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Who Stole the American Dream? – Book Review

WhoStoleTheAmericanDreamBy Hedrick Smith

Publisher: Random House, Random House, Inc., New York (www.atrandom.com

Copyright: 2012, ISBN: [1400069661]

Typebook: Hardcover

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 31, 2013

 

Summary:  The book asks a simple question with an amazingly simple answer. The answer provided in WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM is long and excessively diplomatic.

 

The ten largest banks in the United States are larger today than in 2008. Good reason. In 2008, the banks and other Wall Street financial institutions pretty much lead the way in causing American households to lose $11.1 trillion, or “close to one-fifth of their total accumulated private wealth.”

In his book, WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM, Hedrick Smith observes that “economists and historians would identify the late 1970s as the watershed period when an economic wedge started to be driven into the American workforce, beginning to drive the nation into Two Americans—corporate CEOs and the financial elite put on a sharp upswing, and average Americans left stuck in a rut.”

When history of the start of the twenty-first century is written, it will be said that the American people traded the experiment of democracy for the security of a predictable plutocracy. The best that will be said of this is that at least the people did not succumb to the capriciousness of a king; the worst to be said is that the “little” American people fell for the demagoguery of race and cultural elitism, and the wealthy Americans fell for the allure of wealth.

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The Watchers – Book Review

WathcersTh.img0By: Jon Steele

Publisher: Penguin Group, SIGNET, New York

Copyright: 2012, ISBN: [0451416791]

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 20, 2013

Summary:  An engrossing tale of Angels-come to earth. Marc Rochat keeps the bells; Katherine Taylor is the prostitute sought by the devils; Jay Michael Harper is the good angel with a job to do.

To fully appreciate this story, you should know more than just the fact that there was a World War I. Even more to the point, it would be helpful to know something about the life of poet Philip Edward Thomas . Fortunately, in the opening chapter of THE WATCHERS titled “quietus’, we get all we need to know about Edward Thomas on the magical battle field of Arras in 1917 to fully appreciate the story.  From this foundation we jump into present day La Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Lausanne and met the modern day Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Marc Rochat.

Rochat is one of the main characters in this novel.  The other two, Katherine Taylor, a high-class prostitute who may or may not be an angel and must be “saved”, and Jay Michael Harper, the “detectiveman” who seems to stumble into his role as protector and savior.

We meet Rochat as he peers out the window of Café du Grutli where he comes often for supper. Most of his time however is spent talking to the bells of the Lausanne Cathedral where he is something akin to a permanent custodian. It is this seeming character quark of Rochat—talking to the bells—that keeps us reading. We know there is something off-kilter with Rochat; that there is an oddity that goes beyond his deformed foot causing him to walk with a limp; his talking to bells or himself (maybe they are the same); his quaint way of using adjectives as nouns. After encountering Rochat, we soon get the impression that he is the innocent one in this story:  innocence born of simplicity—the best kind. We get this impression before meeting Katherine Taylor or Jay Harper.

Katherine Taylor’s attention is drawn to the bell tower of the Lausanne Cathedral again as she sits in front of her mirror brushing her hair. After almost a year of observation, she has finally concluded that the man in the tower followed a precise pattern of walking around the tower, calling out the time after the bells rang the hour. It was of little concern to her however. An ex-Playboy, Girls of UCLA pictorial, she was preparing for her latest date. Having become a resident of Switzerland to be closer to her bank account, she relied upon her membership in the Two Hundred Club to facilitate her trade and acquire keep the money coming in. Her trade of course was prostitution. By no means evil, we do get the impression that she is lost and without an anchor in life. A more relevant judgment would be that she is self-centered to a fault—the perfect conduit for good or evil.

Jay Harper observed “Blondie”—that would be Katherine Taylor—enter the restaurant bar of the Lausanne Palace hotel and greet her date for the evening among “a crowd of well-heeled types”. Harper however was on a mission. He was to meet someone at GG’s, a strip-club bar catering to the less well to do. While waiting, Harper orders vodka tonic a number of times.  By the time he recalls his previous seven weeks in Lausanne, we get the impression that Harper is as unfocused as Rochat and Katherine are focused.  His primary problem seems to be vodka.  Lots of vodka.  We learn this when he recalls that he awoke one morning to find that, as a security consultant to the International Olympic Committee, he had a meeting scheduled with the head of the Olympic Committee. He had been hired to track down a former Olympic champion who was promising to divulge the secrets to a mysterious athlete performance enhancing drug that could not be detected by normal testing.

These three main characters—Rochat, Katherine and Harper—drive the story of THE WATCHERS. Initially, we read because we are engrossed by the characters. We suspect that all three will come together at some point. They do. But the events that brings them together is surprising. The author is masterful in the slow but steady way he achieves this; a believable balance between atmosphere (the city of Lausanne) and human foibles (the characters). It all meshes into a long story (768 pages) in which the reader can accept the possibility of angles and demons fighting a war by proxy using the lives of mortals.

There are subtle similarities between THE WATCHERS and the 1939 movie, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME  starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. The similarities are subtle enough to make the story of THE WATCHERS a unique and relevant contribution to our current social milieu. The story contains a scene of mind-altering sex and others of relatively abundant violence. But the author exhibits these scenes in a manner that flows from the story itself—nothing exaggerated or “filler”. If THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME was a classic rendition of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, it is highly doubtful with THE WATCHERS could ever be made into movie because the story really is about characters, not events.

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Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra – Book Review

Vendettaby: Bryan Burrough

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Copyright: 1992. ISBN: [0060167599]

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, September 5, 1994

 

Summary: How to create a “big lie” without really trying. This book is an engrossing plunge into corporate American business tactics. Must Read.

Reprinted from Crushies Book Review, September 1994 Volume I, Issue No. 4:

 

If you absolutely, positively must smear someone who is an international banker

and who comes from a family of international bankers and who just happens to be your chief business rival, you can start rumors that they are in the drug business.

 

VENDETTA is a big book with a lot of information (663 pages). The information is incidental to its main purpose however. The book tells how American Express’s chief operating officer (CEO) James D. Robinson III and Edmond Safra, owner of the Trade Development Bank (TDB) of Geneva which included the Republic National Bank of New York, merged their two enterprises and then, two years later, de-merged–split, as in asunder, as in parted ways.

 

Burrough makes a strong case that the de-merging went a step beyond merely disassociating their enterprises. Even before Edmond Safra decided to pull out of the merger deal, rumors began circulating that his vast, international banking empire was built upon the proceeds of the illicit drug trade–money laundering. This despite the fact that the Safra family had been making money in the banking business long before becoming international in the 1950’s by opening TDB in Geneva, Switzerland.

 

The author is careful to point out that not a shred of evidence has ever been unearthed to show that Safra ever wittingly or un-wittingly participated in any illegal activities. But as for the rumors, allegations and falsified documents–there is a story there and Burrough tells it well.

 

In January 1983, Safra sold his interests in TDB for $550 million dollars to American Express. For the first time in his life, he was to become an employee. His relationship with his new employer deteriorated from that realization on. He thought, for instance, that he could graciously donate to the American Red Cross a $500,000.00 bonus granted him by American Express for selling his company. But American Express had already contributed its quota to the American Red Cross so Safra was told to pick another charity if he really had to give money away. More significant “style” disasters accumulated over the next eighteen months. American Express was a bureaucracy. Safra knew nothing of bureaucracies. He decided to buy back his business. He did so. At a profit of $100 million, Safra regained control of TDB, paying American Express $450 million. With money like this flying around, there are bound to be hurt feelings somewhere.

 

The CEO of American Express sanctioned an attempted to discredit Safra because Safra posed a competitive threat to American Express’s banking business. By discrediting Safra, American Express could prevent Swiss authorities from granting TDB an operating license.

 

So, how do you start a rumor to discredit someone?

 

Basically, you use the age-old formula of telling a big lie in a small place where it will be amplified and repeated ad nauseam. The small place can be a face with a small mind attached to it, or a small extremist newspaper or newsletter. American Express operatives used the later–planting stories in small newspapers in South America and Europe.

 

Reading Vendetta will definitely heighten your sense of discernment. It could also turn you into a cynic.

 

Safra was attacked by rumor because his business fate rested on the decision of a committee in Switzerland which based its decision on an evaluation of his character. Any public issue in which someone’s character is mentioned–whether it’s Ronald Reagan and hair coloring or Bill Clinton and romantic encounters with your cousin Polly, your instinct is to look for the big lie. This is good and healthy? No, it’s wasteful and distracting. In a democracy, it can also be debilitating.

 

In this information age in which there are information merchants very adept at peddling the big lie and information consumers a bit blurry on the distinction between a made-for-TV movie and real life, cynicism has almost become a patriotic duty.

 

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