Serpent on the Rock

The Book of the Week is “Serpent on the Rock” by Kurt Eichenwald, published in 1995.

This volume contained an egregious error. It appeared in an anecdote about a member of the Belzberg family, Canadian Orthodox-Jews. In the late 1970’s, Belzberg was acquiring a large quantity of stock of the retail brokerage named Bache, so one of Bache’s executives met with him, to find out his intentions.

As the meeting ended, the author wrote that Belzberg shook hands with the Bache executive. That was obviously a fictionalized detail of the story, because Orthodox Jews do not shake hands with, or touch others, except for close family members.

Anyway, in the second half of the 1970’s, tax shelters became trendy in the securities industry. In the 1980’s, Bache (with a shady reputation in the first place) sold tax shelters in the form of limited partnerships of various kinds (oil and real estate were the most common) and reaped fat fees of as much as 8%. On a bunch of them, printed marketing communications illegally contained material omissions and misstatements.

Bache’s clients were clearly unsophisticated, because anyone with a minimal knowledge of finance should have seen that the objectives of the investment were contradictory: “income, growth and safety” (!)

Brokers dispensed with the printed prospectuses (which contained disclaimers required by law), and focused on verbally selling the money-losing financial instruments to their clients. They lied about the projected financial returns (14 to 15%, when they were pretty sure there would actually be disastrous losses). They called the investments “safe”– a word that should NEVER be used on Wall Street. The proper lingo should be “low-risk” and only when that’s the truth. The limited partnerships were “high-risk.”

One man, Jim Darr, became particularly powerful in the Direct Investment Group, and engaged in a boatload of excessively greedy, unethical activities and white-collar crimes that made him fabulously wealthy. In 1983, he flew all the way to a small thrift bank in Arkansas to get a home loan of $1.8 million to purchase a mansion in Connecticut. At that time, there were plenty of local lenders he could have approached.

Another sleazy character, Clifton Harrison, after pulling his last act of unbelievable thievery, gave the excuse, “I’ve just been borrowing some money against future fees.” Read the book to learn more about the various individuals who shaped Bache’s history, and what became of them.

ENDNOTE: The above shenanigans happens every few years in the United States. The line from the movie “That Thing You Do” describes it perfectly: A very common tale, boys, a very common tale. Here is a brief elaboration of the last forty years:

Steps of the American Politico-Economic Cycle

  1. An extremely pro-business president comes to power.
  2. Excessive deregulation ensues.
  3. Shady financial instruments and money-making vehicles spike in popularity (tax shelters, savings and loan associations, goodwill valuations, junk bonds, derivatives, dot-com stocks, stock-options-repricing, subprime mortgages, payday lenders, for-profit colleges, the PACE program, etc., etc., etc.)
  4. Out-of-control greed ensues.
  5. Profiteers of all political persuasions dispense with ethical behavior.
  6. The bubble bursts. A financial crash ensues.
  7. Lawsuit time!
  8. The impoverishment rate accelerates for the middle class and the poor.
  9. Election time. “It’s the economy, stupid.” Whether true or not (usually not!), campaign-propaganda convinces voters that the president is solely responsible for their personal financial situations.
  10. The reelected president, or one from the same party, continues some of the same hog-wild policies, or the new president reverses what he can. Re-regulation ensues.
  11. Time for another round of Survival Roulette (See this blog’s post, “Blind Ambition”).
  12. Opposition-propagandists pull strings to reverse what the new president reversed. They make voters impatient for improvement, even though undoing the damage takes years and years.
  13. Election time. Repeat steps 1-12.

L.A. Justice – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “L.A. Justice, Lessons from the Firestorm” by Robert Vernon, published in 1993.

In 1954, the author joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Through the decades of his career, he watched the LAPD become corrupted by the worst aspects of human nature. By the early 1990’s, the department had scrapped the civil service system in favor of using patronage in awarding promotions. This necessitated pleasing local politicians. Always a bad idea.

So at the tail end of April 1992, when the verdict was announced in the Rodney King legal case, law enforcement was unprepared for the rioting that broke out in South-Central Los Angeles.

The author, lately named assistant chief of police of Los Angeles, bragged about helping start a community program in 1990– successful at the book’s writing. It was called “Operation Cul-de-Sac” and involved transforming a high-crime neighborhood into a gated community. It was implemented in about seven hundred households in South Central Los Angeles. The author wrote, “… changing behavior must begin by influencing a belief system.”

The program must have done so, as it created support networks of families and friends, significantly reduced crime, and significantly increased school attendance.

Unfortunately, despite its success, the program was not to last much longer. The reason? It was funded by the LAPD– not special-interest political groups in the community. So local politicians were left out of the loop– unable to hand out patronage jobs.

Read the book to learn of all kinds of other frustrations suffered by the author in his experiences with the LAPD.

We’re Still Stuck in the Mire

We’re Still Stuck In the Mire

sung to the tune of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with apologies to Billy Joel.

Outbreak COVID-Nineteen, pandemic quarantine,
World Health Org, N-I-H and the CDC.
Virus from Wuhan, Trump orders travel ban.
Mouthpiece doc and mouthpiece doc Birx and Fauci.

Short of gowns, gauze and test kits, de-tained cruise ships.
Wrong projections lead to, ventilator snafus.
Stay at home” Cuomo, “Shelter in place” de Blasio.
No church services, no funerals, nursing homes and lawsuits.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Guidelines, treatments, deaths of patients.
Govs get power, politics sour, Hydroxychloroquin.
Sources spread panic, profiteers ecstatic, Trump holds rally,
George-Floyd-arrest, GUN VIOLENCE, then real hell begins.
Angry people blow off steam, stress for the response team.
Antifa, BLM, propaganda provoke them.
De-fund the police, book from prez’s niece,
optional masks, vigilante tasks, no one gets any peace.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Gilead, Seattle, Chicago/Portland battle.
Trump holds rally, SARS-COVID-2, unclear what sources knew.
GUN VIOLENCE, empty malls, fan-cutouts in baseball.
Reopen the schools, Trump-rally, no-TikTok-fools.

GUN VIOLENCE, Trump holds rally, GUN VIOLENCE.
Trump holds rally, GUN VIOLENCE.
Trump holds rally, con-ventions, Kenosha tensions.

GUN VIOLENCE, VP Biden no-see
Trump holds rally, maskless Pelosi.
GUN VIOLENCE, Texas Gulf hurricane-slam,
Bannon wall-scam.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Trump holds rally and tax returns, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Barrett all set, de-bates, Trump holds rally.
Whitmer plot discovered, Hunter emails uncovered.
Trump goes to Walter Reed, says poll-watch on vote-tally.

GUN VIOLENCE, sugar-coating, lots of early-voting.
Poll-sters, guess and pray. What else do I have to say?

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Trump holds rally. Same thing a-gain, stokes fears of Biden win.
GUN VIOLENCE, COVID spreads, Trump holds rally, touts meds.
Trump talks up vaccine, rally, rally rou-tine.
GUN VIOLENCE, same list, screams Biden socialist.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania: uncertain.
GUN VIOLENCE.
Nerves get raw, Trump challenges election law.
American election war, but with a rally whore.
GUN VIOLENCE, GUN VIOLENCE.
Still deafening silence!!!

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
But we’ll be kind again.
And GOVERN and mend.
And mend and mend.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening…

Panama, The Whole Story

The Book of the Week is “Panama, The Whole Story” by Kevin Buckley, published in 1991.

“Weapons cost money, and selling, or helping in the sale of, cocaine produced the enormous revenues that produced the weapons.”

As is well known, democracy is not usually a “thing” in countries that have extensive black markets in weapons and drugs. So by the mid-1980’s, Panama had become a military dictatorship.

Over the course of two decades, Manuel Noriega, a general in the Panamanian army, became the king of trade in illicit weapons and cocaine. He was cozy with president Ronald Reagan, vice president George H.W. Bush, CIA head William Casey, secretary of state George Shultz, colonel Oliver North and a few other top American officials, plus the Drug Enforcement Agency and Fidel Castro.

Noriega controlled Panama’s ports, customs and railroads. The U.S. State Department was well aware of his drug trafficking, money laundering and human rights abuses. President Reagan loved him because he provided training facilities for the Contras– the militia who were fighting supposed Communists in Nicaragua. A major goal of the Reagan administration was to provide funding, weapons and military assistance for the Contras so that Central American countries wouldn’t fall to the Communists like dominoes. Assistance by any means necessary. Even via adolescent-boy spy, secret, treasonous means.

Anyway, through the 1980’s, Noriega engaged in various actions that angered common Panamanians– including ordering a hit on one of his Panamanian political enemies. He had one major American political enemy– Senator Jesse Helms. When the senator’s assistant visited Panama on a fact-finding mission, the American press (was told to) spread smears and lies about her. In June 1986, New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh finally outed Noriega as the detestable creature that he was, revealing details of his wickedness. But the U.S. was still not ready to oust Noriega.

In June 1987, patience among ordinary Panamanians was running short. Panama’s true fearless leader Noriega had crashed the economy (never the mind the figurehead Panamanian “president”) with his dictatorial shenanigans in collaboration with the United States. A minority of Americans were also fed up. They helped form the National Civic Crusade at Panama’s Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to oust Noriega and bring ethical behavior back to Panama’s government.

The U.S. Senate even voted to suspend Noriega’s leadership while it investigated charges that he fixed his country’s “presidential” election in 1984. February 1988 saw Noriega indicted in absentia on drug charges in Miami– which indicated that Americans finally viewed drug trafficking as more anathema than Communism(!).

In spring 1988, as per usual for a non-democratic country, government troops fired at civilian protesters in Panama City streets, killing tens or thousands (no source was able to verify its own estimate). However, a U.S. Army memo admitted that the U.S. Defense Department wanted to deny compensation to the deserving victims’ families who asserted that the U.S. was legally liable for the harm done, as there might be too huge a number of such claims.

Read the book to learn of wrenches in the works that kept Noriega in power way longer than otherwise (hint: the Panama Canal Treaties, the 1988 U.S. presidential election, Elliott Abrams’ misleading pronouncements, etc., etc., etc.) and the events that finally forced matters to come to a head (hint: 23 Americans died in the fighting.)

Armenian Golgotha

The Book of the Week is “Armenian Golgotha, A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918” by Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag, originally published in 1922. [Armenian, not American.] This large volume recounted the author’s personal experiences during the decade he became a victim of tensions that boiled over between Turks and Armenians in Turkey during and after WWI. As is well known, hatreds between peoples ebb and flow, but it was the first time in human history that one specific ethnic group sought total extermination of another.

The author pointed out that, “… the principal causes of a country’s downfall are internal dissension, violent partisan struggle, lack of religion, political crime, and economic unraveling; all these per se bring with them unbridled excesses.”

On the eve of WWI, the author of this personal account was a reverend who had gone to Germany to study. The outbreak of war prompted him to go from Berlin to Constantinople via rail and steamship (a two-week trip) to fight on behalf of his people, the Armenians. He was street-smart, and declined to go the rural Turkish diocese of Erzinjan, despite having been named to the position of locum tenens there. Another minister went in his place, and was shot and dismembered by the Ittihad Special Organization. Such atrocities were to be repeated in spades for the next several years.

Pasha Talaat, the interior minister of Turkey, had a secret service working for him, reporting all lifestyle-information on Armenians in Constantinople. He wanted to finish the job that was started in 1909– a small-scale massacre of a few tens of thousands of Armenians. The naive victims had no clue what they were in for. They believed the pervasive government propaganda that told them everything was dandy. No one wanted to believe they were in danger.

The Ittihad government in Turkey executed its unspeakable horrors methodically. It divided the Armenian population into various segments in order to commit its now-infamous genocide. Different groups in different parts of Turkey were subjected to largely similar treatment: were sent reassuring messages, disarmed, stripped of their assets, arrested, deported purportedly for their own protection (from the Russians), and were finally hacked to death by sociopathic, sadistic common Turkish people, largely with martial-arts weapons and timber and farm implements, not with firearms. The females were put through the same process, but they were raped before their deaths, except for a small number, who were forcibly converted to Islam and sent to Turkish harems instead.

The Turkish authorities began by conscripting all Armenian males between the ages of twenty and 46, sending them to the fighting at the Russian border. Then they enslaved them in road-building in the interior of Asia Minor. Unsanitary, cruel, starvation conditions resulted in many deaths. In summer 1915,the Minister of War ordered Turkish soldiers to ruthlessly slaughter the remaining survivors. There was a small resistance movement in the mountains, but it was weak. Of course, too, there were unsung heroes– German, Swiss, Austrian and Italian civil engineers working on the railroad who secretly tried to save Armenian lives.

The author was able to pull some strings through his contacts so that he escaped conscription. However, he was eventually arrested and made to travel for months in a caravan of tens of people like himself, about half of whom survived, suffering near-death experiences over and over. A few of them had been able to bring some of their wealth with them in the form of gold coins, with which they were able to bribe local officials and law enforcement.

Read the book to learn every emotionally jarring detail of the author’s story; and: the Germans’ connection to, the historical backdrop of, and about the three Turkish leaders most responsible for, the whole sordid affair; and the fates of the major figures involved.

The Unicorn’s Secret

The Book of the Week is “The Unicorn’s Secret, Murder in the Age of Aquarius” by Steven Levy, published in 1988.

Born in 1940 in the Philadelphia area, Ira Einhorn was, according to his mother, God’s gift to the world. A control freak, he was used to having his own way. He was later described by a friend of his as “… a hippie Jew wearing a dashiki with sandals, with body odor… fat… a weirdo…” He taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Free University” in 1966. The educational entity offered classes that encouraged exchange of ideas without the pressures of graduation requirements or grades. The most unconventional aspect of Einhorn’s courses, however, was that he taught students about LSD and pot. Like Timothy Leary, he believed that acid and pot generated good brain chemicals, while speed caused bad drug trips, and paranoia.

In addition to teaching– Einhorn dealt drugs on the side, wrote articles for counterculture publications and did event-planning to support himself. He used “The Unicorn” as his pen name. In January 1967, the predecessor to Woodstock took place in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was called the Human Be-In, and was attended by about 25,000 people. In April 1967, Einhorn co-arranged a similar event in Philadelphia. Only about a thousand people showed up.

Critics charged that Einhorn was a talker, not a doer. He wasted the time of real activists with his “… sloth, bad poetry, quasi-academic babble, and chemical fantasies.” He would help plan a protest and not show up. But he got all the press attention. The reason he was tolerated was that he had a magnetic personality, knowledge and fundraising contacts. In 1970, during the very first “Earth Week” on “Earth Day” on April 22, he hogged the stage when Ed Muskie was scheduled to deliver a speech. When forced to cede the spotlight, Einhorn gave the impression it was his show and Muskie was merely a bit player. He rewrote history to say he was the sole creator of Earth Day.

Einhorn ingratiated himself with top executives of major corporations like General Electric and Pennsylvania Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T. He was a long-haired freak while the latter were clean-cut suits. But he got fancy, free lunches with them. In the early 1970’s, he sent articles on paranormal phenomena to an expanding network of people who would eventually number in the hundreds. His contact at Pennsylvania Bell had the company pay for the copying and postage of the twice-weekly mailings, and did the envelope-stuffing. Einhorn’s goal was to save the world via the Peace Movement and the Earth Movement.

Beginning in the early 1970’s, Holly Maddux– who was born in 1947– had an off-and-on relationship with Einhorn. When he was too physically abusive, she moved out of their Philadelphia apartment into a commune. But he treated her like a doormat all the time. In March 1979, her corpse was found in his apartment. The aforementioned friend of Einhorn’s said that a jury of Einhorn’s peers would convict him for killing “… a little, blond, shiksa cheerleader from Texas!”

Unsurprisingly, Einhorn had hubris syndrome. The current president of the United States shares a few other personality traits with Einhorn. Two stark differences, however, are that Einhorn loved reading, and oozed charisma.

For more insight into the personality of the accused, see the following posts:

  • how to rig an election
  • Indecent Exposure
  • The Rabbi and the Hitman
  • The Strange Case of the Mad Professor
  • Blood Will Out
  • Safe Harbor, A Murder in Nantucket

To be fair, thousands of elected officials in this country have lost their way as public servants. Excuse the cliche, but the fish rots from the head down. Trumpolitics is a new thing: “trickle down politics” (ironically– the opposite of Reagan’s trickle down economics, because most lower-level authorities– governors and mayors, are enjoying additional power; some more than others.). The president, Congress, governors and mayors have shown depraved indifference to millions of innocent people by ruining their livelihoods, saying, “If we can’t get what we want, then no one can.” And to top it off, failing to admit wrongdoing and apologize.

The Democrats are afraid that in 2020, Trump’s propaganda machine will be superior to their own, again. That’s why they’re taking the low road to oust him via the COVID conspiracy instead. The Republicans have thrown in with the Democrats because they never liked Trump either, and they feel obligated to maintain party unity, while taking the opportunity to bankrupt as many Democrat donors as they can. It also kills some of them to admit that they really do want national healthcare.

Anyway, read the book to learn more about Einhorn, including everything you ever wanted to know about his sex life, and of his fate.