102 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2009
Economists still don't know how the great recession could happen. Political scientists seem satisfied to analyze polls and use them to determine political strategies. Military leaders appear to be a political and purchasing arm of government that is unable to complete a military objective in today's environment. Can anyone untangle the complexity of how things really work and who is calling the shots? Janine R Wedel makes a strong case that it takes an Anthropologist - a scholar who studies people and cultures and networks - to see what is really going on.
In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Wedel has identified what she calls "flex networks" of individuals who share a common ideology and, by playing an array of related and interwoven roles, work together to manipulate the policies and actions of governments, corporations, and NGOs. She labels these individuals "flexians" for the way they use multiple simultaneous and sequential roles to pursue the goals of their flex net, often to the detriment of the companies and governments they represent or advise.
Dr. Wedel presents her thesis and then illustrates it using three detailed examples of flex nets, the individuals involved, and the global effects of their actions over time. She stresses that these are not conspiracies and often their actions are legal or at least not provably illegal.
The first example is a flex net operating in Poland and Eastern Europe after the fall of the communists in Poland. Another chapter describes the "Harvard-Chubais" flex net that oversaw and bungled the privatization efforts in Russia in the early 90's. The third flex net she describes is the "Neocon core" consisting of individuals centered around Richard Perle, and how their activities, over a 30 year period, culminated most recently in helping to lead the USA into the Iraq war based on their preemptive war ideology and a campaign of manufactured disinformation.
In all these cases, these flex nets, or "Shadow Elite," significantly determine policy and action at global levels and do so beyond the control, oversight, or even recognition of any national or international authority.
Dr. Wedel does not claim to have answers to all the questions mentioned at the start of this review or even for the cases she presents. In fact, she makes a point of saying that her goal is to simply describe the reality of what is happening. It is up to us to understand this new insight and to determine if the results of this new form of organizing are compatible with the type of government, economy, and culture we want. If not, and that is likely the case, it will take a new type of recognition, oversight, and control to change the situation.
Gary Lyndaker, Gravois Mills, Mo
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2010
I was surprised to find a one-star review of this book after hearing so much about it and reading a very thorough positive review on the product page for the print edition. After realizing the one-star review had been written by someone who had not read SHADOW ELITE and was simply irritated by the e-book edition's price point, I purchased the e-book, read the introduction and first chapter, and have now returned here to post a five-star review simply so a one-star rating is no longer applied to SHADOW ELITE. This book is indeed an important work that deserves widespread attention and acclaim. It does not deserve a low rating that may lead potential readers to dismiss it without further consideration of its author, her many years of work, and her book's remarkable, revealing findings.
55 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2010
The author, a social anthropologist, has finally identified what ails our culture, and our democratic way of life. Through intense research (much of it performed in the Eastern bloc), she has revealed why our political system has ceased to work - at least for ordinary citizens anyway; why it has devolved into little more than a pre-arranged, staged, symbolic set of primitive and now also obligatory set of rituals: "dog fights" between two meaningless political parties, and us their surrogates.
She has identified why it is that we continue to go through the empty motions of voting, while everything meaningful goes on well above (or is it well below?) our heads; and why we are forced to listen to the same ethnically incestuous family of narrators beaming constantly across the spectrum of our media as if they were operating a neighborhood megaphone with a circular soundtrack to a bad movie. But as we conspiracy-minded thinkers always knew, it is due to an identifiable cabal -- my word, not the author's (who is almost Catholic in the restraint she shows in failing to call a spade-a-spade) of "Shadow Elite," a hydra-headed ethnically identifiable monster with the tentacles and all the aggressiveness of a metastasized malignant cancer.
This systemic parasite invades the body politic by worming its way into the upper echelon of the most intimate parts of our political and economic system, where its members become counselors to the presidents, high level consultants, media moguls, contractors, soldiers of fortunes, spies, Hollywood film producers, newscasters and expert news commentators, members of all the boards of the major corporations, heads of all the major NGOs, tenured university professors, members of all of the most influential political pacs, most of the GS-15s and above, on the top floors of any government office buildings; and most of all, the proverbial "movers and shakers" of the wall street money tree, where together they coalesce to form an incestuous network of interlocking interests, roping in the talented where needed from the major universities, who are completely unaware of the fact that they been recruited into a club of which they are the "outsiders" ("in" but not "of" the internal cliques) and who are mostly impervious to the larger interests they have been enlisted to serve.
Always operating in the gray zone, in the cracks between private and public interests, its ultimate goal is absolute power, apparently for the sake of power alone, to then be used to corrupt the arena in which power gets played out, and to do so, absolutely. Offering very little in the way of public good, and since evil is intrinsic to its very nature and purpose, this malignant organism has already caused, and promises to continue causing, a great deal more systemic harm to our political institutions and to our future than it has already. This creature has been sighted most prominently in an around the Washington D.C. environs, but may be seen hovering around the capitalist toughs of any modest industrialized national capitol. It is a fiendishly clever parasite that sucks the blood of its host countries without their citizens knowing what has happened to them only until it is far too late for them to take any remedial actions.
Its modus operandi is to short-circuit and confuse the control channels of our communication and information systems, and then to use the confusion it has created to collect and accrue a knowledge base that can be used to undermine and then take over the machinery of government, major financial institutions, and major corporations. Once it has evaded the state's increasingly weak immune system's defenses, this trans-national systemic actor goes systematically about the work of invading the vital organs of the state, where it then operates on both sides of the political divide, both above and below the surface; and both from outside of, and also from deep within the walls of its hosts. And although most of the time it appears to be operating out in the open, that image, as the author tells us here, is not to be trusted for it is a carefully stage-managed optical illusion designed mostly to mask and misdirect ones attention from the dirty work that is always going on behind the scenes and in the shadows.
This parasitic monster is deft, subtle of mind and agile on its feet: It is a chameleon like animal that can dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee. It is politically and ideologically promiscuous and will change the color of its jerseys (i.e., its political parties, and tribal identities and affiliations), its rules, its morality, its roles, and even its loyalties at will to suit only its own hidden agendas. It is allowed to continue operating well above (and often well below) the zone of accountability because "we the people" (and our paid-off and morally challenged elected representatives) are often convinced that those who make it up, are the "best and the brightest," the crème de la crème who will save us from ourselves and from the likes of GW Bush, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.
However, this feign is the organism's favorite strategem. Members of the cabal have discovered that Mao was wrong: it is also "limited attention span," and "mindless amusement," in addition to "religion" that is the "opiate of the masses." The cabal knows all too well that a "new managed and socially adjusted reality" for the masses is only a "sound bite," a "self-esteem building image" an "unnecessary war," the building of a few more jails, or a "Rapture prediction" away from societal contentment.
They know that American politics is about nothing if not about throwing a couple of pieces of raw meat into the political arena and then watching the "red and blue dogs" tear at each other's throats. If that is not enough to get a "Michael Vick" style dog fight started then there are always many other ways to divide and conquer: the endless social grid of binary forms of "foaming at the mouth hatred" on the American social scene is simply endless, mindless, unprecedented for any advanced culture and disgraceful. There are for instance: race, gender, sexuality, religion, abortion, evolution, guns, crime and class to name just the top seven. And for each of them there is a corresponding foaming at the mouth radio or TV talk show host who will use the 24-hour news cycle to cheer them on and inspire them to join the self-destructive national fray.
There are so many ways for the cabal to divide and conquer and amuse themselves with our mindless ignorance, as they quietly back their Mac trucks up to the back door of Fort Knox (as they did most recently in the carefully staged financial melt-down) that one wonders, whether or not their exquisite formula can be improved upon? The only justification for their own existence is that since "we the people" are stupid enough to allow them to get away with it, then they "the chosen" must be ordained and chosen by their own God (or even by ours) to allow it to happen. They follow the Bill Clinton mantra: "They do it because they can (get away with it, that is)"
According to this author, who is almost Catholic in avoiding making value judgments or giving negative characterizations of the machinations of this strange amoral beast, and although I did not find her word coinage clever or creative, and ached for her to put the whole piece into a larger theoretical frame, she still managed to describe the contours of the beast based on the traces that remain in the sand and in the wake of its destructive path, better than anyone else has so far. That along with her very careful research is surely worth five stars.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2010
Wedel's book protests too much that it is not "conpsiracy theory'" sos she can keep her job as a professor within a university system that is as politically gelded as any medieval monastary. In fact the new power networks that she describes is not qualitatively different from the older power grids of high modernism, it's just more complex.
Read Family of Secrets by Russ Baker instead. Also read JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty YearsJFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
Wedel also toes THE LINE: she types the plattitude that intelligence agencies are ALWAYS under control of the president. Translation: I am still employable. Readers time is better employed looking at the crucial years between 1950-80, the years in which it became clear that elected officials no longer really mattered. If you make it to page 84 of Baker's book you will understand why Bush's funeral might not be as long as Reagan's on TV. This stuff is truly unbelievable, even for the most well read of organisms. The note from Oswald's #1 Dallas cia handler George DeMorhrenschildt-- written just days months before the latter was suicided so that he could not testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations-- is the best kept secret in history as of 7am February 4th. But Bakers book does not leave these as isolated conspiratorial bread crumbs. Rather, it puts them in a context of immaculately documented corporate connections involving the elites at key intersections of the US economy. The false dichotomy--policed by such unhumble folk as Chomsky and Cockburn-- between ""Conspiracy Theory"" -- whatever this cowcatcher term means these days??-- and structural analysis is gone forever.
On a more postive note, the specific case histories the author uses are quite interesting with lots of new material. Most of these cases are from the last two decades of world politics and deal with the thickening grey wall between the public and private realms. The section dealing with US Corporate dealings with the newly emerging Republics of Eastern Europe are the best, IMO.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2013
A man walking in the desert is not cognoscent of what this environment constitutes until a word conceptualizes this environment, namely a desert and all that it entails, and it changes the way he looks at his surroundings.
This is the beauty of words and language, because they define our understanding of our world. Without understanding our surroundings we remain ignorant and our responses to our environment are limited and in many cases such as the Iraq war disastrous.
Janine R. Wedel showed me that my experience with the organizational and enforcement tactics of street gangs in New York City slums was the best business education I could get. She explains how chaotic conditions are the best opportunities a resourceful person can get to break into the elite world controlled by monopolistic streaks in capitalism or the nomenclature/clan controlled world of post-communism. I have seen it, participated in it and benefited from it!
What I didn't realize was that this world I swam in was a recent social and political development. Janine R. Wedel in her masterful "Shadow Elites" has enlightened me to this nefarious world of greed, amorality and in the extreme cases, of traitorous behavior in the "Shadow Elite".
She has done what Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations did, namely describe to the unsuspecting public the obvious. She has named names and their odious supposedly saintly deeds, their methods and the evolution of today's political and business climate and their symbiosis.
She has given as an example the Trotskyist party in America in the forties and how it morphed into the Neo Cons of today. She describes their gaming of today's government, which led our Nation into a criminal enterprise, namely the second Iraq war.
She also gives as an example the Harvard University-Russian Mafia Nexus in the guise of Larry Summers of Harvard and Anatoly Chubais of Russia. I have seen that work in real life when I did business in 1991-93 in Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
She is the real thing. I can see a trained scholar of public policy and anthropology. Her training and perceptive abilities are on par with Tocqueville.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2010
Poor Reviews Miss the Mark and Throw Away a Powerful Ally in "Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market" by Janine R. Wedel
It is interesting that the one star and other lesser rated reviews were those expounded a global conspiracy and had no respect for an academic examination of the part of the Great Beast she was qualified to discuss.
- "A Disingenuous Apology for the JudeoCons"
- "Not Even Close ....To write about the shadow elite, the author would have to investigate the Bilderbergs, but she was apparently off on several mindless tangents."
- "Wedel's book protests too much that it is not "conspiracy theory'" so she can keep her job as a professor within a university system that is as politically gelded as any medieval monastery"
and the rather unhelpful " I don't plan to read these Kindle books that are priced at greater than $9.99."
This book is an amazing introduction to the largely self-serving and mutating web of alliances that operate in the New World Order connective tissue of NGOs , Government Agencies and Military Operations draining all these of resources and original purpose. Once you learn her language for all this - THEN you can go back and look at the traditional elites and Invisible-Powers-That-Be with an educated eye.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
I had never heard of Janine Wedel before seeing her scheduled to speak at a monthly salon, but her book seemed interesting enough to make a visit worthwhile. Not wanting to appear unprepared, I took out a copy of "The Shadow Elite" from the library, and read it in advance. Unfortunately, it seemed as though I was one of only three people in the room who had (including Ms. Wedel), because the group peppered her quite aggressively with direct challenges to her central thesis. Considering the overt hostility she provoked, the information being presented seemed to make the group pretty uncomfortable. As if she'd offended some basic, unwritten rule of etiquette. What it really came down to was a misunderstanding, by no fault of the presenter. The people in attendance thought she was saying that interpersonal networks are inherently bad, which she categorically did not. What Professor Wedel is saying is that interpersonal networks are bad when they circumvent formal, established procedure to advance a personal agenda that is counter to the best interests of a nation while using the resources of that nation to do so. Particularly when it increases suffering, such as the absurd income and wealth inequality associated with the looting of a national economy as in post Perestroika Russia, or a full scale war, as the United States and Iraq are still embroiled in.
Of particular interest is the evaluation and analysis of exactly who got us into Iraq, how and why they did it. Shadow Elite exposes some of the most powerful men in the world for the puppet masters they are, reveals their bag of tricks, and backs it up with meticulous research. It basically draws back the curtain, & reveals the (collective) Man. Worthwhile if only to understand the current condition of affairs, as well as the direction things are heading in.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2010
With truly in depth investigations (the notes are excellent), Janine Wedel discovered disturbing facts about how the US is actually governed. The loud call for a `small government' is for her pure rhetoric. The de facto US government is in fact growing rapidly, albeit in a very peculiar manner.
The real story behind the `shouting façade' is the `redesigning of government', its privatization.
Actually, three-quarters of the work of the federal government (measured in terms of jobs) is contracted out (a multi-billion dollar business). This outsourcing of governmental tasks created a new power system, a kind of parallel (shadow) government.
This parallel power base consists of a small set of players (the author is naming names) who are acting inside or outside the government and who are all the time changing jobs between the government itself, private companies, consulting firms, NGOs or think tanks. They always follow their own agenda or the orders of their masters.
Hiding behind their `grand narratives of democracy and freedom', those who forced the merging of State and private businesses, created less competitive markets and less accountable governmental services. The fusion even eroded national sovereignty. `Ambiguous institutional arrangements are making it difficult to establish where authority resides.'
Moreover, the government is `emasculated' because the eventually gathered information stays in private hands, which gives contractors an edge over government overseers.
J. R. Wedel analyzed superbly the privatization of Russian State assets under B. Yeltsin.
A small group of insiders from Harvard and from PM A. Chubais's office sold a major chunk of State assets for token sums to seven (!) preselected bank chiefs.
Free marketeers created a new authoritarian State.
The author is not really optimistic that all the players `who operate largely above public input, knowledge and visibility' can be reined in.
This superbly researched book with an excellent index is a must read for all true democrats and for all those who want to understand the world we live in.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is a worrisome book. It is unusual among current events books in that it is written by an anthropologist; Wedel has been able to do field work in the corridors of power. (Many of us anthros want to "study up" but never get a chance.) What she found, by anthropological interviewing, goes deeper than what journalists usually find. She worked primarily in eastern Europe, watching it transition from communism to capitalism (or something). She identified major similarities with the United States--theoretically so different.
She identifies a whole new universe of what she calls "flex" people and "flexnets"--the behind-the-scenes operators who increasingly are making the real decisions in the world, in their capacities as CEO's, consultants, special advisors, and so on. They drift from government to education to the private sector to think-tanks, often failing everywhere but sliding into a new and prestigious job. Larry Summers is the type: failed at the World Bank, failed at running Harvard (and not because of one remark, either), did a less-than-brilliant job in government, and yet is still powerful. The neoconservatives have similar records. So do the CEO's of the giant corporations, who are getting away with every imaginable crime--not only without being called to account, but not even being docked their 8-figure bonuses. So do countless other political and business operatives, left-wing, right-wing and center.
The real problem here is that these people are utterly unaccountable. They are not democratically elected. They are not dependent on the success of their endeavors. In business, they are CEO's, not bosses; old-fashioned bosses went down with their firms, but CEO's just go on to the next job. As TIME magazine reports the Goldman Sachs administrators saying, "I'll be gone, you'll be gone." In government, the same people are special advisors and consultants, not only unelected and unaccountable, but often serving both Democrats and Republicans indifferently. They can, and do, fail over and over again, taking whole countries down with them, and yet go right on. This is the real reason for the financial meltdown of 2008 and for its persistence today.
Only four stars, though, because this is a short (and somewhat rapidly written, occasionally repetitious) book. It could have gone much deeper into the history--in the United States, back to the 1870s and 1880s, when the country was run, de facto, by the robber barons (Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, the Big Four, and the rest of that gang). Shadow elites and flexnets are not new; what is new is their extreme power. This has resulted from downsizing government, and also from the explosive increase in subsidies, procurement, and other government support for firms. BP can get away with destroying the US south because it is not really a private firm; it is a British parastatal with American ties as well. ExxonMobil is essentially a parastatal also. From Halliburton to Monsanto to Goldman Sachs, the big firms do what they please and duly receive taxpayer support, bailouts, and so on, while avoiding oversight or regulation.
This is not "capitalism" and not really "socialism" either. It's closest (scarily) to Mussolini's original version of fascism: Government supports the big private firms and cracks down on anyone who doesn't like it. Eventually government and business fuse.
We are hearing no opposition to this from the right wing--indeed, they support it all, in spite of their insincere condemnations of "big government." The left (if there can be said to be a left today) is still locked in the illusion that we have "capitalism" and "free enterprise" and "neoliberalism." No, we don't. We have a shadow elite, a gang of non-accountable political operators who are devoted solely to keeping themselves on top, as the near-invisible powers behind the thrones and presidential chairs.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2010
I'm no intellectual or political scientist but I found the book very informative even though the basis of truth it is built on has been something my wife has been telling me since day one. My biggest pet peeve with the book is not in the contents but in the horrible writing style. I have never read anything in my life short of Finnegan's Wake that contained so many jumbled up sentences. I am sure the book would have more impact if it were clearly written. Also noticed a lot of repetition. Other than that I did read 95% of it before it had to go back to the public library.