2008 - %3, June

McCain's New Plan - Attack Obama's Character. Will it Work?

| Mon Jun. 30, 2008 9:17 AM EDT

You knew John McCain's promise that he was going to "reject the type of politics that degrade our civics" and emphasize respect in his campaign against Barack Obama was kind of window dressing when McCain and his top surrogates claimed Obama was the candidate of Hamas.

But now the claim has officially been put to bed. Today's Washington Post:

McCain typically leaves the sharpened criticism to others, in the hope of being able to claim the high ground of conducting a "respectful" campaign. But the abrupt shift in tone among his paid staff members, volunteer surrogates and other Republican staples of the cable news circuit is unmistakable...

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MoJo Convo: Iran Panic? Talk About It With the Experts

| Sat Jun. 28, 2008 8:53 PM EDT

MoJo writer Laura Rozen asked an Israeli intel correspondent, an Iranian American activist, an arms expert, a former peace negotiator, and an anti-war intellectual:

How likely is a scenario in which the US or Israel strikes Iran before Bush leaves office? (Or is the Left falling for the hawks' propaganda?)

They'll be checking in on this MoJo Blog entry starting Monday to discuss their answers with readers—and each other. Want to talk to Daniel Levy, Yossi Melman, Trita Parsi, Danny Postel, and Jacqueline Shire about their take on Iran? Now's your chance. Leave a comment below for one of the five guest MoJo Blog moderators and they'll respond.

(Thursday Update: You can read some final thoughts from the forum participants at a follow up thread here.)

Newspaper Lays Off Designer Behind "Dying Newsroom"

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 8:29 PM EDT

mercnews_03-300.jpg

What does it say about the state of the newspaper industry if it can't even chronicle its own demise?

That's the question prompted by this sad piece of news from Editor & Publisher today: Martin Gee, the longtime designer and illustrator who was behind Mother Jones' recent online photo essay, The Dying Newsroom, has been laid off from his job at the San Jose Mercury News. E&P quotes the Mercury News' publisher's explanation for this most recent round of layoffs: "We have had a very challenging 2008."

Gee's photos document the cumulative effect of layoffs in which the paper lost close to half its staff. They are surprisingly touching photos of ordinary office gear, receiverless phones, and the like, left behind by hastily departing colleagues. Gee wrote with one of the images: "I still believe in this place. I grew up with this paper, and this is the paper I always wanted to be at."

See the photo essay here.

Do You Forgive Scott McClellan?

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 8:04 PM EDT

ScottMcClellan.jpg As you are undoubtedly aware, Scott McClellan is traveling throughout the country promoting his book What Happened—and his conscience—to those willing to listen. Earlier this week, I joined an audience for a McClellan book event here in San Francisco, where not long ago McClellan was routinely castigated as Bush's chief apologist. Here, in the heart of the progressive movement, McClellan would finally learn whether he's gained a comfortable landing pad among liberals.

As the event kicked off, it was unclear how the audience would respond to McClellan—one woman explained that she didn't approve of "spilling the beans" to redeem oneself. But what McClellan's true motivations for the book are, we cannot know. Possibilities range from money to spite to remorse to a genuine belief in the need to advance openness in government.

Yet after sitting through his hour-long presentation, in the same hot event room where I celebrated my high school senior formal, I left with the strong sense that McClellan is fighting hard to steer clear of Bush's doomed legacy. And one thing seemed clear: McClellan garners much of his recent support, moral and monetary, from many of his former detractors on the left.

Everybody Going Wacky for Wall-E

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 5:32 PM EDT

mojo-photo-walle.jpgI posted about the viral web site accompanying the new Pixar project Wall-E back in October; the site, a parody of corporate propaganda, was amusing, but even back then I said the movie looked like it would be "another cutesy romp with big-eyed creatures on some sort of quest." (Yes, I just quoted myself). By now we've seen actual clips and trailers, which have only confirmed my suspicions that this is Short Circuit 3: cute bleepy robots with big googly eyes! But shut my mouth: word around the intertubes is that Wall-E is the greatest thing to get projected onto a screen since Citizen Kane. A.O. Scott in the NY Times says the film is "a cinematic poem of such wit and beauty that its darker implications may take a while to sink in," and that's just the first sentence, while Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune calls it "the best American studio film so far this year." New York Magazine's Vulture blog has even started a campaign to get the film nominated for "Best Picture" (although they did also champion that Cavemen TV show). Sure, it turns out that Wall-E's cute little robots mask what is apparently a horrifying vision of humanity's future, with Earth abandoned to garbage and humans devolved into moronic blobs. Serious stuff. But we've seen dystopian visions before, even ones with mountains of garbage, and that doesn't necessarily a good movie make, Mike Judge. Little robot Wall-E even has a love interest called, um, EVE; this whole thing sure seems like a compendium of movie clichés.

Party Ben's Gay Pride Playlist

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 4:46 PM EDT

mojo-photo-gaymusic.jpgAs we approach LGBT pride celebrations around the country this weekend, I'm reminded of the hardships we queers face. Sure, discrimination's bad; being used as a wedge issue in political campaigns kind of sucks; friends' well-intentioned attempts to set you up with their other gay friend can be a little awkward. But honestly, you know the worst part about being gay? The music. Seriously. Say you feel like gathering with your fellow queers for an adult beverage, or maybe celebrating the political accomplishments of the past year at a parade, or something. You'll be forced to endure 10,000 spins of "It's Raining Men," endless ABBA, and an insufferable genre of music I call "Self-Help House": big piano chords accompanied by a wailing diva assuring you that "You can do it/if you believe it," or whatever. It's enough to make you swear off identity politics.

But before you switch teams, rest assured that there's good queer music out there. Here's an alternate playlist for your Pride weekend parties, complete with videos.

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Quiz: Are You A Beatnik? 1960 Questionnaire

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 4:44 PM EDT

Before Gerard Malanga joined Andy Warhol's circle and staffed Interview magazine, he wrote an odd, charming questionnaire and sent it to his mentor, Daisy Aldan.

Five questions from his "Are You a Beatnik?" quiz:

Are you hep?

Do you consider me a Daddy-O?

Do you always wear those crazy quilts?

Are you the utmost? The utmost of what?

Take the rest of the 2-page quiz, and see the original, here.

Or, if you're in Austin, go see it in person at the University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center exhibition, On the Road with the Beats.

—Rose Miller

McCain Campaign Responds to the Obama/Clinton Unity Event. Kind Of

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 3:11 PM EDT

When a presidential campaign wants to counter a big media push from its opponent, it tends to trot out surrogates with relevant experience or connections. When John McCain toured the everglades, for example, the Obama campaign put Florida's Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, on a conference call with reporters. The national press cared little that Nelson was the particular person voicing the Obama campaign's talking points. But the local papers were sure to give Nelson's anti-McCain arguments a more prominent place in their stories about McCain's visit because of Nelson's importance.

So it was real head-scratcher when, after Senators Clinton and Obama spoke Friday afternoon in Unity, New Hampshire, the McCain campaign held a conference call with former Acting Governor of Massachusetts Jane Swift.

New Hampshire has two Republican Senators, Judd Gregg and John Sununu. Either one could have devoted twenty minutes to a call. After all, a talented politician could have done this call in his or her sleep — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may have hosted a "unity" event in New Hampshire today, but it is John McCain who has a real history of working across party lines to deliver real results for Americans. Any questions?

It is particularly confusing because Jane Swift was wildly unpopular as governor. She was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1998 and took over the top spot when the Governor was made an ambassador in 2001. Swift basically spent two years alienating people and making ill-advised decisions. She used a State Police helicopter to fly home to Western Massachusetts. She asked staffers to take vacation days to help her move. She had staffers spend unpaid time babysitting her kids and running errands for her. At a certain point, college newspapers were calling for her to resign. When Mitt Romney returned to Massachusetts with national ambitions, the Republican Party cleared Swift out and gave Romney the chance to win the governor's seat, which he did.

Where's Your Economic Stimulus Check?

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 2:02 PM EDT

However my liberal friends and I may have tsk'd the Bush administration for claiming that $600 checks would save America, we broke liberals sure were excited to get our hands on that money. Congress passed the Economic Stimulus Act in February, giving the IRS a couple months to get payments to some 130 million taxpayers when it was already in the middle of filing season, and giving some 130 millions taxpayers reason to start freaking out about when—when?!—they were going to get their supplement. Thus, I wasn't shocked when I called to do just that and a recording told me that the IRS is currently experiencing heavy call volume and led me though an automated menu that ultimately told me to keep my pants on for three more weeks, and hung up. I had to wonder: How bad must the ESA suck for the IRS?

Pretty bad, according to testimony of national taxpayer advocate Nina E. Olson before the House last week. The IRS hauled ass to develop new programming code, create new pages and a stimulus calculator on its website, mail notices to more than 100 million taxpayers, mail information packages to 20 million more, develop outreach initiatives for seniors, and staff 700 walk-in sites in a "Super Saturday" assistance bonanza. By the first week of June, the IRS had received 27.7 million calls concerning economic stimulus payments. For that same week, call attempts were up 279 percent versus the same period last year. The level of service on the economic stimulus hotline was 30 percent. To deal, the IRS has shifted so many employees from account management and collections that collections will be reduced by $565 million.

Olson worried about the effects of delays and exceptions on taxpayers in her testimony, but admitted that, overall, the IRS is doing a pretty amazing job. Only 1,500 economic stimulus checks have been transmitted in the wrong bank account. About 350,000 people didn't get the additional funds for their dependents. About 20 million taxpayers who purchased refund anticipation loans or checks will get their checks tardily. Even those errors, the IRS says, will be rectified by mid-July. According to the IRS Web schedule, my check would be "mailed no later than (and received a few days after)" May 16. The agency sent me a letter on June 9 saying that I could expect to receive it by June 13. I called fruitlessly a few days after that, and my check came shortly after. So where's your check? It's probably coming. Keep your pants on for three more weeks.

Hypocrisy Meter Explodes

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 1:46 PM EDT

If you were to identify the two senators least qualified to take bold action in defense of marriage, who would they be? Well, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, you'd probably point to the guy who was caught trying to have gay sex in an airport bathroom and the guy accused of being a serial john, right? It's hard to deny that they are the two members of the Senate who have done the most to wreck their own marriages.

Well, it's funny how things work. Ten senators have introduced what they call the "Marriage Protection Amendment." It would, if passed, change the federal constitution to define marriage as a "union of a man and a woman." And lo and behold, Larry Craig and David Vitter are two of the ten sponsoring senators. No one in the Republican leadership pulled them aside and said, "Hey guys, why don't you sit this one out? You know, for the sake of our credibility."

If conservatism isn't dead by 2009, irony will finish it off.