Tag Archives: George W. Bush

An Innocent Man

500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald (Touchstone, $30.00, 611 pages)

Amazing.   Bush believed that he could establish a new legal system, and then declared his order exempt from judicial review?   Had anyone in the White House even read the Constitution?”

This is a stunningly good, and often sad and depressing, account of the first 500 days of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11.   As detailed in this book, a number of innocent persons were labeled as dangerous terrorists and were either tortured or lost their lives.   However, author Eichenwald seems to be both sympathetic to, and critical of, the people who worked in the White House and in the U.S. intelligence system.

“My God, they’re arguing that the president can do whatever he wants.”

The Bush White House was guided, during these 500 days, by a Berkeley law professor who incredibly advised that, “…we do have the right to violate international law.”   John Woo, a Republican lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel, asserted that the executive’s power was virtually unbounded; a latter-day acceptance of Richard Nixon’s version of an imperial presidency beyond the review of the courts and Congress.   Fortunately for this country, a number of other government lawyers were fully prepared to take on Woo.   And they did.   One noted of Woo’s position:  “Adopting these standards would invite enemies to torture American soldiers.”

“The call ended without a resolution of their conundrum and with both men befuddled by the difficulty of nailing down Arar’s terrorist leanings.   Neither considered the obvious explanation – the evidence didn’t exist because Arar was an innocent man.”

These were days when fear and hatred led to a trampling of individual human rights; a national tragedy was exploited by extremists.   Let’s hope this account prevents us from repeating such a misguided and unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A page turner…  Jaw-dropping…  It crackles.”   The Washington Post500 Days (3d)

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Less Really is More

Street Fighters by Kate Kelly (Portfolio, 245 pages)

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System by Henry M. (Hank) Paulson, Jr. (Business Plus, 496 pages)

“Bear Sterns, as it turned out, was only the first in a long string of financial firms to suffer mortal harm.  …By September 2008, just six months after Bear’s sale to J. P. Morgan, the investment banking industry had effectively ceased to exist.”   Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly’s book, subtitled The Last 72 Hours of Bear Sterns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street, proves once again that less can be more.   This is a riveting, fly on the wall, account of the rapid demise of the once-powerful Bear Sterns investment firm.   Sterns was Wall Street’s fifth-largest investment bank with a market value of $25 billion dollars – with a “b.”   It was virtually given to J. P. Morgan for the fire sale price of $236 million – with an “m.”

Kelly’s book, an expansion of a three-part series of articles that she wrote for The Wall Street Journal, tells us how this all came to pass in less than half a week in March of 2008.   These were mad-crazy times, the beginning of this country’s fiscal implosion and she covers it in a manner that brings to mind Robert (Bob) Woodward’s reporting.   As with Woodward, Kelly interviewed hundreds of individuals who were present at the meetings and events described here and quoted them without attribution.   But in some instances the reader can clearly tell who the source was, as in cases where an underling criticizes a supervisor.   However, Kelly’s style is smoother and less choppy than Woodward’s first drafts of history.

Street Fighters has 229 pages of actual content and it appears to be just right.   The typical reader will finish the true tale thinking that everything essential was told and little was left out.   There’s both a new preface and a prologue to the trade paperback edition for those who don’t choose to supplement the account with Google searches.

That the length appears to be just right is not something that can be said of On the Brink, the loveable Hank Paulson’s 496 page account of the U.S. and the world’s financial meltdown.   If the mention of 500 pages doesn’t make the point, consider that it takes 13 full CDs to contain the unabridged audiobook version.   Apparently no editors were employed to deliver this effort.

What’s mind-boggling, and often frustrating, about Paulson’s account is that he appears to cover every meeting, every phone call, every thought over a period of weeks and months with dozens of important figures.   Yet he tells the reader that he does not maintain briefing papers, nor ask his staff members to do so, and does not keep records (including e-mails) other than phone call and meeting logs.   From this, he’s recreated virtually everything that happened from an apparently perfect memory – or could it be that recordings were used?   It doesn’t really matter.   It’s just that there is so much detail that this reviewer was worn out less than a third of the way through.

There are also some contradictions apparent in Paulson’s telling.   He gives us several of his seemingly expert opinions about the financial events of the last two years before reminding us that, “I’m not an economist.”   This has the same effect as someone writing about brain surgery and then stating, “I am not a physician.”   He also tells us that he’s not a sentimental person, but he writes of the often-criticized Tim Geithner like a father writing about his favorite son.   One half expects to read that Geithner solved the financial crisis by walking on water.

For those looking for an explanation as to why the U.S. government saved or bailed out some companies but not others, the explanation is not here.   Why did the government ensure that Morgan purchased Bear while permitting Lehman Brothers to fail?   All that can be said is that Paulson provides a few non-explanatory explanations.   In the end they just do not add up.

And lastly, as Bob Seger might have warned, what to leave out is just as important as what to leave in.   Kate Kelly in her nonfiction account nailed it.   Paulson was not even close.

Take Away:  Street Fighters is highly recommended.  

A copy of Street Fighters was purchased by the reviewer.   A copy of On the Brink was provided by the publisher.

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