Last night, I completed reading a book of horrors by Craig Unger which easily surpasses the novels of Stephen King in scariness. It is titled HOUSE OF TRUMP, HOUSE OF PUTIN. Unger chronicles the rise of Putin arm and arm with the Russian mafia who were rewarded with vast sums of riches to become the world’s richest and most famous oligarchs. He likewise explains how the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed unemployed highly trained KGB operatives to become international criminals with the blessing of their comrade in arms, Putin. Privatization of the country’s businesses allowed him to pass out the country’s assets to his KGB buddies. In return they were to engage in traditional information gathering, but also make themselves available to provide disinformation with the goal of fomenting chaos and confusion throughout the world. They were also valuable as assassins who were able to squelch dissent in the good old-fashioned KGB manner.
According to Unger, Putin was obsessed with returning Russia to a position of world power, but the breakup of the union left his country in a weakened condition. His solution was to develop a strategy of infiltration of other governments and make use of the limited resources remaining to gain influence abroad and weaken or even destroy alliances which were not friendly to Russia. The purchase of such influence was expensive, but Putin preferred investing in his plan than in his people. He also had available a cadre of thugs with considerable expertise in the art of turning enemies into assets by other means such as setting them up for blackmail. They had also become expert in assessing individual weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Although not averse to using tried and tested Stalinist tactics to gain and remain in power, Putin’s genius lay in his recognition early on as to the value of the internet to sow seeds of discontent inexpensively.
The author writes extensively of Donald Trump’s connections to criminal elements and of his father whom he alleges had made use of organized criminal elements in order to bypass building regulations. However; it could be that such connections were merely accepted as the cost of doing business during a time when the Italian mafia exerted a lot of control over unions and local politicians. Early in his career, Donald is said to have become dependent upon the services of Roy Cohn, who had gained fame as Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man in the communist witch-hunt (where else have I heard that term?) of the 1950s, and for coercing Ethel Rosenberg’s brother into falsely testifying in her trial, which resulted in her execution in the electric chair (not one of the U.S. Halls of Justice’s finest hours). He also was the consigliere for the Gambinos and Genoveses, New York’s most prominent crime families. Additionally, the author reports that Trump’s current spokesperson, Kelly Ann Conway is said to be the granddaughter of a known mafioso. Although one should not be punished for the sins of one’s father or grandfather, one can’t help but wonder as to her views on law and order. Trump is not accused of criminal activities in this book; however, as has been said many times: “if you sleep with dogs you risk having fleas.”
As the oligarchs created by Putin continued to rip off their homeland, they faced a dilemma regarding what to do with all of that money. Their economy was unstable; they wished to launder their money, preferring the dollar to the ruble. Both real estate and gambling were good venues for such activities and many of these dudes became Donald Trump’s best customers, spending millions of dollars on the purchase of his lavish apartments, including many in Trump tower, and his Trump World Tower. Trump’s Taj Mahal casino was fined $477,700 for violations of the bank secrecy act, but the records have been scrubbed as to the details of this case. It is presumed in the book that the casino’s lax oversight encouraged money laundering.
As presented in the book, the origins of the invasion of the US by the Russian mafia is a good example of the maxim that “no good deed goes unpunished.”  During the cold war, immigration rules were relaxed for Russian Jews due to reports of their harsh treatment and incarceration. This provided an opportunity for the Russian government to unload its worst and most violent criminals from their gulags. All the prisoners needed to do to be released and go to America was make a quick conversion to Judaism. Most of the emigres settled in New York’s Brighton Beach, an area very familiar to Trump since his father had real-estate interests there. The Russians of Brighton Beach quickly gained a reputation for outdoing the Italian mafia in violent criminal activities. They eventually became organized, and with the help of Putin’s oligarchs, organized and were able to operate internationally with a variety of talents including: murder, robbery, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, gun smuggling, human trafficking, and drugs. They also put some of their ill-gotten gains to good use with bribes to government officials in countries around the world.
Whatever had been Trump’s prior relationships to the Russians, they were solidified when they came to his aide following the bankruptcies of his Atlantic City casino businesses. Although he is said to have actually benefited financially from the bankruptcies by giving himself an enormous salary while his investors were stiffed, he had residual debt and banks would no longer finance his proposed ventures. Russia’s state-owned bank came forward with loan guarantees and he was back in business. There are also suspicions as to his knowledge of or even involvement in the money laundering by the Russians. However; Putin’s support would not end there, for according to our intelligence agencies, the Russians were heavily involved in attempts to further Trump’s political career with all manner of extremely sophisticated computer programs, which allowed them to send millions of personalized bits of misinformation to voters.
Trump has made it clear both in rhetoric and actions that he wants not only detente but friendship with Putin. He has stated on several occasions that friendship with Putin is a “good thing,” but some of us ask “good for whom?” Most would agree that Putin is a slick dude. While Bush looked in his eyes and judged his soul to be in the right place, he was already planning a program to eliminate dissent and political opponents the KGB way. I recall one person (wish I could remember his name) who said in response to Bush’s analysis: “Putin doesn’t have a soul, he’s KGB.”
It is no secret that Putin laments the loss of neighboring countries with the dissolution of the Soviet Republic, and it is not a giant leap to suggest he would like to have them all back under his control. His major impediment to reaching that goal (obviously) is NATO due to its overwhelming military and economic prowess. The book lays out evidence that his stable of super-hackers have been busy not only working on our elections, but extending their “divide and conquer” strategy to other parts of the world, most notably Europe. Some believe that the Brexit problem, now threatening the cohesion of the European union was engineered by Putin’s digital army. Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War has contributed to the refugee crisis in Europe, which has resulted in squabbling between European nations and an increase in nationalistic sentiment.
It is well documented that the divisiveness we now see in the U.S. is more severe than at any time since the Civil War. As a child of both the Great Depression and World War II, I grew up in a time when camaraderie was the norm. There was dissent, but it lacked the vitriol which we now hear daily. Now adolescent school yard bickering often replaces respectful debate. Character assassinations, which in past generations could precipitate challenges to a duel, are now accepted as the norm. There are even death threats toward those with differing political views. The racism which had been tamped down in the 1960s and ’70s has once again reared its ugly head.
Yesterday, I was glued to the TV in spite of my revulsion. The senate Judicial Committee was convened to evaluate and confirm a candidate for the Supreme Court. Republicans had announced they would do all in their power to secure Kavanaugh’s appointment while democrats had admitted they would do everything they could to prevent it. Such decisions had been made long before the convening of the session. As we all know the Supreme Court was designed as the one institution in government that is to be totally apolitical. To further that aim such appointments were required to be approved by the entire senate, and to last a lifetime. All this was to insulate them from political pressure. Yet, here we were watching a political food fight with accusations, insults, and temper tantrums. This August body deliberated with all the decorum of a mud wrestling match. Ah, but I digress for it was my original intention to stick to a review of the book; although yesterday’s charade was an even more obvious example of how our politicians play into Putin’s hand by accentuating our differences.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Putin must be very happy with the progress he has made in disrupting alliances both here and throughout the world, thereby loosening the bonds that have limited his military adventurism. Whether unwittingly or deliberate our President’s policies have dove-tailed quite nicely with Putin’s game plan. POTUS has systematically insulted most of our friends and allies. He has whenever possible withdrawn from treaties and trade agreements, especially those which were negotiated by the Obama administration. He has actually denigrated NATO, and congratulated those members who have become more nationalistic. His isolationist policies have diminished our role as world leaders. He seems to take great stock in personal relationships in international relationships which sometimes leads him to ignore his advisers. His denial of Russian involvement in our elections has been an impediment to our development of strategies to prevent future attacks. His persistent attacks on our various institutions including the news media and even his own justice department further undermine our confidence and respect for our country. He has at times endorsed violence as a means to limit dissent.
Trump has insisted that he has had no dealings with Russia however; in a Newsweek interview (10/01/18), Unger expands on his book narrative by reporting that in 1984 a Russian mafia member purchased 5 Trump condos for $6 million dollars and since then Trump has sold 1300 condos world wide receiving commissions of 18 to 20%. Since most were bought through shell companies, Trump is able to plead ignorance of any knowledge of money laundering however; Unger asserts it strains credulity that he did not know who were the real buyers. Unger insists that the Russian mafia reports directly to Putin who is now said to be the richest man in the world. With all that in mind, Unger concludes Trump to be a Russian asset with strong connections to Putin. Other than with his verbal denials, Trump does little to refute these allegations. To the contrary, his professed admiration of Putin as a “great leader” along with his insistence that meetings with Putin and his ambassador be held in private only increase suspicions.
As disturbing as these suspicions may be, I found myself even more sickened by the chapter which listed in great detail those with prominent roles in our government who became involved as attorneys or lobbyists for the Russian mafia. The most disappointing was the case of Bob Dole the former Republican senator, candidate for President, and severely wounded WWII veteran. He is reported to have received a $560,000 fee to help one of the Russian billionaire oligarchs to obtain a visa to visit the US. There is also the strange case of William Sessions former director of the FBI, who had warned the world of the dangers posed by the brutal Russian Mafia, but a few years later took on as a client a Russian mob boss on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.
Since we entered the Trump era book writing about him has become a cottage industry with a new one seeming to appear every week with most painting an unfavorable opinion of him. They are summarily dismissed as fake news or left-wing propaganda promoted by left wing conspirators. However; this book is populated with dozens of unpronounceable Russian names and lists specific times and places their activities were carried out. It has an unbelievable 52 pages of references and a listing of 60 Russians he alleges to be involved along with the familiar names of Americans accused or convicted of nefarious Russian involvement. I can hardly imagine the amount of research done to produce such detail.
For all who have an interest in learning about the vulnerabilities inherent in any democracy this is a must read. Even more importantly it illustrates that other than voting (an area in which we are sorely lacking), our best defense against authoritarianism is a free press. Those who declare the press to be an enemy of the people deserve close scrutiny in books like this.

One thought on “SCARY STUFF

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.