Digest: 1 April 2014




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In When Bare Breasts Are a Problem, Thomas Watkins for (Agence France Presse) discusses how compliance with Facebook’s nudity requirements shed light on our society’s tolerance of violence against women. AFP posted a picture of a bare-chested Femen activist on its Facebook page, but censored the picture by covering up the woman’s nipple in order to comply with Facebook’s requirements. But considering the photograph also shows a man’s hands strangling her, and another man lewdly ogling the scene, commentators quickly pointed out that it is strange how we are somehow okay with that, but can’t stand the sight of a nipple. What does it say about Facebook, and more importantly what does it say about the society that indirectly forms Facebook’s rules to reflect its established norms?


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In U.S. Drug War Slowly Shifts Fire Away From Low-Level Users, Jerry Markon (for The Washington Post) discusses how the financial crisis has accelerated the process of treating low-level users as people with a treatable illness instead of as criminals. The drug war started by President Richard Nixon caused an upsurge in drug related incarceration from 41,000 in 1980 to 499,000 in 2011. Despite proving highly questionable both as a matter of policy and enforcement, it seems it took the financial crisis to really cause a shift towards more a more sensible approach. Was it good sense in the face of evidence that better methods exist for dealing with drug problems? Markon argues that it was not; rather it was that there wasn’t enough money after the financial crisis to sustain a large prison population.

In Was Marx Right?, The New York Times hosts a discussion on whether Marx’s critical view of capitalism, long considered faulty particularly with the fall of communism, might need to be reassessed for accuracy. In recent years, many of the traits that Marx envisioned as signaling the faults and the eventual downfall of capitalism have become increasingly evident. These traits include increased concentration of wealth, permanent unemployment, and the lowering of wages. Five debaters, from Left Business Observer, Naked Capitalism, UC Berkeley, American Enterprise Institute, and George Mason University, discuss the question.


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In Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come, Justin Gillis (for The New York Times) discusses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report on the repercussions of failing to adequately respond to climate change. The report concludes with increased certainty that the effects of climate change are already taking place and that they will have repercussions that will effect everyone on the planet.  The effects will be felt disproportionately by the people of the poorest nations, who bear the least responsibility for the causes of the shifts taking place. These nations will suffer particularly from problems related to food supply, and this can cause other problems like social unrest and violent conflict. Massive increases in aid will be needed by poor countries to offset the effects of climate change, but rich countries, facing their own economic uncertainty, and are not stepping up to bridge the gap.


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In Beware the Surveillance Reform Trojan Horse: What’s Not in the New NSA Laws?, Trevor Timm (for The Guardian) discusses two proposals for reforming the NSA’s data collection and argues that these laws may do more to entrench data collection than to stop it. First, neither proposal would end mass surveillance. Also, there are reforms that have been included in the laws such as mechanisms to prevent certain warrantless searches of Americans. And, in the case of the House Intelligence Bill, adding to Timm’s concerns are the people that are sponsoring it and what their support likely suggests as to its content.

In Reforming the NSA: The Rival Plans to Curb Government Surveillance, Spencer Ackerman and Nadja Popovich (for The Guardian) compare three proposals for reform with the current regime. They provide an easy to read chart with the characteristics of the current system set in place by President George W. Bush and carried on by President Obama, and the characteristics of Obama’s proposed plan, and the proposals from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and the House Intelligence Committee. The chart is broken down into sections on data collection, FISA court reforms, and other important provisions.

In ‘Dear to Our Hearts’: The Crimean Crisis from the Kremlin’s Perspective, Matthias Schepp (for Der Spiegel) discusses how Russia’s interest in Crimea exceeds its need to please Europe and the US. From the Russian perspective, the US and Europe through NATO have crossed a red line by pushing Russia into a geopolitical corner that it will not accept. Russia has been fuming at NATO’s encroachments towards its western borders, including taking into its fold numerous former Soviet satellite states and most recently making advances to Ukraine. Putin is essentially saying ‘enough’, the West can complain, but it brought us to this place, and his popularity in Russia seems to be sky-high, and parliamentarians are lining up for the honor of being sanctioned by the West.

In CIA Misled on Interrogation Program, Senate Report Says, Greg Miller, Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima (for The Washington Post) discusses how the CIA misrepresented and concealed information regarding the interrogation program it ran during George W. Bush’s presidency. The report claims that the CIA exaggerated the usefulness of the interrogation techniques, giving them credit for information that was derived without the techniques, and that the techniques in fact were useless as a means of gleaning useful information. Further, the report claims that techniques essentially amounting to torture were used in interrogation that had not been previously disclosed. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the report is not the specifics it highlights, but rather that it shows that statements made by senior CIA officials made false public statements in regards to the CIA’s practices.


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In United States Is Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading to Poor, UN Report Charges, Evelyn Nieves (for AlterNet) discusses the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee that the US is in violation of its responsibilities under international human rights treaty obligations. The report takes issue in particular with US criminalization of homelessness, and the results of the enforcement of that policy which has included the unjustifiable deaths of homeless people as a result of the careless application of the criminal justice system.  The UN has called on the US to change its laws to comport with its obligations. The article quotes the closing remarks of the chairman of the committee, “I’m just simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country, and then be treated as criminals for being without shelter. The idea of criminalizing people who don’t have shelter is something that I think many of my colleagues might find as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.”