This book is a fascinating look at the reality and the dangers of the U.S. government's decision since 9/11 to become overly concerned with secrecy and classifying information. The government has become so concerned about protecting secrets that it now classifies too much information, impeding the ability of law enforcement operations to work efficiently and effectively.
On top of that, the government is now relentless spying on not just foreigners but American citizens as well with little oversight, citing the most baseless of suspicions and all in the name of fighting terrorism. The massive intelligence and spying system is guaranteed (if isn't already) to be abused in the future by administrations who want to target political enemies, as Nixon did when he ordered the FBI and CIA to harass anti-Vietnam activist groups and political enemies such as Daniel Ellsberg.
The end result, as Priest and Arkin expertly document, is that this giant system that we are literally spending tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars a year on is actually making us less safe. There is no reliable way to measure its effectiveness, and as Priest writes, many functions are wastefully duplicated by various govt organizations (CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.) across the country. The information needed to make sense of the whole mess and to put the pieces together to improve the efficiency is classified and accessible only to select few top people in government with the high access to classified information. Yet the system is so complex and sprawling in size that no one person would ever have the time to make sense of the entire thing. It has taken Priest and Arkin years to get some sort of grip on what's going on, and that's working full time on this project.
The end result is a vastly bloated system that enriches the private companies that make up Top Secret America all while hurting the ability of the law enforcement to stop possible terrorist plots. The government must sort through 1.7 billion pieces of communication it stores a day to find the 1 or 2 pieces that might give them clues to actual terrorist plots. There is far too much noise in the system, but the answer in Top Secret America to any problem, as Priest and Arkin write, is more not less. More departments, more organizations, more technology, more classification.
When we live in times where budget deficits are giving politicians excuses to cut important programs that help Americans, such as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, it's increasingly unsustainable to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on Top Secret America, especially when, as Priest and Arkin expertly layout, the U.S. taxpayer is likely not getting their money's worth for all the spending.
Full disclosure: I read many articles and books on national security every year and was previously familiar with a lot of what Priest and Arkin write about in this book (much from the articles they write in the Washington Post). I can see how it's easier for me to follow along in the audio recording given I know a lot of the acronyms already and understand what she's talking about. If you are new to this world, it might be a bit more challenging to follow along. But the book is well written and Priest does a decent job narrating her own book (though, she talks in her typical monotone voice which may turn some people off).
I recommend reading this book, whether through Audible or through a hard copy. It's very important information that every American should take the time to understand, because like I mentioned above, Congress is cutting social programs but continuing to expand spending on national security and intelligence. Should they really be doing that?
First off, this book is not anti-capitalism or a book promoting socialism or some other form of economic system. What this book is, first and foremost, is an indictment of free market economics. Chang is a fan of capitalism (as all people who live in reality should be, as no other form of economic system has come close to realizing the achievements that capitalism and the profit-seeking motive have made possible). However, he is not a fan of the particular variety of capitalism that goes under the name of free market or laissez-faire economics, which lately has mastered a stunning intellectual dominance among the elite policy makers of the world.
Throughout this book, Chang uses historical examples to counter and disprove common claims by free market economists. For example, free market economists say that protectionism is bad, but Chang points out that there are many examples of countries who used protectionist tariffs to develop their economy when it was in its infancy. The United States is his primary example, which Chang says was one of the most intensely protectionist countries for decades after it was first formed into a Republic. Alexander Hamilton, who formulated most of the economic policy of the fledgling country in the 1790s, actually created an elaborate system of tariffs, duties and excise taxes, which he thought were essential to protect industry at home from potentially stronger business abroad.
The book is divided into 23 "things" which are usually rebuttals to bits of economic ill-wisdom that have become entrenched in mainstream discourse due to the dominance of free market ideology over the past 30 years. Chang writes in a very easy going, not too-technical style, so even if you don't know much about economics you'll find this book very interesting as the issues he discusses effect us all. This book provides a lot of answers to the question of how can economic policy be changed so that it benefits a greater number of people
I learned more things in this book than I typically do in 10 books combined.
Shaxson provides an eye-opening account into the seedy, underground world of offshore finance. Most of the stuff Shaxson discusses is not well known in public and is rarely commented on in mainstream media or newspapers.
For example, were you aware that the two biggest offshore zones are in fact the United Kingdom and the United States? In fact, the state of Delaware is actually the biggest "offshore" location in the United States. It has more incorporated organizations than anywhere else, and some of the laxest regulation. Just take a quick scan of some of the biggest companies in America and you'll find a majority are incorporated in Delaware (Bank of America for instance, or Sallie Mae, Amazon, Pfizer, etc.) It's too many giant companies to be merely coincidental.
The overall picture he paints is both fascinating and frightening, but it seems very possible that something could be done about tax evasion and the looting of poor countries by the rich countries if the main financial centers that aid the businesses in their looting decided to crack down in unison. But for them to ever do that, more people are going to have to understand how the whole system works. It's complicated, but very interesting and Shaxson does a great job explaining every facet of it.
As for this audio recording, I'd recommend getting it and listening to it. But be warned that the guy who does the reading does the most bizarre job I've ever listened to here at Audible. There are multiple times during the course of this book where he reads the same sentence over again. Often he'll stop, and start again with noticeable random pauses mid-sentence. A couple times he stopped reading and I could hear talking in the background. None of this is edited out -- it's like they let him read it all, first time through, and didn't do anything over and didn't bother to edit out the mistakes. Just bizarre, but he still successfully passes along the information of the book in a somewhat entertaining manner (this guy makes up about a thousand voices for the many different people Shaxson quotes from to tell his story).
Pick up this book. I liked it so much I also bought a hard copy to re-read it.
Written by the man who used to be head of Public Relations at Cigna, one of the largest health insurers in the world, Potter gives readers a detailed, behind the scenes look at pretty much every duplicitous PR campaign over the last 50 years undertaken by the health insurance lobby to derail and delay meaningful health reform in this country. Potter holds nothing back, and really paints a vivid picture of just how unethical these companies are in their pursuit of profit to please their masters on Wall Street and Wall Street's inexorable earnings expectations.
Obamacare did not fix the health care crisis in this country, and it's thanks to effective PR spin campaigns (run by people like Potter) that the health care reform bill Obama signed into law was less effective than it could have been. This battle will have to be fought again. Until then, premiums will continue to sky rocket and people will continue to die when they get sick and their health care insurer refuses to pay for the treatment to make them better. Potter explains the entire story in a coherent, easy to read manner, and is truly fascinating with the statistics he presents. You won't be able to put the book down (or in this case -- stop listening).
This is one of the most thrilling true stories I've ever read. Mr. Ellsberg is an amazingly intelligent man and an exceptional writer. The oscillating narration between Mr. Ellsberg and Dan Cashman doesn't in anyway diminish the experience of the listen. They both do an outstanding job, so if you've never picked this book up do yourself a favor and download it.
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