5.0 out of 5 stars Title Short-Changes Value — This is One of the Most Important Books of Our Time, July 12, 2014
I'm not thrilled with the title because it implies to the browser that the book is about the 935 now-documented lies that led to the war in Iraq, and that is not the case — those lies are simply one of many evidentiary cases spanned a much broader spectrum. As the author himself outlines early on, the book is about a retrospective review of the struggle for truth from the lies that led to Viet-Nam to date (less 9/11); a concurrent review of the corruption and diminuition of commercial journalism; and finally, the future of the truth.
Start at the end — on a whim I did, reading the 8th and final chapter first, and what I found not only persuaded me that this author is an intellectual and moral giant, but that he may yet have his most important work before him, the astonishing depth and breadth of his past 20 years not withstanding. Returning to the beginning, I appreciated the first seven chapters with the benefit of the author's own concluding perspective.
I would quibble with the author in starting with Viet-Nam, but it makes sense in the context of his focus on the Constitution as the first casualty, and the long march from giving the President war powers for Viet-Nam to letting Dick Cheney get away with 935 lies leading to Iraq. For me, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Warren Commission cover-up are a more logical starting point. That was the point at which presidents ceased being president, and the start of what Matt Taibbi would later immortalize with a new word: Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.
Among the many integrated elements of this book that inspire my admiration are the woven tale of how information has been controlled by the government in a manipulative manner, and truth foresaken — mission abdicated — by the professional press — along with stellar selections of quotations from key figures. In some ways I am reminded of Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present.
The perfect complement to this book's beginning is Daniel Ellsberg's Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers where I have a very long summary review. It is helpful to remember that J. Edgar Hoover was in charge of the FBI during this period, and in addition to being complicit in the assassination of both Kennedy's and Martin Luther King, was the originator of governance by blackmail — he would surely drool today over how the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, along with all too many “federalized” adjuncts at the state and local level, are able to intimidate virtually anyone daring to risk independent thought.
Chapter three brings us home to the matter of race and the author's early discovery that just about everything the government says and does with respect to race is theater — lip service — dishonoring all that we allegedly stand for. This is the chapter that causes me to appreciate the author's broadness of reading — every page sparkles with at least one recommended book title. Here I will add one of my own, William Pepper's An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King
Chapter four uses CIA activities in Chile, Guatemala, and El Salvador, as well as the Iran-Contra scandal, to explore secret foreign policy and the arrogance of power. There are some gems here, including the realization that there are many different US foreign policies on any given issue, each with its own variation of truth. The author cites Seymour Hersh in noting that [just as with Viet-Nam] the central issue here is the assumption by the Executive of war powers and enactment of treaty-level rampages without respect for the Constitutional authority of the Senate. He does not quote, but I choose to insert here, Henry Kissinger's now immortal quote from a Wikileaks cable, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” And all those gathered in the White House laughed. As a complement to this chapter, see Ambassador Mark Palmer's book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025 — the US Government is best pals with 42 of the 44 dictators on the planet. As I write this, elements of the US Government are still trying to throw Ghani in Afghanistan under the bus, and illegally instal Abdullah, a 100% Tajik who can be definition never win more than 40% of the vote no matter how much Iranian or CIA money he has going for him. Ghani won the election 60-40 (55-45 if you count the fraudulent votes Karzai arranged for Abdullah) and for reasons that escape me, the Secretary of State is in Afghanistan trying to pretend that Ghani lost, Abdullah won, and they should split the power (which in the case of Abdullah and the Panjshiri kleptocracy, means gaining a license to loot).
Chapter five, “Doubt Is Their Product,” focuses on corporate lies and corporate pressures that have essentially shut down investigative jouralism. The author focuses on tobacco and ends with references to other industries and now the Koch Brothers (to which he might have added Justice Powell and the US Chamber of Commerce). Ralph Nader's book Unsafe At Any Speed was in fact about corporate irresponsibility — his number two, Jim Turner, went on to focus on the irresponsibility of the industries reducing health and allegedly fostering health). True cost economics is not in this book, but I am inspired to believe this book is a starting point for the author's next 20 years, NOT just a summary of the past 20. There is so much to be done.
Chapter six explores the beginning of media self-censorship, media executive complicity with government misbehaviro and misrepresentation. I am struck by the US military declaration that “unwarranted criticism” is censorable.
QUOTE (164): “TV is an immensely powerful medium, but its potential to make astonishing sums of money is typically realized only by appealing to the lowest-common denominator instincts of viewers.”
Someone smarter than me has observed that television destroyed in-depth reporting in historical context because there are no archives from the 15th Century (when Herat in Afghanistan was the capital of the Persian Empire). As I have watched the NYT and WSJ makes fools of themselves over the Afghan run-off election [see 15 truth-full posts on Ghani at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog] , I have to conclude that both TV and print media have lost their minds — over-paid reporters are getting by recycling unverified information and no one is doing what Robert Young Pelton, one of America's greatest journalist, does: go talk to those affected on the ground, outside the hotel — it's actually much safer on the streets than most realize.
This chapter is finished in the final chapter — the author begins to articulate a new ecology of truth-finding and truth-telling that is non-profit in nature, replacing the traditional media outlets that are financially unsustainable in their current configurations.
Chapter seven has this quote and I will leave it at that — buy the book for this chapter (and the last) alone.
QUOTE (180): “Over the years, those unhappy with my investigations have tried just about everything to discourage me. They have issued supeonas, stalked my hotel rooms, escorted me off military bases, threatened me with arrest or with being thrown from a second-story window, hired shills to pose as reporters asking disruptive questions at nationally televised news conferences and even arranged to have death threats delivered by concerned state troopers who urged me to leave town immediately. (I didn't). And of course they have launched frivelous libel lawsuits that took years and cost hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars to fight before they were dismissed.”
The last chapter floored me. This is the one chapter that should be in every single journalism course — and every scientific research seminar, every civil activist training class, every government school, every business school (they still don't teach commercial intelligence), every law enforcement, media, military, and non-profit curriculum. This is the chapter that brings it all together and outlines an inspiring future in which non-profit journalism and a new model combining non-profit reporters, academic interns, and many others across all boundaries, come together what is in essence a healthy World Brain.
QUOTE (225): “Imagine a world in which individual researchers, public-interest activists, lawyers, political scientists, government prosecutors and investigators, corporate investigators, forensic accountants, political scientists (sic – second mention), computer experts, investigative historians, public anthropologists, and journalists are sometimes looking for truth in all the same places, using the same exciting new data technologies and analytics, exchanging ideas and information, and sometimes working and writing together, whether side by side or across borders and genres.”
Wow. This is also a chapter that mentions a number of organizations that are trying — but not succeeding — at taking truth-finding and telling to the next level, and it includes some noteworthy book recommendations, such as Tim Wu's The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Vintage).
The author ends with a call for a new multi-disciplinary field he calls “Accountability Studies.” It is at this point that I reflect the benefit of connecting the author to both Open Source Everything (the technical solution) and True Cost Economics as pioneeered by Herman Daly (see for instance For The Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future.
The legal counterpart to this book focused on the public's right to know and in particular the First Ammendment, is Danny Sheehan's The People's Advocate: The Life and Legal History of America's Most Fearless Public Interest Lawyer. On the economic side, in addition to Matt Taibbi's Griftopia cited above, I recommend William Greider's many books, and especially The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy.
I have to say that of all the books I have read in the past few years, this one has given me more hope in relation to the emergence of public intelligence in the public interest. I pray that the extraordinary accomplishments of the author and those he organized is but a preamble to the main event: the emergence of transparency, truth, and trust as a non-negotiable public good.
Best wishes to all
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability