Chapter 13: “Information Peacekeeping & the Future of Intelligence: The United Nations, Smart Mobs, and the Seven Tribes” pp. 201-225
Three Articles, Lightweight Sequel to Fast Food Nation,
The books ends with a very short but thoughtful observation regarding the need to change the law and punishment so as to back away from life-ending punishments for individual behavior that is merely self-destructive or distastement, and focus the heaviest punishments on those who commit economic crimes against society and entire sub-sections of society.
In each of these three cases, there are other books that are better–Deep Cover by Michael Levine on the futility of drug enforcement and the corruption of Drug Enforcement Agency “suits”; Forbidden Knowledge by Roger Shattuck, on pornography among other things; and The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald, on the sweetheart triangle between national-level white collar corporate criminals, big law firms, and a compliant Department of Justice that lets the richest bad guys off easy.
I would caution the author to not do this again–the next book had better be as good as Fast Food Nation, or he will fall into the second rank of serial writers rather than culture-changing authors, where he deserves to stay.
I would also encourage anyone considering buying this book to do so–it does have useful information–but more importantly, if you have not read Fast Food Nation, go to that page and think seriously about buying and reading it now–as McDonald’s gets blamed overseas for being the epidemy of all that is hateful to Islamics, as Kraft Food pays lip service to healthy food in its realization that Oreo cookies are killing kids, what Eric Schlosser did in Fast Food Nation is being appreciated more and more each day–with that book, he did indeed change national consciousness, an achievement that will stand in history as a turning point in creating a healthier America.
If You Can Afford to Eat Out, You Need This Book,
The author does a really effective job of investigating and communicating the horrible realities of life where…managers and corporate regulations and plain meanness deprive hundreds of thousands of people of things many of us take for granted: the right to go to the bathroom, to pause for a few minutes, even to sit down quietly for a few minutes in a clean room.
Especially admirable is her focus on rent and the conditions that are imposed on the poor and lower working class (between minimum wage and $15 an hour)–not having enough money for a deposit, being forced to pay outrageous rents for decrepit motel rooms rented by the week, having to spend a precious working day finding a place to stay, etcetera.
This is a very valuable book, both from the perspective of someone who might benefit from a little humility and gratitude for their blessings and advantages; and from a policy point of view–our understanding of poverty and welfare and what it takes to allow decent hard-working people to have a *life* appears to be terribly, terribly flawed. As the author documents so ably, it is not enough to have a job in America, you need to have one that pays enough to cover rent, food, and medicine.
I was especially moved by the many details the author provided on how life at the lower levels brings on more and more hardships–not enough money for good shoes, bad shoes causing major spinal and related injuries and pain. The pain–the endless hours, the desperation for aspirin and other pain killers, cigarettes as the least expensive narcotic for the pain–this is very powerful stuff.
At a minimum, this book changes how I will evaluate politicians that speak in ignorance about welfare and poverty and safety nets–and it is going to substantially increase how much I tip and how I tip–from 15% to 25%, and in cash… This might be a good time to think of ourselves, and follow the Golden Rule–our welfare system should be what we would want it to be if we were the ones asking for welfare.
7 Star Life Transformative Public Truth Can Overcome Political-Corporate Corruption,
Living within the truth is the ultimate act of citizenship, and such living, even in the face of totalitarian repression (as in Czechoslovakia) or consumerist subversion and corporate corruption of the political and financial systems (as in the USA) can ultimately empower the powerless.This is an *extraordinary* book that is directly relevant to the circumstances that we now find ourselves in–what Ralph Nader calls “corporate socialism,” where the nominal owners of both the federal government (the voters) and the corporations (the stockholders) find themselves disenfranchised, abused, shut out, and their life savings looted by the most senior chief executive officers and politicians.
The book is slightly mis-represented, with “et al” in small print after Havel’s name as the author. I was even tempted to skip the additional small essays (his leading essay constitutes 44% of the total book, with ten other essays each being roughly 6% of the book) but that would have been unwise. There is real value in the other essays.
Both Eastern Europe prior to the revolution, and the USA in particular but Western democracies in general, share a common overwhelming problem, that of the silenced majority. As both Havel here and Nader elsewhere observe, the word “progressive” is contaminated and diluted, while democracy and capitalism (or socialism) in the ideal are completely compromised by a combination of asymmetric information (keeping the people uninformed) and corporate or bureaucratic or political corruption.
Havel opens by noting that “the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for …nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures.” This forces the vast majority of the public to “live within a lie,” and accept, either consciously or unwittingly, the huge chasm between political freedom and economic fairness in the ideal, and what the totalitarian or hijacked capitalism models offer in reality.
Brutally stated, from the point of view of the normal wage earner, there is no difference between totalitarianism and corrupt capitalism. In page after page, Havel, poet and president, documents this truth.
Speaking specifically of the West, Havel notes that Western leaders, “despite the immense power they possess through the centralized structure of power, are often no more than blind executors of the system’s own internal laws–laws they themselves never can, and never do, reflect upon.” Who does that remind us of? Clue: it makes no difference which party is in power. Havel specifically relates the Czech and Eastern European experience to the West, “as a kind of warning to the West, revealing its own latent tendencies…”
Havel places most of his emphasis on reform at the individual and community level, outside of politics and economics. He is especially encouraging in speaking of how unlikely it is to predict the moment when widely differing groups can come together in truth and freedom to overcome an oppressive regime, and yet how likely it is, in today’s environment, that such a change might occur.
In many ways his long essay reminded me of George Will’s collection of thoughts published as “Statecraft as Soulcraft,” except that Havel has found the state (either communist or capitalist) to be a failure at its most important function–the people must instead constitute an alternative polis that is initially side-by-side with the state, and ultimately displaces the state with a fresh new start. Incumbents beware, Havel finds that more often than not a clean sheet fresh start is the way to go.
As the USA confronts terrorism and a right-of-center approach to law enforcement, Havel offers a clear warning to citizens at risk of being labeled as terrorists when in fact they are only dissidents and speakers of truth. He speaks of the communist regime “ascribing terrorist aims to the ‘dissident movements’ and accusing them of illegal and conspiratorial methods.” Shades of the present in the West, where anti-globalization activists and legitimate Arab and Muslim personalities have been tarred with the terrorist brush, held without recourse to lawyers, and generally abused in the name of an ill-defined and badly-managed counter-terrorism program.
Among his deepest thoughts, and I will stop here for the essay needs to be read by the same thoughtful people that are reading “Cicero” and “What Kind of Nation” and “Crashing the Party” and “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”, is the following: “The ‘dissident movements’ do not shy away from the idea of violent political overthrow because the idea seems too radical, but on the contrary, because it does not seem radical enough. For them, the problem lies far too deep to be settled through mere systemic changes, either governmental or technological.” Havel, perhaps in concurrence with Lawrence Lessig and his “Future of Ideas” finds both the law and the legal code to be oppressive and abusive of the people–the recent effort to modify bankruptcy laws to reduce the protections of the people from abusive credit card companies, are but one small example–the outrageous extension of copyright and patent laws to keep innovation from the marketplace are another.
Havel anticipates the “whithering away and dying off” of traditional political parties, “to be replaced by new structures that have evolved from ‘below’ and are put together in a fundamentally different way.” He speaks briefly of technology being out of control, and of the ultimate war now taking place, between state control and social control. He concludes that parliamentary democracies are essentially institutionalized forms of collective *irresponsibility*, and that only a moral reconstitution of society, the resurrection of core “values like as trust, openness, responsibility, solidarity, love” will show the way out of the “classic impotence of traditional democratic organizations.”
The other authors are not to be missed, and provide complementary but distinct views that are helpful to sparking debate and reflection. This volume will in my opinion stand as one of the great basic texts for political science and public administration, and it has great value for courses and reflections on ethics, citizenship, sociology, and economics.
Somewhat Dated, Some Nuggets,
There are a few flakey notes (e.g. one vignette about recruiting people to call parents and offer support as they are getting kids out the door to school. Any normal parent, especially if one parent is absent or has an early work start, would be furious at any volunteer daring to call in the midst of the chaos that charactizes getting three kids out the door to three different bus pick-up times.)
This manual does have an index. Bottom line: dated, some nuggets, if volunteers are vital to your success, worth getting.
Let Freedom Ring–Truths the Corporate Thieves Can’t Hide
May 29, 2002
The most distressing aspect of this book, written by an American expatriate publishing largely through newspapers in the United Kingdom, is that all of this information should have been published in U.S. newspapers in time to make a difference–to inform the voting public–but was not. One can only speculate how corrupt our media have become–how beholden to their owners and advertisers–if we cannot get front page coverage of the Florida government’s disenfranchisement of over 50,000 predominantly black and democratic voters, prior to the presidential election; or of the raw attacks on our best interests by the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and others linked in a “trigger” network where taking money from one demands all sorts of poverty-inducing and wealth theft conditions.
Even more timely are his stories about the current Administration continuing a practice of the former Administration, spiking, curtailing, forbidding intelligence investigations into Saudi Arabian government funding of bin Laden’s terrorism as well as Pakistani production of the “Islamic” atomic bomb.
His exposes of corporate misdeeds, some criminal, some simply unethical, all costing the U.S. taxpayer dearly, are shocking, in part because of their sleaziness, in part because our own newspapers do not dare to fulfill their role as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, of informing and educating the people of this Nation upon which the government depends for both its revenue and its legitimacy.
Although I take this book with a grain of salt (wondering, for example, why he did not ensure that Gore’s campaign had all that he could offer in time to challenge the vote disenfranchisement as part of the Supreme Court case), there is enough here, in very forthright and sensible terms, to give one hope that investigative journalism might yet play a role in protecting democracy and the future of the Republic.
Public Warning of looting and Destruction of the E-Commons,
In the aftermath of 9-11, when our secret national intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities failed us, there is a need for a restoration of the people’s intelligence in the aggregate as our first line of defense against enemies both foreign and domestic. I regard this book as a very serious, thoughtful, and well-intentioned “public intelligence estimate” and warning, of the harm to our security and prosperity that will ensue from a legal system that is now “out of control” and not being audited by the common sense of the people.
This book makes it clear that if the people are inert and inattentive, they will be enslaved, “virtually speaking.” If you thought Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky was scarcy, or Norman Cousins’ The Pathology of Power, then this book is for you.
Along with Internet standards acceptable to the people, we now appear to need a public advocacy group, funded by the people, to fight these corporate lawyers at every turn, whilst helping our less than stellar government lawyers cope….