Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Will Bunch, After the Ivory Tower

Out today, from Will Bunch, After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics―and How to Fix It.

Annie Jacobson, Surprise, Kill, Vanish

See, Annie Jacobson, Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins.

U.S. Drone Strike in Kabul Kills Top Qaeda Leader Ayman al Zawahiri (VIDEO)

I watched President Biden's address live this afternoon, now available at the video below.

And at the Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Says Drone Strike Killed al Qaeda Leader Ayman al Zawahiri":

First known U.S. counterrorism operation in Afghanistan since exit last year targeted a private residence in Afghan capital.

WASHINGTON—The White House said Monday that a U.S. missile launched from a drone in Afghanistan killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, a founding member of the jihadist movement and one of the key strategists behind an international campaign of terror that culminated in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

The U.S. strike targeted a safe house in a residential area in central Kabul on Sunday morning, in what was the first known counterrorism operation in the country since U.S. forces withdrew last year. The Biden administration said the Taliban was aware that al Zawahiri was hiding in Kabul, the clearest display of the continuing alliance between al Qaeda and the group now ruling Afghanistan.

Speaking from the White House balcony on Monday, President Biden announced the strike, describing al Zawahiri as a terror leader who for decades “was the mastermind behind the attacks against Americans.” Those attacks included the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens of others and 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured more than 4,500.

Al Zawahiri, 71, was an Egyptian national and longtime deputy of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. In the lead up to 9/11, Zawahiri was the most important of bin Laden’s advisers as they planned the hijackings. He was also instrumental in shaping how the terror group used the 2001 attacks to gain members, often through propaganda letters and videos.

Mr. Biden during his eight-minute address said he approved the “carefully planned” operation a week ago “after being advised conditions were optimal.”

“The United States did not seek its war on terror. You came to us. We answered with the same principles and resolve that has shaped us for generations upon generation to protect the innocent and defend liberty,” Mr. Biden said.

The Taliban seized power during America’s final weeks in the country after two decades of war.

The group has publicly pledged to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a haven for terrorist organizations, and claims that it seeks peaceful relations with all countries.

The revelation that al Qaeda’s leader and family moved to a safe house in one of the most affluent parts of Kabul soon after the Taliban returned to power undermines those claims.

A senior Biden administration official said Zawahiri was killed by two U.S. Hellfire missiles fired from a drone as he stood on the balcony of the safe house in downtown Kabul.

“Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul,” the official said.

Pentagon officials said they had no knowledge of the strike and the senior Biden administration official declined to specify which U.S. agency was responsible, suggesting it was a CIA operation. The CIA declined to comment.

The strike is a badly needed victory for the Biden administration after the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal last summer that helped return the Taliban’s most conservative factions to power.

The White House said no civilian casualties resulted from the strike just after 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

There was no known response from al Qaeda.

The Taliban condemned the attack, calling it a violation of international law and the agreement it signed with the U.S. in 2020 that set the terms of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Such actions are repetitions of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against U.S., Afghanistan and the region’s interests,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman.

The last U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan one year ago killed 10 civilian members of an Afghan family in the final week of U.S. presence in the country. The casualties included seven children. The operation was initially described as successful. The U.S. later admitted that the target was a mistake.

The U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the dead individual is Zawahiri, the official said.

The president was first briefed on plans for a strike on July 1 in the White House Situation Room by advisers including CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Christine Abizaid, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, the Biden official said.

Mr. Biden made the decision to order the strike at a July 25 meeting with top advisers at which all the participants recommended going forward with it, the official said.

The official said that for several years, U.S. intelligence agencies had been aware of a network of individuals that supported the al Qaeda leader.

Intelligence agencies tracked several members of Zawahiri’s family, including his wife and children, as they moved to Kabul. The United States then got confirmation that Zawahiri himself was in Kabul.

In early April, that intelligence was briefed to deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer and White House homeland security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then later to national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the president, the official said.

As with the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, U.S. spy agencies built a replica of the house where Zawahiri was staying, and brought it to meetings with Mr. Biden and his aides, the official said. Specialists used the model to confirm that Zawahiri could be killed in a missile strike without collapsing the entire structure and killing civilians, including members of his family.

After the strike, Haqqani Taliban members sought to cover up the fact that Zawahiri had taken shelter there by moving Zawahiri’s family to another location, according to the administration official.

“The safe house used by Zawahiri is now empty,” the official said.

Under the terms of the agreement signed with the Trump administration in February 2020, the Taliban vowed to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to plan attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

But the Taliban didn’t explicitly commit to continuing operations to target the group or to break ties with them.

The United Nations has since reported that the Taliban and al Qaeda remain closely connected...

Friday, 29 July 2022

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

Pynchon's considered one of America's all-time greatest novelists, living or otherwise.

See, Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition).

Friday Women

A beautiful roundup.

-- The fabulous conservative star, Katie Pavlich, out hunting with a double-barrel shotgun.

-- Kayla Sweetie Busty Cosplayer.

-- Gorgeous and gorgeously endowed Aubrey

-- Immie taking a selfie in black panties.

-- More Aubrey, the OnlyFans star

Escaping California

I love my state but Democrats have destroyed it. It's tragic.

I can't leave. I'm locked down career-wise at my college, teaching until I retire. In a decade or so I'll be able to, though. I'll have plenty of time to consider my options. Nevada or Wyoming? Idaho or Tennessee? Florida or Texas?

Who knows? 

Maybe California will be red state by then, with California's plurality Hispanic population following South Texas's lead? Never say never. Stranger things have happened. 

But as you can see, people who are free to flee, leave. It's a thing and getting bigger.

At the Los Angeles Times, "California exodus continues, with L.A., San Francisco leading the way: ‘Why are we here?’":

After living in the Bay Area for nearly seven years, Hari Raghavan and his wife decided to leave for the East Coast late last year.

They were both working remotely and wanted to leave California because of the high cost of living and urban crime. So they made a list of potential relocation cities before choosing Miami for its sunny weather and what they perceived was a better sense of safety.

Raghavan said that their Oakland house had been broken into four times and that prior to the pandemic, his wife called him every day during her seven-minute walk home from the BART station because she felt safer with someone on the phone. After moving to Miami, Raghavan said they accidentally left their garage door open one day and were floored when they returned home and found nothing had been stolen.

“We moved to the Bay Area because we had to be there if you want to work in tech and start-ups, and now that that’s no longer a tether, we took a long hard look and said, ‘Wait, why are we here again?’ ” Raghavan said.

He said there wasn’t much draw in California’s quality of life, local or social policies, or cost of living. “That forced us to question where we actually wanted to live,” he said.

An acceleration of people leaving coastal California began during the first year of the pandemic. But new data show it continued even after lockdowns and other COVID restrictions eased.

California ranks second in the country for outbound moves — a phenomenon that has snowballed during the pandemic, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which tracked data from moving company United Van Lines. Between 2018 and 2019, California had an outbound move rate of 56%. That rate rose to nearly 60% in 2020-21.

Citing changes in work-life balance, opportunities for remote work and more people deciding to quit their jobs, the report found that droves of Californians are leaving for states like Texas, Virginia, Washington and Florida. California lost more than 352,000 residents between April 2020 and January 2022, according to California Department of Finance statistics.

San Francisco and Los Angeles rank first and second in the country, respectively, for outbound moves as the cost of living and housing prices continue to balloon and homeowners flee to less expensive cities, according to a report from Redfin released this month.

Angelenos, in particular, are flocking to places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio and Dallas. The number of Los Angeles residents leaving the city jumped from around 33,000 in the second quarter of 2021 to nearly 41,000 in the same span of 2022, according to the report.

California has grappled with extremely high housing prices compared with other states, according to USC economics professor Matthew Kahn. Combined with the pandemic and the rise in remote work, privileged households relocated when they had the opportunity.

“People want to live here, but an unintended consequence of the state’s environmentalism is we’re not building enough housing in desirable downtown areas,” Kahn said. “That prices out middle-class people to the suburbs [and creates] long commutes. We don’t have road pricing to help the traffic congestion, and these headaches add up. So when you create the possibility of work from home, many of these people ... they say ‘enough’ and they move to a cheaper metropolitan area.”

Kahn also pointed out that urban crime, a growing unhoused population, public school quality and overall quality of life are driving out residents.

“In New York City, but also in San Francisco, there are all these fights about which kids get into which elite public schools,” he said. “The rich are always able to hide in their bubble, but if the middle class looks at this quality of life declining, that’s a push factor to leave.”

Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather cited a June report that tracked the change in spending power of a homebuyer on a $2,500 monthly budget. While 11.2% of homes in Los Angeles were affordable on that budget, using a 3% interest rate, that amount swelled to about 72% in Houston and about 50% in Phoenix.

“It’s really an affordability problem,” Fairweather said. “California for the longest time has prioritized single-family zoning, which makes it so people stay in their homes longer because their property taxes don’t reflect the true value. California is the epicenter of where the housing shortage is so people have no choice but to move elsewhere.”

While California experienced a major population boom in the late 20th century — reaching 37 million people by 2000 — it’s been losing residents since, with new growth lagging behind the rest of the country, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The state’s population increased by 5.8% from 2010 to 2020, below the national growth rate of 6.8%, and resulting in the loss of a congressional seat in 2021 for the first time in the state’s history.

Although California has relied on immigration to offset its population decline for the past two decades, that flow has also shrunk, according to UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian.

Delays in processing migration requests to the U.S. were compounded during the pandemic, resulting in the lowest levels of immigration in decades, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Estimates showed a net increase of 244,000 new immigrants between 2020 and 2021 — roughly half the 477,000 new immigrant residents recorded between 2019 and 2020 and a drastic reduction from more than 1 million reported from 2015 to 2016.

The state is also seeing a dwindling middle class...

The "middle class"? Ha! 

How about the Medieval class? The so-called middle class in California is now our postmodern neo-feudal peerage for the metaversal-future.

See Joel Kotkin, at City Journal (interview), "California’s Neo-Feudal Future."

Jonathan Lemire, The Big Lie

Just out and bound to be a blockbuster.

From Jonathan Lemire, The Big Lie: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020.

Rafael A. Mangual, Criminal (In)Justice

Just out, brand new book, looking good.

Timely too. 

See, Rafael A. Mangual, Criminal (In)Justice: What the Push for Decarceration and Depolicing Gets Wrong and Who It Hurts Most.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Charles Clover, Black Wind, White Snow

At the outset of the Russia-Ukraine war, this book was literally too hot. Impossible to obtain.

Now Clover's out with a new edition. 

See, the infamous, Black Wind, White Snow: Russia's New Nationalism.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, This Will Not Pass

See, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future.

Inflation's Up

This White House is so clueless on this issue. Even as gas prices are easing a bit, the Consumer Price Index topped 9 percent for last month, another record. This will be the defining issue in November. Upscale women will be pissed about abortion, and they may have an effect on some close congressional races, perhaps denying Republicans a pick up. But everybody else is going to be mad as hell on the economy. I expect a massive tsunami, especially on the House side, and don't believe anyone else who tells you otherwise. 

At WSJ, "U.S. Inflation Hits New Four-Decade High of 9.1%":

U.S. consumer inflation accelerated to 9.1% in June, a pace not seen in more than four decades, adding pressure on the Federal Reserve to act more aggressively to slow rapid price increases throughout the economy.

The consumer-price index’s advance for the 12 months ended in June was the fastest pace since November 1981, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. A big jump in gasoline prices—up 11.2% from the previous month and nearly 60% from a year earlier—drove much of the increase, while shelter and food prices were also major contributors.

The June inflation reading exceeded May’s 8.6% rate, prompting investors and analysts to debate whether the Fed would consider a one-percentage-point rate increase, rather than a 0.75-point rise, later this month. Slowing demand is key to the Fed’s goal of restoring price stability in an economy that is still struggling with supply issues, but raising interest rates also elevates the risk of a recession.

Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy components, increased by 5.9% in June from a year earlier, slightly less than May’s 6.0% gain, the Labor Department said.

On a month-to-month basis, core prices rose 0.7% in June, a bit more than their 0.6% increase in May—a sign of inflationary pressures throughout the economy.

“Inflation makes everything difficult,” said Lara Rhame, chief U.S. economist for FS Investments. “It erodes your savings, your wages, your profits. It’s punishing everybody.”

Stocks declined on Wednesday after wavering for much of the day, with the S&P 500 index falling by 0.5%. Bond yields jumped following the inflation report, but yields on longer-term Treasurys quickly gave up those gains.

Despite June’s inflation reading, economists point to recent developments that could subdue price pressures in the coming months.

Investor expectations of slowing economic growth world-wide have led to a decline in commodity prices in recent weeks, including for oil, copper, wheat and corn, after those prices rose sharply following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Retailers have warned of the need to discount goods, especially apparel and home goods, that are out of sync with customer preferences as spending shifts to services and away from goods, and consumers spend down elevated savings.

“There’s a pretty serious recession fear affecting a broad range of asset prices,” said Laura Rosner-Warburton, senior economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives.

Retailers’ ability to shed unwanted inventory could test whether pricing is returning to prepandemic patterns, Ms. Rosner-Warburton said. Some retailers, such as Target, have already said they are planning big discounts. Others with robust warehouse capacity, such as Walmart Inc., could be more likely to hold on to their excess inventory, analysts say.

“It would be really important if we do see discounting return, because it would show that we weren’t that far away from the pre-Covid environment in terms of pricing behavior,” Ms. Rosner-Warburton said.

Discounts haven’t shown up prominently in inflation figures so far: Prices for apparel and home goods both rose last month. New and used car price increases, a significant source of upward pressure on inflation, both eased on a month-to-month basis in June.

The Fed last month raised its interest-rate target by 0.75 percentage point, the largest increase since 1994. Besides tempering demand, the central bank is trying to prevent consumer expectations of higher inflation from becoming entrenched, as such expectations can be self-fulfilling. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said the central bank wants to see clear evidence that price pressures are diminishing before slowing or suspending rate increases...

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Patrick Radden Keefe, Rogues

From the phenomenal Patrick Radden Keefe, Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks.

Tobias S. Harris, The Iconoclast

See, Tobias S. Harris, The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan.

RELATED: "Shinzo Abe Assassinated: Former Prime Minister Was Leader For a New, Stronger Japan (VIDEO)."

And, "Shinzo Abe's Influence Was Still Evident Long After He Left Office."

McLaren Speedtail

Well, one can dream.

At the Wall Street Journal, "McLaren Speedtail: A $3 Million Zoom With a View":

Go ahead, yank. Give a squeeze. Imagine yourself strapped into this belt-high, $3-million hybrid hypercar, looking down the middle of that steep hood at your immediate and onrushing destiny. It’s a weathery June day in the south of England, with veils of rain and patchy sun along the M3 from the company’s headquarters in Woking, Surrey, to your lunch stop, near Portsmouth.

Fluffy sheep and fluffier clouds, green hills, stone walls. While you’re at it, imagine you weigh what you did in high school. The Speedtail’s steeply bolstered driver’s couch fits like ’70s-era Calvin Kleins.

This go-kart of the gods is officially the fastest McLaren yet (top speed 250 mph), and the most powerful (1,055 hp), hosting an AI-enhanced, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 mated to a hybrid KERS system, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a torque-vectoring rear axle. The factory, usually conservative in these matters, says the Speedtail can accelerate from naught to 124 mph in 6.6 seconds and to 186 mph in 13 seconds—about the time it takes to read this sentence aloud.

Can you feel that?

Yet this is a case where the absurdity of performance—on what planet will anyone be driving at 250 mph?—takes itself out of critical consideration. Besides, if you go shopping among elite car builders, you (or your goony intermediaries) can acquire all sorts of instantly collectible, money-laundering hypercars with unbearable performance, including the Mercedes-AMG Project One, Aston Martin Valkyrie and Bugatti Chiron. But no other car can compete with this view.

The Speedtail completes a generational quartet of limited-edition, science-on-a-rampage hybrid hypercars from McLaren—the Ultimate Series—including the Senna, the Elva, and the P1. For enthusiasts, these cars represent the proverbial best of times. Each has its inimitable and historic bits for which collectors will pay handsomely in years to come.

The Speedtail’s immortal flex begins with the cockpit layout: the driver’s couch is in the center, flanked by two smaller seats, molded into the carbon-fiber/aluminum monocoque. The three-seat layout is a homage to the essential McLaren F1 sports racer of the 1990s. A way more comfortable homage, I might add.

As with the F1, the company limited Speedtail production to 106 examples—all built and delivered in 2020 and 2021. I’m sorry I’m only getting around to it now.

The center-seat experience is singular—solipsistic, even. In this car the driver’s perceptions sit in the middle of a spherical transparency, around which reality warps like the backgrounds of a first-person videogame. Fanning kinescopes of passing forests, hectic kaleidoscopes of council-owned agriculture, all lens around your POV in perfect symmetry.

The center-seat driver experience is singular—solipsistic, even

That. Is. Awesome! Having spent my driving life slightly askew, it seems, this sudden alignment of my somatic graviception and momentum vector-space was practically euphoric. This is the saddled symmetry of riding horseback, or on a motorcycle, or piloting a single-seat race car or fighter jet. Oh Maverick! Take me to the hangar!

Then there’s the way it looks. I’ve studied the matter closely: The Speedtail is the most beautiful of a generation of very, very fast cars built in the hyper-hybrid era, the sweetest and most lyrical derivation of Navier-Stokes since perhaps the 1930s—”beauty” here being aesthetic satisfaction uncompromised by extreme speed.

Generally, the faster a car is, the uglier. That collects the much-adored Aston Martin Valkyrie and Bugatti Chiron, among others. If not ugly then more cluttered with edges, blades, scoops and splitters, necessary to ensure stability at speeds where the angels fear to tread. And to look cool.

The Speedtail’s form is like a glass javelin, long and balanced and piercing at both ends. Much of the downforce is generated by the unseen underbody and (pressure) diffuser. Instead of a rear wing waggling on pneumatic pylons, movable aero elements are integrated into flexible sections of trailing-edge body work that bend up and down, reacting to control-loop calls for downforce and braking.

The flexi-bendy ailerons were not easy, said Andy Palmer, Vehicle Line Director, Ultimate Series. But to do otherwise would have been like spoiling the line of a good suit.

The plan was to race Mr. Palmer to lunch near Southampton—he in the second validation prototype (XP2) of the Speedtail and I in the XP5. If that wasn’t the plan, nobody told him. Soon the XP2’s exquisite, filamentary taillights disappeared in a towering gray rooster tail, boiling up from the car’s mighty underbody diffuser. Crikey, he’s leaving me.

But put your foot down and the Speedtail represents. Totes. In the time it took to zing the turbos three times—bu-bah-tweee, bu-bahhh-tweeee, bu-bahhhh-tweeeee—the Speedtail had closed in on the XP2 and I was flirting with extradition. It all happened so fast, officer. And so swimmingly.

Why aren’t there more such delightful cars, ask the rest of us? According to the feds, the Speedtail isn’t even road legal, on account of its center controls, camera-based wing mirrors and, I’m sure, other homologation issues. About one-third of Speedtails produced have been imported to the U.S. under what’s known as the show or display rule, which restricts annual odometer-registered mileage to 2,500 miles...