Putin

The Book of the Week is “Putin, His Downfall and Russia’s Coming Crash” by Richard Lourie, published in 2017. This slightly sloppily edited volume had strange capitalizations in spots. It was actually more about Russia’s history and recent fossil fuels situation in connection with its allies and enemies, than with its dictatorial leader who started his third term in May 2012.

Born in 1952, Putin grew up in a family that was friendly with Stalin. His father was a spy. He was told that the easiest way to get recruited by the KGB was to go to law school, so he did. He did stints in Leningrad and Dresden. At the tail end of the 1980’s, when the German Democratic Republic was in its last throes, almost all of KGB’s Dresden office’s records were burned. In January 1990, Putin returned to Moscow. Unemployed. Then worked on his doctoral thesis, a portion of which he acquired through plagiarism.

By August 1991, Putin saw which way the wind was blowing, and resigned from the KGB. Poland had been damn near bankrupted by a radical economic program called shock capitalism, imposed upon it by Western Ivy Leaguers. Between 1990 and 1994, in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, economist Anatoly Chubais forced the same harmful transition on Russians.

Due to rampant inflation, Russians had to sell everything they owned in order to be able to afford food. The United States sent food aid to Russia. In early 1992, a food voucher system was started.

However, Putin signed contracts with food suppliers who raked in big bucks but failed to deliver the food. It is unclear whether Putin knew or cared that those suppliers were crooks, or that Russians were starving. For, rather than personally profiting, he was more interested in attracting foreign financial aid that would modernize Russia, and in collecting long-term valuable political contacts.

In October 1993, Yeltsin ordered Russian troops to fire on protestors (whom the media claimed wanted to bring back Communism) in front of Moscow’s Parliament building. There were tens of deaths.

It was actually a small number of politically astute crooks who conspired with Putin to loot the country. His career took a turn for the better in 1999, when he convinced Yeltsin via blackmail (apparently still a “thing” these days) to step down and let him become Russia’s supreme leader starting in 2000. Once in power, Putin actually kick-started the Russian economy by nationalizing oil companies, and taking control of the gas industry and television.

Read the book to learn of Russia’s aggressive stances on: the Ukraine, the Crimea, former Soviet satellites and former Republics, China, and the Arctic [hint– the extremely likely probability of a catastrophic oil spill, and decades of actual irradiation from nuclear dumping make the Arctic a less than ideal place for a land grab]; the effects of economic sanctions imposed on Russia; and the alleged role of cybercrime in the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

The Shadow President

The Book of the Week is “The Shadow President, The Truth about Mike Pence” by Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner, published in 2018.

Born in 1959 in Columbus, Indiana (yes), Pence was the third oldest of six children. He was a champion debater in high school. He lost two Congressional races starting in 1990. After his second loss, he wrote a public statement admitting to his negative campaigning but neither repented nor apologized. He hosted a radio show, then a TV show.

Pence served twelve years in Congress beginning in 2001 and four years as Indiana’s governor before getting elected vice president of the United States in 2016.

The first thing Pence did as governor was pass a tax cut for “Hoosiers” (as he calls people from his state), but he exaggerated its benefits. He had epic fails in connection with forming public/private partnerships and refusing to: fund healthcare initiatives in Indiana and to pardon a man who was wrongly imprisoned for ten years. “At worst, he [Pence] was a powerful official willing to inflict pain on an innocent man in order to show he was tough on crime.”

People who worked with Pence said he wasn’t intellectual and didn’t take the work seriously. He did travel abroad extensively, however, suggesting he was hankering for higher office.

He is a radical conservative Christian right-winger; others of his ilk include President Donald Trump’s appointees– the heads of various federal agencies. They attend Bible study sessions.

Pence believes in predestination, and his hero is the late convicted Watergate criminal Charles Colson. His views are as follows: virulently anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-big government, anti-national healthcare, pro-charter schools, pro-privatization of government entitlements, pro-tax cuts, pro-reducing the deficit, pro-financial aid for Israel, pro-NRA, and pro-trade agreements like NAFTA.

According to the book, Pence is involved with a secretive Christian Right group called the Family (aka the Fellowship), which is anti-union, anti-Communist, and pals around with anti-gay business leaders and even dictatorial world leaders in order to grow its social network of wealth and power.

It might be recalled that President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and and Control Act of 1986. It was for an economic (not a humanitarian) reason: the workforces of various industries (agriculture, construction, etc.) depended on and consisted of, a significant number of immigrants.

At that time, Pence favored that legislation (which conditionally gave citizenship to: specific illegal immigrants who did seasonal farmwork, and illegal immigrants who were in America before the start of 1982). Not anymore.

Incidentally, when politicians and employers tacitly turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants in the workforce, they are not only favoring money over people, but also money (and political expedience) over American citizens. There is real conflict among greed, xenophobia and helping their constituents.

In January 2017, Pence was present at a Trump Tower meeting at which the directors of the top four U.S. intelligence agencies “… presented classified and categorical evidence that Russia had hacked into the U.S. election and that Vladimir Putin was personally responsible for authorizing this activity.”

At that time, the director of national intelligence told Trump that he and his colleagues lacked the authority and capability to determine whether Russia’s intrusion significantly affected the outcome of the election. But then he wrote that such activity did in his 2018 memoir. Nonetheless, Pence declared it didn’t.

Lastly, Pence fell under the spell of the Koch brothers, and is Trump’s sycophant. He therefore will argue against all things environmentally friendly, and will always waffle at press conferences and in interviews. Read the book to learn of additional details.

The Gambler – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Gambler, How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History” by William C. Rempel, published in 2018.

Born in Fresno, CA in June 1917, Kerkorian was the youngest of four children of Armenian extraction. In the first half of the twentieth century, he pursued his passions of amateur boxing and piloting planes. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to go into the chartered airplane business. He began associating with unsavory characters when he bet on sports in 1961. His FBI dossier related this factoid that was learned via wiretapping.

Kerkorian dreamed big and took the outrageous risks required to fulfill them. Thanks to his cultivating friends in high places, in the early 1960’s, he managed to borrow a steep $5 million to purchase a DC-8 (jetliner) to expand his transcontinental shuttle service for the U.S. military and other lucrative clients.

In 1963, Kerkorian got into the casino business. He launched an IPO for his holding company in 1965. Then he became aggressive in acquiring companies against their will. Like Western Air Lines. He also opened the biggest hotel/casino in the world in July 1969. He got international celebrities to provide entertainment on opening night just to rub it in the faces of the competition, such as Howard Hughes.

However, one casino Kerkorian took over had been run by the Mob. In late 1969, the IRS forced him to sell a yacht and a plane to pay back-taxes. In 1972, a German bank was dunning him for an amount of money he couldn’t possibly pay. He didn’t worry. He simply ordered that his financially struggling company, MGM, issue a ginormous dividend to himself, and all other holders of the company’s stock. This way, he could pay off his personal bank debt; never mind that MGM risked going bankrupt. Of course some shareholders sued.

Read the book to learn of Kerkorian’s many other adventures in business and pleasure.

The Netanyahu Years – BONUS POST

This political biography, “The Netanyahu Years” by Ben Caspit, translated by Ora Cummings, published in 2017, described a speech-making, megalomaniacal Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a miraculous comeback, given his situation and mediocre, if not disgraceful record.

This book committed an egregious factual error in two different places: “During Bill Clinton’s first term in office in 1997…” and “His [Netanyahu’s] first meeting with Bill Clinton took place on July 9, 1996. Clinton had already been in office for six months, Netanyahu, barely one month.”

The reader is also left wondering about the following: “On November 21, 2005, Ariel Sharon announced he was leaving the Likud Party…” but in later text, “On December 18, 2004, Prime Minister Sharon suffered a minor stroke… Two weeks later… a second stroke… pushed Sharon into a coma from which he never awoke.”

Besides, this book was sloppily proofread, presented confusing timelines, was redundant and disorganized; perhaps the author believed he was building suspense. Nevertheless, the overall themes of the book’s subject’s career and personality came across as credible.

Born in 1949 in Israel, Netanyahu grew up in a political family. His father’s side believed in Jabotinsky’s brand of Zionism– at one time proposing that the Jewish homeland be located in Uganda. In the early 1940’s, his father got no action from Franklin Roosevelt on saving Europe’s Jews, so he and his Zionist political group allied with Republicans to get some.

In September 1947, the elder Netanyahu put forth a Revisionist proposal at the United Nations opposing the Jewish/Arab partition. He ruled his family by fear and force, with regular beatings. Starting when the younger Netanyahu was eight, the family moved to New York City and two or three years later, Philadelphia. But the youngster’s heart was still in Israel. He returned there every summer during his teen years.

In the late 1960’s, for five years, Netanyahu served in an elite, top secret group in the Israeli military. He was almost killed in a secret Suez Canal mission. Despite serving in the Israeli military, he was apparently able to keep his American citizenship. For, he returned to America to major in physics and chemistry first at Cornell and then graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netanyahu became a businessman but Moshe Arens convinced him to become a politician (or diplomat/propagandist, to be more specific) on behalf of Israel beginning in the early 1980’s. He was already divorced with a daughter, whom he later very nearly disowned, not through any apparent fault of hers. He then went through a second wife. Not because he was a media whore, although he was also that.

By May 1988, Netanyahu was a high Likud (Conservative) Party official in Israel. Yet he did American-style campaigning. He paid a fortune for voter and polling data, and was a super fundraiser. Like Donald Trump, he had his claques, flacks and sycophants. He started dating another female. They broke up. However, she got pregnant during election season. For the sake of his image, he felt he needed to marry her.

During the next election, Netanyahu still felt he had to prove his sexual prowess by having an affair. His political enemies blackmailed him on this score, but he outwitted them. He went on television to honestly admit it but refused to withdraw from the race. In spring 1993, he reconciled with his wife, with the condition that she was free to behave like a “bridezilla”– not with regard to a wedding ceremony, but with regard to his political career. She owned him and his career ever after.

In 1994 and 1995, again, mimicking an American politico who practices hate-mongering, Netanyahu incited young Likud voters to whip up a frenzy of outrage to protest the peace talks among then-Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, the PLO, Jordan and Syria; such talks were moderated by American president Bill Clinton. Netanyahu tacitly supported the protestors when they gathered “… in Jerusalem’s Zion Square where huge simulated photographs of Rabin in an SS Nazi uniform were raised high. Crazed demonstrators set fire to Rabin’s picture.” Luckily for Netanyahu, the perpetrator of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination was unaffiliated with the Likud party.

In 1996, Netanyahu won his election for prime minister by a nose, partly due to election legislation he helped to enact. Like John F. Kennedy, he underwent an epic fail early in his administration, due to his youth and inexperience. Like with the Bay of Pigs incident, the prime minister authorized a sneak attack on an enemy of his– the terrorist group Hamas.

Netanyahu’s administration was a revolving door of personnel, thanks to his wife’s interference. Together, especially when campaigning, they were like other dictatorial couples– the Ceausescus, the Perons, the Marcoses… with their outsize egos, department of dirty tricks, and broken campaign promises, especially after their election victory in 2009. At his reelection, Netanyahu hogged the jobs of five ministers, plus that of prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu launched a hate campaign against American president Barack Obama when he realized he couldn’t get along with him. This book rambled on in a few chapters on the conversations between the Americans and the Israelis regarding the “Iran nuclear deal” but never did explain what it was. Netanyahu made Obama a scapegoat for all his troubles and derived a huge amount of political capital from doing so. The same way Trump has done.

Read the book to learn more Israeli history, and additional ways Netanyahu was bigger than Israel, given his rumored psychological problems.


Grand Delusions – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Grand Delusions, The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean” by Hillel Levin, published in 1983. This volume described the adventures of a car company engineer and entrepreneur, not to mention swindler.

The book’s first chapter was a summary of his entire career, suspense be damned. The section on his makeover and marriages was disorganized and redundant. One more criticism– the author interviewed only the book’s subject twice, and listed no notes, references or bibliography.

Anyhow, born in January 1925 in Detroit, DeLorean was the oldest of five sons. His father was an alcoholic Romanian; his mother, an Austrian. He kept busy while attending Lawrence Tech in Michigan. He wrote for the school newspaper and was on the student council. He joined a fraternity, danced in night clubs and drove a fast car.

DeLorean held a series of jobs including salesman, trainee in a special program at Chrysler, engineer at Packard, head engineer and then general manager of General Motors’ Pontiac division, and by the late 1960’s, general manager of its Chevrolet division.

After departing from his full-time job under murky circumstances, DeLorean and his sidekick Roy Nesseth posed as entrepreneurs who executed crooked business deals. Victims included an auto-parts patent holder, a farmer/rancher, and a financially struggling Cadillac dealership, among others. By the mid-1970’s, the pair had a bunch of business failures and lawsuits against them.

Journalists were suckered into writing about DeLorean’s past glory as a brilliant engineer. He “… must have learned that if he didn’t say too much, the reporter wouldn’t bother to check any further… They were still looking for dirt on General Motors, and the ex-executive was more than willing to give it to them… The maverick auto engineer was too compelling a character to be deflated with investigative journalism.” DeLorean fooled people just like Bernie Madoff did, although not on as grand a scale.

When he started his own car company, DeLorean let his attorney create a complicated network of sister companies to deliberately obfuscate financial and legal matters. It took the entire second half of the Seventies.

A boatload of fundraising was required to pay lavish executives’ salaries, design their offices, choose a manufacturing site, build the factory, sign up the car dealers, etc. The author erroneously used the term “comptroller” instead of “controller” when discussing the pesky bean-counter who complained about the arrogant, greedy DeLorean’s huge monetary outlays on all things for himself. “As Dewey [DeLorean’s first controller] predicted, the improprieties grew exponentially with the influx of money from the British government.”

DeLorean was the type of man who fancied himself as having some of the traits of James Bond. A man such as this, with a big ego, marries a model or actress at least a decade younger than himself. Like DeLorean, other James-Bond wannabes have assumed prominent leadership roles, and become international celebrities. The list includes but is far from limited to: Charlie Chaplin, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk and of course, Ian Fleming.

Read the book to learn the details of the combination of honest ineptitude and premeditated, nervy criminality in which DeLorean and his accomplices engaged in the context of how not to become an automaker.

RFK

The Book of the Week is “RFK, A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy” by C. David Heymann, published in 1998. The author threw in as well, plenty of the Kennedy family’s history  (some might say tabloid gossip) only indirectly related to Robert.

Born in 1925, Robert F. Kennedy (Bobby) was one of nine children of the wealthy and powerful Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. Taken as a whole, his life was a study in contradictions. Regardless, he exhibited the stereotyped Kennedy family traits, such as the arrogance of a spoiled rich kid, recklessness and idealism.

He spent his childhood in the Boston area, New York City, London and other places, frequently switching schools. Nonetheless, he alternately attended Harvard and underwent training in the Navy beginning in the mid-1940’s. But the war ended, so he moved to Boston to help his older brother John run for Congress.

Sadly, Bobby’s poor academic performance got him rejected from Harvard Law school, his hegemonic daddy’s appeal to do the Kennedy family’s will notwithstanding. He ended up graduating from the law school of the University of Virginia.

Bobby wed Ethel in 1950. Two years later, he began to develop his “joined at the hip” relationship with John when John ran for the U.S. Senate and they lived in Massachusetts. Female campaign workers distributed 900,000 leaflets in buses, taxicabs, mailboxes and door-to-door, in that race. They also called all voters twice. Later that same year, Bobby hired on with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee that practiced Communist witch-hunts, even though he hated Roy Cohn. The summer of 1953 saw him resign, but a couple of years later, return to investigate unethical behavior committed by business and government officials borne of conflicts  of interest.

Ironically, Bobby tagged along with narcotics cops on the beat in New York City when they engaged in numerous, brutal, illegal search-and-seizure raids on African Americans and people of Spanish-speaking origin, and allegedly participated in a few raids himself. He furthered his political education with his presence on presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s whistle-stop rail tour in 1956. But he soon became disgusted with the candidate’s vacillating and poor skills set. Bobby worked long hours; he spent the little leisure time he had with his children and their pets-a veritable zoo– at their chaotic mansion in McLean, VA.

The author described in detail, John’s run for president and Bobby’s actions as John’s attorney general. J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, led his own little fiefdom that had been zealously chasing after Communists (tracked via spying and dossiers galore). Hoover and Bobby (the new sheriff in town), disliked each other.

Unlike Hoover, Bobby fostered unusual collective effort among the FBI, IRS and the narcotics bureau to catch offenders in the Mob. Unsurprisingly, the Kennedys’ connections with the Mob and their rampant philandering with female celebrities and prostitutes (wherever they traveled in the world –– a well-kept secret by the Secret Service) invited extortion of John and Bobby by Hoover. Another thorny issue Bobby had to deal with was civil rights. He dealt with it hypocritically.

Bobby investigated corruption in the Teamsters for years, putting the screws on the union’s leader, Jimmy Hoffa. He told his underlings to use illegal surveillance techniques– conduct that was unbecoming of an attorney general:  tapping of Hoffa’s rotary-dial phones, chamfering of Hoffa’s mail, ransacking Hoffa’s home and office without a warrant, and ordering the IRS to audit Hoffa’s tax returns.

Unfortunately, Bobby couldn’t do the same against another enemy– Fidel Castro. “The Kennedy administration’s campaign to overthrow the premier of Cuba– a policy founded on grandiose delusions and foolish rage– was an abject failure.”

In 1964, Bobby was elected a U.S. Senator from New York State via carpetbagging. Since he had his eye on the presidency, he examined global issues. He visited many poor areas in various nations to study their governments’ policies on poverty.

In June 1968, as is well known, while running for president, Bobby was shot. Strangely, no details were provided as to how Bobby’s assassin knew that Bobby was pro-Israel. The reader is left wondering what Bobby’s views were on Middle Eastern policy. There were, however, numerous details on Bobby’s competitors’ activities, primary results of various states, and several of his countless sexual dalliances (of which his wife was painfully aware).

Read the book to learn much more about Bobby’s life, times, and large family– especially the salacious details.

Endnote: Incidentally (and sadly), the culture of both major political parties in America has changed little in terms of surveillance and adolescent-boy spy games since the McCarthy era and RFK’s  “Spy Vs. Spy” Mad Magazine-type (but in real life!) vengeful political nonsense. Not to mention the fact that the Democrats have yet to catch up to the Republicans in witch-hunt expertise.

Not Pretty Enough

The Book of the Week is “Not Pretty Enough, The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown” by Gerri Hirshey, published in 2016.

Born in Arkansas in February 1922, Helen Gurley was ten years old when her father, a government worker and lawyer, passed away unexpectedly in a bizarre elevator accident. Perhaps as a result, she became quite close with her mother and sister throughout their lives, communicating via letters and phone calls when she was no longer living with them.

As was typical for women of her generation, Gurley was conditioned to become a secretary. However, she was sexually sophisticated. The  1960’s office culture could be described thusly: Married male executives exuded sociopathic tendencies and arrogance (not unlike those of today), and harbored the belief that it is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money. In that era, engaging in sexual conquests with female subordinates was a way for males to prove their manhood. It is still is, but times are a-changin’. Gurley encouraged her female contemporaries to enjoy themselves.

Gurley played the game with the men to the hilt. She claimed she enjoyed sex and wrote about it extensively in articles and books. In 1959, she married David Brown, a high-level writer and editor.

Thereafter, like the men, she had affairs. She saw nothing wrong with marital infidelity. Besides, she claimed she had a great marriage. The problem is, infidelity smacks of dissatisfaction with marital sex– a spouse is dishonestly seeking satisfaction elsewhere; moreover, it is unclear if the wayward spouse is untrustworthy in other matters. Unless both spouses consent to an “open” marriage– either side can have other sexual partners– marriage is supposed to represent total lifelong commitment.

Anyway, Gurley’s passion and work ethic led her to achieve the positions of advertising copywriter in the 1950’s, and editor in chief of the then-financially struggling Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1960’s. At that time, the Hearst publication’s target readers were single women, between twenty and thirty-four years old.

Notwithstanding the kind of fabulous career that few women achieved in those days, two points must be made: 1) Gurley advanced her career through illicit sex and marrying a powerful man in her field of work; and 2) she was still a slave to the societal pressures of her generation– she had excessive cosmetic surgery and an eating disorder in order to satisfy public expectations of female beauty.

Read the book to learn of the additional factors affecting Gurley’s successes, and of how she influenced a whole generation of women.