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Review: RED NOTICE by Bill Browder

RED NOTICE by Bill Browder

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.

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Filed under Bill Browder, Book Reviews, Books, Human Rights, Russia, Russiagate, Sergei Magnitsky, Simon & Schuster

Review: INTRO TO ALIEN INVASION

Intro-to-Alien-Invasion-Scribner-2015

“Intro to Alien Invasion,” published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is a cheeky story about what happens when extraterrestrials take over a secluded liberal arts college nestled in the Vermont hills. All is not quiet and mellow at Fenton College once the biggest life lesson of all opens the eyes, and tears the limbs off, a bunch of sheltered and pampered brats.

Member of the library staff caught in sheer terror.

Member of the library staff caught in sheer terror.

In the same spirit as “Rushmore” and “Animal House,” it’s the exceptions to the rule, the small fringe element of misfit students, that will prove their mettle and perhaps save everyone else’s sorry asses. This very funny graphic novel has some great talent behind it. Owen King is author of the novel, “Double Feature.” And Mark Jude Poirier is the screenwriter of the 2013 film, “Hateship Loveship,” starring Kristen Wig. The artwork is by newcomer Nancy Ahn.

Nancy-Ahn-Intro-to-Alien-Invasion

Much of the story revolves around nerdy and mousy Stacey, an otherwise brilliant mind, who is vulnerable beyond measure. Bumbling Professor Evans, plans to exploit his status as an expert in astrobiology, and lure Stacey into his snare. And then there’s a huge change in plan. Something that the professor smuggled back from Siberia has come to life.

The story will bog down a bit when it gets to a lot of explaining as to the what and the why about goopy things running amok on campus. Really, at some point, nobody cares anymore and have settled in for a gross-out yuck-fest which this book happily provides. That said, these asides don’t ever last too long and, in the spirit of Lisa Simpson, are edifying in their own weird way. There are times too when Ahn’s loose style will get rather too loose and slack. That can be attributed to some extent to the easygoing, and unconventional, narrative. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’d want this book done any other way considering the offbeat vision.

As it seems to be de rigueur in even the most crass humor, a tender thoroughly sensitive love story is included here. It proves to give an overall nice balance to the belly laughs and/or mild amusement you’ll find here depending upon your temperament. It’s a credit to the writing that it actually does work. You have characters here that you grow to care about. It’s not just Stacey and some creepy prof but all of Stacey’s friends and frenemies. At the end of the day, this is a fun book and will appeal to a lot people, like fans of “The Simpsons” and “Adventure Time,” which is, at last count, a whole lot of people. “Intro to Alien Invasion” is a 224-page black & white trade paperback, available as of September 15th. You can find it at Amazon right here. Visit our friends at Simon & Schuster right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Satire, Sci-Fi, science fiction