Mojo - October 2006

George Washington Refuses to Divest, Grants Scholarship Instead

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 4:10 PM PDT

Earlier this month, George Washington University created a scholarship that will grant a $200,000 4-year scholarship for a student from Sudan, reports Inside Higher Ed. On first glance, it appears merely a generous act though in reality it is a concession to its campus group Students Taking Action Now: Darfur which had asked the university (as they have done at their nearly 150 chapters on campuses nationwide) to divest completely from companies that invest in Sudan.

Now I don't want to take away from the good that will come from the scholarship but aren't we talking about apples and oranges here? Investing in one student per year (and the scholarship is not new, it has traditionally been reserved for D.C. students) is quite different than divestment. Students at GW and across the nation have their suspicions as well. Chad Hazlett, the leader for divestment in Sudan at Harvard, had this to say:

"This scholarship is situated as if it's a tradeoff, and alternative, to divestment." "It isn't. I think the scholarship is a great idea. But it doesn't substitute for putting pressure on the government of Sudan, nor does it satisfy the moral obligation of those who made the decision to be doing all they can to end genocide."

School divestment is not a pipe dream for students involved with STAND. Over the past year, 3 schools have divested completely and more than 20 schools have begun "pulling the plug on deals that sent aid and comfort to Khartoum," as we reported in Mother Jones in September. And history shows us just how effective wide-scale divestment can be. Divestment from South Africa by 180 universities played a key role in devastating the South African economy in the late 1980s, which ultimately brought apartheid to an end.

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Kean, Menendez, and the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 3:42 PM PDT

Today's New Jersey Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage may well be a factor in galvanizing conservative voters to turn out for Tom Kean Jr., the GOP's candidate for Senate. Interestingly, both Kean and his opponent, Senator Bob Menendez, have basically the same stance on the issue. Both are against gay marriage but in favor of domestic partnerships.

Kean is in a tight race against Menendez, with polls showing the democrat slightly ahead. The Dems ought to take New Jersey, but Kean, a well known name in the state (his father was governor and most recently head of the 9/11 Commission), is running uncomfortably close. As in many tight races this year, this campaign has turned nasty, with both candidates running attack ads. And Menendez may have been somewhat tarnished by the recent disclosure of a secret tape recording, made 7 years ago, that shows a former close political advisor urging a Hudson County contractor to hire a certain individual as a favor to Menendez.

Kean has voted against the minimum wage, offered tepid criticism of Bush on Iraq, wants to get rid of the inheritance tax, and has supported some sort of privatization of Social Security. He is for stem cell research but voted against using tobacco tax monies to support such research.

Menendez wants a phased withdrawal from Iraq.

It's 11 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Dinner Is?

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 12:15 PM PDT

Americans are increasingly second-guessing the costs and benefits of industrial agriculture. But, as Michael Pollan wrote in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, excerpted in Mother Jones this summer, not all solutions to the problem are equal. Pollan profiled Joel Salatin, a trendsetter in the local food movement who makes hash of Whole Foods, comparing its business model to Wal-Mart's. (Whole Foods CEO John Mackey fired off a sardonic letter to the editor, asking whether Pollan's book was sold only in Berkeley.)

Now, as today's New York Times reports, Whole Foods is introducing an "animal compassionate" label to identify meat from animals that were raised humanely (if industrial agriculture, among other human mores, hasn't rendered the word meaningless). The good news is Whole Foods will be flexing its substantial muscle to ensure that its suppliers comply with the standards it has established, which demand, for instance, that animals be raised outdoors. The bad news is, consumers will now have to choose among an even larger array of labels that sound good, but are hard to decipher and are not enforced by the USDA, thanks to the agency's belief that organic and animal-friendly agriculture amounts to no more than a "marketing program".

Fatter Americans, Hotter World

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 12:01 PM PDT

American's ever-expanding waistlines aren't just bad for our national health - they're bad for the atmosphere too. A new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that the extra drag on car engines caused by their drivers' increasing weight means that Americans are using at least 938 million more gallons of gas annually today than they were four decades ago, when they weighed an average of 24 pounds less.

Pombo Supporters Digging For Deeper Pockets

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 11:14 AM PDT

Now that Richard Pombo's race for the 11th district seat is heating up supporters are calling in the big guns.

Literally.

On Friday, Safari Club International sent a letter to its members urging them to donate as individuals to Pombo's re-election now that their SCI PAC has spent the maximum amount, $9,999, on his campaign. The letter stresses the need for cash because of attacks on Pombo from "a cabal of extremist environmental groups."

The Safari Club International, which counts Richard Pombo and George H.W. Bush among its elite membership promotes itself as a "Non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife" but has been involved in numerous lawsuits over the importation and trophy hunting of exotic animals. As House Resources Committee chairman, Pombo has been a consistent "friend and supporter" of SCI, attempting to re-write the Endangered Species Act eleven times.


The group, whose most recent annual convention featured a booth offering the chance to "hunt" African Bongo Antelopes in an enclosed Texas ranch for $20,000, is clearly worried about losing a powerful ally in Congress. They write, "This situation is dire…If Pombo is defeated, years of hard work will go down the drain."

Indeed.

--Amaya Rivera

Medical Groups Recommend the Transfer of Fewer Embryos in Fertility Treatments

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 10:31 AM PDT

Yesterday the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology released revised guidelines for the number of embryos transferred during assisted reproductive therapies, recommending the transfer of no more than two embryos during a single procedure for women younger than age 35. In 1999, the ASRM had released guidelines recommending the transfer of only two embryos for women younger than age 35 with a "healthy" prognosis and three embryos for women with a poorer prognosis for successful implantation. The recommendation rises to as many as four embryos for patients aged 38 to 40 and to five embryos for women over the ago of 40.

Today more than a third of pregnancies conceived using assisted reproductive technology result in a multiple birth. Multiple embryo transfer has also contributed to what are now more than a half million frozen stored embryos awaiting: future use, "adoption," stem cell research or, for most, destruction.

Liza Mundy writes about couples facing such decisions and the ways in which the nation's embryo glut is changing the choice debate in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

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More Sex-Obsessed Republicans

| Tue Oct. 24, 2006 10:38 PM PDT

Oh, it's not just those GOP attack ads accusing various Democrats of being phone-sex fans and pedophiles that I blogged about the other day. The sharp-eyed folks at Whiskey Bar have a list of several more extraordinarily stretched sexual slurs being lobbed from the Republican side in various races around the country, including
a commercial in Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District that links the Democrat to a child rapist, another in the same state accusing the Dem of "voting to fund studies of Vietnamese prostitutes and the mastubatory practices of old men," and a Tennesse Senate race where the Republican National Committee is sponsoring an ad in which a blond white "woman cooing into the camera that she met [African American Democrat Harold Ford Jr.] at a party sponsored by Playboy magazine."

The Nixon Factor

| Tue Oct. 24, 2006 1:27 PM PDT

Memories of Nixon loom large in the minds of Republican political pros as Bush tosses and turns on Iraq. "GOP operatives are encouraging party leaders to echo Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election strategy for restoring his popularity despite the 20,000 American soldiers killed in Vietnam during his first term,'' writes Craig Crawford of CQ. "In that campaign, Nixon softened his hard line on the fighting and began talking up negotiations with the enemy.''

Nixon came to the presidency in 1968 promising to get the US out of Vietnam. But the war continued. Protests mounted, and in 1972, in the campaign against George McGovern, Nixon tried to turn the tide by running as a peace candidate. The President halted bombing the north in mid October of that year, and just before the election Kissinger made his famous statement that "peace is at hand." That was the death knell for the McGovern campaign, although there had been little hope for his election from the very beginning.

During the ensuing peace negotiations after the election, the Nixon government said the North Vietnamese negotiators were duplicitous, using Kissinger's pre-election announcement to mock the President and weaken the US negotiating position. To bring the North Vietnamese into line, Nixon ordered a resumption of the B-52 bombing of the North, including Haiphong and Hanoi.

Could Bush pull off something similar? In recent days he seems to be suggesting a change of course in Iraq, raising possibility of an exit. At least that what various commentators and politicians read into his odd interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC. Will that defuse the war issue in the campaign? If it does, and the Republicans manage to keep control of Congress, Bush will be in a strong position to increase the levels of fighting in Iraq, and perhaps argue Iraq can be straightened out by attacking Iran and Syria.

To date the winning Republican Iraq strategem entails, on the one hand, arguing vaguely for an end to the war in Iraq, but at the same time making sure never to set a date, all the while attacking the Dems for cut and run tactics that endanger American troops. Last night in New London, Connecticut in their last debate Joe Lieberman was setting out the Republican line, calling for an end the fighting but attacking Ned Lamont's demand for a more defined exit.

In this debate, Lieberman, who is running well ahead in the polls, openly called Lamont a liar, a charge which brought the Lamont supporters in the audience to issue a torrent of boos and catcalls, enforcing their man to come forward, asking his supporters to mind their manners. All the while, Lieberman stood smirking at his opponent's embarrassment.

Jeff Skilling and Enron's Glory Days, Captured in Email

| Tue Oct. 24, 2006 12:48 PM PDT

As former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling heads off to the pokey, you can relive the good ol' days at the Death Star with the Enron Explorer, a searchable database of company emails sent by Skilling, Ken Lay, and their underlings. Read as they joke about shredding documents, plan meetings between Lay and Cheney, flirt with co-workers, and beg not to be fired as things go south. And see Skilling in R-rated action as he tells a fellow exec, "I can't wait to see you go down with the ship like all the other vermin." Good times.

Bush Uses "the Google"

| Tue Oct. 24, 2006 12:39 PM PDT

Take a look at the video of Bush being interviewed on CNBC and saying that "one of the things I've used on the Google is to pull up maps." (Syria? Iran? Cheney's bunker?)

Sure, it's good for a chortle and a little unfair; we don't really expect our presidents to be as conversant with, say, the most popular search engine in the world as those of us without huge support staffs. On the other hand, like Bush Sr.'s supposed (and discounted) befuddlement at supermarket scanning technology, it is a telling reminder of the bubble in which our leaders live.