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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 9, 2014

Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:31 AM EDT

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Paratroopers participate in a ceremonial rotation of forces in Latvia. (US Army National Guard Photo by Spc. Cassandra Simonton, 116th Public Affairs Detachment)

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This Is the Democratic Plan to Reverse the Hobby Lobby Decision

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:02 AM EDT

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised "to do something" about the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision. Now two members of his caucus say they are preparing a bill that would reverse some of the controversial aspects of last week's decision.

Take it away, TPM:

The legislation will be sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO). According to a summary reviewed by TPM, it prohibits employers from refusing to provide health services, including contraception, to their employees if required by federal law. It clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the basis for the Supreme Court's ruling against the mandate, and all other federal laws don't permit businesses to opt out of the Obamacare requirement.
...

This bill will restore the original legal guarantee that women have access to contraceptive coverage through their employment-based insurance plans and will protect coverage of other health services from employer objections as well, according to the summary.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately this bill will never survive a cloture vote in the Senate; even if it did, it would be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. The only way that Hobby Lobby stands even a chance of being overturned legislatively is if John Boehner is forced to hand over the Speaker's gavel to a Democrat. That's probably something someone at the DCCC should remind people of as we head into the midterms.

Vladimir Putin Abandons His Erstwhile Allies

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 10:31 AM EDT

Julia Ioffe writes about the latest from Ukraine:

As the Ukrainian army chases separatists from the strongholds they've held for months, Moscow has barely said anything—despite its springtime rants about protecting Russians wherever they may be in the world....As I wrote back in May, now that he's sown chaos in Ukraine—but uneager to participate in someone else's civil war—President Vladimir Putin has thrown the rebels under the bus. In June, rebel leader Igor Strelkov said that "Putin betrayed us," and that betrayal has only deepened as Kiev launched its all-out offensive last week. Moscow, having started all this, has offered no help to the rebels.

The betrayal, it seems, may be even nastier than that. According to a Ukrainian security council spokesman, the Russians have sealed their border, shutting down three key crossings. Not only are they not letting men and materiel into Ukraine from Russia, but they're also blocking men and materiel from flowing in the opposite direction. That is, the very men that Moscow has riled up to the extent that they have taken up arms and are ready to die in order to get the region out of Ukraine and into Russia are not welcome to seek refuge in Russia. (Not even, it seems, the ones originally from Russia.) A group of 300 fleeing rebels reportedly even came under fire by the Russians as they tried to escape into Russia.

That Putin. He's quite the guy, isn't he? It appears that he eventually figured out that Ukraine wasn't going to fall neatly into his lap, and the cost of fomenting an all-out war there was simply too great. It turned out that Ukrainians themselves didn't support secession; Western powers were clearly willing to ramp up sanctions if things got too nasty; and the payoff for victory was too small even if he had succeeded. So now he's had to swallow a new, more pro-Western Ukraine—the very thing that started this whole affair—along with the prospect of renewed anti-Russian enmity from practically every country on his border.

But he got Crimea out of the deal. Maybe that made it worth it.

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.

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.

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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.

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: