A border agent detained two Americans for speaking Spanish in Montana. Now they have sued

The New York Times reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Thursday against United States Customs and Border Protection on behalf of two American women who were stopped last spring in a small Montana city by a border agent who said he was asking for their identification because he heard them speaking Spanish.

The border agent, identified in the lawsuit as Paul A. O’Neal, stopped the women, Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez, inside a convenience store in Havre, Mont., late on May 16, 2018.

The lawsuit alleges that he commented on Ms. Hernandez’s accent, calling it “very strong,” and then asked where they were born. Ms. Hernandez was born in California and Ms. Suda in Texas, the A.C.L.U. said.

When the women expressed shock at the agent’s question, he told them he was “dead serious” and asked to see their identification, the lawsuit alleges.

After they showed the agent their valid Montana driver’s licenses, he briefly detained them in the store’s parking lot, the suit contends. The women then began to film the encounter on their phones, and asked the agent on video why they were being stopped.

“Ma’am the reason I asked you for your ID is I came in here and I saw you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” the agent said, looking into the camera. [Continue reading…]

McCabe’s disturbing account of working for Sessions and Trump

Greg Miller writes:

He didn’t read intelligence reports and mixed up classified material with what he had seen in newspaper clips. He seemed confused about the structure and purpose of organizations and became overwhelmed when meetings covered multiple subjects. He blamed immigrants for nearly every societal problem and uttered racist sentiments with shocking callousness.

This isn’t how President Trump is depicted in a new book by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Instead, it’s McCabe’s account of what it was like to work for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The FBI was better off when “you all only hired Irishmen,” Sessions said in one diatribe about the bureau’s workforce. “They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos — who knows what they’re doing?”

It’s a startling portrait that suggests that the Trump administration’s reputation for baseness and dysfunction has, if anything, been understated and too narrowly attributed to the president. [Continue reading…]

People who are moved by sad music may be better at feeling the pain of others

Amy X. Wang writes:

While research into human cognition has long noted that music—chords, harmonies collections of sound comprising something of a universal language—has a profound relationship to the thoughts and emotions of people all over the world, a study published in the scientific journal Frontiers of Psychology peers into qualities and effects specifically associated with sad music.

Think somber, angsty, tugging-at-your-heartstrings type of melodies. According to the study, appreciation for such melancholy tunes is intriguingly linked to one particular trait: empathy.

People who report being “moved” by sad songs demonstrate higher levels of empathy than their peers, say the study’s three academic authors, who asked 102 participants to listen to a particular piece of music and answer detailed questions about their experience. Those who were barely affected by the music scored low on questions measuring emotional responsiveness to other people, while the opposite held true for people who felt strongly about the music. [Continue reading…]

Music: Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Gaute Storaas, Arve Henriksen, Tigran Hamasyan & Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — ‘Night Encounter’


From Tahrir to Trump: How dignity was reduced to pride

Ece Temelkuran writes:

Thousands of people in Tahrir Square chanted the slogan: “Bread! Dignity! Freedom!” It was 2011, and the height of the Arab spring. Standing on my own in the crowd, I recalled a middle-aged worker I’d met in Buenos Aires a decade earlier telling me why he and his colleagues had taken over a factory during Argentina’s economic collapse. He rattled off reasons such as hunger, poverty and inequality. But then his voice changed: “And the boss … ” he said. “Well, he never said good morning to us and, you know, that destroys your dignity.”

Dignity is a slippery word, almost too elusive a concept to be put in a social contract or win inclusion as a demand from a new political movement. Yet it is the word that best reflects how surviving economic hardship isn’t the only thing that angers poor people. Being messed around, mocked and deprived of the last traces of humanity makes the physical consequences of everyday poverty harder to bear. It was a single mother of four living in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Istanbul, on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, who taught me this. She wasn’t furious when she told me her children went to bed hungry some nights, but she was when she recalled her boss sarcastically saying “but then you do have a sea view”. She quit her job after that, saying: “Oh yes, we dip bread in the sea for our dinner!” Her proud face taught me that defending one’s dignity sometimes tastes sweeter than the bread – yes, even when you’re hungry.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Gezi Park in Istanbul and Puerta del Sol in Madrid: not so long ago these and other places were sites of protest and hope for radical democratic movements that wanted to remake politics and restore people’s dignity. They were either violently suppressed or absorbed into conventional global politics.

Now, once again, millions around the world are protesting. But the mood and the message have changed. This time they are demanding respect for their “truths” and their divisive political choices. The battle for dignity has been replaced by an aggressive assertion of pride – in the nation, or in a particular version of “the people”.

Between the words “dignity” and “pride” there is a world of difference, and that difference is at the heart of the global political and moral mess confronting us now. The need for dignity is inherent to being human, and connected to our love of humankind. Pride, on the other hand, is a facade, it’s about a craving for exclusionary recognition and an answer to the question of who is superior to whom. It is divisive. But when crowds are desperate enough, it is easy for political actors to reduce the need for human dignity to a vindictive clamour for pride. And this is what rightwing populism does. [Continue reading…]

Every day a new low in the Trump White House

Andrew McCabe writes:

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.

A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.

The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”

The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?

He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?

This is what it was like: You could go to any floor and you would see small groups gathering in hallways, some people even crying. The overwhelming majority liked and admired Director Comey—his personal style, the integrity of his conduct. Now we were laboring under the same dank, gray shadow that had been creeping over Washington during the few months Donald Trump had been in office. [Continue reading…]

Trump is making ‘socialism’ sound pretty damn good

Jamelle Bouie writes:

Only a handful of Democrats in Congress (and just one Democrat-adjacent presidential contender) identify as “socialist,” but they appear to be the chief targets of President Trump as he faces a confident Democratic opposition in the House of Representatives. “We are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” he said in his State of the Union address two weeks ago, declaring that “America will never be a socialist country.”

The White House actually presaged this strategy last October, just before the midterm elections, in a report from its Council of Economic Advisers. They cite calls for single-payer health care and higher tax rates as evidence that “socialism is making a comeback in American political discourse,” with, they argue, dire consequences for the American economy. Next came the president’s address to Congress. And this week at a rally in El Paso, Tex., Trump went after the “radical left,” blasting a caricature of progressive climate policies. “I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane flights, of ‘Let’s hop a train to California,’” he said, bizarrely adding that under the Green New Deal resolution introduced by liberal Democrats, “You’re not allowed to own cows anymore.”

The clear expectation is that many or most Americans will recoil at any hint of “socialism,” either on principle or because of its association with Venezuela, which the administration has tried to elevate as a major adversary. That might have been true in Trump’s cultural and political touchstone, the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s hard-line anti-Communism defined American foreign and domestic policy. But in 2019, the Cold War is long over. The Soviet Union is a memory. And there is no comparable global ideological struggle over economic systems that might give weight to Trump’s rhetoric. There’s not much fear to monger. Instead, the president’s decision to make “socialism” his opponent might have the opposite effect, potentially bolstering the movement and its ideals. [Continue reading…]

Trump plans fake national emergency to build border wall as Senate passes spending bill

The New York Times reports:

President Trump plans to declare a national emergency so he can bypass Congress and build his long-promised wall along the border even as he signs a spending bill that does not fund it, the White House said Thursday.

The announcement of his decision came just minutes before the Senate voted 83-16 to advance the spending package in anticipation of final passage on Thursday night by the House.

Mr. Trump’s decision to sign it effectively ends a two-month war of attrition between the president and Congress that closed much of the federal government for 35 days and left it facing a second shutdown as early as Friday, but it could instigate a new constitutional clash over who controls the federal purse. [Continue reading…]

Undefeated, ISIS is back in Iraq

Aziz Ahmad writes:

Inside a prison in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, vanquished Islamic State fighters who once swept through much of the country now mill about sullenly on a bare, tiled floor, reflecting on a cause they insist will endure. Many spend hours in fierce debate, apparently undeterred by their movement’s apparent military defeat. Their cause, they say, remains divinely ordained. Their capture incidental. “Hathi iradet Allah,” they say. This is God’s will.

A Kurdish guard called for a captive, whom I will call Abu Samya—a brooding Baghdad resident kidnapped first by the Islamic State’s forerunner group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later by Shia death squads as sectarian lines hardened in 2006–2007. As he walked toward the guard, some fellow captives condemned him as “kha’in,” or traitor. Outside the walls, long before the caliphate crumbled, that charge carried a death penalty. The jaded jihadist shrugged it off.

After a curt introduction, the thin man leaned across the table, eyeballing me. “There is no life left for me,” he said, in a tone of resignation that seemed briefly to disguise the unmistakable sense of anger years in the making. “Ask me anything.”

For the next two hours, Abu Samya laid bare his transformation from a laborer in a mixed, well-to-do suburb to an inmate in Camp Bucca, the US-run prison that came to define an era of the American occupation of Iraq. The journey took him from political disillusion to ideological commitment, and back again, shaping his values, then shattering them within a decade. [Continue reading…]

AI that writes convincing prose risks mass-producing fake news

MIT Technology Review reports:

Here’s some breaking fake news …

Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally fired a missile in the air.

Russia said it had “identified the missile’s trajectory and will take necessary measures to ensure the security of the Russian population and the country’s strategic nuclear forces.” The White House said it was “extremely concerned by the Russian violation” of a treaty banning intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The US and Russia have had an uneasy relationship since 2014, when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

That story is, in fact, not only fake, but a troubling example of just how good AI is getting at fooling us.

That’s because it wasn’t written by a person; it was auto-generated by an algorithm fed the words “Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally …”

The program made the rest of the story up on its own. And it can make up realistic-seeming news reports on any topic you give it. The program was developed by a team at OpenAI, a research institute based in San Francisco.

The researchers set out to develop a general-purpose language algorithm, trained on a vast amount of text from the web, that would be capable of translating text, answering questions, and performing other useful tasks. But they soon grew concerned about the potential for abuse. “We started testing it, and quickly discovered it’s possible to generate malicious-esque content quite easily,” says Jack Clark, policy director at OpenAI. [Continue reading…]