Cooley knows his stuff and the book has a "been there, interviewed him" feel to it. It could use a little editing and organization, but by the end, I...moreCooley knows his stuff and the book has a "been there, interviewed him" feel to it. It could use a little editing and organization, but by the end, I had a far better picture of how we got to where we are now.
When given the choice of a number of books to read for a class on the law of war and terror, I chose this one, and I was not disappointed. Primarily concerned with US action in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban and later Osama bin Laden in the mire left by the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
Cooley has an incredible amount of information and relies on interviews he conducted with key players over the last 30 years. He sees the rise of terror in that state as largely a result of the unchecked flow of weapons and money to the mujaheddin from the United States to support the guerrilla war against the Soviets. With the exodus of Soviet tanks from Afghanistan, the US left also, closing, almost overnight, intelligence operations and diplomatic presence. The result was a disastrous civil war between warlords and religious fanatics that allowed the rise of the Taliban.
Citing the US as a culprit in the quagmire, a significant amount of responsibility is placed on the actions of the Pakistani intelligence services. Controlled by religious ideologues, the Pakistani intelligence services operated nearly autonomously from other Pakistani government branches, and often in opposition to stated policy. It's ostensible purpose was create a religiously friendly state on Pakistan's western border so as to take weight off of pressure created by the often contentious, and occasionally violent, relationship with India on it's other side.
Eventually, it leads to the exportation of the "holy warriors" around the world, and followed later by opium as a cash crop supporting the somewhat outcast Taliban government.
In short, a must read.
The book suffers from a lack of editing and a somewhat choppy organization. However, the sheer volume of information easily makes the difficulty following the reading well worth the challenge.(less)
It's guys like Scott Rothstein that give attorneys a bad name. And it's guys like Alan Sakowitz that prove that humanity is, at its heart, good.
I rece...moreIt's guys like Scott Rothstein that give attorneys a bad name. And it's guys like Alan Sakowitz that prove that humanity is, at its heart, good.
I recently finished "Miles Away, Worlds Apart" by Alan Sakowitz, an attorney and real estate investor whose path crossed with Scott Rothstein, an attorney and one time Ponzi scheme artist. Billed by some as a "criminal thriller," I found it to be more of cautionary tale, a combination memoir and homage to the good people in Sakowitz's life compared to the tragic flamboyance that he found in Scott Rothstein.
Sakowitz first met Rothstein when he was invited to participate in an investment in what was billed as "structured settlements," a scheme that would return investment of at least 20 percent, often more, in as short a time as three months. The structured settlements turned out to actually be pre-settlement funding or financing, and the promised return on investment would often be astronomical, even unbelievable. Investors, upon committing to secrecy, were investing large amounts of money and receiving large returns. Rothstein was a respected member of the bar, a partner in a reputable and growing law firm, politically well connected, and philanthropically generous. His sales pitch was convincing, and people were trusting him with their money to the tune of over $1.2 billion dollars.
But, as has been astutely noted elsewhere, "if it's too good to be true, it probably is," and so thought Sakowitz. A veteran real estate investor and attorney, he began to do his due diligence on the scheme, and red flags began to pop up everywhere. The more he researched, the more questionable the investment seemed, and the less the numbers would add up. Finally, he concluded that what was going on had to be illegal, and he called the FBI.
The rest is history. Rothstein fled to Morocco just in front of an FBI warrant to search his law offices, one of a few countries that does not have an extradition treaty to the United States. He returned later, upon pleading from his partners, and turned himself into the FBI to cooperate in their investigation. Disbard for life, he was later sentenced to 50 years in prison, and is serving his time in a federal detention center in Miami.
That's the Rothstein story, but it's not half of the book. What makes Sakowitz's book interesting and worth reading is the dichotomous nature in which he has written it. Instead of weaving a tale about Rothstein's corruption, hubris, and crimes, which he does do, Sakowitz also intersperes the account with anecdotes about the selfless individuals that have added value and meaning to Sakowitz's life. His stories include those of his parents, rabbis, community members, individuals he admires from afar, and others who he has seen selflessly give of themselves to others. It is intended as a contrast to Rothstein's selfishness, and it is an intimate and touching portrait of many of the unsung heroes of our world. All too often we hear and read about the people and egos who thrust themselves into our consciousness in the news and media, and it is refreshing to hear the stories of those who quietly go about doing good without any hope or expectation of reward. Although I do not share Sakowitz's faith, as a person of faith myself, I found much in Sakowitz's book in common with people in my own life, and I was inspired by the thought that there are people out there doing good for good's sake alone.
Scott Rothstein was a selfish fool, and his greed hurt a lot of people. But fortunately, there are good people out there, too and in Sakowitz's account we see a few of them. They are unsung, usually, and only quietly going about doing good. But it is their actions and choices that give me hope that in the end we can choose the good side of our nature--what Sakowitz calls the "right side" of our hearts--over the bad.(less)
If you walk away with nothing from this book, and from this review, it should be this: by using data, organization, and money, there are political ope...moreIf you walk away with nothing from this book, and from this review, it should be this: by using data, organization, and money, there are political operatives out there manipulating how voters think about their candidates, and not necessarily with accurate information.
Without a doubt, the book is what it purports to be: a blueprint for the Democratic strategy to successfully turn Republican leaning states, districts and offices over to Democrats. And it's already worked. Democrats, in what was in 2002 one of the reddest states of country, now control the state House and Senate, both US Senate seats, the Governors mansion, and five of the seven Congressional seats. Further, as the authors, Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, argue, it's a plan that is being exported to other states, and even being used nationally, to take down Republicans everywhere.
So what's the secret? How do Democrats turn a conservative state into a left leaning Democratic stronghold? Tom Tancredo, former Republican Congressman, summed it up nicely:
"It doesn't matter if you are running for the state legislature or the president of the United States. Brilliant organization, unlimited resources, and the effective use of technology all in the hands of bright people who are driven more than just simple ideology create the most formidable campaign strategy imaginable."
And that's exactly what happened. Conceived as a project by several millionaires--and not just your garden variety millionaires, but including dot-com millionaires with a penchant for data manipulation and a surplus of cash--the Colorado story is that of a small cadre of intelligent individuals bypassing the traditional political parties to orchestrate an ambush on Republican office holders that flipped Colorado to the Democrats. Using huge influxes of cash channeled through shadowy 527 non-profits, Democrats used data collection methods to target vulnerable and marginally successful Republicans with vicious mailers and only marginally true television advertising. Republicans never saw it coming, and it wasn't until almost six years later that they started to pick up the game. Using a method of directing donations to candidates and non-profits categorized as 527s under the IRS tax code, Democrats were able to hide the actual amount of money being spent to attack Republicans, pool from wealthy donors nationwide, and target only a few swing votes to turn elections in several states.
It's a brilliantly executed strategy, and one I am sure that every politico wishes he had conceived. The tools are available to anyone who will organize them and that is willing to raise and find the money.
As for a read, the book moves fast and feels like an extended magazine piece, full of quotes and interesting anecdotes. However, it's probably better designed for a political wonk than for the average reader.
As I stated at the outset, the scary aspect of the book is the ability of these operatives, infusing enormous amounts of money, deft and witty campaign messaging (read: attack ads and mailers that smear candidates), and highly organized grassroots management, can, and are, winning elections, and not necessarily on the merits of their candidates.
Fascinating read. Pick it up. Or borrow it from me. (less)
As the former comptroller general of the United States, David Walker knows a little about the fiscal workings of the modern federal government. For fi...moreAs the former comptroller general of the United States, David Walker knows a little about the fiscal workings of the modern federal government. For fifteen years, he served under both Republican and Democratic presidents from Reagan to Clinton to the Bushes), and had a unique opportunity to call into question the decisions that have lead to our current fiscal woes.And he doesn’t hold back. As he argues in the first few pages of his book “Comeback America,” we are a great country, but we are putting ourselves in a difficult position:
We live in a great and resilient nation. For all of our problems, the United States remains a global superpower and a beacon of liberty for people around the world. We have much to be proud of and thankful for. But I am here to tell you that if we don’t find a way to get spending under control, we will put our nation’s economy and international standing at risk and bequeath to our children a world of severely diminished opportunities.
It’s not too late. But we had better act soon.
After opening the book with describing our current fiscal problems–looking at the America of 2030 if we continue our current trajectory, examining principles from our history, and spelling out the challenges that President Obama faced, and faces, as he came into office–Walker then lays out his recommendations in each major area of federal spending in the succeeding chapters.
Walker skips right over earmarks and discretionary spending, which account for only a very small percentage of our federal budget, and goes right to the heart of the problem: entitlements, insufficient tax revenues, spending deficits, Defense Department ineffeciences, and systemic problems. Each gets a chapter that provides context, history, and recommendations.
Beyond its easy accessibility, perhaps the most important reason you should read this book is the lack of partisan taint. His approach, and recommendations, are nonpartisan, pragmatic, and worthy of consideration. He approaches the problems with one consideration–what is right for America and Americans?
A simplistic summary of his ideas, which I aim to address in greater depth in a later post, is that he calls for not only the reform of entitlements, review and oversight of inefficiencies in several–large–areas of government, and the reform of the tax code, but also for changes in our very elective processes and to the constitution. It isn’t enough to just change policies–we also need to change the systemic problems with how we got here and make it difficult to get here again.
In the end, Walker makes a compelling case for, in his words, not a “small government or a big government[,]” but an effective government–one that is fiscally responsible, focuses on the future, and looks out for the collective best interest of America and Americans rather than the narrow agendas of various special interests.
As one friend of mine has been known to observe–both parties are glad to spend, as long as it on the program that benefits its constituency. The right will spend on national security, and the left will spend on social programs. Both are spending, just not on the same thing. Indeed, fiscal responsibility is a claim that neither elected Democrats nor Republicans can claim–at least not with any measure of integrity.
Despite the current difficulties, exacerbated by the pop of the housing bubble and the subsequent recession, America can “comeback.” David Walker’s book, already over a year and a half old, is full of great ideas and suggestions to see that that happens. I recommend you pick up a copy and read it soon. You might find yourself asking different questions of your elected representatives than their position on immigration.
As I noted earlier, look for a later post on Walker’s specific policy recommendations.(less)
I just finished "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward. I don't know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading...moreI just finished "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward. I don't know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading it.
First of all, the book seems more about the bureaucratic push and shove between the White House, the State Department, the CIA and the Department of Defense about how to deal with Afghanistan. The Obama Administration had come into office with promises to draw down in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan. The question was to what degree: how many troops? How long would they need to be there? And what exactly would be the mission?
The process to determine those answers was meticulous and thorough. That said, Woodward does not tell the story in a light that is favorable to the military. The military--McCrystal, Petraeus, Mullen, and others--appears to constantly push civilian leadership's efforts to limit the mission in Afghanistan, seeking more troops, an expanded mission, a longer mission. Petraeus wanted to implement a surge similar to "the Surge" that saved Iraq, and McCrystal conducted in an in-depth review on how to make Afghanistan secure, but couldn't control his mouth or his staff.
Vice President Biden has no problem giving his opinion. No shocker, I suppose. He would start out with "Let me take two minutes..." then go on for over twenty-five minutes. At one point, he even cornered President Obama on the portico to the White House just before the President announced his decision to insert 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, just to give one more opinion. Yeah. He's just that sure of himself.
President Obama himself appears extremely careful and thorough in his decision-making, carefully seeking the opinions of all parties, including his counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Further, his carefully crafted orders were meticulous and detailed. Within the Obama White House, relationships and personality are more than important--they're crucial. Individuals close to the President, especially from the campaign, were better at getting their ideas moved forward. No surprise there, I suppose; it's not who you know, but who knows you.
Pakistan is the real villain in the conflict, not the Taliban alone, even if Woodward does not necessarily intend to point the finger. With Osama's death at the hands of Seal Team Six last week, not far from a Pakistani military installation, it seems clear that we have trusted Pakistan too much.
If slightly biased towards the Administration and heavily focused on how the decision to send the 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was made, perhaps to the neglect of other aspects of the war, Woodward's book is detailed, appears well researched, and is an interesting look into how the Obama Administration has conducted the war in Afghanistan. (less)
To read the first in Edmund Morris' biographical series on Theodore Roosevelt ("The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt"), one might be left with the feeling t...moreTo read the first in Edmund Morris' biographical series on Theodore Roosevelt ("The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt"), one might be left with the feeling that it was inevitable that Teddy someday become President. Individuals from his German tutor while he studied abroad to those who came into contact with him while he fought policy corruption in New York City, not to mention the men who served with him in the Spanish-American War.
With "Theodore Rex," though, we see a man who is thrust into the Presidency without the opportunity to prepare mentally, as others had through the fire and course of a national campaign.
And yet, after a first term as Governor of New York, it became apparent that those who controlled New York's political machine would not allow Roosevelt another reform minded term. His name bandied around as a candidate for Vice President, Roosevelt was flattered, but convinced that he would be useless, bored, and stagnate. To Roosevelt, a man who above all was in perpetual motion, becoming Vice-President would doom him to irrellivence and uselessness. Unlike today, when Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have exercised greater responsibility and power than any Vice President in memory, the Office of the Vice President at the turn of the 19th century wasn't "worth a bucket of spit," at least to Roosevelt. It took wounded pride to change his mind--hearing that Senator Mark Hanna and President William McKinley did not want him on the ticket, he let supporters know he that he would serve if the Convention selected him.
Little did he know how short his term as Vice President would be. In the ides of September, President McKinley was shot by an assassin and Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States.
That's almost before the book even gets started.
Morris' writing is, as in the first book in the series, novel-like. Theodore strides through his world like a giant, negotiating peace between the Japanese and Russians, supporting the secession of Panama in order to obtain a shorter path for the Panama, building and sending the Great White Fleet, ending a miners strike involving a quarter of a million workers, appointing three Supreme Court Justices, including the great dissenter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and hosting Booker T. Washington, the first time a black had been invited to dinner with a President at the White House.. Perhaps the only difference between this and the first book is that in feeling. Where the first tells was the life of an ambitious adventurer, "Theodore Rex" is the story of a man under constant scrutiny, on whom the stakes are significantly increased. At times I couldn't help but wonder if it was also the change in the type of documents that Morris is able to rely upon, utilizing more official and government documents than in "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt."
Ultimately, "Theodore Rex" is a fascinating look at one of America's most ambitious, most popular, and most effective Presidents. Coming to power at at time when American power and wealth was growing and as yet unfathomed, Roosevelt took every advantage given to him to expand American power and influence. Morris' "Theodore Rex" is entertaining, education, and compelling, especially for a Presidential biography. (less)
I'm always on the look out for new books to read (but what I really need is more time). Suggestions from friends, mentors, reviewers, blogs, and refer...moreI'm always on the look out for new books to read (but what I really need is more time). Suggestions from friends, mentors, reviewers, blogs, and references in other books send me off on an endless cycle: hear about a book, find it on Amazon (or the library), purchase (or check out) said book, bring it home, put it on my bed-stand with great anticipation, read ten pages to a reference of another book, and...repeat. The result is a two-stack, five books per stack, "pile up" next to my bed that has resulted in a reading bottle neck. And, believe me you, it's a bottleneck that affords me more enjoyable hours than I've ever passed in traffic.
That's all really just a long way of saying that in reading Charles Hill's "Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order" I constantly found myself adding new books to some real or imagined book list that I may, or may not, ever get a chance to read. Every chapter of Grand Strategies was full of new books that sounded interesting and fascinating. Some--like Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Salmon Rushdie's "Satanic Verses," or Thucydides's "The Peloponnesian War"--I had read and could quickly relate. Others--Xenophon's "The Persian Expedition" or Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time"--were new, at least to me. Worse, especially for my book list, Hill manages to craft his dialogue about each in such a way as to bestow meaning and insight beyond a cursory reading of the text.
For example, though I've often heard it referenced and cited as powerful piece of poetry, never had I seen John Milton's "Paradise Lost" as a commentary on war and the modern polity. And yet, perhaps it is.
"But far beyond the politics of the day 'Paradise Lost' is Milton's comprehensive commentary on modern warfare, revolution, founding a polity; on strategy, leadership, intelligence, individual choice under conditions of modern statecraft; and on the justification of God's ways to men."
Suddenly, the war in heaven, through Milton's eyes, becomes a proxy for competing views of the world worked out during the Oliver Cromwell English Civil War.
In Hill's eye, fiction is more than just a story. In literature, we see the great ideas and forces that move history worked out, argued, and recorded. The "international world of states and their modern system is a literary realm," he argues. "[I]t is where the greatest issues of the human condition are played out." Nothing may come closer to a thesis for his opus. He continues:
"A sacral nature must infuse world order if it is to be legitimate. that order is not to be identified with a particular social system, but to legitimate, the system must hint at the underlying divinely founded order. The modern Westphalian system was conceived when such was the case, but with the Enlightenment's addition of secularism, science, reason, and democracy, the system increasingly spurned , then forgot, its legitimizing sources of authority.[...] Revolutionary ideology radicalized secularism, science and reason into the task of erasing original sin, o perfecting humanity--all requiring terror to create "the New Man." Modern efforts to create a sovereignty potent enough to fill the void produced the statist monstrosities of Stalin and Hitler. America became an empire but never gained the understanding to go with it. China is now on its own misguided course."
Thought provoking, insightful, and, of course, full of literature to read when you finish it (including a bibliography of primary and secondary sources that will keep you busy for several years), and reread, Hill's "Grand Strategies" is a worthy addition to your bed-stand stack. Just make sure you put it on top.(less)