May 12, 2006 | 10:57 AM ET

The GOP is getting a lot of flak as Bush tumbles in the polls. As Mickey Kaus points out, Bush is falling now not because he's losing swing voters but because his base is unhappy:

Bush's push for a "comprehensive" semi-amnesty immigration plan has been a disaster for him.  Thanks presumably to Iraq and Social Security he was down to his base of 45 percent or so--and then he willfully did something that pissed off half of them.

In a podcast interview, we talked to Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman about what's going wrong, and what (if anything) the GOP can do to fix it.  I'm still not convinced that he fully appreciates the depth of the problem.

We also talked to Michael Barone about the possibility (already discussed here) of a third-party challenger in 2008.  You can listen directly (no iPod need) by clicking here, or you can get it via iTunes.  There's a lo-fi version for dialup here, and an archive of previous podcasts here.

Some people think that Bush is about to start getting his groove back.  I'm not convinced.

May 10, 2006 | 2:58 AM ET

Free the bloggers!

Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam is still in an Egyptian prison.  The Global Voices website has this report:

The tireless Aida Seif El-Dawla, who was there, says ... a senior intelligence officer known by the name Sami Sedhom told the protesters, "You bitc***. You sons of bitc***. This is how it is going to be from now on if you do not behave and know your limits. If you do not behave you'll have the bottom of my old shoes all over you." (Her full e-mail is posted at Arabist.net)

Police released three people—Sara Abd al-Gilil, Mohammed Awaad, and Yasser Abbas Mohammed—and held the rest in the Saida Zainab police station before transferring them to the Heliopolis State Security Prosecutor's office. A friend who works for a wire agency tells me he just heard the prosecutor has ordered them held for 15 days.  "We were just there to be present at the court hearing," Aida said. "They encircled us…they wouldn't let us go."

Friends of two of the detainees told Aida that security agents had called to say they were "screwing them right now."

Indeed.  Alaa is the kind of activist who deserves our support:

Alaa is a secular democracy activist, and a tireless advocate of freedom, free speech and human rights. He organizes demonstrations and engages in protests against all kinds of injustices in Egypt and is the winner of the international Best of the Blogs award from Reporters Without Borders last December.

Alaa was arrested while protesting to support Egypt's Judges fight for independence. 2 weeks earlier he had organized a "National Unity" protest to show solidarity with Egypt's
Christians who suffered a sectarian attack on 3 churches on Good Friday.  Before that he was one of the few voices that urged calm and peaceful dialogue while the cartoon crisis was hitting its peak. He is a desperately needed voice of moderation and democracy in Egypt, and one of the few flickers of hope in a country whose future seems mire between the crushing rule of the regime and the fanaticism of the Islamist opposition.

If you think he's the kind of guy who deserves your support, let the Egyptian government know.  Scroll down to see how.

May 7, 2006 | 10:52 PM ET

Egypt arrests a blogger

Egyptian reformist blogger Alaa has been arrested by the Egyptian government.

Other Egyptian bloggers are asking for help:

E-mail them, send them letters, harrass them.  The last time you did that we got Abdel Karim released. I am not joking when I tell you that I had information from a source inside that this is the only reason they released him.  Too much pressure by the average American and European. The Egyptian government is cowardly, they will succumb to pressure. Tell them that you find his detainment and arrest unacceptable. That you will not set foot in this country, and will tell every friend of yours never to visit Egypt, unless Alaa and the other detainees are released immedietly.  That a government that throws people in jail for freedom of speech is not one that will get your money. Tell everyone you know and spread the word.

Egyptian blogger Sabbah has more background.

Many American (and other)  bloggers are contacting the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C.  It can be reached at:

3521 International Court, NW, Washington DC 20008

Telephone: (202) 895 5400
Fax: (202) 244-4319
E-mail: embassy@egyptembdc.org
URL: http://www.egyptembassy.us

If British readers are interested in helping, contact information for the Egyptian Embassy in London can be found here.

May 5, 2006 | 12:09 PM ET

A third party threat?

With American politics in a particularly unsatisfying place, we're starting to hear more talk about a third-party candidate in 2008.  People are unhappy with both parties over immigration policy: a recent Rasmussen poll asked if voters would support "a third party candidate [who]ran in 2008 and promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority."  Many respondents (both Republicans and Democrats) answered yes.  Rasmussen was quick to observe that the response " probably reflects unhappiness with both parties on the immigration issue rather than a true opportunity for a third party," but I'm not so sure.

Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal thinks that Rasmussen has it backwards, and that the question actually demonstrates desire by Americans for a third party for reasons that go well beyond immigration, and I think he' probably right.  Third parties tend to arise when large numbers of Americans think that the two traditional parties aren't doing a very good job.  And right now, that condition obtains: Both parties aren't doing a very good job, even by the low standards of recent politics.

As the Rasmussen poll indicates, both Democrats and Republicans face splits over immigration.  Each party has substantial constituencies (traditional conservatives in the GOP, African-Americans in the Democratic Party) who have reason to oppose open immigration, and it wouldn't be a surprise if those constituencies abandoned their parties to support a third party that promised a tougher line.  But that's just the beginning.  In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week, the single biggest concern named by respondents, ahead of immigration, was Congressional pork: 39% said that Congress wasn't doing a good enough job of controlling earmarks.  Feeling betrayed, some Republican voters are vowing to stay home rather than support a "small government" party where Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) can secure hundreds of millions of dollars for local goodies without much in the way of resistance or repercussions.  Democrats might benefit if disenchanted voters sit things out, but that also means that there are a lot of voters that a third party might pick up.  And plenty of Democratic voters are less than overjoyed with their party, too.

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that a third-party candidate can't win.  That's been the lesson of recent history.  But had Ross Perot been a bit less kooky, he might have pulled off a victory in 1992.  And technology for mobilizing disaffected voters has advanced beyond the state of the art then, which consisted of toll-free telephone numbers.  Thanks to the Internet and alternative media, reaching disaffected voters and rallying them behind a candidate is likely to be much, much easier than it was back in the 20th Century.  (We saw an early illustration of this phenomenon with the insurgent campaign of Howard Dean, who, if he had been a bit less kooky, might have pulled off a victory in the Democratic primaries.)

Electoral laws in many states remain, by design, barriers to third party efforts, but as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader demonstrated, they are not insurmountable.  Other barriers, barriers of fundraising, media attention, and voter organization, are much easier to overcome today than they were in the previous decade.  (Someone should write a book about that.)  A popular candidate, in these times, could put together a formidable political machine in short order, and have volunteers on the ground before the two traditional parties could respond.  The Internet has already given us flash mobs and flash media -- a "flash campaign" isn't too hard to imagine.

The two big political parties of today seem a bit like the three big auto companies in the 1960s: Outdated organizations producing a product that consumers aren't that happy with, unworried about outside competition.  Competition and consumer dissatisfaction dealt the Big Three a serious blow.  The Big Two may want to start improving their own products before the competition arrives.

May 4, 2006 | 1:04 PM ET

Colbert and Mohammed

There's been much ado in the blogosphere over Stephen Colbert's jokes at the White House press dinner.  (What, there's no real news?)  The funniest take is from journalist Wagner James Au, who emailed that lefty outrage about an alleged "media blackout" of Colbert's routine seems to indicate a trend of diminishing returns:

2004: "Darn you mainstream media, you're ignoring a US ambassador whose visit to Niger exposed Bush!"

2005: "Darn you mainstream media, you're ignoring a UK official whose memo to 10 Downing exposed Bush!"

2006: "Darn you mainstream media, you're ignoring a comedian whose performance at a press roast exposed Bush!"

My question: Does anybody remember who did this routine at last year's dinner?  I don't think so.  Richard Cohen, meanwhile, is hard on Colbert:

Why are you wasting my time with Colbert?  I hear you ask.  Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country.  His defenders -- and they are all over the Blogosphere -- will tell you he spoke truth to power.  This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences -- maybe even death in some countries.  When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or -- if you're at work -- take away your office.

But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States.  Colbert just did it and he will not suffer any consequence at all.  He knew that going in.  He also knew that Bush would have to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert's lame and insulting jokes.  Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and for his penchant for mangling English.  Self-mockery can be funny.  Mockery that is insulting is not.  The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said on a dais with impunity.  This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.

I call him brave when he mocks Mohammed on the air.  Until then, he's not even a bully.  He's just a comedian, only one who's not being very funny.

Video: Bloggers: The new press power? The real question, though, is why anyone cares what comedians think.  Comedians have only one job, and that's to be funny.  There was a time when what comedians said was a useful measure of what the populace thought was funny, which sometimes provided insight into what the populace thought more generally.  That may have been an interesting political indicator, until people started talking about it.  That led pundits to confuse comedians as a measurement tool with comedians as power brokers.  Worse yet, comedians started to think the same way about themselves.  And that mostly ruined comedy.  Once comedians start thinking like politicians, they start acting like politicians.  And politicians are seldom funny.

That's where I disagree with Cohen, who wrote about the "funny person's most solemn obligation: to use absurdity or contrast or hyperbole to elucidate."

It's hard enough to be a funny person without having "solemn" obligations.  Don't believe me? Just watch the comedians at work. They'll elucidate that point, at least.

May 3, 2006 | 9:20 AM ET

Alt-fuel nation?

The Truth About Cars is my favorite autoblog because it tells, well, the truth about cars.  (One of its writers even got fired from a newspaper job for writing a bad review of a big advertiser's latest auto release.)  Now it's got an editorial endorsing various alternate-energy schemes, but with this caveat:

As Ted Kennedy's sabotage of Nantucket's Cape Wind project proves, it's still energy politics as usual down in Washington.  And while "green" energy generation is all well and good, our immediate needs would be better served with another "alternative":  more aggressive oil and natural gas extraction right here in the USA.  And if nuclear power's good enough for Iran...  Rightly or wrongly, environmentalism is not helping America's alleged quest for energy independence.  Unless politicians jettison our country's "Not In My Backyard" mindset and throw some legislative weight behind any and all non-import energy sources, Bodman's words are nothing more than the same old lip service.
...
Petroleum has been a great date as far as energy romances go.  Bodman says it's over.  Words are cheap.  The US government needs to start making the bold, large and yes, expensive decisions that will draw a line under our oil infatuation.  Or…we can all just wait until the inevitable interruption of our oil supply rips the status quo to bits.  Meanwhile, for the last four days I have driven by my local Indiana Chevy dealer and seen GM's new Tahoe SUV's with large "FLEX FUEL" banners on them.  In light of the fact there is no available E85 in our area, the promotion seems like trying to sell amphibious vehicles in the desert.  If you want a metaphor for the PC-driven impotence of America's current energy policy, well, there it is.

Read the whole thing.

We also did a podcast interview yesterday with Jim Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics, on alternative fuels.  PM has taken a look at the viability of things like biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, hydrogen, and electrics.  There are lots of possibilities, but as Meigs says, the more you look at alternatives the more impressed you become with gasoline as a fuel.  Still, though there's no magic bullet out there -- and a lot of wishful thinking -- he offers a good overview of what's available, and what's a pipe-dream.  You can listen directly by clicking right here (no iPod needed) or get a low-fi version for dialup here.

May 1, 2006 | 4:53 PM ET

A singular conversation

I've written here before about the Singularity concept — the notion among futurists that we may reach a point, in the fairly near future, when technological change will be moving so fast that future society will be literally unimaginable.  (I've got a chapter on that topic in my recent book, too.)  But while I've written about the subject as nonfiction, futurist, computer science guru, and science-fiction writer Vernor Vinge has been writing about it in the form of fiction, which is more evocative.  His new book, Rainbows End, is out this week, and it describes events in the year 2025 in ways that are both familiar and not-so-familiar.  Here are the first two paragraphs:

The first bit of dumb luck came disguised as a public embarrassment for the European Center for Defense Against Disease.  On July 23, schoolchildren in Algiers claimed that a respiratory epidemic was spreading across the Mediterranean.  The claim was based on a clever analysis of antibody data from the mass-transit systems of Algiers and Naples.

CDD had no immediate comment, but in less than three hours, public-health hobbyists reported similar results in other cities, complete with contagion maps. The epidemic was at least one week old, probably originating in Central Africa, beyond the scope of hobbyist surveillance.

And here's an observation from a bit further into the novel:

Every year, the civilized world grew and the reach of lawlessness and poverty shrank. Many people thought that the world was becoming a safer place . . . Nowadays Grand Terror technology was so cheap that cults and criminal gangs could acquire it. . . . In all innocence, the marvelous creativity of humankind continued to generate unintended consequences.  There were a dozen research trends that could ultimately put world-killer weapons in the hands of anyone having a bad hair day.

That's a point that I made in my book, but Vinge's novel makes it in a more immediately affecting way.

We talked to him last week, and you can hear the podcast interview here (dial-up version is here, and you can get it via iTunes here — there's more background here).  He's an interesting guy, and his view of the future has been borne out pretty well so far.

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