2008 - %3, January

Merge Records's 20-Year Anniversary Collections to Remind Us of the Greatness of Merge Records

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 3:23 PM EDT

mojo-photo-merge.jpgIf you look up "Indie Record Label" in the dictionary, does it have a picture of North Carolina's Merge Records' logo there? Yeah, I know, "what's a dictionary." The legendary imprint will celebrate its 20th anniversary this fall with a set of subscription-only specially-curated compilations, which, as Idolator put it, are guaranteed to open the wallets of nerds worldwide. The first CD will be curated by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Junebug director Phil Morrison, while celebs like Jonathan Lethem, David Byrne an Amy Poehler are lined up to take charge of future discs. You can start ordering them on September 8th, and they're limited editions, so set your alarms, my fellow nerds.

The label's 20-year existence is bookended by two bands who are symbolic of the "indie culture" of their time: Superchunk, whose music Merge was formed specifically to release, and Arcade Fire, whose two recent full-lengths were the label's greatest financial successes by far. But they've released a lot of other fine music in the interim. After the jump, some Merge-tastic videos from a few of my faves.

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POW as Crutch

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:47 PM EDT

Tell me how McCain's response here is in any way relevant to the question:

JAY LENO: Welcome back, Sen. McCain, for one million dollars, how many houses do you have? (Laughter)
JOHN MCCAIN: You know, could I just mention to you, Jay, and a moment of seriousness. I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, without—I didn't have a house, I didn't have a kitchen table, I didn't have a table, I didn't have a chair. And I spent those five and a half years, because—not because I wanted to get a house when I got out. And you know, I'm very proud of Cindy's father, he was a guy that barely got out of high school, fought in World War II in the Army Air Corps, came home and made a business and made the American dream...

That is just so bald! So shameless! The gall it takes to invoke something so serious and so redoubtable simply to avoid a politically difficult question is truly astounding.

We've been here before on MoJoBlog, but I don't have faith that the rest of the Left will join me in talking about McCain's exploitation of his POW experience. In 2004, the Right took John Kerry's frequent invocation of his Vietnam service as license to criticize an aspect of Kerry's candidacy that Kerry had hoped to turn into a major strength. I would argue that McCain has given the Left the same opportunity. The Right used lies and smears and I would never suggest the Left do the same. No one needs to claim that McCain left other prisoners behind, for example. But pointing out that John McCain's willingness to exploit his imprisonment in Vietnam for political gain is a sign of character strikes me as entirely within acceptable bounds.

Progress in Iraq Might Have Been Possible Without "Surge," Says Petraeus

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:28 PM EDT

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General David Petraeus is a popular man in Washington and not without good reason. Under his watch, Iraq has gone from total chaos and anarchy to partial chaos and anarchy. No small achievement when you remember back to how things were just a year and a half ago. So it may come as no surprise that politicians seeking election—particularly those, like John McCain, who point to recent security gains as evidence we we are "winning" in Iraq—love to bask in the Petraeus glow. McCain has pointed time and again to the "surge" as proof that things are going well, and on at least one occasion declared the US has already succeeded in Iraq. But Petraeus, bound next month for his new post as CENTCOM commander, warned in a recent interview with Newsweek against rushing out to buy some ticker tape. From Newsweek:

Petraeus acknowledged that this policy of modesty in the face of success is very much informed by our premature victory ejaculations of previous years (before he took charge, of course). "The champagne bottle remains in the back of the refrigerator," he says. "When you've been in Iraq for as long as actually both of us have, coming up on four years, you're a little less prone to get too excited too quickly."
..."Yes, Al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly diminished, its capability substantially degraded," he says. "But we assess they remain lethal—what we call the 'wolf closest to the sled'." And, he adds, "every time you start to feel really good, there will be some kind of incident. There will be a suicide-vest attack; there will be a car bomb attack or what have you."

Lanny Davis, President of the "You're Not Helping" Caucus

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:00 PM EDT

Updating David's post from yesterday: Lanny Davis is at it again. From Fox's "America's Election HQ" today:

That red meat is issue differences and not talking about a gaffe about remembering how many houses. Gaffes and 'gotcha' politics is what Barack Obama is opposed to, yet there are ads focusing on a gaffe.

Lanny Davis. Undercutting Democratic party unity since 2008.

Housing Update

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 1:33 PM EDT

HOUSING UPDATE....The latest housing market news:

Home prices fell a record annual 15.9 percent in June, but the monthly rate of decline slowed from May which suggested the decimated housing sector may be stabilizing, according to Standard & Poor's on Tuesday.

This stuff is notoriously hard to get a handle on, but it's possible that the housing market really is stabilizing. I originally posted the chart on the right a couple of months ago, and when the numbers are updated through June they look even more encouraging than they did then. Month-to-month declines in the Case-Shiller 20-city index have been getting steadily smaller, and in June there was barely any decline at all.

On the other hand, this stuff is seasonal and we might start seeing larger declines again in a couple of months. Past performance is no guarantee of future results etc. etc., and plenty of teaser rates have yet to reset. Still, it's a tiny ray of sunshine.

This Just In: Republicans Really Good at Attack Ads

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 1:25 PM EDT

McCain's newest ad is the fourth in the past week to invoke Hillary Clinton's primary-era criticisms of Barack Obama. This time, though, it's a double whammy. McCain is also going the scare tactic route, using images of tanks, missiles, and masked men under the words, "Uncertainty. Dangerous aggression. Rogue nations. Radicalism." It quotes Clinton questioning Obama's readiness to be Commander-in-Chief and ends with, "Hillary's right. John McCain for president."

Kevin argues that until we know this ad is running widely, we should treat it like a flyer or blog post put out by two-bit crazies. I tend to disagree. (1) The very first "celebrity" attack ads against Obama weren't widely circulated, but the McCain campaign's internal polling or focus groups must have told them they were on to something because that meme exploded over the course of late summer. If Democrats are going to keep hurtful frames from dominating the campaign for weeks or months at a time, they need to look at and respond to new McCain approaches in their nascent stages. And (2) these ads are excellent examples of how to go negative well. The Democrats look like they need every lesson they can get in that respect.

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YouTube

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:52 PM EDT

YOUTUBE....Jason Zengerle on John McCain's recent spate of attack ads:

Eve asks whether the McCain campaign will release a new Hillary ad every day this week. Of course it will — so long as we in the media keep linking to the ads and doing news segments about them on TV. I'd love to know from our readers in these "key battleground states" where the ads are supposed to air whether they've actually seen any of them on TV, other than the times they've seen reports about them on CNN and Fox and MSNBC.

I'll go a little further. The majority of these "YouTube ads" are designed solely to get media attention, not to be seriously used as part of the campaign. If they were podcasts, or blog posts, or flyers, or email blasts, the media would ignore them if their purpose were so transparent. I mean, who cares about a flyer produced in small quantities and handed out only to the media?

But if it's video, it's news! I couldn't really say why, aside from the fact that the media is convinced that YouTube is a transformative election medium even though there's precious little evidence to back this up. So I'd say this: cable news stations need to stop being played for suckers. Unless a campaign says it's committed to a serious ad buy for the video in question, it's time to quit playing the game. Wise up and treat 'em the same way you treat attack email blasts.

Reinventing John McCain

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

REINVENTING JOHN McCAIN....Eric Alterman listens to Tom Brokaw and can't believe his ears:

Discussing McCain's success in the Republican primaries, Brokaw attributed it to the candidate's "indomitable will," and opined that McCain won by simply being "the most authentic...he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

This is not only wrong, but diametrically, screamingly wrong. It's not a difficult point — McCain won the primaries specifically by reversing himself on taxes, immigration, the religious right, and virtually every other issue important to the hard right. These policies were not only blazingly visible — Mitt Romney and others called him on it loudly during the Republican debates — but obviously destructive, as the last eight years have proven.

And yet, here is Brokaw saying of the candidate who by far has done the most to change his positions that McCain was "the most authentic...he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

It is indeed a vast mystery. It's not just that McCain has changed a lot of his positions, it's the fact that he's so plainly changed them purely for the sake of political expediency. "Learning his lesson" on immigration in front of CPAC. Knuckling under to the Club for Growth on tax cut inanity. Demonstrating his right-wing bona fides to the Wall Street Journal editorial page by quietly watering down his energy plan into near uselessness. Embracing Jerry Falwell on the stage at Liberty University. ("Are you going into crazy base world?" asked Jon Stewart at the time. "I'm afraid so," McCain answered, in a rare display of naked honesty.)

McCain has been desperately pandering to the GOP base for the past two years, and he's been doing it perfectly publicly and with only the thinnest veneer of explanation. But I guess it's indelicate to mention it for some reason. After all, haven't I heard somewhere that he spent a few years as a POW during the Vietnam War?

Healthcare News

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:25 AM EDT

HEALTHCARE NEWS....The percentage of Americans without health insurance went down last year. Hooray! Except for this:

Before anybody gets the idea that we no longer need health care reform, take a closer look at the numbers. Enrollment in private insurance continued to decline in percentage terms, mostly because the percentage of people with employer-sponsored coverage fell from 59.7 to 59.3. The reason the overall numbers look good is rising enrollment in public insurance programs, particularly Medicaid.

This is, in the end, a good reason for even conservatives to support (or at least not get too bent out of shape about) healthcare reform along the lines Barack Obama has proposed. The alternative, like it or not, is probably a steady increase in Medicaid and emergency room use, and even on conservative grounds a decently designed universal system would be a better alternative than that.

Land of Nukes and Noodles: North Korea Digs In Its Heels

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 10:50 AM EDT

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An estimated one million North Koreans died of starvation in the late 1990s. Since then, the country has managed to feed itself only by accepting large quantities of foreign food aid. But now, in the midst of what the United Nations says is its worst food shortage in more than a decade, the so-called "Hermit Kingdom" of Kim Jong Il has designed a staple that it hopes can ward off mass hunger, something not unlike the Elven bread that sustained Frodo and Sam during their trek into Mordor. According to Choson Shinbo, a Japan-based newspaper sympathetic to Pyongyang, North Korean scientists have developed a wonder noodle, made of corn and soybeans, that delays hunger pangs. It packs twice the protein and five times the fat of the average noodle, says the newspaper. "When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat and corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger."