Matt Bai combines the jaded eye of a gossip column with the arc of a Greek tragedy in this incisive tale of Democratic soul-searching. The Argument opens in the aftermath of John Kerry's defeat, as bewildered and angry liberals grope for a path out of the wilderness of the Bush years. Donors endlessly debate strategy, bloggers inveigh against "Vichy Democrats," and politicians obsess over "psychographic polling" and "metaphorical frames." They're wasting their time, says Bai. Democrats need a new Big Idea, a platform that will help them win elections by guiding the nation through a turbulent era.
"Advergames" are an increasingly popular method of bringing commercial messages to the nation's 117 million or so video gamers. Interest groups are also getting into the action, hooking up with design shops such as Persuasive Games, which, for a mere $40,000, will design a custom game to get out your political message.
Game / Creator
How to Play
Oversee a busy airport security checkpoint, relieving passengers of contraband such as water bottles, toasters, and pants
If the ACLU reissued the '80s arcade game Tapper
Courtesy announcement: "Please be advised: Security personnel are authorized to use groping."
Take Back Illinois
Lower medical costs, boost civic engagement, and improve schools and the economy
SimCity meets Milton Friedman
Rigged so that you can only win if you freeze taxes or cap malpractice damages
Darfur is Dying
University of Southern California students, winners of the Darfur Digital Activist Contest
Play a refugee trying to find water while hiding from Jeeps filled with rampaging Janjaweed militiamen
Sid Meier's End of Civilization
So you're sitting on your butt playing a video game about genocide
The Insurgent, a white supremacist website
Blow away Mexican drug smugglers and "breeders" with children in tow as they cross into the United States
Duck Hunt for racists
Score 88 points and win. The number is a neo-Nazi code for "Heil Hitler" (H is the 8th letter of the alphabet).
Activist programmer Jason Oda
Guide Hulk Hogan and Mr. T as they battle corporate pigs and mutant Bush Cabinet members in a surreal fight to save the world
Old-school Nintendo, as imagined by the South Park guys
Bridging a gaping chasm with a super-nerdy bar chart of the federal deficit. Don't fall into that $500 billion hole!
Kenneth Foster clearly did not deserve to die. His crime: driving a car used in a robbery that led to a murder he never took part in. But his case was by no means unique in Texas, and so it came as a surprise today when Gov. Rick Perry commuted his sentence. "I'm concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously," Perry said in a statement, "and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine." A conservative Republican wants to examine capital murder law? To say the least, Perry is doing his part to Keep Austin Weird.
So why did this happen? It certainly helped that Foster had become an international anti-death penalty cause celebre supported by President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Susan Sarandon. Still, celebrities and activists have adopted other death row inmates (free Mumia!) to little effect.
Weird as it may sound, the pardon is probably best explained as the result of a gradually increasing skepticism in Texas of the criminal justice system and, yes, the death penalty. Consider this: death penalty prosecutions in the nation's execution capital, Harris County, Texas, have been in steep decline; every major newspaper in Texas has called for a moratorium on the death penalty or opposes it entirely; and in 2005 the state legislature passed a law allowing life imprisonment without parole, which has given judges and jurors a new way to be "tough on crime" without killing people. "Perhaps the reality that people aren't so hip on the death penalty anymore is finally getting across, even to Rick Perry," Jeff Blackburn, the founder and chief counsel of the Texas Innocence Project, told me. "I think this is about where people are at in the State of Texas--the old lies that have been told them are starting to be revealed."
Anyone living in Texas in recent years couldn't help but notice a string of high-profile criminal justice scandals--racism in Tulia, pervasively botched evidence in the Houston crime lab, and most recently, a striking number of exonerations in Dallas on DNA evidence. "Ten years ago if you told people that the criminal justice system falsely convicts the innocent, you were either a communist or a nut or both," Blackburn says. "Now, everybody gets that. Everybody has seen it fail."
Including Perry. Which is not to say that he cares most of the time. Blackburn and other defense advocates still believe plenty of people are wrongly put to death in the state. But Perry is a good politician: he appears to understand that the pendulum--or the scythe--is swinging the other way in Texas, and that he needs to get out of the way before it lops his head off.
After nearly ten years of legal wrangling, a group of nine Nigerians from the impoverished Niger Delta has been given the green light by a federal judge in San Francisco to go to trial against Chevron. Attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that Nigerian police, paid by Chevron and using Chevron helicopters and boats, tortured and shot people and destroyed two villages that were allegedly opposed to Chevron's oil Delta oil developments. A jury trial in the case is expected within the year.
Another case involving Chevron and human rights abuses was, the last time I checked, also winding its way through the San Francisco federal courts. But that case, involving four aggrieved women from the Ecuadorian rain forest, was actually welcomed by Chevron. Or at least Chevron did nothing to encourage it to be remanded to Ecuador. Why the different approach? Ecuador has been cracking down on oil company abuses while Nigeria is happy to pocket their money. In between these global poles of quasi-socialism and kleptocracy lies San Francisco. Looks like we'll soon find out whether Chevron finds a jury of its Bay Area peers to be a favorable middle ground.