Category: P – Political


Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Trump by Michael Cohen

September 18th, 2020 — 5:00pm

Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Trump by Michael Cohen

Early in this book, the author describes how his boss, Donald Trump, long before becoming president, would stiff contractors and other people out of payments promised to them. Cohen, who was so pleased when he got the job working with Trump, was gleeful and overjoyed and he became Trump’s go-to man or fixer. He also would deceive other people and withhold funds due to them and work closely with Donald Trump when he was running his real estate business. Cohen described how his boss was a “cheat, liar, a predator, and a con man” (and a lot more). Cohen agreed that he himself had many of these characteristics when interacting with other people especially in his role as Trump’s special personal attorney. He was also very blunt about how exciting and energizing this kind of behavior was for him.

Initially, Cohen thought that he would be continuing this role when Trump entered the White House. However, he soon found himself as the target of federal prosecutors for things that he had done in the past, many of them for Trump. At this time, Cohen admitted that he manipulated and deceived in regard to paying federal taxes as well as other illegal activity. He gave the reader the impression that he felt that the charges against him were obviously based on truth. He believed he was forced to agree to lesser charges and accept a guilty plea; otherwise, not only would he be charged with more severe crimes but his wife, who had nothing to do with illegal activities according to Cohen, would also be charged. Cohen ended up in a low security prison sentenced to 36 months, most of it being spent at a prison for nonviolent offenders and eventually on home arrest. Cohen related how Trump distanced himself from Cohen once he was in the White House and Trump and his attorneys actually tried to prevent Cohen from writing this book and therefore illegally taking away his freedom of speech. Obviously, they failed as the book is now published.

It is amazing that despite the fact that Cohen himself was always willing to do anything for his boss and obviously did a lot more than he acknowledged in the book, Trump nevertheless totally abandoned him. Michael Cohen, while admitting his own crimes, made it absolutely clear that President Trump has been a liar, a cheat, and a criminal. As of this writing, it appears that Cohen will serve out his sentence probably at home arrest or in a low security prison

It remains to be seen if Trump will figure out how to be elected to a second term and what criminal charges will be made against him should he become a private citizen, Of course the question is whether Trump, if he loses the election will himself have to go to jail? (2020)

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Set The Night on Fire: L.A.In The Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener

July 27th, 2020 — 2:29pm

Set The Night On Fire: L.A. In The Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener

Although I have lived in Los Angeles for more than 10 years, I did not grow up in California nor was I familiar with most of the memorable events which occurred out here in the 1960s. As I have traveled through the various streets and sections of Los Angeles, their names do not resonate and have such familiarity with me is if I were driving through various sections of Brooklyn or Manhattan. Also, although I have been involved and supportive of many civil rights movements during my lifetime, I certainly am not familiar with the many particular groups and their leaders which have been so important in Los Angeles and were depicted in this book. I give this preamble because I have to admit that I have found this book overly long with much detailed facts, names, and events, most of which were not meaningful to me. I can imagine that if you lived through these times or heard about them from your families, it could be more interesting, especially finding out about the behind the scenes facts and stories about people, many of whom have been your heroes. Of course, I remember vividly the incident with Rodney King and the Watts fire and I could appreciate the behind-the-scenes descriptions of these events and the cast of characters.

This book not only covered in great detail the Civil Rights Movement from the early days of NAACP forward to the modern-day black lives matter movement, but it also described in great detail the various smaller groups, which coalesced during this time. There were also detailed descriptions with personal stories, which included the civil rights movements in Los Angeles of women, LGBTQ, as well as those of Hispanics, Mexicans, and various Asian groups. I was also fascinated to learn about the role that students in high schools and even junior high schools played in the past and in recent demonstrations. Apparently, strong vocal groups were also born in the local Community Colleges, which was not widely remembered

I am not sure it is worth trudging through the entire very detailed description of people and events that “set the night on fire.” However, the book may be worthwhile owning if you have occasion to refer to specific events, groups and people who lived through this period of time and participated in the events covered in the book, as there is an excellent index at the end of the book which will allow you to bring up people, dates, groups, and events.

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Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

February 5th, 2020 — 12:07am

Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

There is no one who can make the case for the existence, value and justification of Israel better than this author. He understands the history, politics and the essence of this country as well as anyone. He is in a position through his writings, speeches and interaction with world leaders to articulate his point of view.

In this book, Dershowitz not only explains and defends Israel but he is able to clearly describe its poignant history and reason for being. So much of the anti-Israel sentiment is related to deep-seated, long-standing hatred originally coming from the Arab world but also coming from overt as well as covert anti-Semitism which not only resides in the Arab world but is often hidden in various segments of American society as well as throughout the world. Dershowitz understands and describes this long history of anti-Israel and antisemitic feelings He articulates some of the political differences and some debatable points of Israel policy and is able to describe his various points of disagreement and also present various ideas which he believes should be open for negotiation. Dershowitz describes the unfair criticism of modern-day Israel for defending itself from the unprovoked rocket attacks into Israel, as well as the vicious attacks on the Israeli population from tunnels originating in Arab countries. In this book, Dershowitz dissects out the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) in regard to Israel, which even some Jewish groups have supported, but is clearly built on the idea of destroying Israel.

This is the latest of many books written by Dershowitz. His style is clear, coherent and the reader feels that you are having a conversation with a friend who happens to have first-hand knowledge and acquaintance with many past and present world leaders as well as having an exquisite mastery of world history, which he magnificently articulates. Dershowitz seems to show a lack of modesty as he name drops various U.S. presidents, Israeli leaders as well as other important people with whom he has visited and dined over the years. He is also not shy about sharing his many accomplishments at one point enumerating the long list of top-rated universities that have offered him tenured professorships. His lack of  modesty aside, this book is an important one and should be read by everyone who is a friend, foe or who does not understand the importance of the existence of Israel.

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How To Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

October 4th, 2019 — 9:53pm

How to Fght Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

I believe that this book was one of the most important books that I have read in a long time. Certainly, it is true because I am a Jew who has been aware of the historic and contemporary antisemitism. However, I think this book has equal relevance to both Jews and non-Jews who may not have thought about the subject but yet have concerns about some of the serious injustices which continue to exist in our world.

One of the critical lenses through which the author viewed this subject is in the discussion of the meaning and importance of the state of Israel. While she is aware that Israel may be far from perfect, she clearly exposes the anti-Israel views as expressed in in the BDS slogan (boycott, divest, and sanction)by people who want to eliminate the state of Israel This type of thinking is clearly the result of deep-rooted antisemitism even though some of it may come from Jews themselves when talking about Israel.

The author also examines the flawed and historic stereotyping of Jews and the dangerous way of thinking which has led to the pogroms, the holocausts, and other hideous events in human history.

Most fascinating is the author’s crystal-clear exposition how antisemitism can exist in the United States and throughout the world on the political left as it does on the political right. Once you are aware how it is expressed, you can see it all around you by “well-meaning” people who have had stereotyped views implanted deeply-rooted in their thinking and yet with the potential to so easily emerge.

We recently heard this young author speak at a local event and we were very impressed by her knowledge, insight, and empathy for the thought processes in the perpetuators as well as in the objects of antisemitism. Also, during the recent Jewish holiday, we were aware of at least two sermons by different rabbis who dealt with the subject of antisemitism in a similar manner as expressed in this book. Whether or not they had read this book, we strongly recommend that you should read it.

 

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Where The Light Enters: Building a Family and Discovering Myself by Jill Biden

August 30th, 2019 — 12:36am

Where the Light Enters: Building a Family and Discovering Myself by Jill Biden

This is an autobiography by Jill Biden, wife of former senator and Vice president and now presidential candidate, Joe Biden. The readers of this book will probably be looking for insight into the potential president, Joe Biden and the nature of the relationship between him and the former second lady. Jill Biden obviously did not include any negative stories about Joe Biden and their lives apart and now together.

However, in their story is one of great hardships, romance, togetherness and then again, experiencing tragic loss. Joe Biden lost his first wife and a young child in an auto accident when he was a young United States Senator. Subsequently, after a casual meeting and then subsequently seeing her picture, he surprised Jill Biden by asking her out for dinner. As they say, “the rest is history.” They clicked as a couple. Mrs. Biden is very clear in this book how important family has been to both herself and to her husband. She describes in great detail how she and Joe built an intimate meaningful relationship with their immediate and extended families. She also shares with the reader how important it was to her to develop and maintain her career as a teacher and ultimately as a professor.

Mrs. Biden shares the special issues that were dear to her heart as well as some of the projects that she and Joe shared together. How she was able to integrate family, career and the role of being a public servant as a wife of the vice president is the essence of this book. Of particular note was her deep-rooted interest in military families and in educating women about breast cancer.

Of course, Mrs. Biden shares with the reader a glimpse into how she and Joe have experienced and continued to deal with the more recent loss of one of their sons. Dr. Jill Biden is obviously a skilled writer and she is quite articulate in the writing of this book. Perhaps, it is fair to say that there are still some important chapters to be written in the near future.

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A Woman Of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

August 2nd, 2019 — 2:33pm

Woman of No Importance-The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

Virginia Hall was born in the United States, grew up in Baltimore and studied at Columbia University. She moved to France prior to World War II. As a young woman, she also had a tragic accident during a hunting trip where she shot her leg and ended up with a wooden prosthesis.

When World War II broke out and the Germans invaded France, circumstances plus dedication and brilliance led her to become one of the key figures in the French Resistance Movement. The author of this book, Sonia Purnell, spent a great deal of time and effort painstakingly studying the life and the amazing accomplishments of this woman who worked with the French underground. Virginia used numerous forged documents and also had a cover of being a correspondent for the New York Post, but in reality, she was organizing and participating in deadly sabotage against the occupying Nazis. She trained hundreds of members of the French underground. She risked her life numerous times in various operations. She went to extreme efforts to secretly maintain contact with the British for whom she was working via radio coded message. She guided many missions which included arranging the parachute drops of guns, explosives, and other supplies needed in the activities of the French underground against the occupying Germans. She devised complicated plots to free captured prisoners. She had many close calls and could have been captured and tortured as was the fate of many of her comrades. After D-Day she arranged numerous attacks on the German troops who were heading towards Normandy.

As a reader of this book, we got the feeling that we are by her side as she plans and carried out dangerous missions. She then escapes France via walking through the snow-covered mountains through Spain. Ultimately, Virginia falls in love with a young man who she encountered in her work and they eventually got married. This book is well written and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Virginia was ultimately awarded many medals including the highest French Medal of Honor. After the end of World War II, she worked for the CIA, assisting in spy activities directed against the communists.

As exciting and informative as this amazing story was, at times, I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters many of whom had French names. I also could not always picture the exact geography as she moved through different parts of France as well as during her escape via Spain. It would have been great if there could have been a directory of the many characters that we meet in this book and a brief description of them as well as a map where the reader could trace her adventures and travel. That being said, any student of history, especially if one wants the inside view of World War II should read this book. It also will be a satisfying read for anyone looking for a well-written spy story.

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On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

On Gold Mountain: A Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See.

If you do not know it, “Gold Mountain” is California and the story begins as the author’s great-great-grandfather Fong See arrives on the West Coast of the United States where he works making herbal remedies for other Chinese men working to build the railroad.. The book traces his intermarriage to Ticie and how he becomes involved in Chinese antiques and furniture. The arc of the story includes three generations, many of whom stayed in the family business, mostly in the Los Angeles area. We followed the progenitor and other family members as they often visit China and give money to family back home, and bring old Chinese antiques and furniture back to the United States. We come to appreciate the outrageous discrimination against the Chinese including American laws that directly targeted this group. We also learn about Chinese customs including the practice where men often had multiple wives which might include concubines and prostitutes.

This is an important book about the history and roots of Chinese-Americans. It serves a purpose of also being a family record of the ancestors of the author as well as many Americans who have roots in the immigration from China. I feel educated and more enlightened having read this book. I can understand why the author, who has written many best-selling novels, would have chosen to share her family history in this book.

Having said all of the above, I found the book quite tedious to read. The author should have provided a clear usable family tree diagram to follow the different characters and the various relationships.( There was a small family tree at the beginning of the book , which was very difficult to read on the I-Pad,) To the non-Chinese reader, the names were unfamiliar and frequently sounded the same. In addition, sometimes it appears that the author used two different names for the same character.

The author’s previous success as a novelist, I am sure led many people to explore this book. In my case, I only stayed with it because it was a selection of my book club. In the end, I am enlightened about Americans with Chinese heritage, but this is not a book that I would recommend for enjoyable reading.

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The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperial World by Robert Kagan

January 5th, 2019 — 11:35pm

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperial World by Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan, the author of this book is described by Wikipedia is a neoconservative American historian and foreign-policy commentator. It also notes that Kagan prefers the term “liberal interventionist” to describe himself. It goes on to say that some have characterized his approach to international relations as “realistic.”

This book is a review of political history mostly of the past century in terms of the American led liberal order versus an authoritarianism type of political system that might include a socialistic system with benevolent idealistic communism or a tribalistic system that evolved into a fascist government. Kagan is of course a historian as well as a political analyst. He discusses the importance of geography influencing government formation i.e. the relative isolation of Great Britain as compared to the rest of Europe and of course the United States being surrounded by two great oceans as compared to the crowding of Europe with various border issues there and in Africa and then South America.

The rise of various imperial leaders are analyzed in depth as well as the philosophies of Hitler, various Chinese leaders and those of American such as FDR and George Marshall after the end of World War II.

The social and political dominance or hegemony of various countries over others is looked at as history evolves and power flows and ebbs, is the theme of this book. Even to a non-historian reader such as this one, the book is very enlightening as it puts modern day political struggles even those in the United States at the present time, into a context of world history.

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Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

November 8th, 2018 — 10:05pm

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

I remember very clearly as a young boy, the great happiness among my family and friends on May 14, 1948 when there was the formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. I also recall my first trip to Israel as a medical student with my wife in 1963 as part of a program for young Jews to better appreciate the meaning and the importance of the State of Israel. One more related memory for me to set the tone of my feelings about this book was nine years later, when I entered our synagogue with my family in 1973 on Yom Kipper and was shocked to learn of the surprise invasion of Israel by Syria and Egypt. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Israel a couple of times with my family over the years including one time as Visiting Professor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

I have never been any type of scholar of the Israeli-Arab dispute and conflict. I understand that the Arabs have great animosity towards the Jews and feel that the land of Israel is also Palestine, their homeland. As I came to appreciate the persistence of the Arab’s feelings and entitlement about Israel, I began to side with the idea of the “two-state solution.” My reasoning was that the Israelis could live in peace and their families would be safe and there would not be any threats. I assumed that the Arabs should feel the same way. This book was to teach me that I was quite naive in my simple views of the situation.

The author of this book is an Israeli scholar, born in the United States, but moved to Israel when he was a young man. He not only knows the Jewish history but is also very knowledgeable and understanding of the history of the Arabs and the origin of their feeling towards Palestine. He reminds the reader of his book that both people had their origin as being descendants from the two sons of Abraham. He wrote this book as a series of letters to his Palestinian neighbor whose home he can see from his own house off in a distance on top of a hill. He traces the history of the Jewish people and their connection to the land of Israel in a very compelling manner. He fills in many of the gaps in my knowledge and provides a depth of understanding that adds to the stories we tell at Passover or during the various Jewish holidays and when we read and discuss parts of the Torah or when we do these things during Jewish holidays, Bar Mitzvahs or any services at the synagogue.

Halevi clearly makes the case that the Jews are not only a religion but a people and have a commitment and a connection to the land of Israel. He wants his Palestinian neighbors to appreciate this. At the same time, he presents a very measured understanding of the Palestinian’s attachment to the land. He reviews the situation of how Prime Minister Menachem Begin almost brought Israel to accept the compromised two-state solution, but the Arabs could not honestly agree to such an arrangement. This book doesn’t offer a solution for the seemingly intractable problem. However, he feels sure that the Israelis could eventually accept the two-state solution if they truly believe that the other side would support this and recognize their right to exist. Only then would there would be a chance for living in peace and harmony. What comes across in this book is that the author is empathic to the feelings of his neighbors and hopes that someday, they will reciprocate this feeling. His book is very well done and will be quite enlightening to most readers as it was for me.

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The Ghost of The Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin

March 20th, 2018 — 5:46pm

Ghost Of The Innocent Man: A True Story Of Trial And Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin.

Somewhat by coincidence, this non-fiction book continues the theme of An American Marriage, which was the previous book which I recently read and reviewed in this blog. That book was a fictionalized account of a man who was wrongly in prison for a crime that he did not commit and how that impacted himself and his young wife.

This book is a true story of the ultimate development of a remarkable Innocence Inquiry Project in North Carolina. It also follows the story of Willie Grimes, a young innocent man who was accused and convicted of raping a 65-year-old woman and spent 20 years in prison. The author of this book was not an attorney but rather was a writer who undertook this writing project when he was 26 years old. He traced the birth of the Innocence Project, which started at the University of North Carolina and Duke University Law School and then coalesced over a few years into a state sanctioned Innocence Commission that provided an official process for examining the case of convicted prisoners who may have completely exhausted their appeals process and could still have a pathway to having their cases reexamined.

The author told the story of young attorneys who became involved in this project while also working with smart idealistic law students, as they became the last resort for prisoners who may have been totally innocent. The author’s study did interview the various founders and pioneers of this project and told in great detail the trials and tribulations of getting it off the ground. The very interesting story of the birth of this project was interspersed with the equally remarkable story of Mr. Grimes’ voyage through the judicial system and his experience in numerous prisons in North Carolina over the years. The author related in exquisite detail Mr. Grimes’ interactions with various cellmates, prison guards, doctors, as well as his visits to Jehovah Witness people who became very important to him. In fact, my biggest criticism of this book was the repetitive recounting of every interaction that poor Mr. Grimes had in prison. The author literally seemed to reveal “every detail” and report from Mr. Grimes’ case manager in prison, every unremarkable note by nurses, psychologists, guards, every comment, and minor infarction while in prison as well as many repetitive thoughts that Mr. Grimes may have had.

The author also provided the details of seemingly every letter or communication between the client and his various lawyers and between various people in the Innocence Project that were trying to help him and develop their program. Yes, this approach conveyed the tedious life that Mr. Grimes had in prison and the tremendous attention to detail of those who were trying to help him had to go through, I got that point! However, I felt that this was way overdone and made the reader spend much more time than needed in order to get it.

It was quite fascinating to come to understand some of the complications of doing hair analysis analysis, and even potential DNA analysis although Mr. Grimes’ trial predated the sophisticated DNA techniques that are used today. The reader also learned about the importance of saving evidence from the crime scene and how this may or may not always be done. However once again, these points in my opinion were way too much repetitive.

There was one question that was always on my mind and never answered in the book. Early on when Mr. Grimes was arrested, he claimed he was innocent and offered to take a lie detector test. This request was never followed up by the police or by his own attorney. I understand that such tests are not foolproof, but could not such a test, if it had supported his claim, have helped him in his appeal?

There came a time during his incarceration where Mr. Grimes could have found a pathway to change his life sentence by being paroled, if he took a special course for sexual offenders but as part of that process, it would have required him to apologize and ask for forgiveness for his “crime.” He refused to do this as he always contended his innocence. In the end, after more than 20 years in prison, as the reader suspected throughout the book, the Innocence Project was successful in allowing Mr. Grimes to be judged to be innocent and gain his freedom.

However, the book does leave us with the awareness that such innocence projects do not readily exist throughout the country and there are only a few * like this one, which leaves the reader with the awareness how there is a serious defect in our criminal justice system that needs to be addressed.

  • There is a  large well known DNA project and there are smaller projects throughout the country  such as the one in Alabama which was written about in a book titled Just Mercy  which was also  reviewed in this blog  :

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