Kaplan, Fred. The Wizards of Armageddon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. 452 pages.When the first atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, an elite group of "defense intellectuals" realized that the implications of nuclear strategy were enormous, but also bizarre. It became obvious that given the power of only a few well-placed bombs, even a first strike by one nation would leave sufficient retaliatory power with the other, and would therefore prove suicidal. Thus began the intellectual discipline that produced our cold-war lexicon: missile gaps, megadeaths, deterrence, mutually assured destruction, game theory, and limited conventional warfare as an alternative to nuclear stalemate or destruction.
On the beach in Santa Monica, California, the Air Force contracts began flowing at Rand Corporation in 1948, from which a cult of self-appointed wizards issued forth over the years. All of them were "thinking the unthinkable," trying to second-guess the Soviets. More often than not, they melded esoteric mind games with their egos, as they jockeyed for the attention of Pentagon generals. In the end, the author believes, nothing was accomplished except that both sides now have tens of thousands of warheads instead of dozens or hundreds, and missile technology has vastly improved delivery. In retrospect, it seems that Rand should have spent more effort on disarmament studies -- even if only as a sop to public relations.
Knelman, F.H. America, God and the Bomb: The Legacy of Ronald Reagan. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1987. 478 pages.F.H. Knelman is a professor of physics and engineering, and has been active in peace and disarmament movements since the late 1950s. This book examines the arms race and Star Wars mongering of the Reagan administration. Since Reagan is mostly the effect, not the cause, Knelman also looks at some cold warriors from think tanks and defense industries. While the roots of the nuclear escalation can be traced to the 1975 founding of the Committee on the Present Danger, by 1984 several secret documents had been leaked that presented our new nuclear strategy. The U.S. under Reagan had adopted an offensive nuclear posture: now planners clearly assumed that a nuclear war was winnable. Then came Star Wars, which made equally insane assumptions about the feasibility of shooting down all offensive missiles.
Reactionary pundits and defense moguls got rich from these assumptions, as they brought us closer to war and created huge budget deficits. Their projections of missile gaps and Soviet intentions, intended to justify this spending, were all massive distortions of the actual situation. Knelman even suspects that the entire U.S. effort might have been a scam, designed to force the Soviets into economic suffocation as they try to keep up. But this probably assumes too much strategic IQ from defense planners; it's more likely a simple case of milking the taxpayer for fun and profit.
Bainerman, Joel. The Crimes of a President: New Revelations on Conspiracy and Cover-Up in the Bush and Reagan Administrations. New York: S.P.I. Books (Shapolsky Publishers), 1992. 324 pages.If you've been following what investigative journalists have written about George Bush since the early 1980s, then this book will offer few surprises. If you haven't, here is a summary of the circumstantial evidence, as reported by a variety of journalists, showing that Bush was behind many of the secret agendas of the 1980s. This book was hastily produced because the publisher was trying to beat the 1992 election (there is no index and some names are misspelled). Other than that, it is well-written and responsive to the evidence.
The chapters include Bush and the contras, drugs, Quayle's role, Manuel Noriega, October Surprise, the arming of Iraq, the Gander and Pan Am 103 crashes, Bush and Israel, BCCI, Inslaw, the looting of the S & Ls, and the suspicious policies behind the Gulf War. Author Joel Bainerman, a conservative journalist based in Israel who is sincerely alarmed over all this corruption and duplicity, tenuously adopts a larger perspective with a brief concluding chapter on Skull and Bones, the Council on Foreign Relations, Freemasonry, and the New World Order. While this isn't as rigorous as we would wish, at least Bainerman knows that Clinton won't make a difference. This alone suggests that he's closer than most journalists to figuring it all out.
Brownstein, Ronald and Easton, Nina. Reagan's Ruling Class: Portraits of the President's Top One Hundred Officials. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. 760 pages. With an introduction by Ralph Nader.The authors of this book are staff writers for Ralph Nader, whose Public Interest Research Group provided additional support. Of the 100 officials profiled, 57 agreed to interviews. Each profile includes a photo and averages five or more pages, which is broken down into a description of the responsibilities of the office, general biographical information, major issues surrounding the individual's performance in office so far, and a section detailing data from the individual's financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
The authors spent a year collecting information, and the first edition went to press in 1982. In other words, this excellent compilation is only able to spotlight the first year of what turned out to be a disastrous twelve years of Republican mischief. As Nader points out, "Over a fourth of the top one hundred Reagan Administration officials have net worths of seven figures, or more.... Little of this wealth was inherited. The nouveau riche status may help to explain the absence of noblesse oblige which has characterized the paternalism of the Old Rich who entered politics." Ten years later the rich are richer, the middle class is poorer, and mainstream journalists are beginning to notice that they missed the biggest story of the 1980s.
Dickson, Paul. Think Tanks. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972. 397 pages.Not long after this book appeared in 1972, it was out of date. The "think tank" phenomenon became much more politicized, beginning in the 1970s and continuing vigorously into the Reagan era, with the establishment of private-sector institutes that pushed a public-policy agenda. Funded by corporations and wealthy conservatives, these became an important part of the so-called New Right. Heritage Foundation is the prime example of this trend, but older conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute, also became major players during this period. This book is about an earlier era of American think tanks. The major ones it describes are the Hudson Institute, Institute for Defense Analyses, Arthur D. Little, Inc., Rand Corporation, Institute for Policy Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Stanford Research Institute, and the Urban Institute. Some of these thrived on Pentagon contracts, while others specialized in packaging a heady, befuddled, buzz-word futurism. Several of the former were forced by student antiwar protesters to sever their university ties.
The relevance of this book since the decline of big government and the end of the Cold War is even more doubtful. But it remains an excellent history, and gives new meaning to President Eisenhower's warning in his 1961 farewell address that "public policy could itself become captive of a scientific-technological elite."
Goulden, Joseph C. The Superlawyers: The Small and Powerful World of the Great Washington Law Firms. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1972. 408 pages.In 1969, Ralph Nader was a model for public-spirited law students, while Lloyd Cutler represented General Motors in efforts to fight air pollution standards. The staid firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering was picketed by fifteen polite law students from George Washington University on October 9, which resulted in what many believe was the first press release ever issued by a Washington law firm: Cutler accused the students of "McCarthyism" for believing that they had a "divine monopoly on knowing where the public interest lies." Washington law firms thrive on fat fees and behind-the-scenes fixes; they aren't used to public accountability. This book includes one chapter each on Covington and Burling, Clark Clifford, Arnold and Porter, Thomas G. Corcoran, lawyers who deal with regulatory agencies, the firm of Mudge, Rose, Guthrie and Alexander, lawyer-lobbyists who influence legislation, and the new phenomenon of public interest law.
When Goulden wrote this book he was a liberal who wrote for Harper's, Ramparts, and The Nation, in addition to books on the Tonkin Gulf incident, big business, and philanthropy. During the 1960s he had a solid reputation as an investigative reporter, and later as Washington bureau chief, for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then during the 1980s he worked for Accuracy in Media, and became a strong supporter of the U.S. intelligence community.
Green, Mark. Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation, and Betrays Our Democracy. New York: ReganBooks (HarperCollins), 2002. 342 pages.Mark Green worked with Ralph Nader for ten years in Washington, and then spent twelve years as a public servant in New York City. His first book was "Who Runs Congress" in 1972. In 2001 he ran for mayor of New York, and was leading in the polls. His campaign spent $16 million, which was the third-highest of any non-presidential candidate in the country in 2000-2001. This money came from 14,000 contributors. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg ran against him and spent $74 million of his own money, and bought off the voters with an advertising blitz. You can see from this why Mark Green feels that there is a problem with our political culture in general, and campaign financing in particular.
Green places much of the blame on the Supreme Court for its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision that struck down campaign spending ceilings on the grounds that they restricted free speech. As this book went to press, he saw new hope in the McCain-Feingold law. It passed in 2002 with the help of recent corporate scandals, seven years after it was introduced. Three years later it seems that McCain-Feingold may have been too little and too late. This book is valuable for exposing the depth of the problem, but these days the reforms it recommends seem hopelessly optimistic.
Haas, Lawrence J. The Washington Almanac: A Guide to Federal Policy. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1992. 653 pages.This book offers one-page profiles of 355 key Washington players in both the public and private sectors. It is divided into 23 policy areas of about 25 pages each: civil rights, law and order, health, education, housing, business and labor, farmers, the elderly, the poor, states and cities, the budget, taxes, money and the markets, financial services, credit, energy, the environment, infrastructure, science-space-technology, telecommunications, defense, foreign policy, and trade. Each section is preceded by several pages that present a historical perspective on the issues in that area and, within this context, describe how recent legislative initiatives have fared in the Bush administration.
The profiles of individual players are not the usual Who's Who list of achievements and affiliations; they are summaries of that person's concerns and efforts within that particular policy arena. Lawrence J. Haas, who lives in Rockville, Maryland, is a recognized expert on federal policy. He writes for National Journal, and is also the author of "Running on Empty: Bush, Congress, and the Politics of a Bankrupt Government."
Hendrickson, Kenneth E. Jr. and Collins, Michael L., eds. Profiles in Power: Twentieth-Century Texans in Washington. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1993. 326 pages.This is a collection of essays by thirteen history professors. Each chapter covers a twentieth-century Texan who had a significant career in national politics: Edward M. House, Morris Sheppard, John Nance Garner, Jesse Jones, Tom Connally, Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Ralph Yarborough, Barbara Jordan, John Tower, Jim Wright, Lloyd Bentsen, and George H.W. Bush. It was written for use in undergraduate history courses.
Texas has always presented a curious mixture of provincialism and populism, so it comes as no surprise that some of the contributors to this book have the same problem. For example, the essay on Edward House is fascinating, but makes no mention of his role with respect to the origins of the Council on Foreign Relations, or in providing President Wilson with what amounted to America's first intelligence service. And while corruption is not unheard of in Texas, the word "conspiracy" is of course never used by history professors. On the plus side, some Texans thrived who came from the working class, kept getting elected by the little guys, and were fair and incorruptible. Sam Rayburn, the longest-serving Speaker of the House, comes to mind. When he died in 1961, twenty thousand people stood outside the First Baptist Church in Bonham, Texas during his funeral.
Hersh, Seymour M. The Dark Side of Camelot. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1997. 498 pages.Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist at the top of his profession, spent five years on this book. By tackling the one topic that has benefitted from more spin, puffery, and outright lies than any other, Hersh knew he'd be stepping on toes. The defenders of conventional wisdom pounced -- they had little choice, because by exposing Camelot in interview piled on top of amazing on-the-record interview, Hersh inadvertently puts American journalism in the dock: How is it that so many reporters and so many pundits have been so misleading and incompetent for so many years?
Hersh avoids the assassination, but persuasively shows the two brothers and father as dangerous, corrupt, dishonest, vindictive, and megalomaniacal, with JFK also recklessly dependent on illicit sex and drugs. What all this means today is unexplored by Hersh. It still seems likely that the Mafia, which was clearly double-crossed by the Kennedys, had revenge as the best motive. But Castro and the USSR could have conscientiously acted out of self-defense; the threat to them was objectively that serious. Whoever did it, at least it's easier now to understand the success of the cover-up. To put it bluntly, those insiders who might otherwise have exposed a cover-up, were also in a position to know that JFK was a bigger threat to America than his killers could ever be. They may have simply decided to let it go.
Hershman, D. Jablow, with a preface by Gerald Tolchin, Ph.D. Power Beyond Reason: The Mental Collapse of Lyndon Johnson. Fort Lee NJ: Barricade Books, 2002. 358 pages.D. Jablow Hershman's first book examined the role of manic depression in the lives of geniuses, the second looked at the politics and case histories of Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin, and this one is based on her research from 86 books, which is almost everything written about Lyndon Johnson. Her point is that Johnson suffered from bipolar disorder throughout his life, and that this is the way to make sense out his policies and behavior. As Professor Gerald Tolchin writes in the preface: "A manic can act impulsively and precipitously with little regard for consequences."
Hershman's research makes a strong case. She extracts anecdotes, conversations, and examples from LBJ's recorded behavior, starting with childhood, and stitches it into an enlightening narrative. The result is a biography of a president unlike any other. It explains why LBJ waged war in Vietnam as soon as JFK, who planned to pull out, was assassinated. It's scary, because today George W. Bush, fortified by religious zeal, is going crazy in Iraq. But Bush clearly wants the oil that America needs to keep its SUVs running, which at least offers hope that Bush, unlike LBJ, may not be clinically unbalanced. Vietnam, by contrast, had nothing the U.S. or LBJ wanted -- it was mainly a matter of Lyndon Johnson's manic depression.
Kessler, Ronald. Inside Congress: The Shocking Scandals, Corruption, and Abuse of Power Behind the Scenes on Capitol Hill. New York: Pocket Books, 1998. 301 pages.If you sample the international community about which countries are corrupt, from least to most, the U.S. comes in at 17th place, behind most European countries plus Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand. Naturally, this depends on who you ask. Ronald Kessler had the novel idea to ask present and former members of the Capitol Police. This force of 1,076 officers is the property of Congress, and they return the favor for members by running errands, fixing parking tickets, driving them to the airport with sirens blaring, and "unarresting" them if they get nailed for drunk driving.
In addition to stories about drunk Congressmen, sex with secretaries, check-bouncing at the House Bank, money laundering though the House Post Office, and silk-covered office chairs that cost $20,000, Kessler also looks into campaign finance. In the 1960s and 1970s, Capitol Police would search the briefcases of visitors and sometimes find them stuffed with cash. "Let's just say it's campaign funds," they'd agree, and wave them through. Now it's all done legally through PACs, so cash is not required. "We call it the Land of Oz," a high-ranking Capitol Police officer told Kessler. "It's unlike any other place in the world. Congress is just a cesspool. The biggest chunks rise to the top."
Kilian, Michael and Sawislak, Arnold. Who Runs Washington? New York: St.Martin's Press, 1982. 340 pages.Jack Anderson commented that this book is "perceptive of what Washington is really like and also irreverent enough to puncture a lot of stuffed shirts." Michael Kilian, a Chicago Tribune columnist based in DC, and Arnold Sawislak, a 25-year UPI Washington correspondent, put together this amusing look at the bigwigs in Power City. They approach their subject more as gossip columnists than investigative journalists, and the last 100 pages are of local interest only (sports, museums, the arts, real estate, restaurants), so that leaves about 240 pages of NameBase material. The authors paint with too broad a brush to penetrate very deeply, but it's a worthwhile effort.
The fifteen chapters that interest us are divided into the White House gang, the Hill, courts, spooks, the bureaucracy, regulatory agencies, moneymen, diplomats, influence traders, media, think tanks, press agents, lawyers, high society, and political pros. The first half of each chapter is an overview of the authors' impressions, in which they go out of their way to be witty. We liked the second half of each chapter best. Here they list the top five, ten, or fifteen individuals in that chapter category and dedicate a half page to each individual career.
Lewis, Charles and the Center for Public Integrity. The Buying of the Congress: How Special Interests Have Stolen Your Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Avon Books, 1998. 416 pages.With ten writers, two editors, and 25 researchers, the Center spent a year interviewing 1,200 people, perusing thousands of campaign-spending reports and other official records, and hanging out on LexisNexis. They wanted to find out which issues Americans care about, what Congress did or did not do with these issues, and how special interests may have influenced the outcome.
The issues are organized as chapter themes: toxic chemicals (methyl bromide), food safety (E. coli and meat inspection), tobacco companies, gun control, drug companies, job safety, airlines, nursing homes, agricultural subsidies, tax breaks for corporations, telecommunications deregulation, and Social Security and Medicare. This is followed by several chapters on big business centralization, free trade and runaway shops, and corporate influence in the courts. An appendix lists 32 leading members of Congress, along with each of their top ten career patrons (corporations and lobbying PACs). It's a depressing picture. The last two sentences of the book read, "Today ... there is no leadership or protest against our subjugation to the powerful economic interests that have captured our Congress and our politics. We are tired, and there is no alternative but to protest."
Lewis, Charles and the Center for Public Integrity. The Buying of the President. New York: Avon Books, 1996. 271 pages.The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit watchdog research group located in Washington DC. Its founder and executive director is Charles Lewis, a former producer for CBS's "60 Minutes." While CPI does excellent work, it generally falls within the narrow focus of researching and criticizing the infrastructure of Washington, from party politics to lobbyists to campaign finance. It never seems to occur to CPI that perhaps we're beyond the possibility of political reform, and that it may be time to start looking at Wall Street, or the military-industrial complex, or the structures and personalities behind private-sector global finance and international trade. But then, their grant money would dry up if they were to take such an approach. At PIR we guarantee this.
If you assume that the two political parties are really different, and if voters looked more closely at who's running and showed up to cast their votes then we'd all be better off -- if you believe this in your heart, then this research is important. It has chapters on each of 15 presidential candidates in 1996, summarizing what's available from the public record about their wheeling and dealing during their political careers. But if you have doubts about fine-tuning Washington politics, then this book is merely more evidence that our system is beyond repair.
Lewis, Charles and the Center for Public Integrity. The Buying of the President 2000. New York: Avon Books, 2000. 368 pages.This is another in a list of books by a Washington nonprofit watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity. Others include a book on the 1996 election, and one on the 1998 congressional election. All examine the role of big money and conflicts of interest in the American political process.
CPI is becoming something of an institution itself. Revenues were $2 million in 1998, and $4 million in 1999. Donors include the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and a couple of Rockefeller foundations (the big three players in the CIA's cold war). They also got money from a contract with CBS ($93,000 in 1999, which CPI considered part of their exempt function and purpose), and from the usual gaggle of alleged good-guy liberals such as Bill Moyers (another former covert operator).
This book has separate chapters on the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Reform Party, Bill Bradley, Albert Gore, Gary Bauer, George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Alan Keyes, John McCain, Dan Quayle, and Patrick Buchanan. If the U.S. electoral process is salvageable, and all that's lacking is critical attention from the U.S. major-media process, then buy this book. Their work is narrow, Washington-centric, and devoid of class consciousness, but it's the only game in that town.
Lewis, Charles and the Center for Public Integrity. The Buying of the President 2004. New York: Perennial (HarperCollins), 2004. 507 pages.There was one of these in 1996 that was 271 pages, another in 2000 that was 368 pages, and this one is 507 pages. The bloat is mostly because the Center for Public Integrity is assigning more researchers. It may also be true that in every new presidential election, the candidates are more corrupt than the last time, and there's more to write about. This one covers Bush and Cheney, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Richard Gephardt, Bob Graham, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Lieberman, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton. It looks at past scandals, major campaign contributors, and the special interests favored by each candidate.
With the 2000 and 2004 elections the electoral process itself became deeply suspicious. Since this book was published before the 2004 election, all we get is a chapter on the Florida debacle of 2000. In the next edition in 2008 they should take a look at Ohio in 2004, the Electoral College, and who's behind electronic voting.
Will it matter by then? That's the key question one is left with after reading this book with post-2004 hindsight. Does it matter at all, or will any effort to research the electoral process in the expectation of encouraging reform, always end up as too little and too late?
Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing Is Turning America Into a One-Party State. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004. 264 pages.Rampton and Stauber run the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and are best known for previous books criticizing the public relations industry. Here they wade into politics more directly by examining the views and organizational tactics of "movement conservatives." The back cover sums it up: "For the first time since 1932, the Republican Party controls every major institution of the federal government.... The GOP leadership maintains its hold on power through the systemic manipulation of the electoral system, the media, the lobbying establishment, and the political culture at large."
After dozens of pages proving that the right-wing is running the entire show in America, the last chapter concedes that this is partly a victory by default. Liberals are outgunned due to their disorganization, and their inability to match the right-wing's use of information technology and political tactics. We would add that thirty years of "the personal as political" and "identity politics" on the Left have undermined any sense of class identity. It's just possible that the GOP has more real understanding of grassroots sentiment by now than the Democratic Party, at the same time that the GOP's agenda is thoroughly self-serving and anti-populist.
Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2003. 248 pages.Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber work for the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin. This and two previous books by them focus on the public relations aspects of American media. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was planned by PR specialists, as much as by military strategists at the Pentagon. In fact, a select group of neocons, lobbyists, and ideologues, from the think tanks and the first Bush administration, had been working the spin for years.
The invasion was a media event. The Pentagon's "Combat Camera" crew manufactured the Jessica Lynch rescue, while real journalists were carefully "embedded" with American and British troops, and told to clear out of areas where they might have an opportunity to report on the human cost of the invasion. Our major American media only wanted some video of troops on the move -- "soft" images were just fine, and even preferable to coverage that would have been more realistic, but also more controversial. The media became a parody of itself. This abdication of media responsibility is reminiscent of the Tonkin Gulf days of 1964, and may yet turn Iraq into a quagmire of equal proportions. As was the case in Vietnam, perhaps some better coverage will emerge a few years from now, too little and too late.
Sabato, Larry J. and Simpson, Glenn R. Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics. New York: Times Books (Random House), 1996. 430 pages.After 300 interviews, Larry Sabato, a professor, and Glenn Simpson, a reporter, put together this book about corruption in the U.S. political system. In 1964, 76 percent of Americans polled said that they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right most of the time. By the time this book appeared in 1996, that number had plunged to 19 percent. At the end of the book the authors ask, "Where will we be in ten years if the problems identified in this volume are not addressed?"
This book examines corruption in the electoral process, including dirty tricks, vote fraud, and mass-media spin. It also looks at corruption in Congress -- the abuse of privileges, and our broken campaign-finance system that encourages payoffs by special interests. Today in 2006, everything is worse than ten years ago. There were two presidential elections that many believe were rigged, no one has any respect for our foreign policy, the rich are still getting richer, peak oil is threatening, everyone drives gas-hogging SUVs, climate patterns are changing, and our government is too disorganized to help people in New Orleans. The next version of this book needs a better subtitle. How's this: "The Persistence of Collapse in American Politics."
Sale, Kirkpatrick. Power Shift: The Rise of the Southern Rim and its Challenge to the Eastern Establishment. New York: Vintage Books, 1976.Two books in NameBase, "Yankee and Cowboy War" by Carl Oglesby and "Power Shift" by Kirkpatrick Sale, are based on a single premise -- that there has been a more-or-less conscious shift in the source of American ruling-class power during the postwar period. The Southern Rim (roughly the states or portions of states south of a line drawn across the country from North Carolina to just north of San Francisco) is challenging the traditional control of the Eastern Establishment (Chicago, New York, Boston, and points between). Sale uses this hook to analyze economic and electoral changes, while Oglesby develops a rough handle to link the JFK assassination and Watergate. Both books are solid and valuable, although this pet premise isn't necessary to either.
Sale's strength for my purposes is his ability to cram nearly 500 names of contemporary political and economic elites into a coherent narrative, along with useful identifying information on each of them. While there is definitely a shift to the Rim, it may simply be the case that as Dixiecrats find new economic power, they begin to realize that rich folks can get richer by joining the Republican Party. It's fortunate for NameBase that Sale requires 362 pages of hard data to make this point, which I was ready to concede on page one. -- D.Brandt
Smith, Hedrick. The Power Game: How Washington Works. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989. 790 pages.Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith reported from Washington for the New York Times for nearly a decade, and has written two books on Reagan and one on Russia. The Power Game, three months on the NYT bestseller list, is another of the "Washington insider" genre that quashes what some believe to be the popular illusions about how Washington works. But as suggested by his final chapter, "What Is to Be Done?", the problem with insiders is that in the end they like being insiders. They get richer as the system collapses, so their proposals for reform amount only to petty tinkering. Despite the tongue-in-cheek toward Lenin, Smith's worst nightmare is an emerging class consciousness that sees major problems as requiring major solutions. As we slip further downhill, we can expect more books like this to be touted by the major media. Call it a "limited hangout," a form of damage control.
Still, this book is an antidote to those charts on "How a Bill Becomes Law," and is recommended for those who have just graduated from the eighth grade. It covers the obvious bases: lobbying, image manipulation, turf wars, the power of Congressional staff, PAC money, the need to constantly campaign, Pentagon pork projects, foreign policy back channels and shadow policy-making, gridlock and the blame game, influence peddling, the institution of media leaks, and the impact of television. This just in: Little Guy Gets Screwed.
Smith, James A. The Idea Brokers: Think Tanks and the Rise of the New Policy Elite. New York: The Free Press, 1993. 330 pages. An appendix titled "Think Tank Directory" (pages 270-310) describes 44 think tanks.This is an objective, scholarly history of the ascending influence of expert opinion and academic elites on American social and foreign policy during the twentieth century. There have been several ideological trends over the years, from the metaphor of preventive medicine, to those of social efficiency, balance, or adjustment. After World War II, the emphasis was on economics, game theory, input-output analysis, pragmatism, evaluation, quantification, and technique. Robert McNamara's whiz kids, many of whom came from the Rand Corporation, personified this trend.
This intellectual fad crashed and burned with the failure of U.S. policy in Vietnam. Neo-conservatives stepped into the void and pushed the pendulum back with a return to "values," and the notion that "ideas have consequences." Foundations and corporations pumped money into hands-on Washington think tanks, who then put numerous "experts" on the payroll. The author feels that these have become too politicized, and that "policy research institutions have thought little about broad civic education and more about advising those in the government or gaining attention from the mass media.... The expert class has interposed itself between the average citizen and the deliberations of government." (page 238)
Summers, Anthony. The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. New York: Viking, 2000. 640 pages.Two excellent previous books by Anthony Summers are indexed in NameBase: "Conspiracy," about the JFK assassination, and "Official and Confidential," about J. Edgar Hoover. This biography of Richard Nixon, based on five years of research and more than a thousand interviews, is an antidote to the undeserved stature that Nixon gained in the years after Watergate. It chronicles the dark side: Nixon's quirky personality and mental instability, his underhanded tactics and lust for intrigue, and his complete disregard for the Constitution.
His relationship with Charles Rebozo is covered very well, and the Howard Hughes connection as well as can be expected. Nixon's early plotting against Castro, while he was vice president under Eisenhower, sets the stage for his later paranoia during Watergate. On Vietnam, rather than getting us out of the war as he promised, Nixon secretly tried to derail Lyndon Johnson's negotiations in 1968, and once in office ended up escalating on one front or another in an attempt to scare the Eastern bloc into thinking that he was out of control and a madman (which, of course, he was). The only thing more pathetic than our nation under Nixon, is the fact that today, for every author like Anthony Summers, there are three or four slobbering, media-anointed wise men who still argue that Nixon was a great man.
Trento, Susan B. The Power House: Robert Keith Gray and the Selling of Access and Influence in Washington. New York: St.Martin's Press, 1992. 430 pages.After the Gulf War, the media gradually began to realize that at some point in the frenzy of pack journalism, TV talking heads, and op-ed pundits that preceded the war, they had been manipulated. Behind the scenes Kuwait was shaping opinions by greasing the palms of certain Washington public relations firms. One person with both hands out was Robert Keith Gray, the master PR mercenary of the 1980s. Before he started Gray and Company in 1981 he was with Hill and Knowlton; by 1986 he was back after selling out his company to them. But throughout his thirty years in Washington, Robert Gray's style has been consistent -- he parties and charms his way into the power elite, and then sells access to his Rolodex for fees sometimes running into the millions. By doing favors for the CIA and hiring self-styled, free-lance spooks like Neil Livingstone, Gray was even able to extend his influence into Washington's Dark Side.
It doesn't matter who signs the checks. Besides Kuwait, Gray has represented China since 1989, Haiti under Duvalier, supporters of Rev. Moon, the Church of Scientology, BCCI, the late British publisher Robert Maxwell, the Teamsters under Jackie Presser, and the Catholic Bishops Conference in their campaign against abortion. If a book like this had been written in 1980, the mess we're in today would have been predictable.
Winter-Berger, Robert N. The Washington Pay-Off: An Insider's View of Corruption in Government. New York: Dell Publishing, 1972. 336 pages.Robert Winter-Berger was a Washington lobbyist from 1964-1969, and he got out just in time. The next year his friend Nathan Voloshen, who had underworld connections and was a political fixer for House Speaker John W. McCormack, was indicted along with McCormack's aide Martin Sweig. McCormack faked ignorance and was allowed to resign quietly, while Winter-Berger was mentioned in the press. He had spent five years watching McCormack, Sweig, Voloshen, and many others pass around envelopes filled with cash in exchange for political favors; the indictments reflected only the tip of the iceberg. During those five years, Winter-Berger took notes and was in the habit of saving every scrap of evidence. This name-intensive book is the result.
If bribes, double-dealing, kickbacks, blackmail, and corrupt judges sound like grist for Hollywood, imagine the same thing happening in Capitol Hill offices, day in and day out. Once while Winter-Berger is sitting in McCormack's office, Lyndon Johnson storms in, alternately cursing and crying over his Bobby Baker problems. After a few minutes of this, Johnson finally notices Winter-Berger, and asks McCormack, "Is he all right?" "Yes, he's a close friend of Nat's," replies McCormack. LBJ then gets an idea -- he tells Winter-Berger to take a message to Nat for delivery to Bobby Baker, offering Baker a million dollars to take the rap and keep his mouth shut.
Yakovlev, Nikolai. Washington Silhouettes. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1985. 376 pages.Nikolai Yakovlev is a well-known Soviet historian with over twenty books to his credit, which have sold a total of over five million copies. A number of these have been on U.S. history, including biographies of George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and one tantalizingly titled "They Overstepped the Line" about John and Robert Kennedy. Yakovlev began as an expert on the U.S. at the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1959, but in recent years has concentrated his attention on Soviet history.
"Washington Silhouettes" is a well-informed general survey of U.S. history, from the origins of the Cold War to the election of Ronald Reagan. It is written in a lively, opinionated style which U.S. scholars might dismiss as polemical or even propagandistic, primarily because the New World Order consensus won't allow them to address its content. But Yakovlev uses American sources (NSC memorandums during 1948-1950 were perfectly blunt about plans to conquer the Soviets), and packs every page with fascinating quotes from U.S. elites and other assorted fun facts. Yakovlev's writing is uncommonly literate compared to other Progress Publishers books that were translated from the Russian.
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