Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning feature editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize natural poisons found in the skin of certain tropical frogs. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a second masters in journalism from UC-Berkeley. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service, as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. The father of two mostly charming kids and an only occasionally charming striped cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and putting out more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time and traditional music, guitar finger-picking, and more recently fiddle and mandolin. He has four chickens—Lucia, Podge, Cat, and Weed Whacker—but what he really covets is a hedgehog.

WATCH: Jerry Brown Takes Budget War to YouTube

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 2:46 PM EDT

Today, in what may be an unprecedented move by a governor (unless you count this clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger with a giant knife), Jerry Brown took California's budget war online with a direct YouTube appeal to Californians. For anyone not paying attention, Brown has vowed to balance California's deficit by any means necessary—closing a massive gap of some $26.5 billion. The legislature is about halfway there, having agreed to cuts in services for the poor, the disabled, college students, and so on.

Brown wants to cover the rest through temporary extensions of taxes such as the vehicle license fee. The GOP minority, of course, won't even consider it, despite what is essentially a fiscal emergency. Nor are they supporting further cuts to universities, K-12 education, parks, health care, etc., which in Brown's words will cause "drastic alterations in the very fabric of our public service." What's more, state Republicans are blocking Brown's attempt to put his tax extensions on the ballot.

The YouTube video is Brown's attempt to put some constituent heat on the obstructionists. "We've been kicking the can down the road," he says, explaining his choice to balance the budget. "You've been treated with evasions, and gimmicks—smoke and mirrors... There's been a tendency to avoid reality, and you can't do that forever." Recalling his campaign promise to check in with voters on the most important decisions, Brown continues, "This is a matter that is too big, too irreversible to leave just to those you have elected... So let me know, let your legislators know, would you like the chance to cast this vote, or would you feel it's appropriate to shut out the people of California?"

He adds: "I don't see this as a Republican vs. Democratic issue."

Quite an operator, that Jerry Brown. But hard not to like the guy. Watch...

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Mike and Peggy Seeger's Final Encore

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 7:00 AM EDT
Album cover detail

Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger
Fly Down Little Bird
Appleseed Recordings

Out this week, Fly Down Little Bird is a fun collection of tunes the Seeger siblings grew up on. They were one hell of a musical family. Daddy Charles Seeger was a New Deal folklorist and musicologist. Their mom, Ruth Crawford Seeger (Charlie's second wife), was a composer and pianist who served as transcriber of John and Alan Lomax's field recordings of old-time American music—which meant that these kids had unbelievable firsthand exposure to their nation's cultural currency. Both started playing young and mastered many an instrument. They lived in suburban Maryland, where the likes of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie might drop in for a visit from time to time. Not to mention their older half-brother, the one and only Pete Seeger, still kicking at 91. Okay, yeah, I'm jealous.

Peggy, a veteran folkie with a voice like honey slightly crystallized, is now 75. Mike, who passed on in 2009, was a multiple-grammy-winning player of the banjo—and, well, you name it—who was best known for the influential New Lost City Ramblers, a band he cofounded in the 1950s. Lucky thing that he and Peggy had already recorded these songs as part of an on-and-off lifetime collaboration starting when the young pair teamed up to play local square dances. (Check out "Red River Jig" for a taste.)

Newt Gingrich, What Happened? [WATCH]

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 7:30 AM EDT

To quote the opening credits for All in the Family, those were the days. You know, in 2008, way back when, when goils were goils and men were men—and Newt Ginrich and Nancy Pelosi got together to call for action on climate change. (Even if action in Gingrich-speak means jumpstarting clean technologies, not regulating dirty ones.)

Now Republican leaders have decided that global warming is a fairy tale that requires no effort on the part of the feds. And if states want to act, too bad—the Koch Bros have spoken. Candidate Gingrich, author of a book called A Contract With The Earth, doesn't want to take away the EPA's ability to regulate air pollutants (the GOP's current goal). Nope. He wants to eliminate the agency altogether. Because—dammit!—that's what it takes to be president.

In Texas, a Life Spared and a Prosecutor Exposed

| Mon Feb. 14, 2011 6:57 PM EST

It wasn't too long after the Texas Monthly ran an epic piece on the horribly flawed case against Anthony Graves that the Burleson County DA's office announced that it was clearing him on charges of capital murder and setting him free—after 18 years in prison. I wrote about that piece here ("Innocence Lost"), and have finally got around to reading Pamela Colloff's followup, which brings her story up to date and explores what happened when a badass special prosecutor sat down to look at the facts of Graves' case and decide whether to retry it. (An appeals court, finding some problems, had kicked it back to the lower court for consideration.)

The followup story, which ran in TM's January issue, is as gripping as the original. It captures the drama that unfolded when it began dawning on Kelly Siegler—the feared prosecutor who ate bleeding-heart liberals for breakfast, sent 19 men to death row, and had a rep for winning old cases based on circumstantial evidence—that Graves' trial was "a travesty" and a stain on the justice system that raised questions of borderline-criminal misconduct on the part of former district attorney Charles Sebasta.

Sebasta, Siegler told reporters at the press conference announcing Graves' release, "handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system's nightmare." Sharing the podium was current Burleson County DA Bill Parnam, who was "absolutely convinced" of Graves' innocence. "There's not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case," he said. "There is nothing."   

Colloff also captures Graves' humanity, and his refusal to let himself be consumed by the anger that is rightfully his. I've said enough. Go read "Innocence Found."

Update: Wow. The Texas state comptroller has denied Graves compenstation for his wrongful incarceration. As the Houston Chronicle reports, "The letter from the comptroller’s office said the court order must indicate 'on its face' that it was granted 'on the claimant’s actual innocence.'" The judge could have inserted that language, but Parnam—why? why?—didn't request it within a 15-day window provided under the law. This county, and the state of Texas need to do the right thing here.

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