Blogs

Universal Leads the Charge Against iTunes

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

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One month ago, Universal Music made headlines when the company refused to renew a long-term contract with Apple's iTunes, instead deciding to sell its music there (by artists including U2, 50 Cent and Black Eyed Peas) on an "at-will" basis. Part of the disagreement was Apple's desire to shift away from D.R.M.-encoded music on its "iTunes Plus" service; Universal had insisted on retaining the copy-protection standard. Now the company will pull an about-face, offering D.R.M.-free music—just not with iTunes. Take that, Mr. Jobs. The New York Times says Universal will work with digital services offered by RealNetworks, Amazon and Wal-Mart, plus artists' websites.

EMI is the only major label to offer higher bit-rate, D.R.M.-free music on iTunes, with songs costing $1.29 each instead of 99 cents.

Universal's decision to screw around with its artists' music, forcing consumers to jump through even more hoops and search through various digital stores just to actually spend money on their favorite songs, is expected to solve music-piracy problems immediately, since there's no way a simple file-sharing program could compete with the fun of that.

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MoJo Deadline Today

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 1:49 PM EDT

News of Mother Jones' new Washington, D.C., bureau—the first major news bureau to be opened by a U.S. media organization in years—is being noticed by the MSM. Click here for a piece by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz.

If you're just tuning in to this change, we've expanded our D.C. bureau from 2 to 7 journalists. Our plan is to dig even deeper into the most important stories from the nation's capital and to have the results land with more impact in the media and political worlds.

Why this matters plays out virtually every day in the news stories trumpeted the loudest by the mainstream. A case in point is Newsweek's current (August 13) cover story—"Global Warming is a Hoax*," by science correspondent Sharon Begley. It is absolutely an important story, fingering "the well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change" and the special interests that fund them.




That there is a well-funded denial industry won't, of course, be any shock to Mother Jones readers—MoJo's cover story on ExxonMobil's multimillion-dollar support of the climate change deniers was published in April 2005. A year later, the MJ feature was nominated for a National Magazine Award for public service, and Al Gore plugged it on "Fresh Air" —the story received a lot of attention from people who pay attention. Still, out in mass media land the insidious effects of the denial spin doctors have continued to muddle public understanding of the scientific consensus, thanks in significant measure to the history of big media (like Newsweek) giving credence to the deniers.

Point #1 is obviously that two and a half years is too much lag time between when a big public interest news story is broken and it's, uh, accepted by the MSM. But point #2 is that we (that is, Mother Jones, other independent media, and you) are in a great position to change that.

So that's what we're doing: putting more reporters on the most significant public interest stories and making full use of all of the cheap and powerful new media tools around us to bust the BS. In doing that, we can respond to BS and spin quickly, debunking it before it becomes the conventional wisdom of the MSM.

Here's who we're putting on the scent:

• Laura Rozen, who's covered national security and foreign policy as a senior correspondent for the American Prospect and on her blog, warandpiece.com, as well as in the pages of Mother Jones.

• Stephanie Mencimer, the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door, an investigation into conservative and corporate attempts to limit corporate liability and to restrict people's access to civil court remedies through "tort reform."

• Bruce Falconer, who joins Mother Jones after working for several years as a staff editor and writer on international assignments for the Atlantic Monthly.

• And Jonathan Stein, who started at Mother Jones in San Francisco 18 months ago and helped produce the "Lie by Lie" timeline as one of the lead researchers on the project.

Together with Jim Ridgeway and Dan Schulman, they make up a crew of smart, independent journalists who bring years of savvy reporting experience to the job. Get used to seeing their names; they're already posting online, including on the MoJoBlog and in Washington dispatches. Click to see some entries by Ridgeway and Schulman, Rosen, Falconer, and Stein.

This is an ambitious project for Mother Jones. We need to raise $60,000 in the next few weeks to complete the D.C. bureau. If you value original reporting that makes an impact on politics and media, I hope you'll make a tax-deductible donation.

It's also why we've pulled together some cool prizes to give you an extra incentive to hit the "donate" button. But time is running out, the deadline for our campaign is midnight tonight, Friday, August 10, 2007 for you to make a gift and be entered to win a super prize.

If you've already made a contribution, thank you very much. But if you haven't, please take a moment now to do so.

Jay Harris
President & Publisher

Fascinating Friday Music News

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 12:57 PM EDT

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  • The Cure's 14th studio album (a double disc of 33 songs) delayed again after band leader Robert Smith admits he's having trouble "writing lyrics." How about something about grey cats, spiders, hanging gardens? The album is now set to come out in May of 2008, fully two years after its initial release date. (Contact Music)

  • Amy Winehouse enters hospital for "exhaustion"; reports suggest she suffered a drug overdose, but is still saying "no" to rehab. (NME)
  • Winning the UK Observer's "Best Cover Versions Ever" poll: Kate Bush? (Observer Music Monthly)
  • The Beastie Boys played Brooklyn last night... for the first time ever? Finally, they can, er, catch up on their sleep. (Brooklyn Vegan)
  • Dear God, We Really Are Going to War With Iran

    | Fri Aug. 10, 2007 12:19 PM EDT

    President Bush's proclamations that Iran is meddling in Iraq and will face severe but unnamed consequences if it continues to do so have become so common they have almost faded into the background of the national discourse. But this should grab your attention:

    Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iraq run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy.

    Dick Cheney has a solid record of using force judiciously and wisely. Surely everyone within the administration is listening to him, right?

    Thankfully, no. According to the McClatchy report linked above, Secretary of State Condi Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both object to expanding the war outside Iraq's borders. In response, Cheney is calling on his friends at the think tanks and in the media to help him. Writes McClatchy: "The debate [in the administration] has been accompanied by a growing drumbeat of allegations about Iranian meddling in Iraq from U.S. military officers, administration officials and administration allies outside government and in the news media... The Bush administration has launched what appears to be a coordinated campaign to pin more of Iraq's security troubles on Iran."

    As it happens, the Post had an article yesterday about that "drumbeat of allegations." It details how Bill Kristol, Michael Rubin, Norman Podhoretz, the Heritage Foundation, and others are making a military attack on Iran part of the Overton window — that is, part of the range of acceptable policy options.

    Honestly, the best part of the 2008 election won't be getting Bush out of office. It'll be keeping the globe's citizens safe from Dick Cheney. That man never should have had the most powerful military in the history of the world at his disposal.

    Finding the Leaders Among Us

    | Fri Aug. 10, 2007 3:11 AM EDT

    Think we're short on leaders? Then become one. Bill McKibben's put out the call through StepItUp.org for an event on Saturday November 3rd.

    McKibben asks us to forward his call far and wide, to anyone who might possibly be interested. "We're not really an organization, and we don't have lists of names—we depend on people like you to take the initiative." Hope you can help. JULIA WHITTY

    Here's the full letter.

    Finding The Leaders Among Us

    | Fri Aug. 10, 2007 2:42 AM EDT

    Think we're short on leaders? Then become one. Bill McKibben's put out the call through StepItUp.org for an event on Saturday November 3rd. Here's his letter:

    If we're going to deal with global warming, then we need to go beyond politicians who say the right words and find champions who will actually do the tough work to transform our energy economy. This is an invitation to take one Saturday this fall and use it to build a movement, a movement strong enough to finally put this issue on the table where it can no longer be ignored. If everyone can do this work in their neck of the woods, it will create the momentum that we desperately need.

    Here's the idea. On Saturday November 3, a year before the next election, we're asking people to organize rallies large and small in their communities. Each one should take place in some spot that commemorates great leaders of the past. Some of these will be nationally famous--people have already committed to climbing New Hampshire's Mt. Washington, gathering at the site of the Lincoln Douglas debates, even rallying outside the Rhode Island church where John F. Kennedy was married. Others will be locally celebrated leaders--there'll be a rally, for instance, honoring Navajo elder and activist Roberta Blackgoat, who inspired the fight against coal development on tribal land. But we need hundreds more, gatherings in places that bear the names of people who did the right thing in a moment of great need. You'll know the person that makes sense in your city or town—they don't need to be saints, just true leaders, the kind who, faced with the great issues of their day, didn't punt or compromise.

    Once you've got your rally registered on www.Stepitup07.org we'll help you gather a crowd, and invite the politicians from your neck of the woods. We want to ask every Senator and Representative, and every candidate for those offices, to come to these rallies, along with state and local officials. Once they're there, we'll present politicians with the four "1 Sky" priorities prepared in the last few months by climate campaigners across the country. They are: an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and a Green Jobs Corps to help fix homes and businesses so those targets can be met. Basically, we want to find out who is simply a politician, and who's ready to be a leader.

    We know these gatherings will be effective. In April, with the help of thousands of people (most of them brand new to organizing) from across the country, we organized 1,400 rallies in places that showed how climate change would affect our lives. Those events were key in putting the demand for real action--80% cuts in carbon emissions by 2050--square in the middle of the Washington debate. But a movement needs to keep moving, and calling for real leadership is the next step.

    Don't worry if you've never organized anything before--you're not putting together a March on Washington, just a gathering of scores or hundreds in your town or neighborhood. It needn't be slick; homemade is just fine. Put your imagination to work: what would Lincoln do? How would Dr. King take on this challenge? This is a celebration of leadership, and a celebration should be joyful—as focused on the new economies and communities we can create as on the threats we must avoid.

    These rallies will be local, but they'll also have national impact. The website will help draw people to your action, and then on Nov. 3, we'll be gathering pictures and video from around the country so that by nightfall we'll have a good online slideshow of how America feels. We'll do our best to make sure that every candidate is firmly on the record about their plans. By the time the day is done, you'll have helped change the political landscape.

    The best science tells us we have barely a decade to start the fundamental transformation of our economy and to lead the world in the same direction or else, in the words of NASA's Jim Hansen, we will face a "totally different planet." (He went on to say that the "1 Sky" priorities "describe just the kind of trajectory we need" to start solving the problem). A decade's not very long—we've got to get going.

    I know you've already done the obvious things, like changing some of the lightbulbs in your house. Screwing in a lightbulb is important; screwing in a new federal policy to deal with climate change is crucial, especially if we're ever going to regain enough credibility to help lead the world toward a stable climate. November 3 will be a powerful day, and you can play a vital role. Please sign up on the website to start an action—and thank you so much for caring enough to be a leader yourself.

    McKibben also asks us to forward this email as far and wide as possible, to anyone who might possibly be interested. "We're not really an organization, and we don't have lists of names—we depend on people like you to take the initiative." Hope you can help. JULIA WHITTY

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    Daft Punk: Behind the Pyramid

    | Thu Aug. 9, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

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    Opening DJ Busy P has been keeping a blog at The Fader as he accompanies Daft Punk on tour, giving us the inside scoop on what it's like for hipster Frenchmen to roam across America. Today he posted this revealing behind-the-scenes shot of the light-up pyramid in which the dynamic duo perform, something that I sure haven't seen anywhere before. First of all, jeez, it looks so solid from the front! Secondly, I see monitors and a couple machines of some sort, so at least we know they're not totally faking it.

    The Man Behind the Utah Mine Collapse

    | Thu Aug. 9, 2007 6:33 PM EDT

    The six miners now trapped in a coal mine in Utah were working for Murray Energy, whose owner has become one of the most outspoken—and unhinged—spokespeople for coal power in the last year, as the dirty energy source has come under increasing scrutiny. Coal is the largest single contributor to greenhouse-gas pollution—but Mr. Murray denies that fossil fuels cause global warming.

    Murray has used his platform as spokesman in the tragedy to continue his defense of the industry. On Tuesday, he delivered what the Washington Post called "a general paean to coal," threatening that, "Without coal to manufacture our electricity, our products will not compete in the global marketplace…and people on fixed incomes will not be able to pay for their electric bills."

    Murray also adamantly denied that the "retreat" method of mining which was used in the section that collapsed had anything to do with the accident. Retreat mining involves taking the last bits of coal from pillars that hold up the roof, and result in—ideally controlled—collapses. Murray has blamed the collapse on an earthquake, though seismologists say vibrations were caused by the collapse, not vice-versa.

    Murray's unconventional approach has drawn criticism from the Democratic chairs of two House committees that oversee labor issues. Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey pressed the Labor Department to assume the spokesman role because Murray's statements do "not meet [the] standard" for such emergencies.

    But it should be said that the Democrats and Mr. Murray have no love lost. Murray has given heavily to Republicans, including, according to the Post, $100,000 last year alone from his political action committee to GOP congressional candidates.He has used his ties with important Republicans—particularly Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, oversees mine safety—to avoid facing the music for safety violations. The Utah mine's safety record was fairly average, despite fines for safety violations in the hundreds of thousands, but nationally, Murray's mines have a shoddy safety record. When confronted in 2002 with safety violations, Murray threatened to have the inspectors fired, referring to his close friendship with McConnell. "The last time I checked," he said, "he [McConnell] was sleeping with your boss."

    Great guy, huh? Would you trust him with your life?

    New Music: Birds & Batteries

    | Thu Aug. 9, 2007 6:26 PM EDT

    mojo-cover-birdsandbatteries.JPGWho knows where the name came from, but Birds & Batteries is an oddly appropriate moniker for a band whose synthy soundscapes seem to float effortlessly in the air. Okay, the world is full of breathy electro these days, but San Francisco's B&B approach their keyboards from an unexpected, epic country-rock direction, something they lay out right away by opening their new album, I'll Never Sleep Again, with an elegiac cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

    The band seem to have started out as a one-man project, as band leader Mike Sempert apparently recorded demos for the first album on his own, then brought in musicians to fill out a live band. While the idea of experimental electronica enhanced by heart-rending pedal steel guitar may seem incongruous, the sound is wholly unified. The band definitely owe a debt to Minnesotans Low, whose recent Drums and Guns brought loops and drum machines into the mix, but Birds & Batteries eschew the traumatized depths the Duluth trio aim for, instead aiming for uptempo grooves like the horn-led, Stereolab-reminiscent "Turnstyles."

    Birds & Batteries have multiple shows scheduled over the next month on the West Coast. Grab three mp3s of tracks from I'll Never Sleep Again via their website:
    - Birds & Batteries – "Ocarina"
    - Birds & Batteries – "Star Clusters"
    - Birds & Batteries – "Turnstyles"

    Google Reveals Everything Important About America

    | Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:45 PM EDT

    For the first time since February, Google has updated its Google Trends database, allowing me to give you an up-to-date look at our nation's most important issues--or at least its most important internet searches, which we all know is the same thing.

    War

    Iraq: blue / Star Wars: yellow / Halo: red / World of Warcraft: green

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    When it comes to war, this easily generated chart shows fantasy war has been a more popular Google search this year than real war, except in late April and early May when the "Iraq" search term (blue) claimed fleeting victory over "Star Wars," "Halo" and "World of Warcraft." My guess is that kids were kicking the video game habit for a moment while researching end-of-semester term papers on foreign affairs disasters. If you run the search yourself and look at the localized stats, you'll see that the only cities where "Iraq" won were Washington, DC (of course) and Columbus, Ohio. Will somebody from Columbus explain? On the other end of the scale, Salt Lake City dominated each fictional war category. But then, I'm not sure Salt Lakers consider Star Wars to be fiction. (Mormons believe Native Americans descended from the 12 tribes of Israel, and before that, Jedi Masters). Anyway, combining all three fantasy wars leaves Iraq totally dominated. As for other real wars, the "Global War on Terror" doesn't even rank, but I'm not sure that bothers me seeing how GWOT is only slightly less fictional than World of Warcraft.

    Climate Change

    Global Warming: blue / Hummer: red / Air Conditioning: yellow / Al Gore: green

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    As of late July, after dominating the field for months, "global warming" has fought "Hummer" to a bitter draw. Meanwhile, "air conditioning" was lying in wait during the cool spring months, only to crank up in May and blow past "global warming" in June in a cloud of CO2 emissions from dirty coal plants in the sweltering South. "Al Gore" came to the rescue when he announced a surprise Live Earth concert on July 7th, but within a week he had dropped to the bottom of the pack. (Al: We need more concerts. Can you play tambourine on a tour with Willie?)

    The Presidential Election

    Hillary Clinton: light blue / Barack Obama: red / Rudy Giuliani: green / Fred Thompson: yellow / Ron Paul: dark blue

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    The internet has spoken: Ron Paul will be the next president. Everyone else might as well pack up and go home, because this 71-year-old libertarian from Lake Jackson, Texas is on fire with the power of bored IT workers Googling him on lunchbreak. And Digging him, and searching for him on Technorati, and demanding him on Eventful and befriending him on MySpace and pumping him on Meetup and submitting more questions to him than any other candidate during his rockstar appearance in Silicon Valley at Google Talks. Pretty much anywhere you look in cyberspace, he's kicking ass. Nevermind that he wants to abolish the IRS, the Department of Ed and the EPA. They're already irrelevant. . .

    The Role of Government

    Government: blue / Google: red

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    This is why Silicon Valley rules America.