Tag Archives: Politics

Red Notice, Bill Browder

Naïve American-born (but later a British citizen) investment banker stumbles upon vast opportunities in post-Soviet Russia, makes a fortune for himself and his hedge-fund clients, then runs afoul of Putin’s thuggish cronies, with tragic consequences, especially for one of his Russian attorneys, who is imprisoned, tortured and beaten to death.

Coming from a background of self-importance, Browder’s brief youthful rebellion is followed by a dive into the hyper-establishment world of investment banking.  It is from that platform he learns the post-Soviet Russian government has given every citizen a voucher to invest in their newly-privatizing economy – a laudable goal, on its surface. Realizing that most citizens have no idea how to benefit from this historic opportunity, Browder organizes the means necessary for himself and other non-Russian investors to buy up those vouchers and benefits, instead.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are Russians who resent this.  Not, the ordinary citizens, who have made at least a tiny gain by selling him vouchers they believe to be worthless, but rather the local sharks, who resent not being able to gobble up this bonanza themselves.  When they, with the help of corrupt police and courts, begin stealing from Browder’s organization and, even more tellingly, from their own government (and thus its citizens) Browder, being a good child of American idealism, tries to use the rule of law to stop them.  The majority of the text, and its drama, concern this white-hat intrigue, and the death of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, whose only sin was believing to the end in the myth of his nation’s legal system.

This is a compelling tale, worthy of LeCarre or Green, and Browder tells it pretty well for a first-timer (no other pen is credited…).  While one can almost hear the author swearing not to aggrandize his own role, though, he does come off as…well…a crusader for justice.  A jet-setting lifestyle, financed by taking advantage of the same lax government which cultivated Russia’s oligarchs and oligarchy, is hardly a stable perch from which to condemn others, but the degree of corruption and cruelty he uncovers makes such criticism seem rather a quibble. 

The real hero here, as Browder frequently and forcefully reminds us, is Sergei Magnitsky, attorney, husband and father, who risks all for the truth, and pays the ultimate price, his last weeks recounted here with justified horror and sympathy.  It is to Browder’s credit that he then pursued the only form of justice available; the Magnitsky act by which the USA (and later several other nations) put Russa on the public stage and on record as a criminal conspiracy dressed up in nation’s clothing.  (Browder appears also to have taken financial care of Magnitsky’s family after his death, another stand-up move.)

The events of this book took place in the aughts, the first decade or so of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.   As the autocrat now wreaks his havoc on Ukraine, Red Notice (not to be confused with the movie or another novel of the same title, btw) is more valuable than ever for its glimpse behind the curtain, confirming that his tyranny is no recent development, but the true measure of the man, evil rooted and growing for many years.   All the way back to his KGB days in the old Soviet Union, in fact.  Clearly, there is no hope Putin will ever change his ways, and no wisdom in ever believing anything he spouts about agreements, cooperation, the rule of law or any alternative to simple brute force and self-service.  Fair warning to the next president who believes he has seen the Russian’s soul in his eye (43), or finds in him a friendly bro’ with whom to shoot the breeze – with no witnesses and no notes taken (45).

Pass this one around; people deserve to know.

The Death of Politics, Peter Wehner

Subtitled ‘How to Heal our Frayed Republic After Trump,’ this comes from a former speechwriter to Ronald Reagan, protégé of Wm. Bennet and official in both Bush administrations.  Credentials which would have made him a credible conservative and Republican in earlier years, but not today, as he would likely be labeled a RINO for calling out the willfully-ignorant behavior of the current administration and its enablers. Call it out he does though, beginning with a brief history of the term ‘politics’ (the affairs of the City, to the ancient Greeks) and progressing to analyze what has led to such contempt for the actual hard work of governing and for those persons who commit themselves to an honest effort to get it right. The ‘death’ to which the title refers is more an assassination, by those who’ve given up hope of getting anything right through diligence and have turned instead to destruction, or who’ve seized on past dysfunction as an opportunity to advance for their own agendas/celebrity through claiming to hold the magic wand that will make it all better, effortlessly.

Wehner presents himself also as a Christian, and includes a chapter on Politics and Faith, which will probably prevent the loudest current voices in that realm from hearing his arguments either, as he has no truck with their support for Trump. Religion is, in the author’s view, a necessary component of a decent life and an integral basis for ‘Politics’ with a capital ‘P.’ Agree or disagree with that (I disagree…) but it is refreshing to hear one of such beliefs who is not fooled by Trump’s charade of piety for the sake of votes.

All that goes down very well with this reader; Wehner seems knowledgeable and reasonable (except his defense of the invasion of Iraq, but that is more of an afterthought, something he seems to feel needs defense for sake of his overall credibility).  Unfortunately though, his prescription for ‘healing’ the situation is minimal; basically an exhortation for us all to be more rational, more committed and to work harder. There is precious little specific advice on how to get the nearly-half of the populace that voted for and still supports Trump to change their behavior. Except perhaps to wait out the generational shift which is in progress, until enough of us old white males have died off to allow the rest of you to return the nation to some level of reason and endeavor – if it survives the wait.