“Untruth did not begin with us; nor will it end with us.” — Alexander Solzhenitsyn
In June 2016, in what seems like light-years away in the continuing coming apart of American society, The Unz Review posted a piece by Israel Shamir, “The Untouchable Mr. Browder”. That Mr. Browder turned out to be William F. Browder, Chief Executive Officer of Hermitage Capital Management. Bill Browder, as he is known, is the self-declared “No. 1. Enemy of Vladimir Putin,” which he expounds upon in a 2020, 25-minute audio-only YouTube interview hosted by the University of Chicago. Browder, a Chicago alum, in the interview describes his evolution from a hedge fund, genius billionaire to an international political activist, carrying on, in his words, “a righteous mission” to combat the “evil in the world.”
Call me cynical, but a self-proclaimed activist on a righteous mission to fight evil in the world is not the kind of man I would trust with my money, my daughter, or my future.
The Shamir piece and the Browder interview are certainly worth reading and listening to in light of what is going on in Ukraine. They also assert drastically conflicting accounts of what made Bill Browder Putin’s so-called “No. 1 enemy” and what judgment we should make of it and of Putin himself. I leave it to anyone sufficiently interested to read and listen to the rival accounts and form his own judgement.
My own view focuses heavily on Bill Browder and his “righteous mission.”
Early in the interview, Browder talks at some length about the expectations his family had for him as a youth. His father Felix was a brilliant mathematician, a child prodigy who became head of the Mathematics Department at the University of Chicago. Felix’s two younger brothers, Bill’s uncles, were also accomplished mathematicians.
Browder notes that he defied family expectations for pursuing a career as a math-science academic and became a businessman. The interviewer then mentions that “Browder’s grandfather was a leader in the US Communist Party in the ‘30s and ‘40s and is even said to have worked for Soviet intelligence . . .” (italics added)
Nice move — “even said” to insinuate an unsubstantiated rumor — and not even a mention of the grandfather’s name so as to quickly get a big piece of unsavory family history (at least for some) out of the way. Bill’s grandfather was Earl Browder, and he was not just “a leader in the US Communist Party.” He was the Chairman of the Communist Party USA from 1934 to 1945, during a period, you might say, of peak Stalinism in world history. In short, he was Joe Stalin’s point-man for espionage and subversion in the United States, a highly successful operation that penetrated up to and into the White House — Lauchlin Currie, for one. Browder worked assiduously to sell the logic and virtue of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact to the rank-and-file, disillusioned Communists who failed to understand how Stalinism actually worked. With Hitler’s June 1941 attack on Soviet Russia, he did, as ordered, the volt-face: “the imperialist war” in which America was supposed to stay neutral suddenly became the “fight against fascism,” with American blood and treasure spent to help keep Stalin in power.
Also not mentioned in the interview was that Earl Browder in 1940 was convicted of two counts of passport fraud and sentenced to four years in federal prison. Once FDR got the US into the war he lied about not wanting, he commuted Browder’s sentence in 1943 as one of his many little gifts to Stalin.
Fast-forwarding from the days of Stalin to post-Soviet Russia, grandson Bill Browder’s gravamen with Putin is his eviction from Russia on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and for the alleged torturing and poisoning of Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s Russian lawyer. Israel Shamir in the Unz Review piece claims that Magnitsky helped Browder evade paying his taxes on the billion dollars or so he made after the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
What, then, did the grandson of the grandfather whose life was also a “righteous mission” of sorts do after the demise of his Russian lawyer? This was the time, he tells us in the interview, that he transformed himself from hedge fund operator to political activist on the war path against evil. He became the chief catalyst for the Magnitsky Act, a weapon put at the disposal of high-minded do-gooders in the US government that would make evildoers everywhere very sorry. The Magnitsky Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2012. Since its initial enactment, the law has expanded to give the US government carte blanche authority to sanction anyone deemed a “human rights” violator, seize his assets, and ban his entry into the US. The two principal sponsors of this legislation should give anyone pause who wonders why American foreign policy has become a roller coaster of disaster, both at home and abroad: the US Senator from Tel Aviv, Ben Cardin, and — who else — John McCain, the Senator who was always eager to send American soldiers to faraway places around the world to die in defense of the freedom of people they’d never heard of.
McCain’s modus operandi for foreign policy was to discover a new “Hitler” somewhere in the world and bomb whatever country he resided in — boots on the ground if necessary. Saddam Hussein, remember, was Hitler — he even had a mustache — and we know how freedom and democracy bloomed in Iraq after we got rid of Saddam and a few hundred thousand of his fellow Iraqis.
Before that, Slobodan Milošević was the Hitler of the Balkans. In 1999 McCain wasn’t happy with simply bombing Serbia to smithereens. NATO planes were pounding Belgrade, including civilian targets: apartments, schools, hospitals. By mistake, supposedly, NATO bombed the Chinese embassy, killing three Chinese journalists. As a perfect example of how accountability works in the upper regions of our power circles, CIA Director George Tenet, who authorized the bombing, kept his job for another five years.
McCain wanted troops on the ground. Here’s a clip from CNN:
Crossfire transcript: Sen. John McCain calls for resolve in Yugoslavia.
PRESS: Senator, this is the ninth day of this bombing. There is a lot of frustration that all the goals have not been met. Was it realistic to think it to happen any sooner and how long do you think it is going to take?
MCCAIN: Well, this goes back to our previous question, which I am glad we revisited, because I was kind of flippant in the answer, which I am from time to time. The fact is that bombing, air power alone has not been decisive in the outcome of major conflicts.
We watched on CNN those wonderful shots and the cruise missiles hitting Baghdad downtown and all of that, but it was General Schwarzkopf’s ground troops that won that battle, as you know.
And we seem to have forgotten that a little bit, because we have launched cruise missiles so many times in Iraq and other, you know, against Afghanistan and Khartoum, and then we kind of move on. And I think this conflict is bringing back to us in spades that these conflicts are tough. They don’t always go as we plan them. And we have to — must adjust our strategy and tactics to account for that when it doesn’t succeed as we plan.
Yes, those “wonderful shots and the cruise missiles hitting Baghdad downtown,” and then “we kind of move on” when things don’t exactly work out, as they spectacularly didn’t in Afghanistan recently. Khartoum, you may recall, was where Clinton called up the bombers to destroy a pharmaceutical factory. McCain doesn’t mention Vietnam and its 57,000 dead American soldiers and a couple of million dead Vietnamese; yet another “democracy” we left behind. But that’s ancient history. Foreign embassies of major powers, aspirin factories, entire counties like Libya: Who cares if they get blown up as long as the guys doing it are wearing the white hats? If McCain were still alive, he would no doubt be calling for NATO to remove yet another Hitler — this one holed up in Moscow.
Back to Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act, which essentially was created and passed to give arch neocons like McCain moral cover using the theology of “human rights” to launch their depredations anywhere in the world and call it “defending democracy.”
Near the end of the interview, Browder just can’t help himself, as he wants the listeners to glow in appreciation with how Magnitsky puts the Hitlers and their enablers, wherever in the world they pop up, out of business. For anyone listening carefully, it’s a megalomaniac bragging about the discovery of his power to punish the evildoers selected by the paragons of virtue in Congress and the State Department such as Hillary Clinton:
The act has been expanded to include any human rights abuser regardless of country. Here’s how it works. If they [who are “they”?] want to sanction you, you get put on something called the OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] sanctions list, and the moment you get added to the sanctions list, every bank in the world closes your account. And it doesn’t even matter if it’s an American bank, a Chilean bank, a Dubai bank, a Korean bank — that bank doesn’t want to be in trouble with the US Treasury Department . . . The moment you’re put on the sanctions list, you become a financial non-person in the world, a financial leper . . . The worst people on the planet are absolutely terrified that the are going to get caught and sanctioned . . . Now, it’s not just about me and Sergei, it’s about everybody. . . .
Got that? “The worst people in the world”? Perhaps it takes one to know one. The pièce de resistance of the interview, however, was, as Browder claims, a Putin emissary’s approach to Trump’s people in Trump Tower in 2016 “with one simple request: if he became President, to repeal the Magnitsky Act.”
President Trump did not attempt to repeal the Magnitsky Act. The law’s tool of economic sanctions, combined with the mainstream media’s propaganda blitz by Hitlerizing Putin, is now the centerpiece of America’s efforts for regime change in Russia.
The aim of the Magnitsky Act has always been to moralize American foreign policy and to give American politicians the power — using the wealth of the American people — to police the world and punish anyone or any county whose “values” fail to meet the evolving standards of wokeness set by our own ruling class, standards they don’t apply to themselves.
The Magnitsky Act’s moral authority rests on the vague high-mindedness of a doctrine of human rights. What exactly are they? Who gets to say what they are? They often compete with each other: Right to life versus a woman’s right to her body. When they do, who gets to decide who comes out on top? Those with the power or the helpless? Who do you think? It gets messy quickly. Down it goes, down the slippery slide from high-minded moralizing to moralistic masturbation to amoral hypocrisy. The lofty morality of “human rights” churns its way into muddy politics. Politics degenerates into ideology. Ideologues can’t help turning into fanatics. Fanatics want people to be just like them and are hot to kill the ones who refuse: Sean Hannity calling for Biden to ignore international law and assassinate Vladimir Putin.
The Browder interview, as I said, reveals Bill Browder to be a moralistic crusader in the grips of megalomania. I also believe that he is a liar. In any case, his Magnitsky Act is the gift that keeps on giving for the neocons who want to police the world. Trump should have worked to repeal it.
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