Mojo - August 2009

Condé Nast, Fiji Water, and the Age of Consumption

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

The same day that we put up our exposé of Fiji Water—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 competitorsthe New York Observer's John Koblin served up a fab look into the Condé Nast empire, where folks are running scared that the consultants from McKinsey are going to put an end to their gilded way of life (Nobu, town cars, spa treatments--all on the company dime.) 

How bad is it at 4 Times Square? Not only has Graydon Carter been, gasp!, spotted in the (Frank Gehry designed) company cafeteria but:

“When I started, there was this little refrigerator, and it was stocked with amazing drinks,” said one ad-sales source. “Pellegrino, Orangina, Red Bull. And like the water wasn’t Poland Spring, it was like Fiji. I remember when I started working here, I emailed everyone I know and I was like, ‘I have to tell you about the drinks!’”

But then in December, a few months after Condé Nast ordered publishers and editors to cut 5 percent from their budgets, the drink supply emptied out. That Fiji water turned into Poland Spring. Worse, instead of the fridge, the water bottles were stowed in a warm closet.

And then: “I just found out today that we are on our last batch of Poland Spring,” said the source. “We won’t have any more after this. We have to start drinking tap water.”

The horror, the horror!

Substantive cuts (when and if they come) to the actual great journalism that Condé Nast, particularly the New Yorker, can produce would be no joke. But Jeez, if the company hadn't encouraged editors to act as if ridiculous, over-the-top consumption on every level wasn't just a matter of course, but de riguer, not only for themselves, but the rest of us, then maybe we all wouldn't find ourselves underwater at every turn. Just saying.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The TARP Time Bomb the Media Missed

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 10:27 AM EDT

Over at Politics Daily, MoJo's DC bureau chief, David Corn, points out that all the fuss over death panels and granny-killing government health care has overshadowed some very disturbing economic news. The congressional oversight panel monitoring the bank bailout, or Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), released a report Tuesday on the toxic assets that helped suck the country into an economic vortex. And, as David writes, the panel found that "the Treasury Department has not used its TARP billions to purchase this junk—which includes both lousy commercial and residential mortgages and securities based on lousy mortgages—and that billions of dollars of toxic assets remain on the books, threatening the security of numerous financial institutions."

So far, David observes, the news that TARP's billions have not been used as intended, and that the economy remains at real risk, has barely registered on the media's radar. Read the rest of the column here.

 

Drug Company's Ghostwriters Push Product in Medical Journals

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 10:07 AM EDT

It’s looking increasingly likely that the pharmaceutical industry will escape price regulation under any new health care reform. For its part, the drug makers have promised $30 million in special price reductions to support Medicare recipients--a move that, as I've written before, is really a backdoor method of keeping seniors hooked on brand-name drugs.

Brand-name drugs are required by federal law to be safe and efficacious. We often rely on independent medical journals to provide important information and analysis to make the case for their use. We trust the editors of these journals and the experts who write the articles for expertise and sound judgement. And it’s not just the general public who relies on these respected sources. Doctors also use these articles in deciding whether or not to prescribe a drug.

So it comes as something of a shock to many people to learn that these articles aren’t always written by the people who sign them. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that ghostwriters employed by drug company Wyeth produced 26 articles in medical journals to promote Premarin and Prempro, two controversial estrogen-replacement therapy drugs later linked to serious health problems in menopausal women. Dr. Adriane Fugh Berman, a doctor at Georgetown University and a colleague of mine in a publically funded project called Pharmedout.org, is making public some of these internal documents.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 12, 2009

Wed Aug. 12, 2009 7:01 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Greg Talley prepares to hook up electronic blasting caps to a control box that he will use to destroy a cache of weapons, including discarded Soviet munitions from the 1970s, Aug. 2 at an ordnance disposal site near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Sergeant Talley is an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 755th Air Expeditionary Group, and deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. John Jung)

Need to Read, August 12, 2009

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

Some must-reads from around the web:

Surprise, surprise: Judiciary Committee document dump reveals that Karl Rove was more involved in the US Attorney firings than has previously been acknowledged.

US general says Bagram needs less Popeyes, more cultural outreach.

Are the tea-baggers ripping a page from the Saul Alinsky playbook?

Extreme makeovers, Wall Street Journal style.

America's last late-term abortion doctor.

The families of three hikers detained by Iran, one of whom is Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer, issued a statement on Tuesday. Here is Bauer's new MoJo piece, an investigation of the Pentagon's "make-a-sheikh" program; editors-in-chief Clara Jeffrey and Monika Bauerlein provide further context here.

David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is on twitter, and so are my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Nick Baumann, and our editor, Clara Jeffery. You can follow me here. The magazine's main account is @motherjones.

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

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 5:00 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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

MoJo Mix: 11 August 2009

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 8:02 PM EDT

3 stories you don't want to miss:

1) How the Pentagon bought stability in Iraq.

2) 4 Birthers you need to know.

3) This is your National Clean Energy Summit on Twitter.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

New Study Takes On Veteran Suicides

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 2:56 PM EDT

Welcome to the Army. You're not suicidal, are you?

Questions like this may become routine: the Washington Post reported yesterday that the military is developing required surveys for all new soldiers and the 90,000 already serving. The new panel creating the surveys is also conducting the largest-ever study of military suicides. The study's goal is twofold: prevent military suicides, and determine the causes of suicide.

Last month, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that for veteran suicides, "The most frustrating thing is trying to find a cause." The overwhelming evidence that depression and self-destructive behavior are  results of war must have slipped his mind. The $50 million, five-year study that the National Institute of Mental Health and the Army launched earlier this year is what the Post calls "an ambitious attempt to solve the mystery." The research was prompted by a rapid increase in soldier suicides, which reached 143 in 2008—the highest since the Army began keeping count three decades ago. Professors from Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Michigan sit on the panel of experts, ready to crack the case.

Troubled Assets Are Ba-ack...

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 2:40 PM EDT

Remember, for that brief period of time, when the Treasury Department's $700 billion "Troubled Asset Relief Program" was meant to buy up banks' actual troubled assets? You know, those groups of toxic mortgages packaged into securities, or even whole toxic mortgages themselves? (Toxic, that is, because it's doubtful these loans will ever be paid back in full or at all.) Removing those toxic assets, we were told, would bolster banks' balance sheets and free them up to lend more to businesses and consumers and get the economy back on its feet. Yet not long after, the Treasury Dept., led by then-Secretary Hank Paulson, Jr., decided instead to use TARP money to invest directly in crippled institutions. Evidently Paulson hoped this cash infusion would pad their capital reserves, let banks write down losses from these assets, and help them resume lending even with toxic assets still on their books.

The question that has since lingered over the TARP, then, has been this: What happened to those toxic assets? And how are the banks and the government dealing with them now? That's what the Congressional Oversight Panel, one of the leading watchdogs led by Harvard Law Prof. Elizabeth Warren, set out to answer with its August report, released yesterday—along with how financial institutions intend to deal with these assets left on their books going forward.

Detained Hikers' Families Make Statement

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 2:12 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.