Levine’s arguments aren’t entirely persuasive, but readers will be forgiven for hereafter not wanting to entrust too much...

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SURVEILLANCE VALLEY

THE SECRET MILITARY HISTORY OF THE INTERNET

A sometimes-overwrought but provocative history of the internet-equipped security state, implicating key players in the digital economy in the game of espionage.

Even paranoiacs have enemies, as some wag once observed. Levine (The Corruption of Malcolm Gladwell, 2012, etc.), a tech-savvy investigative journalist who was born in Russia, documents an army of them in his wide-ranging look at the way governments and companies alike spy on ordinary citizens. That the internet grew from the defense industry and its dream of all-knowing supercomputers is old news; Levine looks at the malevolence behind it, writing about “America’s belligerent nuclear policy.” (It surely would have been belligerent had Curtis LeMay been successful in his drive to drop an atomic bomb on Hanoi, but he wasn’t; the point is eminently debatable.) From defense-related research came the spread of cybernetics and cybernetic metaphors in all sorts of sciences, from economics to biology, and the idea that information could be linked to power to “create a controlled utopian society, where computers and people were integrated into a cohesive whole.” That age may well have come, though whether it has reached the stage of “big data totalitarianism,” as Levine puts it, is again debatable. Where the book reaches its pinnacle of interest is also where it threatens to become unhinged. Here, the snake begins eating its own tail and encryption technologies such as Tor and Signal are linked not just to WikiLeaks, but also the National Security Agency as honeypots that “provide a false solution to the privacy problem, focusing people’s attention on government surveillance and distracting them from the private spying carried out by the Internet companies they use every day.”

Levine’s arguments aren’t entirely persuasive, but readers will be forgiven for hereafter not wanting to entrust too much information to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, to say nothing of the feds.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61039-802-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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