slip explains why people who are totally moderate goddesses get attacked for commie-pinko stuff. It isn't as much a slip in the actual opinions of voters towards the wingnut right as a media reframing of what constitutes an extreme opinion. Nowadays the flat-earthers would get their own talk-show on television, but people who advocate socialized medicine are seen as terrorists.

The reference to the rising powers of bloggers is a curious one. Are bloggers really becoming that much more powerful (I wish, of course) or is it, rather, that mainstream journalists have become too concerned with what the administration might do to them, too conciliatory, too ready to accept the "he-said-she-said" mode as neutrality, even when everybody knows that one side has all the facts?

The fact is that a very small minority of citizens reads blogs. Just ask your friends and family if they know what a blog is and you will find that most of them have never heard of it. - No, I don't believe that blogs were leading the divisiveness that Friedman writes about. It was there before, in the newspapers that people chose to read and even more clearly in the birth and success of Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads or the Fox News. Large numbers of Americans chose to tune out those news that they disliked as well as those opinions they hated. Separate worlds, even before the introduction of the right and left blogospheres.

This is not good for the country, but I can't see any immediate solution, partly for the reasons that Friedman mentions and partly for the simple reason that the wingnuts are waging a war against the other Americans. I have been called worse than a terrorist for being a liberal. Which is a really sad commentary on the political debate of this country.

Food For Thought

From Daily Kos, this quote struck my eye:

If the mid-terms were held today, Democrats would win both houses of Congress" ~ Larry Sabato, Republican analyst

But the mid-term elections are not going to be held until next year, and although certain developments will aid the Democrats (for example, Scooter Libby's court case will be held around then), it is time for the Democratic party to actually start working on the temporary advantage they have. It is time for a real opposition party in this country, a time to bring up the real and abiding values of the United States: fairness, opportunity and neighborliness, and it is time to show how they are the values of the Democratic party.

The wingnuts are probably praying for a miracle right now, one that would suddenly sort out the blood-and-guts mess in Iraq. But they are not going to get a miracle like that because the divine powers don't go around picking after us like some sort of heavenly nannies. No, it must be human beings who will do the cleaning, and it most likely will have to be the Democratic party in the U.S. who starts this. So they better figure out on what they are going to say and do.

Bush believes that some sort of a natural change in the war in Iraq is going to produce a temporary lull that looks like an improvement and he will grab that and declare victory. Rove is already back in business, spreading the lie that the Democrats who voted for the war in Iraq are to blame for everything that has gone wrong because they believed the administration. And illegal immigration is the next soundbite, the one we are all supposed to worry about now. Talk about framing! The Democrats must not fall for any of these silly traps. They must make their own talking points and make damn sure that they are the ones real people are worrying about.

Americans forget quickly. Even today's wingnut debacles will be forgotten in a few months when another shark attacks or something. So the Democrats must not let us forget, must get up and start working the grassroots. Like yesterday.

The end of my pep-speech for this Sunday.