Blogs

Here Is the Supreme Court's Decision in the Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The court ruled that most companies do not have to cover contraception for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so. Here is the decision:

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Read the Supreme Court's Decision in The Blockbuster Labor Case Harris v. Quinn

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 30, 2014

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 9:31 AM EDT

US Marines rappel from a helicopter in a training exercise at sea. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alisa Helin)

Mastodon's "Once More ‘Round the Sun" is as Exciting as Hard Rock Gets

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mastodon
Once More ‘Round the Sun
Reprise

Mastodon Once More 'Rounds the SunHeavy metal is so prone to self-parody and general silliness that it's shocking to remember how powerful the music can be when done correctly. Current Exhibit A: the Atlanta quartet Mastodon, whose ear-shredding Once More ‘Round the Sun is as exciting as hard rock gets. Of course, they've never been a stereotypical knuckle-dragging crew, with earlier credits including a concept album inspired by Moby Dick (Leviathan) and a split seven-inch collaboration with folk-pop siren Feist, on which both parties covered one of the other’s tunes. Here, songs like "The Motherload" and "Aunt Lisa" are taut, soaring epics marked by piercing guitars, clattering drums and heroic vocals. There's plenty of spots on the album where Mastodon could be mistaken for a punk band, so don’t be afraid to shed those preconceptions and dive in for a righteously noisy experience.

Seriously, What Accounts for the Right-Wing Obsession With Military Tribunals?

| Sun Jun. 29, 2014 1:16 PM EDT

From the Guardian today:

Mike Rogers, the chair of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, told CNN Khattala had been “compliant but not cooperative” through 10 days of interrogation on a navy ship before being transferred to Washington for a civilian trial. Rogers said Khattala should be classified as an enemy combatant and held at Guantánamo Bay.

....“We have a military tribunal process and I do believe in it. We've used it in the past, in World War II and subsequent to that. We have a process where they get a trial and their guilt or innocence is established.

This has become such a knee-jerk reaction from right-wing politicos that I almost don't even notice it anymore. But seriously, what is it that accounts for the conservative obsession with military tribunals? Abu Khattala would get a taxpayer-paid defense attorney either way. He'll be held securely either way. He's got about the same chance of being convicted either way. And if he is convicted, he'll be shipped off to an appropriately grim prison cell either way.

So what's the deal? Is this really just code for we should ship him to Gitmo and interrogate him in, um, an enhanced way? Is it code for Obama is doing this so we're against it? Or is there something more to it? There's a mountain of evidence suggesting that civilian courts are more effective at prosecuting terrorism than military tribunals, so that's not it. Unless torture and abusive treatment are their goals, it's a mystery why folks like Rogers keep banging away endlessly on their infatuation with military tribunals.

Facebook Just Admitted It Tinkered With People's News Feeds to Manipulate Their Emotions

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:43 PM EDT

Emotional contagion is when people subconsciously take on the emotions of those around them. It's when happy people are around sad people and then feel rather down themselves. Or when sad people are in happy crowds and suddenly just want to dance.  Like so many things in real life, this happens on the internet as well. Your emotional state converges with the general feeling of your Twitter feed or your Facebook friends. This is how humans work, it's how we're wired, and it's nothing to lose sleep over.

What may in fact be worth losing sleep over is that Facebook just admitted to intentionally manipulating people's emotions by selectively choosing which type of their friends' posts—positive or negative—appeared in their News Feed.

Take it away, Next Web:

The company has revealed in a research paper that it carried out a week-long experiment that affected nearly 700,000 users to test the effects of transferring emotion online.

The News Feeds belonging to 689,003 users of the English language version were altered to see “whether exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviors,” Facebook says. There was one track for those receiving more positive posts, and another for those who were exposed to more emotionally negative content from their friends. Posts themselves were not affected and could still be viewed from friends’ profiles, the trial instead edited what the guinea pig users saw in their News Feed, which itself is governed by a selective algorithm, as brands frustrated by the system can attest to.

Facebook found that the emotion in posts is contagious. Those who saw positive content were, on average, more positive and less negative with their Facebook activity in the days that followed. The reverse was true for those who were tested with more negative postings in their News Feed.

Ok, let's break some stuff down:

Can they do this?

Yes. You agree to let the company use its information about you for "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when you agree to without reading the terms of service. It's the "research" bit that's relevant.

Should they?

I don't know! There are clearly some ethical questions about it. A lot of people are pretty outraged. Even the editor of the study thought it was a bit creepy.

Should I quit Facebook?

You're not going to quit Facebook.

No, really. I might.

You're not going to quit Facebook.

You don't even know me. I really might quit. No joke. I have my finger on the button. I saw an ad for a little house out in the country. No internet. No cell service. I could sell everything and go there and live a quite, deliberate life by a pond. I could be happy there in that stillness.

Cool, so, I personally am not going to quit Facebook. That seems to me to be an overreaction. But I do not presume to know you well enough to advise you on this matter.

(You're not going to quit Facebook.)

Anything else?

Yes, actually!

Earlier this year there was a minor brouhaha over the news that USAID had introduced a fake Twitter into Cuba in an attempt to foment democracy. It didn't work and they pulled the plug. Let's dress up and play the game pretend: If Facebook has the power to make people arbitrarily happy or sad, it could be quite the force politically in countries where it has a high penetration rate. (Cuba isn't actually one of those countries. According to Freedom House, only 5% of the population has access to the World Wide Web.)

Economic confidence is one of the biggest factors people consider when going to vote. What if for the week before the election your News Feed became filled with posts from your unemployed friends looking for work? Not that Mark Zuckerburg and co. would ever do that, but they could!

Have fun, conspiracy theorists!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Adorable Doughnut Thief Apprehended

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 3:06 PM EDT

Who took the doughnut? Who took the doughnut?

Detective Ben thinks this little girl took the doughnut.

(via Jezebel)

Did the White House Create a Bunch of Fake Lois Lerner Emails?

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 11:53 AM EDT

Howard Kurtz thinks Jon Stewart is going too damn easy on our current president:

When it comes to Obama, the humor is gentle. I do recall Stewart pummeling the president over the botched ObamaCare rollout. But on the IRS scandal this week, he mocked the tax agency for almost criminal stupidity in losing all those emails—but never questioned whether the Obama administration is engaged in a coverup.

Yes, Kurtz actually wrote that. He thinks Jon Stewart should have entertained the possibility that someone in the White House invented a time machine and wrote a bunch of emails in 2011 asking the IT department at the IRS to fix Lois Lerner's crashed hard drive. Maybe it was the same time machine that inserted Obama's birth record in the Honolulu Advertiser in 1961. Or, perhaps, Mission Impossible-like, a crack team of forgers ginned up a bunch of fake emails that just looked like they were from 2011.

Look, I'm not saying that's what's happened. I'm just asking the question. It's what any responsible journalist would do.

Travels Through India's Sexual Revolution

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:01 AM EDT
Anti-molestation street art by Yelahanka Action Heroes

In late 2012, Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student, boarded a bus in Delhi headed towards home. She never made it to her destination. While on the bus, she was gang-raped by six men who left her with fatal injuries. 

But unlike in the past, when Singh's story might have remained hushed, tens of thousands of men and women poured into the streets to protest the rape. This public pressure led to the passage of a bill that criminalized stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment (though it falls short of criminalizing marital rape). The January 2013 anti-rape uprisings are part of a socio-sexual revolution unfolding in India, argues journalist Sally Howard in her book The Kama Sutra Diaries: Intimate Journeys Through Modern India, which hit American shelves in May. 

Anti-rape protests in India Courtesy Sally Howard
 

Originally from the UK, Howard has been traveling to India for the past 15 years, writing for Indian and British publications like the Telegraph, the

Guardian, and the Sunday Times. India is a land steeped in contradiction, observes Howard; a place which gave the world the revolutionary Kama Sutra, but remains hooked on the idea of arranged marriages; "where families bow down to a graphic depiction of a conjoined phallus and vagina, the Shivaling, but where couples are routinely attacked by the police for the indiscretion of holding hands in public," she writes in The Kama Sutra Diaries.

But over the last decade, Howard argues that a sexual revolution has begun in India, one with very different characteristics than the West's transformation during the 1960s. "While the Western sexual revolution was propelled by contraception and feminism," she tells me, "India's revolution has more to do with a young generation rediscovering sex, and pushing up against parental expectations." Today, more than half of India's population is under the age of 25, with 65 percent of the population under 35. "And these young are saying we've had enough, we want to have sex. They're telling their parents 'I don't want the life you have ascribed to me,'" says Howard. 

Kama Sutra temples in Madhya Pradesh Kirat Sodhi
 

Howard's travel partner Dimple, a 32-year-old Delhiite who left a loveless arranged marriage, exemplifies this social shift. "I was married at 21 by arrangement to a man I didn't know," Dimple told Howard. "The consummation of my marriage was like being hit with a cricket bat. Now I'm 32 and I'm a divorcée. My mother, who was herself very unhappy, and my grandmother, couldn't think of getting divorced. So this is a big change for my generation."

Over the course of two years, Howard and Dimple journey to the Kama Sutra temples of Madhya Pradesh, the hillside station at Shimla where Indians had a history of sexual escapades with the colonial British, and to Delhi, rocked by the recent rape uprisings. In Gujarat, Howard interviews a gay prince who is setting up a retirement home for gay and hijra (third gender) Indians, many of whom don't have families to rely on for support as they age.

Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay prince who established a retirement home for eunuchs Hemant Bhavsar
 

Howard's journey voyage helps her uncover some shifts in sexual attitudes across the country. "Middle class Indians are getting more flexibility in choosing their own mate, and finding the space to be together and experimenting," she tells me. And aided by new digital tools, Indians seem more piqued by sex. Over the past decade, Google searches for the word "porn" in India have increased fivefold. In 2012, people in New Delhi searched for the word "porn" at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. A survey by India Today showed that 35 percent of Indian women consume porn as opposed to 13 percent a decade ago. Fifty percent of women disapprove of pre-marital sex, as opposed to 64 percent in 2003.  But remnants of a misogynist past still linger. The same India Today survey revealed that 36 percent of men blamed women's revealing clothes for India's rape crisis.

Not surprisingly, Howard notes, the shift in thinking about sex is happening mostly with younger generations. But that doesn't mean the past is trivial. In fact, India's ancient texts may better inform contemporary lust than America's Puritanical roots. "I hope that the new sexual story the land of the Kama Sutra tells itself will feature some of the depths of romantic feeling of the old courtly poets—that it might rediscover the deep sentiments that gave the world its finest physical embodiment of romantic love: the Taj Mahal."

The Kama Sutra Diaries is equal parts travelogue and cultural analysis, blending vivid characters with upbeat prose and humor. With this entertaining read, Howard pushes past taboo to give us a more exposed India.

Map: These Are the Places Central American Child Migrants Are Fleeing

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:48 PM EDT

A recently produced infographic from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the majority of unaccompanied children coming to the United States are from some of the most violent and impoverished parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The map documents the origins of child migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol from January 1 to May 14. It was made public by Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, and it includes the following analysis about the surge in child migrants:

…Many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating that they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.

This echoes what I found in my yearlong investigation into the explosion of unaccompanied child migrants arriving to the United States. As I wrote in the July/August issue of Mother Jones:

Although some have traveled from as far away as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, the bulk are minors from Mexico and from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which together account for 74 percent of the surge. Long plagued by instability and unrest, these countries have grown especially dangerous in recent years: Honduras imploded following a military coup in 2009 and now has the world's highest murder rate. El Salvador has the second-highest, despite the 2012 gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Guatemala, new territory for the Zetas cartel, has the fifth-highest murder rate; meanwhile, the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production (Guatemala imports half of its corn) and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel.

Below is a more granular look at where kids are coming from, also produced by DHS. San Pedro Sula, the world's most violent city, was home to the largest number of child migrants caught by the Border Patrol (more than 2,500). Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, sent the second-most kids, fewer than 1,000.