Get Out the Vote...With Ringtones?

As if cell phone ringtones weren't annoying, ubiquitous and pervasive enough, now ringtones have gone all political on us.

Ringtones08.com says you should, "Let your cell phone do the talking. Exercise your freedom of speech and ring!" Come on, now. Not to sound like a curmudgeon or anything, but if folks need a ringtone to get fired up about an endless war or your First Amendment rights, we've got bigger problems to address.

That said, I couldn't help but notice that "Klaus Flouride" created some of the tones. Is that the same Klaus Flouride that played bass guitar for the 80s punk band the Dead Kennedys? WTF? The "GeorgeAllenMacaca" ring tone mixes a hip hop beat with a quote from Allen 's famous "macaca moment" speech. The "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" ring mashes a quote from George Bush about former FEMA director Michael Brown with the Arlo Guthrie song, "The Train They Call the City of New Orleans."

But the ring tones are pretty janky. For better ring tones and a better laugh, check out Obama ringtones on the Daily Show.

My advice? Switch your phone to vibrate and move on. Also try checking out our latest issue, which just hit newsstands, where we ask a whole mess of politicos and digerati, are we entering a new era of digital democracy complete with Hillary ringtones, or just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?

We also spell out the latest on cell-phone activism and the political power of text messaging.

Blogger Hubris 3.0

Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum and a guru when it comes to the impact of technology on politics, was not pleased—not pleased at all—with my piece on the lefty blogosphere in our latest issue. "You study a few trees and decide that you can describe a forest," he writes, in the comments section of MoJo's blog, and questions the premise that top liberal bloggers have become an elite or part of the Democratic power structure. I'm sure the numerous bloggers (some of whom I note in my piece), who have parlayed their online musings into political consulting work and prominent staff positions on campaigns, would plainly disagree with the latter.

As for his contention that the liberal blogosphere doesn't have an elite—look no further than "Blogroll Amnesty Day," when, last February, a handful of big kahuna bloggers, including Atrios and Kos, purged their blogrolls of the small fish who had secured coveted spots there. Explaining the move, Atrios wrote, "one of the big complaints by new bloggers is that it's impossible to get onto blogrolls because established bloggers tend not to add them. They're right. A big reason for that is that everyone feels a wee bit guilty about removing blogs from their blogroll, so they're hesitant to add new ones to an ever-expanding list." So, he decided to purge his roll and "grow it again naturally, adding blogs I find myself wanting to read on a regular basis."

Fair enough. His blog; his decision. But the casualties of this purge could also be forgiven for feeling that they were at the mercy of an elite, who, on a whim, decided to stop directing traffic to them, cutting down their readerships considerably. As one angry blogger wrote:

Fuck the big boys. They're the blogospheric equivalent of the Washington pundits who think they're better than bloggers because they get invited to the right parties and of the Democrats who hold fundraisers where they take money from corporations. We hold bake sales and support our candidates twenty-five bucks at a time. What's hilarious is that most of these guys come out of the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, only a taste of success has made them forget all about people-powered.

And Chris Bowers, himself an elite blogger who writes at MyDD, noted at the time: "The blogosphere may have started as a new form of individual punditry, but at its elite levels, the progressive blogosphere has now moved beyond that. Take a quick look at the structure of the new progressive blogosphere elite, and consider how difficult it is for a new blog to break into this group." He also posited that "it is very possible that the blogosphere will either collapse due to a lack of funding, or develop into a new form of establishment elite." I think there's evidence to suggest that certain top tier bloggers have already become firmly entrenched in the political establishment —unless dining at John Edwards' Georgetown digs or strategizing weekly with Democratic leadership aides doesn't count.

Sifry is also upset about my depiction of Townhouse, the invite-only email list administered by blogger/activist/consultant Matt Stoller whose members (Micah, are you one of them?) are select blogger/activists/consultants.

"You have one on-the-record source attacking Kos and other 'elite' bloggers for running a 'Skull and Bones' like email list," he writes. "That hardly is proof of anything in my mind."

Given that the first rule of Townhouse is that there is no Townhouse, it was quite a challenge to get even one person to talk about the list on record (though I spoke to several people about the list who did not want to be quoted, even anonymously). It's my understanding that any list member who speaks about it publicly, or even acknowledges that it exists, risks immediate expulsion from the list. Incidentally, that's precisely what happened to Maryscott O'Connor of My Left Wing, who was unceremoniously dumped from Townhouse after my article came out. O'Connor had this to say about Townhouse: "It's fucking Skull and Bones, man. The very secretive, behind-closed-doors nature of it is anathema to everything that blogging is supposed to be about: accountability. We are supposed to be showing the way, not skulking around behind closed doors, coming up with strategies. Those are the people who we're trying to fight. I know about 'the real world' and all that shit. But we're the idealists, aren't we?"

(Fun fact: According to an email I obtained, sent out to Townhouse members by Stoller in March, the list is now a commercial enterprise. Subscriptions run $60 per year for individual subscribers and up to $1000 for organizations, the proceeds of which will go to pay Stoller's rent and health care costs, according to his message.)

One of the questions O'Connor raised when we spoke, an interesting one I thought, is what will become of the once independent bloggers, the idealists, now that they've worked their way into the inner sanctum of the Democratic machine. Will they change it for the better from the inside, or simply become a new generation of win-at-any-cost political operatives. It's a question worth asking, but I don't think anyone has any answer just yet.

It's worth noting that I didn't disrupt the sanctity of Stoller's semi-secret blogger thinktank for the heck of it. I did so because I thought it was worth raising an episode that occurred last summer, when Kos appealed to list members to "starve" a particular story of "oxygen," one that was damaging to his friend and business associate Jerome Armstrong. As TNR's Jason Zengerle noted at the time, the episode seemed "just another case of politics as usual." It also seemed a bit hypocritical, given that the spirit of blogging, at least as I understand it, is about transparency and accountability, not about squelching unfavorable stories.

Sifry calls my piece an "indictment of all progressive bloggers" and "humbly" suggests that my "attitude towards online journalism and blogging could use an update." While I fully acknowledge that I have a lot more to learn about the brave new world of online journalism, politics, and activism, I would suggest, just as humbly, that the egalitarian blogtopia Sifry knows and loves is changing—and not always for the better.

Supreme Court Race Ruling 'Judicial Activism'

The U.S. Supreme Court reignited the debate over how to appropriately handle diversity in U.S. public schools when it overturned policies intended to diversify student enrollments in Jefferson County, Kentucky and in Seattle.

Political leaders called yesterday's ruling "appalling," "a terrible blow to school districts," and "judicial activism." Others said that the ruling gave racist school policies a "smackdown." Some are going so far as to say the ruling marks a return to segregation, while others claim that existing, binary (white and black) notions of race still cloud the debate.

It's worth noting that at least one of the original plaintiffs in the case was a white mother who was disappointed that her child didn't get accepted into her first school of choice. Many plaintiffs in the case (not necessarily white) were also pissed that schools were using race as a determining factor for "tiebreakers."

How educators define and treat race from here on out remains to be seen — since the ruling stopped short of prohibiting all consideration of race in K-12 education.

For an inside look at those involved in the Seattle case check out this MoJo interview with David Engle, former principal of Ballard High, who resigned rather than eliminate the racial tiebreaker at his school.

Rewarding Polluters Fuels Gulf Of Mexico Dead Zone

A new study determines that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. This is an area of coastal waters -- visited in MoJo's The Fate Of The Ocean -- where dissolved-oxygen concentrations fall to less than 2 parts per million every summer. According to a paper published at Environmental Science & Technology Online, these findings bode poorly for the Gulf, as more and more acres of land are planted with corn to meet the growing U.S. demand for alternative fuels. Farmers in areas with the highest rates of fertilizer runoff tend to receive the biggest payouts in federal crop subsidies, says Mary Booth, lead author of the paper. What's more, they have fewer acres enrolled in conservation programs compared with other parts of the Mississippi River basin. Agricultural nitrate loading could be reduced substantially if farmers took just 3% of the most intensively farmed land out of production.JULIA WHITTY

Monaghan's Ave Maria Town Open for Piety

So GQ nabbed an interview with the ever-elusive Tom Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza mogul turned Catholic-utopia builder. Monaghan wouldn't talk with MoJo when we covered the development of his $400 million university, Ave Maria, earlier this year. But GQ is different; he can tell them things like, "If I didn't have my faith, I'd make Hugh Hefner look like a piker."

Hef allusions aside, the GQ profile digs into Monaghan's motivations for building what will become a Catholic universe set amidst former panther habitat. Turns out he's always wanted to be an architect, and is now living his dream having built the anti-Las Vegas, complete with a towering cathedral and town square modeled after Siena, Italy, all tucked in the middle of the Florida Everglades.

The town, which the WSJ once compared to a "Catholic Jonestown," will be as pious as possible; if Monaghan had his way contraceptives and pornography would be outlawed. After all, his goals are big ones; he plans to "reinvent hometown living," one condo at a time.

Tory Bowen of Nebraska says that she was raped, but testifying in court is a little difficult because the judge, Jeffre Cheuvront, has instructed her that neither she nor the prosecutors can use the following words: "rape," "sexual assault," "victim," assailant," "sexual assault kit." The words were banned at the request of defense attorneys, who also wanted the words "sex" and "intercourse" banned, but the judge did not go that far, presumably because the trial would then have been reduced to a game of charades. The jury will not be informed that the words have been banned.

This is the second time around for the accused, Pamir Safi. His first trial resulted in a hung jury when jurors deadlocked, 7-5. The banned words were in place at that trial, too.

Apparently, rape defense lawyers throughout the country are asking that the word "rape" not be used by the alleged victim and the prosecutor. This made me wonder whether anyone had asked an alleged armed robbery victim not to use the words "steal," "rob," and "gun." Or whether a witness to a murder has been barred from saying "murder," "kill," or "dead." I'm guessing the answer is no. Indeed, law professor Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law says that "that is a profoundly unfair thing for a judge to do. I have a problem with the idea that you can compel a witness to contrive their testimony. I have a problem (with a judge) directing a witness, not the government, to say certain words. It impugns their candor, their credibility."

And, Murphy added, Bowen won't be able to explain to jurors why she's using clinical words--or, worse, words that imply consent--when she describes the encounter with Safi.

Glass Houses

The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the president and the v. president of the Senate today for information related to the warrantless wiretapping program. The subpoena is a result of the ever-expanding examination of what the hell is wrong with Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department. I'm all but certain it won't unearth anything of value, but there's a lesson in it, nonetheless: If you're going to stretch the boundaries of the law, you have be competent enough not to beg for an investigation. In other words, the Bush administration might have gotten away with its attempt to stretch the law so aggressively that a handful of officials threatened to resign if there hadn't been a sh-t show so big that everybody and his dad got a chance to air their grievances before the Senate and the American public. On the other hand, the word impeachment remains strangely absent from Democratic discourse, so maybe you can have your cake and eat it, messily, while also throwing stones from your glass house. See what I'm sayin'?

Hot(tish) off the Chicago Tribune presses, their list of the magazines they consider to be the best in the country.

"Every year we ask each other what periodicals we've been reading, and then we ask you. Every year we argue about what makes a good magazine and why we rush to pick up certain titles or swipe them from a neighbor's desk. We urge each other to try something new, and we smack our foreheads when a title bubbles up that we'd completely missed."

"...Mother Jones. As well-written, at its best, as anything out there (check out the story on the guy who gets 60 miles per gallon in a plain old Honda Accord), Mother Jones is a lot better than we remembered. Unabashedly liberal but more entertaining than the Nation and journalistically oriented but more passionate than the news weeklies, it fills a need we didn't know we had."

They like us, they really, really like us! We're one of only six mags given a shout-out in the news/business/point of view category. And if you're into who got dissed—and there are some most notable exceptions—I've pasted the whole list in after the jump.