Flacking for Facebook

From NYBooks.com April 13th 2021

It wasn’t always this way for Mark Zuckerberg. These days, we take almost for granted that when there’s organized political violence in the world, there will be an apparent Facebook connection—whether it involves groups and pages that played a part in fomenting the Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C., or the social media incitement of genocide in Myanmar, where the military, which backed that effort to eliminate the Rohingya, has now seized power in a coup. These days, the platform is routinely associated in the public mind with secretive extremist hate groups, divisive foreign propaganda, sick conspiracy theories with cultlike followings, and forums for plotting armed uprisings against legitimate governments. Many critics have come to see Facebook itself as a threat to liberal democracy.

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Trump’s Impact on Nuclear Proliferation

From Justsecurity.org, November 18th 2020

Donald Trump has never been known for his visionary foreign policy and yet his presidency will leave the world transformed. In an age of disinformation, the precise nature of the changes he has brought about in global affairs can be elusive, particularly when those changes have resulted from his administration’s clandestine negotiations with Russian officials and businessmen. While America has been focused on the ways in which the Kremlin interfered to support Trump in the 2016 election, too little attention has been paid to what Moscow intended to get out of a Trump presidency or indeed what they got.

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The Folly of ‘America First’ in the Race for Biodata Amid a Pandemic

From NYRDaily, May 13th 2020

America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a shocking lack of preparedness for public health emergencies. But it has also revealed what must be, for the aspiring strongman in the White House and his coterie, a more embarrassing fact: if America were to move in an authoritarian direction, it would be shedding international allies in order to enter into a competition with nationalistic authoritarian states that it probably can’t win.

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William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of Our Time

From NYRDaily January 15 2020

US Attorney General William Barr’s defense of unchecked executive authority in his recent speech to the Federalist Society had an unpleasant familiarity for me. It took me back to a time in my life—during the late 1990s, as a graduate student in England, and the early 2000s, teaching political theory in the politics department at Princeton University—when I seemed to spend altogether too much time arguing over the ideas of a Nazi legal theorist notorious as the “crown jurist” of the Third Reich.

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The Axis of the Oligarchs

It has become evident over the last few years that the wealthiest individuals in Europe and America, who we’re used to thinking of as anti-state libertarians, have in fact abandoned free markets in favour of state-supported monopolies; they wish to be oligarchs

On the Russian model of what is known as “state capitalism,” businesses that are strategically essential to the state receive various forms of state protection, including the absorption of economic risk. The billionaire owners of those businesses move their enormous profits off-shore and very little financial benefit accrues to the Russian people, so deep inequalities are endemic.

From Byline Times, 27 November 2018

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The Oligarch Threat

From NYRDaily, August 27th 2019

On July 24, 2019, a buoyant Boris Johnson swept past crowds shouting “Bollocks to Brexit! Bollocks to Boris!” and was ushered into the hushed splendor of Buckingham Palace. There, he shook hands with the antique, bejeweled Queen Elizabeth II, and became the prime minister of Great Britain, elected not by popular mandate but by members of his Conservative Party. That same day, on the other side of the Atlantic, a frail and reluctant Robert Mueller took his oath before giving public testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, and later the House Intelligence Committee, on a controversial and difficult twenty-two-month-long investigation—made more challenging by multiple witnesses’ lying under oath—in which he had painstakingly examined Russian interference in the 2016 election of Donald Trump. 

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Edward Snowden Reconsidered

From NYR Daily, 13th September 2018

“This summer, the fifth anniversary of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance passed quietly, adrift on a tide of news that now daily sweeps the ground from under our feet. It has been a long five years, and not a period marked by increased understanding, transparency, or control of our personal data. In these years, we’ve learned much more about how Big Tech was not only sharing data with the NSA but collecting vast troves of information about us for its own purposes. And we’ve started to see the strategic ends to which Big Data can be put. In that sense, we’re only beginning to comprehend the full significance of Snowden’s disclosures.”

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The New Military-Industrial Complex of Big Data Psy-Ops

From nybooks.com, March 21st 2018

Apparently, the age of the old-fashioned spook is in decline. What is emerging instead is an obscure world of mysterious boutique companies specializing in data analysis and online influence that contract with government agencies. As they say about hedge funds, if the general public has heard their names that’s probably not a good sign. But there is now one data analysis company that anyone who pays attention to the US and UK press has heard of: Cambridge Analytica. Representatives have boasted that their list of past and current clients includes the British Ministry of Defense, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of State, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and NATO. Nevertheless, they became recognized for just one influence campaign: the one that helped Donald Trump get elected president of the United States. The kind of help the company offered has since been the subject of much unwelcome legal and journalistic scrutiny.

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Beware the Big Five

From The New York Review of Books. April 5th 2018

The big Silicon Valley technology companies have long been viewed by much of the American public as astonishingly successful capitalist enterprises operated by maverick geniuses. The largest among them—Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google (the so-called Big Five)—were founded by youthful and charismatic male visionaries with signature casual wardrobes: the open-necked blue shirt, the black polo-neck, the marled gray T-shirt and hoodie. These founders have won immense public trust in their emergent technologies, from home computing to social media to the new frontier, artificial intelligence. Their companies have seemed to grow organically within the flourishing ecology of the open Internet.

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The Bitter Secret of ‘Wormwood’

From nybooks.com

Transparency and accountability are essential virtues in a democracy, but they’re clearly not as viscerally appealing or as thrilling as their opposites, secrecy and impunity. The intelligence operative—especially the rogue spy flouting the law, from James Bond to Jason Bourne—is one of the most glamorized figures in the fiction and movies of postwar America. In Errol Morris’s new series, Wormwood, which blends documentary with dramatic reconstructions, he sets out to explore an episode in the history of US intelligence that is irresistibly sensational, the CIA’s cold war “mind control” program of the 1950s and 1960s. Code-named MK-ULTRA, the program involved agents experimenting with methods for gaining full control of a person’s thoughts and behavior using LSD, hypnosis, electric shocks, and other bizarre means—the films The Ipcress File (1965) and The Parallax View (1974) show cool, stylized versions. The thesis offered by Wormwood’s principal subjects is that, during the same period, the CIA ran an authorized, extrajudicial execution program of dissenting agents who were active in the agency’s secret operations.

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