Monika Bauerlein

Editor in Chief

Since taking the helm at Mother Jones in 2006, Monika and her co-editor, Clara Jeffery, have won two National Magazine Awards, launched a nine-person Washington bureau, relaunched the website, given birth, and forgotten what it’s like to sleep.

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Monika Bauerlein is co-editor of Mother Jones, where, together with Clara Jeffery, she spearheaded an era of editorial growth and innovation, marked by two National Magazine Awards for general excellence, the addition of a seven-person Washington Bureau, and an overhaul of the organization’s digital strategy that tripled MotherJones.com's traffic. Previously she was Mother Jones' investigative editor, focusing on long-form projects marrying in-depth reportage, document sleuthing, and narrative appeal. She has also worked as an alternative-weekly editor (at Minneapolis/St. Paul’s City Pages), a correspondent for US and European publications in Washington, D.C. and at the United Nations, an AP stringer, corporate trainer, translator, sausage slinger and fishing-line packager. She lives in Oakland.

Kevin Drum at Netroots Nation

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 12:16 AM EDT

MoJo's own Kevin Drum is moderating the keynote Netroots Nation panel on "Building a 21st Century Economy"—with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger and economist Dean Baker—at noon on Saturday. Rumor has it that C-Span may pick up the feed; you can also check out the live video below. While you wait, why not browse some of MoJo's fine economics coverage—Kevin's pieces on cap and trade and bank nationalization, James Galbraith on why the stimulus isn't big enough, David Corn's expose of Phil Gramm's role in bringing about the financial crisis, Nomi Prins' timeline of the debacle, and last but not least David Cay Johnston's modest proposal for fixing the tax code.

Free TV : Ustream

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Mother Jones Responds to Fiji Water

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 1:39 PM EDT

Fiji Water spokesman Rob Six has posted a response to our story at the company’s blog. Writer Anna Lenzer replies:

Six’s key points are the same he and other Fiji executives have repeatedly made, and which are reflected in detail in my story: Donating money for water access projects or kindergartens is laudable, and I discuss Fiji’s charitable projects in Fiji (despite numerous requests, Fiji wouldn’t disclose how much it spends on most of these projects). The piece also makes it clear that Fiji Water accounts for significant economic activity in Fiji, and company executives are quoted to that effect.

Six doesn't address the key questions raised in my Mother Jones story, from the polluting background of Fiji Water’s owners past and present, to the company’s decision to funnel assets through tax havens, to its silence on the human rights abuses of the Fijian government. My piece doesn’t argue that Fiji Water actively props up the regime, but that its silence amounts to acquiescence.

"We cannot and will not speak for the government," Six writes. I didn't ask them to speak for the government, I asked them to comment on it. Though Fiji Water casts itself as a progressive, outspoken company in the US, it has a policy of not discussing Fiji’s regime “unless something really affects us,” as Six was quoted in the story.

The regime clearly benefits from the company's global branding campaign characterizing Fiji as a "paradise" where there is "no word for stress." Fiji's tourism agencies use Fiji Water as props in their promotional campaigns, and the company itself has publicized pictures of President Obama drinking Fiji Water. This is a point repeatedly made by international observers, including a UN official who in a recent commentary (titled "Why Obama should stop drinking Fiji water”) called for sanctions on Fiji, and singled out Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to budge. Yet the most pointed criticism the company has made of the regime was when it opposed a tax as "draconian;" it has never used language like that to refer to the junta's human rights abuses.

It’s worth remembering that there aren’t very many countries ruled by military juntas today, and Americans prefer not to do business with those that are. We don't import Burma Water or Libya Water.

As to Six’ point that the company didn’t know I was in Fiji: I did contact Fiji Water before my trip, and Six mentioned that the company was "thinking about taking a group of journalists to Fiji"; I didn't follow up about joining such a trip. Despite news reports showing that Fiji wouldn’t cooperate with journalists who went there independently, I chose to do so and visited the factory on a public tour. I had planned to speak to Fiji Water’s local representatives, and to visit the surrounding villages, afterward. But it was at that point that I was arrested by Fijian police, interrogated about my plans to write about Fiji Water, and threatened with imprisonment and rape. After that incident, personnel at the US embassy strongly encouraged me not to visit the villages. I did discuss my trip to the islands with Six after I returned, and had extensive correspondence with him on numerous questions, many of which he has not addressed to this day. Here are some issues Fiji Water could address in public:

- Why won't the company disclose the total amount of money that Fiji Water spends on its charity work? Do its charitable contributions come close to matching the 30 percent corporate tax rate it would be paying had it not been granted a tax holiday in Fiji since 1995? 

- Will Fiji Water owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who in the company’s PR materials contrast our tap water supply with the “living water” found in their bottles, disclose the full volume of pesticides that their farming and flower companies use every year? Could limiting those inputs create better water here at home?

- Fiji touts its commitments to lighten its plastic bottle (which is twice as heavy as many competitors’) by 20 percent next year, to offset its carbon emissions by 120 percent, and to restore environmentally sensitive areas in Fiji, but its public statements never acknowledge that these projects are, in many cases, still on the drawing board or in the negotiating stages. Why?

Read Six' post after the jump.

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery are the Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can follow them on Twitter here and here.
 

Obama Sips It, Celebs Love It--How Did Water From a Junta-Ruled Country Go Eco-Chic?

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 4:00 AM EDT

Just a few days into her reporting trip to Fiji to check out the source of America’s No. 1 imported bottled water, MoJo freelancer Anna Lenzer was arrested, hauled to police headquarters, and threatened with imprisonment... or worse. She stuck it out, and the results of her investigation cast a sharp light on a celebrity-beloved brand. Fiji Water,  her MoJo cover story points out, is produced under a military dictatorship, processed in a diesel-fueled plant and shipped across thousands of miles of ocean in bottles that use twice as much plastic as many competitors (yes, our intrepid factcheckers weighed them--and calculated how far some other brands travel to US store shelves. And then they sacrificed themselves and did a bottled water taste test.). Yet it’s focused its marketing on winning huge credibility with eco-conscious consumers, even claiming that to drink Fiji Water is to fight global warming. Lenzer’s story, “Spin the Bottle,” captures the contradictions and dilemmas of a “green” business. Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments!

Speaking of comments, we suspect this piece will kick off plenty of discussion, so we're pulling together bottled water experts, industry reps, and critics, together for a live discussion/online forum, likely August 17. Stay tuned for the details--we'll promote it on the home page and also post the info here in the blog.

Detained Hikers' Families Make Statement

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 1:12 PM EDT

Today, the families of three hikers who've been detained by Iran since July 31st—including Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer (whose piece we just posted today), Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal—have made a statement:
 

“It is now twelve days since our children were detained in Iran, when they strayed across the border while on a brief hiking vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan.  As loving parents, nothing causes us more heartache than not knowing how our children are, and not being able to talk to them and learn when we will hold them in our arms again.  Shane, Sarah and Josh are young travelers who share a great love of the world and a deep respect for different cultures, societies and religions. We believe that when the Iranian authorities speak to our children, they will realize that Shane, Sarah and Josh had no intention of entering Iran and will allow them to leave the country and reunite with their families.  We continue to hope that this misunderstanding will be resolved as quickly as possible.”
 
Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley. 
 
Bauer has been living in Damascus, Syria since the Fall of 2008 and is a student of Arabic.  He is a freelance journalist and photographer who has written from the Middle East.  He has never reported from Iran.
 
Shourd lives with Bauer in Damascus, where she teaches English and had been studying for the Graduate Record Examination in preparation for graduate school.  She has written occasional travel pieces from the region.
 
Fattal is an environmentalist who worked at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon, which teaches sustainable living skills.  Fattal had a Teaching Fellowship with the International Honors Program’s “Health and Community” study abroad program in the spring semester of 2009. Fattal was visiting Bauer and Shourd in Damascus prior to their hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan.
 
For media inquiries please contact: familiesofhikers@gmail.com
 

We'll keep you posted as to the status of Shane, Sarah, and Josh. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein are Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can follow Clara on Twitter here and Monika here.

Detained Writer's Mother Jones Piece Now Online

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

This morning, Mother Jones published a major investigative article by Shane Bauer, a journalist who is one of the three American hikers detained in Iran after accidentally crossing the border while hiking in Kurdistan. The story, in the magazine's September/October issue, was reported earlier this year and went to press before Bauer was detained on July 31. But with the issue arriving in subscribers' homes this week, we decided, in consultation with Bauer's family and the families of the other hikers, to release it simultaneously online. We felt it was important to avoid speculation and mischaracterization about the story, and to showcase the kind of top-notch journalism Bauer has been producing.

Based on numerous interviews and government documents, Bauer's article, “The Sheikh Down,” finds that millions in reconstruction funding have been used to award inflated contracts to Sunni sheikhs to keep them and their followers from taking up arms against US troops. “The program was a major part of the Awakening, which the Pentagon has touted as a turning point in reducing violence and creating the conditions for an American withdrawal,” Bauer reports. “It was also a reinstitution of a strategy started by Saddam Hussein, who picked out tribal leaders he could manipulate through patronage schemes. The US military didn't give the sheikhs straight-up bribes, which would have raised eyebrows in Washington. Instead, it handed out reconstruction contracts. Sometimes issued at three or four times market value, the contracts have been the grease in the wheels of the Awakening in Anbar—the almost entirely Sunni province in western Iraq where Fallujah is located.”

The program has had little oversight from Washington—battalion commanders are allowed to hand out contracts up to $500,000 without approval from their superiors. In one case Bauer examines, a clinic described by his military sources as a “patronage project,” a Sunni sheikh was paid $488,000. “Yet Hastings estimates that it will cost around $100,000 to build,” Bauer writes. “’That's, you know, a pretty good profit margin,’ Hastings says—close to 80 percent. In comparison, KBR, the largest military contractor in the country, cleared 3 percent in profits in 2008. Halliburton scored around 14 percent.”
      
While some officials defend the “make-a-sheikh” program as business as usual in a country rife with corruption, many experts warn that it could destabilize Iraq in the long term. Peter Harling, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, tells Bauer, “The pillaging of state resources is not a particularly good strategy. It creates a culture of predators and a lot of resentment from those who don't take part in those contracts. You might lavish one tribal leader with contracts but alienate 10 others.” Sam Parker, an Iraq programs officer at the United States Institute of Peace, is also concerned that the strategy could backfire. “Contracts are inflated because they are only secondarily about the goods and services received,” he tells Bauer. "It's very problematic. You are rewarding the guys with the guns.”

You can read Shane's whole story here. Our thoughts are with him, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and all of their families. We won't be discussing their case publicly at this time.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein are Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can read more of their articles here and here and follow them on Twitter here and here.

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