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Federal Savings Bank and Paul Manafort

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The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank – FSB

There is a small brick building on the corner of Fulton and Elizabeth; on the third floor is the Federal Savings Bank. Unless you follow the news closely, you’ve probably never heard of this bank – it doesn’t advertise that I know of, nor does it maintain a high profile.

Federal Savings was born out of Generations Bank, a Kansas thrift bought by Calk and his brother John Calk in 2011. That bank, which had about $40 million in assets, was undercapitalized, facing regulatory restrictions and posting losses for five straight years, according to a 2012 story in ABA Banking Journal, an American Bankers Association publication.

Now headquartered on Chicago’s Near West Side, successor institution Federal Savings in 2012 said it was getting $18 million in tax breaks over 10 years from the state through the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, program as well as up to $4 million in training money from the city of Chicago.

The bank had 842 full-time workers as of the end of March. Steve Calk has said about 10 percent of the bank’s employees are veterans like him.

Federal Savings has three branches or loan production offices in Illinois: at its headquarters and in Lake Forest and Naperville, according to its website.

(click here to continue reading Report: Prosecutors demand records on Chicago bank’s loans to Paul Manafort – Chicago Tribune.)

Does that seem like a lot of employees for such a small bank? I wonder what they all do, and where they all fit? Who knows, I’m not a banking expert. Maybe many employees work remotely, or in Lubyanka Square?

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Federal Savings Bank (FSB, not to be confused with the Russian FSB which is the successor organization to the KGB) is1 tight with the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, and with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Tight enough that this small bank loaned 1/4 of its assets to Manafort to cover the payments on two of Manafort’s properties, despite his seemingly shaky credit (one property was in foreclosure after a loan default, the other property was not yet in foreclosure, but was also in default).

The Wall Street Journal reports:

New York prosecutors have demanded records relating to up to $16 million in loans that a bank run by a former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump made to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, sought information on loans the bank issued in November and January to Mr. Manafort and his wife, the person said. The loans were secured by two properties in New York and a condominium in Virginia, real-estate records show.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had begun examining real-estate transactions by Mr. Manafort, who has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with property across the U.S. over the past decade. Investigators at both offices are examining the transactions for indications of money-laundering and fraud, people familiar with the matters have said.

The Journal reported that at the time of the loans from Federal Savings Bank, Mr. Manafort was at risk of losing a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and his family’s investments in California properties being developed by his son-in-law, real-estate and court records show.

Mr. Calk was a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory panel who overlapped with Mr. Manafort on the Trump campaign. Messrs. Manafort and Calk knew each other before the campaign, a person familiar with the relationship has said.

The bank’s loans to Mr. Manafort equaled almost 24% of the bank’s reported $67 million of equity capital, according to a federal report. Around the time they were issued, Mr. Calk had expressed interest in becoming Mr. Trump’s Army Secretary.

(click here to continue reading New York Seeks Bank Records of Former Trump Associate Paul Manafort – WSJ.)

I walked over to this bank a few weeks ago, and it is sort of strange, at least to me. FSB is an odd kind of bank, only on the third floor of 300 N. Elizabeth, with a building security employee that won’t let you go up unless you are a member of the bank, plus they won’t allow photography in the lobby. Reading through FSB’s Yelp reviews, they seem a little sketchy, sending out loan application letters to veterans almost to the degree of spam and many other complaints of incompetence and worse. Of course, Yelp reviews aren’t the most reliable, but still, this bank has a lot of unhappy (civilian) clients.

For instance:

Horrible experience. They send letters every week to advertise being part of the VA IRRRL program. If you look, you’ll notice the phone number is different in every letter. So, you can’t trace if there’s been any complaints about the number. The representative got very defensive when he couldn’t answer why the number is different and after I asked to speak with a manager, he said he’d take me off the mailing list and hung up on me. After I tried calling back with no answer, I received a call from someone who apologized, and though he was very nice and informative, I still believe this company is very deceptive. The first guy told me they are VA owned and operated when I asked if they are from the VA. He then said its because 95% of their loans are to veterans. THAT DOES NOT MAKE THEM VA OWNED! I just learned they used to operate under the name Chicago Bancorp and they have a lawsuit against them from 2014, and the owners’ names are the same as now.

(click here to continue reading The Federal Savings Bank – 27 Reviews – Banks & Credit Unions – 300 N Elizabeth St, West Loop, Chicago, IL – Phone Number – Services – Yelp.)

Makes one wonder how FSB is making a profit, suddenly, after years of not making profits. Maybe there are other sources of income besides veterans and tax dollars from the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago?

The property in Brooklyn seems to be in distress:

Reference to home values in the area suggests that the outstanding principal on the loan secured by the townhouse at 377 Union Street may exceed the market value of the property. Reports suggest that the property has been empty for the last 4 years and is currently in disrepair (link). The mortgage secured by the Bridgehampton property indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $630,000 as additional collateral.  The mortgage secured by 377 Union Street indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $2.5 million as additional collateral.

(click here to continue reading 377 Union | Paul Manafort | Who is Steve Calk, and What Does He Have to Gain From Helping Paul Manafort?.)

Caviar Russian
Caviar Russian

One final weird thought: the modus operandi for Russian money laundering schemes frequently use real estate as the anchor. What better way to wash one’s dirty money than paying more than a property is worth? The seller is happy, and now the money is in the banking system. Especially if the purchaser is an LLC company, with limited public information available as to the source of the money.

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

(click here to continue reading Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump – The New York Times.)

From USA Today we read:

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

USA TODAY journalists have spent six months cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction. The investigation found Trump’s companies owned more than 430 individual properties worth well over $250 million.

Since Election Day, Trump’s businesses have sold 28 of those U.S. properties for $33 million. The sales include luxury condos and penthouses in Las Vegas and New York and oceanfront lots near Los Angeles. The value of his companies’ inventory of available real estate remains above a quarter-billion dollars.

Profits from sales of those properties flow through a trust run by Trump’s sons. The president is the sole beneficiary of the trust and can withdraw cash any time.

(click here to continue reading Trump property buyers make clear shift to secretive shell companies.)

and from Bloomberg:

But the Justice Department inquiry led by Mueller now has added flavors. The Post noted that the investigation also includes “suspicious financial activity” involving “Russian operatives.” The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts.

In that context, a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.

One of Bayrock’s principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass.

In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering.

Kriss has sued Bayrock, alleging that in addition to laundering money, the Bayrock team also skimmed cash from the operation, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars.

(click here to continue reading Trump, Russia, and Those Shadowy Sater Deals at Bayrock – Bloomberg.)

which makes this real estate transaction, a few blocks away2 from FSB’s West Loop HQ so eye-catching:

The record purchase price for a West Loop condo is set to more than quadruple, with a buyer agreeing to pay more than $5 million for a not-yet-built penthouse on Washington Street.

The asking price is about $5.6 million for the home, which is under contract. The listing agents declined to provide any details on the buyer, whom they referred to only as “he.”

Construction is scheduled to start next month, with the building ready for occupancy by summer 2018.

The penthouse prices astonished Baird & Warner agent Nicholas Colagiovanni, who sold the previous record-setter, a 2,400-square-foot loft at 1000 W. Washington, which closed this week at $1.2 million. It’s one of four condos sold in the neighborhood that have sold for $1 million or more so far this year.

(click here to continue reading West Loop contract under contract at over $5 million – Residential News – Crain’s Chicago Business.)

So a condo, in a building not even under construction yet, is worth 4 times more than the previously record holder for most expensive, one on the same block? One wonders what sort of business the purchaser is in. Do they speak Russian? Hmm.

If I was an investigator working for Robert Mueller, I’d take a closer look at this, and similar property transactions.

Footnotes:
  1. or was []
  2. a ten minute walk, 15 via Google Maps []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 21st, 2017 at 1:53 pm

The Federal Savings Bank was uploaded to Flickr

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A strange little bank in Fulton Market, tied in closely to Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and maybe Russian money laundering.

New York prosecutors have demanded records relating to up to $16 million in loans that a bank run by a former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump made to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, sought information on loans the bank issued in November and January to Mr. Manafort and his wife, the person said. The loans were secured by two properties in New York and a condominium in Virginia, real-estate records show.
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I took The Federal Savings Bank on May 18, 2017 at 10:03AM

and processed it in my digital darkroom on July 17, 2017 at 10:39PM

Written by eggplant

July 17th, 2017 at 10:43 pm

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank was uploaded to Flickr

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Actually, entrance to the building where The Federal Savings Bank is located. A strange kind of bank, only on the third floor, with a building security employee that won’t let you go up unless you are a member of the bank, plus won’t allow photography in the lobby.

The FSB has been in the news lately for its Trump ties, and allegedly Russian money laundering schemes with Paul Manafort.

For instance:
Chicago-based Federal Savings Bank wouldn’t comment Tuesday on a report that New York prosecutors have subpoenaed records related to $16 million in loans the institution made to former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

chief executive, Steve Calk, was an economic adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign. Manafort is under scrutiny from a special prosecutor and members of Congress for his dealings with Russian interests, part of the wider investigation into ties between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign and administration.

Federal Savings Bank made about $6.5 million in loans in January to Manafort and his wife for a Brooklyn property, documents show. That came about a month after Federal Savings lent $9.5 million to Summerbreeze, a limited liability company connected to Manafort, according to 377 Union, a website run by two New York lawyers that is named for the address of the Manafort property in Brooklyn.

The combined $16 million in loans to one borrower represents nearly a quarter of the small bank’s loan portfolio and approaches the level at which regulators would start to think about imposing limits on lending to one customer.

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I took Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank on May 18, 2017 at 10:02AM

and processed it in my digital darkroom on July 21, 2017 at 10:06AM

Written by eggplant

May 21st, 2017 at 2:26 pm

President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland visits Chicago

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Polish Alma Mater
Polish Alma Mater

I’ve often heard people say Chicago has a large Polish population, seems as if it is true. With numbers like this, of course there is diversity of opinions…

[President Bronislaw] Komorowski, who made his first visit to Chicago for the NATO summit, also met briefly with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. At a meeting with the Tribune’s editorial board, the president said the nearly 1 million Polish-Americans in Chicago — the largest population outside Warsaw — are an asset, and the city should take advantage.

During a morning visit at the Polish Consulate, Komorowski saw two opposing sides of how some Polish-Americans in Chicago view his government — one by young professionals who want to forge stronger ties with their homeland and another by older immigrants who want his party kicked out of office.

While Poland leads European countries in economic growth, Chicago and the rest of the U.S. have not kept pace with other foreign investors in his country, Komorowski said. Putting his own spin on a famous statement by President John F. Kennedy, he told the young professionals: “Ask not what Poland can do for you. Ask what you can do for Poland.”

Komorowski encouraged the 35 college students and other young adults to take an active role in shaping relations between the U.S. and Poland. He urged them to lobby politicians for policy reforms, such as the Visa Waiver Program, and to consider running for office themselves.

“I see a climate here that I dream of in Poland,” Komorowski said. “You have a great attitude, independence and ambition.”

Several of the young professionals said they wanted the president to know that they support Poland and value their Polish heritage as well as their American citizenship.

“We wanted to introduce the president to a perspective of what Polish-Americans look like today, not just immigrants but second and third generations that are interested in their community and giving back as well,” said Agnes Ptasznik, 30, an assistant Illinois attorney general who attended the event. “Their parents and grandparents had to take hard jobs, and they invested in them, and it paid off.”

(click here to continue reading President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland visits Sen. Mark Kirk – chicagotribune.com.)

Not all his visit was dumplings and pierogis though…

Music and Dancing
Music and Dancing

As he sat among the successful lawyers, doctors and business people invited by Polish Consulate General Zygmunt Matynia, about 50 older Polish-Americans gathered on the sidewalk outside the office in the Gold Coast neighborhood, waving Polish flags and chanting “traitor.”

The protesters are among a group of Poles and Polish-Americans who contend that the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, including his wife, was no accident but an assassination. They claim that Komorowski, whose opposing party won in a runoff election afterward, has stood in the way of an international investigation.

“They don’t represent the true Poland,” said Casey Panek, an 80-year-old Salem, Wis., resident who left Poland more than 40 years ago. “There are too many (communist) agents in the government in Poland. It’s not completely red, but it’s pink.”

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2012 at 7:53 am

Posted in Chicago-esque,politics

Tagged with , ,

From Bread Wine to Vodka

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Vodka and food
Vodka and food, London

In her article about Russian food writer and historian, Maksim Syrnikov, Julia Ioffe recalls that the first time she met Syrnikov, he was preparing to make samogon—Russian moonshine—for a television broadcast. “I don’t like store-bought vodka,” Syrnikov said. Ioffe gives this brief history of vodka in the country:

Distilled liquor was initially tightly regulated in Russia. It is said that the first Moscow tavern allowed to serve it was exclusively reserved for the oprichniki, Ivan the Terrible’s secret police. But eventually it was made all over the country, in a process much like the one that Syrnikov was going to show the TV crew. For a long time, vodka was similar to whiskey: it tasted and smelled strongly of the grains used to make it, and was called “bread wine.” Until the twentieth century, only bread wine infused with herbs or berries was called vodka. The crystalline, nuanceless spirit that we now know as vodka emerged in the late nineteenth century, when the monarchy monopolized alcohol production and marketed the measure as a health initiative that removed the impurities in homemade bread wine.

Russia’s intense relationship with vodka was the subject of Victor Erofeyev’s 2002 Letter from Moscow, “The Russian God.” Erofeyev wrote that just mentioning the word “vodka” could cause unpredictable behaviors in Russians.

It seems to punch a hole directly into the subconscious, setting off a range of odd gestures and facial expressions. Some people wring their hands; some grin idiotically or snap their fingers; others sink into sullen silence. But no one, high or low, is left indifferent. More than by any political system, we are all held hostage by vodka.

Erofeyev argues that the daily ration of vodka given to Russian soldiers during the Second World War was “as important as Katyusha rocket launchers in the victory over Nazism.”

(click here to continue reading Back Issues: From Bread Wine to Vodka : The New Yorker.)

Imperia Russian vodka
Imperia Russian vodka

and from Wikipedia:

The Russian name for any home-made distilled alcoholic beverage is called samogon (ru: самого́н), literally translated as “self-run” or “self-distilled”. Historically, it was made from malted grain (and therefore similar to whisky), but this method is relatively rare nowadays, due to increased availability of more convenient base ingredients, such as table sugar. Modern samogon is most often made from sugar. Other common ingredients include beets, potatoes, bread, or various fruit.

Samogon of initial distillation is called pervach (ru: первач), literally translated as “the first one” – it is well known for its high quality (pure alcohol is lighter, so it evaporates in the beginning of the process but impurities don’t; over time more and more impurities evaporate, too, thus making the rest of the batch not that clean). The production of samogon is widespread in Russia. Its sale is subject to licensing. Unauthorized sale of samogon is prohibited, however, production for personal consumption has been legal since 1997 in most of the country.

Samogon often has a strong repulsive odor but, due to cheap and fast production and ability to personalize the flavor of the drink, it is of relative popularity. However, pervach is famous for having a little or no smell. Samogon is one the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country. It directly competes with vodka, which is more expensive (in part due to taxes on distilled alcohol), but contains fewer impurities. A 2002 study found that, among rural households in central Russia, samogon was the most common alcoholic beverage, its per capita consumption exceeding the consumption of vodka 4.8 to 1. The study estimated that, at the time, it was 4 to 5 times cheaper to manufacture homemade samogon from sugar than to buy an equivalent quantity of vodka.

Since then, the price of vodka has been rising above the rate of inflation. As of 2011, typical cost of production of homemade samogon is on the order of 30 rubles ($1) per liter, mainly determined by the price of sugar. The breakeven cost of “economy-class” vodka is 100 rubles/liter, but federal taxes raise retail prices almost threefold, to 280 rubles/liter. Possibly due to rising taxes, per capita consumption of vodka in Russia has been falling since 2004. It has been largely replaced with samogon among marginal classes. Some analysts forecast that the trend will result in increased adoption of samogon among the middle class, and, by 2014, samogon will overtake vodka as the most common alcoholic beverage nationwide

(click here to continue reading Moonshine by country – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Black Currant Tea Vodka - Russian Tea Time
Black Currant Tea Vodka – Russian Tea Time

Vodka is not my favorite spirit, but I always keep some around. I’ve also made some flavored vodkas of my own1, the best of which was adding a few tablespoons worth of black currant tea in a cheesecloth, soaking for a week or so, then straining. Quite tasty…

Footnotes:
  1. after first having some at the Russia Tea Time restaurant []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 10th, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

Tagged with

Imperia Russian Vodka is Made in Russia Damn It!

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And no-one should imply otherwise…

Imperia Russian vodka

Roustam Tariko, a Russian multimillionaire and the president of Russian Standard, knows how to antagonize his competitors in the vodka market: Imply that they are not Russian.

Imperia Vodka, sold by his company, is distilled and bottled in Russia, a fact that is the centerpiece of the vodka’s first advertising campaign in the United States. The campaign slogan, “Vodka is Russian,” is a veiled jab at vodkas like Stolichnaya, which is distilled in Russia but bottled in – gasp – Latvia.

It is also a challenge to premium vodkas that are popular in the United States, but created outside Russia. Absolut, which was introduced in the United States in 1979, is based in Sweden, and Grey Goose is made in the Cognac region of western France. Imperia was introduced in the United States in 2005 and has sold about 35,000 cases.

“We are reclaiming our territory,” Tariko said during a telephone interview from China. “We are trying to gain as much as possible of the marketplace from other people who are trying to claim that they are Russians. There are a lot of people who are trying hard to sell themselves as Russian vodkas.”

Tariko has tagged Stolichnaya in the past with the accusation that it is less than authentically Russian, even suggesting that its makers “should be proud of their Latvian heritage.”

(click to continue reading Russian vodka maker taking a shot at his competitors – Technology – International Herald Tribune – The New York Times.)

Sipping vodka is an occupation for some, but not me. I can drink a quality vodka without diluting it with fruit juice or whatever, but I still prefer it chilled. A glass of good Scotch can be at room temperature, and enjoyed, but for my palate, not vodka.

If Imperia catches on in the United States, Tariko seems intent on converting Americans to the Russian style of drinking vodka.

“Considering that Americans are now moving away from whiskey, moving away from brown spirits in general, I believe that they will all join Russians who drink vodka straight,” he said. “They will sip it like cognac.”

Written by Seth Anderson

May 9th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

Tagged with , ,

Color Images of Russian Empire

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A delightful merging of analog and digital technology

A photographer named Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) made glass negatives in the early 1900’s that could be used to create color images. He did this by inventing a camera that would take three different frames of the same scene, with different color filters (red, green blue) for each. He displayed the pictures via projection, using the same filters. Even though the negatives were only grayscale images, the result was comparable to that obtained using a color slide film, such as Kodachrome. As a result, we are able to see full-color images of an historical period that otherwise would be seen only in black-and-white.

The whole process is described on the Library of [the USA] Congress, here: The Empire That Was Russia: the Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated.

The original images are on hand-made 3-inch x 9 inch glass negatives. Each negative has three 3×3 images. Archive workers made digital scans of the negatives, cropped the three frames, and used computers to colorize each frame. Then, they superimposed the three color images using layers.

[Click to continue reading Digital Reconstruction: Color Images of Russian Empire : The Corpus Callosum]

The Library of Congress website has several galleries of the images1, some of which are also found at the Wikipedia entry

Footnotes:
  1. including Architecture, Ethnic Diversity, Transportation, People at Work []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 28th, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Photography

Tagged with , ,

Reading Around on September 21st through September 23rd

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A few interesting links collected September 21st through September 23rd:

  • ejshea.com » Blog Archive » Why You Should Protest That Tucker Max Movie – “Earlier today, I made a comment that we all should ignore Tucker Max and the movie adaption of his book, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.

    The very spot-on Whet Moser corrected me over Twitter, as soon as I said it, and he backed his reasoning with this post:

    Tucker Max Hates Fun.

    You all should read it right now.

    And after I finished reading it, I realized what a horrible, stupid, unreasoned response I made, thinking that the right response to misogyny is to be quiet and hope it goes away. It doesn’t and it never has and it never will. I have known that since I was a teenager, and discovered feminism, and identified as such”

  • lust Monster 1965.jpg
    [Lust Monster, 1965]

  • Inside Google Books: LIFE magazine now available on Google Books – starting today, visitors to Google Books will be able to search and browse even more magazines on Google Books. We’ve partnered with Life Inc. to digitize LIFE Magazine’s entire run as a weekly: over 1,860 issues, covering the years from 1936 to 1972. Most of us are familiar with the term “American Century,” but chances are few of us have been able to read Henry Luce’s defining editorial in its original context, a 1941 issue of LIFE. You’ll be able to find and read Leonard McCombe’s iconic cover and photo essay on a Texas Cowboy and Richard Meryman’s famous last interview with Marilyn Monroe. You can find a 1968 cover story on Georgia O’Keeffe
  • First Draft: Party On, Boris – He [Clinton] also relayed how Boris Yeltsin’s late-night drinking during a visit to Washington in 1995 nearly created an international incident. The Russian president was staying at Blair House, the government guest quarters. Late at night, Clinton told Branch, Secret Service agents found Yeltsin clad only in his underwear, standing alone on Pennsylvania Avenue and trying to hail a cab. He wanted a pizza, he told them, his words slurring.
  • Pinup_WWII.jpg
    [WWII pinup]

Written by swanksalot

September 23rd, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Papa Hemingway as a KGB dilettante

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Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB

Last week, however, saw the publication of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), which reveals the Nobel prize-winning novelist was for a while on the KGB’s list of its agents in America. Co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, the book is based on notes that Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the 1990s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

Its section on the author’s secret life as a “dilettante spy” draws on his KGB file in saying he was recruited in 1941 before making a trip to China, given the cover name “Argo”, and “repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help us” when he met Soviet agents in Havana and London in the 40s. However, he failed to “give us any political information” and was never “verified in practical work”, so contacts with Argo had ceased by the end of the decade. Was he only ever a pseudo-spook, possibly seeing his clandestine dealings as potential literary material, or a genuine but hopelessly ineffective one?

[Click to continue reading Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy – guardian.co.uk ]

So the inventor of the Papa Doble was a dilettante spy? What exactly does that mean? Curious. And of course, The Soviet Union was an ally against Hitler in this era. But I expect more will be made of this in upcoming months.

Written by Seth Anderson

July 9th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Smearing Izzy Continued

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“The Best of I.F. Stone” (I. F. Stone)

I.F. Stone was before my time, obviously, but as a student of history, I’ve read a lot of his reporting. Eric Alterman defends Izzy Stone, again:

the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square puts me in mind of the death of I.F. Stone, which happened right around the same time. It was one of Izzy’s charms that it is entirely believable that, while in a hospital in Boston where he would finally give out, he awoke briefly from a lengthy period of unconsciousness to ask his doctors about the fate of the young protesters there. (His opposition to Chinese Communist oppression was of a piece with his brilliant exposes of the abuses of Soviet psychiatry at the end of his six days career. These do not of course “make up” for the mistakes he made defending Stalin half a century earlier, but they do provide context for those who would paint his politics as monochromatic.)
This is yet another column about the attempts to smear Izzy’s reputation. I’ve written about him quite a lot during the past twenty or so years beginning with a profile in Mother Jones back in June, 1988, which you can find here. I’ve also done some first-hand investigation of the nature of the charges against him, which I described here and here I was a close friend of Stone’s during the final decade of his life and so I was pleased when Tina Brown asked me to take a look at charges on the day that they appeared for her website, The Daily Beast. I was amazed at the disconnect between the inflammatory language employed by the authors and the skimpiness of their evidence. That is here.

[Click to continue reading ‘Smearing Izzy Continued,’ Continued…]

The Tighty-Righties have never allowed facts to get in the way of their jeremiads, the reputation of I.F. Stone as a Stalinist among conservatives is just but one small example of this tendency.

And so it was odd that both the Wilson Center and the CWIP agreed to provide a forum for the series of wild allegations leveled by their authors. Radosh was actually invited to chair a panel. And panelist Max Holland speculated that Stone had received KGB funding both for the publication of I.F. Stone’s Weekly and his book on the Korean War, again with absolutely nothing in the way of evidence. Other panels, including one on the Hiss-Chambers controversy and one that dealt with Robert Oppenheimer were similarly stacked. (Martin Sherwin, who co-authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Oppenheimer with Kai Bird, was not invited to be a panelist even though he lives right there in Washington.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 5th, 2009 at 9:59 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

Alaska and Russia

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This might be the funniest1 talking point I’ve seen in years.

According to the Republican Party, Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because Alaska is so close to Russia. Uhh, yeah, I guess it does border on the eastern tip of Siberia.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zP8uFPWxaA

By this reasoning, I am an expert on Japan2 because I lived in Guam for six months, even though I was only ten!

Footnotes:
  1. albeit unintentionally funny []
  2. perhaps I should claim foreign policy experience regarding North Korea, that’s more sexy []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 31st, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Russia and the US

with one comment

David Remnick writes a brief essay re: the history of the collapse of Soviet Union, and makes this point:

Taken individually, the West’s actions since the collapse of the Soviet Union—from the inclusion of the Baltic and the Central European states in NATO to the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state—can be rationalized on strategic and moral grounds. But taken together these actions were bound to engender deep-seated feelings of national resentment among Russians, especially as, through the nineteen-nineties, they suffered an unprecedentedly rapid downward spiral. Even ordinary Russians find it mightily trying to be lectured on questions of sovereignty and moral diplomacy by the West, particularly the United States, which, even before Iraq, had a long history of foreign intervention, overt and covert—politics by other means. After the exposure of the Bush Administration’s behavior prior to the invasion of Iraq and its unapologetic use of torture, why would any leader, much less Putin, respond to moral suasion from Washington? That is America’s tragedy, and the world’s.

There is little doubt that the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, provided Putin with his long-awaited casus belli when he ordered the shelling of South Ossetia, on August 7th. But Putin’s war, of course, is not about the splendors of South Ossetia, a duchy run by the Russian secret service and criminal gangs. It is a war of demonstration. Putin is demonstrating that he is willing to use force; that he is unwilling to let Georgia and Ukraine enter NATO without exacting a severe price; and that he views the United States as hypocritical, overextended, distracted, and reluctant to make good on its protective assurances to the likes of Georgia.

[From David Remnick – Boundary Issues: Comment: The New Yorker]

Thanks, George Bush and the Republican Party, for squandering any possibilities of moral suasion. Not that the United States has ever had much moral suasion to spare, but even less so since the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan on minor pretext.

Soviets Lithuania

And I like this Bishop Joseph Butler quote, I’m adding it to my pantheon of pithy epigrams:

Inevitably, a number of neoconservative commentators, along with John McCain, have rushed in to analyze this conflict using familiar analogies: the Nazi threat in the late nineteen-thirties; the Soviet invasions of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. But while Putin’s actions this past week have inspired genuine alarm in Kiev and beyond, such analogies can lead to heedless policy. As the English theologian Bishop Joseph Butler wrote, “Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.” Cartoonish rhetoric only contributes to the dangerous return of what some conservatives seem to crave—the other, the enemy, the us versus them of the Cold War.

Only one with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the spectacle of the leaders of Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states standing by Saakashvili last week at a rally in Tbilisi. But Putin is not Hitler or Stalin; he is not even Leonid Brezhnev. He is what he is, and that is bad enough. In the 2008 election, he made a joke of democratic procedure and, in effect, engineered for himself an anti-constitutional third term. The press, the parliament, the judiciary, the business élite are all in his pocket—and there is no opposition. But Putin also knows that Russia cannot bear the cost of reconstituting empire or the gulag. It depends on the West as a market. One lesson of the Soviet experience is that isolation ends in poverty. Putin’s is a new and subtler game: he is the autocrat who calls on the widow of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To deal with him will require statecraft of a kind that has proved well beyond the capacities of our current practitioners.

Written by Seth Anderson

August 21st, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Posted in News-esque

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Putin and His Puppy Named Bush

without comments

Dr. Alterman speculates what the media frenzy might be like if a Democrat “lost China”, err, Georgia1

Does anyone doubt that if the President of the United States were a Democrat who tied us down in a costly, counterproductive war based on lies and forged documents and destroyed the respect and sympathy enjoyed by this country in every civilized nation in the world — or even if he did none of those things, but was merely a Democrat — that this column by proud New York Times pundit William Kristol and this editorial by the editors of The Wall Street Journal would have included vicious attacks on that same Democratic president for weakness and incompetence bordering on the criminal — and thereby blame him for inviting Russia to invade its democratic neighbor without having to worry about the opinion of the no-longer-respected-nor-feared United States of America? Now, imagine that said Democratic president had informed the press that he had looked into the invader’s soul and decided he was a good guy because the old KGB hand said he believed in God. (If God really existed, and took an interest in the day-to-day doings of those of us on Earth, he’d let me play poker with a chump like that.) OMG, even the Georgian troops were in Iraq. Putin to Bush: “Go away, silly little boy.” (Bush to Putin: “Thank you, sir, may I have another?)

[From Media Matters – We’re so sorry, Uncle Vladimir …]

Seems as if our President is more interested in attending the Olympics2 than actually doing anything productive. I guess that’s actually a good thing: less Bush incompetence is better for the country, but couldn’t he at least fake being President with as much diligence as he has since 2001?

David Corn writes:

The opening ceremony was rather impressive. Talk about organization and competence: two thousand and eight Tai Chi practitioners forming a perfect circle and maintaining it through a series of elaborate moves.

That was some counterpoint to George W. Bush. Later that night, during the parade of nations, he was practically slumped in his seat, toting a small American flag–was it made in China?–with a bored expression on his face. Prior to the games, there was a debate over whether he should attend and further legitimize the repressive Chinese regime. But as he sat there, that debate no longer seemed so relevant, for he looked irrelevant. There was no one next to him but his wife. And the question was, didn’t he have anything better to do with his time? The apparent answer: no.

This all raised the question in my mind: what does Bush want to get done before the W. years are over. Not much, it seems. He has not pushed a major domestic issue since his Social Security flop. He has not addressed the climate change crisis. He has not taken any decisive steps regarding the sliding-into-a-quagmire war in Afghanistan. He has taken no significant moves regarding health care. It’s as if he is not merely a lame duck but the clockwatcher-in-chief. And is it possible that the last major overseas action of the president who during his second inaugural address said that the mission of the United States was to stand with “democratic reformers” against their “oppressors” will be waving a mini-Stars and Stripes at the Chinese games? How harmonious, as the Chinese say.

Footnotes:
  1. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to be more precise []
  2. and apparently being bored at the same time []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 11th, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,