Archive for the ‘True Crime’ Category

The Billionaire’s Apprentice

Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Billionaire’s Apprentice” by Anita Raghavan, published in 2013. This ebook describes the investigation into the activities of a few Wall Streeters who were accused of insider trading in the past several years. Most of the accused happened to be of South Asian descent–from  Sri Lanka and India.

One concept the book conveys to readers is that it is unknown how many American securities-industry professionals are benefiting from insider trading, but the people in this book just happened to get caught because there was sufficient evidence against them to prompt the SEC, US Attorney’s office and FBI to go after them, rather than other possible offenders. The departments involved included the SEC’s Market Abuse Unit and the Department of Justice’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force in the legal jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York (covering Manhattan and the Bronx, according to the author).

Another concept is that the investigating organizations and the securities industry are staffed with many people who, during their careers, switch allegiances. They might go from being a prosecutor to being a defense attorney, or from brokerage executive to government regulator, or vice versa. In this book the “old boy network” is alive and well. Arguably, conflicts abound.

Read the book to learn, among other extremes, about wiretapping (not the NSA’s), about one of the accused who “had several phones– at least thirteen– and he used them all” and a $30 million legal bill.

Milosevic, Portrait of a Tyrant

Monday, February 24th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Milosevic, Portrait of a Tyrant” by Dusko Doder and Louise Branson, published in 1999. This lengthy volume contains the history of the six Slav Republics– Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia– from WWII through the late 1990′s, and the biography of a fascist, supremacist, genocidal terrorist– Slobodan Milosevic. His wife, Mira chimed in at specific moments. They had the usual traits of all tyrannical couples– extreme narcissism, hubris syndrome, refusal to face reality and vengefulness. You can see where this is going, if you’ve read your history.”Western leaders were loath to get involved in the Yugoslav mess.” They got involved insofar as to reap economic benefits and public relations kudos for negotiating peace plans.

Milosevic was born in August 1941 in suburban Belgrade, the capital of both Serbia and Yugoslavia. His parents, at different times, died via suicide. During his decade-long reign, he was an undiplomatic megalomanaical micromanager, pursuing his goals through conspiracy, deception and force. He demanded mindless loyalty, discarding those who worked for him when their assignments were done. There was high turnover among his staff.

After the Communist Marshal Josip Broz Tito, leader of Yugoslavia died in 1980, Milosevic stepped into the power vacuum. Tito had tried to foster the unity of different ethnic groups. To keep the peace, he allowed them to freely practice their religions. Serb nationalists didn’t like that. They wanted to be dominant.

In the early 1980′s, Milosevic was appointed Communist Chief of Belgrade by his friend, whose family was party-entrenched into the 1980′s. Then in January 1986, he was promoted to Communist party chief of Serbia. His friend became president of Serbia. Milosevic was largely responsible for installing his cronies to strictly enforce Marxism.

Different ethnic groups hated each other. For instance, the Albanians were sworn enemies of the Serbians and the Turks. Milosevic deviously was able to convince each side that he agreed with them. He used a divide and conquer strategy in addressing them, sowing seeds of hatred among them. He would eventually betray his aforementioned friend. Since he didn’t control the army or the police, all he could do was spread propaganda and incite crowds.

Milosevic had the newspaper Politika secretly launch propaganda attacks on his political enemies. He also secured the support of military and party chiefs. Only two groups opposed his usurping of power: the Communist Albanians and his wife’s father’s old-line Communist politicians. Milosevic’s wife disowned her father for that. His secret enemies also included ethnic Albanians, Bosnians, Muslims and Croats. He pushed for Serb nationalism, regardless of whether different ethnic groups supported Communism.

By the fall of 1989, Milosevic had seized political control of Kosovo and a part of Serbia with a high Hungarian population, and Montenegro too. In 1990, he rigged the presidential election for himself, with 53 parties as candidates for Parliament, most run by his operatives.

In spring 1991, there was serious opposition to Milosevic’s desire to take over all of Yugoslavia. In March, he and the dictator of Croatia met secretly to plan how to carve it up. In June 1991, he had no objection to Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia because it had virtually no Serb citizens. Croatia, also mostly Catholic, followed suit with its own secession. The Serb dictator had previously been able to eliminate democratic leaders through arrests, intimidation or corruption. Both he and the Croatian dictator incited violence and hatred against the peoples of other Balkan territories.

The Bosnian leader knew his nation was doomed because he saw how ruthless the Serb and Croat dictators were. Bosnia was 44% Muslim, 31% Serb and 17% Croat. By summer 1991, the Serbs were warring against the Croatians. It was mostly independent military groups and not the Yugoslav army. The Serb men who had been drafted didn’t even want to fight. Men were forced to fight against their will. “The regime vigorously suppressed all news about malcontents and desertions. There were political killings of dissenters by the police and paramilitary members.” 

A rumor had it that there were 83 different armed groups in Bosnia, some mercenaries, in the secret pay of Milosevic. A group would go to a village and do ethnic cleansing of Muslims. The Croatian army did this too, demolishing mosques in Bosnia. The Serb dictator denied the existence of the paramilitary groups. There was lots of looting. He was careful to act as though he delegated authority for people on his staff so it would appear that he had less power than he actually had. He left no paper trail.

In autumn of 1991, Milosevic insisted that the nationalists and not the republics were the legitimate constituent units of the Yugoslav Federation. In January 1992, the Bosnian Serbs proclaimed their own republic, separating themselves from the rest of Bosnia. The different territories voted on whether to go to war. The lands Milosevic had under his thumb voted yes: Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo. Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia voted no.

In spring 1992, the United States finally intervened by extending diplomatic recognition (recognizing a country as a sovereignty (independent nation)) to the Muslim government in Sarajevo in Bosnia. The Saudi Arabians had pushed the Americans to do so.

By summer 1992, villages were on fire; Muslims fled. There were detention camps. The Serbs were like Nazis. There had been torture and executions. Student protesters blamed Milosevic for the Siege of Sarajevo. In November 1994, a show-trial was held to judge war criminals. Milosevic’s government controlled the media. The idea of a Greater Serbia was dead in the face of diplomatic recognition of Croatia and Bosnia by the United States, Germany and other European nations. Disaffected nationals held secret meetings planning to overthrow the Serbian dictator. There was palace intrigue.

In late May 1992, the UN imposed a total economic embargo against Yugoslavia. Milosevic used the sanctions as an excuse to say the Serbs were a victim of worldwide conspiracy. From 1991 to January 1993, the Yugoslav citizen’s average monthly salary fell 97%. In a scheme of appearing to be conciliatory, Milosevic got an American business leader of Slavic origin appointed as prime minister. Against the Serb dictator’s secret wishes, the new prime minister wanted to democratize, Westernize and unite Yugoslavia, give it capitalism, and recognize the different nations’ sovereignties. But he knew he had to remove Milosevic from office first.

Prime Minister Milan Panic proposed that Milosevic resign and take a job as a drug company executive in California. Panic got high praise from Yugoslavians. The Serb dictator was hated. Even the media criticized Milosevic. However, the U.S. State Department did not support Panic because the UN sanctions were a delicate matter that the U.S. said needed to be discussed through the UN. Panic wanted the sanctions lifted. The U.S. didn’t want to get involved in the war in Bosnia. Panic pressured Milosevic to resign but he refused. “Panic was in charge of the federal police and secret police but Milosevic controlled the Serb police.”

In October 1992 the Serb police took over the building of the federal police. Panic, fearing civil war, attempted to get the conflict resolved through political rather than military means. His cowardliness prompted the American government to throw its support behind Milosevic. A little later, Panic was a candidate in the Yugoslav presidential election. He lost because Milosevic rigged the election. Shocking.

The Serb dictator’s wife Mira wrote libelous columns in the newspaper. In summer 1994, desperate to hold onto his power, Milosevic attacked the Bosnian Serbs in a propaganda campaign; he had used them to acquire his power just five years earlier.

By 1995, the Serb economy had recovered from a steep currency devaluation of the dinar and its conversion to the Deutschmark imposed in 1993 by Milosevic. The dictator’s wife had welcomed large financial contributions from the newly rich, corrupt businessmen who manipulated the closed Yugoslav market. The state-run media made her book on economics a best seller in 1994. In 1995, she was elected to Russia’s Academy of Sciences. This was as much of a joke as Yasser Arafat’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read the book to learn what happened in the rest of the 1990′s. Or this blogger could just tell you: more of same. And a boatload of refugees.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the book “Law Man” by Shon Hopwood published in 2012. In this personal account, Hopwood details his actions as a bank robber, and their consequences, complete with the romantic subplot.

In May 1999, the author was permanently placed in prison in Peoria. He felt relief because “Mostly I wanted my hard time to begin so it would start to end.” He told the reader of the term “chester”– short for “child molester.” Luckily, early on, Hopwood found an inmate who became his mentor, who taught him how to fashion a wooden-handled steel rod; the best weapon in the prison– which housed a metal fabrication plant. “… you can run it straight through a man’s liver. But what’s better is a lot of friends.”

More than three quarters of the prisoners were wannabe rap stars. Hopwood wrote, “You must have a job in prison; it’s not supposed to be a vacation, after all.” Postage stamps were the major means of exchange. Whenever the post office raised the price of stamps, the prison economy was disrupted.

On one occasion there was a gang brawl in the exercise yard involving attempted murder, resulting in a four-day lockdown of the entire prison. “In a world of attention-craving narcissists, lockdowns border on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Read the book to learn how the author was responsible for a change in a major legal ruling, an occurrence whose odds were akin to winning the lottery.

On the Wings of Eagles

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

The Book of the Week is “On the Wings of Eagles” by Ken Follett, published in 1983. This ebook recounts how a group of employees from the American company EDS, stationed in Tehran, underwent an incredible, life-changing experience in early 1979, at the start of the Iranian revolution. H. Ross Perot, CEO of EDS, got “down in the trenches” with his men, and toward the end of the story, was portrayed as a Daddy Warbucks character; his endless money and friends in high places helped him magically remove bureaucratic obstacles to get things done in a hurry.

The Iranian government was EDS’s sole client in Iran. In mid-1978, it started to default on EDS’s multi-million dollar bill for engineering social-security and health insurance software. The extremely suspenseful series of events was focused on two EDS men in particular whom one Iranian in particular from the old (Shah’s) regime had arrested and jailed. He set their bail at an outrageous $13 million in a petty power game. There were three ways the company could get those two employees released from jail: “…legal pressure, political pressure, or pay the bail.” Or a few other ways, which were illegal.

Assistance and sympathy of the officials at Tehran’s American Embassy for EDS were less than forthcoming. There were many more serious problems to deal with.

Initially, the aforesaid Perot exhibited an American mentality, thinking that he and the bad guy could settle the matter with legalistic negotiations. However, Iran was not playing by the same rules. He then came up with a hare-brained scheme, which would involve breaking various federal laws if certain of its components were to occur in the United States.

As an aside– this blogger found it hard to get used to the vocabulary that Americans used at the time of the book’s publication– “…what the McDonald’s girl said to me…”  “…blond Swedish girl in her twenties,” “stewardesses” and “knapsack,” among other old-fashioned terms. There was also a funny scene late in the group’s emotionally traumatic saga. After surviving many serious threats to their lives over the course of weeks, the EDS group was on a plane that was having mechanical trouble in the air. “I can’t believe this,’ said Paul. He lit a cigarette.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the individuals involved in this riveting thriller.

The Hoax

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “The Hoax” by Clifford Irving, published 2006.

This is a personal account of an incredibly talented, savvy phony and writer, who, starting in 1969, with a co-conspirator, Dick Suskind, proceeded to write the autobiography of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes; phony, because he had never met Hughes.

McGraw Hill, Irving’s publisher, believed Irving when he told them he had actually spent time with Hughes. McGraw wanted to believe that it was going to produce an exclusive work on a billionaire businessman who, up to that point, had refused to let anyone publicize significant information on his personal life.

Irving and Suskind perpetrated their deception because: trying to get away with preying on the gullibility and greed of the publishing industry was a challenge that would make them feel alive.

Pursuant to the writers’ scheme, the book was “…based on fact and yet we had the freedom and power to infuse fact with the drama of fiction.” The writers did extensive research– spent hours poring over old city telephone directories, old maps, surveys, society columns and classified documents in order to perfectly embody Hughes’ voice in print. When they were concocting anecdotes, they inserted (real) people who were dead because dead people couldn’t sue for libel.

Incidentally, a whole other book could be written on the name for the marital anguish: soul-vomit, that Irving caused his wife with his adulterous behavior– that has so much female appeal on the big screen and in books.

Read the book to learn what was becoming of Irving and Suskind when Irving was heard to say, “You know, I’ve had a lot of experience in this past year burning manuscripts. It takes a long time and it’s not easy.”

American Radical

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “American Radical, The Life and Times of I.F. Stone” by D.D. Guttenplan, published in 2009. This is the biography of a muckraking journalist, who wrote of “good, honest graft” and the “…human wreckage piling up around me.”

He was born Isadore Feinstein on Christmas Eve, 1907 in Philadelphia. He spoke Yiddish as a second language. In 1924, because his grades were below Havard standards and there was open enrollment for local residents, “Izzy” as he was affectionately known, began attending the University of Pennsylvania. He changed his name to I.F. Stone at the tail end of his twenties.

The year 1955 saw Congressional surveillance of Stone’s weekly publication “Weekly.” Stone launched lawsuits against his oppressors, arguing that public moneys should not be used to violate his 1st Amendment rights to privacy and freedom of the press. He would have lost his lawsuits but for a curious situation.

James Eastland, chief counsel and chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, included the New York Times as one of many newspapers and magazines he was surveilling. Stone had embarrassed the Times for pointing out inconsistent behavior: the newspaper’s firing of its employees who were accused of Communist leanings. Yet the Times had published articles arguing for civil rights, anti-segregation, condemning McCarthyism and immigration restrictions. The Times was indignant because it thought it was being singled out for investigation by Eastland. Eastland dropped his investigation.

Other organizations accused of harboring Communists included the Boy Scouts, Voice of America, the USO and YMCA. The Justice Department‘s whole roster of professional informers was finally discredited…” when an ex-Communist admitted to fabricating the allegations against the organizations. In fall 1955, finally, there was vindication of Stone and other activists who were under threat of arrest or deportation or subpoena.

This blogger believes the author’s historical accounts are misleading in spots; he implies that in 1948, when the Israelis had achieved military victory over the Arabs in their war for an independent homeland, the Arabs fled. Historical accounts other than this book say that the Israelis subjected the Arabs to a forced evacuation from their homes where they had been residing for generations.

The result of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, according to the author, was cause for celebration for Stone, because a new government was installed that would impose socialism, and Stone was all for socialism. The author neglects to mention that the Soviets crushed the revolt in an orgy of bloodshed. Then the author goes on to say that Stone misread the Suez Canal Crisis.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn modern history through the eyes of a smartass reporter who called a spade a spade most of the time.

Savage Spawn

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “Savage Spawn” by Jonathan Kellerman, published in 1999. This short ebook, authored by a child clinical psychologist, discusses topics associated with violent children, including serial killers, psychopaths, psychology professionals, the nature/nurture controversy and violence in the media.

The cynical Kellerman writes that “profiles” of serial killers should be taken with a grain of salt: “Profiles are most effective as career builders for retired FBI agents seeking to be best-selling authors and consultants to the film industry, but they miss the mark as often as they hit.”

Kellerman believes that psychopaths (conscienceless people) cannot be rehabilitated because:  1)  “…no medication has been found that alters antisocial behavior” and 2) they do not respond to the treatment of traditional psychotherapy because they lack insight and the desire to change.

At least since the mid-twentieth century, due to competition with psychotherapists (who hold PhD’s) to treat patients, psychiatrists have been big advocates of attributing biological causes to mental health disorders in order to prescribe medication.

The author provides a real-life example of two boys, thirteen and eleven, who, in spring, 1998, went on a shooting spree at a middle school and killed four girls and a teacher, and wounded ten other kids and another teacher. Kellerman thinks that had the kids not had access to firearms, “…their misdeeds likely would have expressed themselves as some variant of schoolyard bullying, perhaps a knifing.”  He proposes one simple rule for “…preventing child criminality: Restrict access to firearms [to kids].” Teaching psychopathic kids “practical shooting” will result in their bullying other kids. After the occurrence of untoward events, adults who gave kids guns, even with training, should never wonder why such events occurred.

Obviously, it is hard to pinpoint all of the exact causes of violent incidents. Psychological research that would produce a general consensus on the causes of extremely violent behavior would require: a) a long-term study of a sufficiently large number of subjects, and b) other difficult, expensive measures that would minimize bias. Kellerman mentions that longitudinal biological studies of psychopathology have been performed in Scandinavia, but he fails to provide details.

It is inconclusive which, genetics or the environment, is the more responsible for violence committed by kids. The fact that “Genetic traits can make themselves apparent at any age.” throws more of a wrench in the works. The author opines that media violence is not a proximate cause of violent behavior; kids who injure or kill people would probably do so anyway, regardless of the movies or TV shows they had watched. The author’s own children consumed a large quantity of carnage on-screen, and were none the more physically hostile for it. However, Kellerman cannot resist saying, “…media violence is likely to endure as a fruitful source of research grants for social scientists…”

Read the book to learn:  a) the relationship between the heart rate of certain toddlers and probable future violent behavior;  b) three strong predictive factors of violence in teenagers; c)  the age before which, if there is an arrest record– a lifetime of criminality is likely, too;  and d) how to intervene in the lives of high-risk youngsters to try to head off violent behavior.

The Good Girls Revolt

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

The Book of the Week is “The Good Girls Revolt” by Lynn Povich, published in 2012. This short ebook discusses what happened when a group of female employees sued Newsweek magazine’s parent company in March 1970, for gender discrimination.

Shortly thereafter, similar litigation followed at other publications– at Time, Inc., Reader’s Digest and various newspapers across the United States. The author briefly describes the historical backdrop before, during and after. One of many cultural phenomena she relates is that the year 1973(!) saw the elimination of classified ads divided into “Help Wanted– Female” and “Help Wanted– Male,” the former of which were mostly for menial and/or low-paying jobs. “Saying you worked at Newsweek was glamorous compared to most jobs available to college-educated women.”

The author says that from the early 1920′s up until the aforementioned lawsuits, periodicals publishers relegated women to dead-end positions. At Newsweek, the vast majority of female employees held the title “researcher”– a fact-checker, who could never become a reporter or editor like, or get paid as much as, the male employees. Besides, many of the men were hired “…as reporters and writers with no prior professional journalistic experience” and most of the female researchers had the same qualifications as they did.

One reason many women did not protest or were not even consciously angry about their situation, is that they were conditioned by the workplace and society in general to comply with gender stereotypes. Four decades ago, women were limited in their opportunities and criticized if they chose a male-dominated career field. They were given to believe they should not aim too high, but stay where they were, because otherwise, they would encounter difficulty.  It became a self-fulfilling prophecy for most of them. Even many women’s colleges at that time had the goal of providing an education with the assumption that a graduate might get a job, but she would quit the workforce when she had children.

Even today, in the American workplace, there is an environment in which women are jockeying for position and power. According to the book, they are less well-liked, the higher up the corporate ladder they climb. The opposite goes for men. In certain aspects of their lives, such as weight-loss groups and fitness, women band together and cheer each other on. But not usually in the workplace.

Read the book to learn about the consequences of the initial legal action, and whether Newsweek’s workplace policies changed when, in 2006(!), three female employees recognized the recurrence of gender discrimination.

Inviting Disaster

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “Inviting Disaster” by James R. Chiles, published in 2002. This is an ebook that describes the causes of fatal mechanical failures in aviation and industry.

Human error is always a factor. There is never just one cause. “A disaster occurs through a combination of poor maintenance, bad communication, and shortcuts.” Taking shortcuts such as omitting the testing of newly manufactured machine parts leads to improper, unsafe modification by end users.

In the stages leading up to a catastrophe, when workers realize they are in trouble, most react with intense concentration, anger at the malfunctioning equipment, fear and even panic.

Hypervigilance is a form of extreme panic with trembling hands, hyperventilation and heart palpitations; the mind blanks on what one was taught in training, and perception narrows. Often this causes people to take a course of action with the best of intentions– that makes conditions worse.

Architectural engineers must make sure buildings are designed to withstand the natural disasters that typically hit the areas where they are located. About every sixteen years, Manhattan gets hit by a hurricane that might cause, say, a particular building to collapse. That was why, shortly after it was built in 1978, the Citicorp Building had to be structurally modified at great expense. However, many deaths were likely prevented.

A common chain of events precipitates disasters in third world countries. A light manufacturing plant might be erected in a lower-class residential area. As time passes, however, the owner might want to begin making hazardous products.

Certain conditions prevail:  There is a dearth of laws governing environmental impact; the local economy would suffer if the plant couldn’t expand; the local residents enjoy living there. Over time, people become sloppy about safety.

Before lots of accidents, internal memos warning of an unsafe situation go unheeded. “The bureaucratic solution is to let the memo sit in the inbox for a while– then send it back for more explanation.” It is easier than making trouble, and in the short term, economically advantageous.

One way companies such as Boeing are checking themselves from making the same mistake twice is by continually adding to a knowledge base– confidential archives of troubleshooting reports that are actually read by designers.

Read the book to learn about other ways deadly mishaps could have been, and can be avoided.