Review (Guest): Confidence Men – Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

5 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Banks, Fed, Money, & Concentrated Wealth, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Complexity & Catastrophe, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Crime (Corporate), Crime (Government), Crime (Organized, Transnational), Culture, Research, Economics, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Justice (Failure, Reform), Leadership, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Public Administration, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, True Cost & Toxicity, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
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Ron Suskind

From Product Description:

The new president surrounded himself with a team of seasoned players—like Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner—who had served a different president in a different time. As the nation’s crises deepened, Obama’s deputies often ignored the president’s decisions—“to protect him from himself”—while they fought to seize control of a rudderless White House. Bitter disputes—between men and women, policy and politics—ruled the day. The result was an administration that found itself overtaken by events as, year to year, Obama struggled to grow into the world’s toughest job and, in desperation, take control of his own administration.

5.0 out of 5 stars Objective Look at Presidential Leadership,September 20, 2011

Suskind's “Confidence Men” is based on 746 hours of interviews with over 200 people, including former and current members of the Obama administration – including the president. It's negative observations will not make the president's life any easier – already dealing with an emboldened, growing opposition, a floundering economy, the appearance of having been outmaneuvered during the debt-ceiling debacle, the Solyndra mess, another Palestine-Israel mess, and even prominent strategists already saying he should ‘fire much of his staff.' It begins with candidate Obama's crash course in economics and ends in early 2011, and does not include the efforts to kill Osama bin Laden, the more recent debt ceiling fight, nor his most recent efforts to create jobs.

The most attention-getting material involves comments from Obama's economic team. For example, Lawrence Summers is quoted as saying to Budget Director Peter Orzag at a dinner that ‘There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.' Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, in turn, describes the president as too reliant on Summers, smart, but not smart enough. Senior White House aide Pete Rouse wrote ‘There is deep dissatisfaction within the economic team with what is perceived as Larry's imperious and heavy-handed direction of the economic policy process.' Suskind also tells us Geithner was working behind the scenes to neutralize Elizabeth Warren and prevent her being named to leadd the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – per bankers' demands. And then there's Christina Romer, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, stating that she ‘felt like a piece of meat' after being kept out of a meeting by Summers; further, she once threatened to walk out of a dinner with the president and outside economists after the president skipped over her when asking his guests for their recommendations.

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Review: The Way of the World–A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism

5 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Democracy, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Misinformation & Propaganda, Politics

way of worldForgery is old news–focus on the loss of morality, August 7, 2008

Ron Suskind

EDIT of 3 Sep 08 to add CIA published denial and attack, and comment from Association of Former Intelligence Officers, as a comment.

I have reviewed all the books linked to below, and my reviews of those books will add depth to this review.

Ron Suskind's first book on the current Administration, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 was extraordinary for its deep look at Dick Cheney and how since his Ford days, he has always favored unfettered Executive power and has never, in every Continuity of Government exercise, NEVER, given any thought to Congress. He ALWAYS went for an Executive dictatorship that used “war powers” to overturn the Constitution and every single civil liberty. However, the better books on Cheney (25 documented high crimes) and Bush (a tragedy within a farce) are these:

Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The Bush Tragedy

The media and the other reviewers are placing excessive emphasis on the forgery. This is old news. Vaclav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia, personally said that the White House claims that Iraqi intelligence met Al Qaeda in his country were false. The son in law of Sadaam Hussein who defected asserted, very credibly (and without torture) that the regime kept the cookbooks, destroyed the stocks (Army intelligence tells me they poured so much stuff into the river the future of those downstream is very scary), and were bluffing for regional influence's sake). The fact is that in addition to Cheney's 25 high crimes, there were 935 documented lies told by the White House, and their lack of ethics, integrity, and respect for the Constitution is now beyond repudiation. See for example:

State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq

I continue to be astonished that citizens of the US are not burning tires in the streets and surrounding the White House demanding the immediate exile of Dick Cheney and the appointment of a care taker Vice President, at a time when open source intelligence (OSINT) is telling all of us, and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that Dick Cheney has promised Israel the US will nuke the Iranians between November 2008 and January 2009.

The core value of this book is NOT in the forgery, which is old news, but in the broad picture it paints of a Republic that has become a Third World dictatorship in which Cheney calls the shots, Congress is complaint (both parties be damned, the Republicans for being collaborators, the Democrats for being doormats), the war loots the individual taxpayer for Halliburton's financial benefit, and brave Americans die for an illegal, immoral war justified by a cadre of liars: Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Feith.

I read a a great deal–an almost fruitless attempt to remain sane in a time of mass insanity–and what I admire most about this author and this book is his broad focus on morality, civil liberties, and the values that differentiate true conservatives who read and value philosophy–and liberals who parrot phrases they do not understand. This is SERIOUS stuff!

In support of this author's “brief” to We the People, who should all be absorbing and then acting upon his message of paradise lost, I can only point to four more books within my Amazon limit, but urge all to look at my lists of books on evaluating Dick Cheney, on the case for impeachment, and on strategy, emerging threats, and anti-Americanism for good reason.

Will and Ariel DurantThe Lessons of History, a capstone volume on their 10-volume History of Civilization, tell us that MORALITY is a strategic asset that is priceless. Ron Suskind is right on target when he points out that it is this aspect–the loss of our national morality–that distinguishes the Bush-Cheney regime. Other Presidents have lied, cheated, and stolen, but this is the first in modern history to combine BOTH global imperialism AND domestic subversion on a scale that makes Richard Nixon look like a novice.

Max Manwaring, contributing editor of The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century, and his distingusihed authors, make the point that LEGITIMACY is the single most priceless asset for any government, for it empowers citizens and enables commerce, innovation, and civil society.

Ambassador Mark Palmer, author of Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025 points out that the US is not respected nor trusted in part because the Bush-Cheney Administration has chosen to be best pals with all but two of the 44 dictators in the world. Rendition, torture, warrantless wiretaping at home (including Guantanamo); deep secret and financial relations–at our expense–with 42 dictators busy looting and terrorizing their publics. Go figure….

Much of what the author has brought together is not new for those of us that continually monitor and agonize over crimes against the Republic, but I have to give him credit for crafting an elegant presentation that makes his book a moving and hence essential wake up call for the Republic. The people are NOT sovereign today, the people are sheep whose civil liberties, freedom of expression, right to bear arms, even their right to assemble, are all under attack.

With my final link, choosing from over 1,000 candidates, I conclude with a strong recommendation for the book Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World. America is a failed state, and it is not just Noam Chomsky and Chalmers Johnson that are saying this, but also true conservatives steeped in thinking and integrity who are aghast at both the crimes of this Administration “in our name,” and the two clowns we have running for President, neither of whom can produce a strategy to restore America in the face of the ten high-level threats to humanity, a coherent policy matrix (twelve policies from Agriculture to Water), or a draft balanced budget and notional Cabinet proving they have a clue. They do not.

The USA has become a Third World nation. We let it happen by abdicating our moral and civic responsibilities as citizens of a Republic. Right now, regardless of who “wins” in November, we all lose. THAT is the point of this great book. The Republic is adrift and sinking fast.

Learn how to do public intelligence in the public interest at Earth Intelligence Network. It's time we take back the power.

Review: The One Percent Doctrine–Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Hardcover)

6 Star Top 10%, Education (General), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Justice (Failure, Reform), Politics

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Impeaches Cheney, Demeans Bush, Crucifies Rumsfeld and Rice,

June 26, 2006
Ron Suskind
In the context of non-fiction literature, I consider this book to be the co-equal of Graham Allison's classic, “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis.” It joins Bob Woodward's “Bush at War” and the more detailed James Risen's “State of War” as core references. This book specifically and clearly documents three facts:

1) Vice President Cheney is impeachable for dereliction of duty and obstruction of due process in government as well as many violations of international and domestic law. While I do not see the President as quite the puppet some represent him to be, he is certainly childish and petulant and angry at his father (page 107: “I'm not going to be supportive of my father and all his Arab buddies.”) Cheney and his neo-cons nurtured the young President's inclination to “unleash” Israel against the Palestinians, and Cheney is specifically impeachable for not providing the President with a copy of the Saudi Arabian memorandum of grievances that preceded a summit at the ranch which was of MAJOR importance to the entire Middle East situation. The author excels at showing how Dick Cheney has “experimented”, from President Ford onward, with specifically NOT briefing the President, ostensibly to give him plausible denial but in this instance, more as a means of Cheney's deposing Bush as the actual head of State.

2) I cannot take the second step of suggesting that Bush himself is impeachable on the basis of this book. What I see–and the author excels at social-psychological insights across the entire text–is an insecure young man with excessive faith in his gut instinct, loosely-educated, hostile about experts and especially mature experts like Brent Scowcroft, and all too eager to prove his (inadequate) manliness by being belligerent and often a bully. “Bring it on.” The author of this book combines analytic insights into the character of the President, with detailed discussion of the degree to which the White House completely ignored the policy process to “do what they want, when they want to, for whatever reason they decide.” On the basis of this book, one can conclude that Cheney should be impeached and Bush still needs a good spanking from his father. In this context, the author provides a memorable quote on page 227, “America, unbound, was duly led by a President, unbound” and also “free from conventional sources of accountability.”

3) The third major focus of this book is the combination of incapacity of the CIA and the FBI and the Pentagon in evolving to deal with the post-9/11 challenges. The FBI comes off as the most inept, consistently unable to do its job on the home front. Rumsfeld is next in line for condemnation, and while the author is very professional in his review, he quotes Rumsfeld as saying that “every CIA success is a DoD failure,” and he quotes then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller as considering Rumsfeld to be “beneath contempt.” One can only be stunned as the six years going on eight of having a government that is BOTH “out of control” AND inept. The CIA, and George Tenet, are featured as the least incompetent among the three. At a minimum, they did find and track Bin Laden over a week as he fled Afghanistan and the Pentagon refused to put US troops into Afghanistan's border region; and they did get other aspects right in relation to the policy debate that was not allowed to happen. The title of the book refers to the Vice President's decision that even a 1% probability of what he chose to emphasize, was sufficient to eliminate the policy process and all standards of evidence, sufficient to close out all reasoned debate.

There are a number of gems in this book that merit note:

1) Cheney was responsible for both intelligence and terrorism from day one of the Bush Administration, and was clearly derelict in his duty in ignoring both.

2) The book clearly lays out how the Administration's obsession with Iraq sidelined all CIA warnings including the 6 August warning and others. Bush is quoted in the book as having dismissed the last CIA briefing team, which made a frantic attempt to alarm him, as “OK, you've covered your ass now.” Boy kings as “enfant's terribles!”

3) The book captures in detail the incompetence of the CIA and FBI as a general rule. On one page, the author quotes the Vice President as chewing out both agencies, saying “You don't cooperate for shit.” On another page, he quotes George Tenet as telling the assembled Allied intelligence chiefs, “We don't know shit.”

4) The author provides a superb review of successes in one area, following the money, but ends on a down note because now Al Qaeda and everyone connected to the financial support of Al Qaeda has gone “offline” to use couriers and cash. As the author says, we are now, again, deaf and blind. In passing the book puts Western Union out of business in the Arab world, at least among those desiring to do illegal transactions. In this context the author makes it clear that First Data volunteered to help, and confirms that the Bush Administration decided with great deliberation to ignore the FISA court and its *exclusive* mandate from Congress.

Other tid-bits:

1) CIA had the mastermind of the London bus bombings in its sights, but put him on a no fly list rather than help the UK track him.

2) Al Qaeda chose NOT to go after nuclear targets with the 9/11 bombings, “for fear it would go out of control.” This suggests a reasoned enemy.

3) Brent Scowcroft produced a plan for intelligence reorganization that was sensible, and that was blocked by Cheney, who also blocked the 1992 intelligence reform effort.

4) Condi Rice is crucified in this book for a broken NSC process and lack of gravitas.

Book ends with Deuteronomy 16:20, justice twice, once for ends, one for means. This book fails the Bush Administration on both counts.

See also:
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil
9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA, Fourth Edition
Bush's Brain

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Review: The Price of Loyalty–George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill

5 Star, Banks, Fed, Money, & Concentrated Wealth, Biography & Memoirs, Congress (Failure, Reform), Crime (Government), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Book Clearly Documents Shortfalls in Ideological Power,

February 12, 2004
Ron Suskind
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links for the brain dead (at bottom, duh).

This book is a fine summary of the shortfalls in the ideological exercise of power that chooses to disregard reality for forgo bi-partisan compromise.

The author, an award-winning Wall Street journalist, makes three points in his brief introduction: 1) the greatest threat to national security is that of *bad analysis* (not just secret analysis but bad policy analysis); 2) the book is not a kiss and tell memoir as much as an eye-opening warning of what happens when ideology is substituted for policy analysis; and 3) the book is based on nineteen thousand documents–virtually every document the protagonist O'Neil touched–and hundreds of hours of interviews with people who by their very consent to be interviewed were validating O'Neil's account. This book is a classic, and the moderate Republican counter-part to Morton Halperin's similarly revelatory “Bureaucratic Politics & Foreign Affairs.”

Although much has been made of how O'Neil is disparaging of the incumbent president, that is a minor aspect. The heart of this book is about the competition between two forms of governance: the one that is overseen by Dick Cheney, in which ideological assumptions create policy without regard to the facts and in favor of the wealthy few that contribute to the incumbent's political coffers; and the one that was characteristic of wiser Republican presidents, including Nixon, Ford, Reagan and papa Bush, in which a philosophy of governance seeks to find a balanced middle ground based on an interplay of facts and political preferences.

Summing the book up in two sentences: Bush-Cheney are about ideological victory at any cost, making policy in favor of their corporate crony base, without regard to the facts or the merits of any policy. O'Neil, and the winning candidate in 2008, are about a reasoned process for arriving at sound policy in the context of fiscal discipline.

This is an exciting book, and one that every moderate Republican will want to read as they contemplate joining with conservative Southern Democrats like Sam Nunn to create a new Fiscal Conservative Party. An early quote from O'Neil talking to Greenspan sums up the problem: “Our political system needs fixing. It needs to be based on reality. Not games.”

The book rewards anyone who actually reads it word for word with a number of gems.

1) The American economy is actually two economies. One embraces automation and is very productive as a result; the other relies on expert labor and having difficulty making gains.

2) Corporate tax contributions to national revenue have been halved from 1967 to 2000 [not addressed by O'Neil, but as the book “Perfectly Legal” documents, the tax code has become so corrupt that despite the enormous growth of the economy and the enormous profits being made by Halliburton et al, corporations are now escaping virtually all taxes, and this is a big part of why the US Government cannot cover its future obligations and growing debt.]

3) Iraq was the Bush-Cheney regime's top priority from day one. The very first National Security Council meeting was scripted to put Iraq in play, and the Director of Central Intelligence was a full collaborator in this endeavor, coming to the meeting with a variety of images (all subsequently called into question) that purported to make the case for Iraq being a threat requiring action. As O'Neil recollects in the book: “Ten days in, and it was about Iraq.”

4) The unilateralist character of the regime is also addressed. As this review is being written, the Administration is posturing about going after nuclear proliferators, which makes the O'Neil critique of the Rumsfeld approach to proliferation control all the more meaningful: “A traditional counterpoint, that international organizations and a web of economic and cultural interdependencies–as well as protective alliances–could help to control such deadly proliferation, is not mentioned in the six-page memo. The neoconservative view places little faith in such arrangements, or, for that matter, in diplomacy.” There it is again. The Bush Administration is about a big military stick motivated by ideology and not at all informed by any kind of inter-agency policy review process.

5) The book provides a very clear understanding of the pathologies of the Bush White House. The degree to which Rove literally shuts the Cabinet officers out and manipulates policy to appeal to “the base” of cash contributors is quite extraordinary. The degree to which Cheney manipulates letters from the Hill and other matters warrants its own chapter, titled “No Fingerprints.” The degree to which Lindsey, a loosely-educated ideological wonk in way over his head, leaks to the press to undermine the Secretary of the Treasury, is noteworthy.

6) Rove's conspiratorial manipulation of Presidential policymaking led, in Bush's *first* State of the Union message, to the first known instance in which the president “said something that knowledgeable people in the U.S. government knew to be false”, this with respect to a $1.2 trillion calculation that was knowably false and enormously important to the bond market. This was nothing less than a precursor to future false statements by the president that can be attributed to an unprofessional policy process dominated by a few ideologues.

7) There is a very fine section on clean water and reliable electricity as the heart of saving the Third World, and we are treated to the contrast between a beltway bandit costing out a water network for one country at $2 billion, and O'Neil saying it could be done for $25 million. This vignette captured everything that is wrong with both Washington and the military-industrial complex.

This book is packed with gems, all of them useful to anyone seeking to document why Bush and Cheney are unfit to lead America. They broke most if not all of their promises to “the center”, and they are twice removed from reality: once on tax cuts and a second time on the doctrine of preemption in foreign affairs.

See also, with reviews:
Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America
American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq
Bush's Brain

‘Nuff said. See my lists as well.

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