Blogs

Check Out These New Emojis for Foodies

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Can you guess what these images mean? See below.

On a frigid Sunday morning in Manhattan this past March, several dozen people, many of them design students, gathered at the School of Visual Art's building in Chelsea. Their task: to perform a bit of pro-bono marketing for non-corporate food producers—the kind of small and mid-sized farms that grow produce without poisonous chemicals and tend their animals on pasture, not in fetid, polluting feedlots.

The meeting, organized by an innovative Los Angeles-based design firm called the Noun Project (whose founders my colleague Tasneem Raja interviewed here) and an accomplished New York-based sustainable-food advocacy group called the Grace Communications Foundation (the force behind the Meatrix video and Sustainable Table), was modeled on the techie concept of a "hackathon"—a bunch of people getting together to solve some problem. But whereas hackathons typically result in computer code, this "iconathon" would produce images, known as icons, that can wordlessly express concepts like "grass fed" and "heritage breed," free for anyone's use under a creative-commons license.

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Thailand's New Military Government Is Secretly Vacuuming Up Facebook Data

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Despite all the ways Facebook has flouted privacy standards—like how it recently experimented with 700,000 users' emotions by manipulating the positive and negative content of their newsfeeds—the company hasn't yet provided personal data to oppressive governments. But that didn't deter the Thai junta. When Facebook refused to help Thailand's newly installed military government access users' personal information, the junta created a misleading Facebook application to capture its citizens' names and email addresses. 

The military government posted that they were collecting this data to "handle more witnesses which can lead to more prosecutions and will make the online society more clean."

As you might remember, back in May, after months of anti-government protests, Thailand's military staged a coup. Once in power, the military suspended the constitution, installed a 10 p.m. curfew, banned gatherings of more than five people, and attempted to suppress dissidents—including any of the estimated 28 million Thai users on Facebook, a third of the country's population. On May 29, the new government tried to have a meeting with social-media companies, including Facebook, to discuss censoring Thailand's anti-coup dissent, but none of them showed up.

But the Thai junta didn't take this as a sign to give up on tapping into the power of social media. Instead, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, the junta placed a Facebook login button to track users on more than 200 of the government's restricted websites, like the webpage of Human Rights Watch.

Fast Tracks: Beverly's "All the Things"

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 4

"All the Things"

From Beverly's Careers

KANINE

Liner notes: Urgent yet dreamy, this breathtaking dose of psychedelia mixes ethereal female harmonies, a soaring melody, and surging beats to dazzling effect.

Behind the music: The Brooklyn duo features singer Drew Citron and noise-pop vet Frankie Rose. Careers falls between the lo-fi buzz of Frankie Rose and the Outs and the cooler electronica of Rose's recent solo work.

Check it out if you like: Vivian Girls, early Dum Dum Girls, or Quilt.

This review originally appeared in the July/August 2014 Issue of Mother Jones.

Yet Another Day in Republican Scumbaggery

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 1:00 AM EDT

Today President Obama asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help deal with the surge of minors crossing the border. You may color me unsurprised over the Republican response:

The proposal was quickly met with broad skepticism among Republican lawmakers, who were doubtful that the package would be approved quickly — if at all....GOP leaders, who have called on Obama to take stronger action, said they were reluctant to give the administration a “blank check” without ­more-detailed plans to ensure that the money would help stem the crisis at the border.

The president “is asking to use billions of taxpayer dollars without accountability or a plan in place to actually stop the border crisis,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

Asked if he thought lawmakers would approve the proposal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, “No, given the mood here in Washington, I don’t have confidence it will happen.”

Well, of course it won't happen. The crisis along the border is tailor made for Republicans. It makes their base hopping mad, it juices their campaign fundraising, and anytime the government is unable to address a problem it makes Obama look bad. Why on earth would Republicans want to do anything to change any of this?

As long as Obama is president, chaos is good for Republicans. After all, most voters don't really know who's at fault when things go wrong, they just know there's a crisis and Obama doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. Exploiting that may be cynical and revolting, but hey, politics ain't beanbag. And in case you haven't heard, there's an election coming up.

Quick Reads: "The Skeleton Crew" by By Deborah Halber

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 5:41 PM EDT
The Skeleton Crew

The Skeleton Crew

By Deborah Halber

SIMON & SCHUSTER

Tent Girl. The Lady of the Dunes. The Head in the Bucket. These are just a few of the nicknames given to America's 40,000 unidentified corpses by amateur web sleuths. For decades, members of this thriving, heroic, and macabre internet subculture have been cracking cold cases that have long stumped law enforcement. But what motivates them to spend countless hours poring over police reports and autopsy photos? Deborah Halber replaces the classic whodunit with what you might call a whosolvesit. She discovers that many web sleuths throw themselves into their dark hobby to escape their own damaged lives. Some find their share of fame and fortune; others, only more demons.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

Emma Watson Crashes United Nations Website With Her Goodwill Ambassador Announcement

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 3:16 PM EDT

Emma Watson—the humanitarian and staunch feminist who you may recognize from such films as The Bling Ring, Noah, and the Harry Potter movies—is now working with the United Nations on gender equality and female empowerment.

On Monday, UN Women and Watson announced that she had been appointed as a celebrity Goodwill Ambassador. The 24-year-old British actress will work on the "empowerment of young women and will serve as an advocate for UN Women's HeForShe campaign," according to the UN Women's press release. (The HeForShe campaign enlists men and boys to stand up for gender equality.) In 2012, Watson became an ambassador for the Campaign for Female Education.

The announcement drew enough web traffic to crash the UN Women website. "We apologize & hope to be back up soon," the UN entity tweeted. The site experienced problems for roughly 12 hours following the announcement. "This is the power of [Watson]; she has such global appeal," UN Women's Elizabeth Nyamayaro told Mother Jones.

"Ms. Emma Watson is someone who is not only smart, but someone who is very passionate about girls' issues," Nyamayaro said, explaining why the UN reached out to the actress in the first place. According to Nyamayaro, Watson is particularly excited about working with HeForShe, and will also support the work of young women across UN Women's strategic pillars, including economic empowerment, ending violence against women, political participation, and peace and security.

Here is Watson's full statement on her new gig:

Being asked to serve as UN Women's Goodwill Ambassador is truly humbling. The chance to make a real difference is not an opportunity that everyone is given and is one I have no intention of taking lightly. Women's rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life that I can't imagine an opportunity more exciting. I still have so much to learn, but as I progress I hope to bring more of my individual knowledge, experience, and awareness to this role.

(Watson expressed her excitement on Twitter with a blushing emoticon.)

Other celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors for the UN include Liam Neeson, "Twitter Nazi hunter" Mia Farrow, and Orlando Bloom.

Below is video of Watson visiting slum homes and a fair trade group in Bangladesh: "I still find it hard to convey what fair trade means to those producing our fashion—it's just so impressive to see how the women have used fair trade clothing to escape poverty and empower themselves and their children," Watson said. "I was moved and inspired."

This post has been updated.

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Here's How Obama Wants to Spend $3.7 Billion on the Child Migrant Crisis

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 3:01 PM EDT

On Tuesday, President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to address the rapidly growing number of unaccompanied Central American children attempting to enter the United States. The Border Patrol apprehended 38,833 unaccompanied kids in fiscal year 2013, and it already has caught more than 52,000 in fiscal 2014.

The requested appropriations include:

  • $1.8 billion to the HHS's Administration for Children and Families: to provide more stable, cost-effective arrangements and medical care for unaccompanied children.
  • $1.1 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): for the detention, prosecution, and removal of undocumented families, as well as transportation costs for unaccompanied children.
  • $432 million to Customs and Border Protection: for operational costs, an expanded Border Enforcement Security Task Force, and increased air surveillance in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.
  • $295 million to the State Department's (and other international programs') Economic Support Fund: for the repatriation and reintegration of deported migrants, and to address the root causes of migration in Central America.
  • $62 million to the Department of Justice: for additional immigration judges and legal representation for the children.

Notably, Obama's letter to House Speaker John Boehner did not include a request to alter the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. That law requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to turn over unaccompanied children from countries other than Canada and Mexico to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which temporarily houses them in shelters while it locates US-based family members or sponsors. (The kids are in removal proceedings throughout.)

Here's the full letter:

 

Finally, Someone With the Guts to Call for Obama's Impeachment

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 2:34 PM EDT

I see that Sarah Palin is apparently starved for attention again. Here's her latest:

President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution’s role in protecting our rights.

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is.

Quite right. Minors are swarming our borders because American exceptionalism is at risk thanks to Obama's failure to help the Ukrainians which means our enemies no longer fear us and the dollar is being debased. Or was it because he failed to arm the Syrian rebels? I forget. Something to do with Putin, though. And the Fed. Plus, um, recess appointments and one-year extensions to TyrannyCare mandates. And Benghazi.

Whatever. Impeach Obama! I sure hope every Republican in the country is asked to weigh in on this.

Will the Washington Post Destroy "Incidental" NSA Intercepts When It's Done With Them?

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 12:27 PM EDT

A couple of days ago the Washington Post published an article based on a cache of thousands of surveillance intercepts that it got from Edward Snowden. That produced the suggestion—not widespread, I think, but still out there—that the Post was now violating privacy just like the NSA has been. Glenn Greenwald thought this was pretty dumb, but Julian Sanchez wasn't so sure:

Doesn't seem TOTALLY frivolous. I hope you & WaPo are destroying copies of intimate communications once reporting's done.

This is actually....a good point. The charge against the NSA isn't just that it ends up surveilling thousands of innocent people who are merely innocent bystanders in court-approved investigations. Even critics concede that this is inevitable to some extent. The problem is that once the NSA has collected all these "incidental" intercepts, they keep them forever in their databases and make them available to other law enforcement agencies for whatever use they want to make of them. At the very least, privacy advocates would like these incidental collections to be destroyed after they've served their immediate purpose.

So will the Post do this? Once they've finished their immediate reporting on this, will they destroy these intercepts? Or will they keep them around for the same reason the NSA does: because, hey, they have them, and you never know if they might come in handy some day?

There's always been a tension inherent in Edward Snowden's exposure of the NSA's surveillance programs: Who gets to decide? You may think, as I do, that the government has repeatedly shown itself to be an unreliable judge of how much the public should know about its mass surveillance programs. But who should it be instead? Snowden? Glenn Greenwald? The Washington Post? Who elected them to make these decisions? Why should we trust their judgment?

It's not a question with a satisfying answer. Sometimes you just have to muddle along and, in this case, hope that the whistleblowers end up producing a net benefit to the public discourse. But this time we don't have to muddle. This is a very specific question, and we should all be interested in the answer. Do Greenwald and the Post plan to destroy these private communications once they're done with them? Or will they hold on to them forever, just like the NSA?

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, there's a difference here. On the one hand, we have the government, with its vast law-enforcement powers, holding onto massive and growing amounts of incidental surveillance. On the other we have a private actor with a small sample of this surveillance. We should legitimately be more concerned with possible abuses of power by the government, both generally, and in this case, very specifically. But that's a starting point, not the end of the conversation. Sanchez is still asking a good question.

Quote of the Day: Bizarro John Boehner Joins Twitter

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 11:42 AM EDT

Steve Benen points me to the latest foray into social networking from Speaker John Boehner:

Democrats like to say they want to fix #ObamaCare, but where’s their plan? They don’t have one.

It's not worth belaboring the fact that this is epically dumb. What I'm curious about is what Boehner thinks this will accomplish. Who is it supposed to appeal to? To the tea party true believers, it's too weak to be effective. They want red meat. To liberals it's just laughable. To folks in the middle it's incomprehensible. To the media—which knows perfectly well that Dems have plenty of ideas and Republicans are hopelessly fractured over health care—it's idiotic.

So who's the audience for this?