Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, three chickens, striped cat, and too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He originally 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 tropical frog poisons. He also earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award for his contribution to MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. (His contribution, "Voluntary Confinement," involved a reality TV show that held contestants in isolation.) He also won a 2014 Society for Professional Journalists award for "It Was Kind of Like Slavery," a photoessay with photographer Nina Berman. Michael lives with his family in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical and blues piano and punk-rock drumming, he now sits on his front porch and attempts to play the fiddle.

Another Ralph Lauren Anorexia Ad

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

Does Polo Ralph Lauren find its models in a prison camp? Nope, it just alters them to look that way. (See the "before" version here.) Maybe uproar over this practice will prompt the company to express futher regrets. Geez! When supermodel Filippa Hamilton, who was fired in April for being "overweight," said that the clothier owes all women an apology, she wasn't kidding. (For the full story, read the Related Stories posts below, top to bottom.) And a hat tip to Photoshop Disasters for posting the ad.

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Ralph Lauren Model Fired: Too Fat

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

Holy haute couture! Ralph Lauren really doesn't get it. First the clothier sicced its lawyers on Boing Boing, one of the Web's most popular blogs, after a Boing Boing writer reproduced an ad photoshopped by the company's graphic artists to make its model look bizarrely skinny. An indignant Boing Boing declared a culture war against the attempted censorship, and the company eventually admitted that it had done a regrettable job on the ad.

Now, just when you thought this couldn't get worse, it comes out that Polo Ralph Lauren had terminated its contract with the model, Filippa Hamilton, back in April because she was too fat. (Hamilton is 5-foot-10 and weighs 120 pounds.) "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore," she told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. (See Hamilton's photo on the Daily News website to see what Ralph Lauren considers "overweight.")

According to the report, the 23-year-old model has worked for Lauren since 2002 and was distraught at being fired by an employer she'd come to see as "a second family." When the altered ad blew up online, she was surprised—and not pleasantly so—to see how her image had been distorted. "I think they owe American women an apology, a big apology," she told the paper. "I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy."

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Ralph Lauren Apologizes (Sort of) for its Anorexia Ad

| Thu Oct. 8, 2009 4:53 PM EDT

I don't need to rehash the censorship feud between popular website Boing Boing and Ralph Lauren. You can read about the first part here and the second part here. But today Boing Boing reports that the clothier has owned up to its Photoshop hatchet job on model (she has a name now!) Filippa Hamilton. "After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body," Polo Ralph Lauren admitted in a statement today, according to Extra

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Putting a Little Meat on Ralph Lauren's Models

| Wed Oct. 7, 2009 1:18 PM EDT

I posted here yesterday about Ralph Lauren's attempt to censor Boing Boing, one of the Web's most popular destinations, and how it backfired. Short story: BB blogger Xeni Jardin had re-posted a photo of a Ralph Lauren poster, questioning the model's, well, suspicious proportions. (A picture is worth 1,000 anorexics.) Ralph's attorneys said cease and desist, wherupon Boing Boing decided to let the door hit the lawyers in the ass on their way out.

Now, via the detouching efforts (pictured at left) of one of its fans, Boing Boing has discovered yet another way to mock the lawsuit-threatening clothier:

Natasja Capelle, a freelance designer, has detouched the image to restore the model to something like a healthy, well-proportioned stature. Want to play along? Make your own detouched image, post a link in the comments.

All out of work graphic designers...to your computers!

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When Private Equity Attacks Affordable Housing

| Tue Oct. 6, 2009 6:30 PM EDT

The New York Times ran an interesting piece Sunday on how private equity funds buy up undervalued firms, bleed off their assets, and then pass them on to other such funds in a vicious cycle. Using Simmons mattress company as a case study, reporter Julie Creswell describes how the process works, noting how Thomas H. Lee Partners of Boston profited off of Simmons' misfortunes:

The investment firm, which bought Simmons in 2003, has pocketed around $77 million in profit, even as the company’s fortunes have declined. THL collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the company in the form of special dividends. It also paid itself millions more in fees, first for buying the company, then for helping run it. Last year, the firm even gave itself a small raise.

Wall Street investment banks also cashed in. They collected millions for helping to arrange the takeovers and for selling the bonds that made those deals possible. All told, the various private equity owners have made around $750 million in profits from Simmons over the years.

How so many people could make so much money on a company that has been driven into bankruptcy is a tale of these financial times and an example of a growing phenomenon in corporate America.

But private equity has created problems not just for weak corporations, but low-income America, too. In our July/August issue, Adam Matthews reports on the phenomenon known as "predatory equity," in which private equity funds buy up affordable-housing developments, take out huge interest-only loans against them—sometimes withdrawing tens of millions in cash, which is protected from future creditors by using shell entities—and then flip the projects or peform upgrades to the units (stainless steel appliances?) as part of a strategy to drive up rents. Now that the real-estate market has tanked, however, many of these housing developments teeter on the brink of foreclosure, and that's a bad scene for the people living there. Matthews reports:

Unlike flipping a house, leveraging affordable housing affects the lives of thousands. Deals by [real-estate tycoon Larry] Gluck and other big players have stripped the equity from many of New York's developments; roughly 70,000 affordable units are overleveraged, says Dina Levy, a tenant organizer with the city's Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. (Levy even knows of one development where residents, many of them city employees, are being driven out by real estate companies financed by their own pension funds.) Saddled with oversize mortgages, cash-strapped buildings scrimp on basic maintenance. In December, New York Sen. Charles Schumer urged the SEC to investigate, calling the situation "subprime crisis 2.0."


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