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We've wrapped up our exploration of Arianna's second book club pick, Janine Wedel's "Shadow Elite". To finish things off, HuffPost Washington Bureau Chief Dan Froomkin had a chance to interview author Janine Wedel on Thursday, January 28. The book has initiated a crucial debate during the past month over the survival of democracy in America. The blogs about "Shadow Elite" -- highlighted below -- have shown over and over again that a group of "flexians" and their "flex nets" are more in control of our government than elected officials.
If you missed the live chat on Thursday, check out some highlights from the interview below!
Arianna Huffington, The First HuffPost Book Pick of 2010
My first HuffPost Book Club selection of 2010 is Janine Wedel's Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market. It's a gripping, disquieting book that exposes and explains why it's been so hard to bring about any real change in our country -- why Washington no longer seems capable of addressing the problems our nation faces. Fingers have been pointed at everything from gerrymandering to partisan polarization to the misuse of the filibuster. But, according to Wedel, the real problem is much deeper -- and more disturbing -- than any of these.
Janine R. Wedel, Is the Government In Charge, or Is It the Shadow Elite?
Truthiness enables today's influencers -- at the pinnacle flexians -- to exercise power with new consequences. Flexians thrive on ambiguous identities, appearances, loyalties, and borders of practically all kinds. They thrive in an environment of improvised reality, in which the facade counts for a great deal and fiction can virtually become reality if enough people believe it; in which appearances, self-presentations, and professed motivation are accepted pretty much at face value; in which a "company man" loyal to his institution is in vogue only if the man owns his own company; in which reinvention of self is common, even admired, and where track records often do not track.
The modern power elites thrive by forgetting any regrettable past. This amnesia is easy at Harvard, where the legal fiduciaries operate in secret and need not answer for their acts. They are the antipodes of the selfless institutional servants who built Harvard and other great American enterprises, and they bear close watching.
Charles Lewis, "Shadow Elite": Outsourcing Government, Losing Democracy
According to Janine, whose unflinching social anthropological work I have respected for years, three out of four people doing the work of the federal government today are actually private contractors. Think about that a minute...That means private company employees -- with less stringent conflict of interest requirements and also not generally obligated to adhere to the Freedom of Information Act -- increasingly have become the government and now substantially rule the roost.
Janine R. Wedel, For the Shadow Elite, Failure Often Guarantees Future Rewards
Rubin and Summers, "flexians" and their "flex nets", continue to be rewarded--and rewarded big--for their failures. Those rewards extend to giving them the reins of power to shape what our financial system will look like well into the future. The tendency to reward the failure of the top-most flexians has brought us to a dangerous point in U.S. history, in which state and market power are increasingly intertwined.
The approach of looking to the roles, activities, sponsors, and networks of players--be they organized crime figures, politicians, experts, influencers, or some combination thereof--is today, more than ever, imperative. Profound changes in government and society have vastly increased the opportunities for agenda-bearing players wearing multiple hats (and often working in close-knit networks) to significantly influence public policy.
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, War and the Deadly Privatization of Public Power
Certain private corporations, some would contend, long before Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton deregulated America, the stultifying effects of the Cold War wore off, or government was reinvented--all transmogrifying forces in Wedel's text--were far too powerful, even causing many governments to look powerless in comparison. But the privatization of power today, in one respect in particular, seems different and deadly dangerous. That is the privatization of power wielded for the public good, described in some detail in "Shadow Elite".
Janine R. Wedel, Do You Know Whose Agenda You're Being Sold?
To make matters worse, the public's acceptance of truthiness enables public figures to make whatever claims that suit them at the moment; track records vanish. My most recent favorite is "the economy is getting better." Not when one out of six people who want to work full time can't find a full time job. In today's world of 24-7 news, investigative journalism has virtually gone by the wayside and viewers' memories of the resumes of influencers they see on television dissipate into the here and now--because that's what counts in the truthiness society.
Gary Lyndaker, Information is Power and Who's Controlling Our Information?
Working for the last 17 years in information technology organizations for Missouri state government, I have seen a similarly alarming (and growing) trend on the state level. Over 25 years, as an information systems developer, manager, and administrator in both state and private organizations, I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions. And outsourcing does not come cheaply.