Review (Guest): Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving Into Liquid War

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Pepe Escobar

5 out of 5 stars Tour de Force!

By Donald L. Conover

Tour de Force! That’s the only way to describe Pepe Escobar’s remarkable achievement with Globalistan: How the Globalized World Is Dissolving into Liquid War. In page after page, Mr. Escobar demonstrates his remarkable erudition gained in a peripatetic career, spanning the caves of Tora Bora to the slums of Sao Paolo and Mumbai; from the halls of venality to the palaces of the gluttonously wealthy; from conversations with forgotten Pentagon warlords to raps with Brazilian gang lords.

Our Neocon leaders seem to think the rest of the World is frozen in situ, waiting for them to hatch their nefarious schemes. Globalistan shows us the consequences of such a blindered [or should I say "blundered"] attitude.

Producers for the talking heads of “mainstream” media will have to have this book. It is the one volume necessary to make sense of our churning humanity in the 21st Century. A quick scan can provide the background on every crisis from Iran to “Chindia”; from Shiiteistan to the Gazprom Nation; from PetroEurostan to the Bush White House.

Escobar demonstrates why it is true that if we don’t find ways to spread our prosperity around the World, the have-nots will come and take it away from us with guns and bombs and box cutters. All of the walls and fences cannot protect the United States, Europe, and Saudi Arabia from overwhelming illegal immigration. Weapons and fences doom us, like the Texans at the Alamo. Eventually they will be overrun by 3 billion human beings living in abject poverty, but with access to the latest episodes of “24” and “Sleeper Cell,” unless we help the Mexicans achieve their dreams of Texas in Mexico.

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Feb 9

Review: Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War

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Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Halvard Buhaug

5.0 out of 5 stars FINALLY – a modern version of the causes of revolution literature from the 1970’s, January 12, 2014

I am absolutely delighted to see this book published, and to also see it win awards. In the 1970’s there was a strong political science literature on the causes of revolution (see a few examples below) as well as on governance alternatives intended to achieve dignity and equality such that revolutions do not occur. A few examples:

Harry Eckstein, Internal War: Problems and Approaches
Ted Gurr, Why Men Rebel: Fortieth Anniversary Edition
Chalmers Johnson, Revolution and the Social System

The book earns five stars but could reasonably be reduced to four stars for failing to have a holistic analytic model and any substantive reference to true cost economics.

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Jan 12

Review (Guest): Global Catastrophes and Trends – The Next Fifty Years

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Vaclav Smil

5.0 out of 5 stars Very balanced and insightful thinking on the topic, September 3, 2010

Gaetan Lion

Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not about over-hyping any apocalyptic scenarios. To the contrary, Smil thinks through issues in an insightful and detached way. From the book, you develop critical thinking skills to vaccinate your mind against Media hype. You also develop a healthy skepticism towards any forecasts as they always miss the boat.

Smil classifies changes that could affect our civilization into two categories. First, the abrupt ones are unpredictable and potentially devastating. They include natural phenomena such as asteroids, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, and influenza pandemics. They also include man-caused wars, genocides, and terrorism. The second type of changes occur over half a century or more. Those include the energy transition away from fossil fuel, and the slow changes in balance of geopolitical powers.

Smil states we are notoriously bad at forecasting risks or anything else. He mentions numerous Peak Oil forecasts that were invariably wrong. Smil mentions how in the 1970s, we were concerned a next ice age was upon us. Geopolitic, economic, and demographic forecasts have been wrong too. The rapid economic ascent of China and rapid retreat of Japan since 1990 were unforeseen by everyone. The sudden break up of the USSR was also unexpected.

Smil states we are even bad at explaining what already happened. As an example, Diamond in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed mentioned only deforestation as a cause of the devastation of the Easter Island community. But, he missed out on rats infestation, infectious diseases, and enslavement. We invariably miss out on tons of variables when explaining past events.

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Nov 27

Review (Guest) The Crash of 2016 – The Plot to Destroy America – And What We Can Do to Stop It

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Thom Hartmann

4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative and Troubling Look at an Impending Economic Implosion, November 16, 2013

Book Shark

“The Crash of 2016″ is a provocative and troubling look at an economic implosion that will occur unless we take drastic measures to stop it. “A story of how America was dragged into the Crash of 2016.” Well-known progressive national and international radio and TV talk show host and accomplished author, Thom Hartmann places his focus on an economic crisis that may turn into the Fourth Great Crash since the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This stimulating 294-page book includes sixteen chapters broken out by the following five parts: 1. The Economic Royalists and the Corporatist Conspiracy, 2. Why We Crashed, 3. “Oppression, Rebellion, Reformation”, 4. The Great Crash, and 5. Out of the Ashes.

1. A professional and gifted author Hartmann is a master at engaging the public with a well- balanced narrative of history, current events and foresight.
2. The book has great format and flow. It’s entertaining, enlightening and the pages turn themselves.
3. Hartmann is a great and passionate thinker. His knowledge of history, and his ability to identify patterns is only matched by the skill to convey his conclusions in a lucid, straightforward manner.
4. Troubling, straight-forward eye-opening conclusions. “This crash is coming. It’s inevitable. I may be off a few years plus or minus in my timing, but the realities of the economic fundamentals left to us by thirty-three years of Reaganomics and deregulation have made it a certainty. We are quite simply repeating the mistakes of the 1920s, the 1850s, and the 1760s, and we are so far into them it’s extremely unlikely that anything other than reinflating the recent bubbles to buy a little time here and there will happen.”

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Nov 27

Review: Pakistan on the Brink–The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

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Ahmed Rashid

5.0 out of 5 stars REF A — 12 Years of Lessons Learned in Time for 2014, October 13, 2013

This is an extraordinary book that required a great deal of time, not in the reading, but in the reflection. This will be a longer review than usual, even for me, because this book contains all of the insights that the US and the Coalition have refused to embrace for the past twelve years. It is never too late to learn.

The author opens with a well-known quote on the dangers of drawing a line between fighting men and thinking men, lest one end up with the fighting being done by fools and the thinking by cowards. To this I would add another group, the “deciders,” who in the absence of any familiarity with fighting or access to intelligence with integrity, end up making decisions whose true cost in blood, treasure, and spirit crosses the line dividing legitimate actions “in the national interest” from “crimes against humanity.

Positive up front: US under Obama has given more of everything and progress has been made across both military (stronger Afghan army, degraded Taliban) and socio-economic (education, health, media) domains. To that I would add elections. Afghanistan is about to experience the most extraordinary election cycle it has ever been my privilege to observe.

In contrast, the author finds that Pakistan has worsened in every possible manner, in large part because the US has not understood Pakistan, has lacked a strategy (or the intelligence with which to devise a coherent sustainable strategy), and in failing, the US has allowed Pakistan to drag itself down and Afghanistan to be a regional albatross – a cancer on all others.

The author is quite blunt in describing an incoherent even infantile US decision-making environment characterized by “contradictory policies, intense political infighting, and uncertainty.” In being inept, the US opened the way for regional players to manipulate, exploit, and exacerbate.

Chapter 1 on the Bin Laden raid is utter nonsense, this may be the price the author pays to maintain access and avoid being assassinated. See instead The Bin Laden Story 00-90 at Phi Beta Iota.

The author points out that by 2014 the Coalition engagement in Afghanistan will have been longer than WWI and WWII. In my own mind this highlights the fact that the US in particular, but the Western nations in general, have lost their integrity. They are incapable of collecting and analyzing the truth, thinking holistically, evaluating true costs over time, or devising a sustainable strategy that ultimately achieves the desired end-state: peace and prosperity. A churlish skeptic would point out that no, the West has achieved precisely what it wants, public theater at home, a massive transfer of wealth from the individual taxpayer to the military-industrial complex, and personal enrichment of most policymakers, at least in the USA. Either way, the larger publics lose at home and abroad.

Pakistan and Afghanistan matter not only to Central Asia, where other countries such as Uzbekistan are beginning to implode, but to the Middle East and India. At the very end of the book the author ponders how Afghanistan might follow the Turkish example of Islamic/secular regeneration, and I cannot help but wish that 12 years ago the Coalition had had the brain to leave the British home and make Afghanistan a collaborative effort among Muslim nations led by Turkey.

QUOTE (19) “After a decade, NATO has achieved none of its strategic aims – rebuilding the Afghan state, defeating the Taliban, stabilizing the region – so what assurances can it now plausibly give that it will do so by 2014?

The author defines Afghanistan today (2012) as a corrupt and incompetent government, a dysfunctional bureaucracy and inoperable justice system, high on drugs and illiteracy, with a police force that has the highest desertion rate in the world.
The sucking chest wound: no indigenous economy. Bush specifically refused to invest in roads, dams, water, and power. Karzai has been a complete failure [the author gives Karzai credit and cause across the book, outlining the many ways in which the US failed to develop a relationship of trust with him.]

Pakistani military is out of control and the deal breaker. Nothing the US or other can do will overcome an arrogant ignorant Pakistani military continuing to support extremists and their violence within Afghanistan.

QUOTE (22): “If the west is to depart Afghanistan by 2014 and leave behind relatively stable regimes in Kabul and Islamabad, it will need a multidimensional political, diplomatic, economic, and military strategy.”

Answering this challenge is the purpose of the book.

My nine page detailed summary for professionals coping with Afghanistan and not having the time to read this excellent work, is posted at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.

Books Cited by the Author:

Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign
Power Struggle Over Afghanistan: An Inside Look at What Went Wrong–and What We Can Do to Repair the Damage

Books I Have Reviewed Circling AF-PK-Islam:
Lines of Fire: A Renegade Writes on Strategy, Intelligence, and Security
Surrender to Kindness: One Man’s Epic Journey for Love and Peace
Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West
Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond
Uncomfortable Wars Revisited (International and Security Affairs)
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam

Also Recommended:
Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

20131014 RASHID Pakistan on the Brink Review by Steele [Short & Long]


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Oct 13

Review: Lethal Incompetence

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Jeff Bordin

5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic, Credible, Legitimate, and Damning of All Who Betray the Public Trust, August 24, 2013

I have this book in front of me, and will be doing a detailed review over the next week or so. I have already gone through it quickly, and concluded that it offers the single best compilation or literature review of all of the psychological and social reasons why military “leaders” end up being treasonous gerbils, combined with the deepest direct field research I know of to buttress the author’s speculative hypotheses and proven conclusions.

I swung by here to check what others have said, and am quite disappointed by the shallow ignorance of the only review present. Here are a couple of quotes that capture my philosophy and hence my valuation of this book:

When things are not going well, until you get the truth out on the table, no matter how ugly, you are not in a position to deal with it. Bob Seelert, Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide (New York)

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. George Orwell

This book is a tad hyper-critical (of Dick Cheney for example — certainly a traitor but by no means stupid) and too close in format to the original thesis, or it would be a six star book. If I were Czar, every person responsible for the public interest would receive the wisdom and ethical instruction in this book, in one form or another, to include comic book form if necessary.

My detailed review will be posted within the week. I could not let the first review stand uncontested.

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Aug 24

Review (Guest): The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be

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Moises Naim

4.0 out of 5 stars What kind of power, for whom, and for what?, May 31, 2013

By Tom Atlee (Eugene, OR USA) – See all my reviews

Moises Naim’s new book THE END OF POWER should properly be called “The Decay of Power”. His thesis is that while it is becoming easier to get power, it is also becoming harder to use it to control others and harder to keep it once you have it.

Naim suggests that globalization, economic growth, a growing global middle class, the spread of democracy, and rapidly expanding telecommunications technologies have changed our world. Together these developments have created a fluid and unpredictable environment which has unsettled the traditional dominions of power.

Three revolutions, he says, “make it more difficult to set up and defend the barriers to power that keep rivals at bay.” He details these revolutions as follows:
* “the More revolution, which is characterized by increases in everything from the number of countries to population size, standards of living, literacy rates, and quantity of products on the market”;
* “the Mobility revolution, which has set people, goods, money, ideas, and values moving at hitherto unimagined rates toward every corner of the planet”; and
* “the Mentality revolution, which reflects the major changes in mindsets, expectations, and aspirations that have accompanied these shifts.”

In other words, says Naim, there is too much going on, too much moving around, too many changing demands and perspectives – and at any time someone new can show up and effectively challenge or undermine your power. In addition, “when people are more numerous and living fuller lives, they become more difficult to regiment and control.” Among other things, such people value transparency, human rights, and fairness to women and minorities – and they share a sense that “things do not need to be as they have always been – that there is always…a better way” and that they need not “take any distribution of power for granted.”

All this is happening at the very time when large hierarchical institutions are losing their “economies of scale” and becoming increasingly difficult to manage, while smaller, more flexible organizations and networks are proving increasingly successful.

Naim provides compelling evidence that power is decaying in all these ways in all fields – from business, governance, geopolitics, and military affairs to religion, philanthropy, labor, and journalism.

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May 31

Review (Guest): The Global Minotaur – America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy

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In this remarkable and provocative book, Yanis Varoufakis explodes the myth that financialisation, ineffectual regulation of banks, greed and globalisation were the root causes of the global economic crisis. Rather, they are symptoms of a much deeper malaise which can be traced all the way back to the Great Crash of 1929, then on through to the 1970s: the time when a ‘Global Minotaur’ was born. Just as the Athenians maintained a steady flow of tributes to the Cretan beast, so the ‘rest of the world’ began sending incredible amounts of capital to America and Wall Street. Thus, the Global Minotaur became the ‘engine’ that pulled the world economy from the early 1980s to 2008.

Today’s crisis in Europe, the heated debates about austerity versus further fiscal stimuli in the US, the clash between China’s authorities and the Obama administration on exchange rates are the inevitable symptoms of the weakening Minotaur; of a global ‘system’ which is now as unsustainable as it is imbalanced. Going beyond this, Varoufakis lays out the options available to us for reintroducing a modicum of reason into a highly irrational global economic order.

An essential account of the socio-economic events and hidden histories that have shaped the world as we now know it.

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Apr 27

Review: Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

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Doug Rushkoff

5.0 out of 5 stars Rich Manifesto for Humanity — Hit Pause, Do NOT Let IT Fry Your Brain, March 21, 2013

In some ways this book picks up from Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway but it has its own structure and certainly makes an important contribution to our emerging public consciousness about the downside of anything to excess including information technology and capitalism. As Paul Strassman, author of The Squandered Computer: Evaluating the Business Alignment of Information Technologies, liked to say in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, “Information Technology generally provides a NEGATIVE return on investment” and “Information Technology makes bad management WORSE.” We’re there.

What Doug does that no one else has done, is a thoughtful dissection of our present circumstances, and a very able presentation of four deeply divisive and fatal social diseases that are directly related to how information technology “slices and dices” our present lives seemingly beyond our control:


02 Overwinding [OVER-DOSED/BURNED OUT}.


04 Apocalypto [ASSIMILATED/CRAZY].

Bottom line up front: We are at risk of losing our humanity and being assimilated into a cyber-stein world in which we become automatons generating information that is sliced and diced totally divorced from ethics, community, Earth values, and so on. We must learn how to control this information technology we have unleashed.

Early insight: IT in its present design is moving individuals — including highly educated individuals, but most horrifyingly effective on the larger masses — DOWNWARDS toward reptilian instincts and irrational behavior, doing impulse things.

QUOTE (8): “When things begin accelerating wildly out of control, sometimes patience is the only answer. Press pause. We have time for this.”

Others have focused on “slow food” and other forms of simplicity living — e.g. Human Scale, Clock of the Long Now, and so on’ What Doug has done is more of a form of laboratory dissection of the rat — the IT tiny brain, it’s huge server butt, it’s privacy invading and data non-protecting limbs, and worst of all, its stomach where data is destroyed rather than cooked.

As an intelligence professional striving to define intelligence with integrity for the 21st Century, everything that this book talks about with respect to the pathologies of information technology and its cancerous effect on humanity, is totally consistent with what I know about the loss of the ability of think tanks and spy agencies to think.

The author focuses on the collapse of the narrative, the story being how civilization communicates aggregated validated wisdom to new generations. I am reminded of Will and Ariel Durant as well as Steve Denning’s book The Springboard. CORE to the message is that there is now a chasm — a huge chasm — between the staple stories of the past that “made sense” and the chaos of today where advertising runs amok, governments and corporations and universities and non-profits all tell blatant lies, and there is no comfortable place where transparency, truth, and trust can be reliably found.

In passing futurists are properly slammed.

QUOTE (17): “Futurism became less about predicting the future than pandering to those who sought to maintain an expired past.”

I’ve spent a lot of time these past six years thinking about the future in structured term (see all the authors, books, centers, and forecasts at Earth Intelligence Network) and I can offer three opinions with certainty:

01) Most governments do not plan for the future, and most corporations disenfranchise both the past and the future — pleading bankruptcy to eliminate all pension fund obligations, refusing to invest in infrastructure needed to mature.

02) With the exception of Medard Gabel, co-creator with Buckminster Fuller of the analog World Game (I recommend all books by both of them), no one I know of is thinking in whole systems terms — no one I know of is is truly committed to cause and effect and cascading feedback loops seven generations or iterations down.

03) With the exception of Herman Daly and a tiny handful of those who follow him as I do, no one is at any level, and certainly no government or international organization (e.g. the UN) is embracing true cost economics as the foundation for sound decision-making about the future.,

The greatest fault that the author finds — as I do in a piece online, “Chapter: Paradigms of Failure” — is with the systemic lies that characterize virtually all that we receive from the traditional segments that comprise civilization: academia, civil society including labor and religion, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit.

QUOTE (47): “The focus on immediate response engendered by the always on news becomes the new approach to governance….no one has time to think….what used to be called statecraft devolves into a constant struggle with crisis management.”

In the above the author is kinder to government than government deserves. What actually happens is that the political leadership micro-manages the narrative to leverage the Pavlovian themes that distract the public while micro-managing the Cabinet officers (especially State), all to the end of optimizing short-term financial gains for those that fund the political theater. In other words, *lies* are the root of non-strategy, non-policy, corrupt acquisition, and ineffective options — just look at Iraq, three trillion to destroy a once-working country and produce Fallujah mutant babies while destabilizing the entire region. And now, while some call for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission, others refuse to admit that the rush to an expensive war based on 935 now documented (truthout) lies should be “revisited.”

INSIGHT from the author: lacking goals over time to bring us all together toward future accomplishments, we end up fleeing what we perceive in the now. Alvin Toffler told me back in the late 1990’s that when he was in Malaysia in the 1980’s he was asked what his greatest fear was in the future and his one word answer was “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism is dogma carried to its extreme. It *flourishes* in an environment where governments, corporations, and media all LIE.

OCCUPY is the first post narrative political movement. It has — the author tells us — dispenses with the left-right illusion (we are still teaching our children that there are only two parties in the USA instead of the eight accredited parties and 50 others), dispenses with sound-bite simplification, eschews end justifies the means; and for the “system,” is unweildy and unpredictable.

Sadly — my point of view having tried to get Occupy to focus on Electoral Reform — Occupy was quickly marginalized by the “system” mobilizing foundations and using tiny grants to pick Occupy apart one aspiring individual at a time.

There are rays of hope, including massive multiplayer games online. I personally do not like serious games in their current configuration for the simple reason that they are data free. As with Pentagon war games, the data base is rigged and not rooted in whole systems cause and effect or true cost economics. However, if the vision of Medard Gabel and others can be realized, there is every reason to believe that in the next ten years we will see an Open Source Agency (OSA) that funds the hub for the World Brain and the Global Game — in the latter, everyone plays themselves, has access to all relevant information, and has voice and vote on all issues they wish to weigh in on — all transparent, truthful, and therefore trusted.

This book merits slow reading and appreciative reflection. The author’s discussion of time is particularly interesting to me. He makes how we relate to time central to his story, observing that time in the digital era is not lineal but rather disembodied and associative — However, while “our” time cycles are hosed, “Earth Time” is still on its natural cycle and we are out of step — this may be one of the key insights in the book: IT creates false time frames that disconnect us from reality and nature — I believe Bill McKibbin among others would find this important.

This entire section is alone worth the price of the book. He cites Clay Shirky on information overload and filter failure, and Stewart Brand on the long time cycles, to that I would add David Weinberger’s books, especially Too Big to Know.

I was not expecting to find a discussion of money in this book but there is one, and it is important. Money is information. Here is one quote that is central to the matter, and completely supported by Matt Taibbi’s GRIFTOPIA among others:

QUOTE (147): “The shift to central currency not only slowed down the ascent of the middle class, it also led to high rates of poverty. The inability to maintain local businesses, urban squalor, and even the plauge.”

In brief, centralized currency is optimized for storage (hoarding and compound interest) instead of transactions and physical investment.

I will not spoil the ending but will only say that it is a helpful “sauna” on the impact of IT to humanity that is timely, and it crushes the prevailing conventional wisdom represented by all of the major governments, corporations, and conventional wisdom mindsets that comprise the “norm.”

This book is educational, provocative, and righteous. Of course there are those that will find any criticism of IT and “the singularity” to be blaspheme, but on balance I find Doug Rushkoff and his writing to be part of what little sanity we have left.

See Also:
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution
Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics (Manifesto Series)
Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy
Dirty Electricity: Electrification and the Diseases of Civilization
The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters (New in Paper)

With best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas

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Mar 21

Review: Saucers, Swastikas and Psyops: A History of A Breakaway Civilization: Hidden Aerospace Technologies and Psychological Operations

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Jospeh P. Farrell

5.0 out of 5 stars This is an Information Operations / Counterintelligence Hidden Gem, December 23, 2012

The cover does this book a dis-service. This is a SERIOUS book that should be used in serious courses of instruction for both Information Operations (IO) and Counterintelligence (CI). The book lacks an index, a terrible mistake on the part of the publisher, but I have to say the notes are world-class and this book earns my intuitive respect quickly.

This book is a bit rough but I put it at a solid five stars and even considered six (my top ten percent across 1800+ books) because this book does something extraordinary:

01 It makes the case for UFOs being a terrestial Information Operations (IO) Psychological Operation (PSYOP — never plural).

02 It connects US underground tunnel civilization (a possible explanation for the Pentagon’s missing 2.3 trillion) and advanced technologies including “Nazi physics” versus “Jewish physics”

03 It connects the Rockefeller-Morgan Nazi-philes, Latin America, Switzerland, the Bank of International Settlements, and the drug cartels — in other words, this is also an excellent reading for Counterintelligence (CI).

I draw two major insights from this book:

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Dec 23