Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2010

Washington Overrun With 'Shadow Elite'

Arianna Huffington

Over the holidays I read a great book by Janine Wedel called Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market. It's a gripping, disquieting book that exposes and explains why it's been so hard to bring about any real change in our country - why Washington no longer seems capable of addressing the problems our nation faces.

As Wedel writes in Shadow Elite, a new "transnational" class of elites has taken over our country: "The mover and shaker who serves at one and the same time as business consultant, think–tanker, TV pundit, and government adviser glides in and around the organizations that enlist his services. It is not just his time that is divided. His loyalties, too, are often flexible."

Wedel dubs this new class of influencers "flexians," and the closed system they've created for themselves the "flex net."

Wedel cites retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey as one example of this new international superclass — a member of the shadow elite who serves in government posts, moves to the private sector, goes on TV and collects a healthy paycheck from companies that benefit when the power broker's advice is taken. McCaffrey was one of the Pentagon–pundits–for–pay exposed by two Pulitzer–winning front–page stories in The New York Times last year. Yet even as I write this, he's on TV giving us his wisdom on how to fight terrorism. Because, as Wedel points out again and again, members of the shadow elite keep morphing into their next incarnation no matter how often their conflicts of interest and their undermining of the public interest are revealed.

The new flexians are, as the Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney dubbed them, "influence launderers." That's why a flexian like Tom Daschle never needed to bother registering as a lobbyist. He could do the same things, selling off the public trust to the highest bidder, and then go around bragging about how he's never sullied himself with actual lobbying.

With our capitalist version of what Wedel describes as the "merging of state and private power that characterized both communism and postcommunism," we're getting to the point where the only difference between senior congressional staffers and the lobbyists and influence launderers whose ranks they'll soon join is the size of their paychecks.

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