Thursday, March 22, 2018

Salena Zito and Brad Todd, The Great Revolt


This one's out May 8th. I can't wait to read it.

At Amazon, Salena Zito and Brad Todd, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, A Kind of Freedom


At Amazon, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, A Kind of Freedom: A Novel.

Sara Jean Underwood

At Drunken Stepfather, "SARA JEAN UNDERWOOD OF THE DAY."

And on Twitter:

Conservative Amnesia

Center-right parties in Europe have forgotten how to be conservative, argues Jan-Werner Mueller, at Foreign Policy, "Europe Forgot What ‘Conservative’ Means":

Conventional wisdom has it that Europe’s social democrats are in terminal decline. In recent elections in Italy, Germany, and France, once proud left-wing mass parties have been reduced to at best getting a fifth of the vote. The obvious flip side of the mainstream left’s decline seems to be that populists but also the center-right are faring well. In fact, this picture is highly misleading. Center-right parties — European Christian democrats above all — face a real crisis. It is increasingly unclear what they stand for, and, unlike social democrats, they are in real danger of being replaced by the populist right.

Social democrats have been struggling because the “Third Way” pursued by leaders such as Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder during the late 1990s left them with an enormous credibility problem. They had not just tolerated but actively furthered finance capitalism; deregulation and increasing inequality happened under the watch of nominally left-wing governments, which today are perceived as having betrayed socialist ideals. But, importantly, it is not really in doubt what these ideals are. As the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn in last year’s British general elections demonstrated, the left can still do remarkably well, under two conditions: Social democrats have to restore their credibility and reorient public attention away from the one issue that is most likely to split its core constituency — immigration. Whether one likes Corbyn’s ideas or not, it is remarkable that a grassroots movement, Momentum, largely captured the Labour Party and effectively erased its toxic association with the widely discredited Blairism.

In somewhat similar fashion, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been trying to assert an agenda offering better protection for workers and more accessible health care. While this month’s decision to re-enter a grand coalition with the Christian Democrats has temporarily obscured this reorientation, the SPD will likely continue to sharpen its profile as a distinctively left-wing party in government.

If one asks, by contrast, what exactly Europe’s center-right stands for today, most citizens will be unable to articulate an answer. This has partly to do with historical amnesia — including forgetfulness on the part of center-right leaders themselves. After World War II, Christian democrats dominated politics in Germany, Italy, and, to a lesser extent, France. The circumstances were uniquely favorable for such moderate center-right parties, which claimed a religious, though nonsectarian, inspiration. Fascism had discredited the nationalist right; the horrors of the midcentury made many Europeans look for moral certainty in religion; and in the context of the Cold War, Christian democrats presented themselves as quintessentially anti-communist actors. Not least, they suggested that there was an affinity between the materialism of classical liberalism on the one hand and communism on the other — and that they were the only parties that clearly rejected both in favor of communitarian values. It is virtually forgotten today that Christian democratic parties had strong progressive elements — even if one occasionally gets a glimpse of that past: Matteo Renzi, who resigned as leader of Italy’s major left-wing party this month, had actually started his political life as a Christian Democrat.

Above all, Christian democrats were the original architects of European integration. They deeply distrusted the nation-state; the fact that, in the 19th century, both the newly unified Italy and the Germany united by Otto von Bismarck had waged prolonged culture wars against Catholics was seared in their collective memory. European integration also chimed with a distinct Christian democratic approach to politics in general: the imperative to mediate among distinct identities and interests. Ultimately, this quest for compromise among different groups (and, in Europe, states) went back to Pope Leo XIII’s idea — directed against rising socialist parties — that capital and labor could work together for the benefit of all in a harmonious society. Christian democracy had been a creation to avoid both culture war and class conflict.

Little is left of these legacies today. Christian democrats and other center-right parties continue to be pragmatists, but it is often unclear what, other than the imperative to preserve power, animates them in the first place. The European Union’s three main presidents — of the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council — are all Christian democrats. Yet none of them has advanced a bold vision for the union as a whole. All seem to take it for granted that citizens are wary of further integration. To be sure, this is the narrative right-wing populists push, but evidence from surveys is far more ambiguous.

Whether or not to adapt to right-wing populism constitutes the major strategic dilemma for Europe’s center-right today...
Actually, Christian Democrats today --- think Angela Merkel --- are basically leftists. Yeah, they better learn how to be conservative again, or be relegated to the dustbin of history. They need to conserve their own societies, for one thing. Sheesh.

But keep reading.

Gold Box and Lightning Deals

At Amazon, Today's Deals: New deals. Every day. Shop our Deal of the Day, Lightning Deals and more daily deals and limited-time sales.

And especially, Dell Latitude 5480 14" Notebook, Full-HD Touchscreen, Intel Core i5-6300U Dual-Core, 16GB DDR4, 256GB Solid State Drive, 802.11ac, Backlit Keyboard, Bluetooth, Win10Pro (Certified Refurbished).

More, Kanu Surf Men's Barracuda Swim Trunk.

And, Military Outdoor Clothing Never Issued U.S. Military Canteen.

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Still more, Tide Mountain Spring HE Turbo Powder Laundry Detergent, 68 Loads 95 Ounce.

BONUS: Saul Bellow, Humbolt's Gift.

Ralph Peters Quits Fox News

At BuzzFeed, pretty sensational, "An 'Ashamed' Fox News Commentator Just Quit the 'Propaganda Machine'."

On March 1st, I informed Fox that I would not renew my contract. The purpose of this message to all of you is twofold:

First, I must thank each of you for the cooperation and support you've shown me over the years. Those working off-camera, the bookers and producers, don't often get the recognition you deserve, but I want you to know that I have always appreciated the challenges you face and the skill with which you master them.

Second, I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to "support and defend the Constitution," and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts--who have never served our country in any capacity--dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller--all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of "deep-state" machinations-- I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin's agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the "nothing-burger" has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true--that's how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

I do not apply the above criticisms in full to Fox Business, where numerous hosts retain a respect for facts and maintain a measure of integrity (nor is every host at Fox News a propaganda mouthpiece--some have shown courage). I have enjoyed and valued my relationship with Fox Business, and I will miss a number of hosts and staff members. You're the grown-ups.

Also, I deeply respect the hard-news reporters at Fox, who continue to do their best as talented professionals in a poisoned environment. These are some of the best men and women in the business..

So, to all of you: Thanks, and, as our president's favorite world leader would say, "Das vidanya."

O.C. Resident Say NIMBY to the Homeless

Of course.

At LAT, "Some OC residents: We want to help the homeless — just don't put them in our neighborhoods."

Austin Bombing Suspect Identified as Mark A. Conditt (VIDEO)

He's dead. Blew himself up in a standoff with SWAT, apparently.

At the Austin-American Statesman, "Authorities: Bombing suspect was Pflugerville resident Mark A. Conditt."

Also, "Bombing suspect sought other addresses in Austin area before death, source says." (Via Memeorandum.)

And at CBS This Morning:

Three Women Take Legal Action Against President Trump (VIDEO)

The more legal threats against President Trump, the more I'm convinced all the #MeToo activism was about battlespace preparation for taking down this presidency.

At ABC News:'

Perky Lottie Moss in Sheer Crop Top in Hollywood

At the Sun U.K., "HOTTIE MOSS: Lottie Moss pictured looking perky in sheer crop top while out for a stroll in Hollywood - Lottie's showing the world that she's not a fan of covering up."

BONUS: "Lottie Moss looks incredible as she soaks up the sun in a white bikini on the beach in Miami: LOTTIE Moss looks sensational as she hits the beach in Miami wearing a white bikini, showcasing her amazing figure and prominent tattoos."

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Dara Kristen Hayes Bikini Photos


Garry Kasparov, Winter Is Coming

I really need to read this.

It's out in paperback.

At Amazon, from Garry Kasparov, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.

Garry Kasparov photo WinterIsComing.jpg-1-sm_zpsa1jrnq2u.jpg

Facebook's Existential Crisis

Following-up from yesterday, "Facebook Breach Ignites Uproar."

I'm actually getting a kick out of this.

At CNN, "Facebook is facing an existential crisis."

And from January, at Vanity Fair, a great piece, "'This Is Serious': Facebook Begins Its Downward Spiral":
Facebook was always famous for the sign that hung in its offices, written in big red type on a white background, that said “Move Fast and Break Things.” Every time I think about the company, I realize it has done just that — to itself.

Years ago, long before Mark Zuckerberg became Mark Zuckerberg, the young founder reached out to a friend of mine who had also started a company, albeit a considerably smaller one, in the social-media space, and suggested they get together. As Facebook has grown into a global colossus that connects about a third of the globe, Zuckerberg has subsequently assumed a reputation as an aloof megalomaniac deeply out of touch with the people who use his product. But back then, when he only had 100 million users on his platform, he wasn’t perceived that way. When he reached out to my friend, Zuckerberg was solicitous. He made overtures that suggested a possible acquisition—and once rebuffed, returned with the notion that perhaps Facebook could at least partner with my friend’s company. The chief of the little start-up was excited by the seemingly harmless, even humble, proposition from the growing hegemon. Zuckerberg suggested that the two guys take a walk.

Taking a walk, it should be noted, was Zuckerberg’s thing. He regularly took potential recruits and acquisition targets on long walks in the nearby woods to try to convince them to join his company. After the walk with my friend, Zuckerberg appeared to take the relationship to the next level. He initiated a series of conference calls with his underlings in Facebook’s product group. My friend’s small start-up shared their product road map with Facebook’s business-development team. It all seemed very collegial, and really exciting. And then, after some weeks passed, the C.E.O. of the little start-up saw the news break that Facebook had just launched a new product that competed with his own.

Stories about Facebook’s ruthlessness are legend in Silicon Valley, New York, and Hollywood. The company has behaved as bullies often do when they are vying for global dominance—slurping the lifeblood out of its competitors (as it did most recently with Snap, after C.E.O. Evan Spiegel also rebuffed Zuckerberg’s acquisition attempt), blatantly copying key features (as it did with Snapchat’s Stories), taking ideas (remember those Winklevoss twins?), and poaching senior executives (Facebook is crawling with former Twitter, Google, and Apple personnel). Zuckerberg may look aloof, but there are stories of him giving rousing Braveheart-esque speeches to employees, sometimes in Latin. Twitter, Snap, and Foursquare have all been marooned, at various points, because of Facebook’s implacable desire to grow. Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus VR, and dozens of others are breathing life because they assented to Facebook’s acquisition desires. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg moved quickly to circumnavigate regulations before governments realized the problems that Facebook created—and certainly before they understood exactly how dangerous a social network can be to their citizens’ privacy, and to a democracy as a whole.

From a business standpoint, Facebook’s barbarism seemed to work out well for the company. The social network is worth over half-a-trillion dollars, and Zuckerberg himself is worth some $76 billion. Facebook has some of the smartest engineers and executives in the entire industry. But the fallout from that success has also become increasingly obvious, especially since the 2016 election, which prompted a year of public relations battles over the company’s most fundamental problems. And now, as we enter 2018, Zuckerberg is finally owning up to it: Facebook is in real trouble.

During the past six months alone, countless executives who once worked for the company are publicly articulating the perils of social media on both their families and democracy. Chamath Palihapitiya, an early executive, said social networks “are destroying how society works”; Sean Parker, its founding president, said “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” (Just this weekend, Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said he won’t let his nephew on social media.) Over the past year, people I have spoken to internally at the company have voiced concerns for what Facebook is doing (or most recently, has done) to society. Many begin the conversation by rattling off a long list of great things that Facebook inarguably does for the world—bring people and communities together, help people organize around like-minded positive events—but, as if in slow motion, those same people recount the negatives. Unable to hide from the reality of what social media has wrought, Facebook has been left with no choice but to engage with people and the media to explore if it is possible to fix these problems. Zuckerberg determined that his 2018 annual challenge would be fixing his own Web site, noting that “the world feels anxious and divided,” and that Facebook might—just maybe—be contributing to that. “My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues,” he wrote. Now, the company has said it’s going to change the focus of the site to be less about news and more about human connections.

The question, of course, revolves around this underlying motivation. Is Zuckerberg saying this because he really does worry what the world might look like tomorrow if we continue headed in the direction we’re going? Is Facebook eliminating news from its site because it realizes that spotting “fake news” is too difficult to solve—even for Facebook? Or, as some people have posited to me, is Facebook rethinking the divide it has created in order to keep growing? After all, much of Zuckerberg’s remaining growth opportunity centers upon China, and the People’s Republic won’t let any product (digital or otherwise) enter its borders if there’s a chance it could disrupt the government’s control. Why would the Chinese Politburo open its doors to a force that could conspire in its own Trumpification or Brexit or similar populist unrest?

There’s another theory floating around as to why Facebook cares so much about the way it’s impacting the world, and it’s one that I happen to agree with. When Zuckerberg looks into his big-data crystal ball, he can see a troublesome trend occurring. A few years ago, for example, there wasn’t a single person I knew who didn’t have Facebook on their smartphone. These days, it’s the opposite. This is largely anecdotal, but almost everyone I know has deleted at least one social app from their devices. And Facebook is almost always the first to go. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other sneaky privacy-piercing applications are being removed by people who simply feel icky about what these platforms are doing to them, and to society.

Some people are terrified that these services are listening in to their private conversations. (The company’s anti-privacy tentacles go so far as to track the dust on your phone to see who you might be spending time with.) Others are sick of getting into an argument with a long-lost cousin, or that guy from high school who still works in the same coffee shop, over something that Trump said, or a “news” article that is full of more bias and false facts. And then there’s the main reason I think people are abandoning these platforms: Facebook knows us better than we know ourselves, with its algorithms that can predict if we’re going to cheat on our spouse, start looking for a new job, or buy a new water bottle on Amazon in a few weeks. It knows how to send us the exact right number of pop-ups to get our endorphins going, or not show us how many Likes we really have to set off our insecurities. As a society, we feel like we’re at war with a computer algorithm, and the only winning move is not to play...
Still more.

Nerve Agent Attack in Britain Escalates Tensions with Russia

This is freakin' gnarly!

At Der Spiegel, "From Russia with Death: A Soviet Nerve Agent Triggers a New Cold War":

The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier this month has significantly worsened already tense relations between Moscow and the West. The crime marks the first chemical weapons attack on Western Europe since the end of World War II.

Vil Mirzayanov's home is located at the edge of a forest near Princeton, New Jersey. There's no buzzer, just a gate and behind it a long driveway leading up to the residence. The trees are still covered with snow. The gate opens and a man with a high forehead and white hair stretches out his hand in greeting. It's Mirzayanov, one of the creators behind the poison.

The 83-year-old wearing professorial eyeglasses walks cautiously. He invites the reporter into his living room and takes a seat in a leather armchair. He is ready, he says, to talk about the poison that he helped develop in the late 1980s and early 1990s for the Soviet government. A poison that was recently used in the first neurotoxin attack seen in Western Europe since the end of World War II. The substance is known as Novichok (Russian for "newcomer") and it is used for an entire group of nerve agents. All of them are deadly. In fact, it is one of the most dangerous toxins ever to have been produced by humans.

"I've led the fight against Novichok for the past 26 years," Mirzayanov says of a substance that has always haunted him for half his life.

He didn't invent the toxin, he says, but freely admits that he was involved in its development. He says he tested the substance on animals at the time -- on dogs and other species, which he then watched die in misery. The attack in Britain, he says, is the first time he knows of his poison being used on human beings.

Novichok is the chemical agent that was used to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, a small, idyllic English city. Both have been fighting for their lives in the hospital ever since.

Tensions Worsen Dramatically

The attack using the nerve agent has triggered a serious diplomatic crisis between Russia, Britain and the entire West, with already tense relations having worsened dramatically. If Russia is unable to provide a better explanation, British Prime Minister Theresa May said earlier this week, then the attack will be seen as "an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom." She said the nerve agent had been developed in Russia and, assuming that Russia didn't lose control over the toxin, it's "highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act."

Moscow countered that it had nothing to do with the attack and instead pointed the finger at other possible perpetrators, particularly the West. NATO and the European Union are currently deliberating over a response.

All because of Mirzayanov's poison.

It's a story reminiscent of a spy film. It involves undercover agents and oligarchs, betrayal and revenge. And nerve agents. It seems fitting that Mirzayanov himself is also a former Russian intelligence agent who now lives in exile in the United States.

He seems almost happy that someone has come to listen to him. And yet the whole world now wants to learn more about the kind of research he was doing in Mikhail Gorbachev's secret laboratories.

Mirzayanov began working as a chemist for the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) in the mid-1960s. Later, he and other researchers were requisitioned to a military laboratory responsible for the production of chemical weapons, a top-secret program that operated under the codename "Foliant." In the mid-1980s, he was chosen to lead the institute's counterespionage department.

Novichok is "extremely dangerous," he says. "You're holding death in your hands. It just takes a moment and then you're gone." He says a person exposed to the kind of dose received by Skripal and his daughter will never be totally healthy again. Mirzayanov saw how another colleague accidentally poisoned himself with Novichok and slowly died, despite immediately being given an antidote. He says it is 10 times as potent as conventional nerve agents and causes an extremely painful death. It can be absorbed by the respiratory tract, orally or through the skin. It blocks communication between nerve cells and muscles and leads to cramps, respiratory paralysis and cardiac arrest.

Mirzayanov says he's certain that the Kremlin was behind the attack on Sergei Skripal. But how certain can one be?
Keep reading.

BONUS: At the Guardian U.K., "Russia threatens retaliation after Britain expels 23 diplomats." And, "Sergei Skripal: Russia expels 23 U.K. diplomats as row deepens."

Still more, at the Observer U.K., "The Observer view on Theresa May’s response to Russia’s campaign against dissidents in Britain."