About the Chris Christie Endorsement of Trump and Early Mulling on the VP Question

Trump knew wags would instantly speculate about Chris Christie as a possible VP or cabinet pick if he’s the nominee, which keeps the frontrunner ever more aloft in the news cycle. And it serves his purpose to be looking like presumptive nominee, mulling his future options, even though candidates at other times have been smacked down with ‘measuring the drapes’ attacks. But while some so-called experts will be apt to see the NJ guv as an ideal attack dog against a DEM nominee, especially Hillary in the fall, and in the VP debate. Remember though he would also bring seriously bad baggage from NJ that could blow up during the campaign. Consider that Romney declined to pick Christie after vetting him.

All this underscores how in this campaign year of all campaign years, the VP choice made by the DEMs, especially if it’s Hillary’s choice to make, will be critical because that person will among many key assets have to be 1) an articulate and agile defender of the head of the ticket, and 2) capable of batting back the insane stuff the members of the opposing ticket and their surrogates and supporters will surely be lobbing toward the DEM ticket amid a media environment that for now is still infatuated with Trump—witness CNN’s ridiculous decision to give Trump several interviews after last night’s raucous debate. With host Chris Cuomo, he of the ill-fitting sportcoats, Trump bizarrely claimed he’s been audited frequently by the IRS because he’s “a strong Christian.” Couldn’t be because he runs a sketchy business?

If Trump is the Republican nominee, the Democratic running mate will be the one tasked with parrying the daily insults, barbs, and baseless allegations made by the billionaire and his campaign.

Also a must-read today: Dana Milbank’s darkly funny column, “Donald Trump’s ‘Captain Underpants’ campaign“, where he assesses the grade level of the candidates’ statements.


Sanders’ Ugly Claim that Hillary’s Pandering to African-American Voters

I put this up on Facebook earlier today, and want to share it here, too. Could’ve written it here first—here’s a screenshot of what I wrote, and a link to it.

As some here will know, I'm supporting Hillary Clinton for president and look forward to voting for her in the April 19…

Posted by Philip Turner on Friday, 19 February 2016

#TBT—Remembering Joel C. Turner, All the Way Back to May 1964

In this old photo I’m getting a hug from my brother Joel at a reception celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, circa May 26, 1964, which would’ve been Joel’s 13th birthday. I’m about 9 here. Looking at the image, I can almost remember the day.

Joel died suddenly in December 2009. A few years later, on what would’ve been his 61st birthday, I posted this remembrance of him here on The Great Gray BridgeScreen Shot 2016-02-18 at 5.48.46 PMObits also ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness.

Thinking about him, as I do often, because Joel was a gregarious, social person, I know he would’ve enjoyed and thrived amid the advance of social media the past seven years. He had started on Facebook at the time of his death, but none of us, including him, was so aware yet, of how our lives would be influenced by this new media. Joel had early in his adulthood worked as a reporter, and always retained a prodigious appetite for knowing about what was happening in society; he really enjoyed talking with people, asking them questions, hearing what they thought, and offering his views on the matters at hand.  He and I didn’t share all the same politics, but the ways we thought about things was were still alike in many ways. He was a kind of social philosopher, and in 2000 ran for Congress on the Libertarian line in a Cleveland-area district. Growing up 3-4 years apart, we encountered many events as a pair in our five-person family—along with our sister Pamela, the eldest + our folks, Earl and Sylvia. We experienced events together, like the JFK and RFK assassinations. I recall be awoken the morning after Bobby Kennedy had been shot, our mom telling us as she woke us that day.  The summer of 1970, Joel and I drove from Ohio out to California and spent six weeks camping in a redwood forest. During that trip we adopted our dog Noah. I relate much of that personal history on this Great Gray Bridge webpage. Joel is much missed by all who knew him.Obit Joel Turner

What Might’ve Been If George W Bush Had Not Become President in 2001?

During the extremely weird #GOPDebate last Saturday night, the most intense I-live-on-a-different-planet-from-these-people-moment for me came when Marco Rubio, after Trump’s mostly accurate slam on George W. Bush over 9/11 and Iraq, rallied to Bush’s defense and proclaimed emphatically how GLAD he is that Al Gore was not president on Sept 11, 2001! This happens to be the exact opposite of how I feel about the past 15+ years of our history. Though a counter-factual can’t be proven, I have long believed it possible that if Gore had become president after the 2000 election, with the Clinton administration’s counter-terrorism team still in place headed up by Richard Clarke—whose vigorous but futile efforts to get the new Bush administration focused on Al Qaeda are helpfully reprised by Peter Beinart in an Atlantic column today, headed “Trump is Right”—the country may well have averted the terrible attacks on 9/11, the excessive homeland security apparatus that was installed afterward, the invasion of Iraq, and all that has flowed since from the Al Qaeda plot.

Although I shudder at the thought of Trump becoming president, I do think his critique of the Bush presidency could be a salutary thing for the Republican party, finally persuading some of its rank and file that George W Bush and his administration failed to heed numerous warning about Al Qaeda, and that he does bear a large share of responsibility for failing to prevent the attacks on 9/11. For a good analysis of Trump’s position, unheard within the Republican party until now, I also recommend Paul Waldman’s Washington Post column, “Why Donald Trump’s 9/11 heresy won’t cost him any primary votes.”

Pictures of the Week along the Hudson River—Sunsets, Clouds, and the Great Gray Bridge

Although today’s temperature is 17 degrees, several days in the past week I was able to ride my bike along the Hudson River and got some great pictures. I hope you enjoy these views!

PIG IRON, a Lacerating Beauty of a Book by English Novelist Benjamin Myers

I was only rounding the halfway bend when I tweeted the above last weekend about Pig Iron, Benjamin Myers’ 2012 novel. The investment in the story that I expressed then paid double as I finished the book, progressively becoming more and more gripped by the fate of its narrator, John-John Wisdom, a young man whose hardscrabble history is steadily revealed to the reader through the course of a beautifully twined narrative that braids together parallel first person accounts by he and his mother. Through them we at last learn the whole truth of the Wisdom family.

In the parlance of England, the Wisdoms are “Travellers,” perhaps not exactly ethnic Roma but wandering tribes nonetheless, reminiscent of Europe’s long-shunned gypsies. The inventiveness with language and vocabulary was reminiscent to me of what Russell Hoban did in Ridley Walker and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, without the same futuristic-apocalyptic intimations as Hoban, but a violent strand like Burgess. Young Wisdom’s late father was a bare-knuckle boxer, while his son’s a fighter of a different kind. John-John, only recently released from a five-year prison sentence, is determined to put his life back together following a deed that he only hints at when a new girlfriend asks him about his time away from the rural climes he cherishes, his “green cathedral.” The references to a rural idyll reminded me of when a terminally ill Dennis Potter, creator of the magnificent “Singing Detective” TV series, expressed a deep connection for the Forest of Dean in his courageous 1994 interview with Melvyn Bragg. John-John Wisdom and Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse Five” seem like literary and spiritual cousins.

I also see Myers’ work in a line of connection with the contemporary English writer of landscape and wild places, Robert Macfarlane, whose The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot I loved so much. I read much of the latter aloud to my wife, as we both delighted in the sound of Macfarlane’s words and place names that evoke the chalk cliffs of England, the windy Hebrides, and desert Palestine. Myers’ work would also be great to hear voiced, with his rich vocabulary and kinetic vernacular. Hmm, makes me wonder if there are audio book editions of his work yet. 

Myers is gaining recognition in the UK. His 2014 novel, Beastings, was awarded the Manchester, England public library’s Portico Prize, after Pig Iron had earlier won the Gordon Burn award, named in honor of a Newcastle, England novelist. I learned about Myers through this profile in the Guardian’s book pages by Alison Flood, then bought Pig Iron online from a UK bookseller. Its publisher is Bluemoose Books of West Yorkshire, England. This is Myers’ website. He hasn’t had much exposure yet in the US, and I hope this post of mine draws some attention to his work. He deserves to be read by fans of the writers mentioned above, as well as readers who enjoy Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf. I look forward to next reading Beastings, again set in a rural area, about an adolescent girl who’s a runaway from a coercive family she’d been indentured to work for.

Alexander Litvinenko, Targeted by a Breadcrumb Trail of Deadly Radiation

Agency Update: Some weeks after I wrote and published the post below, I licensed Amy Knight’s book to the Thomas Dunne Books imprint at St Martin’s Press. The manuscript is already being edited and the book, ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder,  will be published in September 2017.

One of my author clients as a literary agent is a historian and scholar named Amy Knight. In 2006, when I was working as an acquiring editor at Carroll & Graf, I published her fifth book, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, on the Soviet cypher clerk, Ghouzenko, who in September 1945 became arguably the first defector of the Cold War; he ultimately found asylum in Canada, and would later appear in media there disguised as he’s shown on the cover of the edition we brought out. I was amazed that this episode had occurred even while WWII was still ongoing. From Knight’s website, I note that she “earned her PhD in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977….She’s taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. In 1993-94, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly.” She speaks Russian, and is especially knowledgable on the Russian security services, a veritable alphabet soup of state authorities that Putin has emphatically turned to his purposes since becoming Russian president in 1999.

Titled Orders from Above: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, her new book promises to be the definitive account of the Kremlin’s lethal targeting of opponents inside Russia and in the West during the Putin years. A key part of it will chronicle in riveting tick-tock detail the 2006 murder-by-radiation of Alexander Litvinenko, who during the early part of his career was a member of the Russian security services, though by 1998 was a critic Russia’s security service devoted to counter-intelligence, organized crime, and anti-terrorism, the FSB. He had been in prison twice, for supposed insubordination. In 1999, terror struck in Moscow, when a whole apartment block was bombed, killing more than 300 people. The government quickly blamed it on Chechen insurgents, charging that the rebels, still smarting from their loss of the war in Chechnya earlier that decade were bent on revenge against ordinary Russians. But critics, including Litvinenko, believed the crime had emerged from within the regime, an atrocity committed to confirm a sort of bogeyman population in Russia’s midst, an internal enemy they could blame for many wrongs in the society. In 2000, after being released from prison a second time, he fled the country with his wife and son, eventually finding asylum in London where he found succor from another Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, for whom he worked while continuing to agitate against Putin’s rule. In November 2006, he was poisoned with polonium-2010-laced green tea during a midday meeting with his clumsy assassins, who left a breadcrumb trail of radioactive contamination all over London, even on the airplane they’d boarded in Russia.

This morning in London, the British government released its official report on the death of Litvninenko, an inquiry long sought by his widow Marina. The magistrate, Sir Robert Owen, announced the findings to a tribunal where Knight was in attendance, on assignment from NY Review of Books editor Robert Silvers for the NYRB blog. As reported by the BBC and the NY Times, Owen accused “Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a Red Army deserter,” of  poisoning Litvinenko at the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov 1, 2006. What’s more he laid the planning of the murder on the doorstep of the FSB, while concluding in careful, lawyerly language that Putin himself is “probably” responsible for Litvinenko’s ghastly death. When Knight posts her own report on the Inquiry, I’ll share the blog here.

This is just the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines book I always enjoyed working on as an in-house editor, so I’m excited to be working with Amy Knight again, this time from the agent side of the desk.