2007 - %3, May

Google Trying to Get Bigger -- and More Evil?

| Wed May 30, 2007 10:24 AM EDT

When Google announced a $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick, European Union officials and internet privacy advocates warned that the massive trove of information Google has on virtually every internet user just got bigger.

Count Mother Jones amongst the concerned parties. In 2006, we ran a feature called "Is Google Evil?" that looked into the myraid different ways Google collects information on you -- and the ways it coughs up that information to snooping governments. Should you be concerned? Well, Google's famous founding duo certainly seems to be:

Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two former Stanford geeks who founded the company that has become synonymous with Internet searching, and you'll find more than a million entries each. But amid the inevitable dump of press clippings, corporate bios, and conference appearances, there's very little about Page's and Brin's personal lives; it's as if the pair had known all along that Google would change the way we acquire information, and had carefully insulated their lives—putting their homes under other people's names, choosing unlisted numbers, abstaining from posting anything personal on web pages.

Hmmm. Read the feature here.

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Mexico Consumed by Drug Violence, Journalists Feeling the Impact

| Wed May 30, 2007 9:33 AM EDT

Increasingly violent drug cartels have been blamed for 3,000 murders in Mexico in the past eighteen months, according to a story in the Washington Post. But as the death toll rises, media coverage decreases. That's because cartel gunmen target journalists in addition to one another -- more than 30 journalists have been killed in the past six years in Mexico and scores more have been subject to intimidation -- kidnapping, office bombings, and so on. It all adds up to make Mexico the second most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist, according to the Post. First, of course, is Iraq. (The Post story has all sorts of good details and quotes from the reporters and editors on the ground -- worth a read.)

Mexico has gotten bad quickly. In 2005, I created two tables that illustrated how much worse Iraq was for journalists than all other countries around the world. Before the invasion of Iraq, the countries that routinely saw the most press deaths were Russia, Algeria, and Columbia -- they each had three or four a year for ten years running. Starting in 2003, Iraq saw 56 journalists killed in a three year span. Mexico wasn't even on the list.

But we could have predicted this. In a 2006 photo essay called "Born Into Cellblocks," Mother Jones sent a photographer into a Mexican prison to photograph the children who live there with their mothers. Chuck Bowden wrote the accompanying text, in which he explored the drug violence that was even then consuming Mexican towns near the American border. He also mentioned the growing violence against journalists. Snippets are below, the whole thing is here.

Bullets killed the police chief last summer, just a few hours after he took office. This brought in the Mexican army. The ongoing slaughter of many cops and citizens caused the U.S. government to shut down its consulate for a spell last August. This winter the local paper was visited by some strange men, presumably working for the cartels, and they fired dozens of rounds and tossed in a grenade. One reporter took five bullets. The editor promptly announced a new policy: His paper, one of the few Mexican publications on the line actually printing news about the drug cartels, would no longer report on the cartels...
Beneath this gore, women and children muddle on, some in Mexican jails. Incarceration, like law, is a bit different in Mexico. Conjugal visits are permitted; small children younger than six can be locked up with their moms; and men and women peddle goods and themselves within the walls in order to survive. Mexican prisons often do not provide grub. I've stood in line with family members who toted a week's supply of food on visiting day, seen women reel out of cells in disarray after their weekly intercourse sessions with their men. Drugs are commonplace inside the walls, as are gangs. Money can buy anything. For years the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has complained about the posh quarters given to major drug players and how they continue to do business without interference while theoretically being under lock and key.

Update: Journalists of any stripe -- not just those that cover the drug cartels -- are vulnerable in Mexico. After Lydia Cacho exposed a powerful hotel owner as the orchestrator of a child pornography and prostitution ring, she was arrested and almost killed by local police. Mother Jones interviewed Cacho in May.

Breaking: Humpbacks Are Almost Home

| Tue May 29, 2007 11:36 PM EDT

The two lost whales have picked up the pace and are now within 10 miles of Golden Gate. The injured mother and her calf have made good time since we followed them last week, 90 miles up the river in Sacramento. They're nearly home to the Pacific Ocean.

California's Open Space Program at Risk

| Tue May 29, 2007 10:41 PM EDT

The governor of California has done some very green things. But his latest budget proposal seems less green in that it might very well spur development on farmland. The Ethicurian alerts us to an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle pointing out that the governor wants the state to save $40 million by cutting funding for the WIlliamson Act, which reimburses counties for giving property tax breaks on agricultural land. The only problem with the Williamson Act is it doesn't do nearly enough. Read a good discussion here.

A Virtual Tour of the Baghdad Embassy

| Tue May 29, 2007 9:22 PM EDT
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Tom Engelhardt has come across what might be the first public glimpse of the $1.3-billion U.S. embassy under construction in Baghdad. At 104 acres, and with 1,000 staffers, it's going to be America's biggest embassy anywhere. It might as well have a giant "kick me" sign on its front gates—hence the 15-foot-thick walls and who knows how many Marines and Blackwater guys on duty. Visualizing the fortress-like enclosure has been a bit tough. Until now, thanks to some 3-D renderings Engelhardt found on its architects' website. It almost looks like the next backdrop for Grand Theft Auto, but with tennis courts, a pool, and housing for 380 families. That family housing stat is a new detail. Somehow I doubt that the balmy weather and outdoor pool will convince many embassy dwellers to bring along the kids.

Public Health Officials Warn of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Strain

| Tue May 29, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

A man flew back and forth on commercial flights across the Atlantic before landing in an isolation ward, diagnosed with a particularly virulent and drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. The case is so serious that the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Julie Gerberding, announced the matter herself, and issued a federal quarantine order.

Interesting facts from the New York Times story:

Tuberculosis kills about 1.6 million people each year worldwide.... At any given time, one person in three worldwide is infected with dormant tuberculosis germs, according to the World Health Organization. People become ill when the bacteria become active, usually when a person's immunity declines, whether because of advancing age, HIV infection or some other medical problem.

That's why we called it "the Patient Predator." For more, read this terrifying essay by Kevin Patterson in Mother Jones. He writes:

Tuberculosis infection has been so prevalent that for most of human history it was an almost normal, if often lethal, part of the human bio-niche.... The most devastating infection in the world is not Ebola or Lyme disease, West Nile virus or even HIV, but tuberculosis.

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How To Spare Polar Bears The Bullet

| Tue May 29, 2007 9:14 PM EDT

Polar bears are in trouble from global warming, melting ice, and toxins in the marine foodweb. Do they really need to be hunted too? No, says the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The three groups have called on the Senate to act on bipartisan legislation to close a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This loophole currently allows wealthy American trophy hunters to bring the heads and hides of hundreds of imperiled polar bears into the United States from the Canadian Arctic.

The legislation, S. 1406, to close the loophole in the law was introduced by U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and by U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) as H.R. 2327 in the House of Representatives.

"The polar bear has become a tragic symbol of our threatened environment, and of the wildlife that pays the price for dangerous practices," Sen. Kerry said. "It's time to put the polar bear on the Endangered Species List, and give them a fighting chance at survival. But it also means that we must close the loophole that allows for trophy hunting by U.S. sport hunters in Canada. Not only must these bears contend with their home melting away, but they are also being hunted in the limited habitat they have left. It's time to take responsibility for their survival. We need to pick up the pieces and change our practices, before it's too late."

HSUS asks those who agree with this legislation to contact their reps in DC & urge them to close the loophole. --JULIA WHITTY

Fight Takes Shape at International Whaling Commission Meeting

| Tue May 29, 2007 8:43 PM EDT

The annual International Whaling Commission Meeting is underway in Anchorage, Alaska. Hardy Jones of Bluevoice reports in his blog what's at stake this crucial year.

The votes will be close. The Japanese have bought more than a dozen small nations and thus threaten to open the doors to legal whaling for the first time in twenty years. Since 1987 Japan and other nations like Iceland and Norway have only been able to conduct whaling under an article in the IWC treaty that allows for scientific whaling. Of course Japan has exploited that loophole to do pseudo-science and then sell the meat from the whales they have "researched" by harpooning and cutting them into steaks… The twenty-year moratorium on whaling, which went into effect in 1987 and was the cause of joyous celebration among those of us who love whales, is set to expire. And several nations, along with their prostitute allies, will be seeking to open the world to legal whaling.

The IWC is a perverse organization--a huge room full of men and a few women sitting down to determine the life or death of whales swimming thousands of miles away in the Antarctic or in the North Atlantic. The most odious plan Japan has brought forth is to kill humpback whales in the Antarctic. The issue will be raised Wednesday. We will follow this closely as it represents spitting in the face of tens of thousands of people around the world who not only love these whales in aggregate but know them personally, individually and marvel each year when the whales return on their migrations to Moorea, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Rurutu, Raritonga, New Caledonia and other areas of the Southern Ocean.

Fingers crossed, emails ready to fire… we'll be following closely. --JULIA WHITTY

Overseas Foods To Lose Organic Status in UK?

| Tue May 29, 2007 8:06 PM EDT

Food flown into the UK may be stripped of organic status because of concern about greenhouse gas emissions. The move is being considered by the Soil Association, which certifies what foods are organic, reports the BBC. Due to growing demands to cut the environmental impact of food distribution, the organization is considering five options to reduce the carbon footprint of air-freighted food, including an outright ban, or showing a product's country of origin, and/or carbon offsetting schemes.

Let's hope the UK gives this overdue boost to local foods (check out more on this movement in "No Bar Code," Mother Jones, May/Jun 2006)… And for some really interesting developments on this much-needed front, Mark Heffernan in Wisconsin tells me of some community-based food systems in his area, as well as fascinating developments in the field of vertical farming, designed to feed urban populations… Wow. Food never looked so sci-fi. --JULIA WHITTY

Dems Virtually Assured Victory, Pessimist Reports, Tempting Fate

| Tue May 29, 2007 7:34 PM EDT

A new Rasmussen poll shows that if Barack Obama were to face Mitt Romney in the general election, he would trounce him by 12 percentage points. Fred Thompson fared slightly better against the black Harvard man, losing by just 7 percentage points. Another Rasmussen poll indicated that John Edwards could route Republicans on a scale resembling the 65-13 Oklahoma-University of Texas game of 2003. (Oddly, Rasmussen hasn't run the Clinton matchups, but other polls have predicted Hillary faring poorly in the general election.) I cautioned in a previous post against counting on a Democratic victory, but now I'm wondering, why even bother to hold a general election, when polls show that Americans believe Dems are better suited to lead even on issues that Republicans have historically owned, such as national security (46 percent trust Democrats more) and taxes (the Democrats lead 47 to 42 percent)? Democrats enjoy double-digit advantages on ethics and government corruption and the war in Iraq as well as on their traditional issues, including education, social security, immigration, and health care.