Guest blogger Mark Follman writes frequently about current affairs and culture at markfollman.com.

June 2009 could be a big month for democracy on the world stage, with digital technology playing no small part.

With a landmark speech in Cairo on Thursday, Barack Obama will continue his quest to connect with the Muslim world and repair the grave damage done to U.S. standing under George W. Bush. It remains to be seen how much he might also press for government reform by Hosni Mubarak. Egypt is considered a crucial U.S. ally in the Middle East, but more light has been shed on its dark human rights record particularly since 2007, when a video circulated on the Internet showed a man being sodomized with a stick in a Cairo police station.

Our story on architect Ed Mazria's "14x" plan noted that the building sector guzzles about three-quarters of the nation's electricity and half of our overall energy—and is responsible for almost half of America's carbon emissions.

Not only that, CO2 emissions have also risen fastest (details below) in that sector, which consumes energy not just for construction but also to light, heat, and cool buildings, heat water, cook food, recharge your iPod, and all that good stuff. To break it down, about 8 percent of the nation's power goes toward construction and building materials—what Mazria called "embodied energy"—while 42 percent is consumed by the aforementioned activities. (Also see our May/June 2008 package, "The Future of Energy.")

Oprah and America

Ezra sez:

I didn't exactly wake up this morning thinking, "what I need to read is a brutal, almost overwhelming, takedown of the pseudoscience and snake oil that has come to define a large chunk of Oprah Winfrey's show and brand." But I'm sure glad I did.

Really?  I've popped out of bed on many mornings thinking exactly that.  And this week's cover story in Newsweek delivers.

In fairness to Oprah, she's not really any worse than the thousands of other purveyors of freak show voyeurism, inane pop psychology, and pseudoscientific nonsense that practically define the modern media universe.  But she's by far the most influential.  Anyone who's responsible for foisting even more of Jenny McCarthy on the world deserves whatever Newsweek can dish out.

The crowd at this year's Campaign for America's Future annual conference--think of a DC-based ProgFest for liberal activists and policy wonks from across the country--was much smaller than in years past. The conference, which opened on Monday, seemed to have about one-fourth the attendees of last year, when about 2000 people turned up for the "Take Back America" shindig. This year's event was dubbed "America's Future Now!"

The drop-off is not surprising. In fact, it's the cost of success. Now that George W. Bush is long gone (even if the same cannot be said for Dick Cheney) and Barack Obama, the onetime community organizer, is in The House, it's natural that some of the fire on the left is gone. Winning can demotivate a political side. And I remember that in 1994, after the Democrats lost the House to the Republicans for the first time in decades, Representative Barney Frank told me that it was more fun to be in a fired-up opposition.

In January, 2007, I visited the Wichita, Kansas, abortion clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death in church yesterday by an anti-abortion crusader. Tiller's clinic had just become the last one in town. A shuttered clinic nearby had been purchased by an anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, which was in the process of converting it into its headquarters, complete with a prayer garden and a memorial to the 50,000 unborn children that the group claims were murdered there. Over the next two days, I learned a lot about Wichita's radical hothouse of abortion foes.

Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's charismatic leader, who some have suspected is partly to blame for Tiller's murder, drove around town with me and vented his rage that nobody had yet shut down Tiller, who he called "the abortionist to abortionists."  A few days earlier, Wichita's district attorney, Nola Foulston, had moved to dismiss indictments against Tiller that had been filed by the state's outgoing attorney general. She later conducted her own investigation of Tiller and found he'd complied with the law, but Newman believed Tiller's clinic had killed a woman. "Our field plan is to expose the lies and misdeeds that they do," he said. "It's pretty simple: They're scum of the earth, they're dirtbags."

It struck me that Newman was deeply disillusioned with the legal system. "All laws are thrown out the window once you talk about abortion," he complained. "In the movement, we call it 'abortion distortion.'"

The next morning, at a bright cafe in the heart of town, Newman and two women discussed how to turn up the pressure on Foulston. Operation Rescue is famous for a strategy of harassing its foes outside their homes. "People have a public identity that they like to keep seperate from their private identity," Newman explained, "but we believe you can't separate the two when you are talking about killing babies. And people are more likely to listen to what you say and be influenced when you bring the issue home to where they work and live." It was a full-court press of constant annoyance: "You poke, poke, poke until they scream," he added, "and then you just keep poking some more."

Despite Newman's tough tactics, he was civil and professed to have  friends who disagreed with him on abortion. After spending two days with him, I'm willing to take him on his word that his pro-life views extend to grown humans, even abortion doctors. But it was easy to see the militaristic rhetoric of Newman, who is the son of an army recruiter, was goading people on towards something more extreme. "A lot of what we do is demoralize the enemy," he said. "This is a battle, and that's the strategy."

Later that afternoon I drove to Tiller's clinic and was promptly booted from the parking lot by a security guard. It was too dangerous to allow lone men inside, I was told when I called the clinic on my cell phone. So I parked on the curb, next to a "truth truck" that displayed a giant billboard of an aborted fetus.

Arrayed on the grassy median in front of Tiller's walled building were rows of white crosses and the plastic figurines of a nativity scene. Writen on chalk near the building's drivway was Psalm 94:20: "Can unjust judges be allied with you God? No!" Anti-abortion activists sat alongside the driveway in lawn chairs and pounced at any cars that tried to enter. As a frightened young woman was driven inside, one of them commented, "Another parent bringing in their daughter to have their grandchild killed."

An abortion protester who would only give his name as Brian spoke favorably of an array of local anti-abortion groups in town. He declined to give his affiliation, but pointed out that a group called Operation Save America had bought a house just across the street from Tiller's office. "Everybody has got a different approach," he said, "a different style."

Those words seem much more chilling when you consider the multiple attempts on Tiller's life. Newman's world is also one in which David Leach, publisher of the Prayer and Action News, which printed essays by Tiller's alleged murderer, can tell the New York Times that "To call this a crime is too simplistic. . .There is Christian scripture that would support this." Religious fundamentalism is still alive and well in the heartland, and isolation and defeat is likely to make some of its radicals even more desperate.

If you've never known a family who made the gutwrenching decision to abort or bring to term a fetus with physical anomalies "incompatible with life," you need to read the first person accounts on the website A Heartbreaking Choice. These are the kinds of pregnancies Kansas doctor George Tiller ended before he was murdered at church on Sunday.

I in no way mean to denigrate women who choose to carry to term babies who won't live long outside the womb. But I have to wonder, can Bill O'Reilly and his fellow anti-abortion hate mongers seriously read the passage below by an Andrew Sullivan reader and tell me this is the only option women should have?

What does the pro-life movement have in common with the '60s-era civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King?

According to Randall Terry—the fiery pro-lifer who founded the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue—they're both "peaceful" crusades. At a press conference on Monday at the National Press Club, Terry responded to criticism that the pro-life movement's highly charged rhetoric was partly responsible for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita abortion provider shot dead at his church on Sunday morning. The suspect in the murder, Scott Roeder, reportedly had ties to Operation Rescue.

"We train [pro-life activists] to be peaceful and nonviolent, just like Dr. King trained people in the civil rights movement," Terry said. Terry said Roeder "wasn't working with us" before adding: "Pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller's death. George Tiller was a mass murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

Asked to clarify, Terry responded, "He sowed death, and then he reaped death in a horrifying way."

Terry said that he held the press conference as a way to signal to pro-lifers that they "must not lose focus"—that is, dial down their rhetoric—in the wake of the murder of Dr. Tiller, one of the few doctors in the US who provided late-term abortions, and who was a frequent target of protests by pro-lifers.

In fact, the prospect that pro-lifers might tone down their campaign against abortion seemed to annoy Terry more than the shooting itself. "Tiller's death poses a great problem for the pro-life movement because there are many political leaders who are going to be intimidated, and keep saying 'Oh, we're peaceful, we're peaceful, we won't use highly-charged rhetoric," Terry said. "That's a problem."

Terry repeatedly called Tiller a "mass murderer" who died with "blood on his hands." That's probably not how Martin Luther King would have responded to the killing. Asked if those kinds of remarks could cause some to link Terry and his followers to violence, Terry responded, "We run that risk, but that is the cost of saying the truth."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is speaking at the Gerald R Ford Foundation annual journalism awards ceremony today. He'll be taking questions afterwards. One question I would suggest: Why is Dick Cheney giving a journalism award? Is it because of his great respect for the press?  This is up there with this story.

Is Sonia Sotomayor a bitter closet racist unable to control deep-rooted feelings of race solidarity in her judicial opinions?  Of course not.  Frankly, I feel stupid for even lowering myself to blog about this idiocy.

But just in case you need some expert opinion on this, Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSBlog has reviewed Sotomayor's entire canon of race-related opinions.  The post isn't very long, and his conclusion is clear:

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. Only one case (Gant) in that entire eleven years actually involved the question whether race discrimination may have occurred. (In another case (Pappas) she dissented to favor a white bigot.)  She participated in two other panels rejecting district court rulings agreeing with race-based jury-selection claims. Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

Absurd, yes.  But that won't stop the screamers.  Nothing ever does.

Chart of the Day

This isn't really big news or anything, but Gallup's latest poll shows just how big a hole the Republican Party has dug itself into: they now have virtually no appeal to anyone non-white.  They're almost exclusively a party of white men and women, which explains why their base has convinced them to haul out racial fears as their main line of attack against Sonia Sotomayor.  I just hope they aren't surprised when their meager 11% non-white base declines even further after this is all over.