Big Brother on display… paranoid yet?


Just across the border from the Mexican city of Reynosa, technology is on full display.

As vehicles approach checkpoints, stationary cameras take images of the front and rear license plates, an image of the driver and a color picture of the car. Those images are then run through a database to check for criminal records, immigration law violations or terrorist activities.

The cameras also store in a database the location of the vehicle and the date the image was taken — even if a search does not trigger an alert on passengers in the vehicles.

Patagonia’s CEO Is Ready To Lead The Corporate Resistance To Donald Trump


NEW YORK ― On a cloudy May morning, Rose Marcario, the chief executive of outdoor retailer Patagonia, stared out a second-story window of a Manhattan restaurant, watching construction workers jackhammer the street below. The workers made her think of her grandfather, an Italian immigrant who, after making it through Ellis Island in the 1920s, got his first job digging the streets of this city. He earned 10 cents a day and had to bring his own shovel. People regularly spat at him and sneered at his broken English.


“He’d tell me, ‘I didn’t mind that, because I knew that someday in the future, you were going to have a better life,’” she recalled.


His sacrifice has been weighing on Marcario lately. She isn’t a parent herself, but she thinks of her young cousins, nieces and nephews. She wants them to inherit a planet with a stable climate and normal sea levels ― a country that still has some pristine wilderness left. Her job ― running a privately held company with roughly $800 million in annual revenue and stores in 16 states plus D.C. ― provides her a much bigger platform to influence their lives than anyone in her family had two generations ago.

It’s also why she’s decided to take on the president of the United States to stop him from rolling back decades of public land protections.


“We have to fight like hell to keep every inch of public land,” Marcario, 52, told HuffPost last month. “I don’t have a lot of faith in politics and politicians right now.”

Ventura, California-based Patagonia has taken on a number of national conservation efforts since environmentalist and rock climber Yvon Chouinard founded it in 1973. In 1988, the firm launched a campaign to restore the natural splendor of Yosemite Valley, which was being destroyed by cars and lodges. The company took on a more consumer-centric approach, launching an ad campaign in 2011 urging customers not to buy its jackets in an attempt to address rampant waste in the fashion industry.


The company was relatively quiet for the first two years after Marcario took the top spot in 2014. But she grew dismayed as environmental and climate issues took a backseat in the 2016 election, despite the stark difference between the two top candidates’ views. She worried the vicious mudslinging of the election would turn off voters.

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Must-See Congressional Hearings Go Back Decades Listen ~ June 17, 2017







Nearly 20 million people tuned in to watch former FBI Director James Comey testify before the Senate earlier this month. But other episodes in history have been just as dramatic.


Forty-five years ago today, there was a burglary. You may have heard of it. It involved the Watergate Hotel – first, the break-in, then the political cover-up, and, ultimately, the president’s resignation. The congressional hearings on the Watergate scandal were must-see TV, making stars of senators and political junkies of a generation.


Does Trump Embarrass You?


About a week ago, CNN pulled the plug on its show “Believer,” hosted by the religion scholar Reza Aslan. Network executives made the decision after Mr. Aslan, angered by what he deemed Donald Trump’s callous response to the terrorist attack at London Bridge, wrote on Twitter that President Trump was “not just an embarrassment to America” but also “an embarrassment to humankind.” (There was an expletive, too.)

While people can debate the merits of CNN’s move, Mr. Aslan’s opinion of the president as an embarrassment is widely shared. Polling by the McClatchy news organization and Marist College shows that while 30 percent of Americans are “proud” to have Mr. Trump as their president, 60 percent say they’re “embarrassed” by him.

Embarrassment is obviously an uncomfortable sensation — and embarrassment at the blundering and misbehavior of the leader of the free world is no exception. But research by sociologists and psychologists suggests embarrassment is, socially speaking, a valuable emotion. For opponents of President Trump, might it prove politically valuable, too?

About a week ago, CNN pulled the plug on its show “Believer,” hosted by the religion scholar Reza Aslan. Network executives made the decision after Mr. Aslan, angered by what he deemed Donald Trump’s callous response to the terrorist attack at London Bridge, wrote on Twitter that President Trump was “not just an embarrassment to America” but also “an embarrassment to humankind.” (There was an expletive, too.)

While people can debate the merits of CNN’s move, Mr. Aslan’s opinion of the president as an embarrassment is widely shared. Polling by the McClatchy news organization and Marist College shows that while 30 percent of Americans are “proud” to have Mr. Trump as their president, 60 percent say they’re “embarrassed” by him.

Embarrassment is obviously an uncomfortable sensation — and embarrassment at the blundering and misbehavior of the leader of the free world is no exception. But research by sociologists and psychologists suggests embarrassment is, socially speaking, a valuable emotion. For opponents of President Trump, might it prove politically valuable, too?

The sociologist Erving Goffman gave a classic analysis of embarrassment in 1956. He started by scrutinizing the sort of personal mortification all of us experience from time to time.

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The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women


For women in business and beyond, it was an I-told-you-so day.

The twin spectacles Tuesday — an Uber board member’s wisecrack about women talking too much, and Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, being interrupted for the second time in a week by her male colleagues — triggered an outpouring of recognition and what has become almost ritual social-media outrage.

Academic studies and countless anecdotes make it clear that being interrupted, talked over, shut down or penalized for speaking out is nearly a universal experience for women when they are outnumbered by men.

A few statistics show that the questions directed at Uber about how women fare in the workplace extend beyond one company, and indeed beyond Silicon Valley. Women make up 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executive officers and 19.4 percent of Congress this year. About a fifth of board members in Fortune 500 companies in 2016 were women, according to research conducted by Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity.

After Arianna Huffington, an Uber director, spoke of how important it was to increase the number of women on the board, David Bonderman said that would mean more talking. He soon resigned from the board. Even in companies without notorious bro-cultures, however, women have had to struggle to feel heard and, as the numbers make clear, to advance to the top.


A Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theorist, a False Tweet and a Runaway Story


WASHINGTON — Jack Posobiec had his Twitter sights set on James B. Comey.

A pro-Trump activist notorious for his amateur sleuthing into red herrings like the “Pizzagate” hoax and a conspiracy theory involving the murder of a Democratic aide, Mr. Posobiec wrote on May 17 that Mr. Comey, the recently ousted F.B.I. director, had “said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation.”

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It mattered little that Mr. Comey had said no such thing. The tweet quickly ricocheted through the ecosystem of fake news and disinformation on the far right, where Trump partisans like Mr. Posobiec have intensified their efforts to sow doubt about the legitimacy of expanding investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

But as the journey of that one tweet shows, misinformed, distorted and false stories are gaining traction far beyond the fringes of the internet. Just 14 words from Mr. Posobiec’s Twitter account would spread far enough to provide grist for a prime-time Fox News commentary and a Rush Limbaugh monologue that reached millions of listeners, forging an alternative first draft of history in corners of the conservative media where President Trump’s troubles are often explained away as fabrications by his journalist enemies.

In this fragmented media environment, the spread of false information is accelerated and amplified by a web of allied activist-journalists with large online followings, a White House that grants them access and, occasionally, a president who validates their work. The right-wing media machine that President Bill Clinton’s aides once referred to as “conspiracy commerce” is now far more mature, extensive and, in the internet age, tough to counter.

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“Trump’s Incompetence Won’t Save Our Democracy:” Masha Gessen for the New York Times


On those few occasions when Trump now emerges from behind his self-imposed Twitter wall, Americans are provided a brief glimpse of just how fundamentally inept and unsuited he is for the task of the Presidency. His European trip provided the most recent example as he proceeded to stumble through simple photo-ops and interviews, making juvenile gaffes and clumsy mistakes. If nothing else was accomplished on that trip, it underscored his incapacity at the job. For some, that was a source of a peculiar relief—after all, how much harm can an incompetent do?

Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen has emerged as well, as one of the most perceptive critics of the Trump Administration since the election. Her article, Autocracy: Rules For Survival is now mandatory reading for anyone seeking to make sense of the national catastrophe that has befallen us. As a longtime, outspoken opponent of Vladimir Putin (she is the author of The Man Without A Face: The unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin”) Gessen often teases out uncanny parallels between the Russian despot and his sycophantic admirer in the Oval Office. In doing so she opens a window into a dark world of autocratic misrule that we as Americans– until this point in time– had the good fortune to escape.

Writing for the New York Times this weekend, Gessen takes on the assumption that Trump’s painfully obvious incompetence at mastering the art of the U.S. Presidency might somehow prevent or forestall the horrendous damage he has already begun to wreak on the country and the world:

Can an autocrat be ridiculous? Can a democracy be destroyed by someone who has only the barest idea of what the word “democracy” means? Can pure incompetence plunge the world into a catastrophic war? We don’t like to think so.

Trump’s grandiose buffoonery, lack of social skills, manners or class, and sheer ignorance have made him the butt of withering jokes and sneers from whole swaths of the American population, particularly the educated and professional classes. The Western European Democracies have demonstrated their contempt as well, but their disdain is more reflexive, grounded in painful historical experience. Reflecting on the recent French election in which voters resoundingly repudiated the ultra-nationalist, “Trumpian”  Marine Le Pen, the writer James Traub commented:

A tragic history has taught the French never to take their values for granted….The French know that you cannot trifle with history; Americans have had fewer reasons in modern times to worry about the dark consequences of political choices.

Unfortunately, Americans have never had to contend with quite the same situation: an impervious, rigid, autocratic presence in the White House, coupled with the reality that the same Autocrat with pretensions of grandeur is an utter fool. A nation that historically prides itself on its sophistication and competence, even mastery, of all things from economy to warfare will naturally have a hard time internalizing the fact that a delusional egomaniac with no demonstrable intellect, talent, or other redeeming quality can bring the entire nation down with his fumbling grasp.  Even George W. Bush, seen by many as a President far out of his depth, had the political experience to surround himself (mostly) with competent, if rigidly ideological people with at least a cognizance of basic governmental protocols. Trump’s modus operandi appears to be to obstinately thumb his nose at all of the country’s institutions, with a heedless disregard to history or the consequences of his acts.

But that utter lack of interest, that stunning embrace of ignorance, is exactly what Trump tapped into in order to get where he is today. By and large his voting base is made of those who shun complexity and deliberately shut their ears to complicated solutions.  These are people for whom ignorance is a warm cocoon against the realities of modern existence. These are the people who want to “build a wall” or “bring back coal.”  They embrace the rejection of reason and science that Trump embodies. This simplistic, anti-intellectual attitude, with a dose of media-generated charisma thrown in, is terribly appealing to many millions of Americans.

Gessen questions the popular perception that history’s worst actors, the Hitlers, the Stalins, the Mussolinis, were the “evil geniuses” that the scope of their crimes suggest. In fact, they were starkly mediocre men:

We imagine the villains of history as cunning strategists, brilliant masterminds of horror. This happens because we learn about them from history books, which weave narratives that retrospectively imbue events with logic, making them seem predetermined.


But a careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.

Gessen has personal experience with Putin, having been, as she notes, one of the few people to have been permitted an unscripted interview with him:

I can vouch for the fact that he is a poorly educated, under-informed, incurious man whose ambition is vastly out of proportion to his understanding of the world. To the extent that he has any interest in the business of governing, it is his role — on the world stage or on Russian television — that concerns him.

This same lack of imagination and mediocrity,–a “militant incompetence”– is exactly what Trump has demonstrated in virtually every significant action he has taken thus far, from his Cabinet appointments of people who revile the agencies they are now tasked to lead (read: “dismantle”), to his interactions with foreign leaders. As Gessen points out, Trump is far more interested in being seen as someone who is “in charge” than whatever consequences of his decisions may follow.

The arbitrary and senseless withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement is simply the most recent example of this. The travel ban on Muslims was one of the first. The pointless launch of Tomahawk missiles wasted on a Syrian airfield, the dropping of a MOAB bomb for the spectacle of it, are others. The sole goal is to appear “decisive,” no matter how abominably bad and uninformed the “decision” turns out to be, no matter what terrible consequences may flow from it, and many in this country—including many in the media—are all too eager and willing to accept it and genuflect to the simple exercise of raw power.

Gessen concludes that Trump’s basic mindset is simply the mindset of other autocratic tyrants throughout modern history:

Mr. Trump has admitted that being president is harder than he thought. He does not, however, appear to be humbled by this discovery. More likely, he is, in keeping with his understanding of politics, resentful because his opponents — his predecessor, the elites, the establishment — have made things so complicated. If they had not, things would be as he thinks they should be: One man would give orders, and they would be carried out. He would not have to deal with recalcitrant legislators or, worse, meddlesome investigators. One nation, with the biggest bombs in the world, would dominate every other country and would not have to concern itself with the endlessly intricate relationships among and between all those other countries.

From Hitler to Mao to Pol Pot, ordinary, untalented and barely marginally competent people placed into positions of power in the right place at the right time have wreaked tremendous, lasting damage on human society, during the last century alone. The fact that they happened to be mundane, incompetent human beings didn’t save the world from the consequences of their acts.  All they needed was a set of tools at their disposal, and a willing segment of their society to cheer them on.



The Koch Brothers used to fly far below the radar. Now their astounding influence-buying and efforts to keep the U.S. from embracing climate-change legislation have become more obvious. PHOTOGRAPH BY JOE KLAMAR / AFP / GETTY


If there was any lingering doubt that a tiny clique of fossil-fuel barons has captured America’s energy and environmental policies, it was dispelled last week, when the Trump Administration withdrew from the Paris climate accordSurveys showed that a majority of Americans in literally every state wanted to remain within the agreement, and news reports established that the heads of many of the country’s most successful and iconic Fortune 100 companies, from Disney to General Electric, did, too. Voters and big business were arrayed against leaving the climate agreement. Yet despite the majority’s sentiment, a tiny—and until recently, almost faceless—minority somehow prevailed.

How this happened is no longer a secret. The answer, as the New York Timesreported, on Sunday, is “a story of big political money.” It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history.

As the climate scientist Michael Mann put it to me in my book “Dark Money,” when attempting to explain why the Republican Party has moved in the opposite direction from virtually the rest of the world, “We are talking about a direct challenge to the most powerful industry that has ever existed on the face of the Earth. There’s no depth to which they’re unwilling to sink to challenge anything threatening their interests.” For most of the world’s population, the costs of inaction on climate change far outweigh that of action. But for the fossil-fuel industry, he said, “It’s like the switch from whale oil in the nineteenth century. They’re fighting to maintain the status quo, no matter how dumb.”

Until recently, those buying the fealty of the Republican Party on these issues tried to hide their sway, manipulating politics from the wings. But what became clear this past weekend is that they can remain anonymous no longer. With their success dictating America’s climate policy, the fossil-fuel industry’s political heavyweights have also won new notoriety. Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of the Kansas-based fossil-fuel leviathan Koch Industries, used to attract attention only from environmental groups such as Greenpeace, which labelled them “the Kingpins of Climate Denial.” They were so secretive about their political activities that, when I first wrote about their tactics in The New Yorker, in 2010, the article was titled “Covert Operations.” But now references to the Kochs are becoming almost as commonplace as the Dixie Cups, Lycra, and other household products that their business produces. As the Times noted, Republican lawmakers’ swerves to the right on climate issues “did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil-fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries. . . .” The Kochs were called out on the Sunday talk shows this past weekend, too. On ABC’s “This Week,” former Vice-President Al Gore cited “dark money” from fossil-fuel companies as the explanation for Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord; on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former Secretary of State John Kerry specifically chastised the Kochs.

Now that they have been flushed from the shadows, the Kochs and their political operatives have proudly taken credit for obstructing the U.S. government from addressing climate change. Charles Koch, who is a hardcore libertarian, has argued that government action was only “making people’s lives worse, rather than better,” as he put it in an interview with Fortune last year. Meanwhile, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ main political-advocacy organization, has boasted about the group’s success in killing the careers of politicians who broke with the brothers’ anti-climate-change agenda. Phillips recounted to the Times that, after 2010, when the group spent tens of millions of dollars in campaigns aimed at defeating congressmen who wanted to take action on climate change, no Republican candidate has dared cross the Kochs on the issue again. “After that,” he said, support for renewable energy “disappeared from Republican ads. Part of that was the polling, and part of that was the visceral example of what happened to their colleagues who had done that. . . . It told the Republicans that we were serious, that we would spend some serious money against them.”


Dunning-Kruger Effect ~ How dumb are Trump supporters? By Rika Christensen


How the hell can anybody call themselves intelligent when they’re supporting Donald Trump? It’s a question that baffles people who are able to think critically, able to read and comprehend both history and current events, and able to see through Trump’s thin façade of know-it-all-ism and deep into what he is – an ignorant, narcissistic, and dangerous conman.

Trump supporters not only don’t see this, they’re happy that there’s someone running for president that thinks exactly like them. Take Melanie Austin, of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. She thought her beliefs about Obama being a gay Muslim from Kenya and Michelle being transgender were just fringe beliefs – right up until she started hearing similar stuff from Trump and other right-wing extremists.

Now she knows she’s right about all of this. You can’t tell her that she’s ignorant and dumb if she can’t figure this out for herself. You can’t tell her she’s delusional. You can sit there with her, and countless others like her, and present facts, figures, charts, studies, and more, all from the most reputable sources there are, and prove that her lord and savior is wrong, and you’ll still get shot down.

There’s more to this than the problem of confirmation bias. Austin gets much of her information from fringe right-wing blogs and conspiracy sites, but that’s not all of it. Many of Trump’s supporters are seriously too dumb to know they’re dumb. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s an unshakeable illusion that you’re much smarter, and more skilled and/or knowledgeable, than you really are.

People like Austin labor under the illusion that their knowledge about things is at least as good as, if not better than, the actual facts. For these people, though, their knowledge isn’t just superior – it’s superior even to those who have intimate and detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. Trump himself has exemplified this countless times, such as when he claimed he knows more about ISISthan even our military generals do.

His fans simply take his word for it, and believe that because he knows, they know. They are literally incapable of seeing that they don’t know.

To be sure, the Dunning-Kruger effect is present everyone all across the political spectrum, and indeed, in every walk of life. We all overestimate our abilities and knowledge somewhere. However, the effect is especially pronounced in people with limited intellectual and social skills:

“[P]eople who are unskilled in [intellectual and social domains] suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

So basically, yes, it’s possible to be too dumb to realize you’re dumb.

In four separate studies, people who scored in the bottom quarter on tests involving everything from humor to logic, and even to grammar, grossly overestimated where they thought they would score. They averaged scores in the 12th percentile, while their average estimate of their own scores was the 62nd percentile.

The researchers attribute that huge discrepancy to a literal inability to distinguish accuracy from error. Or, to put it another way, those who are the most lacking in skills and knowledge are the least able to see it.

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STATE OF (TRUMP’S) MIND Trump wasn’t always so linguistically challenged.

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MAY 23, 2017

It was the kind of utterance that makes professional transcribers question their career choice:

“ … there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians, zero.”

When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the latest example of his tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and apparent trouble formulating complete sentences, let alone a coherent paragraph, in unscripted speech.

He was not always so linguistically challenged.

STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable.

Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump’s speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.

In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print. This was so even when reporters asked tough questions about, for instance, his divorce, his brush with bankruptcy, and why he doesn’t build housing for working-class Americans.

Trump fluently peppered his answers with words and phrases such as “subsided,” “inclination,” “discredited,” “sparring session,” and “a certain innate intelligence.” He tossed off well-turned sentences such as, “It could have been a contentious route,” and, “These are the only casinos in the United States that are so rated.” He even offered thoughtful, articulate aphorisms: “If you get into what’s missing, you don’t appreciate what you have,” and, “Adversity is a very funny thing.”

Now, Trump’s vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one, as in this answer during an interview with the Associated Press last month:

“People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. Big, big, big advantage. … The Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall.”

For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.