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red-notice

Bill Browder started his career on Wall Street and was drawn first to Eastern Europe and then to Russia shortly after the Soviet Union broke apart. He started an investment fund and eventually became the largest foreign investor in Russia. In the process of privatizing, Russia ended up with twenty-two oligarchs owning 39 percent of the economy, while everyone else lives in poverty. In that environment, by investing in Russian businesses, Browder made a fortune for himself and his clients.

Then he noticed some anomalies within the companies he had invested in. Big chunks of the companies were stolen, leaving the investors diluted. As he drilled down into the complex schemes underway, he discovered massive fraud involving investors, regulatory agencies, law enforcement, the judicial system, and government in general, up to the highest level. He found that Russia was basically a criminal enterprise designed to suck the resources out of the country into the pockets of a few dozen people, legitimized by the status of Russia as a powerful nation.

As Browder keep digging into the corruption, he met with more and more resistance, and soon people started getting killed. The book tells the story of Sergei Magnitsky, one of Browder’s lawyers, who was tortured and eventually killed by the Russian authorities. When Browder starting fighting back, Putin himself came after Browder and his life was never the same again.

Browder lives in London, and at one time in 2012 he came to San Diego for a vacation:

Things quieted down during the recess, and I enjoyed a properly relaxing vacation with my kids for the first time in years. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to just let go and unwind. In the middle of our trip, my kids begged me to take them camping. We borrowed a tent and some sleeping bags, and I drove the family to Palomar Mountain State Park, an hour and half drive north of San Diego, where we got a campsite for the night. We brought wood from the ranger station and made a campfire and explored the forest. David cooked and we ate a dinner of spaghetti, tomato sauce, and hot dogs off plastic plates. As night fell, owls hooted and other birds cooed in the treetops, and the smell of burning wood filled the air. It was one of the best evenings I’d had in a long time. When I returned to London, I was recharged and ready for the final push.

— Browder, Bill. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice (p. 344). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

I have been to that campground many times, and it brought the story into my emotional neighborhood.

Today, when Russia and Putin is so prevalent in the news, and when the Trump administration seems to be cozy with Putin and Russia, this book is an absolute must read for everyone in the world. Russia is not what it seems. Whatever it may be, it’s also an organized crime machine. Putin is arguably one of the richest men in the world. How does that happen on a government salary?

If you have ever thought of doing business of any type in Russia, just read Red Notice, and you will never, ever have that inkling again. Even travel to Russia becomes as risky and unpleasant proposition. If you have wanted to travel to Russia, just read Red Notice and get it out of your system.

Enter Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon and buddy of Putin. After reading Red Notice, I cannot imagine how Tillerson and Exxon got into their position with Putin without having participated in some massive, illegal scheme. Of course, I don’t know what that is. I am sure we’ll find out about it in the years and decades to come. But I would not trust Rex Tillerson paying for a round of beers with my credit card if he were a bartender. Having him become Secretary of State after having read Red Notice is an absolutely frightening thought.

Having our government with Trump and Tillerson in the lead be cozy with Russia is the most dangerous and ominous prospect imaginable. Is our own government now starting to drift toward Russian-type corruption? It certainly looks that way, and Trumps actions with regard to anything Russian sure make me very suspicious.

I love the Russian culture, its history, its people and its art. I have read Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Their novels are some of my favorite in the world. The Russian people are smart, educated, and hard-working. But their government is miserable. And the country is hopelessly corrupt. 75 years of communism have destroyed their ability to show initiative and create honest businesses and governing structures. 25 years of post-communism have raided the country of its resources and put all the wealth into the hands of – well – twenty-two oligarchs. Read about them on the Forbes list. After reading Red Notice, it’s obvious that you have to be a thug to be that rich in Russia.

In the world of Trump and Putin – every American, and every world citizen, must read Red Notice. It will open your eyes unlike any book you have read in a long time.

Rating - Four Stars

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Tonight’s 60 Minutes was masterful reporting of the Syria conundrum our nation is in. First there was an interview with Bassar al-Assad by Charlie Rose. To get Assad on 60 Minutes, knowing that it is international television, I found to be a genius coup of CBS. How could anyone not watch? Assad spoke in surprisingly good English for an Arab leader. He is a medical doctor with post-doctoral studies in London at the Western Eye Hospital, specializing in ophthalmology. I assume that’s where he learned his English, which he speaks with a strange-sounding lisp. I wonder if he lisps in Arabic? If anyone knows, please comment and set us straight.

After the Assad interview, which was taped last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Obama, recorded a few days later.

Charlie Rose never asked Assad point-blank if he had ordered the chemical strikes, but he did ask many other tough questions. I don’t claim to have sufficient insight into the complex politics of the Syrian crisis. But if he ordered chemical strikes against his own people, of course I condemn it. But I must say with a considerable amount of shame, overall, Assad looked better tonight on international television than Obama did.

I can’t believe I just wrote this.

By the way Obama handled the Syrian crisis, he has damaged his presidency and he has made the United States look weak. I don’t profess that I might have done a better job myself. This whole thing is a mess. But right now, whether anyone else could have done a better job, Obama looks like a fool. Where are his foreign policy advisers? Where is his Henry Kissinger when he needs him? Obama needs somebody of Kissinger or Scowcroft caliber to tell him: “Mr. President, you’re fucking this one up big time!” Obama needs help, and fast.

It was a good thing that 60 Minutes closed out the hour with a stale report on marijuana in Colorado. What if they had got Putin on as the third piece? It would have been utter disaster for Obama.

Right now our government is stumbling on the world stage. Obama does not look ready for the job. This is not a good thing to happen to a president in his 5th year in office. Syria might have killed Obama’s legacy. When I voted for him, I thought he had it in him to be a great president.

Right now, I am embarrassed for him.

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