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Janine Wedel: Unaccountable; How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom and Security

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Broadcast 7/31/2015 at 02:52:07 (110 Listens, 69 Downloads, 1517 Itunes)
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Janine Wedel, author, Unaccountable
(Image by Janine Wedel)
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Janine R. Wedel is Professor School of Policy, Government, & International Affairs, George Mason University, author of the book, Unaccountable; How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom and Security. She is also a social antrhopologist.

www.janinewedel.info

Rough Interview Notes:

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Rob: tell us a bit about your work as an anthropologist

anthropologist study society in a holistic way. My career as a social anthropologist began in Poland, 30 years ago. I was looking at how people survived or even thrived during communism-- when you can't get what you need in a store, or you can't trust the government-- couldn't trust the information that the official media put out.

Through that I learned to study what is informal, what is under the radar-- what people can't talk about-- it's unacknowledged. That training, in anthropology and looking at Eastern Europe has prepared me extremely well for looking at what's happening in the United States.

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Informal, sharing economy-- that's sprung up since 2008-- UBER, AIRBNB, Lyft-- they're not just happening at lower levels of society-- citizen to citizen. There's a lot of under the radar happening at higher levels.

Rob: What's a social anthropologist as compared to other kinds of anthropologists?

we look at society and culture-- to look at how organizations work both informally and formally. In my current work and book I've been looking at the networks of people who bridge organizations" I've been looking at how high level players are bridging organizations-- I'm looking at networks, at structure.

I'm looking at the retired general who can use inside info for his own business-- his own company or sitting on the board of directors of a weapons company.

So much more of government and policy making is outside, informal

An estimate 3/4 of people who work for the federal govt today actually work for private contractors. There are many more dots to be connected. And then you have think tanks and NGOs. It's a much more diverse governing field than it was 20 or 30 years ago. That's a key reason that skills I learned-- looking at players and how they move around. That's exactly what I saw in Eastern Europe, especially after the fall of communisms. Elite circles came to for fore and were able to control a lot of the resources in the post-communist govt. And we saw something very similar in the US-- the neo-con core-- players around Richard Perl-- all of whom have been in and out of government-- they've been very active in building new think tanks in the 1990s, certain consultancies, ambiguous government relationships. This neocon core had great influence in taking the US to war in Iraq.

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Rob: Tell us a bit more about Richard Perl

I wrote about this in my previous book that came out in 2009 Shadow Elite.

Through the years they have been at the forefront- pioneers in showing us how govt can be transformed and in a sense undermined, and they've always been driven by an ideology that wants the role of the United States in the world. During the cold war they wanted to show that the Soviet was a bigger threat than the CIA estimate it to be.

Rob: Who are some of the core members?

Paul Wolfowitz, I. Lewis Libby, Michael Ledeen, Douglas Feith

They set up team B to provide counter-information.

My job is to chart how they operate, relate and work in and around organizations.

They helped to set up a separate commission which was there to show that the CIA had underestimated military strength.

Part of how they operate is they try to provide alternative information that gains an imprimatur

Rob: How does it gain an imprimatur

public relations, in and around elites who matter.

Douglas Feith set up units populated by trusted members of their own" very often from think tanks that they'd set up in the 1990s.

The project was information-- and how did they operate? They instituted a very effective propaganda campaign. They had Judith Miller.

But this was by no means a conspiracy. These people were operating to a substantial degree in the open. In creating and controlling alternative information and setting up structures to enable them to do so is crucial-- and to brand that information with an official imprimatur.

Rob: and tell us a story that illustrates unaccountability.

Let's talk about the world of think tanks and the coin strategy. The coin strategy-- General David Petraeus-- was most recently at the CIA, and when it was disclosed that he was having an affair with his biographer mistress-- and he's now with an equity firm-- it shows how the elites can change sectors and hold on to the cachet.

The coin strategy was the idea of counter-insurgency-- in the earlier 2000s-- when it was becoming clear that they were having trouble in Iraq. The chief prophet or Guru was Petraeus-- first carrying out the surge in Iraq. How did they gain support for-- CNAS Center for New American Security. It was described in 2009 as the "IT" think tank for military policy. it shows how celebrity generals sold policy. Petraeus was supported by think tanks, high profile journalists (including a NY Times write at CNAS) To sell the coin policy -- the counter insurgency-- those who supported coin were coindinistas"

Structurally, looking at how the decisions were made-- the policy was percolated through this think tank.

Rob: So this CNAS was used by the Obama administration.

It was founded by Michelle Flournoy went to dept of defense in the Obama administration.

Unlike years ago when the Viet Nam war was sold by people in the pentagon, in our age today, we have war plans sold by celebrity Generals working with a think tank and the media

Rob: so now think tanks and media are pushing policy decisions outside of the chain of command.

Rob: So, the think tanks help the people in power.

Rob: PNAC Project for a new American Century was a key neocon think tank-- and they put many of their people into the administration-- including Dick Cheney.

Neocons were working for years on their goals. 911 allowed them to put them in place.

Rob: Tell us what Unaccountable attempts to do.

tells how unaccountability are built into big government and big corporate structures. About how top power brokers connect and operate informally and connect the dots of the silos that are created in big government and companies and shows how they are unaccountable by traditional means. Going back to the retired general who sits on a government advisory board and he can use that information in his own company. How can the public know how he uses the info.

Think about the prominent economist, who testifies in the media-- we the public have no way of knowing if that economist is also working for investment banks. One study looked at19 of the most prominent economists-- most of the time when they talked about reform or what should be done, they only said they were professor x. But they didn't say "I'm also working for an investment bank." So we the public have a problem that didn't exist 20 years ago. So much of policy is outside of formal organizations. We've got to follow the players.

Rob: what changed? Were laws a regulations changed or de-regulated

accumulated effect of unaccountability, privatization and deregulation

Rob: Privatization of what?

of government. Three quarters of people working for govt are working for private contractors. In the 1990s the Clinton admin changed the rules for private contracting making it much more susceptible to deal making between private contractors.

The whole bureaucracy of Homeland Security-- it was estimate that one half was done by private contractors. Defense, intelligence-- contracted out.

The problem is not contracting out per se, but contracting out core government functions-- like choosing other contractors-- these should be in the hands of people working " government.

And the advent of the digital age help create the financialization of the economy.

Rob: What do you mean financialization of the economy.

In the old power elite we had executive elites in giant firms. But financialization has expanded the numbers of highly paid intermediaries who are crucial in global financial centers.

Rob: Tell me more about these intermediaries

They're the brokers-- the people who figure out where to put our pension funds. We no longer " it's no longer the economy that's being created by industrial production. It's created by moving money around.

Rob: and this has been facilitated because it's digital.

Rob: Tell us about your TSA story and how that applies to Unaccountability

I don't go through screening machines unless they're metal detectors..

Once I was afraid I was going to miss my flight. The way TSA dissuades you from asking for a pat-down, which is what they do if you don't go through the machine-- they make you wait. So, after waiting, I sang the Star Spangled Banner-- and they didn't take long to find a female to do the pat down.

I thought, would a headline Woman Arrested for Singing the National Anthem--

The story illustrates that the old ways of solving problems-- it illustrates the challenges to accountability. If I had broken the rules in the most predictable way, they have a play book for dealing with that. But what is the playbook for the woman singing at the top of their lungs. What is our play book for dealing with Generals and Economists acting unethically. We don't have one.

Rob: A big issue in your book is defining corruption

I go back to ancient age old definitions of corruption that one finds in bible old and new testaments and in the Koran-- the violation of public trust.

Rob: But that is not"

Corruption has been redefined in a very narrow way-- basically as a simple bribe.

What's the problem with that? The kind of corruption that is most damaging in western democracies to day is no the simple bribe. That's for the little guy. The big guys don't need to"

FIFA would be a classical example

The big guys are involved in much more subtle and difficult to track

Goldman Sachs-- it's abacus case-- sold bad investments, but company broke few or no rules. This is legal. This is systemic.

Corruption that is legal, that is invisible, hard to detect and very difficult to hold.

Rob: with the TSA you were dealing with-- story about James Risen-- how he says that the only way to deal with govt out of control is to get them to avoid embarrassment.

I talk about going outside the playbook.

cites people who used parody-- who posed as people from Union Carbide-- said that it would be $12 billion in damages. DOW then had to explain-- they were embarrassed. It has to be public. It has to be innovative in a way that will draw public attention. That is why programs like Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart-- have been so effective-- why they've garnered so much attention-- because they provide a counterpart to the media.

Rob: so what you are saying is that Colbert and Stewart are able to get around the capacity for unaccountability that the mainstream media are unable to do.

parody was a staple under communism-- it made people laugh and provide community.

Rob: What do you see as solutions

We as Americans love to talk about solutions. I think the key to the solution is really getting a full grasp of the problem of structured unaccountability that's built in-- how top power brokers are operating. We have got to learn to follow the players and it's not just the money, it's also about ideology and power. We have to understand that accountability is not just about checklists. There have to be people inside the institution. There has to be leadership. We have to create leaders who are true leaders, and not people who are gaming the system It's crucial to bring outsiders in" and we have got to bring in other disciplines into the discussion. Economists have dominated the anti-corruption scene-- the anti-corruption biz is hundreds of millions of dollars., without understand that the biggest and most damaging corruption is violation of public trust.

Rob: You talk about codes of conduct vs regulations-- and shaming.

one of the issues is to what extent can people be shamed. The little guy, you and I can be shamed, if we do something wrong. But in some circles-- I use several examples, one of which is the the team of economists around Larry Summers and Bob Rubin-- how difficult it is to shame them"

It's difficult to shame some of these players, and yet that is what the public has to do. There was a semi success story when Obama wanted Summers to be chairman of the FED-- and there was so much criticism that resulted in Obama not appointing him. It can happen but it requires a huge mobilization.

Rob: You talk about red-flag philanthropists Gates and Buffet

Clinton Foundation and Tony Blair -- the issue is that in blurring the lines between philanthropy, business and foreign policy, that enables a lot of influence that is unaccountable and deniable. For example Frank Giustra-- a mining official sought approval to sell a Canadian Uranium mining company to Russia. Hillary was Sec of state, But we can't know where business and philanthropy ends. We' can't know what's going on. And this has changed from 30 years ago.

Now players do philanthropy and business-- serve on boards, etc.-- and this gives them deniability.

Rob: It seems that we need regulations that prevent people from

We need to pay much more attention to regulation at all stages, and enforcement. I think regulation is not at all a panacea. Regulation does not end with the president's signature. Think of Dodd Frank-- it is being gutted by lobbyists and shadow lobbyists (unregistered lobbyists.)

We need to pay attention to every part of regulation and we need to be able to anticipate the consequences of regulation. There's been a tremendous rise in shadow lobbyists. The number of registered lobbyists has actually declined by 21% from 2007 to 2014. There's a new model that's come into play-- shadow lobbying-- the former senator who just makes phone calls to buddies on capital hill and then sends registered lobbyists to follow through.

2007 there was legislation to regulate lobbyists" but that may have sent people under the table.

Rob; You talk about values and rules that are an alternative to regulations

I'm not talking about an alternative-- I'm saying we have to be aware of how people actually respond to them. But there is no substitute for society and social shaming. When players are able to "fail up" to the next high position, and Larry Summers is a classic example of that-- there's no substitute for that social mechanism that calls people out.

Rob: Have you thought about these elites, in terms of shaming them?

It has to come from the inside-- what would the postman or school teacher think about this. And the people on the outside need to be informing themselves and engaging

One of the big consequences is we've been producing more outsiders and people who identify as outsiders.

Rob: What do you mean by insiders and outsiders.?

Occupy Wall street and the tea party were both responding to corruption and malfeasance-- OWS was responding to co reparations and the tea party was responding to govt. Of course the problem is both and the intertwining. There's something amiss at the highest levels.

They see themselves as outsiders-- and look at the anti-corruption movements around the world, whether it's Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine, India-- a lot of it is against the sense that something on high smells bad and we can't put our finger on it. And there's a reason we can't put our finger on it. How do you deal with Goldman Sachs and the Abacus fund"

From the inside there are always people who are leaders and who do have a sense that this can't go on and has to change. And these are leaders who need to, from the inside, really start a different model. And this is difficult but not impossible. And there needs to be much more cross fertilization between the insiders and outsiders.

Rob; We've got to wrap it. Anything you want to finish up with/

I do think there is hope but I do think we need to come to terms with the unaccountability that is now built into our system and a lot of people are unaware of it. Before we have a more comprehensive understanding .

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Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites, OpEdNews.com

more detailed bio: 

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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