Mojo - January 2007

Paste Magazine: Don't Blame (Or Praise) Canada

| Tue Jan. 9, 2007 2:01 AM EST

Mea Culpa: In a roundup of various books, movies, and magazines that the staff reccomended to readers as holiday gifts, my entry on Paste Magazine reported, in error, that it was a Canadian operation.

Reader Tom Monk, a lawyer out of Atlanta, was quick to point out that: "Au contrare,­ it is based in Decatur, GA. With our country in the middle of a cycle where many of our jobs and services are being transferred overseas, we should make a point to note something good within our borders, don't you think?"

Fair enough, Tom. I'm not quite sure why I thought Paste was a product of the Great White North. Canada, while a great exporter of comedians, TV anchors, and magazine writers and editors, has (at least since the heydey of Jonnie Mitchell, Neil Young, and The Band) never really been known for producing a lot of great pop/indie music. [Care to argue? For a geographical breakdown of Candian bands, most of whom you've never heard of, go here. I still have a soft spot for Chilliwack.]

Georgia on the other hand, well now. You got R.E.M., of course, and all the Athens spin-offs (Remember Guadalcanal Diary?) And Ray Charles, who's genius should be enough for several states, territories, or provinces.

But maybe, to make up for my error, I should tell you why I not only reccomended Paste to readers, but I bought gift subcriptions for more than a dozen of my friends. Why? For starters, there's the CD that comes with each issue, a 20+ song sampler of bands the editors like. Mostly (but not soley) alt/indie rock tracks with a singer/songwriter slant (but not in a we're-all-vegans-here way). And how much do you love that their FAQ notes "Paste is about the artists, not about the artists' bodies." (Translation: No Britney!) It's a thinking person's (mostly) music and (some other) culture magazine.

Supporting good independent magazines is important. Back of the napkin calculations indicate that if I guaranteed the editors of Paste a dozen subscriptions at $34.95, they need to sign up 42 of their friends for a Mother Jones subscription, which you can get for only $10, in order for us to be even. En garde!

Meanwhile, if you're in the Atlanta area, best get some legal advice from Tom, instead of exporting litigation to say...Florida.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Big Oil Wins Iraq's Petroleum Resources

| Mon Jan. 8, 2007 4:02 PM EST

The long discussed plan to hand over most of Iraq's oil assets to big foreign oil companies is about to happen. When people can't figure out what Bush means when he claims victory in Iraq, this is what he is talking about.

According to the Independent, the companies are looking at terrific profit potentials. "The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalized in 1972."

The plan envisions production sharing agreements among the oil companies and the Iraqi government. Such agreements are unusual in the Mideast. The production sharing agreements would run for 30 years with companies taking an initial 75 percent of all profits to cover costs and then 20 percent of all profits. According to the Independent that's twice the industry average.

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommended American involvement in devising a scheme for future oil exploration. That plan differed in certain respects from earlier schemes in that Baker-Hamilton wants the oil business to be dealt with as a centralized entity, not divided up into three sections to be handed out to the three prominent players in the country -- Kurds, Sunni and Shia. If that happened, the country would doubtless break up since oil is the only real economic base. Divided three ways, the Kurds and Shia would stand to get the larger share.

The large Iraqi unions of oil workers are protesting the deal: "This law has a lot of problems. It was prepared without consulting Iraqi experts, Iraqi civil society or trade unions. We reject this draft and demand more time to debate the law," according to Hasan Jum'a, President of the Federation of Oil Unions.

Adnan Saffar, member of the Executive Committee of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, said "The Iraqi national interest is surrendered in this law which allows foreign companies investment terms that exploit Iraq's oil wealth. They benefit the foreign investors more than they benefit Iraqi workers, through long term oil contracts that negatively impact Iraq's sovereignty and national independence."

When the war started, virtually all American officials and politicians denied oil was a primary interest. As the Independent points out, in arguing for the war in 2003, Tony Blair denied the "false claim" that "we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues. About the same time, Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, said: "It cost a great deal of money to prosecute this war. But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil."

Of course, the modern oil industry was launched by the British Navy with a takeover of Mesopotamia's oil resources at the turn of the last century. The British then were eager to establish secure resources to the new fuel for its battle ships in the upcoming world war.

"Our Daughters Are Our Only Economic Asset"

| Mon Jan. 8, 2007 12:26 PM EST

In the past, Afganistan exerienced a serious drought every couple of decades, but now there have two in a row, and 25 million villagers have been affected. Arranged marriages are against both civil and Islamic law in Afghanistan, but that has not stopped a number of families from selling their daughters in marriage in order to survive. The girls range in age from 8 to about 15, and some of the husbands are also very young.

The last drought caused losses of between 80% and 100% of crops, and now the cycle has begun again. Children are suffering from malnutrition, and are often going on long treks to gather water and firewood. They are eating potatoes, and boiled water with sugar, and they are dying. There have been attempts to get food to the villagers, but the heavy snows have prevented delivery. Also, members of the Taliban have attacked food convoys coming in from Pakistan. The only way for many of the Afghan people to survive is to sell their daughers.

The Afghan Minister of Agriculture recently declared that the drought was the cause of the sharp drop in production wheat, Afghanistan's main crop. That sounds like a reasonable explanation, but there are also those who say the drought is only partially to blame. These people say that wheat shortages have also come about because farmers would rather grow poppies. Afghan farmers also say that they do not have access to improved seeds, fertilizers, equipment, and technology, and therefore cannot compete with neighboring countries.

With thirteen provinces in crisis, the food shortage in Afganistan is a dramatic example of the effects of climate change, political instability, and a growing drug market. All of the affected villagers suffer, and the fate of female children does not look good.

Angelic Jolie on Adoption - Always Low Prices!

| Mon Jan. 8, 2007 10:49 AM EST

Kate Kretz, a heretofore little-known North Carolina artist has a rendition of Angelina Jolie that's causing quite a stir. The acrylic on canvas work entitled Blessed Art Thou, is on display in Miami this week and seems to be the biggest deal in celebrity art since Daniel Edwards' rendition of Pro-Life Britney.

jolie.jpg

Jolie, who has now adopted two children, one from Cambodia, the other Ethiopia, has been a high profile champion of adoption from third world nations. Apparently she sees herself as celebrity watchdog when it comes to the issue, calling out none other than Madonna, for her legally murky adoption of a baby in Malawi: "Madonna knew the situation in Malawi, where he was born. It's a country where there is no real legal framework for adoption. Personally, I prefer to stay on the right side of the law. I would never take a child away from a place where adoption is illegal." Didn't Spears mess with Madonna too? Not advised.

No word from Anderson Cooper on whether Jolie will shell out the $50,000 (and then donate it) for Kretz' painting.

Pelosi and the War

| Mon Jan. 8, 2007 10:12 AM EST

As Nancy Pelosi made clear yesterday on Face the Nation, the Democrats in Congress will employ their oversight perogatives as their main tactic against Bush from now until the presidential election in 2008. As the majority party, they can call oversight hearings, place Bush officials under oath, and haul administration programs before the TV cameras.

That's what is likely to happen this week. Just as Bush announces mid-week his new surge strategy of boosting troop strength in Iraq, the Dems will be questioning Condi Rice, the Secretary of State before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. A House Armed Services Committee hearing will hear Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Peter Pace on that same day.

Democratic Cleveland congressman Dennis Kucinich, the most outspoken member of the House against the war, tells the Washington Post this morning, "Congress has to intervene right now." And even Rahm Emmanuel, the man who is credited with masterminding the Democratic victory in the House elections last fall and who often tends to echo the Clinton line, is now speaking out strongly on the war: "This is not a surge. This is an escalation," he said. "When the American people voted for change in November,this is not what they had in mind."

Pelosi indicated yesterday that the main Democratic tool for slowing or blocking Bush on the war will be his probable request for supplemental funds to finance the surge. Whether they have the votes to deny him the funds is problematic.

-- James Ridgeway

The Two Faces of Bill Gates: Or How to Kill Those You Love the Most

| Mon Jan. 8, 2007 2:02 AM EST

Great piece in the LA Times about the Gates Foundation's two-faced record in the developing world--saving uncounted lives with vaccines and AIDS-fighting campaigns on one hand, endangering those same lives by investing in the companies that help kill or poison them on the other. Part of what's fascinating is that it took so long for someone to ask the question: Every nonprofit invests, but how many actually bother to agonize over how to make those dollars reflect the same values the foundation espouses? Not the Gates Foundation, apparently: It has a "firewall" between the grantmaking and the investment side that is soon to be reinforced by a move of the assets into a trust with only one goal--maximizing profits, er, foundation resources--and only two trustees, Bill and Melinda Gates. Not that it probably will make that much difference. Already, the Times finds, recipients of the Gates Foundation's investment largesse include

• Companies ranked among the worst U.S. and Canadian polluters, including ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Tyco International Ltd.

• Many of the world's other major polluters, including companies that own an oil refinery and one that owns a paper mill, which a study shows sicken children while the foundation tries to save their parents from AIDS.

• Pharmaceutical companies that price drugs beyond the reach of AIDS patients the foundation is trying to treat.

Using the most recent data available, a Times tally showed that hundreds of Gates Foundation investments — totaling at least $8.7 billion, or 41% of its assets, not including U.S. and foreign government securities — have been in companies that countered the foundation's charitable goals or socially concerned philosophy.

This is "the dirty secret" of many large philanthropies, said Paul Hawken, an expert on socially beneficial investing who directs the Natural Capital Institute, an investment research group. "Foundations donate to groups trying to heal the future," Hawken said in an interview, "but with their investments, they steal from the future."

Moreover, investing in destructive or unethical companies is not what is most harmful, said Hawken and other experts, including Douglas Bauer, senior vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a nonprofit group that assists foundations on policy and ethical issues. Worse, they said, is investing purely for profit, without attempting to improve a company's way of operating.

Such blind-eye investing, they noted, rewards bad behavior.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Oceans-21: Congress Premiers Plan to Strengthen NOAA

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 2:02 PM EST

Predictably, Congressional dems are moving eco-friendly bills, beginning with Oceans-21, introduced by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.). Oceans-21 (and no, it is not starring George Clooney) has been sitting around since 2004, and would significantly strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The bill would give the caretaker agency more power, resources, research capabilities, and most importantly, would create a national database of oceanic and coastal research that all regional centers could access.

Given the precarious state of our precious oceans, a stronger NOAA seems long overdue.

—Jen Phillips

Is Iran's Supreme Leader Dead?

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 1:51 PM EST

That's what prominent neocon and American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen reported in a one line blog post yesterday afternoon. Today, however, he seems less than certain that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has indeed passed, telling Regime Change Iran, a blog whose agenda you can guess at, that

The source still insists Khamenei is dead, but I cannot find any direct or indirect confirmation. To my knowledge only one person says Khamenei is dead. That said, the regime would have every reason to keep the fact secret, and Khamenei's physical condition has certainly been grave. In addition to the reports of his emergency hospitalization, his message to the Islamic Community on the Eid festival was released, not publicly read, as he had always done in the past. He has made no public appearances for several days, and Persian web sites have declared—several days ago now—that he cannot carry out his responsibilities and will have to be replaced. The struggle for succession is well under way.

Ledeen, who's long agitated for regime change in Iran, is known for maintaining close ties to the Iranian exile community, so perhaps his information is legit. But that certainly depends on who his lone source really is -- and whether or not it's Ledeen's close friend Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian arms dealer, Iran-Contra figure, and alleged intelligence fabricator. Stay tuned.

Chuck Norris Kicks Darwin's Ass

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 1:43 PM EST

topdog.gif

I had Chuck Norris pegged as a survival-of-the-fittest kind of guy. Guess I was wrong. Over at MovieGuide.org, a site that reviews movies based on biblical principles, the star of Walker: Texas Ranger weighs in on some of the wacky "Chuck Norris Facts" floating around the Internet. Like this one:

Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures.

Now while we're discussing the falacy of natural selection, let's talk about Hollywood projects God has allowed to live. (Image: publicity shot from Top Dog.)

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Defend Bush's Balance of Power?

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 1:15 PM EST

miersblog.gif
President Bush believes Harriet Miers is qualified for the Supreme Court, but not to defend his administration from the onslaught of investigations the new Democratic Congress will likely mount. The Washington Post reports today that "Bush advisers inside and outside the White House concluded that she is not equipped for such a battle and that the president needs someone who can strongly defend his prerogatives."

The article goes on to say that "Four other lawyers have been hired as associate counsels in recent weeks to fill vacancies, and White House officials have discussed expanding the office." The administration has not announced Miers' replacement but is said to have one lined up.

This is one sporting match I'm really looking forward to.