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Dark Money – Book Review

Author: Jane Mayer
Publisher: Doubleday, Penguin Random House LLC, New York
Copyright: 2016, ISBN: 0385535595
Cover: George Nazlis/ Alamy
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, March 3, 2017

 

 

Summary: Is it really money in politics or politics in money? From the Koch bothers to George Soros, the first impression you get of these people is that you would not want them to marry your sister.

What can be more boring than the subject of money in politics? Well, a partisan Democratic or Republican Party discussion about money in politics would be boring. Republican Party money in politics and Democratic Party money in politics should be the same subject. Excessively boring if the party is yours. A completely fair discussion of the subject would concede the guilt of both parties. The discussion would go on to examine exactly why the subject should be discussed in the first place. DARK MONEY comes close to achieving this. Close but not perfect.

The chronicles how David and Charles Koch infused themselves into the American political system. They were by no means the first. As Mayer points out, John D. Rockefeller became a concerned citizen philanthropist in the early 1900s in order to hold onto his wealth. Rockefeller and the other multi-millionaires setting up philanthropic trusts did not immerse themselves in the political process. The Koch brothers, Frank more so than David, pioneered the way for others of their wealth to steer the political system. The book ends up being coincidentally an indictment of the Republican party through no real fault of the party. The party was susceptible to the influence of Libertarian ideas. More importantly, like its counterpart the Democratic Party, the Republican Party was and is in constant need of money. The entire exploration could be boring just based on this mundaneness alone. Then however you run across tidbits of biographical information on the millionaires and billionaires. This nuance makes things get interesting real fast and there is more to the story than just money.

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Who Stole the American Dream? – Book Review

WhoStoleTheAmericanDreamBy Hedrick Smith

Publisher: Random House, Random House, Inc., New York (www.atrandom.com

Copyright: 2012, ISBN: [1400069661]

Typebook: Hardcover

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 31, 2013

 

Summary:  The book asks a simple question with an amazingly simple answer. The answer provided in WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM is long and excessively diplomatic.

 

The ten largest banks in the United States are larger today than in 2008. Good reason. In 2008, the banks and other Wall Street financial institutions pretty much lead the way in causing American households to lose $11.1 trillion, or “close to one-fifth of their total accumulated private wealth.”

In his book, WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM, Hedrick Smith observes that “economists and historians would identify the late 1970s as the watershed period when an economic wedge started to be driven into the American workforce, beginning to drive the nation into Two Americans—corporate CEOs and the financial elite put on a sharp upswing, and average Americans left stuck in a rut.”

When history of the start of the twenty-first century is written, it will be said that the American people traded the experiment of democracy for the security of a predictable plutocracy. The best that will be said of this is that at least the people did not succumb to the capriciousness of a king; the worst to be said is that the “little” American people fell for the demagoguery of race and cultural elitism, and the wealthy Americans fell for the allure of wealth.

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Dark Side, The – Review

by: Mayer, Jane

Publisher: First Anchor Books

Location: www.anchorbooks.com

Copyright: 2009

Cover: The New Yorker

Type: Softcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 8/15/2009

Summary: The fear continues: the legal history for America, the “homeland” and its fight against itself.

“The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America . . .”

In quoting Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the United State Navy in 2002, Jane Mayer plainly lays out what was supposed to be at the center of two-hundred years of American history. THE DARK SIDE describes a snippet of time in which America took a detour around its values as a nation. As some will argue, the detour was necessitated by an essentially invisible enemy who flies planes into buildings, drives truck bombs into crowded public areas, and seeks the ultimate weapon of destruction whatever that weapon may be. This enemy requires tactics and means beyond the frail pillars of a republic founded upon the ornate accouterments of individual rights and the due process of law.

In reading THE DARK SIDE, it becomes clear that the epicenter of America’s plunge into the inner world of darkness was guided by Vice President Richard Cheney. Jane Mayer mentions the fear engendered in Cheney by the events of September 11, 2001. Cheney acted on his fear and brought the entire governmental apparatus with him.

One might speculate that if Cheney had at one time served in the military, been shot at, and survived the pathos of having survived, 9/11 would not have been such a pivotal anchor for decisions affecting survival. Nothing enhances the ability to set priorities and achieve focus as having a bullet or piece of shrapnel whiz by your head. Without that experience, one is apt to go through life believing that everything is about ideology.

The comparison between events following September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 are inescapable. Mayer quotes Phillip Zelikow who was the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission now teaching history at the University of Virginia, as stating that, over time, the “Bush Administration’s descent into torture would be seen as akin to Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.” Zelikow is wrong. The Roosevelt Administration stood by and let fear dictate law. The Bush Administration interned the American people in a prison of fear and then went about erecting laws to ensure that they stayed there-the indefinite “war on terror”. There is no comparison between benign ignorance in pursuit of safety, whatever its cause, and calculated fear-mongering designed to achieve political ends.

THE DARK SIDE looks specifically at the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interrogation program. The program seemed to have sprouted from nowhere after 9/11. Rather than being merely an interrogation program, it was a torture program. Who authorized it? Who designed it? Who were the people overseeing it?

Mayer tells the story of Ali Abdul Azzi Al-Fakhiri, also known as Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi. He was reportedly the chief of Bin Laden’s Khalden training camp and knew Bin Laden personally. On December 19, 2001, Pakistan security force captured Al-Libi crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. According to Mayer, Pakistan turned Al-Libi over to U. S. authorities for a hefty sum of money. Throughout the book, Mayer contrasts the interrogations conducted by the FBI and the CIA. The FBI, with it one hundred years as a law enforcement agency took the carrot approach to gleaming information from those they interrogated. Al-Libi was interviewed by FBI agent Russell Fincher and New York City detective Marty Mahon. They collected both intelligence and actionable enforcement information from Al-Libi. Not long after the interrogations started, the CIA took control of Al-Libi. According to an anonymously quoted CIA officer, they “strapped him to a stretcher, wrapped his feet, his hands, and his mouth in duct tape” and put him on an airplane, presumably destined for Egypt. Egypt allows torture.

Taking one step back from the vignettes of human beings undergoing the suffering of torture, Mayer delves into the beau racy and presents a grayed-out, twisted roadmap of who authorized what and when they did it. In chapter 4 of the book, “Men of Zeal”, she reports on the “special request from Alberto Gonzales, the White House Counsel” for a provision to be included in the congressional act authorizing President Bush to go to war against the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In the end, on September 14th, the congress approved an act which did not include the specific provision to allow the President to wage war inside the United States. The Bush White House then went to work drafting “legal memos” which achieved the same objective.

THE DARK SIDE does an excellent job of identifying the actors leading up to America’s plunge into the dark ages of the human spirit. What THE DARK SIDE does not do and, to be reasonable, could not do is identify those responsible. It would be politic to say that we all were responsible, the American people.

There have been a number of authors who took the blame the “American people” approach. Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI by Richard Gid Powers is one example of blaming the American people for the haphazard functioning of one of its public institutions. Ivian C. Smith’s INSIDE, another book about the shortcomings of the FBI, reviewed here in January 2005, lays responsibility on the American people for the FBI’s adherence to “cultural” norms in pursuit of abnormal events. And finally, Ronald Kessler’s THE CIA AT WAR, reviewed here in January 2004. Kessler’s THE CIA AT WAR does not bluntly offer the American people as a scapegoat for the failures of the intelligence community. Instead, the culpability of the American people in not seeing the dangers of the real world is a foggy background for the men and women who are in positions of leadership to in fact lead.

Jane Mayer’s THE DARK SIDE looks at the process which lead to blithe upon American values-the CIA torture program. While the actors are identified (the memo writers, the justifiers), she does not look at the who and what lead us there. And there was leadership.

When President Bush stood atop that fire engine in downtown New York near the ruins of the World Trade towers and said, in effect, that the guilty would be punished, he conjured both the determination and spirit of America. From that point onward, the hollowness of the man took charge. The Commander in Chief. As in every “leader” milieu, the person at the top “knows nothing” about what goes on “in the trenches”. “Knowing” and not “knowing” is the litmus test of culpability when it comes to descending into darkness. The leader keeps his or her head up, focused on the light, the good, the “protect America at all cost”, even at the cost of her soul. Descending into the darkness.

In looking at the process-the trenches-and punctuating that examination with vignettes of the torture of terrorists, suspected terrorists, and “enemy combatants”, Mayer uncovered the scaffolding behind Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the rest. Additional low-level torturers might end up in prison because of their over-zealous pursuit of “carrying out orders”. That may be one outcome of the focus. But what of the architects of the scaffolding?

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Great Game of Politics – Review

by: Stoken, Dick

Publisher: Forge Book, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave, NY, NY

Copyright: 2004

Summary: Pattern analysis of American presidential elections form 1801 to 2000: a theory of American political parties and actions.

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 11/5/2008

With a new preface to the January 2008 paperback edition, Dick Stoken’s THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS rolled off the presses just in time for the Barack Obama and John McCain presidential contest. Neither the Democratic nor Republican candidate was mentioned of course. At the start of January 2008, the leading contenders for the 2008 presidential campaign were Hilary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani. By August, the time of the Democratic Convention in Minneapolis, the presidential campaign had come down to a contest between a radical change in business as usual (Barack Obama) and a continuation of the Reagan revolution (John McCain). Politics as a great game indeed.

What Stoken does and does very well is present a theory of American politics. He starts with the grand theory of economics. Republicans are dedicated to continuing the “ruling elite” societal model of old Europe. The Bush administration sought to shove the “old Europe” into the historical gutter by demeaning it (we’re bigger, we’re richer, we’re stronger, bug-off)–while the Democrats are pushing the tenets of the French Revolution, as in Jeffersonian democracy. A simplistic strategem on the world stage, but it worked at home.

On a visceral level, Stoken’s identification of nine paradigm setting Presidents feels about right. What is extremely difficult to argue with is Stoken assessment that America arrived at its place in history by the see-saw weight of elitist Republican capitalism and Jeffersonian everyman idealism driving the engine of American political and societal change. Based on Stoken theory of American experimental democracy, we can safely add a tenth paradigm setting Presidents to his list of nine. Of course, Stoken did not have the pleasure of examining the 2008 presidential campaign. But he does state in the January 2008 Preface to this updated paperback edition of his book that, “It is not inconceivable that another time of troubles may start before Bush Junior [George W. Bush] finishes his presidency. “

The 2008 Time Of Troubles

Stoken loved the Ronald Reagan Presidency. It is a natural affection for the author whose other works are dedicated to exploring stock and financial markets and investment strategy. According to Stoken’s theory, every president following Reagan was a caretaker of a paradigm shift. Prior to Reagan, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who set the parameters of political reality in American politics. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and George H. Bush Sr. were all caretakers tweaking the machinery of FDR’s New Deal. Then came Ronald Reagan and his Morning in America In 1981. Reagan ushered in an idealistic era of less government, less regulation, and less taxes. The era lasted for twenty-seven years.

As of September 15, 2008, most historian would say that Reagan’s revolution failed. The United States and the world titters on the edge of a depression the likes of which have not been seen in sixty years. But Stoken implies and it is hard to argue the point that the Reagan revolution simply and naturally ran aground at the shores of self-centeredness, greed and myopia. It was not a failure. Indeed, continuing in the track of Stoken theory, the Reagan revolution succeeded in making the rich richer and elevating their living standard far beyond the European aristocracy of the eighteenth century or the robber-barons of the early twentieth century. The Republican Party is the standard bearer of mercantile capitalism and its wet nurse, financial manipulations. The GOP performed its function admirably.

But the “morning in America” revolution is over. Now comes the re-arrangement of the dishes. The starting point is rather foreboding. America is $2.67 trillion in debt to foreign governments and investors. As of October 2008, 1.2 million American had lost jobs during the year and the jobless rate stood at 6.5 percent. Energy prices, roughly 4% of a household budget during the 1990s and early 2000s, with see-sawing prices in response to demand, approached nearly $5.00 a gallon for gasoline before falling back in October when the transportation habits of most people could not be sustained. In short, the super-rich have hit a wall in scaling a higher standard of living and their wall is ready to fall on everyone else, lowering living standards for all. Into the gathering cloud of rubble steps the Democratic Party and Barack Obama.

The Word On the Door Of Utopia

Stoken’s theory of American politics offers a syllabus of what happens next in American society: the paradigm shifts toward uplifting the everyman of Jeffersonian democracy. The accumulated wealth of the rich is re-distributed to elevate the many. The Democrats will, over the course of the next four to twenty-years, push the equalizing power of the federal government to an extreme. The electorate will eventually feel constrained, hemmed-in and suffocated by “big” government-as if the whole can be smaller than its parts. Then comes the next paradigm shift, the next revolution, as the Republican are again called upon to expand the frontiers of wealth accumulation. That is how the cycle goes.

Actually, the redistribution of wealth shift came a little early this round.

The Republican President and Democrat controlled congress, on October 3, 2008, put their collective heads together and enacted a $700 billion dollar program to save the financial markets. According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the program was designed to “stabilize our financial markets and [ensure] an uninterrupted flow of credit to households and businesses.” Nothing like it has ever been done before. It is, to use a term regurgitated during the tail end of the 2008 presidential campaign, a redistribution of wealth on an unprecedented American scale.

As others have pointed out, America really started on the road to socialism with FDR’s New Deal. The Welfare State. What most others miss of course is that the societal safety net of social security payments to individuals, welfare payments, medical care payments and the rest are merely adjuncts to a corporate welfare system. Corporations, farming enterprises, medical services providers have all been at the public money trough for decades. Now, the financial services industries have bellied up to get their share. Looked at in isolation, the subsidy of public and private entities can be viewed as good economic and financial policy, ensuring that the financial and economic systems are functioning at peak efficiency. Dig a little deeper, down to the dynamics of economic reality and there is that descriptive word, socialism. Americans have been living in a socialist society since the 1930s.

The Obama Era

Essentially, Stoken’s THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS offers continued hope that the Great Experiment we call American democracy will survive those we elect to lead it. After the outright incompetence and clear and present danger of the George W. Bush presidency, things can not possibly get any worst. Or can they?

As the TGBR journal opinion stated in its July 2008 editorial, the American people, “. . . having tip-toed through the slurry sewage of nationalism for the past six years, are ready to flush the Homeland business back into the old world drainage ditch from where it was pumped and get back to the experiment that America is an idea, not a place, a goal, not an accomplishment”. During the presidential campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama were sending all the right signals indicating that they had gotten at least part of the message. The American character is not conducive to living in fear. President-elect Obama continues to say the right things and even do the right things indicating that America is getting back on the path of its founding.

America may be back. But the world appears to be drifting toward a “morning” of its own.

It is conceivable that within the next five to six years there will be a holocaust of unimaginable proportions in the near east. Essentially it is the old world at war with the new. It is a segment of the world feeling the death throbs of change, attempting to cling to a view in which humans are separate from their gods. Economics are at the root, but the overriding fuel is simply fear. One has only to look at what passes as the “middle class” in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and so on to see the chains which effectively smother the human spirit. On the other side of this horror when the other side comes, America will clearly triumph, contrary to those predicting the decline of America as a world power. Nothing lasts forever. Not even turmoil. The Obama Era will be defined by how an Obama presidency repairs the world community. In turn, the game of politics in America will be redefined for the next several generations and the Republican party will shift accordingly. Captialism with a conscience they may call it-or something similar.

Stocken’s THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS is not a great book, but it is highly recommended as a thought-provoking tour of history and beyond. __________________________________________________________

 

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Secret Empire – Review

by: Taubman, Philip

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Copyright: 2003

Cover: Marc J. Cohen,

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/22/2004

Summary: Highly Recommended. Surprises all the way. The post World War II American spy industry.

In SECRET EMPIRE, Taubman asks more than once whether the American political will still exists to persevere in the face of failure upon failure upon failure. He provides no concrete answer, but does supply plenty of hints.

Between 1942 and 1945, America spent over a billion dollars to successfully develop the atomic bomb. Throughout the 1930s, the Soviets were putting together five and ten year plans just to get bread on the table for its citizens. Pockmarked by corruptions and inefficiency, Soviet economic plans limped along behind a wall of statistics and future expectations. When it came to technology however, the Soviet had an advantage. They had an espionage apparatus that was second to none.

Taubman’s book deals with the concept of spying rather than the mechanics–the who, what, where and when. But in reading this excellent history, the reader can not help but to reflect upon the irony of America rushing to the skies to find out the latest advancements in Soviet technology when those advances were lifted directly from America itself. One area in which the Soviets had their own blueprints was rockets. The Rocket Research Development Center was established in Moscow in 1932 and the first rocket fired in August 1933. The Russians captured the Nazi V-2 rocket center at Peenemunde along with about five thousand German technicians and twenty-thousand members of their families. By July 1953, strategic intelligence services in the West were justifiably worried that the Soviet would develop a missile with a range long enough to strike London, England by 1956. The West responded to the worry by launching a spy program that eventually reduced the thrust of missile power to a very secondary consideration. It was what you did when you got the missile up that was important.

There are many conclusions one can reach in this book. Taubman artfully, and wisely in the final analysis, avoids making heady conclusions. For instance, is it possible that the only reason we have world-wide satellite communications today is because the American military needed a way to spy on the Soviet Union without creating an international incident? And what of the entire argument that scientific advancements are driven by the exigencies of war and conflict? Heady stuff. In Taubman’s work, the conclusions are un-necessary. That’s a lot more down to earth stuff, like the foibles and character of human nature.

The author mentions the men (at the time, it was men only–about 252 between 1950 and 1970) who lost their lives flying reconnaissance planes deep into Soviet territory to provide the American military with intelligence about Soviet air defense and communication systems. This started in 1946 and continued into the early 1950s when the newly elected President Dwight W. Eisenhower became determined to find a better way. Eisenhower is the surprise in this book. A subplot, really, but his presence pervades the book. Having read his autobiography years ago and perhaps being too focused on what he did rather than why he did what he did, he comes across in this book as a truly pragmatic thinker. An odd pragmatic thinker, but pragmatic and a thinker nonetheless. What are you to make of a man who tells his aides that if the Soviets were violating U. S. airspace in the manner the U.S. was violating Soviet airspace, there would be war? But this President, who held such a tight rein over the flight schedules of reconnaissance planes, was not making judgements based upon fairness or mutual respect. He was fighting a war.

Taubman takes us from the start of the air reconnaissance missions to the almost haphazard development of the U-2 planes (capable of flying at an attitude of 75,000 feet), to the incredible Corona satellite projects. So much of this history we, for the most part, take for granted, as if it were all a breeze-the inevitable outcome of American know-how and stick-to-it-ness. But the facts show that it was far from an historical stroll. Taubman escorts us through the fumbles and failures along the way.

There are no down sides in this book. There are, in fact, surprises all the way.

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CIA At War, The – Review

by: Kessler, Ronald

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Copyright: 2003

Cover: Sarah Delson, Roger Ressmeyer

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/14/2004

Summary: Highly recommend, sans editorializing. A history of the Central Intelligence Agency and the new war on terror.

The subtitle of this book is “Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror”. Though there is nothing significantly new here, the book is definitely worth reading.

Kessler has demonstrated an ability to look at government bureaucracies and zero in on the warts. He did it with “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI” (reviewed here in November 2003). In The CIA AT WAR, Kessler, in very quick succession, introduces the last two and current Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). R. James Woolsey Jr., President Clinton’s first CIA Director from February 1993 to 1995, who was replaced by John M. Deutch in May 1995. Deutch resigned at the end of 1996. (One CIA official is quoted as saying, “Deutch was aggressively ignorant”. This official must have been the public relations officer, or at least a trainee). Deutch had selected George Tenet as his Deputy Directory of Intelligence, or DCI. Tenet became the Director in November 1997.

In going through a cursory history of the CIA, Kessler builds a very strong case for the impact of leadership on bureaucracies. This is both Kessler’s strength and weakness as a reporter of history. The reader gets a sense of the dedication and commitment of the lowly bureaucrats toiling away at shuffling paper and implementing management direction. At the top of the agency, he presents the personalities who were responsible for providing direction. That top tier is a very diverse picture in terms of quality and commitment. From the heyday of CIA bureaucratic empire building in 1955 when CIA Director Allen Dulles presided over construction of the new CIA headquarters complex in McLean, Virginia, to the “bring back the glory” days of CIA Director William Casey, Kessler examines an agency that functions pretty much the way it was intended when President Truman authorized it on September 18 by way of Section 107 of the National Security Act of 1947. Like the current Homeland Security Department, the CIA emerged from the attack on America at Pearl Harbor.

Kessler goes over the familiar CIA subscripts: James Jesus Angleton as chief of CIA counterintelligence and the disastrous consequences of his reign of power; Richard M. Bissell Jr., the Bay of Pigs, and the U-2 flights; the Vitaly Yurchenko defection to America and his re-defection to the Soviet Union; and the American spies-Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Jay Pollard, and the spy-network incorporated career of Navy warrant officer John A. Walker Jr.. (For an thorough look at the CIA’s U-2 program, you definitely want to read SECRET EMPIRE by Philip Taubman-an upcoming TG review). The author uncovers no new CIA history. But there is the perspective he brings to why things happened the way they happened. This insight makes his work worth reading.

The CIA’s war against terrorist is at the heart of the book. The usual complaints: not enough intelligence sources (agents), not enough language experts to decipher intelligence products, we all hear about the failures, only a select few hear of the triumphs. Then there is the monotonous song of non-cooperation between the various federal agencies entrusted with safeguarding America’s security. It is here that Kessler brings something new. What’s new is George Tenet.

Kessler’s steady praise of George Tenet may seem a bit much. However, what little we see of Tenet the public man backs up the praise and Kessler himself sketches a very good portrait. It comes across very clearly that Tenet is a CIA Director who knows his job. That trait seems a rarity among those heading these humongous bureaucracies.

If there is a mis-step in this book, it is when Kessler discusses the 2003 Iraq war and those never found weapons of mass destruction. He simply misses the point. On page 319 he states that “whether weapons of mass destruction were found. . .became almost as relevent [sic] as whether a serial killer who reaches into the back seat of his car when an FBI agent orders him to keep his hands up actually has a handgun in the back.” The reason the weapons of mass destruction were relevant was because they, in effect, ended up costing over 500 American lives and countless Iraqi lives. They’re the reason America went to war. One can not help to reflect upon another “intelligence” assessment and another President’s reaction to it. In the late 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was being pressured by his political adversaries, the intelligence community and the military to significantly ratchet up American defense spending to counter the so-called missile gap with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower held his ground, attempting to assure the American people above the clamor and fear, that America was safe. American technology eventually allowed Eisenhower to be vindicated. There was no missile gap. It is amazing what differences can spring up between a coupe of generations.

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