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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, obvious issue, October 26, 2011
This review is from: Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (Hardcover)
Stewart begins his book with the observation that lying, particularly in matters legal and financial, is epidemic. It is probably true, although some numbers free from the effect of expanded definition and changes in reporting would be useful to see if it's increasing.
He uses four cases, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff, to demonstrate his point.
He's a good financial writer, which means he can explain things to those without the arcane knowledge of The Street, and he's a good writer overall which means he can lay out the facts so they can be followed easily.
One expects wrongdoers to lie to keep themselves out of trouble. The issue is others lying for them. Martha, Bonds, and Madoff were powerful, overpowering personalities who provided various people with a good living. It appears that some kinds of subordinates develop a feeling that loyalty is owed despite wrongdoing. Loyalty is a virtue independent of other issues, anyway.
With Martha, we see how fast, and without thinking, one can get involved in insider trading. Insider trading is and ought to be illegal. Without such prohibitions, corporate and industrial espionage would leave The Street looking like raw nature, red in tooth and claw, to say nothing about actual sabotage.
The issue of juicing athletes is a so-what for me, but the investigation found that people lied about it, so that was the thrust of Stewart's case. When associates of the subject of prosecution lie, the system of law is threatened. Stewart should have spent more time on the motivations of the associates to lie.
Madoff's career was a lie and he lied straightforwardly to keep himself out of trouble. In my view, the interesting part of this case was the SEC's inability to spot what was, according to Stewart, so obvious to trained investigators, and which ultimately allowed the losses to triple before the Ponzi scheme collapsed.
The Libby case is the odd man out here. The investigation was about a crime which, it turned out, didn't happen. Plame's identity came out in an unclassified report to Richard Armitage, then at the State Department, who wanted to know from the CIA what all this Wilson stuff was. Armitage had never seen a covert agent's name mentioned in an unclassified report. The law requires the leaker to know the agent is covert and to know of active efforts to maintain the cover. The report to Armitage, who told at least one reporter, mentioned that Wilson's wife works at the agency. So either she was not covert or the agency leaked its own agent itself. Talking about a leaked agent after the leak is public is not a crime, either. The web of who told whom so that Robert Novak knew about it, and Libby, and Rove, and various others was the subject of an investigation of a non-crime, in the process of which several people lied and only Libby prosecuted.
The partisan nature of the ensuing public outrage was manifest when it dwarfed the cumulative outrage about the Hanssen, Agee, and Ames betrayals. Which, it should be reiterated, actually happened.
Stewart tells us the truth; that the system of law depends on integrity. It requires, for example, somebody in an insider situation in a corporation, to keep silent about insider information and watch friends and family either take a hit, or miss an opportunity. We must not lie to protect a friend from justice.
The system of law has responsibility, as well. High-profile cases of high-profile people getting away with that which would have the rest of us clapped in irons before we can say, "Not guilty" damages the system of law, providing an excuse for some to ignore the law. The law must seem accountable and fair. Harvey Silverglate tells us the average person commits three felonies a day without knowing it, because of the huge and growing number of obscure, vague, overbroad laws and regulations having nothing to do with any obvious connection to the generally-accepted sense of right and wrong. We are protected from prosecution solely by the prosecutors' work load. But if they take a dislike to us, or need some leverage to get us to testify a certain way (lie)in a case where we may be a witness, there are plenty of ways to legally ruin us or our loved ones.
Legal doctrines like Kelo, or laws like civil forfeiture are viciously unfair and magnets for corruption.
This is a good book and Stewart is an excellent writer. I wish he had spent more time on the motivations of the perps' associates, and discussing why the incidence of such lying is "epidemic". Simply saying that bad people lie and that lying is bad is just a start.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 29, 2012 6:21:05 PM PDT
It's great that you liked the book, but I'm not sure why civil forfeiture is mentioned in your review. It seems pretty unrelated to the issue of perjury.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 30, 2012 5:08:17 AM PDT
I was trying to make the case that the law must be respectable if it is to be respected. If it is arbitrary and perceived to be unjust, there is no moral reason not to disobey it or evade it. A tangled web would be just the ticket, if you could get away with it.
Stewart's examples presume there is both a legal and a moral issue. In Libby's case, the moral question is why investigate anybody at all, since it was known where the leak came from. Apparently to get to Bush/Rove/Cheney. The glee on the left at the prospect was palpable.
Stewart's book is about lying, and in two of the cases, Libby and Bonds, it was about crimes which either do not strike many people as actually criminal, or not particularly serious.
Most of us commit, according to Harvey Silverglate, three felonies a day and are protected by the work load of the prosecutor. But if he needs some leverage, to get us to testify a certain way--see Enron or Milken--he'll have something serious to use.
And civil forfeiture is one of the most egregious examples of unjust and arbitrary law I can think of.
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