For anyone interested in politics, history, the legal system, or a riveting story, there’s something for you in The Mueller Report Graphic Novel. Yes, it would be nice to have every potential voter read this now as we approach one of the most consequential presidential elections in US history. But, beyond that, this is a book that will spark interest in one of the most misunderstood and significant documents to come out of government. Bob Mueller gets the last word, so to speak, and tells a story every American can appreciate, no matter what your politics.
In conversation with Steve Duin and Shannon Wheeler
“Robert Mueller did not go in intending to bring anyone down. What he uncovered was plenty of evidence of very bad behavior.” So, cartoonist Shannon Wheeler sums up The Mueller Report in our interview I had the privilege of getting to talk to both creators of the book: journalist Steve Duin and cartoonist Shannon Wheeler. During our conversation, we got to explore the nuts and bolts behind the daunting task of creating a graphic novel adaptation of such a mammoth book. The truth is, Robert Mueller is an excellent wordsmith so the book itself is not really a slough as it is lengthy and so a graphic novel acts as a wonderful gateway.
You can read my recent review of The Mueller Report Graphic Novel, available as of September 16, 2020. And I hope you enjoy our freewheeling interview. Just click above. For more information, visit IDW Publishing right here. This is a fine example of the sort of books we want to see come out of the multi-layered world of comics. Bio and history are the backbone of graphic novels and this one stands head and shoulders above a lot of titles. You want a book that goes the extra mile and delivers satisfying results? Then this is it.
The Mueller Report Graphic Novel. written by Steve Duin. illustrated by Shannon Wheeler, IDW Publishing, 2020. 208pp, $15.99.
How easily we seem to forget or let ourselves become distracted. If you are still not sure about Donald Trump, then consider this fresh new look at a book all of us need to better understand. Take a look at The Mueller Report Graphic Novel. I speak as a reasonable person in search of the truth. I have read many passages from the actual 448-page Mueller Report along with a very insightful pamphlet-sized digest e-book from the Lawfare Institute, Reflections on the Mueller Report. My conclusion well over a year ago was that there is plenty to work with to compel Trump’s removal from office–but then the screws were tightened, as in Barr’s own meddling, and nothing ever happened. What if there was a truly compelling movie that people could watch? Well, how about one better: here is a concise and incredibly clear presentation putting to use the power of comics, visual storytelling at its best! Alright, I have an advance copy. Let’s dig in and have a look.
All the President’s Men.
The simplest way to tell a story is to keep it simple. This is a story that explores criminal acts as well as ways of obstructing the investigation of said acts. It’s a story crying out for a narrator! Duin and Wheeler give the floor over to Bob Mueller and, quoting from his report, manage to pump some fresh blood into the telling. Mueller, as narrator of this book, goes right to work. One of Trump’s favorite tactics is to call anything that calls him out a hoax or a witch hunt. The Mueller Report was all just a witch hunt, according to Trump. However, as Mueller clearly states, real indictments were handed down. Leading the pack: Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, and Paul Manafort. All of them were found to have lied to Mueller’s investigators about their connections to Russia. While compelling evidence has either been destroyed or made unavailable that would most clearly demonstrate collusion, the facts remain that a lot of key players were willing to lie about their own involvement.
William Barr redacted Mueller Report.
I suppose the saddest thing would be if the general casual reader cannot invest two hours to read this graphic novel. Is it just a fantasy to think that enough readers for this book could emerge and it could turn the election in favor of Biden? One can dream! The fact is that Duin and Wheeler do their best to keep partisan politics at bay and stick to the facts in the report. Maybe they know better than most that this is a labor of love that simply had to be completed. Like any JFK conspiracy scholar understands, whether anyone reads their book right away or not, at least the book is out in the world. Readers will emerge, one way or another. History may not change from this book. But the book will have done something to shed some light on our recent history.
Shouldn’t we be concerned more than ever?
Just follow the money.
One thing that really sticks with me about the whole 2016 Russian collusion saga is that infamous June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. You know, the one where key Trump players meet to discuss obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian operatives. Even Duin and Wheeler get caught up in the Russian adoption red herring thrown in whenever this meeting comes up! This is my Trump Tower test and Duin and Wheeler, following the report, chose not to emphasize a key fact. Mueller simply didn’t bother with this little fact or it just never registered. Anyway, the reason that Russian adoptions always come up is because that was the excuse used for holding that meeting. But, not only that, this was code from the Russians. The reason for using the subject of Russian adoptions was to signal that Russia would maintain a ban on Americans adopting Russian babies for as long as Russian human rights violations were sanctioned through the Magnitsky Act. In other words, this cover story was a way to bring home the point that the removal of the Magnitsky Act was high on Putin’s wish list. In my book, if I were to do one, this is a very interesting little fact and a telling clue.
Sow discord and ramp it up! It worked in 2016. And it looks like it’s working in 2020.
All in all, I’d love to follow the progress of this book in real time as it makes its way to readers. The drawing style here is a steady functional look and that’s really all that is required in this case. In fact, the sometimes gritty and cobbled-together look of the art adds to a sense of urgency. It fuels the idea that there is crazed hope to get the book out in time for it to possibly influence this presidential election. It’s a great fast pace that will draw the reader in, now and twenty years from now. In fact, the more I go over it, the more I’m fascinated by it.
The long tortuous process of “covering your ass.”
I can’t help but get that creepy feeling that we are living through this again but we just can’t seem to see it. Yes, believe it or not, the calls are coming from inside the house! Yeah, that sort of feeling. Trump is here and he is well on his way to sticking around. Ideally, a book like this should sway enough voters away from Trump. No doubt, that thought has crossed the minds of everyone involved with this book. Yeah, what if every potential American voter was up to speed on the contents to this report? In a lot of ways, I believe that the American public has already gotten the gist of it. Liars lie and Trump & Co. do lie, and not particularly well. But that was never the point, was it? As Roy Cohn and Putin, and all the other baddies figured out long ago, the only thing that matters is to lie, lie, lie. Keep lying. Hit them hard. Hit them harder. A graphic novel can do many things but it probably won’t remove Trump from office. That said, I’d love to be proven otherwise. Looking forward, Trump and Russia is far from over with and this graphic novel will be ready whenever someone needs it. And, who knows, once all the MAGA hats have been lost and forgotten, maybe we’ll be in the mood for The Mueller Report, The Musical.
So many dots to connect.
On March 24, 2019, the White House released a four-page press release presenting its summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 Presidential election. On April 18, 2019, the actual redacted report was finally provided to the public.The difference between these conclusions have led to much debate, and while clearly Mueller’s findings are pivotal to our understanding of modern political history, national security, and American democracy, most Americans have still not read the entire 448-page report to be fully informed on the topic. It seems like right about now would be a good time to make up for lost time. Well, it will definitely remain a must-read well past this election. You can read the actual report for free right here. And you can order The Mueller Report Graphic Novel, available as of September 15, 2020, right here.
This will not end well for Donald Trump.
In The Mueller Report Graphic Novel, Eisner Award-winning New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler and veteran Oregonian journalist Steve Duin reach for truth against a torrent of political spin to lay bare the findings of Mueller’s investigative team. Wheeler and Duin capture history in ink, providing a clear, concise, and entertaining way for readers to truly understand the conclusions that Mueller recorded during his exhaustive investigation.
Encouraging readers to ignore the interpretations of political parties and cable news pundits, this comprehensive graphic novel brings to life a range of key scenes, beginning with Trump’s campaign and continuing over three years of his administration. The staggering laundry list of Trump’s inner circle’s controversial contacts, statements, and perhaps even coordination — enough to overwhelm any student of the U.S. Constitution — provides a roadmap to understanding events of the past four years.
With a bite familiar to fans of his long career in political cartooning, Shannon Wheeler reflects on the subject: “I look forward to the day when I no longer have such rich material to work from.”
For more information on IDW’s library of political cartoons, visit IDWpublishing.com, and be sure to follow IDW on social media for the latest information on The Mueller Report: Graphic Novel.
Superman: Red Son. Made-for-Video Animation, 84 minutes. Directed by Sam Liu. Written by J.M. DeMatteis. Executive Producers: Bruce Timm and Sam Register. DC Entertainment. Release Date: March 17, 2020
The timing could not be better for one of the great Superman stories. DC Entertainment presents the 2020 animated feature adaptation to Mark Millar’s 2003 Superman: Red Son. This time around, the script is by another DC Comics stalwart creative, J. M. DeMatteis. This is a great time for the alternate-history genre. There’s For All Mankind on Apple TV, a what-if about the Soviets landing on the moon first. And there’s The Plot Against America on HBO, a what-if about a Fascist America. Now, make room for a what-if about a Soviet Superman. This is about what would happen if the future Superman never crash-lands in some corn field in Kansas. But, instead, baby Superman crash-lands in the heart of Cold War-era Russia.
This is arguably the very best of DC Elseworlds adventures. In this very heated and confused time for U.S.-Russian relations, a story like this provides refreshing perspective. What would Superman do if he found himself part of Mother Russia and developed a loyalty to Communism? Apple pie and baseball don’t mean a thing to the Man of Steel. Superman is more loyal to the latest five-year plan for the people. Capitalism is just a funny concept and the U.S.A. is more suspect than respected. And leading the “greed is good” pack is, of course, Lex Luthor.
What will appeal to a lot of viewers is the clever look at how the world works. No sooner does Superman, innocently enough, prove to be the strongest man at the Kremlin than he’s elevated to the post of supreme leader. To Superman’s way of thinking, he is genuinely compelled to do good. That’s just how he’s built. But he has to do it within the confines of the Soviet Union. Conversely, Lex Luthor, not so innocently, proves to be the strongest capitalist, riding an “America First” campaign, that lands him in the White House. Along the way, we have different versions of the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, and even a taste of Dr. Strangelove thrown in for good measure.
If you’ve never read the original comic book or collected graphic novel, then you’re in for even more of a treat as this story unfolds. I think the animated feature hits all the right marks and could not be better. Voice actors like Jason Isaacs, as Superman, and Vanessa Marshall, as Wonder Woman, lead a lively cast. This is something that I could even see as a major live action movie version. It is certainly a compelling example of what can be done within the formidable world of the DC Universe.
A highlight from today: presentation by house manager, and retired law enforcement officer, Rep. Val Demings. She focused on the machinations of Rudy Giuliani as he worked to pressure Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky to announce Biden investigations. At one point during the NBC News broadcast coverage, there was a split-screen of Demings and Trump arriving in Miami for one of his rallies. What is particularly interesting about this moment is that there is talk of Demings as the vice presidential running mate for the Democratic ticket in 2020. Demings, by the way, is from Florida, a most consequential state come election time. Ironically, Trump was heading to Miami during the Demings presentation.
Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow, published by Crown, 432 pages, $30.00.
Blowout, a comics digest, by Henry Chamberlain
If you want to understand something about how the world works, then a must-read is Blowout, by Rachel Maddow. It doesn’t matter what your politics are for this book to make an impact. Maddow drags out some major skeletons in the closet into the light of day on a global scale. In this case, we’re talking about our relationship with fossil fuels, which isn’t much better than our relationship with nuclear energy. Maddow guides the reader up and down this perilous rollercoaster journey. Anyone familiar with The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC knows that Maddow favors an in-depth approach that connects all the dots. For me, someone who often finds it helpful to “doodle” and combine concise words and images, Blowout proves to be an excellent subject to dissect.
Close-up of comics. First panel.
It is through the process of creating comics, storyboarding, and visual storytelling, activities that I’m very familiar with, that incredibly powerful facts can bubble up to the surface. I’ll jump ahead right now and tell you, with all the relevant news going on as I write this, that facts are facts and it’s important to pin them down. I point your direction to the comic that is presented here that I created focusing on Rex Tillerson, a prime example of how those in power, left unchecked, demand and grab even more power, as much power as possible. I also created an info-mural that gives an overview of the whole Blowout book. That said, this comic adds some finer precision to make a point. It’s as one digs deeper, connects those dots, that those facts bubble up that need to be pinned down and examined. At a time when we’ve heard so much about finding the ultimate “smoking gun,” when one news cycle is drowned out by another, I point you to the fact that, once in office, the Trump administration hurriedly did whatever it could to remove sanctions on Russia. But Congress acted in a bipartisan manner and shutdown any attempt to remove these sanctions. However, Congress looked the other way on another related matter, getting rid of Section 1504 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
There are very real consequences to letting Big Oil bullies, like ExxonMobil do at they please. Section 1504, the much despised safety valve to help curb corruption, that the Trump administration successfully pushed Congress to make disappear was there to try to turn back the Resource Curse. When countries find themselves with vast amounts of valuable resources, like oil and gas, it is the corrupt power players who win and the citizens who lose. There’s no trickle down effect! Nope, it’s just a dictator and his family with cash to burn. As is pointed out in Blowout, the 1504 measure was only trying to fix a very messed up system:
It’s worth repeating what the late Republican senator Richard Lugar wrote when he sponsored the measure: “When oil revenue in a producing country can be easily tracked, that nation’s elite are more likely to use revenues for the vital needs of their citizens and less likely to squander newfound wealth for self-aggrandizing projects.” Lugar has also been clear-eyed about the cost to the United States of allowing corrupt government actors in those countries to consistently fail their own citizens. The Resource Curse, Lugar wrote, “exacerbates global poverty which can be a seedbed for terrorism, it dulls the effect of our foreign assistance, it empowers autocrats and dictators, and it can crimp the world petroleum supplies by breeding instability.”
Somehow, that wasn’t a compelling enough argument for Rex Tillerson or Donald Trump.
Maddow begins connecting the dots with John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company and we end up with Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil. The first oil strike, the big bang that set it all into motion, was on August 28, 1859, long before there were any cars but not before a profit motive had been established. Fast forward to our own times, ExxonMobil, a descendant of Standard Oil, reigns supreme as the most profitable business in the world. Going back to John D Rockefeller, big oil has always felt entitled to do as it pleases, by whatever means. With Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil had the perfect CEO, both savvy and ruthless. As Maddow points out with great detail, Tillerson had no qualms about who he built a relationship with, including a very cozy one with Vladimir Putin, even if it put lives in danger. As Tillerson explains, if he could get away with something that favored ExxonMobil, then he was going to do it:
“Was there any country in the world whose record of civil rights was so horrible, or whose conduct was so directly a threat to global security or U.S. national security interests, that Exxon wouldn’t do business with it?” Rex was asked during an official U.S. Senate investigation. “The standard that is applied is, first, ‘Is it legal?'” he replied. “Does it violate any of the laws of the United States to conduct business with that particular country? Then, beyond that, it goes to the question of the country itself. Do they honor contract sanctity?” Contract sanctity, that’s the top. Below that, it’s all negotiable.
And it is Rex Tillerson who ends up becoming Secretary of State, at least for a while.
Once the genie was let out of the bottle, humans developed a rather disordered relationship with oil…and its close cousin, natural gas. When oil reserves became less of an easy grab, it was natural gas that seemed to be the energy alternative we’d all been looking for. Except natural gas was never really such an easy grab. Accessing it involves a process popularly known as “fracking,” which is highly disruptive and has resulted in a record number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, a darling of the fracking industry, and a region where earthquakes were nearly nonexistent. This is a thread in our story that travels the globe as more and more regions experience fracking–and subsequent environmental damage. From that already toxic mix, you can add rampant corruption inextricably linked to the search for oil and gas. But don’t let it overwhelm you. Maddow maintains a steady narrative pace, all the better to make sense of it all. For instance, let’s not overlook for a minute the significance of Ukraine which figures prominently in Putin’s designs for dominance. The plan had been to keep Ukraine dependent upon Russian natural gas–but then Ukraine discovered gas of its own. No matter, Ukraine had to bend its knee or it would be broken. The truth was that, ever since the break up of the Soviet Union, the people of Ukraine wished to be free. Instead, Putin inserted his gangsters, like Dmitry Firtash, to maintain control:
There was a pile of money to be made in natural gas in Ukraine, so there were plenty of very interested parties. Firtash had to be able to deal with bankers, pols, and, most important, organized crime bosses. All of them well armed. All of them locked in a dangerous and uneasy partnership that sometimes proved fatal for the unluckiest. Firtash knew certain dinner invitations could come with a side order of assassination. Even into the early years of the twenty-first century, the natural gas business was still operating by “the law of the streets,” Firtash explained to the U.S. ambassador of Ukraine. “It was impossible to approach a government official for any reason without also meeting with an organized crime member,” Firtash said. He did what he had to do.
As many of my readers have come to appreciate, I aspire to the high standards of the auteur cartoonist, the artist-writer who processes compelling information into concise words and images. It is something I’ve done on some level as far back as I can remember. Sometimes, I can’t help myself and will take a riveting read and write a full-on prose review. And then there are times when some sort of “comics digest” is in order. So, I’ve taken some key moments in Blowout and turned them into what amounts to an info-mural. You can see the whole layout to my info-mural by viewing the video below.
Maybe I got something out of my system for now. I provide this without a focus either to the right or to the left. I sincerely believe that we only need to look back to the dark days of Watergate to see how a crisis, mired in polarizng politics, can inevitably lead to a consensus that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed, for the sake of not only one country but for the world at large. Looking beyond fossil fuels, we need to embrace renewable energy sources now more than ever. It wasn’t that long ago that an electric car seemed to only be a futuristic dream. Now, it’s common. We can do it.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Anyone in the Trump White House should know that handing over to Putin whistleblower Bill Browder, a very hard thorn in the side of Putin, would be a death sentence for Mr. Browder. And yet White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that the president will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, along with former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others.
Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act are essential knowledge during this global crisis and opens a wide window onto how corrupt and murderous the Putin regime is. It is unforgivable for anyone in authority in the so-called Trump administration to have no clue about this. Thankfully, there are real adults out there. Later in the day, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the concept “absolutely absurd.”
In a nutshell, Mr. Browder was the first and only American hedge fund investor in Russia, right at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. He got to see, firsthand, the rise of the oligarchs, and Putin. It was one of Browder’s trusted aides, Sergei Magnitsky, who got too close to Putin’s crosshairs and was murdered by Putin’s henchmen. Ultimately, this led to the passage in Congress of the Magnitsky Act, which keeps Russian criminals, like the killers of Sergei Magnitsky, out of the U.S. The takeaway here is that Vladimir Putin is a very, very dangerous person.
It was an honor for me to review Mr. Browder’s book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice. If you want quite a compelling read, I highly recommend this very valuable book. But, by all means, any information you can get is of great value including the recent video clip above with Mr. Browder speaking on Putin in relation to Trump.
Michael Wolff’s political bombshell, “Fire and Fury,” is like a “Harry Potter” book event: mana for political junkies as well as a breakout book for a much wider audience. It has certainly proven to be an excellent go-to book on my nightstand these past couple of weeks. I felt it in my gut, from the start of the media campaign, that here was something that would hold up to a full reading. Wolff is not Carl Bernstein but he proves to be the right man in the right place and time. Some of the book’s juiciest bits that were placed under the media spotlight helped to distort the narrative. However, it’s not farfetched at all to find that Wolff has compiled something credible. Just don’t tell that to Sarah Huckabee since she swears the whole thing is a “fantasy,” not worthy of the American people.
January 17, 2018: Trump with communications director Hope Hicks and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
What I find most useful is that, by and large, Wolff has neatly organized and presented the machinations of all the oddball characters running amok: the mighty Steve Bannon; the royal duo, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, or Jarvanka; assorted misfits and minions such as Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer; and especially both Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, highly unqualified special assistants to the president. The important blocks of activity add up for the big picture: Jared Kushner’s highly suspicious dealings around the globe; the inept advice of Jarvanka to POTUS taking its toll; how all things Trump cannot help but inevitably fall like a house of cards. Time will tell just how much Wolff got right. It is in his best interest that the book holds up as it would make for a great movie. In his favor, he has a credible and lengthy acknowledgements list at the back of the book.
One day prior to FIRE AND FURY book release, Jan 4, 2018: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was flanked by two large television screens as President Donald Trump delivered a video message on stock market increases and economic gains.
This is much more than just about Trump sneaking a cheeseburger into bed or Steve Bannon’s pontificating. It is about a White House in crisis, even before it started, one stoking an international crisis. It is definitely about an accidental presidency, one that repeatedly abuses power, and is illegitimate. While that may sound too harsh for some hardcore Trump supporters, this book lays out the case for why the whole Trump phenomena is a shell game with players who shamelessly want to hang on to power. And it’s surprising how often Steve Bannon comes out sounding like the more sensible one in the bunch–but not for the reasons his supporters might think. The main reason he seems to have any sense is because he knew what a mistake it would be for Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.
As Bannon explains it, it was Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (he nicknamed them, “Jarvanka”) who pushed Trump into firing Comey. This Jarvanka push was triggered by the fact Kushner was part of Comey’s investigation into Russian meddling. And it just gets worse from there. Forget about Russian meddling for a moment. It’s all this Jarvanka meddling that’s pretty scary in and of itself. As the following excerpt demonstrates, despite the tabloid style to this book, Wolff puts together a narrative that most likely will be confirmed over and over again, especially by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation:
“Most problematic of all, Hicks and Miller, along with everyone on the Jarvanka side, were now directly connected to actions involved in the Russian investigation or efforts to spin it, deflect it, or, indeed, cover it up. Miller and Hicks had drafted–or at least typed–Kushner’s version of the first letter written at Bedminster to fire Comey. Hicks had joined with Kushner and his wife to draft on Air Force One the Trump-directed press release about Don Jr. and Kushner’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.”
From left to right: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway; Hope Hicks, White House director of strategic communications; and Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, listen during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room, at the White House, on February 14, 2017. White House press secretary Sean Spicer discussed various topics, including the resignation of Michael Flynn from his position as National Security Adviser. Hicks is now one of six past and current Trump administration aides whom Robert Mueller reportedly wants to question. ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES
A key player in the Jarvanka faction is Hope Hicks who provides some good grist for this book. A former model and aspiring actress, Hicks finds herself in the improbable position of being an essential link between the press and the leader of the free world. Hicks regularly provides digestible pits of information to Trump. She was responsible, for instance, in giving Trump a recap on the famous piece in The New Yorker that first connected the dots on Michael Flynn and Russia–except she failed to mention Michael Flynn. Hicks has no qualms over sending out disparaging leaks to the press about anyone deemed a problem, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Trumps legal team, Mark Corallo and Mark Kasowitz. It is no surprise that Robert Mueller is interested in questioning her.
And it all goes on, getting worse and worse. Just as one scandalous scene plays out, another rears its head to fill an endless news cycle. So, plenty of opportunity to deflect, distract, confuse, and alarm. It was just that strategy that led Trump to threaten to unleash “fire and fury” upon North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It is a well-documented fact that Trump said this since we can clearly view it on numerous news feeds. Unlike some other comments and activities by Trump & Co., there is no hiding behind the trickery of the Trump White House in this case. Wolff does an admirable job of exposing this spin doctor trickery. Sorry, Sarah, this book is significant and so far removed from your claim that it is mere “fantasy.”
If you’ve seen any of the segments Wolff has done during his book tour, he makes a compelling case: after being embedded in the White House for most of 2017, an informative book results, one that makes sense out of the political crisis of our time. Now, I will be the first to admit that Wolff seems just a little bit out of his depth. It’s like a fisherman going out to make a catch and snagging Moby Dick. And I did see his appearance with Bill Maher where he suggests Trump is currently having an affair with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He doesn’t come right out and say that and only hints that he would only say as much if he had absolute proof. It’s that whiff of the salacious than can take away from an otherwise even-tempered book. Ultimately, it doesn’t take away much of anything.
“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is a 336-page hardcover published by Henry Holt and Company. For more details, visit Henry Holt and Company right here. And you can get this book at Amazon by just clicking the image below:
Russiagate and the Magnitsky Act have become inextricably linked in the news. We may even reach the point where the average person readily makes the connection. This is certainly the stuff of mainstream media now and that’s a good thing. One person who is definitely an authority on the subject is investor Bill Browder. If you were to read just one book on what is going on in Russia today, it is Browder’s “Red Notice.” The full title is “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice,” published by Simon & Schuster. Keep in mind, the devil is in the details–and these are some diabolical details.
For this story, the one person you will never forget, once you know his story, is Sergei Magnitsky. What happened to him is hardly a new story but a story that reverberates as more and more people become aware. You can think of it, in some sense, as similar to the story of Emmett Till. Once you know his story, you never forget it. See what I mean? In a nutshell, we are living through the complex aftermath of the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.
Bill Browder’s book is so well-paced that, by the time he reaches the details about Sergei Magnitsky, the reader is prepared with a sense of how high finance works (in this case, by the seat of one’s pants) and how Russia works (it can get very dark). What makes this book so readable is Browder’s keen understanding of human nature. He is often self-deprecating and strikes the right tone. If you are looking for an absorbing read, this is it. Browder tells you everything about how he stumbled upon investing in post-Soviet Russia. That alone, is fascinating. Browder did so well with his hedge fund that he became Russia’s biggest foreign investor. The new oligarch regime took notice. Putin took notice.
The Russian response to Browder was, first, to discredit him. And it would escalate from there, especially since Browder was more than happy to push back on being bullied. The Browder team went after the oligarchs and Russian government corruption like there was no tomorrow. That led to the exposing of an outlandish tax fraud scheme: a $230 million tax rebate reverting back to Putin and friends. It was one of Bill Browder’s attorneys, Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered this fraud. His reward was to be taken prisoner and, for all intents and purposes, handed down a death sentence. Magnitsky’s health steadily declined and, instead of getting medical attention, he was repeatedly beaten and tortured. When he died from this treatment, the government denied any involvement. Instead, Magnitsky and Browder would be blamed for the corruption scandal.
But the level of corruption we are talking about is much bigger than any casual observer might hazard to guess. To that end, Browder and his team created videos that make it a lot easier to digest. There are some key government henchmen involved that, while making meager salaries, managed to live like royalty:
Seeking justice for Sergei Magnitsky led Bill Browder to Washington, D.C. on a mission to enact legislation that would punish the network of people involved with his death. In the process, we get quite an insightful look behind the scenes. In 2010, the Obama administration was determined to improve relations with Russia. The State Department did not look favorably upon anything to strain relations. That was the general tone–but there were detractors to the status quo like U.S. Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin. It was Sen. Cardin who began work on creating a bill. Now, Browder still needed a heavy hitter in the Senate and he found that support with Sen. John McCain. A number of political twists and turns still lay ahead but it would ultimately lead to a law with some real teeth, a law that could eventually ensnare Putin–unless, of course, this law were somehow made to go away.
The Magnitsky Act is very straightforward. Originally, its intent was to place sanctions on Magnitsky’s killers and then it was broadened to cover all Russian human rights offenders: take away their assets in the U.S. as well as their visas to the U.S. Simple as that. The bill went through various hurdles and ultimately was signed into law by Pres. Obama in 2012. If you are still new to the Magnitsky Act, you will be hearing more and more about it. Keep in mind that Putin has done everything in his power to discredit both Sergei Magnitsky and Bill Browder. After all, put two and two together: if you follow the letter of the law, the Magnitsky Act would surely apply to Putin.
Shortly after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Putin retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children. This becomes complicated as it also involves numerous children with special medical needs. As you may recall, and how could you not, Donald Trump’s son, Don Jr., met with a Russian lawyer who was essentially lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act. The excuse Don Jr. uses is that they were actually talking about Russian adoption. But, if you understand the context, talking about Russian adoption equates to talking about the Magnitsky Act. Any scheme to repeal the Magnitsky Act is now dead, right? But these are very strange times we live in. That said, Browder’s book could not be more relevant.
RED NOTICE is a 416-page book available in hardcover, paperback, in audio, and e-book. For more details, visit Simon & Schuster right here. And for more information on Bill Browder, visit him right here. And, if you really want to dig deeper, visit the Russian Untouchables website right here.
“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”
There is an artful moment during the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. Sen. Angus King, (I) Maine, asked if Trump saying he hoped the Flynn investigation would go away was a direction. And Comey quotes the famous line attributed to Henry II, and which floats within Shakespeare’s Richard II: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” The senator said he was thinking of the same quote.
King Henry II wished that a priest would go away. That was Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The next day, that priest was murdered, honoring the king’s wish. King Trump “hopes” for something, that the investigation of Michael Flynn would go away, an inappropriate suggestion, even for royalty.
We’ve heard plenty about how the media helped to construct Donald Trump. We see how another White House and the media interacted in, “The Reagan Show,” a new documentary by filmmakers Pacho Velez (Manakamana) and Sierra Pettengill (Town Hall). Pacho Velez was on hand this weekend for a Q&A after the film’s showing at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Ronald Reagan is as much icon as enigma. He managed a life and career treading upon the surface. In their documentary, Velez and Pettengill work mostly from archival footage, made up of official White House video and network news segments, to revisit a man who was at his best as a flickering image just beyond reach. The Reagan administration made the big switch from documenting the president in video instead of the traditional, costly, and confining 16mm film. Video allowed for continuous unencumbered recording. It became known as White House TV, perfect for a former Hollywood actor. The documentary perfectly mines all the irony attached to our first reality TV president. What we get is not so much bloopers, or even anything substantial behind the scenes, but a better sense of a president who was painfully too old and woefully disengaged.
Growing up in the ’80s, I don’t recall that era as particularly quaint but the footage in this doc proves otherwise. One such moment could have come right out of the Eisenhower White House. To illustrate how in command the president was, Chief of Staff Howard Baker recites what is supposed to be a decisive moment between Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Just prior to a tough round of negotiation, Reagan asked Gorbachev if he would autograph his World Series baseball. This gesture supposedly disarmed Gorbachev and left Reagan with the advantage. It’s a nonsensical anecdote but it apparently disarmed the media just enough to look away and move on.
Pres. Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev
There is plenty of obliging on the part of the media to be found here. Some hard-hitting questioning too, especially by ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson. But the president’s charm is ever present. The only tarnish comes with the complex Iran Contra scandal. It is complex enough to allow Reagan something of a pass. For the most part, this doc focuses on the work between Reagan and Gorbachev. As Velez pointed out during the Q&A, Reagan is credited with ending the Cold War, whether or not that’s true. Overall, he achieved the status of an icon. In reality, as this doc makes clear, the Reagan administration did a lot of stumbling and had the unbelievably good luck of having Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin.
Under certain circumstances, the press, and various other power brokers, will always look away. There will always be exceptional circumstances (FDR, for example, was never photographed in a wheelchair). But when a president so flagrantly abuses his power, then that gentleman’s agreement is forced off the table. Ronald Reagan remained a gentleman. And, for that, he was saved by the establishment. The media asked tough questions but they were always open to being charmed. And Ronald Reagan could be relied upon to charm with the best of them.
While this documentary has its share of irony and self-awareness (Reagan’s plea to “Make America Great Again” is included), it cannot help but get caught up in the murk of Reagan “charm.” As Velez stated in the Q&A, he aimed for this documentary to follow a narrative of success with a happy ending. Sure, Velez did not want to demonize Reagan. Fair enough. But to allow Reagan off the hook with a story that closes with him achieving a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviets is pretty generous. You may as well end a story about Nixon with him opening relations between the US and China. To Reagan’s credit, Velez pointed out in the Q&A, he always seemed sincere. In comparison to today, that does count for a lot.
You can follow “The Reagan Show” on its Facebook page right here. The documentary will air this Labor Day on CNN. You can still catch it at SIFF this Wednesday, June 7th. Go to SIFF for details right here.