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The Big Answer


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Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market

a book by Janine R. Wedel

(our site's book review)

Who Is Really In charge of Our Country?

"Who is really in charge of our country? That’s the question Janine R. Wedel sets out to answer in Shadow Elite, and she points a finger squarely at Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz, among others. This 'shadow elite' looks unnervingly similar from one administration to the next, she writes, and a close examination also reveals that the division between public and private work is hard to discern. These power brokers have been safeguarded from standard ethics and even an obligation to the public they supposedly serve." (Source: Review from BuzzFlash)

Neocon television pundits help the shadow government upend our democracy
Neocon television pundits help the shadow government upend our democracy

The simple answer to who is in charge: unelected neoconservatives with a radical not-so-democratic agenda. "The rise of a new breed of confidence men and women—think-tank members, government advisers, business consultants and television pundits—upend our democracy." So any citizens that have a sincere interest in political reform and accountability would be wise to weave her arguments into their demands. "Upending rules and authority has become the norm in virtually all countries, and the goal is to increase one's own status and influence." Players are making up the rules as they go along, and said rules are written for their own benefit, sort of like how loopholes are pre-built into disingenuous legislation so those it's meant to regulate slip through the cracks—yet again. The system is built to be a fraud, rigged to benefit the corporatocracy and politicians. We send representatives to Congress to represent us, but they represent corporations, themselves, and their buddies, but us? Not so much. This shadow elite undermines democracy and capitalism. The new rules they make take us beyond traditional corruption and conflict-of-interest to the slippery areas of non-accountability.

The shadow government's shadow elite undermines democracy and capitalism
The shadow government's shadow elite undermines democracy and capitalism

Such things as privatization, deregulation, and governmental reform, plus the advent of the Internet have caused changes in how government operates. As a result, today government contractors, consulting firms, think-tankers, and quasi-official bodies—such as government advisory boards—often substitute for government, creating a more dispersed and fragmented governing and policy landscape. Individuals, networks, and ad hoc groups play a far bigger role in shaping that landscape, often in unaccountable ways. And lack of accountability is one of the most dire results of all this. The players in this rigged system ultimately answer only to each other. These movers and shakers frequently appear to the public as objective field experts, yet they often have other unmentioned roles and interests tied directly to the topic at hand. See Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security.


So If Private Contractors Are Acting in Their Own Interest, Who Acts in OUR Interest?

According to the author, private contractors working for our intelligence apparatus may not act in the public interest but rather their own interest. Many decisions are driven by companies beholden to shareholders—not government officials sworn to uphold the Constitution. Contractors deeply involved in intelligence, homeland security and defense policy are positioned to influence those policies to their liking on even the most sensitive government functions. The result is that our security can be jeopardized and our nation's sovereignty eroded. See National Security and Double Government, The Rise of the American Corporate Security State, and Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.


"Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!" (Not only are the private contractors who are working for our intelligence apparatus acting in their own interest and not the public interest, even their coming-soon micro-surveillance devices have started acting in their own interest!)

So if private contractors are acting in their own interest, who acts in OUR interest? The answer is a few random congresspeople, a few watchdog organizations, a very few politicians, attorneys you pay, and your friends, family, and you yourself. Government contractors and government itself and politicians act mostly in their own interest. So if we are supposed to be a democratic republic of the people, by the people, and for the people, with the government acting in our interest, but now they act in their own interest, does that really mean our democracy is dead? Yes—see Democracy—an American Delusion. And if we are supposed to have a free press that utilizes investigative journalism and tells us the truth, but the shadow government gained control of the mainstream media and now we get only propaganda-laced infotainment, does that mean the Constitutionally guaranteed free press is dead? No—not dead, just marginalized into List of alternative media (U.S. political left). See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

Journalists have been under attack in the United States—their first amendment rights have been violated and their status as the watchdogs of democracy, dismissed
Journalists have been under attack in the United States—their first amendment rights have been violated and their status as the watchdogs of democracy, dismissed


Mainstream journalists have been bought and paid for by the shadow government so they are NOT watchdogs—they are lapdogs
Mainstream journalists have been bought and paid for by the shadow government so they are NOT watchdogs—they are lapdogs


Wedel says that investigative journalists can help by providing a counterweight by actually doing the kind of real journalism they used to do
Wedel says that investigative journalists can help by providing a counterweight by actually doing the kind of real journalism they used to do

Wedel says that investigative journalists can help by providing a counterweight, as can watchdog organizations, by actually doing the kind of investigative journalism they used to do much much more of. Wedel is probably aware that what at first blush appears to be journalistic laziness is in reality instructions from bosses who get CIA-filtered talking point memos from the administration (which they've admited), and investigative journalism would not pass these filters so it's been abandoned in the areas of foreign policy and international relations and military affairs. However, investigative journalism still occurs for matters that don't count, like fluff news, movie stars, local news pieces, sports, etc. This isn't what investigative journalism used to be, but the corporatocracy and shadow elite run the show, and, for better or for worse, that's the current "show" in America.

U.S. Drops to 49th in World Press Freedom Rankings, Worst Since Obama Became President. The headline says it all.

"You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month."—CIA operative discussing with Philip Graham, editor of the Washington Post, on the availability and prices of journalists willing to peddle CIA propaganda and cover stories to the mainstream media. (Source: Katherine The Great, by Deborah Davis, New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1991)

You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month
You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media."—William Colby, former CIA Director, cited by Dave Mcgowan, in the book Derailing Democracy.

"There is quite an incredible spread of relationships. You don't need to manipulate Time magazine, for example, because there are Central Intelligence Agency people at the management level."—William B. Bader, former CIA intelligence officer, briefing members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is from Carl Bernstein's Rolling Stone article published on October 20, 1977: The CIA and the Media.

"1975 clip of testimony given during a House Intelligence Committee hearing has the agency admitting on record that the CIA creates and uses disinformation against the American people." (Source: CIA Admits to Congress the Agency Uses Mainstream Media to Distribute Disinformation: 1975 Video)

Noam Chomsky outlines how propaganda works in the USA to make the dumb American sheep believe whatever the elites want them to believe, using the bought-and-paid-for mainstream media as tools. See Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World.

U.S. neocons' imperialism and warmongering is out of control yet the Congress tasked with stopping such abuses is mute—something smells rotten in Washington!
U.S. neocons' imperialism and warmongering is out of control yet the Congress tasked with stopping such abuses is mute—something smells rotten in Washington! The game is rigged. Bailouts? The biggest companies got help while the little guy got the finger.

Here's a link to an amazing Oscar Callaway Quote from the United States Congressional Record of February 9, 1917, page 2947, as entered by Representative Oscar Callaway of Texas, who explained how J.P. Morgan and his rich buddies took control of U.S. mainstream media a century ago, and, for important news stories we've gotten propaganda rather than truth ever since.

The only certain, irrefutable, perpetual and insidious bias in reporting comes from the neocon elites themselves, which make an all-out effort to stay covert and invisible to the unsuspecting citizen
The only certain, irrefutable, perpetual and insidious bias in reporting comes from the neocon elites themselves, which make an all-out effort to stay covert and invisible to the unsuspecting citizen


J.P. Morgan and his rich buddies took control of U.S. mainstream media a century ago, and, for important news stories we've gotten propaganda rather than truth ever since, and we're guzzling the Kool-Aid
J.P. Morgan and his rich buddies took control of U.S. mainstream media a century ago, and, for important news stories we've gotten propaganda rather than truth ever since, and we're guzzling the Kool-Aid

"In an executive order issued shortly after he became president, Barack Obama directed that national security classifications not be invoked to 'conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error,' nor to 'prevent embarrassment.' But the CIA’s censorship rampage suggests that that is precisely what is taking place. The time has come for Obama to enforce his order . . ." (Source: The CIA’s Censorship Machine, Scott Horton, Harper's) (Obama's flunkies have unnecessarily classified more documents and harrassed and threatened more whistleblowers than any administration in history.)

"The CIA even ran a training program 'to teach its agents to be journalists,' who were 'then placed in major news organizations with help from management.'" (Source: THE CIA AND THE MEDIA: How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up)

"It is no longer disputed that the CIA has maintained an extensive and ongoing relationship with news organizations and journalists, and multiple, specific acts of media manipulation have now been documented. But as long as the public continues to ignore the influence of intelligence agencies in shaping or even fabricating news stories, the agency will continue to be able to set the policy that drives the American war machine at will." (Source: The CIA and the News Media – Eyeopener Preview)


Flex Nets and Flexians and Truthiness—Oh My!

"Wedel shows how a flexian can gain extraordinary insider knowledge and influence in order to custom-tailor a [truthiness] version of the "truth" benefitting the highest bidder. In this way, they not only "co-opt public policy agendas" but "craft policy with their benefactors' purposes in mind." (Source: Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market, Publishers Weekly)

"Today power and influence are held not by their ostensible holders but rather by 'flexians', who are the real agenda-wielding players. It is this 'network of anonymous interlocking players' that matters and not the ossified institutions, titles, and offices." (Source: The Sarmatian Review)

Flexians interact with each other in multiple roles as if they were Chaplin, playing multiple characters in The Great Dictator
Flexians interact with each other in multiple roles as if they were Chaplin, playing multiple characters in The Great Dictator

Flexians not only "co-opt public policy agendas" but "craft policy with their benefactors' purposes (monetary profit) in mind." Her shadow elite thesis exposes and explains why it’s been so hard to bring about any real change in our country, why Washington feels impotent to address real issues in effective ways. Flexians serve their own or their group’s interests at the expense of the public’s interests. These players flout once-sacrosanct boundaries between state and private, bureaucracy and market—to America's detriment. She says “Flex nets draw their membership from a limited circle of players who interact with each other in multiple roles . . . both inside and outside government, to achieve mutual goals.” Flex nets are flexian networks. See Shadow Elite.

Wedel's (approximate version) of a map of the neoconservative core
Wedel's (approximate version) of a map of the neoconservative core


Muhammad Idrees Ahmad's (approximate) version of a map of the neoconservative core—the most powerful are in the center and they're the most connected
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad's (approximate) version of a map of the neoconservative core—the most powerful are in the center and they're the most connected

"Emblematic of the new era of 'flexibility,' these elite players [flexians] leverage their influence and power by moving in and out of multiple roles, often beyond public scrutiny. For academics, activists, and policy makers engaged in strengthening government accountability and transparency, Wedel’s work makes for a necessary though at times sobering read." (Source: The Discreet Charm of Flexians: Reviewing Janine Wedel’s Shadow Elite)


Wedel's Neocon Core Is Part of The Shadow Government

This is the neocon core many will be calling the shadow government after reading her marvelous book, since what is more like a shadow than a "network of anonymous interlocking players"? Wedel may be the only person that can study government systems in the same way as she tackles primitive tribes and come out with anything coherent, much less brilliantly analyzed conclusions. This is a book not to be missed.

Amazingly, Wedel studies government systems in the same way as she tackles primitive tribes
Amazingly, Wedel studies government systems in the same way as she tackles primitive tribes

Her conclusion that neither conspiracy nor cabal is involved is, of course, simply a way of saying "none were found," not "there are none." But logically speaking, how could there have been? The intrinsic nature of a conspiracy or cabal is that you never tell anyone—ever! So she found none. That's like a fish telling us he has been swimming around for his entire life and has yet to locate any water. There are obviously plenty of conspiracies and cabals around, but all are invisible to those looking around for them. Besides, academics have to disavow conspiracy no matter what they find, since the second they utter the word, they get marginalized, dismissed, delegitimized and ridiculed as conspiracy theorists, sending their careers into firey tailspins.

Letting neocons run the decisions in Washington is like letting a fox guard a henhouse
Letting neocons run the decisions in Washington is like letting a fox guard a henhouse


Democracy in the USA is degenerating rapidly, but perhaps the shock of the coming collapse will be the wake-up call we need to reestablish a balanced new democracy based on wisdom, humanism, respect for knowledge and learning, and vigilant responsibility
Democracy in the USA is degenerating rapidly, but perhaps the shock of the coming collapse will be the wake-up call we need to reestablish a balanced new democracy based on wisdom, humanism, respect for knowledge and learning, and vigilant responsibility. In the meantime, Wedel's book is a wonderful wake-up call.

Wedel's wake-up call in book form says that "government today includes a 'shadow government' consisting of 'consulting firms, nonprofits, think tanks, and other nongovernmental entities'." The American public has no clue about this shadow government that filters out resources and in practice rules the country. She says the neocon core are the "commandeers" that run things in the shadow government (i.e., shadow presidents, shadow vice presidents, etc.). This is logical and reasonable, but hardly the final word on the subject. It's probably a spot-on analysis of just the most visible elements of the neocon underground, with the less visible—and uglier—elements purposely placed out of anyone's sight or hearing by the elites. After all, the deep events in U.S. history (JFK, RFK, MLK, 9/11) were not created by space aliens. See The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy, How America Was Lost: From 9/11 to the Police/Welfare State, The Shadow Government: 9-11 and State Terror, The Medusa File: Secret Crimes and Coverups of the U.S. Government, and 9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes against Democracy Succeed.

After all, the deep events in U.S. history (JFK, RFK, MLK, 9/11) were not created by space aliens
After all, the deep events in U.S. history (JFK, RFK, MLK, 9/11) were not created by space aliens


9/11 terrorist attack
9/11 terrorist attack

There are a lot of theories about the structure of the shadow government. At the end of this book review is a section called Other Shadow Government Perspectives. Note that various authors see the shadow government from various perspectives—like the blind men and the elephant, but the overall gist is creepily similar. The neocon core that run things in the shadow government plus a network of anonymous interlocking players with flex nets and flexians dispersed as needed throughout the system is a very insightful mapping of the system of barely legal players that leverage their influence and power by moving in and out of multiple roles, often beyond public scrutiny—in the shadows and virtually unaccountable. This is NOT our Founders' government! In fact, if they heard about this corrupt mess, they'd turn over in their graves!

If the Founders heard about this corrupt shadow government mess, they'd turn over in their graves
If the Founders heard about this corrupt shadow government mess, they'd turn over in their graves

Wedel's Neocon Core "Players" Aren't Exactly Liars—They Simply Overindulge in Truthiness!

In the groundbreaking exposé in her book Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market, she introduces a term Stephen Colbert coined: “truthiness,” which scientists like her would ordinarily avoid since it was spontaneously brainstormed in a comedy stand-up routine. But she couldn't resist it: it fit so poignantly and perfectly in describing disingenuous conning, faking, bluffing, feigning, dissembling mendacity presented as fact or information that is "to the best of my knowledge." It differs from truth. It means presenting events and ideas in the way we'd prefer them to be, but not necessarily in the way they really are. Following through, she says that what appears in the mainstream media and in the words of celebrities is “truthiness.” Many of us knew this, but this is surely a colorful way of saying it! For his part, Colbert explained the origin of his word as: "Truthiness is a word I pulled right out of my keister". It gives one pause about using the word—ever. Nothing good ever came out of Stephen Colbert's keister, and that's the truthiness-uncontaminated truth, also known as the tbutth, defined as anything having any relationship whatever to Colbert's keister (and pronounced "ta-booth"). His mouth, on the other hand, is arguably a different story—plenty of good has emerged! (Like truthiness, for example, which has already become a classic.)

Look! It's a tbutth, defined as anything having any relationship whatever to Colbert's keister; as stated, nothing good ever came out of Stephen Colbert's keister
Look! It's a tbutth, defined as anything having any relationship whatever to Colbert's keister; as stated, nothing good ever came out of Stephen Colbert's keister

In the computer language JavaScript, truthiness is important. "Why should you care what’s truthy and what’s falsey? A value’s truthiness determines what it will evaluate to in logical expressions." (Source: Truthy & Falsey) In government, truthiness in players is when they present ideas as facts not because they are, but because they'd prefer they were. Here is what the value of both the truth and the truthiness of Wedel's "players" will evaluate to in logical expressions: Players' truth value = -∞, although players' truthiness value = ∞. All of which is logical, since the value of shadow statements (truthiness-laced) to the shadow government is infinite as they allow these shadow elites to continue to exist, while the value of truth is minus infinity since it will bring the whole shadow government crashing to the ground like World Trade Center Building 7 which any fool can see was due to controlled demolition via explosives.

"The federal government has actually expanded for almost twenty years with many vital government functions contracted out to private actors working for think tanks, consulting companies, and the like. As a result, 'private players are afforded fresh opportunities to make governing and policy decisions without meaningful government involvement. Whether for profit or to advance an agenda, they can privatize policy beyond the reach of traditional monitoring systems.' The Neocons, too, personalized bureaucracy, privatized information, circumvented rules of accountability, and inhabited ambiguous professional roles to promote their foreign policy agenda in the Middle East." (Source: The Discreet Charm of Flexians: Reviewing Janine Wedel’s Shadow Elite)

Janine R. Wedel, an anthropologist who received her Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley, is professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Wedel is the first anthropologist to win the 2001 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. A four-time Fulbright fellow and recipient of awards from the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and many others, Wedel has published numerous books and articles, including this one.


Other Shadow Government Perspectives

Various authors see the shadow government from various perspectives—like the blind men and the elephant, but the overall gist is creepily similar
Various authors see the shadow government from various perspectives—like the blind men and the elephant, but the overall gist is creepily similar