Sunday, August 19, 2012

Patrick's "Sunday Book Review"

By Patrick

It is nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Frankfurt right now ("hot air from Africa", so the weather forecast tells us), and therefore it's the right moment to stay inside and write a post which I have had in mind for quite some time now. I would like to present a few books which I recently bought and which I can thoroughly recommend. All these books have a political context. So without any further ado, let's just jump right into it:

1. James Bamford - The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

James Bamford's book was first published a few years ago, but it seems still be "up to date" in many respects. The USA may be "broke", but there are some institutions which never have to worry about receiving sufficient funds. One of the these institutions is the "ultra-secret" US secret service NSA, which receives billions of dollars, for example for building monstrous new "data-centers" like the one in Bluffdale, Utah (see the excellent article in "Wired" from March 2012, also written by James Bamford). Billions of dollars  (money which probably should rather be used to improve the crumbling US infrastructure) are needed to achieve complete control. The NSA wants nothing less than to control global internet traffic - as well as all other communications which go in and out of the USA. I am not sure how many US citizens are aware that the secret services already have access to all emails which are being sent. Only very knowledgeable "privacy experts" would be able to escape this kind of powerful surveillance, for example via the use of encryption, but even then, great care would be needed.

In addition to Bamford's book, which manages to make the NSA appear much less secret, we know through latest revelations that the NSA has also started to employ "cyber-weapons" like Stuxnet and Flame. So this appears to be the next chapter. Not just a passive "collection" of incredible amounts of data and the surveillance of communications, but also the active use of "cyber-weapons", for example through the ruthless exploitation of the Windows Operating System. James Bamford's book explains how it all started, and is therefore highly recommended.

2. David Corn - Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party

David Corn, Washington Bureau chief of "Mother Jones", wrote a book which is like a "sanity break." It is not a "sensational" book, far from it: David Corn soberly and diligently recounts the events of how President Obama "fought back" against a Republican majority in Congress whose only goal seems to be to make life for Obama as uncomfortable as possible. The book is an extremely interesting read, and it is obvious that Corn had access to many inside sources. We get deep insights into how the Obama administration works, and reading all these details about this very efficient administration, one cannot help to wonder, 'How would the political landscape look like if Obama was white man?' A great book to read in the current "hyperpartisan" atmosphere.

3. Nicolas Shaxson - Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens

British author Nicholas Shaxson recently received a lot of attention due to his ground breaking story in Vanity Fair about Mitt Romney's  finances ("Where The Money Lives"). Well, Mitt Romney's money lives on the sunny side of life, that is for sure. See also the clips from Shaxson's interview with "Democracy Now" here and here. In addition, we are very much looking forward to a new documentary called "Cashback", which was made alongside Shaxson's book. In "Treasure Islands", he explains how the system with thousands of letterboxes on some small islands actually works, but it is not an "easy read." However, this is unavoidable, as complex business processes are connected with this topic. If one wants to know more about this subject and about the details, this book is definitely recommended reading. His book provides great value - see also these comments about the book in the "Guardian" from February 2011. Now, if we could only see Mitt Romney's tax returns with all the fascinating details from his various "treasure islands!"

4. Mark Feldstein - Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson,the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture

What follows is a simply superb book which in my view suffers from a silly title (in combination with a bad cover). But do not judge a book by its cover - or its title. Mark Feldstein's book provides a riveting, intelligent and very detailed account of how investigative "superstar" Jack Anderson took on Richard Nixon, and caused so much damage to him that Nixon's team of "hatchet men" seriously considered murdering him. This book was a great find for me, as I discovered Jack Anderson's books in 2009/2010 while writing on a daily basis at "Palingates." The book by Jack Anderson which impressed me most was "Confessions of a Muckraker", in which Anderson tells the stories of how he mercilessly attacked via investigative reporting an illustrious crowd of liars, so to speak. Particularly fascinating was his relentless pursuit of Joe McCarthy, who for example shamelessly lied about his war record and falsely portrayed himself as a war hero ("tail gunner Joe"). These lies were so bombastic and ludicrous that today even "Conservapedia", the conservative effort to rewrite history according to right-wing beliefs, acknowledges that McCarthy "exaggerated the number of combat missions to qualify for a Distinguished Flying Cross" - which however is only a fraction of the ugly truth.

Little did I know back in 2009/2010 when I discovered Jack Anderson that he experienced a serious decline after he "peaked" in 1972, when Anderson was the admired subject of a Time magazine cover story ("Jack Anderson, Supersnoop"). He subsequently made several mistakes and also squandered his reputation on silly TV-shows, which apparently is the reason why Jack Anderson is today virtually forgotten. However, serious, truly hard-hitting investigative journalism today is more urgently needed than ever, and Jack Anderson was not only absolutely fearless, but often had a huge impact on politics. I am very grateful to Mark Feldstein for his excellent and entertaining book which provides so many new details, and is hard to put down.

5. Daniel Ellsberg - Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Finally, another look back into history. Daniel Ellsberg was the "Julian Assange of his time" - the "most dangerous man in America", which is also the title of a recent, highly praised documentary about Ellsberg (see this excellent post about the documentary). Daniel Ellsberg's memoirs are also not a "sensational" book. It is clearly his aim to provide an honest, factual account about what happened - in particular, why he made the decision to copy thousands of pages from the "Pentagon Papers" and how he ensured that they got published. It a fascinating story about a man who had to reveal secrets, because his conscience told him so. The charges against Daniel Ellsberg were dismissed. In contrast, Bradley Manning, who also revealed secrets because his conscience told him so, for example the gruesome "Collateral Murder" video which was then published by Wikielaks, will most likely spend his life in jail. It is necessary to read Ellsberg's book also in order to understand how times have changed.


Which books have you read recently which you would like to recommend? Please put your recommendations in the comments! Apart from that, please regard this as an open post! Have a nice, pleasant Sunday, everyone!

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