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Review: Hostile Takeover-How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government -and How We Take It Back, by David Sirota

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Message Lynne Glasner
What sets apart David Sirota's Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government""and How We Take It Back from the panoply of books that capitalize on the current political angst is the strategy offered for action. Sirota does for his readers what Bush and his cohorts forgot to do for Iraq: plan not just for the assault but also for the aftermath. Sirota provides a revolutionary's handbook of sorts""The Little Blue Book of How to Take Back Our Government, arming readers with the facts needed to counter the spin and a plan to fix it. As he explains, "It's not enough to detest the liars and debunk the scoundrels""we must also create the alternatives and construct a new reality."

Sirota's premise is that we have a silent majority whose day-to-day issues are being ignored by those in power. Why? Because our political system has been sold out to corporate interests. Sirota, a veteran political operative, makes a strong case. For each of the broad issues considered, he points to recent history, neatly laying out how government policies have been designed as a reverse Robin Hood. Included in each section are some of the "hacks" who have acted to ensure that corporate interests would be upheld and, importantly, some of the "heros" who have worked to oppose the destructive policies. Sirota forcefully exposes the "lies" and "myths" the public is spoon-fed to garner support for policies that are anything but in the interest of the average American. For each of the standard defenses of corporate enrichment at public expense, Sirota rips apart the rhetoric and exposes the hypocrisy. Though the zingers are aimed mostly at Republicans who have been the more numerous promoters of the nefarious policies, guilty Democrats are not left behind.

The devil is in the details. Sirota carefully analyzes each of the policies (taxes, wages, jobs, debt, pensions, health care, prescription drugs, energy, unions and legal rights), distinguishing between the lies, myths, misperceptions, half-truths and fairy tales promoted to sell the policy. His style is breezy and chatty, as if you were having a cocktail conversation with someone who happened to bring up the topic. All seems cool, but it's hard not to get angry as the evidence mounts and Sirota makes his case about what really has happened to our government. It has turned into a plutocracy. Sirota's barbs, however, are not merely an anger machine for the left to latch onto; they are backed with literally hundreds of footnotes documenting the veracity of his statements. You, dear reader, don't have to do the work""it's already been done. A click of the mouse and you can do your own fact-checking.

Sirota doesn't confine his list of the bad guys to the politicians and their corporate conspirators""though let's be clear: he does not put forth a conspiracy theory. It is rather an unholy alignment of self-interest that binds the groups in a synergistic relationship with strong bonds. Sirota pegs the media as part of the corporate powers that be. The media has become part of the current political establishment, thus betraying their public trust on all fronts. As an integral part of the problem and also an object of Sirota's wrath, the media is one and the same in the corporate scheme of money talks and power walks away with the highest bidders. But Sirota doesn't directly deal with the specifics of media influence; there are several books on the market that take up that cause. Sirota's beef is with corporate power in general and the unelected corporate executives who now rule the day.

The public generally doesn't like being taken and Sirota's exposure of the lies and myths that have been told in the name of truth (yes, that is where the media has fallen) is designed to get people out of their seats. The anger is engendered not so much by angry words as by carefully laying out how we the public have been snookered by our duly elected leaders. Sirota then uses the opportunity to harness that angry energy by offering not just the counter arguments but also some "solutions." These ideas are bound in policy and require legislative action. Sirota also tries to dispel the big myth that individuals can't make a difference. He outlines how: get informed, get involved at the grassroots level, and fight back. A tall order, but Sirota remains optimistic that it is doable.

A brief look at the wave patterns of our own history shows how Americans have been driven by "a sense of outrage that has fueled our country's past historic battles against injustice." Sirota's denunciation of the current economic policies, along with the specific examples of how they work against us, will help arm with facts those who are willing to pick up the gauntlet and wage the internal war for survival.

To cite one example, Sirota describes how President Bush attacked asbestos victims during his State of the Union address in 2005. "Our economy is held back by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims," Bush told us, receiving a round of applause. But Sirota follows up the Bush claims and compares them to the claims of prosecutors five days later in their indictment of W.R. Grace, once one of the world's largest companies. Apparently, the company not only knew that a Montana mine was releasing cancer-causing asbestos into the air, but it tried to hide the danger to workers and townspeople. Just hours after the indictment, Sirota tells us how Vice President Cheney, the past CEO of Halliburton which had also been sued for asbestos-related claims, went on the attack. Cheney derided "frivolous lawsuits" and went to work to garner support from his allies on Capital Hill where legislation was introduced banning workers from filing lawsuits against companies that exposed them to asbestos. "The whole episode shows us just how sophisticated Corporate America's propaganda cycle really is""and how, because of the hostile takeover, politicians have become just another appendage of that propaganda machine," Sirota explains. The solutions Sirota suggests lie in legal reform, citing an example of a law passed in his home state, presumably with his help as a strategist for Montana's governor.

Sirota appeals to readers to get on board and become part of the necessary changes. It is not just survival of the country (though that certainly may be seen as part of it) that's at stake. It's in the economic self-interest of the average American who is being shafted to force the changes needed to rid the country of the corruption. The checks and balances that used to be in place are no longer at play when big money drives policy and self-interest overrides common goals and empathy.

Is Sirota's game plan sufficient? Can it make a difference? Certainly the outrage is there and growing. Certainly grassroots movements are taking shape. The question is will armchair readers get mad enough to get out of their seats and fight. From the passive act of reading to the active act of doing is a difficult transition. It's an uphill battle and Sirota doesn't make pretenses about the difficulty. He understands, in fact anticipates, some of the responses that will be made to his cry for action and provides some context for preempting the criticism. The next step is up to the audience. Unlike those attending a theatrical performance, they have to participate even after the lights have gone down and the "show" is over.

Though Sirota's purpose is not merely to provide conversational cocktail tidbits (in fact he goes out of his way to negate such an interpretation), the book will give readers the facts; depending on the company one keeps, readers will either be popular conversationalists at the upcoming cocktail parties on the decks of summer homes or at least not be embarrassed by their lackluster counter to the moneyed justifications of crony capitalism. Anyone who wants to be so armed should read this book.

Lynne Glasner, 2006
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Lynne Glasner is a freelance writer/editor based in New York City. She has edited numerous books, fiction and nonfiction, many on political subjects. Her essays have appeared in Commondreams,, and Huffington Post as well as OpEd (more...)
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