November 24, 2017

Stay Tuned with Preet, a podcast for legal eagles

One of my adult piano students encouraged me to download my first podcast, Stay Tuned With Preet, a weekly audio program that talks about law, justice and politics. What could be more apt right now?

If you are a news junkie, you may vaguely remember the name Preet Bharara, the U. S. Attorney for the Southern district of New York who was fired by the Trump Administration. The show not only explains the details of his firing, but features interviews with people “in the know.”

Leon Panetta is the podcast’s first fascinating guest who has held such illustrious titles as Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, White House Chief of Staff, Director of the Office of Management and Budget as well as U. S. Representative from California. Talk about an insider!
Other not-to-be-missed guests in the podcast series are Sen. Jeff Flake, Judd Apatow, Bill Browder (I wrote about his book Red Notice in a previous blog post) and John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism for the NYPD and a noted journalist.

Like me, you may just start with the first program from Sept. 19, 2017 and binge-listen all of the current episodes.

The quality of guests along with Preet’s probing questions and articulate comments make this one of the smartest shows in any format. He ends each program with a positive anecdote, rather like a bit of dessert after a very heavy meal.

Born in India to a Sikh father and a Hindu mother who immigrated to the U. S., Bharara is a great example of the richness of our immigrant heritage. Keep asking questions about the truth, Preet! We’re listening.

FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) and Snopes

With all of the talk about fake news, two web sites have become indispensable for my determining what may or may not be true.

FAIR’s tag line is “Challenging media bias since 1986.” The web site posts stories on current topics using a variety of news sources and aims to provide Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. I especially like FAIR’s list of sites they frequently use for news reporting.

Three of the major categories include Alternative News with sites like Mother Jones, The Nation and the Utne Reader. The Corporate News category contains the world’s heavy news hitters such as Le Monde, BBC World News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters. The Media Criticism and Resources section includes Crooks and Liars (with a funny Nixon cartoon logo), the daily howler, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive and which provides links to numerous global newspapers.

I challenge you to check out one new site daily, for a week, to shake up the way you view your news.

If you have a specific news event which you’d like to verify, consider, also known as the Urban Legends Reference Pages. Created by Barbara and David Mikkelson in 1995, they amusingly named the site after an unpleasant family in William Faulkner’s novels.

Other sites that test the veracity of topics include:
The Straight Dope (fighting ignorance since 1973) –
The Skeptic’s Dictionary –
MythBusters –

In the words of character Joe Friday (played by actor Jack Webb) on the tv show Dragnet, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

13 Hours: the Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team

Mention the word Benghazi and both liberals and conservatives bristle. Journalist Mitchell Zuckoff interviewed the private security personnel who were present on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya and has created a non-fiction account that is absolutely riveting.

Although the principal American consulate in Libya was in Tripoli, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was visiting the diplomatic Compound in the secondary city of Benghazi on September 11, 2012. A few blocks away was a CIA center called the Annex with highly trained security guards who were tasked with keeping Ambassador Stevens and other American officials safe.

We are given first hand accounts of the attacks on both the Compound and the Annex. The reader is placed in the midst of fire, smoke, bullets and bombs. The bravery of both private and governmental agents is awe-inspiring.

Your political view of the debacle may not change, but you will certainly know more about what American personnel face when working in countries hostile to the United States.

I have not seen the 2016 movie adaptation by filmmaker Michael Bay, which received mixed reviews, but the movie title and tag line does illuminate a major theme in the well-written book. “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. When everything went wrong six men had the courage to do what was right.”

Nobel tv series on Netflix

Netflix continues to feature foreign tv series for those who want to see what the world is watching. Nobel is an engaging series on Norway’s military involvement in Afghanistan. We follow Erling Riiser, a special forces soldier working in this troubled region. His wife, Johanne works in Norway’s foreign service so we get to see the different threads feeding into the conflict. Business interests, regional feuds, the status of women and diplomacy all figure into this complex mix.

The title refers to the annual Nobel Prize and the Nobel female descendant who helps choose who is honored. As the series unfolds, we keep shifting our opinions about who is behaving honorably and who is letting greed and expediency determine their behavior.

Tuva Novotny as Erling comes off as a modern day Viking as he literally “soldiers on.” His friend Jon Petter Hals (admirably portrayed by Anders Danielsen Lie) loses his legs in combat, and we observe his painful recovery back in Norway. The program may make you more sympathetic to our vets who have lost limbs in foreign combat.

If you’d like to know more about Norwegian politics and its involvement in Afghanistan, Nobel might be the well-made drama for you.

Early Voting in Chicago (and in states that allow it)

usflagI strongly recommend casting your vote early if you live in a state that allows it. My wait was only 20 minutes at 4:30 pm on a weekday. Chicago has early voting up until the day before the election. With multiple voting locations and convenient hours, you have no reason to miss doing your civic duty this November.

To find your local Chicago voting venues:

If you live in the 48th Ward in Chicago, one of your voting options is:
Edgewater Library, 6000 N Broadway
Monday, Oct. 31 to Friday, Nov. 4: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 5: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, November 6: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday, November 7: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For other states:

The Newsroom TV show

<a href="http://www viagra ohne rezept per”>When I need a break from the presidential campaign coverage, I click over to Amazon Prime Video to watch episodes of The Newsroom, a three season dramatic show about a network news room.

Aaron Sorkin is the creator and chief writer of this HBO program which is both a good and a bad thing. Unfortunately, The Newsroom does not have the magic of The West Wing, another show created and written by Sorkin.  Contrived supporting cast rom-com situations, intermittent awkward dialogue and “on the nose” political palaver keep it from being a classic show.
Still, this is amusing entertainment for the political and news junkie who wants a break from the current day’s headlines.

Jeff Daniels is stellar as news anchor, Will McAvoy along with Emily Mortimer as McKenzie McHale, his former girlfriend and current show producer. Their banter reminds me of the screwball film comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Episodes feature “ripped from the headlines” topics like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Occupy Wall Street, the Boston Marathon Bombing and the presidential election of 2012.

Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda’s engaging performances in The Newsroom take away some of the bad taste left in my mouth from watching them in Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Interesting guest stars include Marcia Gay Harden, Grace Gummer, Hope Davis, Adam Arkin and Mary McCormack.

Amazon Prime Video carries several HBO shows like The Newsroom as part of its viewing package. Game of Thrones and other premium HBO properties require you to subscribe to HBO Now, HBO Go or to buy the episodes.
Although The Newsroom just misses being on the “best tv show” list, it is smart and watchable fare.

The Divide by Matt Taibbi

Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, NPR and Kirkus Reviews, Matt Taibbi’s book, The Divide was published in 2014, but his subject matter is germane to the current elections.

He examines a few anomalies in U. S. society. Our prison population has doubled in the last 20 years, but crime has consistently been going down. Nearly 40% of our wealth was gambled away by the upper echelon of society, yet no one went to jail.
Taibi’s supposition is that there is a Divide in the U. S. where wealth protects individuals and corporations from being found guilty, whereas the poor are sometimes locked up for minor infractions.

This is not a happy reading experience, but it is certainly an engrossing and enlightening one. Taibi’s investigative journalism is well-researched and written with passion and clarity. May all politicians and criminal justice personnel put The Divide on their bed side reading pile.

Marseille – French tv series on Netflix

Netflix is embracing original tv projects in other languages with Marseille, a French production starring Gerard Depardieu currently trending on the streaming service.

Depardieu plays Robert Taro, the longtime mayor of Marseille. There are some parallels to Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of a fictional Chicago mayor in the Starz show, Boss. Both characters are portrayed, warts and all. Taro is up for re-election. He loves his city and does a reasonably good job as mayor, but is considered “old school” and is secretly addicted to cocaine.

His rival, Lucas Barres (malevolently played by actor Benoit Magimel) is a former protege who is even more flawed than Taro. Son of a convict mother and raised in the foster system as an orphan, Barres uses his sexual wiles to sway both sexes, makes questionable deals behind the scenes and hires thugs to “convince” voters. Taro’s wife, Rachel (the elegant Geraldine Pailhas), is a talented cellist suffering from a neurological disorder. His daughter, Julia, played by Stephanie Caillard is dating a drug-dealing young man of Arab heritage. Actress Nadia Fares is cast as Vanessa d’Abrantes, the villainous political accomplice of Barres.

This series does not share the excellence of French show Spiral, but it has some redeeming qualities. The cinematography of Marseille really gives you a good feel for this southern French port city. Production values are high with elegant art direction and an interesting music soundtrack. The show gives you a unique perspective on political campaigning in France, proving that politics is a rough business in any country.

Depardieu, who has had a successful decades-long career in film, is still an imposing figure both physically and in his acting technique. Magimel is a revelation as he matches Depardieu in presence and skill.

If you are working on your French conversation, you will hear current slang that you definitely won’t find in Balzac or Moliere!

The White House and Arlington Cemetery

Being an American History buff, I got to check off two biggies from my personal wish list last week.

Arlington Cemetery

A family member was interred in Arlington Cemetery so I got to see a full military funeral replete with a marching band, a caisson pulled by majestic black horses, a 21-gun salute and cadets with crisp uniforms and precise movements. A bugler playing “Taps” and a folded flag presented to my aunt were the emotional cappers.

The history geek in me was fascinated by the origins of Arlington Cemetery. The property had belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was married to the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Lee’s home is still on a hill overlooking the cemetery, but the bulk of the property has been used for military burials since the Civil War.

I also had the great privilege to tour the White House.

White House Entrance

It was smaller than I expected, but I was delighted to see the East Room, the Red Room, the Blue Room, the Green Room and the lovely paintings and antiques that adorn the public rooms. The view from the windows wasn’t bad either!

Since 9/11, getting to tour the White House has become a complicated proposition. Visitors need to contact their congress person weeks before their D. C. trip and submit their social security numbers to facilitate background checks.

In planning your visit, plan to arrive with your I. D. (drivers’s license, military IDs, green cards or passports), cell phone and billfold only. Note that purses and bags are not allowed in The White House and there is no place to check personal items. Visitors are only allowed to enter with cell phones and billfolds.

The tours are self-guided but Secret Service Officers are there to answer any historical questions. And these people know their stuff!

White House view of the Washington Monument

White House piano with gilded eagle legs

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice

Russia has fascinated me since I took a student trip there during college. Bill Browder’s book, Red Notice looks at current day Russia from a political and financial standpoint. The non-fiction account reads like a spy-thriller with murder, torture, interrogations and corruption featured in the saga.

Thanks to an economics class (gratitude to prof Michael Oldfather), I actually understood some of the financial terms bandied about in the book. However, Browder’s concise writing does make the world of banks, hedge funds and world finance fairly understandable.

Browder’s grandfather having been the U. S. Communist Party presidential candidate in 1936 and 1940, grandson Bill goes the opposite direction and becomes an uber capitalist. Creator of Hermitage Capital Management, one of the largest foreign investment firms in Russia, Browder becomes embroiled in accusations of tax evasion in Russia and is blacklisted from traveling there and is put on trial in absentia.

The heart of the story concerns the imprisonment and death of his Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky. He is perhaps the real hero of this riveting account. If you are interested in Russia, world finance and politics, by all means put this on your reading list.